Weekly photo challenge: Time

Syria in a time of war.

Syrian villages c1941

Syrian villages c1941

These images are from my father’s war album, comprising photos from 1941/42 either taken by him or given to him.

View of Syria c1941

View of Syria c1941

For more images of Syria in a time gone by, a more peaceful, intact Syria than the one we see on the news these days, see my other posts here and here and here.

Thanks, Lignum Draco, in Sydney, for the Time theme: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/time/


A writing exercise. Describe something never before described. Something that makes you look twice.

I’m sitting on a park bench, my feet tucked up on the seat to keep away from large two-centimetre ants wandering about looking for their nest. I can see it, in the soil to my right. Nearby, a crowd of regular-size ants crawls over and under a small Christmas beetle, devouring its innards. The beetle’s iridescent elytra – its hardened forewings – were intact when I arrived, but now one elytron is hanging loose, barely attached. It’s a small and pretty beetle, yellow with blue and purple tints like a tiny metallic-painted VDub. I look back to the large ants that have found their nest, a broad depression in the dry soil. In it is a bed of eucalyptus leaf litter, and at its centre, a jewel, a deep emerald green beetle. Can’t tell if he’s dead or just playing dead. I want to save him from the marauding ants, take him to my safe home.

I have nothing with me except a paperback novel; I pick him up on two gum leaves and sit them on the book, and his little black legs stretch out. Not dead, sleeping. He tries to walk away but the plastic film of the book cover is slippery and he can’t get a grip. I walk towards home, holding the book horizontally, tipping it repeatedly, watching him slide back towards my fingers. He never tries to fly away. Christmas beetles are clumsy fliers anyway; he probably wouldn’t get far before slamming his tiny body into an obstacle. At night we hear them hitting the windows, flying blind. It sounds like someone tap tap tapping. In the mornings there are always a few upside down on the ground beneath the glass. If they’ve survived, they just need flipping over and off they go. Otherwise they’re trapped on their backs and die. Reminds me of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Resigning himself to fate, he crawls underneath the larger leaf where he thinks I can’t see him, and hangs on for the remainder of the walk.

Back home, I put the book on the table and the leaves and beetle fall off.

I encourage him to walk on top of a leaf but he doesn’t trust me, crawls beneath the longest one and hangs upside down.

I take his photo and release him into the native garden in my back yard.



A writing exercise. Describe something never before described.

Someone at work or play. Or trying to sleep.

Insomnia.  A Chekhovian professor in A Boring Story, which incidentally isn’t boring, suffered from it.  He says:

“If I were asked: ‘What is now the chief and fundamental fact of your existence?’, I would reply:  ‘Insomnia.’ ”

And for the next 28 lines the professor describes his nights when he doesn’t have the right to be awake.

Yes, insomnia has been described before. However, there’s no insomnia like one’s own.


Why does it take me so long to fall asleep now I’m in the second half of my life? Chekhov’s fictional professor goes to bed every night at midnight and wakes at one o’clock. And that’s it. That’s all the sleep he gets. The rest of the night he paces and reads and waits for the cock’s crow. Here in my bedroom it’s presently 12.30am and I’m thinking of the professor. Two hours I’ve been in this bed. My mind is busy, buzzing even, anything but tired, yet my body is weak and exhausted. Yesterday was hot, and the heat lingers. My feet are too warm, puffed up; I’ve kicked off the quilt and even the sheet.

At 10.30 when I lay down, my window was open wide, but so was the neighbours’. They had guests, and their games and laughter and loud voices carried across the night air into my room. An hour and a half had passed before the guests departed and all went quiet next door. Now, despite another half an hour of a fair silence, I’m still awake. The night breeze picks up. In the next bedroom, the bed empty for now, the blind on the open window blows in and falls back with the gusts, bang bang bang, as its plastic base rod hits the window frame. It’s too hot, no point shutting it, the man who will sleep in that empty bed will only open it when he finally comes home. Minutes later, he does. I hear his feet gingerly treading on creaky floorboards as he comes down the hall, puts his keys in his room, then makes his way to the bathroom and back again. Far off in the distance, leftover fireworks from New Year’s Eve illegally explode every ten to fifteen minutes. In the emptiness of the town they sound much closer, like gunshots. Across the street someone walks a dog past the fence of the government flats where another dog picks up the scent and barks out a repetitive warning. The walking dog responds for as long as its adversary is in sight, the barking echoing in the tunnel of the street. Outside my room all at last is silent, but the bathroom light has been left on and is shining under my door. I can’t ignore it. I get up and turn it off. It’s now 1.30.

‘Not to sleep at night means to be conscious every minute that you are abnormal, and that is why I wait impatiently for the morning and the day, when I have the right not to sleep.’
A Boring Story, Anton Chekhov

At 6.30am I wake to the sound of creaking floorboards, the shower running, doors opening and shutting as the man from the next bedroom gets ready for work. I rise and prepare for a two-hour journey to another town to visit an aunt. I can’t cancel her; she’s 88. I’m a zombie, but fortunately I won’t be the driver. Sitting up in the front seat of the car, I can sleep.


Weekly photo challenge: Weight(less)

Today when I was out and about I stopped by the Mount Stromlo Observatory. In January thirteen years ago the Observatory’s large telescopes were destroyed or rendered useless by a massive bushfire, and now the buildings have become much-visited ruins. Here are some photos of one that feels strangely weighty and weightless when you know that heavy equipment used to occupy this cylindrical little structure, but exists no more. Now there is only air and echoes and imagination.

When I was in the shell of the former Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, I thought of the dome that burned and the heavy supports for the telescope that survived the fire and that now make dramatic photo props. It’s a special experience to enter the round space, which looks like nothing but a sad burnt-out shell; but there is always something good to be found in something ugly, you just have to look and think hard enough. Here it’s the echoes that come back at you when you open your mouth to exclaim amazement, and it’s the surprise view when you look up and see the rusted wheels that enabled the dome to turn, still sitting on top of the wall, silhouetted against a blue Australian sky.

Yale Colombia telescope ruin1

A few days after the fire, it looked like this:

Yale Colombia telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

The year before the fire, it looked like this:

Fisheye image of Yale Columbia refractor at Mount Stromlo

Fisheye image of Yale Columbia Refractor at Mount Stromlo, 2002, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the 2003 fires, there have been no working research telescopes at Mount Stromlo. However, offices and workshops for astronomers and astronomy students from the Australian National University are still situated here.

Thanks WordPress for the photo challenge, and for suggesting that a collapsed ruin evokes weight(lessness)…


Weekly photo challenge: Now

Christmas in Australia.

It’s two days before Christmas.  I went for a long walk this morning because my tutoring has ended for the year and I’m having what we might call a day off.  Here are some photos of Christmas in Australia, now, this morning.

Plum trees look like Christmas trees:

Ducklings born in spring are not brave enough to leave their parents yet.  They’re sticking with their duck families around the wetlands.

Some people drive around with reindeer antlers sticking out of their windows.

Reindeer antlers

Now that school has finished for the year and the summer holidays have begun, lots of children and even a few adults who have the Christmas week off (it’s a slow period if you’re not in retail or hospitality) go to the local pool to play in the sun.  This morning some children in this pool were having swimming lessons now they’re free from school lessons!

Swim School

This guy was freely entertaining shoppers and holidaying children with his bubble gadget.  No charge, no catch.  He wasn’t selling them.  Fantastic!

Bubble man3

Merry Christmas everyone.  Thank you to each and every one of you who have read my writing this year.  I’m VERY grateful!

Our Christmas tree for this year. Under it, there are presents for everyone but me. Hopefully, on Christmas morning there’ll be one with my name on it.

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to think about Now.

Weekly photo challenge: Gathering

Each time I’ve looked at this photo of Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey handing out Aquatic Sports Trophies to members of the AIF, I’ve thought I should blog about it. The photo is one of many in my father’s collection that he brought back from the Middle East in 1942, though this one was not taken by him. Similar images of this trophy ceremony in Kantara, on the eastern side of the Suez Canal in Egypt, are available on the the Australian War Memorial site, which suggest that the photo was taken on the same day, 30th August 1941. This week’s WordPress photo challenge, ‘Gathering’, gives me a reason to send it out into the world. I like looking at the individuals in the gathering who are watching Lieutenant-General Blamey giving his speech and congratulating the winners. They’re clapping, smoking and taking photos, but in particular they’re laughing. He must have cracked a good joke!

Later he became Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey, and here in Canberra he has a square named after him, the Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square. A mouthful.

Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey, AIF, August 1941, Kantara, Egypt

Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey, AIF, August 1941, Kantara, Egypt

Thanks WordPress for the Gathering photo prompt!


Weekly photo challenge: Trio of bleu blanc rouge

In any ordinary week, the Australian War Memorial has six Australian flags flying out the front, three on each side of the steps.  So, as I drove up Anzac Avenue this morning I was surprised to see this trio of French flags flying on one side, a week after the attacks on Paris.  I stopped to snap a few photos.  (Try not to pay attention to Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.)

Vive la France!

French Flags AWM

Front steps of Australian War Memorial, looking towards Mt Ainslie, 21st November 2015

Australian War Memorial, looking down Anzac Avenue, 21st November 2015

Australian War Memorial, looking down Anzac Avenue, 21st November 2015

Thanks for the inspiration, Daily Post.

In praise of mangroves

Mangroves are sometimes seen as muddy swamps infested with mosquitoes and crocodiles. Removing mangroves was once seen as a sign of progress. So, what is the point of preserving them?

For a start, an estimated 75% of fish caught in Queensland spend some time in mangroves or depend on food chains that can be traced back to these coastal forests.  (Source:  http://wetlandinfo.ehp.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/components/flora/mangroves/)

Australia has 11,500 kilometres of mangroves and nearly half of them are in Queensland.  I’m presently on a bit of the Queensland coast where mangroves have been growing for millions of years in the protected coastal area of Moreton Bay.  Mangroves were maligned when I was a child.  They were muddy insect-infested smelly swamps, and those who lived close by had the poor-man’s water view.

Lota mangroves 4

Mangroves were filled in, built on or turned into a boat harbour.  On the Lota foreshore in Brisbane, there is a long stretch of mangroves which comes to a sudden artificial halt where a marina has been built.  The mangrove trees are still trying to grow at its edge, but I sensed an ecological loss when my walking path brought me to this dry bit of beach at the beginning of the harbour.  If I were a boat enthusiast I’d probably feel different.

Mangrove to marina

For some, mangroves are a Stygian swamp;  for others they represent regenerative, indispensable, biological diversity.  Mangrove plants can grow in salty water and thrive despite the tide flooding their roots and trunks twice a day.  They stabilise the shoreline and protect it from wave and storm damage.  The mangroves in Moreton Bay that have been spared have a unique beauty I’ve lately been discovering.  On the other side of the stone wall forming the marina boundary, the foreshore looks like this:

Lota mangroves 2

If you walk slowly beside the mangrove forest, you discover creatures and plants that coexist in peace, if left alone.  The light plays on the water in the afternoon as the tide comes in, and the low twisty branches intertwine and mingle like family.  You might catch a heron stalking through the mud, or see a spider suspended in mid-air in its invisible web, or spot a duck in a tree hole.

Some mangrove plants have above-ground root systems, like the stilt roots growing out from the main trunk and down into the mud that stop it from being uprooted, or aerial roots, pneumatophores, that grow up from under the saturated, airless mud.

The mangrove experience is different at high tide and low tide, as you can see in the photos above, and I recommend both.  These days the Queensland mangroves are protected by law, and now that their benefits are more widely known, there are Mangrove-Watch groups and a number of boardwalks for locals and tourists to enjoy.  If you live near a tropical coastline, check out your local mangroves, stand and look, really look, at the roots, the thick mud, the land and sea creatures that exist because of this unique environment.


The sleeper wakes?

There are times when a gallery visit can be dull, and others that are unforgettable.  When I walked into this room of old Australian art, I experienced a moment of consternation as the walls leapt out from behind the turn-of-the-century artworks.  All four walls were painted in a red and black chevron pattern, clashing with the soft colours of portraits and landscapes in frames of ornate gold and timber.  The intent was to shock, and it did.  The pattern is a reference to the Wiradjuri people of Australia who paint chevrons on their skin and on trees.  The installation artist is Brook Andrew.

Brook Andrew installation Brisbane

Under the Jacaranda, R. Godfrey Rivers, and Mt Coot-tha from Dutton Park, Evening, F.J. Martyn Roberts

I was disturbed by the clash of loud and soft.  But on this Monday morning there was something even more disturbing in the room.  On one of the viewing seats was an obese boy who had fallen into a deep sleep.  His carers were trying to wake him, calling his name and shaking him.  The gallery guard came to help with a louder voice, keen to move him along.  She called for her colleague to bring an ice pack, which was laid on his shoulders and neck.  He didn’t wake.

Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912

Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912

They phoned his mother, put it on speaker, put the phone near his face, all to no effect.  The guard sent the carers off ‘to have lunch’, trying to trick him into feeling left behind.  No reaction.  He was now sliding off his chair, an ordinary chair, not a sofa, not even a soft chair.  Just a gallery chair, hip but hard.  The guards pushed him back onto it, talking to him all the while.  Nothing.  One guard said to the other, “We haven’t had this before,” and laughed as gravity pulled the boy down again.

Portrait Group, the Mother, G.W. Lambert

The carers had not gone to lunch but were hiding from the boy in the next room.  They peeked round the corner and saw that he hadn’t woken.  The guards warned the sleeping boy that he would have to go home in the back of an ambulance.  His hand twitched, and the guards and carers persisted with the cold pack, calling, rubbing and tugging.

Forty minutes later:  they stood him up but his eyes were still closed.  As I left the room, relieved, they were following me out, the carers guiding him, one each side as he walked blindly.  His huge black t-shirt was too long, hanging down past his shorts, revealing only his heavy shuffling legs. They were taking him home to bed, they said.

I returned to look more closely at the artworks, to try to understand why the walls were screaming in red and black.  But I could think of nothing but the boy, who must have been heavily medicated.  Those chevrons are emblazoned in my memory, but the boy whose eyes never opened will not remember them.



Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use).  One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works.  I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend.  So I tried it.  When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in Revue illustrée, 1 June 1899

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in ‘La Revue illustrée’, 1 June 1899

Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth!  Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches.  Such fun!  Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?

Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted.  Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on.  Or, rather, was working on until that moment.  Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories.  But why write it if no one will read it?  Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion.  Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!