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!


Not quite the back of beyond

For a couple of months I’ve been waiting for a journal posted in August, and yesterday it arrived in my letterbox:  Eleven Eleven, Issue 19, a Journal of Literature and Art produced by the California College of the Arts.  I was surprised at the size of it, about half an inch thick, 256 pages of stories and poetry and art, some in colour.

Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover

Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover

The editors had published two stories I translated from a collection by Jean Lorrain:  ‘Princess Mandosiane’ and ‘Queen Maritorne’, and sent me a copy by way of payment.  Seeing the stories in the journal was pretty special, and knowing that readers will have to go out and buy it gives the experience an edge.

But even being published in a free online magazine earlier this year was, I have to admit, a thrill!  Another one of Jean Lorrain’s stories, ‘Madame Gorgibus’, was published in Intranslation, part of The Brooklyn Rail, ‘an independent forum for arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond’.  I was so glad to read that last word, my home being far far away from New York.  Indeed, I’m very grateful to American magazines that welcome submissions from Australia, from the back of beyond (well not quite), since there are virtually no journals here that would take my translations.

What opportunities there are for writers in this electronic world!



Walter Burley had two wives and seven children.  His wives had short lives, and four of his children died in infancy.  The three who survived to manhood, Alfred, James and Frederick, went to France to fight in World War One, even Alfred who had his own wife and six children.  Fortunately for them he returned.  Pity about Alfred’s two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, for both their lives ended in France in 1917.  With all his siblings dead, Alfred came home to Australia in 1919 to find his wifeless father, Walter, was also dead and gone.  All of Alfred’s original family were in the ground.


I learned this little story of big losses through the Australian War Memorial’s prompting.  It’s reminding us nightly, from sunset to sunrise, that 62,000 Australians died in the fight that was World War One.  Walter’s sons, Frederick and James, are on the Honour Roll currently being projected onto the Memorial’s facade.  They are two of my grandparents’ cousins who did not return from France, so I’ve been zipping over to the Memorial to catch the names as they appear.  This month it’s Frederick’s turn.

I’ve read the army records, including a few letters and the immediate family history, of Frederick and his brothers.  I’m struck by the number of deaths that left Alfred the only standing family member.

The abundance of our ancestors’ details now available means we’re discovering their long-forgotten joys and losses.  But look closely;  there are even a few of their untruths.  Frederick’s details on the Roll reveal that, when he was young, he wished he was younger;  the Memorial records his age at death as 24, but he was born in 1887, which in 1917 made him 30…  Frederick died and was buried in April 1917 at Vaulx-Vraucourt, Pas de Calais, forever youngish.  He lied to the Australian Army, but he can’t lie to me because his birth details are these days online for all the world to see.

These Burley men were my first cousins three times removed.  I snapped this photo of Frederick’s name at 8:05pm one evening a couple of weeks ago, when it shone for 30 seconds.  In June 2016 his brother’s name, J.E. Burley, will be projected.  I’ve marked it in my diary.

Frederick Miles Burley, name projected onto the Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

Frederick Miles Burley, Honour Roll name projection, Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

The names of two other men, my grandfather’s cousins Frank and D’Arcey, were projected onto the Memorial during this year’s cold, starry winter evenings.  The significance of all this for me?  My grandfather also went to France, but he was a cousin who returned.  His name, like Alfred Burley’s, is not one of the 62,000 being projected, 30 times over 4 years, beneath the dome of the Memorial.


Thank you

Yesterday I read two writing prompts that gave me ideas.  The first one was the Daily Post’s prompt, Handwritten, and the second was in the ebook, 365 writing prompts, where the prompt for 11th September is Thank you.  The task is defined:

“The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).”

It was funny they should say that about the internet and rants, because I was grazed by this combination today.  I was feeling thankful for something that happened because of the internet:  a nomination for a literary prize by the editor of Eleven Eleven literary journal.  Last month the journal published my translation of Jean Lorrain’s Princess Mandosiane.  Knowing little about prizes, I made what was perhaps a mistake and searched for online information.  Within seconds I was reading a rant about the meaninglessness of nominations, the unlikelihood of winning a prize, the embarrassment of being one of tens of thousands of nominees.  Don’t put it in your bio, pleads the ranter, don’t put it in your résumé.

One moment I was thankful, the next I was fizzing.  It took literally seconds for an internet rant to douse my small flame of pleasure.

Digging deeper and reading wider, I found a number of positive articles, a number of writers reminding readers, and me, that it’s incredibly hard work to get something published, let alone to be nominated for a prize, and that that’s something to put in your bio, something to write home about.  In fact, since I’m away from home, that’s something I’m going to do.

Today I’m simply thankful for Eleven Eleven journal and for the editor’s opinion of my work.

To illustrate my little achievement, here’s a photo I took at the beach this morning when I saw this rocky man laughing up at the sky.  Ha ha ha, you ranters!  A nomination is a reason to be cheerful.

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW



The Daily Post writing prompt for 11th September was Handwritten:  When was the last time you wrote something by hand?

I write by hand many times a day, and indeed was handwriting something for another blog post only moments before I began typing these words.  But writing for this blog is something I do infrequently, unfortunately.  Translating literature is what I do every day, writing the translation by hand before keying it into my computer.  Usually I write with a cheap ballpoint pen or pencil on cheap note paper.  However, a German friend recently sent me a calligraphy pen and coloured inks, and a French friend sent me a Clairefontaine notebook with its silky smooth papier velouté.  To test them both out, I wrote the fourth verse from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

St Patrick's Breastplate v.4

The last lines are particularly meaningful to me, for I love the sea and its rocks, not to mention stability…  Just this morning, in the small bay of Lilli Pilli Beach, I was snapping waves as they crashed against rock projections:

LilliPilli Beach NSW

Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

I once heard that when you’re focused on a subject or scene to photograph it, you can’t feel depressed.  Your brain is too busy getting the shot right.  Similarly, when you’re writing out your thoughts by hand, your disappointments and confusions flow out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper.  But no one needed to tell me that.


Weekly photo challenge: Connected

Here’s a direction sign from World War II Libya.  The photo taken in about 1941 is in my father’s war album, and is marked as “Signpost Libyan Desert”.  The camps are named after Australia’s state capitals, and might have helped the Australian forces to feel (slightly) connected with home, several months’ sail away.

All the capital cities are there except for Hobart.  But this board is a palimpsest, a surface where earlier writing has been removed, scraped off, to make way for later writing.  Here, the former text has been rubbed or washed away but if you look closely you’ll see the ghosts of smaller words, including the name of Hobart.  Whatever happened to Camp Hobart?

There’s also a bit of graffiti on the bottom where a few blokes have scratched their names.

Searching for the locations of the other place names, I learnt that Ikingi Maryût was in the Western Desert outside Alexandria, Egypt, to Libya’s east.  But I’m not sure about Abd-el-Kader, though it had been the name of a popular nineteenth-century leader of Algeria, to Libya’s west.

Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941

Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941

Thanks to WordPress for the photo challenge.  See what the word ‘connected’ triggered in others.



Tonight at 7.52 when it was 6 degrees Celsius and blowing an icy gale, I took this photo of D’arcey Richard Nottingham Shaw’s name projected onto the Australian War Memorial.  It was hard to hold my camera still in the wind, but the photo is not too bad.  D’arcey was killed in action on The Somme in France in 1917, yet he has no grave;  his remains were never found.  On his Roll of Honour card, digitally available on the A.W.M. website, it is noted that D’arcey Shaw’s wounds were the result of being buried twice from bombs bursting near him in Pozières.  How ironic, that they should write that, when in the end he was buried nowhere.


D R N Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 26th July 2015

Because he died defending Australia, his name was written in light for 30 seconds tonight, perhaps for my benefit alone.  As far as I know, none of his other family members live in Canberra.  Since I’m just ten minutes away, it’s easy to whip down to the Memorial and see the names when they come up between sunset and sunrise.

D’arcey was my grandfather’s cousin.  I want to remember him and his two brothers who also died in France, in the war to end all wars, because my grandfather was there too, but he didn’t die.

Nineteen-year-old D’arcey was the second son in his family to be killed in France, and there would be a third, Frank Percy Shaw.  His name was projected onto the War Memorial on 21st June, a night that was cool but not freezing like tonight.  I wrote about him here.

As I was leaving around the back of the Memorial I saw four kangaroos standing guard in the dark.  They’re delightful at a distance and are happy to be photographed from a car window, but if I’d got out and approached them they would have either hopped away or hopped towards me and treated me as an enemy.

Kangaroos AWM

Kangaroos at the back of the Australian War Memorial

The next date that I will have a relative’s name up for viewing is in early spring.  I’m happy knowing it won’t be another chilling evening.