Friday, December 30, 2011

A few good men - RIP

Another Qld Flood hero has died.

The good man who skippered the ferry, saving the boardwalk from crashing into the Gateway Bridge, the good man who saved countless lives whilst risking his own in a helicopter in thrashing rain, rescuing people stranded on rooftops, and now the good man in Theodore who helped so many in his own community.

Thank you for your selfless gifts to us, to Queensland, to your community.

Rest now, in Peace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Qld Floods - almost a year later

It was my mother in law's home.

I blogged and photographed the event and over 16,000 readers have shared my story. It's all here, in fact reading parts of it and seeing the photos has set off my tears again. Still distressing. It must be deeply hidden.

The house was my mother in laws: she had to have it bulldozed, and the land is still vacant, covered in weeds. I asked her about it over Christmas.

“Have you been back Gwen? Have you seen the land? Taken photos?"

She just shook her head, and said later: “It's too sad. I can't look at it.”

Her mouth tries to smile, but for a moment her chin wavers. I held her hand briefly, just a squeeze. I am here for you. I know. I understand.

It's heartbreaking stuff at 77, nearly 78, to start again, by yourself.

Brisbane City Council have given her a lot of grief, too. Too long to go into here, but she does hope to start building in January 2012.

"That house would have seen me out" she says. Squeeze. "I have to make so many decisions, I just don't know anymore." Squeeze.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Xmas Thoughts

Christmas was easier this year.

I did less, expected less. Wrote no cards. My friend of 23 years comes over, flourishing a bottle of pink champagne, begs me to make her card, as I have done each year, for the past 10 years. She doesn’t even send me one in the mail. I make no online Christmas profiles, not even for me, until the digital card.

Sent it out and received only 2 responses. I expected less. My mind was caught daydreaming: between walking to the South Pole with Cas and Jonesy, and planning dinner parties that didn’t happen. Blowing the dead leaves from the courtyard, and watching possums hang upside down in the starlight, when I did have friends over for dinner. They spend 30 minutes photographing it. Mostly, the images don’t come out, their cameras cannot focus in the semi-darkness, so I aim my little Canon *snap, *snap, and there, job is done.

I fall into the habit of eating Jaffas after breakfast, my treat for the day.

This year has exhausted us all; it is enough to simply be here, in the present, accounted for. No floods nor cyclone nor earthquake or tsunami has stopped us yet. Slowed us down, sure, but we are still here, survivors. Tireder, older, somewhat wiser - and here. There is little joy this Christmas, no kisses, no hugs, no exclamations of gift giving. In fact I had to ask if my husband even received a particular gift from me. He had. Little joy, but we are here and accounted for.

I wash my lead crystal champagne flutes in the dishwasher, and don’t even flinch when they come out cloudy. I am grateful to have used them, grateful to find an excuse to drink champs with friends and family over breakfast bowls of fresh fruit; gleaming strawberries and purple blackberries against the gold of mangoes and red blushing watermelon. The sweet tang of passionfruit coats each mouthful. The cat sleeps at my feet, follows me around like a faithful dog. I cook fresh chicken, stuffing its cavity with dried apricots, pine nuts, grained bread pulled apart roughly, basting its skin until golden. We don’t eat it until the next day, but knowing it’s there, gives me comfort. Roasting pans of baked potatoes and pumpkin cooked in duck fat line our stomachs. It’s all we can do to flick the remote control. Mostly, we lay on the bed, radio off, reading. No need for conversation, we are alone in our thoughts and only a brushed hand away from each other.

We are content.


This year, without consultation, my husband decides we are to spend Christmas here in the city. For a man that has spent every Christmas covered in sand and heat at the beach since he was two years old, this is a huge leap. I don’t mind, I’m grateful (that word again!) for the change, and the air conditioning. Although our beach house was built for sea breezes and not air conditioning, over the years buildings and development have choked our lovely easterly night breeze, and we usually lay on top of the bed, listless with heat, lacking energy, the whirr of the fan our only company.

Another new change this year was meeting my dear old Rockhampton school friend Sue for morning tea, and some light Christmas shopping. We buy a bird bath, walking around the plant nursery inspecting the various designs. A carved column or a twisted stand? Deep with a rim or shallow and embossed? Finally, decision made, we hump it puffing from the car to her guest room, giggling like schoolgirls - hiding it beside the double bed. Shopping again, I park underneath the centre, in case of rain. We buy so much our arms struggle to hold the bags, stuffed with last minute panicked buying. Grog. Food. Santa stuffers for my 25 year old son.
Standing at Myers, I buy two pairs of earrings; white pearly drops for me, and sparkling blue sapphires for her, to match the intensity of her eyes. ‘Look surprised’ I joke, and she feigns mock shock as a rehearsal. We both laugh, kids again, students in our daggy drab grey uniforms and moppy ties around our necks. Outside the rain belts down, and my stomach tightens, just a little.


Christmas Eve champagne drinks in our front courtyard, only the second time it has ever been used. Years ago I hosted a party for my sister for her 50th birthday there, hovering between the guests and scanning the road for expected Thursday Island Dancers, who never showed. I have slaved over the garden for this night, this Christmas Eve, and our friends and neighbours arrive with bottles to be opened, and plates of food to share. Carols sing out from the new CD player we have bought, and not once does it jump or scratch or repeat. Heaven! The humidity threatens to sap us of all energy, the occasional spot of rain sending our eyes searching skywards. Friends from Innisfail arrive and we feast on glazed ham, Bangalow roast pork, salads and vegetables, sparking Shiraz. In the morning we’ll drive his car back over to the house they are staying in, and admire the view over Brisbane, and the elegance of a freshly renovated home for a single professional woman. She’s done well for herself, I try to push the envy urge down and be happy for her. It’s Christmas Day; I am happy for her, for us all. New ideas, new customs for us this year.


My brother in law arrives with his family, having flown from Cairns at 5.30am. It’s been a long night and an early start for them all; they are exhausted, and sit slumped in the chairs, catching up on family news and events. We are so happy to be together and chatting that I totally forget to put out the Bon bons. No matter. We feast on fruit salad and champagne and my offer to cook salmon scrambled eggs will have to wait until tomorrow. Now it’s almost lunchtime. My mother in law shuffles off to join other family members for Christmas lunch, coughing and hacking so badly we advise her to take some antibiotics. She stays with us for the next two nights so we can keep an eye on her health. We eat so much it’s as much as we can do to shovel shortbread into our mouth for dinner. In the morning I wake with a heavy head cold, courtesy of my mother-in-law.

Our city Christmas has been a great success. Hope yours was too.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Limpet/oyster/glass (Writing exercise)

Take my love; she sang to the waiting shore
He clung like a limpet to her breast.

Placed an oyster, ripe with sea, into her open mouth; sealed it with a kiss.

They toasted their lives in wine glasses - pure: each sip,
Another kiss,
A declaration of eternity.

Long ago.

I stoop to collect the memories in my hand.

Chinese hats/houses for pearls/jagged glass now smooth

It is this I remember, not their kiss or heart-love.
It is this I hold in my hand.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A life of gratitude – a conversation with Ian (Skip) Skippen

Skippen has been with Austereo for 23 years. In September Triple M decided to cancel The Cage, a breakfast show Skippen had anchored since January 2006.

We meet, sitting in the quiet garden behind the Black Cat Bookshop.

Ian Skippen ponders a leaf that has fallen on him. “Why did that just happen?” he says in a moment of reflection, and as he faces day 45 of unemployment, he accepts whatever future his life holds for him.

“I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m so comfortable with the decision,” he says, gazing to the sky. His face shines with not only optimism, but gratitude, a daily thanks for everything around him.
“In the end, it was a job, and I’ve been in a position where I could do a lot of stuff, and help a lot of people, but it was still just a job. If that’s the worst that will happen to me; hello, no one’s died here. There are people dealing with some very heavy duty stuff in life, and all around me. Put into perspective, this is nothing.”

A radio veteran of 42 years, he sees nothing but happiness and a beckoning future for himself.

As a teenager, he sent in tapes to radio stations, reading aloud from magazines; a motivated youngster who knew what he wanted. Not for him following his father’s footsteps into the funeral industry, and not for him a life of football, although it was a great love. He could have been the original Glee character, torn between singing soprano and playing hard on the footy field. The pull of music and speaking with people were greater, and so a radio career was born. “I’ve always been a performer,” he says, “I really wanted to be a disc jockey.”

You’d find him each year at the Ekka, nose pressed against the glass booth, watching every move the DJ’s made in the broadcast caravan.
A shower singer and frustrated drummer and guitarist, radio has given Ian his career and fed his passion. As a former scout involved in the annual Gang Show, Ian attributes his appreciation of cooking, his love of people, and doing things for people; to scouting, and the people who influenced him at the time. A life of service, freely given.

“It’s just something you do, the idea of being there for others.”
Although now living on acreage, he is city bred, and occasionally daydreams of working in the country again. He loves the creative process and copywriting part of radio, but for now is enjoying his free time, staying up later each night; waking and rising at a more reasonable hour than 2.30am. Each morning he finishes his shower with a brace of cold water. Health is important. It’s the one thing he fears, illness and a failing body. His dad is 91 and in reasonable condition for a man who has just had a recent pacemaker inserted.

In his new freedom, he has loosely embraced Social Media, Facebook in particular, although he’s still not convinced it’s necessary. “Why am I doing this” he questions. He can’t see the point of Twitter: perhaps one day? He still hasn’t worked out what he wants to do when he grows up, but a tell-all book is definitely out. “There’s nothing to tell.” he says with a shrug and a smile.

As a parent he questions his skills as a father; writes his sons notes. “Oh dad, you’re such a dag,” they laugh. He beams with pride recalling when his son won a sports award. “Never bring shame on the family” is one of the mottos they live with. “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Always be passionate. I don’t care what you do, you have to be passionate, whether you are driving a dozer, or making a coffee. Be passionate.”

The days are filled pottering around the house, working his way through a long list. Trimming hedges, getting stuck into the garden. Painting, staining, carpentry. “Being a part of the morning. Having more time and not being always being tired, feels pretty damn good. Not being a slave to the alarm clock is a great thing.”

“I’ve been sanguine about the whole thing. I’ve no animosity towards anyone, it’s not my thing anyway; I’ve had a great run, doing what I’ve done. It’s never happened to me before. This is the first time in 42 years I haven’t had a contract to go to, and it feels okay, although I miss interacting with people the most, chatting to them on the phone and on the radio.”

“Everything happens for a reason. I was speaking with my wife Helen, and our routines are changing with our growing sons. They are off to uni, and playing sport each weekend, and suddenly here we are, Darby and Joan. All of this has happened at a time of our lives, where strange things are happening anyway. I’m very peaceful.”

Ian believes there’s something for all of us, something pushing us forward, be it God or whatever you see. He’s big on karma. “What you put out, you get back”, but not in a spiteful revengeful way. In a rewarding way. It’s his dad’s family motto: Nice to be nice.

There’s always room in Ian’s life for a God. “I speak to Him every morning - to Someone - and I have done for years and years and years.” It’s a heritage still lived by his uncle, a Methodist Minister, and his own strict Anglican/Methodist upbringing. Singing hymns can still get Ian misty eyed, especially How Great Thou Art, although his favourite song of all time would be the New Zealand National Anthem. “I just love that song! I love the words, and the melody, it’s so emotive. For a disc jockey that has spun all the latest and greatest hits for the past few decades, this comes as a surprise, but it’s the music and the words that get to him.

“As you grow in life, you come to realise there is something. People come into my life and I wonder why. Where did you come from? How did that happen? I could instance many, many things in my life, and I am grateful. Thank you.”

Living a thankful life of gratitude, Ian ponders his future. He’s not in a hurry to do anything, and yet he’s not ready to retire either. “My passion is life; I just love what is here, and what’s next. I love to get out of bed in the morning, and sniff, and look around.

“Something’s coming,” he says as he sips his coffee. “There is something there, which I now have this downtime to pursue. My grandmother always said: Don’t you worry about what others are doing. Everyone finds their nitch in life, and you’ll find yours.”

For now Ian wonders at the physics of flight, maths problems in newspapers, and the true value of spelling.