Thursday, March 26, 2009


Visiting our daughter and son-in-law, K and B, and their children, a month after the bushfire on their property, Farmdoc and I walked along firebreak tracks freshly gouged through the bush by brigade bulldozers. On one side the trees were unburnt and tangled with undergrowth, on the other side there was bare dirt, blackened trunks and scorched leaves.

We saw where the fire began, where it raced down Foxs Lane, only missing several houses by a few metres because of the efforts of the Country Fire Authority. In one front yard a fibreglass water tank was half burnt. In another, a new poly tank stood next to a cleared site where the debris of a destroyed house had been carted away.

We saw in the blackened trees the path of the fire as it headed down Foxs Lane, straight towards K and B's lovingly tended organic apple orchard and the chickens in their portable runs amongst the fruit trees. Then, redirected by a sudden wind change, the track veered across paddocks into the Wombat State Forest and through the bush that runs across the top of K and B’s property.

B is one of the most fire prepared people I know: sprinklers on the roof and around the fringe of the bush, a water tank on the back of a ute, fire hoses and petrol-fuelled water pump. He says now that it’s not enough to say your fire plan is just to evacuate, because there may not be sufficient warning. He says that you have to secure your house as well as you can so it doesn’t become tinder to burn your neighbours’ property. And you have to be properly equipped to flee too, with long sleeves and trousers, woollen blanket and water bottles. That if you stay you need to be prepared for that too. In these latest fires, people napped in their houses with closed windows so they didn't smell the smoke until it was all around them.

From K’s kitchen window the view is of blackened trunks. In the damp of early morning, the air smells of ash, like a cold dead fire left too long in the grate. But their house was saved and so were the sheds, the orchard and the market garden and all the animals.

I can’t imagine how that week felt, as they lived in the house surrounded by smoke, heat and spot fires that kept flaming into life. The fire brigade patrolled night and day, back-burning in some places, putting out flames that threatened to grow too big. K and B lived on their nerves.

But they, and we, know they were amongst the oh so lucky ones. They have a kilometre of fencing to replace and they’ve lost their innocence, but they have a supportive community and they discovered that the human spirit is as resilient as the Australian bush.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Call Me Elle

The story goes that when Elle Macpherson was asked in an interview what she likes to read, she replied that she never reads anything she hasn’t written herself.

It’s probably not even true, but it’s a great story, so in our family whenever one of us is reading something they wrote themselves, we call them Elle.

For the last few days I’ve been revising my book, using some enormously useful comments by my wise and generous friend Jane, a dictionary and the Style Manual. When I’m done I’ll send it out to another reader and then when it comes back, I’ll do another Elle.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Earlier this week I went to Hobart. I discovered when I got there that I had left the power cord of my laptop back home in Mole Creek, neatly wound – I had a clear memory of rolling it – on my desk. My first reaction was to sulk. When I’d done that I realised there was no pressing work I had to do, so I could just enjoy myself, drinking coffee and reading. Making the most of the situation – and the mild autumnal weather – I suppose.

I sat all day the first day reading the latest Meanjin (Volume 68 Number 1 2009). It was a great companion and just what I needed.

This from an interview of Nam Le by Sophie Cunningham:

How do you judge others’ work?
…For me something has got to keep me wanting to turn the pages, not necessarily in a cheap charged way but just in a sense that I feel as though there’s an authority or a confidence or a strangeness that’s at work in the pages that makes me want to submit myself or relinquish some part of myself. Beyond that, I define it in negative relief, honestly. I define it by stuff that doesn’t jolt me out, stuff that doesn’t make amateur mistakes, by stuff that obviously takes care and doesn’t take easy outs.

Like your approach to your own work?
It’s so easy to hedge and to worry about sentimentality or melodramatic prose, but if you haven’t got the guts to risk sentimentality then you risk losing sentiment altogether. [As an editor] I’d always go for the raw and the strange over the polished and competent.

Nice words to have in my mind as I approach the revision of my book.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Last Friday afternoon I printed out the chapter of my memoir that I was working on and took it with me down to the Laurel Berry, Mole Creek, which is where I’ve written so much of this book. There, while I shared an iced coffee with Farmdoc (they know exactly how we like it) I revised the chapter. And that was it for the first draft. Done! Finished!

On the way home we picked blackberries and a few apples from a street tree and fed our neighbours’ dogs because they were away.

In my inbox, when I checked, was a message from my editor, asking me when I might be ready to deliver the manuscript. A nice coincidence.

Over the weekend I read through the manuscript and made some changes. One or two chapters stood out as needing a fair bit of tightening but I decided to leave those for my workshopping crew, to give them something to do.

I knew there was still a long way to go with this book and a lot of hard work, but I felt freer then than I had in a long time so I celebrated by making blackberry and apple jam.

The wood for the cooking stove came from a blackwood that fell across the fence into our home paddock a few years ago; it’s dry now and caught quickly.

I couldn’t resist giving this batch of jam a special label.