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Archive for the ‘true stories’ Category

 

three-snakes

I had another snake in my little 2-storey apartment the other day. It’s the weirdest thing. For twenty years I’ve lived here and never had a problem with snakes — except for the night the python came looking to make a meal out of my old cat, who was sleeping near the back door. https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

To have two in six weeks is strange. See: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/snake/ This one I found at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at the bottom of the internal staircase. I’d locked the cat in with me from 2 -4 to prevent him hunting and bringing them in while I was having my cuppa-tea-and-a-lie-down. I can only conclude that I must have inadvertently locked the snake in with us when I came back from the beach and shut the doors at two.

A sobering thought.

Whether it was the same snake, come looking for more skinks (they live under my stove), I’m not sure. It certainly looked the same. Same size, six feet, same colour, black. Fortunately, he eventually slid out just the way the other one did, sailing out through the front door, which I’d opened wide for him. But I had a few bad moments before that: I’d lost sight of him when I went to look for a bucket to catch him in. That’s the hard bit. You come back, the snake’s disappeared and you don’t know where it is. All I could do was sit on the sofa in my living room and wait, like the woman in Henry Lawson’s short story, “The Drover’s Wife”.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

In that story, which appears in his collection, While the Billy Boils https://www.amazon.com/While-Billy-Boils-Henry-Lawson/dp/141919383X the woman, seeing a large snake go into the slab hut she and the four children live in (her husband is away six to eighteen months at a time, droving), sets down a saucer of milk and waits through the night for the snake to appear so she can kill it.

Compared to the drover’s wife, I had it easy. But I’m faced with a quandary now. I’ll have to start keeping the front door closed when I’m out and keeping the cat flap closed, even when I’m home. The old cat has been coming and going through the front door for fourteen years. It worries me that he might be chased by one of the many loose dogs in South Golden Beach, run for the safety of his door and find it shut. But I don’t like the idea of six-foot black snakes sailing around the place whenever they feel like it, and I hate the idea of encountering one at night. I seem to have no option. The snake repellers on the internet have opponents and proponents. I’ll probably try one. In the meantime, I hope to retrain the cat to use the back door only, but I don’t like my chances.

(For reasons I can’t explain, this post is showing up strangely, even though it’s written as usual in 12 pt TNR in the original document and nothing untoward is showing in the WordPress menu. Another internet mystery. These little things are sent to try us.)

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The other day I found myself with nothing to read so I pulled out my old copy of A Book of Australian Verse, selected by Australian poet Judith Wright. I was reading the collection when I came across the poems of John Shaw Neilsen, whose work I’d always admired. This shy, slight figure, who had almost no education, had a love of natural beauty and could produce lines of effortless simplicity such as:

“I was around by the cherries today: all the cherries are pale. The world is a woman in velvet. The air is the colour of ale.” He is considered one of Australia’s finest lyric poets.

Shaw Neilsen

Shaw Neilsen

Whenever I think of Neilsen, I’m reminded of a story my old friend Lyle Freeman told me. Lyle (gone now, alas) wasn’t a writer, but he moved on the edges of the literary circles in Brisbane and Sydney in the 1940s and early ‘50s. In his late teens, he ran away from the family business in Kingaroy, went to Sydney and with friend Lois Whose-last-name-eludes me, they opened a boarding house in the vicinity of Kings Cross, where itinerant writers and artists often stayed while they found their feet. Or not. At one stage, Charlie Blackman and his wife Barbara (not his wife at the time, but) boarded there.

I think it was his friendship with Queensland poet Val Vallis that would have got him the invite to Judith Wright’s house that Sunday.

judith-wrightWhenever Lyle told the story (it was a story I asked to hear more than once), the house he described was in Mount Tambourine, though Wright never moved there permanently until 1950, and the event Lyle described must have happened before 1941. (Neilsen was at that time up from Melbourne; he returned there and died within twelve months of this encounter.) Perhaps Wright toyed with renting houses in the country outside Brisbane as many of us did in those days before land inflated to preposterous proportions; my partner and I had a weekender at Mt Glorious in the ‘60s.

On this particular day, Lyle told me, a group of seven or eight aspiring writers were sitting in Wright’s kitchen debating the state of Australian arts and letters when there came a gentle knock on the back door. Standing there was a shy, slight man in his early seventies. Perhaps an elderly gardener, they thought.

The man spoke only one sentence. He said softly, “I’ve come for my tiffin.” (He meant afternoon tea.) Wright handed him a cup of tea and a plate containng some cup cakes and he went away. “That was Shaw Neilsen,” she explained to the Young Turks. “He’s staying with us for a while. He’s a bit shy.” Lyle said he felt immensely humbled to see this unassuming man shuffle away with his tea and cake. There they’d all been, debating the parlous state of Australian literature, and there he was, the real thing, just wanting peace and quiet and a bit of tiffin.

Lyle had an interesting life. He was a roadie for the Borovanski Ballet when Kathleen Gorham was one of the principal dancers, and he was gay at a time in Australia when it took real guts to come out and say so. He was once insulted at a party by Patrick White, that dour, sharp tongued Australian novelist.

patrick-whitePatrick White

Wine must’ve loosened my old friend’s tongue sufficiently for him to begin talking about his ambitions for a novel. “Hmph,” White said to him. “You’re a small man, and you’ll write a small novel.” That put my friend Lyle, who was six-foot-two, nicely in his place. White was famous for these bon mots.

Lyle never did write that novel. There were no mobile phones when I knew him, and the only photo I have of him is more than forty years old and somewhat blurry. Thanks to the expertise of Paul Smith I’m able to reproduce it here.

The photo was taken on the verandah of the house I shared with Queensand poet, Michael Sariban.

the-presentation-on-the-verandah

From L to R: Ann Hurley, DdeV holding a young Sasha Sariban, Olga Sariban and Lyle Freeman.

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One hundred metres to the east of where I live a small boy’s dream is in progress. Road works, and lots of them.

 

Trench diggers, graders, rollers, water wagons and huge trucks filled with dirt come and go all day on the avenue to the east of us, the first in a series of streets in this long neglected part of the shire to be drained, guttered and footpathed, and have their surfaces completely redone.

Until now, the area to the far north of the shire has been largely left untouched. Reason: it didn’t have many tourists. Now, with the advent of the music festivals three miles to the north — something the locals fought against and lost (of course) — large numbers of mostly young people are being attracted to the area, and they need good roads and somewhere to stay while they’re attending the festivals.

 

music-festival

And so the long suffering residents, lurching for years over the broken roads, shaking their teeth loose, damaging their suspensions at every turn, have now been remembered. Well, sort of. Most of the people I speak to in this area couldn’t have cared less about the footpaths and guttering — or even the drainage, which might yet turn out to be questionable. They just wanted good roads.

Now it’s happening.

All day long, from 7 a.m. onwards, the road works continue. Little boys beg their mothers to take them there, eschewing trips to the park in Brunswick Heads, accompanied even by ice cream. All they want is a good view of the machines.

 

earthmoving-equipment

And it is exciting. Catching a bus now resembles the scene from First Knight, where Richard Gere as Lancelot ran the gauntlet for a kiss from Julia Ormond as Guinevere. Residents dodge artfully between bulldozers, water wagons, etc. in their efforts to reach the bus stop. And just where your particular stop might be that day is also exciting. As different sections of road are closed, the bus must reroute, and there’s never any notice of this in advance. One just turns up and, half-blind from the dust, dodges various pieces of large machinery (all in motion in different directions), and hopes to find a spot the bus might conceivably pass. It’s interesting. And it’s going to go on for a long time to come, as the council gangs work their way through the suburb.

The cat’s already on tenterhooks from all the tumult. He particularly dislikes the beeping. (I thought machines only beeped when they reversed; these things beep all the time.)

 

annoyed-cat

One thing’s for sure: he’s not going to like it when they’re doing his street.

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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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P1000489(1)

Astrologers tell me I was born with the moon in Pisces, which is supposed to explain my fondness for water and the fragile state of my mental health. Well, who knows? Anyway, perhaps that’s why I fell in love many years ago with the idea of a trip on a houseboat — not that I’m an intrepid sailor; I don’t know port from starboard, and though I can stay afloat in calm water, I can’t swim for nuts.

When it came my turn to organise the biennial get-together of a few old Ag Scientists and spouses (the operative word here is old; if you want to be politically correct elderly), I wondered what I would do. I live in a broom cupboard three hundred metres from the Pacific Ocean. Eight of us couldn’t stay there. What to do? Then I remembered my houseboat dream. l made enquiries. T’was possble: The rental for 4 days and nights was a little over $200 per person. This amount can be a lot or a little, depending on the state of your finances.

Off we went.

The first night one of my girlfriends and I spent a lot of time wandering the boat while everyone else slept. We were trying to uncover the source of various odd noises. Were we dragging the anchor? What was that strange banging noise we could hear upstairs? Had we dropped the anchor too short and the nose of the boat was slowly being pulled under the water as the tide rose? (My particular favourite.) Etc. etc. Eventually exhaustion overcame us and we slept. To put it in buddhist terms, we “wore the experience out, and so were able to relinquish it.” Whatever.

We had a bit of an accident on our first morning out. In attempting to get from the houseboat to the dinghy, one of our number fell into the river. But we fished him out and dried him off and gave him a cup of tea. Soon he was as good as new.

More adventures befell us. With me as navigator and our Fallen in the Water (FITW) skipper, we managed to run aground later on that day. Well, of course, what were you expecting? I have zero skills as a nav. In my defence I have to say that when we reached the point where we had to choose one waterway or the other, the green bouys I was following appeared equally relevant — or irrelevant, depending on how you were looking at it. It was just bad luck that decided me to tell our intrepid skipper to go right (starboard?) instead of left (port)?

“We need to rock the boat from side to side,” our FITW skipper told us. So we rushed to the upper deck and ran en masse from one side of the boat to the other while he revved the engine below. We were lucky: We were able tto reverse off the sandbank without having to submit to the shame of being towed off, or whatever it is they do under those circumstances.

We managed to get into and out of the dinghy without further mishaps.

 P1000498

 

Here we’re returning from lunch at the Tumbulgum Pub; I’m the one in the orange pullover, clinging white-knuckled to the gunwale. Note to those in the Northern Rivers: The food at the pub was OK, but if you want ambience and nice food, skip the pub and go the the little Birdwing Cafe down the road.

With a little help from our friends, we got to the Tweed River Art Gallery to see the new installation: a recreation of some of the rooms in recently-deceased artist Margaret Olley’s terrace house in Sydney. Olley was famous for her house, which was a mix of objets d’art, paintings and clutter.

 Margaret Olley

 

It was a good trip. The weather held fine, the Tweed lived up to expectations — it’s a beautiful river and there was very little traffic on it while we were there. Evenings as the boat swung at anchor, the stars seemed to wheel slowly across the night sky, and the moon slipped in and out of view in the windows of the room where I was sleeping.

If you’ve never had a trip on a houseboat, think about trying it sometime. It’s different.

[Photos of the Tweed and the “Kalinda” by Dr Martin Playne. ]

 

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Quadcopter

Quadcopter

If you live in Australia, watch out for umanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when you’re out in the open. My girlfriend and I encountered one last Saturday at Boulder Beach, a little-known beach north of Ballina in New South Wales. This beach is something of an oddity; it’s very different from the sandy beaches of the rest of northern NSW. It’s literally covered in small boulders, washed smooth by the sea.

 

Boulder Beach

It was lunchtime, we spread out a blanket and had a picnic under a breadfruit tree. After we’d eaten, we went out some 300 metres to paddle in the rock pools left behind at low tide. It was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky. As we were rolling up our jeans to wade a bit in one of the larger pools, we heard a sound that didn’t fit in this idyllic seascape. A mechanical sound. Into our line of vision came buzzing an unmanned quadcopter about three feet in diameter, all black metal, flying at a height of around 30 feet. Unnoticed by us, some guy in a van had pulled up onshore and launched this UAV, which he kept in our vicinity, the red light of its camera pointing at us. He had the entire empty beach to fly it in but he kept it near  us. It seemed to be a deliberate provocation. We suspected we were being photographed so we didn’t react.

If I’d had a slingshot I might’ve brought it down, but slingshots are illegal in Australia, while anyone can buy a UAV and you don’t need a licence to fly one. There’s so much concern about the increasing use of these drone UAVs the Australian government recently convened a special senate commitee hearing on the subject. The upshot of it was that at present there are no privacy laws in Australia covering the operation of drones in open spaces; only safety concerns can legally be addressed. The Australian Civil Aviation Authority CASA’s ruling is that a UAV must never be closer than 90 feet to any member of the public. This guy’s was around 30 feet.

After five minutes of so we tired of this passive aggression and began to return to shore. The operator brought the drone back in. Although he was standing one metre away from where we’d left our picnic blanket and gear — an unusual thing in itself to do when he had the whole beach to choose from — he never spoke to us when we returned, never made eye contact, though he kept the front of the landed drone facing us and its red camera light remained on.

What do you do in a situation like that? You have no legal rights. If you attack him or damage his drone (the high-end ones can cost well over a thousand dolars), you’ll be the one who ends up in court. If I’d known at the time about the CASA ruling of 90 feet, I might’ve spoken to him; then again, I might not have – I try to steer clear of loonies, especially ones I don’t know and whose behaviour I can’t predict.

I wondered if he had a little online site tucked away somewhere where he put up footage of the women he’d aggressed, or was it just a private kick? This middleaged guy with glasses didn’t look to me as if he’d be game to fly it over any men, unless perhaps they were on crutches. Using the rego number of his van, I found he’d registered with a UAV site in the US on 17 December 2012, so I’m sure we’re not the first women he’s pestered.

The moral of this story is: next time you’re out in the open in Australia and think you’re alone, think again. Some passive-aggresive stalker three hundred metres distant could be sending a drone your way.

Ah, brave new world.

Danielle

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 The Kid

As 2013 draws to a close I find myself thinking more and more about my neighbour Ron, who passed away in October of this year after a long battle with cancer. We lived across from one another for over 13 years and, although we were never in and out of one another’s places (we would’ve hated that), we were there for one another. He was a single parent. When he first moved in, he had a boy who’d just started high school — a wild boy.

A number of years ago, when Ron was still well and I didn’t even know he had cancer, I went over to his place one day for coffee, and he told me his story, how he’d been given less than five years to live and how he’d decided he couldn’t die because no one else would be able to raise his son, whom he called ‘the kid’.

Ron was a born storyteller. The whole story rolled off his tongue and when I came home I simply wrote it down, just the way he’d told it to me. I’ve never done that before or since; I’m not that kind of writer. Later, when I wanted to enter the story in a fiction competition based around the subject of cancer, I added an extra frisson by having the narrator say she’d been on her way to commit suicide and the story of Ron’s courage had stopped her. The story ended up being short-listed in the Cancer Council of Victoria’s short story competition and included in an exhibition of art, poetry and stories, fiction and non-fiction, that toured country Victoria in (I think) 2009.

Ron was stoked to see his story in print. He was one of those unsung heroes who live and die unnoticed by the world, known only to a few friends and family. As his illness progressed, I saw a bit more of him, making him a baked dinner on Sundays when I made my own, but leaving him in peace to eat it in his own time. He had a miniature fox terrier named Bella, and even when things became difficult for him and he was on heavy doses of morphine, we would still see him walking Bella, growing thinner and thinner every week. He used to say, “She’s been so good for me. I wouldn’t get out and walk if it wasn’t for her.”

If you haven’t already done so, you can read Ron’s story FREE at http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2013/11/short-story-the-kid-by-danielle-de-valera/

Remember, though, I’m a fiction writer: I was never a widow, nor am I contemplating suicide. (I left that behind with my youth.) The great part about the story is the real-life ending. Although given only five years to live, Ron lived to see his son all grown up with a kid of his own who promises to be every bit as much a tiger as he was. Life goes on.

The best of everything to you all for the New Year. May we be safe and well in 2014. (Wealth is good, but health is even better.)

Danielle

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