Tuesday, 14 April 2015


At Morningside
where we got eaten by mosquitoes every summer
where the sun filled the front room with light
and warmed the day bed through winter
my mother's domain was at the back of the house.

The kitchen was the cold room
warmed by my mother's old fashioned baking
scones for visitors
sponge cakes for birthdays
and the Sunday roast when Uncle Nat would visit.

My father cooked his favourites from time to time
kidneys sauteed in cream and a dash of whiskey
liver cooked until it had the texture of leather
tripe cooked in milk
and a pig's head in a pot.

My father was a smallgoods rep
with a van full of cured meats
sides of beef
lamb carcasses ready for the butcher's knife
and occasionally a pig's head.

On some Saturdays
the house would be filled with a sweet smell
a pig's head bubbling for hours on the stove 
in the largest pot in the kitchen
only the pig's pink snout visible above the broth

I didn't feel sad for the pig
this was a pig's fate, to feed a family
he (I assumed all food animals to be boys)
looked quite at home in that aluminium pot surrounded
by bay leaves, carrots, onions, cloves, coriander seeds and pepper.

Mum was not a big fan
but supported my fathers obsession
she helped strip the head of flesh (including the tongue)
placed the mix in rectangular metal trays
and placed two heavy irons on top.

Terrines and hand-made brawn
remind me of my father and his food obsessions
they make me think he never lost his Italian roots
and his love of peasant food
though, unlike his father, he never made salami.

I wonder
perhaps the brawn connection was through his Irish mother. 

(c)  Steve Capelin 2015

Thursday, 26 February 2015

When you can't see what's under your nose/ in front of your face.

The writing of the family story continues. I'm now in the throes of rewriting the first draft of the Lorenzo Capelin (and his family) story. I completed a first draft in December 2014. Krissy who is acting as my editor read the first two chapters and said "less telling more doing".

I re-read the opening chapters and she's right. I've written it seen through the eyes of the children but they are outside the story and I need to have them at the centre of the action. OMG, as I've begun that process I realise that I need to rewrite the whole thing again almost line by line - discarding some passages and reimagining others as scenes. We need to see things happening rather than hear about them or observe them.

It's hard work. Every bit as hard as the first draft which semed well nigh impossible at times. At least this time I have the story in a complete form so I can rearrange and rewrite it without needing to always be faced with a blank page.

When you can't see what's under your nose/in front of your face.

Two things.
1. Krissy has put someting new into my head and as a result I am able to read my work with fresh eyes. With a certain detachment. A more criticall eye. Thanks Krissy.

2.Only tangentially related to the novel - last week I got distracted (as you do from time to time) and googled my own name. Why? Well I'm off to Italy in June and I still have an unfulfilled desire to connect with something or someone carrying my name in that countrs. As many of you know my great grandfather arrived with another name "Lorenzo Perin". (it's a Perin reunion my brother and I are off to).

Capelin, we are told was a nick-name. I was sure there must be similarly nick-named people in Italy. So that's why I googled my name. I used a range of spellings. Up popped a site which could show the distribution of family names across the Italian state, region by region, town by town. There are plenty of Cappellinis but mainly centred on the Piedmont area in the west. I tried Cappellin and wondered why I'd never done this before. There they were, and all centred on the Veneto Province where Lorenzo came from.

I thought, of course, we've inherited a literal spellling created in Australia. It's an Angliced spelling. Why would the Italians spell it that way? AND THEN I thought I wonder if there are any of that spelling (Cappellin) in Australia. I searched the white pages. YES. There are.quite a few!

 I called one number in Woolongong (who live around the corner from my late uncle Cyril Capelin in fact) and had a long chat to Silvio and his wife. They've never heard of Cyril though they have all lived in the same suburb over a fifty year period -with the same name. I've now written to them and hope they might have some information which is helpful. They might not be related in any way of course and may have a completely different story about the name. But they do come from Veneto, outside Treviso, not far from the village where Lorenzo was born. Interesting.

Oh, by the way. I then checked the name under which my great gandmother was listed when she died in Noumea in 1881. You guessed it - Catterina Cappellin(i). The clue was there. I just didn't see it.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

In defence of "Budgie Smugglers".

Home Beach and Cylinder Beach - scene of the atrocity.
On Stradbroke Island for a week in January my mate Denis and I got a pasting from our lady friends for having the effrontery to wear our "budgie smugglers", "DTs", "Speedos" on the beach. It seems this once commonplace and practical swimming attire has become persona non grata on Australian beaches. It has been replaced by the incredibly impractical "boardies". "No boy child of mine will be seen displaying his legs between the knee and hips" seems the rule adopted by mothers. Teenagers and young men have followed their mothers advice. Boardies are quite practical if you are actually riding a "board" but useless if you're a "body surfer". What about "drag"? What about 'balloon shorts'? What about being "close to nature"? What about too many "quotation marks"?

I swim therefore .... artwork by Lynne
I blame Tony Abbott (for just about everything). Yes, there was a groundswell of support for board shorts over the fifty year period since everyone wanted to think of themselves as a "surfie". I blame "Gidget" for that short phase even if you haven't heard of Gidget (google "Gidget Goes Hawaiian"). But the Speedo/DT/Budgie Smuggler survived all of that - the surf Lifesaving fraternity never abandoned their "briefs" until Tony made them (and himself) the laughing stock of the world by wearing red Speedos at every opportunity - announcing the scrapping of the carbon tax, knighting Prince Phil, turning back the boats, promising to pay millionaires to look after their babies, shirt-fronting Putin etc.

At key moments he used his red speedos as a distraction technique and the media fell for it. He will, without doubt, be wearing them next Tuesday in his bid to stave off his inevitable demise.There has been more written about his swimming togs than about the plight of refugees on Manus Island.

The result - the community has generalised this animosity to apply to all "budgie smuggler" wearing men - OBSCENE! GET OFF THE BEACH! HOW DARE YOU BE ON THE SAME BEACH AS MY DAUGHTER!
Brothers in Budgies

I'm proud to say that Denis and I (and a few others) refused to be cowed and wore our DTs proudly, even at times doing a set of pushups or yoga stretches to demonstrate how practical and comfortable these swimming trunks are. I note that while men have been trending to wear more voluminous beachware women are on the path to full exposure. Nudity. SHOCK! HORROR!

Finally a couple of definitions:

DTs - (Dick Togs, Australian slang) A form of swimming underwear, used mainly for sporting reasons or by really old seedy men at the beach.

BUDGIE SMUGGLERS - (Australian slang) Any item of male bathing costume or underwear that encloses the wearer's genitalia in a manner that resembles the concealment of a budgerigar (or perhaps a goshawk (my addition).

Monday, 19 January 2015

To be 'Je suis Charlie' or not to be


This is an interesting article in response to the French massacre of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine staff.
If you read it I recommend that you also follow some of the 600 comments which it has provoked. They provide a challenge to open mindedness in that they are not uniform and illustrate how simple it can be to identify with a point of view and then shut up shop, believing that you have formed your opinion and that yours is correct.

The real importance of this article, in my mind, is one of being prepared to allow those who don't agree with the point of view expressed, to then propose alternative readings or conclusions all of which may be valid for the individuals expressing them. The hardest thing is to accept the right of those of differing views to hold them as strongly as each of us holds our own.

Dialogue around ideas and issues means that you have to receive it all - not selectively accept only those opinions which align with yours. About understanding rather than convincing.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Ahhhh Murwillumbah!

Murwillumbah YHA- Mt Warning in the distance
Tweed River and Mt. Warning from the YHA
We were here a year ago. Oldies at a youth hostel. Why not. Our host is Tassie, the original operator, who converted this fabulous riverside homestead into a YHA over 30 years ago and has been here ever since. He was in his twenties then and has grown up with the hostel and its clients. Scores of young people still flock here and mix with generations spanning fifty years.

It's the discerning YP who check in here. They are interested in the environment, the mountains and in an alternative to the madness of Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise. As a result they are open and interested in people ensuring that we all learn from each other and enjoy our shared stories. 

This year we met people from China, from Florida and Seattle in the US, from Glasgow and the wilds of Scotland, a tennis fanatic from France via the Reunion Islands (off Africa), Ursula from Austria. There were others. The Australian contingent represented Gatton, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Mt Warning, the magnet for young people, hovered in the clouds in the background. Crazy young people  borrowed pushbikes and rode the 10ks to its base and then climbed for two hours each way returning at 4pm exhausted.
Lynne and Andrea New Years Eve
Some saw nothing. some were lucky and got the spectacular views over the caldera (one of the biggest on the planet).

New Years Eve was smaller than 2013. Ten of us sat down to a five course Thai meal cooked by Toni, Tassie's mate and a chef in her other life. The YP were absent - on flights to Melbourne, checking in to hotels on the Gold Coast, on buses to Sydney - they couldn't resist the bright lights.

Thai feast - Toni top left


Glimpse of the caldera from the Border Ranges NP

Monday, 24 November 2014


Great grandfather Lorenzo

A strange thing happened last Wednesday. In the midst of a wild late afternoon thunderstorm, lightning flashing, thunderclaps blasting, I realised that if I kept writing for another hour I might just put the final full stop on the first draft of my manuscript.

'Paradise' - the working title of my epic story of 350 peasant Italians seeking a new life in the far flung Pacific has been a labour of learning and more learning. It has been challenging, informing, frustrating, exhilerating and energising.

In the end it all happened really quickly. At times I thought I would never see that final spot on the page but this final section, set in Noumea, seemed to gather pace as I wrote it. The elements came together, in some cases in surprising ways, and I think I have resisted the temptation to tie up the loose ends too neatly.

In my process, while I have lived with these characters for two years and some of them are my relatives from 130 years ago, I never felt that I really knew what they were thinking or about to do next. They kept surprising me and in the end still have lives beyond my knowledge. That too surprised me. Wasn't I supposed to know them inside out, back to front? How could I write about people who I didn't know at that depth.

Well, now I sit here and reflect that life is a very existential experience. Does any of us really know another? I hope not. Otherwise there would be no surprises in our relationships. While I value being loved by someone who thinks they know me, I know that deep down, they will never know my world fully because a lot of it is internal and much of it is too complex to share. I know myself enough to get by, but I am still surprised at times by my responses to things which seem to come from unconscious places that I am not fully aware of.

Today I begin the second phase of this project. I will begin reviewing what I've written to date, not rewriting, but organising the 250 odd pages into a restructured draft ready for reading by a select few to help me understand what I need to do to move it from draft 1 to draft 2.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Strolling the Flood Plains of Hill End

This is a map of the Kurilpa Peninsula in the great 1893 Brisbane flood. It peaked three times in the one month. The shaded area marks the flood plains comprising the suburbs of South Brisbane, West End and the locality of Hill End.

Named Kurilpa, the aboriginal name means 'Place of the water rat'.

I've just completed a local history walking guide which covers the area, the river plains in the south west corner of this map. Hill End. It's where I live. In the most recent major flood, 2011, my house was well above the flood line but in 1893 we would have gone under. That's almost unbelievable given how high we were above the water in 2011 despite the fact that it approached our front gate.

The West End Making History Group, of which I am part, has created four walking guides to the peninsula, this one being No. 4. I'm learning more about the difference between writng a history based guide and leading a history based walking tour from this process (this is my second guide).

The publication tells a story with the river and its impact on the community and its evolution as its focus. The river is the skeleton around which the guide is built. And I would have thought that the walks we lead would simply be a translation of that guide into the spoken word. Wrong! When confronted with a group of humans standing expecting to be told a story (the same one?), it becomes clear that there is a whole back story which needs to be told to fill the gaps and turn the skeleton into a body.

So I've spent the last week (after the guide has gone to the printer) researching and revisiting every aspect of the walk to find more flesh for those bones. It's surprised me but has given me a new appreciation of those who call themselves professional historians. They read everything available, whereas I read what I need to read to create the story. It's my theatre background - tell the story, tell the story - edit! edit! Simplify, find the essence!

I'm close to understanding what I need but now I need an historian's mind to remember all the details. Oh God. I thought I had finished all the hard work.

The guide, "Strolling the Flood Plains of Hill End", gets launched this Friday 7 November at the local bookshop - Avid Reader in West End. Come along at 6:30pm and say hi if you're in the area. An electronic copy of the guide will be available on our website by the end of the week.