Wednesday 28 January 2009


As I've been writing so much about water and swimming these last few months I felt it would be okay to post this letter from the AMCS (Australian Marine ConservationSociety) seeking support for their campaign to protect those wonderful super predators of the deep - SHARKS. The same sharks who make swimming in our oceans just that little bit more of an adrenelin rush and make us really feel alive each time we emerge from their home territory unscathed. There were quite a few sharks cruising along the beaches of stradbroke island over christmas.

the web address for this petition is:

The AMCS Letter:
Time is running out to save our World Heritage Sharks, and this is our last chance in the forseeable future. Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, MP must receive your signatures by 5pm (this) Friday 30th January, 2009. It's up to Minister Garrett, MP to save our World Heritage Sharks.
Despite shark populations collapsing around the globe, our very own governments are entrenching shark fisheries in our World Heritage Great Barrier Reef. Shark fishing is unsustainable because sharks are slow growing, have few offspring and are long lived. This means they are extremely vulnerable to fishing impacts. Having lived on the planet for 450 million years and being apex predators of the ocean, the consequences of their removal may be devastating for the planet.

Last year, over 6000 Ocean Activists wrote to Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett MP, and Queensland Fisheries Minister, Tim Mulherin MP, calling on them to protect Australia's World Heritage sharks.
We showed the government that people want our World Heritage sharks protected and not killed to provide cheap local seafood and fins to service the international trade in shark fin.
Your letters convinced the Queensland Government to make the following commitments to sharks in 2009. In summary the government will:
1. Reduce shark deaths by 300t by mid 2009, a reduction from 900t to around 600t;2. Introduce a bag limit of 1 shark per person (in possession limit) for recreational fishers. Previously there was no bag limit;3. Declare several threatened sawshark, speartooth and reef shark species as 'no take'.
While this is some progress, it does not deliver a government commitment to phase out shark fishing on the Great Barrier Reef completely and won't stop 600t of sharks (over 70 000 sharks) being killed this year in Queensland. It is appalling that Australia contributes to the global decline of shark populations.
Minister Peter Garrett MP, is the politician who has the ultimate say on this burning issue and will make his final decision in early February.
That gives us a brief window of time to remind Minister Garrett of just how many people want our World Heritage sharks saved. Please tell your friends. Please tell your family. Forward this email on to as many people as possible. We can turn this around. Signatures are due by 5pm Friday 30th January, 2009. Our oceans need you to sign and submit the attached letter to Minister Garrett and get your family and friends to do so as well. We must show him that the people expect our Minister for the Environment to make a stand and protect our World Heritage Sharks.

Our Sharks are Precious

Monday 26 January 2009

Little Hat - the origins of my new blog identity

It's a long story which I shall try and keep short. Sort of an interesting story for this "Australia Day"

Basically my great grandfather Lorenzo, travelled to Australia and settled in Northern NSW using the name Capelin. Everyone in the extended family was a Capelin.

However some recent family research unearthed his marriage certificate which had him married in Sydney under a different name - Perin. A further check was made of the passenger list of the ship on which he ultimately arrived. The "James Patterson's" passenger list also had him as Perin. Alarm bells sounded and the detective work began. Unfortunately, even trips to Veneto in Italy by distant cousins following this lead unearthed nothing but a theory - which goes like this.

Perin seems to be a name associated with the Austro-Italians of the alps north of Veneto. Perhaps the family had, at some point in time, migrated down to the plains. So far so good, but why the change in name? Well, it happens that Italian families were often known by their craft or some other characteristic - the Grosettis were the fat mob for example. Capelin, in Italian means "little hat' and we have concocted the story that maybe the Perin/Capelins continued to wear their traditional Austrian hats after their move to the plains - you know the little ones with a feather and worn with short pants! and became known as the Capelins. Best we can do to understand the mystery at this stage.
cappellino = hat
cappellini = hats
piccolo cappelino = little hat
Doesn't quite work: Steve Piccolo Cappellino
Lucky they were Italo-Austrian.
If they were German speaking Austrian I'd be Steve Wenig Hat

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J14. Release

Not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past I had anticipated this moment and with a sense of satisfaction retrieved Dad from the car to show off my handiwork. I had repeated my brother-in-law’s ritual, but ahead of time to avert a crisis. True enough there was no way in (or out) and no instructions. To all intents and purposes this was obviously intended as his last resting place -ad infinitum.

I considered the hacksaw solution but decided that I needed a neater device – something that would give me options. I considered two puncture holes, one in each end to allow a smooth pour, not unlike the system for liquids which averts the glug glug as the container gasps for breath and invariably spills its contents over the nearest surface.

I guessed however, that given the volume of ashes in the box, that this might cause the pouring ritual to become an interminably long and tedious process. I needed a larger hole. My tool collection is extensive, if under-utilised, and there hiding behind the WD40 on the top shelf of the converted kitchen hutch lay my long forgotten set of concentric hole cutting drill bits. I felt a tingle of anticipation.

I selected a four inch diameter cutting bit, inserted it into my variable speed electric drill, tightened it with the chuck and, like a surgeon about to perform an autopsy, approached my subject. I had a moment’s hesitation as I faced my dear departed father but putting sentiment aside, I carefully brought drill to plastic, tested the speed trigger and, all being in order, began.

Power tools have been a boon to the home handy-men of the world and thanks to Mr Ryobi, the task was completed in about fifteen seconds flat.

Hey presto! There before me, visible through the new access point, lay the grey remains of my father. I looked, paused, felt slightly confused at feeling nothing for this collection of ashes, and set about devising a temporary seal.

Ingeniously I drilled a small hole in the now removed circle of plastic, threaded a string through the hole, knotted it behind what was now a lid and, confident that I could retrieve it if the worst was to happen (it to disappear inside the container). I taped the plug in place using some trusty gaffer tape, leaving a length of string trailing from the top as my security.

This was what I presented to the family on the picnic table at Wardell amid the leftover olives and ham sandwiches.

They were not as in awe of my ingenious solution to one of life’s great challenges as I had hoped.

Sunday 25 January 2009

little hat

I've changed my blog identity. There's a story behind this. Anyone interested?

Thursday 22 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J13 Tinnie

They’d assumed that it would be a simple matter of removing what looked like a screw top cover to the container and setting his remains free. More than a cursory glance would have informed them that this was not the case. But.

The leader of the expedition had everything organised – the boat, the drinks, sunscreen, even the tide charts had been consulted.

The perfect day began peacefully. The water was calm. The party arrived and anchored off Peel Island – a favourite mooring and fishing destination of their father’s. The anchor held. The wine was chilled. The toasts were on the tip of their tongues when brother number two, the skipper of the voyage, produced, with an exuberant fanfare, the CASKET.

The sealed casket. The impregnable heavy duty moulded plastic casket.

Brother number two inspected the challenging object from above, below, examined both ends minutely finally declaring: “They must have got him in there somehow!” He tapped, shook, pressured each seal – all the while the three remaining siblings looked on with growing concern.

Brother number one (the elder) finally, quietly, patiently, requested his turn and amidst, first silence, then growing hilarity repeated brother number two’s ritual.

“Shit” says he “it’s totally sealed.”
Which at this stage was quite a superfluous observation.

The sisters sat and watched their father’s sons, sons of a handyman by trade, grapple with this object. The younger, the boat owner, began to search the boat for a suitable tool. First a can opener appeared, then a fishing knife. Each of which proved inadequate.

“There must be some way to get this fucking thing open.” was repeated more than once as a hopeful mantra. Then from deep in the bow of the boat, beneath the foredeck anchor well, emerged a hacksaw blade.

The reverence of the ritual had by now been completely lost.

Three siblings on a still winter’s day, forty minutes from the mainland with an esky full of prawns and three bottles of their father’s favourite wine, sat, wine glasses in hand and watched while brother the younger hacked into the impermeable plastic box with a serrated edged, rusty blade.

Hacksaws never cut straight. The blade is too flexible and follows the weaknesses in the material being attacked. Now three held their breaths and watched the blade zig-zag slowly down the end of the container – it should have been as simple as slicing the crust from the end of a loaf of bread.

Two gave advice. The third, the youngest, not a good sailor at the best of times, sat ashen faced praying for it all to end.

Finally, after the application of a screwdriver to help prise the scar open the ashes were exposed. The team relaxed, uncorked a bottle of wine and, in a rather anticlimactic act, unceremoniously dumped the ashes overboard and headed for home.

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J12. Tupperware

Two sons, two daughters in law, one sister and three of five grandchildren – eight people gathered to farewell a beloved father, brother, poppa. We’re all pleased to be together.

“It’s further than I remember” my brother remarks.

“I’m starving.”

The young ones are hungry and save me from making a caustic comment.

“Shall we do the deed or eat first?”

We decide to eat. We’re all here. Dad’s safely belted into the back seat so there’s no rush.

We break out a simple lunch of sandwiches and a few containers of assorted deli fare. kalamata olives, humous – ironically it’s mostly Greek from our sometime Greek suburban enclave of West End. There’s the obligatory thermos of stewed tea and a plastic tupperware container of milk. My mother would recognise all this. I quietly observe that now we’re the next generation of elders we’ve become more like our parents than we ever planned. I’m the one with a fascination with Tupperware. My worst fears are coming true.

“So” my brother asks, “What’s the plan?”

I say there isn’t one as such.

“I just thought we’d deposit him in the river, say whatever comes to mind and watch him float off. Let’s just let it happen.”

This is all well and good in theory of course but there are eight of us and everyone has an opinion – all except the elder niece who is curled up in the back seat in a foetal position, arms around dad. She loves him dearly but this is actually about her trying to recover from a violent stomach upset which has attacked her out of nowhere. She’s not happy.

Dad’s sister is the most sensible.
“If you do it here it’ll be rather difficult” she points out.

And then we notice there’s a blustery southerly blowing across the river straight into our faces. It’s agreed that the other side of the river would be a safer bet.

“What about getting him out?” asks my son, “out of the plastic box?”

This triggers daughter in law number one to launch into the story of her father’s final day. Four siblings setting off in a tinnie across Moreton Bay to give their father’s ashes a fitting final resting place in his favourite playground.

Monday 19 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J11. LATE

I’m always late. But today I’m on time. My brother and I share this characteristic much to the distress of our wives. It’s not genetic. Lateness was a serious sin in the family. Our parents were always annoyingly punctual; meaning I was never quite ready when they arrived, much to the chagrin of my father.

Today he would be pleased. We’ve got him to his rendezvous ahead of time. His other son however is somewhere on the highway between Murwillumbah and this destination.

Our mobile phone conversation is guardedly civil.

“Oh, I thought you said two o’clock!”


“We’re not far away. Maybe twenty minutes”

Silence. A muffled prompt from the background.

“Maybe thirty……….or forty.”

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J10. SISTER LOVE

Dad’s sister is the first to arrive. She’s driven down from the hinterland through the former dairy country, now avocado and citrus farms and past the country dance hall at Meerschaum Vale.

She’s close to eighty and is a clone of her brother in appearance and attitude. When these two siblings share an afternoon chat family stories, which should be well kept secrets, tumble forth. Their shared memories paint the love, pain, the long forgotten but never forgiven transgressions and the complex personalities of the extended family.

In their conversation grandfather and grandmother became Poppa and Nonna; the distinctive scent of homemade salamis and sweetmeats, which I’d never tasted, flooded my nostrils somehow conjured up from the curing room (once a laundry) of fifty years ago; his prodigious vegetable garden flourished, filling my imagination with bouquets of colour, the droplets of early morning dew on deep green spinach sparkling before me. Amongst all this the tension between the Irish matriarch and the stern Italian peasant father became silently and sadly palpable.

Here she was. His sister. Ever loyal. Committed to being with her brother to the very end. Her body frail. Her bent back cursed by arthritis. Teeth gritted she eased her painful way out of the Toyota’s driver’s seat. Once free, the agony of movement is quickly transformed into a sparkling embrace. I face my beloved aunty. Our northern noses compete for airspace. I am the third clone.

She is a Wardell girl again.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J9 HEART and SOUL

The remnants of the old jetty, with its twelve inch square turpentine timber pylons, sits behind the pub adjacent to the main intersection. In other words where the two streets which constitute the village intersect.

It’s home to a once impressive set of buildings - the two story pub on one corner, with its bland upstairs balcony sheltering the public bar below; the ornate former bank of New South Wales opposite, its arched main entrance built into an elegant curved fa├žade curling around the corner to greet the imposing Catholic church on the rise diagonally opposite the pub. These three institutions were the heart and soul for the men and women of the district. Each week would see them visit at least one, and often all three in succession.

Even dad, not known for his devotion to any religious sentiment. is captured on film as a child dressed in white shirt and dark pants (Sunday best) standing with twenty other seven year olds in front of the grotto honouring the Virgin Mary. It’s “first communion” day and the photographer has managed to tame the wild boys long enough to frame them forever as devotees of this strange cult.

The three institutions, two of which still ply their trade, were built of deep red local brick now approaching one hundred years of age. The jetty probably predates this. It marks the lifeline for this community to the world and economic survival. Once, shallow draft vessels driven first by sail and later by steam would ply the Richmond delivering supplies and then loading up with produce and timber for the down river run to Ballina and perhaps on to Sydney or Brisbane.

Today a lone fisherman sits, his line drifting hopefully in the shallows, idling away a Sunday afternoon.

We pull up, pick a shady spot to park, throw open the doors, and wait.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J8 SILVER

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J14It could be Ireland. Except for the weather and the sandy beaches and the blue skies.

There’s a hill on the slopes to the west of the coast which used to be the agistment paddock for the dried up milkers from the old family farm. Dad and his horse Silver would climb the hill regularly to check on the stock. It was one of his allotted jobs. It was also an opportunity to disappear from home for half a day.

From Coolgardie Hill the view back is across a broad floodplain – a sea of sugar cane split by the remarkably straight Richmond River. Here the mighty river travels parallel to the coast for its final twenty kilometre journey – against all common sense for rivers.

I imagine Dad sitting up there surveying the scene below, picking out the landmarks which he knew by heart.

To the south, the headland at Ballina marked the destination for the cool waters flowing from the hinterland. Tucked in tight against the rise on which he sat, marking the limit of the ancient silt deposits, the Pacific Highway speeds travellers south or north to the major centres or to hideaway holiday destinations. The river follows the highway, or rather the opposite is the truth. On the far side, the eastern half of the floodplain, accessible to this day by the cable ferry which winches six vehicles at a time across the Richmond is a sparsely populated strip of coastal farmland; an expanse of sugar crops regularly broken by lanes leading due east to secluded beaches known only to locals.

Dad knew these lanes intimately. As a teenager his slender body and sinewy arms were engaged as labour, laying cast iron rail tracks between the fields; sweating each day with his mates in their cane gang, working the lines, cutting manually, pissing on his blistered hands at the end of each day to help the healing - the original antiseptic.

At the extreme south of this view he would have been able to pick out the hamlet of Wardell, where the highway crossed the river via an impressive ornate steel bridge with its engineered hydraulic span which opened to allow trading vessels to travel upstream as far as Lismore.

Wardell is a pub, three churches, a general store, a bank (closed) and a school of arts hall.
No one stops at Wardell.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J7 MIGRANTS

Brunswick Heads slipped by, the memories of years of camping by the river following behind in our exhaust fumes. No time to stop today – not even for a quick detour to check out the graceful old pub and shaky footbridge to the ocean. Byron flicked by and then a quick pit-stop to pick up a family of pies from the Bangalow Bakery.

Here the place names began to sing their melodies to me – lyrical voices from my childhood - Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Chincogan, the distant Lismore, Alstonville and Ballina. Unknowingly we’d entered the enclave of the Irish. The place names transposed from a distant Celtic home to the adopted homeland of the poor escaping the potato famine of the 1860s. Here the auburn hair and freckles of my father and his sister made sense. As did the squat form and broad features of his brother. The prominent noses of sister and brother gave away their mongrel heritage – roman noses imported from the northern plains of Italy. Two peasant families thrown together by a common need to escape to a new land of possibilities.

Ten thousand descendants of the 100 or so Italian expeditioners who arrived in the area in 1881 claim this shared story. A disastrous voyage from Europe. A dream sold to desperate and gullible families by a shonky French con man. A wealthy Marquis with no time for ethics.

Though the Italians were here in numbers they spoke no English and lived as an isolated community leaving no place names but a district full of Bazzos, Spinazes and Tomes. Generation by generation, family by family every Italian boy married an Irish girl, and every “colleen” married a descendant of the expedition. The result is a district full of Paddy Spinazes and Stephano Kilcoynes until, after one hundred years, the blending is complete.

The only permanent reminder is the New Italy Museum – a broken down collection of memorabilia and stories struggling to survive beside the Pacific Highway on land as poor as that from which the migrants of Veneto and Connaught had fled.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Journey - a story in 16 parts. J6 CANE

In the car the mood was sombre. Virgin Blue 727s clipped the tops of the trees above, shaving Currumbin Hill on their approach to Cooloongatta Airport. Like hugh birds of prey they led us down the highway towards the border. As they touched down we took off up and over the border hills before tipping us into the glorious Tweed Valley.

The Tweed. How could a state border create such a distinction between the crass flickering neons of the Gold Coast and the sweet smelling lushness of the Northern Rivers. It seemed like two worlds separated by this great flat river bordered by fertile plains.

I could sense Dad settling into his back seat as he breathed the air of home. This was his country. Mile after mile of sugar cane fields. The refinery belching sweet gases into the atmosphere creating a vaporous version of jagged Mt Warning in the background.

We took the old highway, not just for the memories and the chance to follow the river for as long as possible, but to snub the super highway which cut ten minutes from the one hundred kilometre drive and lost its soul in the doing. A gash in the landscape designed by an engineer not an artist.

Dad in the backseat whispered advice as the Peugeot sped through the Moonbi Hills and climbed the range before dropping into Brunswick Heads:
“Watch this corner”
“Change down before this bend”
“Careful of the narrow approach to this bridge”
He reminded me that these hills, now covered in a forest of camphor laurels, were once his playground. “They’re a weed” he’d tell me each time we passed this way.
"Some weed" I’d think every time.

Wednesday 7 January 2009


I'm on holidays on Stradbroke Island for two weeks. I'm still writing. I'll finish the "Journey" while I'm away and post it when I get back.
Stradbroke is as magical as ever. It's been three years but the essence doesn't change:
crystal clear water; headlands punished by the southern ocean; turtles lolling in the deep; middle class manicured bodies mixing alongside the working fishermen; unspoilt expanses of sandy beaches; dogs; time slowing down. Ahhhhhhhh......................................