Sunday 30 January 2011

Jon Brooks Music - Toronto to Brisbane


To my friends in Toronto and Canada more broadly. This afternoon I had the pleasure of listening to Jon Brooks, a Toronto based singer songwriter in a house concert hosted by my good frinds Mark Cryle and Paula Peterson. He sings songs of conscience (my term) and opened with a great version of Buffy Sainte Marie's Universal Soldier. Thie song I've chosen has the longest title in modern folk history but is based on the supposed statistic (quoted by Jon) that 87% of people in jobs are incompetent in their role - the converse of which is to ask the question: what if people were actually doing what they were really good at and found a way to tap their creativity every day.

I like the idea.

Mark Cryle was the support act. He writes some great story songs about local characters and historical events. He's a Librarian Historian and Songwriter.

Friday 28 January 2011

When NORMAL can be Superficial

All is returning to normal in this flood ravaged part of the world. The worst affected in this city are those in apartment blocks where the body corporates have to agree on how to manage the damage bill. Often this is most critical in new apartment blocks which have very small sinking funds and perhaps only 4 out of 40 apartments (on the ground floor) affected. While the managers and Body Corporates struggle with assessing the damage and seeking advice about legal responsibilities tenants live without lifts and in some cases unable to re-enter their premises until the repairs are complete. This may take months.

At least those in stand-alone houses can get on with their lives, however shattered.

Sadly the uphoria of positive community energy has begun to fray at the edges a little with politicians using the flood rescue proposals as a political football - god I hate Tony Abbott and his whinging moaning one dimensional negative attitude. I too have begun to fray at the edges as I can no longer tolerate small mindedness. Others are whinging about who gets assistance and who doesn't; still others bleat about being asked to pay $1.00 or $2.00 a week for 12 months to rebuild infrastructure.

Some are claiming the benefits of the government handout ($1000 per person) when the only impact was loss of power and maybe a fridge full of food AND as a result will be exempt from the Government $1.00/week levy. Good outcome if your conscience can wear it. Others still are claiming the $1000 and donating it back to local flood disaster funds.

If you're interested in how communities survive disasters there is a great two page summary which talks about the phases of the recovery process. We have just entered stage two with more to come.

Go to

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Magpie Tales 50 Where to from here.

Signs of our times

Mere mortals stand bewitched
before messages from the gods
directing us to new pathways
beyond our comprehension

For more takes on this prompt visit Magpie
or click on the stamp

Tuesday 25 January 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

I walked down to the river at the end of Boundary Street yesterday and found myself looking at a scene I didn't recognise. The water, which a week ago had been lapping my front gate a block for the river's edge, was at the bottom of this steep bank. The marker staring me in the face told me I was five metres above water level. There beside me looking equally confused was a handsome water dragon surveying his home.

There's been talk on the radio this week of the old days. People have been talking about remembering when there were large sand bars at Indooroopilly and Kangaroo Point where people swam in a clear river.
This week it's back to the future. At the south Brisbane Sailing club on the West End bend of the river the flood has deposited a huge sandbank, a metre deep and four metres wide. It's beautiful river sand that has been dropped off by the floodwaters as it slowed to navigate this turn. The birds are loving it. I've never seen seagulls and terns relaxing on this point, but they're there in numbers now the water level has dropped. I'd be reluctant to swim here though. The water is still a deep caramel colour carrying debris from upstream.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Underground Angel

(Scroll down two entries for Magpie 49)


A shaft of sunlight luminous and beatific
Streams from the heavens through a concrete skylight
Illuminating a dark underground cavern.
A scene from a medieval Christian painting
Mary at the foot of the cross
Christ’s ascension into heaven .

A muscled young man
Tattoo of a dragon on one shoulder
A floral tribute to a former lover on the other
Framed by a blue navvy’s singlet
Stretched across his glowing chest.
He is bent over a throbbing pump
Diesel fumes spewing into the dark basement.
Thighs painted with river mud
A living David
A tribute to Michelangelo.
He works unaware of his holy status
Intent only on his task.
Muck out this putrid mess before sundown.

It’s a scene watched in silence
By a small group of worshippers
Women mainly, entranced by this heavenly angel
A gift from god on this miserable day
In the midst of this devastating flood.
His straining back his rippling arms
Wrestle his equipment into its final spot
And he delivers on his promise.

Only then does he look up
To see the shy smiles
of a greek chorus of mothers and daughters
as the suns sinks
and the halo remains forever.

Remarkably simple stories amidst chaos

Natural disasters create as well as destroy. Community members respond in remarkable ways – mostly positive, sometimes amusing, often surprising.


Mary watches her son and daughter-in-law carry her ancient belongings to the curbside. They are destined for the dump. As I walk by Mary catches my eye. She has retrieved a small battered wooden chair, the remnant of a child’s table and chair set. The chair has been repaired many times. Where there were once nails, mismatching screws now do the job; there is a piece of metal, cut in an odd shape, which holds the frame together like a cast on a broken leg. I see no value in it, nor does her son but Mary guiltily carries it back up the muddy path. That’s an age old game you're playing I say to her, The blokes throwing things out, the women saving things of sentimental value. It was made by my father she confides. Mary is 85 years of age. At least I think it was, she adds with a cheeky inflection.


The morning after the flood-peak the local streets have a ghostly air. It’s like we’re in the eye of a cyclone, waiting for the next onslaught. I walk the deserted streets. The locals have fled. The water is up to the roofline in some low lying streets. The river has found it’s victims and is not yet willing to give up its hostages. On a ridge, only two or three houses above the flood line, a lone figure calmly mows his front lawn. At this moment normal life seems absurd.


Without power and all the familiar landmarks I feel disoriented. As I crest Highgate Hill where Dornoch Terrace reveals the valley below I am shocked to find a void. Where my suburb should be sparkling with lights I see only black. The black is fringed by the distant lights of Indooroopilly to the west and Paddington to the north. It feels like I am descending into an enormous pool of sump oil, still and deep. My headlights cut through the night and guide me down the hill towards Hill End. My family and I are alone on this unfamiliar planet.

Armed with a torch and a candle we find our way through our strange house which has been spared. With relief we find our familiar beds and crawl under the covers calling to each other to check that we are all really here. Then it’s just the frogs.


The evenings in Hill End take on a new quality for these few days. No vehicles traverse the streets, no doof doof music pumps from the neighbourhood cars, no voices, no TV sounds wafting from neighbours houses. Not even the sounds of distant trains. Tonight the sunset seems particularly intense, a glass of sauv blanc tastes crisper than before the flood, there is an eagle we’ve never been aware of hunting from the tip of the high rise on the river; the lorikeets are louder; the flying foxes float silently along the chocolate coloured St Lucia reach, the house creaks. Tonight the candles are not adornment.

Andrea and I agree that there are some benefits to this imposed simplicity. Our children are not convinced.

New friends

Sophie, Margaret, Beat, Denise, Cheryl, Michael, Helen, John and John. The streets of Hill End are strangely alive. I have met neighbours I never knew existed; I have spoken to neighbours I knew existed but had never met. I have seen inside the houses of millionaires - the riverfront mansions of architects, investment bankers and doctors. On the opposite side of the road, in the workerscottages in the gully I see the lives of the less well off piled high on the footpath. I have worked alongside strangers; I have walked alongside volunteers from as far away as Byron Bay, the Sunshine Coast, Los Angeles.

We have all been treated with an equal disregard by nature. The river does not discriminate.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Magpie 49 - Watermark

This is my mother. The photo was taken in the thirties when she and her girlfriends were "enjoying the war" as young singles in Sydney. It's not as old as Tess's Magpie photo but it does have a double significance this week. Last weekend (15 January) was the tenth anniversary of her passing. We were to gather as a family to mark the day but the floods in Brisbane intervened.

Ironically the image we had used as a metaphor for her life on her funeral card was that of the Brisbane River flowing ever onward. And now here we are, under water.

On the back of the funeral card we had included the recipe for her famed 'Boiled Fruit Cake".

Many have tried and many have failed to reproduce the moist rich flavour which she was able to produce every time. We always suspected that as her parting joke she had surely left out a secret ingredient from the recipe. So, as my tribute to my mother I have, this evening, attempted for the first time, to follow in her boiled fruit cake footsteps. To compensate for the missing secret ingredient I have added, perhaps recklessly, my own additions - which I will share with you not knowing if they will enhance or destroy the masterpiece.

I have dropped in a few pieces of quality dark chocolate; tossed in a handful of blanched almonds and added a half a cupful of almond meal with the flour. Oh, and a dash of rum early in the process - with a whiskey chaser on the side for the cook (irish whiskey of course). The test, as they say, will be in the tasting. The other device she used to fool us was her handwriting which i will leave you to decipher. (I can post a typed recipe if you're interested)

To my mother (written 10 years ago - my mother was a big talker, hence the last line.)

In the photo album with triangular paper corners
You and Clare and Eileen Connolly
Dressed in your hand-stitched pinafores of crepe,
Sepia toned in the rusty colours of the thirties
Off to another dance at the Hyde Park Y
Your faces alive with the fresh expectations of youth.

Sixty years on, in your parting hours
You lay, almost daintily under the bedcovers
Your young girl's frame returned
Your eyes still sparkling with the innocence of an angel
And smilingly, peacefully, you accepted life moment by moment
Generously offering tidbits of memory and sustenance to those around you
Filling the silences with your gentle touch
Reminding us of who we are and where we've come from.

There will be silences when you're gone
More than enough for us to remember you by.

For more writing by writers from across the globe go to Magpie Tales or click on the stamp.

Muddy Waters - Brisbane

Brisbane has been under water for the past week. For a great set of photos taken in the streets closest to mine visit Brisbane Daily Photo. The photographer, Cara, lives down the road and posts a photo of Brisbane every day of the year. This week she has outdone herself - cleaning, filming and living in the midst of chaos.

I was lucky. Our house was above the floodline. The neighbour had water through their lower level but luckily for us our land rises sharply above their property. I've been busy helping neighbours dump their lives on the footpath, moving tons of mud from my local sailing club and helping pump out a lake of water from under a nearby apartment building. More stories to come over the next few days.

This was the scene in the street next to ours. Unbelievable