Monday, 19 December 2016

2016 Xmas Missive

Capelin Lynch 2016    
Greetings all.
We’ve had another fulfilling and busy year.
Here’s a few memorable moments .

Family moments
Steve                    Going to the AFL with Jess and preferring to chat than watch the dismal performances.
Golf with Nick. Watching him hit like a baseball player and somehow have a card with a score half mine. Not envious!
Andrea                                 Playing with Nick and Dim’s new dog Abbie; getting to know my brother Dave again when he stayed for a couple of months to perform at QTC.

Good Friends    Being lucky to have a circle of long term friends with whom we share meals, laughs, stories, holidays, weekends away, good and hard times. Let’s grow old together.   

Steve    PNG with MIck and friend Gabrielle. Where to start? Stepping on to New Ireland where my great grandparents landed in 1880. Pinching a 150 year old brick each as souvenirs. Finding Mt Hagen clothed in razor wire on the one hand and being adopted by locals on the other. Memorable.  
Spending time with cousins Rita and Vince in Kalamunda, Perth as part of our WA trip. Freezing in our hired campervan as we experienced the coldest October in the west in 30 years.
Andrea                   Palm Cove and Cairns in July for a “girls holiday” with Mally and Lindy. The Indigenous Art Fair was  wonderful.   
WA in Oct- seeing the amazing variety of wildflowers in WA and being shown around Fremantle by a knowledgeable local, Margo O’Byrne. Meeting Sarah Drummond author of “The Sound” at Broke Inlet was another highlight.

 Family history discovery.
This was the house next door. On arrival in 1881 the 250 Italians escaping from the disastrous attempt to establish a colony in PNG were housed in a hall in the Domain, Sydney. This hall (Agricultural Hall) was fifty metres away from this amazing building. It was the Garden Palace built to house the 1879 Sydney International Expo. It burnt down in 1882. The Agricultural Hall then became the collection point for all things technical and historic and was the precursor to the Sydney Powerhouse Museum.

Andrea     Still exploring the living relatives so not yet up to the dead ones.  

Steve                    Rereading David Malouf’s  12 Edmonstone Street.” Realised it was actually about the notion of memory and family rather than a simple memoir.  Inspired me to write about my mother and her collection of wildflowers from 1946.
Andrea                 Discovering Randolph Stow (“The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea”), a Western Australian writer whom Tim Winton credits as his inspiration. Loved reading “The Sound” (Sarah Drummond) set in WA.

Steve                    Gareth Liddiard (The Drones) acoustic version of TAMAN SHUD at Mullum Music Festival
You had to be there. And I was.
Andrea                                 Happening on the local ukulele club playing “Hallelujah” in a nearby cafĂ© on the night that Leonard Cohen died.

Lets get physical
Steve                    Kept swimming. Took up pilates. Played a weekly round of golf with mates Denis and Nev. Outcome: everything between despair and elation. More of the former. We’re improving. Indicator: less cursing.
Andrea                                 Continuing to go to aqua aerobics and deep water running where the jaw and tongue get a good workout as the women share their lives.

Favourite swim
Steve                    Dawn Fraser Harbor Pool, Balmain, Sydney with Nick Fury. Freezing.
Andrea                                 Cold water swim at Stradbroke Island in August.

Moments of sadness
                                Andrea’s Uncle Kent – an elder and missed
Steve Gahan – eldest cousin on my father’s side. A much loved bloke. Missed.
Death of Derek Ives – so talented, so young.
 RIP Patch (1994-2016). Buried under a pile of wood in the backyard.

 With 2017 beckoning we wish you a peaceful Xmas break and everything you hope for next year.         
Love Andrea and Steve    

Big Bang to the Coffee Explosion - a billion year history

I wrote this last month to be read at an event at our local bookshop celebrating the history of our local 'high' street. I've been doing a lot of research with my colleagues - the West End Making History Group.

From Big Bang to the Coffee Explosion - Boundary Street West End


In the beginning

Nothing                    A  lot  of  nothing              Nothing but nothing




Shit everywhere

It’s still up there

Floating                    Floating                    Floating   

For billions of years                    

A Universe

Venus                        Saturn                       Mars                          Earth.  






A floating world

A supercontinent

Gondwanaland       A Great South Land

Drifting North                    Drifting                   Drifting

A boat on a sea of magma

Floating                    Drifting               Crawling North.


Wait on, what’s that?

Aboriginal people here

The first Australians

The first Australians

Here for 50 000 years.


Then yesterday

This whitefella and a mate

A boat afloat

A canvas sail

It’s Oxley.

‘I like this place’

‘Good place for a Penal Colony,’ he thinks


Prefers the North bank.

A slight the South cannot let go

Regarded only as a place for crops to grow

And so begins the resistance

The insistence

‘We are not to be toyed with’

And the Spirit of West End begins to flow.


What does this Oxley find?

Jungle, Lagoons, Hoop Pine (good for ships masts), blackfellas, tracks,

A Water Rat

Kuril  -  pa

A dry creek gully   - running North to South

To ridges falling from a high hill behind

This gully, dry - but when it floods

Backfills from Melbourne Street lagoons to Vulture Street

Around our feet.


What happens next?

The first survey

A man called Wade.

Four lines drawn on a paper map

The boundaries of this Brisbane Town

Contested ground.

So Boundary becomes an exclusion zone

No blacks inside these lines at night

On Sundays no bullroarer dance.


The line needs work

It’s crooked still

It’s filled, made straight and levelled true.

The times are good

The boom’s upon us

Hotel, Chemist, Tram, Police,

Homes spring up to fill the gaps.

A general store and then Shay’s Shoes.



South Brisbane BECOMES a city


Short lived.

But Boundary is at the centre

A Picture Palace, A School of Arts

First library ever purpose built.

All this by 1928

All this

All this

All this and more

Before the death of the corner store

And birth instead of another sound

Cash registers and

The coffee ground.

© Steve Capelin 2016

My Mother's Shakespearean Sonnet - A holiday poem

You might remember I wrote recently about my mother and her copy of 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare'. I was talking about her hidden life and her love of literature.
    Her well thumbed copy includes all his plays and his sonnets and a few other surprises.
    As I opened the cover of this 1312 page tome the first thing that fell out was a fading paper, brown and ragged at the edges, containing a 'Lamington' recipe. Unusual place for a recipe I thought.
    Further on was a set of newspaper clippings - all poems of a spiritual or "bring home the diggers safely" mode - evidence of her devout Catholic upbringing. And then, there, a few pages on, was an envelope, speckled with brown stains like a chickens egg containing a rose pressed and wrapped in tissue, perfectly preserved. Suddenly my mother was with me again. She, along with many women of her generation, had a real love of their rose bushes. The rich cocoa brown of the petals are velvety, almost edible.
    Finally, further into the plays, around Richard III, was the piece de resistance. A poem she'd written giving an account of a disastrous holiday she and her girlfriends had taken, written in sonnet form. This was the mid 1940s; she's about 26/27; the war has just ended; she hasn't yet met my father (as far as I can tell). It's so faded it has almost disappeared. I had to use a magnifying glass to deciper it.

Eileen Hill's Poem in the style of a Shakesperaean sonnet.

Dear friends our tale will now begin
Of how we spent our leave
Of mud and flood and more be-gud
You'll hear and with me grieve.

We left the town one Saturday
Our joyful hopes were mounting
We little thought those clear blue skies
Would soon spurt like a fountain.

We hauled our three selves in the bus
And sallied to our cottage
To find too soon ourselves marooned
With nought but mess of pottage.

Our first night brought a cyclone in
The house supports were quivering
And underneath our scanty shorts
Our own pins set up shivering.

When dawn broke with a watery smile
We thought twould change our courses
When o'er verandah rail we spied
The heads of eight great horses.

We stamped and yelled to scare them off
They snorted but the harder
We must explain our cruel shame
They cut us off from larder.

On fifth day when our hopes were sunk
All chance of suntan gone
O'er garden gate at three twenty eight
Our first faint sunbeam shone.

We danced about in great delight
The air filled with our cackle
We even thought at that late hour
The slimy brine to tackle.

Gone all thoughts of Noah's Ark
Gone all thoughts of drowning
Though tails still wet we had high hopes
For one full week of browning.

Three full days of sun we had
Of surf and swim and beach
But now alas has come to pass
More rain -- I've lost my speech.

A thunder storm we thought at first
And tried to spy blue patches
But storms don't last for days on end
While mushroom round us hatches.

We've reached the end of all our food
We've reached the end of tether
Tomorrow night we're going home
Before more breaks in weather.

(c)   Eileen Hill 1946

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wildflower Dreams - A seventy year story

Do flowers have memories? Do houses have memories? Or perhaps more to the point, what memories might they hold for us. I recently re-read David Malouf's "12 Edmondstone Street", his remembering of his childhood home in West End, Brisbane. To my surprise this piece, published in 1985 was much more than a piece of nostalgia. It was about memory itself and the slippery and very personal nature of it. Malouf begins as if this is a charming evocation of his parents house in which he grew up and ends talking about its homo-erotic connections. His growing awareness of himself as separate from his family. An early coming of age story. It covers the period of the early 1940s.
     My mother had her version of a coming of age experience also in the 1940s. In her case it took place in Western Australia, far from her home town of Sydney. She was in Perth towards the end of WWII working for the Post Office, driving delivery trucks, she told us. She would have been 26 - 28. It was her big adventure.
     The only remaining evidence of that adventure is a book of wildflowers that she collected and pressed. They have sat in various cupboards for more than 70 years. And I am now their guardian. But what meaning do they have? What is the point in keeping them? Can they tell me anything about what was my mother was like in 1946 when she collected and pressed them?      
     They are beautiful and beautifully presented - despite the brittle backing paper which is beginning to disintegrate. Disintegrating faster now that I have taken an interest in them. Ironically they seem to want to disappear from my view as if to make a point. Her neat handwriting adorns each page naming each flower. The writing is as delicate as the flowers they describe.
     I am aware that there is a risk here of being drawn into sentimentality; to ascribe qualities to her that reflect well on her; to remember her as I'd like to. An innocent young girl visiting a girlfriend in Perth. A hardworking and funloving kid in her mid twenties. A shy, cautious girl. For all I know she might have been a hellraiser, dating a different boy every night. A wild girl. As a son who only knew her as a devoted mother that seems out of character; beyond my experience of her but.....
     And then there's the wildflowers. On the surface an innocuous hobby. But people are never one thing. A wildflower fascination might have been the counterpoint to something altogether different. Without other evidence I am stuck.
     But what took 'Tottie'  (her nick name) to WA? I'll never know. She's gone. We heard this story of little 'tottie', all 4ft 11in of her, many times but I can't remember asking her why she was there. Perhaps we did, but I can't remember her answer.
     I did something similar twenty five years later. Perhaps we all have that story. The time we enter adulthood. In my case I ran away to Tasmania. I was having my existential breakdown. I was lost. Confused as to my place in the world. I had just read Jean Paul Sartre. Nausea. It all made sense. Alone in the world. Make your own way. So I ran. I stood on the side of Ipswich Road, Brisbane, stuck my thumb out and began my hitch hike south. My adventure. Tasmania turned out to be my destination but any other would have sufficed. At the time it seemed to be as far away from my Brisbane reality as was imaginable. It was only accessible by sea. Anywhere other than Brisbane and my old familiar connections and friends. Tasmania saved me.
     My mother chose Perth. The other side of the continent, similarly as far as possible from her home. Was that what my mother did. Was it her existential crisis? Her coming of age?
     She loved her adventure. I got the impression it was her leap towards independence. She joked that she could barely reach the brake and clutch pedals of her delivery truck, let alone see over the steering wheel. It was a period when Australia needed women in the workforce. The men were at war or recovering post war or just gone. It was a window of opportunity for her. She loved work. That is one thing that these wildflowers help me remember. Unusually for a woman of her generation she worked throughout her life returning to the workforce after we kids were off her hands at school. She was fiercly proud of that short period. It helped define her. Strangely she never drove the family car over the next fifty years but was determined to retain her drivers licence for that long duration. God help us if she had needed to take her place behind the steering wheel in an emergency.
     Strange that these flowers are here and she is absent. Despite the fact that these bloomed for just one season they have outlived my mother. And now I struggle with how best to create a memory with some meaning for future generations. What will they make of it? That she was a flower lover? She was much more than that.  She was a terrible gardener. And this is part of the conundrum.
     Did I ever really get to know my mother? The honest answer is no. She remained an enigma to me. Her inner life is a mystery to me. I'm sure she had her own dreams, some she fulfilled others she failed to. But she only ever shared those dreams with me in tangential ways. Sometimes I was just not alert enough to hear her story in a way that would help me know her. Even enter her world for a moment.
     Her love of literature is a case in point. She made much of the fact that she had passed the Intermediate level in NSW (the equivalent to year 10). Quite an achievement for a girl from a working class family in Kingsgrove in Sydney. She loved poetry and literature. The English poets. We had few books in the house but among the few was a copy of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" (which I never saw her open ), a collection of English classic poetry that she would occasionally quote, and a copy of Dickens "David Copperfield" dated September 6, 1935 (a seventeen year old). She wrote. I never took her seriously. In fact it was a small embarrassment. She would occasionally share her writing but the reality was she had no one to share this with; no one to care; no one to encourage her. Ironic that I have, many years later, taken up writing, something she might have enjoyed and perhaps been good at.
     I sense that in a household of men with a husband who was an avid reader but not of the classics (my father left school at year 8 to work in the cane fields of Northern NSW), she was stuck in a literary limbo.
     So I have her wildflower collection. A statement left by her to assert her presence in the world. Her insistence that the world around her was something she was connected to. She was a good mother. Loving. Generous. Patient. Living in a house 1000 kilometres from  her two sisters. I suspect that ultimately she was alone despite my father's deep love for her. Both Malouf and Satre explore this reality. Malouf by exploring his inner and outer life of himself as a child; Satre in his novel creating the classic existential character.
     Perhaps the message these flowers have sent me is like life, full of contradictions, confusion, uncertainty. 'Look at me and enjoy my beauty but don't interfere with me or I will disappear';  'Allow me to conjure up memories but don't mistake memory for truth';  'I'm still here but in a different form. Life is transient'.
     My present task is to preserve this link to my mother for the next generation.  Will they be interested? Will the collection simply get dumped in the big cleanup when I go. I will be here for maybe another twenty years but these flowers could last another hundred years. Maybe longer. It's a task that requires some belief in continuity. In a humanity that values the past as well as the future.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Year of Headlice

I'm half way through the next edit of my novel.
     Paradiso didn't get short-listed for the Premiers Awards in October so it's back to the grindstone. In fact there was no winner in my "unpublished manuscript" category - a slap in the face for all who submitted but in a perverse way comforting. I'm told, unofficially, that Paradiso got to the last ten. But that's just hearsay.
     My nose, meanwhile,  is looking pretty shabby, what with all the nose to the ....... combined with spring weather and humidity. Brisbane is hot. Perth is still cold acccording to the weather bureau. It warmed up then plunged back to mimic Tasmania again in recent days.
     Editing is a little easier this time round. I'm more removed from my precious words. More inclined to see the sentences for what they are. A bit more forensic. Like combing your child's hair for nits. In my past edits I was tweaking. This time I'm slashing and burning. Nothing to lose. Except a few thousand words and some favourite passages. I'm looking for more than overuse of adverbs and adjectives this time. Clumsy dialogue and sentences which don't come off the page easily just have to go. Whole sections that helped me write myself into the story but which only serve to slow the guts of the story down. GONE!
     Headlice, many of you will know, are tough little buggers who hang on and are only removed with persistence. Editing is the same process. Reading and refining and reading again and finding more lice that need to be removed and then more. Many years ago our family experienced our year of headlice. They just refused to say goodbye. We washed and combed; combed again and there they were time after time. A year of combing my daughter's lovely blonde hair crawling with lice, each time fewer but never finally gone. Always one left to procreate and begin a new colony.
     Thankfully adjectives and bad dialogue can't procreate, can't write themselves. It's all my doing. I can't blame the other kids in the class; other parents for their neglect; teachers for not alerting families to the plague. In my case the combing continues. Perhaps this is my writing version of the year of nits, a writ-nit-year. One way or the other the manuscript will be better for it.
     At the same time I've begun research into material for my next novel. A sequel if you like, but written quite differently. It will be the story of arrival rather than departure and will focus on the struggle of illiterate migrants to make a new life in an alien landscape. Set in Sydney and Northern NSW it will follow the first Australian born child of Italian descent in his struggle to live between two cultures. Throw in a marriage to an Irish colleen keen to escape her "bog Irish" past and a life in the bush which neither manage well. And then  there behind it all is the Aboriginal story.
     That should keep me occupied for the next few years.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Stories from the West No.10 Finale - The Glory of Native Orchids

I am sitting here wondering how to finish off this series. So much more happened than I've recounted thus far but writing is the art of selection so some things will simply remain in my head or on my camera. I could load all 342 photos but that might be the end of a beautiful friendship - yours and mine (whoever you are).
     Now there's a little piece of weirdness - if I had published a book (which I will eventually), I would have no idea who read it or where they were from. This blog, on the other hand, tells me how many people came to visit, up to 120 of you, which is heartening, but unless you leave a comment I never know who you are. So that leaves about 105 mysterious readers. I do wonder who you are. In fact I'm surprised by how many of my close friends are not among you, including my wife and my children, so even those I assumed I'd know are not among you.
    But back to the story which is not a story at all at this point.
WA ended with a rush. Three nights in Albany and then a dash back to Perth. Albany was great. Dramatic bays and coastline; a fascinating old precinct and foreshore; whaling history at the preserved Cheyne's Whaling Station, the last operating whaling business in Australia only closing in the 70s. We camped behind the dunes of Middleton Beach on King George Sound. The wind blew. We lit a fire two nights in a row in the camp kitchen and met three young people from Taiwan one of whom I turned into a firebug with some careful tutoring. They each had names like Jason and Maureen but their real names bore little relation to these pretend names. Why don't we change our names to Chinese versions when we travel to their country? It's weird.
     We went to bed early and cuddled up close. Then the final day in Albany dawned and the wind had died. I joined the hardy regulars in the water at Middleton and my eyeballs froze. What pain. What exquisite pain. And then we said goodbye and headed north for the Stirling Ranges.
I haven't done my homework. I don't know who Stirling was but he has a string of steep slopes named in his honour. I call them slopes because even in Australian terms they hardly rate as mountains. We are such an old country with such ground down mountain ranges (the only continent with no active volcanoes) our highest ranges are akin to the foothills of the Himalayas or the French Alps. Still they can be steep and we ventured high enough up Mt Trio to get a good view of the plains to the north and of the steep path above us which, on that hot day (rare) we chose to enjoy the view and the lowland wildflowers.

The next morning we woke in our bush camp and joined the property owner John on a tour which never strayed more than 500 metres from our campsite but which contained an impressive range of native orchids none of which we would have seen without his help. I've never understood the fascination with these plants. Ugly little critters I've always felt. Show offs with a bit of the "Emperor has no clothes" to them. Stalky, stringy, showy but self consciously reluctant plants.
 I am happy to say that I changed my mind that morning at least in the company of these hidden beauties. They were much more discrete than the nursery variety. Small, shy, delicate survivors in a harsh landscape. I only retained the name of one of them, the rabbit ear (donkey ear) orchid, no bigger than my little finger nail - two fine antennae standing straight up, hiding under a fallen piece of timber. Very cute. Only one flower. Only one plant that we found. After that I felt like a huge lumbering carnivore stomping through the undergrowth possibly inadvertantly wiping out precious ancient flora.
     It felt like an appropriate way to finish off our wildflower chase and when we next were tempted to pull over and take yet another photo we both agreed 'nuh, let's hold the memories and move on. No point in exhausting our good fortune or overstaying our welcome. Maybe that's a story for another time.