Friday, October 25, 2013

Bob Dylan and me

I spend a lot of time on my favourite website Quora. It's a question and answer site and today someone asked this question: 

What is the most memorable sound that you have heard in person? 

This is my answer:

Bob Dylan playing Like A Rolling Stone in about 2008 in Melbourne. 

Melbourne is at the other end of the country from me and I didn't have a lot of money, but when I heard he was touring - a very rare thing here in Australia - I decided I was going. I paid plane fares, a week's holiday in a St Kilda unit and about 200 bucks for a Gold Section ticket which put me about 6 rows away from the stage. 

It was a high point in my life. That may sound a bit sad, but I have loved Bob Dylan's music since I was 16. I'm a country-folk singer/songwriter myself and Dylan is my musician the way The North QLD Cowboys are my football team - only moreso. 

I found the whole experience emotionally moving. After he'd left the stage, despite the outcrying of ENCOREENCORE, the lights went down and there was worry that maybe he wouldn't be back. He's notoriously unpredictable in his stage performances.The audience had nearly given up and the cheering had begun to die away. 

But then, there was a shuffling around on the stage and the first bars of Like A Rolling Stone came out of the darkness and I got tears in my eyes. 

I remember quite distinctly thinking, 'That's Bob Dylan, right there, playing Like A Rolling Stone.' 

I dreamed about him that night. He was in the crowd with me as I walked away from the venue, walking next to me as if he were just one of the other concert goers. He said quietly, in that raspy American twang of his, 'I'm really glad you finally got to see me play.' 

I took his elbow like we were on a date and said, 'Me too.'


Check out my novel: The Anzac Girl

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If a UFO offered to take you into space, would you go?


I wouldn't. No. 

If I'd been abducted before I was 22 and had my first child, I would probably have shouted, 'Beam me up FASTER, Scotty.' But no, certainly not now. 

My father always told us that he would go in a heartbeat if he could, no matter what the cost and I believe him; I don't think he would balk were he put on the spot. If aliens, or some secret government program, needed an eccentric old guy who'd spent a lot of years tinkering in his garage on a perpetual motion machine and asked him along, he would be like, 'Can I just tell my wife where I'm going?'

And they would be like, 'I'm sorry, sir, but that's classified.'

And he would be like, 'No worries - she'll understand.' 

I'm pretty sure she would, too.

How about you? 

Check out my novel: The Anzac Girl

Thursday, July 18, 2013

my name is Christine and I am a footy-head...

There's something my friends should know about me: I like rugby league football. 

When I say I like rugby league, that's not entirely true. I like to watch my home team play and I like the State of Origin. The game itself is kind of weird - homo erotic but with a culture of denial regarding this that borders on the homophobic. It is filled with incredibly BUILT young men most of whom remind me of Pooh - they are bears of very little brain and long words bother them. 

The game that I now describe took place some years ago, but it has always stuck in my brain because my team, the North Queensland Cowboys had made it into the finals and I was there to witness it.

What can I say except...


On this particular night, my three footy-head friends and I got tickets for the first semi final. It was a grudge match against the Bulldogs.

What can I say except...


The Doggies are the dirtiest team in the league. Everybody agrees - except Doggie fans, of course.

The Cowboys are the shining outsiders - most of the teams are based in Sydney, filled with city and suburban lads. But the Cowboys hail from the Far North of the country, where men are men and women eat their young. Several of our star players grew up on remote indigenous communities.

In particular, there are these two cousins, God love 'em - gorgeous young guys, shy of the press, but always smiling, raised together in a community called Hopevale right up on the pointy bit of Oz where few but traditionally raised Aboriginal people and Steve Irwin types venture. When they play together, they are psychic - each knows exactly what the other is going to do next and you can see that everyday of their childhood was spent running around barefoot in the backyard throwing a footy to each other.

So our trip to the footy has been arranged all week. Usually we watch it on H's big screen TV. You get a better view of the game on telly - everyone knows that. BUT you get the atmosphere when you go to the ground.

H got the tickets early in the week. Section 333, seats 1,2,3 and 4 in row X of the southern most grandstand. Hmmm... That didn't sound so good.

We rendezvous at H's place at 17:00 hours. I am dressed in a navy and white shirt with a grey windcheater.

But the Cowboy colours are navy, white grey and yellow.

I have no yellow!

Damn! I feel naked. I am a BAD Cowboy supporter. 

We jump in H's car - she is a freak, and has an actual Cowboys jersey on and carries flags and signs and bemoans the sad fact that she didn't have time to paint her face.

We drive to the shopping centre nearest the ground to stand in an orderly queue of similarly dressed people and wait to fill the buses which leave one after the other to take us to the ground.

Everyone is excited but nervous. You'd think we, ourselves, were playing. I get a little people buzz on - I'm not someone who enjoys crowds for the sake of it but a football crowd is exciting to be in. You soak it in. The old guys who played footy in their youth, the middle aged women who have lost their sense of decorum and no longer feel embarrassed to want to watch their favourite gladiators run into battle and best of all the little kids, clutching their flags and bouncing on the seats like they need to pee. Here and there, on the buses, small brave pockets of resistance fighters - lone Doggies supporters in sky blue and white, some so loyal, they have traveled across the country for one game of footy.

Once at the ground, we went forth on the long trek to find section 333, row x, seats 1,2,3 and 4. Well. We are in the very top row at the very far corner of the furthest stand. 

Surprisingly, that's okay. That means we can beat on the corrugated iron backing of the stand when we get really excited - it makes a sound like thunder. There's a giant screen to watch the close action on. When the fireworks go off, they are at eye level with us. Fantastic.

In in front of us, a row of foreign tourists sits down. I think they are a business delegation or something similar. There's a couple of Brits, an Irish guy, a Norwegian woman, an Aussie and an American.
The round, baldy, yet somehow redheaded, Irish guy spends the game very knowledgeably and seriously explaining the rules of the game to everyone else. 

Except he is wrong on almost every point he makes! It's hilarious. The others all nod politely, still basically confused about why they have to pass the ball backwards in order to move forward.

And the crowd goes wild.

Every time Big Willie Mason, the meanest player for the Doggies and the villain of the piece, touches the ball, the crowd erupts in primal booing and hissing and catcalling.

Every time little Matty Bowen, one of the cousins I told you about earlier, touches the ball, the cheers and the whistles and the stamping of the crowd vibrates in the air around us.

When Big Willie Mason puts a vicious and illegal hit on Little Matty Bowen, venomous emotions rise up and hover like a black cloud over the arena. Matty gets slowly to his feet and stretches and jogs a little in place to show us he is recovered and the noise is palpable. My friend says, "Good old Matty, all he has to do is stand up and we love him twice as much all over again!"

I used to resist this type of experience. I didn't want to be part of the hoi polloi. I didn't want to be one those stamping hordes brought up or down in mood even for a moment by the passage of an oval shaped ball propelled around a smallish oblong by teams of bears of very little brain wearing different coloured clothes.

And sometimes I still don't like it much as a characteristic of human nature in general and me in particular; that we can get so engaged in a game and yet can't work up a puff of outrage against the things in life that could really use some of our passion - hunger, injustice, inequality and so on...

But, well, you know, it's the footy.

Anyway... WE WON! With three minutes to go, Little Matty Bowen stopped a try by tackling a bloke 6 inches taller than him about six inches from the line!


And so we progress in the finals - I can almost taste our first premiership!

5 years later...

Still waiting. 

Check out my novelThe Anzac Girl

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is that a spaceship in your backyard, or did you just have one too many rumbos?

When I was young and foolish and drank A LOT, I went out one night with my brother and, well, drank A LOT. It was around Christmas;  back then, both he and I always went home to stay with my parents for a week. 

We got separated at one of the night spots and I went off home by myself, quite a few stations past pleasantly tipsy, but pulling up short of blind, legless maggotted. 

It all seemed so uneventful as I crept up the dark front stairs (read banged back and forward from one wall to the other), tiptoed across the lounge room (damn, why is it so hard to tiptoe in wooden platform shoes?) and genteely prepared myself for a well deserved slumber (ripped off my clothes, felt around in the dark for my jarmies, whisper-shouted, 'Fuck it' when I couldn't find them and dropped onto to the bed like a bag of wet cement). 

How lucky were my long retired parents, that I was such a considerate drunk?

I fell asleep. 

And then I woke up. It was still very dark so it couldn't have been too long since I got home. I looked out the bedroom window and was amazed to see, in the field just beyond the neighbour's backyard, the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. 

No. Seriously. I'm telling you. It was fracking gorgeous; huge, round and glowing. I couldn't believe my eyes. I rose from my bed and went to the window for a better look. I sat on the window sill and looked at it, out there in the dark, its light reflected off my rapturous face. 

I decided to go out to investigate further and swivelled my legs up and over the window sill. I put one foot on the ground outside, still unable to take my eyes off that wondrous gizmo. I put my other other foot down on the ground and then... 

I began to fall. 

And then I really woke up. 

There was no goddamn ground. There was no field beyond the neighbour's yard. There was no magic glowing thingummyjig for me to go look at. My parents' house was a two story and I had been upstairs, but I was now rapidly approaching ground floor. I distinctly remember thinking as I fell, 'Oh, you stupid bitch.' 

I hit the ground in my mother's rock garden, bum first, legs tucked up as though I was bombing someone in a swimming pool and, well, of course, that was no fun. 

But how lucky am I? I wasn't broken in any drastic way that I could sense and anyhow, any physical discomfort I was feeling was soon replaced with the emotional pain of realising I couldn't get back into the house. Because of my drunken impatience, I had whisper-shouted Fuck it at my jarmies, which of course left me naked in my parents' side yard at around 2 am on Christmas Eve. 

I soon realised there was nothing for it but to run around to my parents front yard, up the front steps and pound on the front door until one of my parents answered it. I was obviously still very drunk because this was not nearly as distressing as it should have been. I actually felt pretty nonchalant about it. 

So, I did all that - but how lucky am I? When I got around the front, it was apparent my brother had come home after me and was even drunker than I, for he conveniently left the front door open. I ran inside, found my jarmies this time and fell fast asleep again. 

I woke up in the morning and the magic painkilling effects of the dark overlord, Fourex Heavy*, had worn off and well, I hurt. Everywhere. But mostly in my bum. 

I limped out to the kitchen where my mother stood at the stove, cooking breakfast, her lips pursed. I called it her cat's bum face, which wasn't very nice but she seemed to wear it every time I went out drinking. Also, instead of speaking in complete sentences, she grunted a lot. Such is the price you pay for drinking to excess under your parents' roof.

I went up and stood beside her. 'Guess what I did last night?' 


'I sleepwalked'


'Out my window.' 


She stopped, spatula frozen in mid-scrambled-egg-stir, as what I'd said sunk in.'You what?!?'

We went to have a look out the window, silent as we stared down at the spot where Mum's beautiful flowers lay in a crushed and mangled heap, like some demented crop circle approximately the size of my bum. 

But how lucky was I? Less than a foot away from where I landed after falling out of a second story window, was a half metre tall metal stake marking off the corner of my mother's garden. 

How. Bloody. Lucky. Was. I. Shudder. 

Anyway, I tried to get by without seeing the doctor, but by late afternoon the pain in my lower back had become excruciating and I took myself off to the local hospital's emergency room. 

The doctor was a nice efficient young woman who didn't raise an eyebrow when I told her how I'd injured myself. I left out the part about seeing something beautiful that may or may not have been a flying saucer and just went with the old narcoleptic stroll out a very high window explanation. 

She had me x-rayed and sure enough I'd broken my tail-bone but there was nothing to be done for it but rest. She gave me pain-killers and saw me to the door. As I was walking out, she looked me right in the face, totally deadpan and said, 'So, what really happened?' 

It's worth noting here that I never ever slept in anything less than full dress again. 

* A potent strain of Australian bitter beer

Check out my novel: The Anzac Girl

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Do you mind if someone tells you how a movie ends?

Yes, I mind. Sometimes I mind a lot.

There are different levels of minding, but generally, unless the person asks me specifically, 'Do you want to know what happens in the end?' and I say 'Yes, tell me, please', well, yeah, I mind. 

Level 1 Minding: Movies I'm not interested in. I don't want to see the movie anyhow and the spoiler is one of those sad people who can't help but tell you the entire film, beat for beat. 

Jeez, people, I didn't want to see it up on the big screen, professionally made - I certainly don't want to listen to it told in your drunken slurring, punctuated by um, ah, you betcha and ka-BOOM!

Level 2 Minding: Movies I am interested in. This happens when I'm with a group of others who have seen the film and are so enthusiastic, they blurt out major plot points or even the ending before I can put my hands over my ears and shout, 'Lalala!' I still hate this but I consider it a crime of passion - tragic, but occasionally unavoidable given the circumstances.

Level 3 Minding: I am with someone who is a compulsive movie spoiler, who knows I want to see the film and yet can't help but tell me what happens. It makes them feel like they know something I don't. I shun these ego maniacs anytime there's a big release coming that I want to see. 

Level 4 Minding: The person who quite simply gets a sadistic kick out of telling you the ending. They also blab the football score to people who have to work during the  Big Game, before they get a chance to watch a re-run. 

There is a Spoiler's Hell awaiting these Devil Spawn. In it, they are super-glued to a cramped vinyl seat in a perpetual rerun of Battlefield Earth. There's a lady with a crying baby that has crapped its nappy on one side, a man with B.O. and halitosis on the other, someone with no teeth and a bottomless bucket of popcorn behind and a woman with a Guiness Book of Records winning bouffant in front.

Check out my novel: The Anzac Girl

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Really Really Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann's work sharply divides critics and The Great Gatsby is no different. In fact, as I write this, Rotten Tomatoes has the Tomatometer at dead on 50% because BL's work has always sharply divided critics.

It's getting to be a cliche when speaking of Baz, but it's true - you either love him or you hate him. If you didn't like Moulin Rouge and don't appreciate his style, you won't like The Great Gatsby.

Me? I love his style. Love it. I was disappointed in Australia - but Gatsby is a return to his Moulin Rouge form. The guy is a bold genius, an iconoclast who doesn't give a toss what more timid souls say about him. No-one will ever look at a Baz Luhrmann film and wonder who made it.

Leonardo DiCaprio's Gatsby is so beautiful, so intensely, twistedly, passionate, that he makes me want to cry just to look at him.

It's a magnificent film, his best work, in my opinion. I simply loved Moulin Rouge, but there was a inconsistency in style in several places that was noticeable. Gatsby, however, is all of a piece, perfectly calibrated and balanced within the mad vision of a filmmaker who obviously delights in remaking the world to better resemble his own imagination.

 And now, someone is going to say, Oh, but it's flawed!

And I will reply, Well, duh!

What a redundant statement. Of course it is. What film isn't? What anything isn't?

The level of vitriol that has been aimed at this film is quite bizarre. I saw a review that said it looked dreadful. Er, what?  It doesn't look dreadful at all. It looks beautiful and different from anything you will ever see again.

Here are a couple of rave reviews to counter-balance the terrible ones that have received the most publicity:

The Great Gatsby: 4.5 stars

‘The Great Gatsby,’ Interpreted by Baz Luhrmann

Page on Darcymoore

Judging Luhrmann’s Gatsby: Five English Scholars Weigh In

I particularly like the last page in which some clever journalist has gathered 5 English Lit professors to debunk, with their reviews, the preposterous idea that the film strays too far from the source material (as if that even matters).

And just one more for your amusement.

James Franco reviews James Franco's review of 'The Great Gatsby'

If there were anything I wish he'd have done differently in hindsight, it's to name the film just plain 'Gatsby' to head off all those The Not So Great Gatsby jokes which folks seem to think are clever.

Check out my novel - The Anzac Girl

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

heath I swear...

My seventeen year old daughter went off to work as usual one morning several years ago. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang and she said, in a harsh voice that hung between astonishment and bewilderment, “Mum!” It was a tone you don’t want to hear from your teenager when you are not nearby. It was a tone that clearly said something was very wrong. I thought she’d had a car accident.

“What?” I said. “Honey, what is it?”

“Heath Ledger’s dead.”

I made her say it again. It didn’t register as believable. “What?”

“Heath Ledger’s dead.”

It’s funny how we need to hear these things at least twice before they begin to enter our consciousness as being possible. At the first telling, it might be a joke. When you make the teller repeat themselves, you assume they will grin stupidly and say, “Nah – just kidding.”

However, Heath Ledger’s death is not something my daughter would ever joke about. We’re on first name terms with him in this house - even though we never met him. We love him here – even though we know we never really knew anything about him.  She has a giant poster on her wall of those two beautiful boys, Heath and Jake Gyllenhaal, both in profile, looking away from each other, so convincing and heartbreaking in Brokeback Mountain, one of the greatest tales of love that can never be that was ever told.

I felt bad for my daughter after she called me, knowing she would have to scan groceries all day and put up with random rudeness from customers who neither knew nor cared that she was in grief. Furthermore, if they did know, they would more than likely ridicule her for it.

But I remember that I was about seventeen or eighteen years old when John Lennon died. I was working in a Queensland town where, just like the pub in the Blues Brothers, there were both types of music – country and western. I was driving along with a workmate and I had to pull over to the side of the road when I heard the news on the radio. I looked at my passenger, a born and bred local girl and waited for her face to mirror the disbelief on mine. But it didn’t. It showed only bemusement.

I said, “John Lennon’s dead?

She said, “Who?”

I mourned in private for John. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t a deep mourning or a prolonged grief process. I felt no need for counselling nor even many tears. But there was no one in that tiny western Queenslandtown who was terribly interested in the fact that John Lennon had died. I felt silly, seeing everyone else’s indifference, that it had touched my heart at all.

Since then, I have mourned quietly for several celebrities, some more deeply than others and for many different reasons.

Princess Di stands out; but not because I was any great fan.

I was the same age as her and still working in the same dry dusty town. I was serving beer in a public bar full of jack and jilleroos when she got married in that fairy tale dress and walked down that mile long aisle with the most eligible bachelor in the world. The TV was on above the bar and we all thought she looked rather gorgeous. Not that any of the girls there wanted to be her - imagine how hard it would be to get into that dress! None of the blokes wanted to actually marry her themselves either – imagine how hard it would be to get her out of that dress!

But we all agreed she looked bloody beautiful - like a doll or like an actress. Or like  a... a... om my god! Like a PRINCESS!

She quite obviously didn’t live happily ever after, however. The marriage turned out to be one of the worst in the entire history of bad marriages and if Princess Di can't make it work with a grand start like that, what hope does someone like me have?

Then she went through all that other stuff; the affairs, the royal intrigues, the AIDS hugs, the land mine publicity - most of it happening on the cover of glossy magazines with her looking stunning and then ...

Splat! She dies. Just like any other commoner! Wow! We were astounded. We went splat right along with her for a short while.

We couldn’t believe it. That’s how the story ends? If Life had an awards night, Princess Di's would get the award for most unexpected final twist! If it were actually a screenplay, the script doctor would send that development back to the drawing board for an emergency rewrite.

"She can't die!" the script doctor would say. "The audience will never believe it!"

I mourned for Di not because I loved her - not like we, here in this house, loved Heath – but because life never seems to live up to its promise. The Princess Di story was paradise lost for me. The little girl, who somewhere deep down still believed that the prince would come along and carry her off to never ending safety, sniffled as she waved goodbye to the last of her illusions.

Then there was Steve Irwin. What can we say about Steve that hasn’t already been said? I had a chequered relationship with Steve over the years. It ranged from me being embarrassed by his gaudiness to admiring his audacity to being grateful for the many environmental stands he took.

Then quite suddenly, after Andrew Denton interviewed him on Enough Rope, I found myself actually liking him. Once I realised, after watching him talk for half an hour, that he really was just like that, that it wasn’t an act, I no longer found him embarrassing but rather, funny and sincere.

I was so sad about Steve Irwin’s death. I’d never watched one of his nature shows in its entirety and I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to shake his hand if I saw him in the street. But I recognised the passage of a human being who had truly lived, with passion and belief and joy and love, one who wore his heart on his sleeve, one who put his money where his mouth was.

But as sad as I was about his death, I was also more than a little creeped out. It seemed so gothic that such a patently big hearted man should be stabbed through that big heart by a creature that all agreed was among the most placid in the sea. It seemed so mythic; as though Poseidon had smited him for daring to roam freely and fearlessly through his domain.

I think it is this epic quality that accounts for the way we can sometimes get caught up in the drama of the death of someone we don’t know. These are archetypal stories played out by heroic personalities. Diana is the princess who was supposed to live happily ever after; Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Steve Irwin is the jungle man who understands the wild world so well that he can never be taken by it; Tarzan, Mowgli. It is when the story ends contrary to the template we hold in our subconscious memory that we are so shocked.

So, what timeless story was Heath Ledger’s life supposed to play out for us? What archetypal character did he represent? He’d had many love interests according to gossip magazines but he just couldn’t settle down. He appeared to be a man who loved deeply but simply couldn’t bear to be around people full time. He was the taciturn cowboy, the solitary range rider who disappeared into the sunset every evening alone. According to legend, Heath Ledger was not supposed to die at all, and certainly not in his bed. He was supposed to live according to his own rules and to fade away with his boots on, many many years from now, a wily wiry old loner, in some dusty place we comfort-loving city folk have never even heard of before.

I confess that I cried when I put the phone down after my daughter told me this news and despite my search for the reasons behind it, I’m still not entirely sure why. How do these people we don’t know find their way into our hearts? And who is to judge as false or misplaced, the emotion we feel on hearing of their loss?

In my house, we loved it every time he visited. We adored having him with us, right here, in our lounge room. We loved him even more when we saw him on the silver screen, his face godlike in close up, as large and magnetic as a rising harvest moon in a country sky. I loved him as Ned Kelly, righteous and fiery, the widow’s son outlawed. And I loved him as Casanova, relaxed and funny, the world’s greatest romance hero. But I loved him best of all as Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. I’ve wept each of the three times I’ve watched him take his dead lover’s shirt out of the closet and say through the closed mouth of a man who is not at home with his emotions, “Jack, I swear…”

And I couldn’t be more certain that I will weep again the next time I watch it.

Check out my novel: The Anzac Girl