Wintry work

This drawing was meant for Chapter 5, ‘Living for Weekends’, of The Woman on the Mountain.

We’d moved there into the still very basic cabin, and I’d taken the writing work from my old design firm…

In a way it’s as if I remained part of the company even after I’d left and moved back here for good. They used to call me ‘our woman on the mountain’, as one says ‘our man in New York’, although the connotations of gumleaves and gumboots were probably less impressive.

They had to tolerate a long and turbulent teething period in those pre-email communication days. We were using a program called Carbon Copy (I think) where my computer linked to theirs via a primitive modem. I’d try to get the modem to work on my dreadful phone line, waiting for that magic sound, the electronic gargle of a successful connection. Someone had to sit at a computer at their end to receive it, and stay there to respond, even if it was unbelievably slow. I’d be sitting here trying to get it through, never sure if the person down there had given up, or wandered off to make a coffee or take a phone call. To find out, I’d have to disconnect and ring them, as I only had one line. Then we’d have to start all over again. Hair-tearingly not ideal.

I think that was when I first discovered the release to be derived from screaming Charlie Brown one-liners — ‘A-a-a-a-rgh!’ — from the verandah.

… But at least I was living and working here, even if conditions weren’t ideal. … I’d be shivering at my desk at the other end of the cabin from the combustion stove. Working on the computer, I’d be wearing fingerless gloves, beanie, thick socks and boots, tights, leggings, long woollen skirt, singlet, skivvy, woollen jumper, vest, cardigan and shawl, with a rug over my knees. Dead elegant — and cold. I cursed again the uninsulated roof.’

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

North to south

I’ll be hitting the road again soon, still talking… writing Rich Land, Wasteland has made this a full time follow-on occupation!

If the rains don’t intervene again, first I’ll be in beautiful—and wet—Dorrigo, so high up as to often be a cloudland. Then down to trendy and only slightly less wet Bellingen, at the feet of these spectacular mountains.

No, I’m not on holiday; I’m there as part of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival.

No, they don’t have a coal or gas rush there—but they do have a gold and antimony rush (and whatever else they find in the process) and there’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about this. Unless you fancy a little arsenic in your waterways?

My Festival events are:

  • Thursday 21st March, 7 pm
    Dorrigo Community Hall, 
    Hickory Street.
    Chaired by Jacqueline Williams, with myself and Paul Cleary (Minefield) speaking on Mining of course—but with the theme of ‘Just keep digging? – our resources rush, local and beyond.’
  • Saturday 23rd March, 2.30-3.45 pm
    Bellingen Memorial Hall
    Discussion chaired by George Negus on ‘Dangerous Activities: Mining and Nuclear Energy,’ with myself, Paul Cleary and Richard Broinowski.

Then I’m off to Melbourne again, just overnight, to Sandringham on Port Phillip Bay, to speak at a public event organised by the Bayside Climate Change Action Group.

  • Tuesday, 26th March, 7.30 pm
    Sandringham Uniting Church Hall,
    21 Trentham Street

Next day I’m in Tasmania—details of that to follow.

Words at Wollombi

wollombiNext Sunday, November 8th, as part of the Wollombi Country Fair, I’ll be heading to church.  Not for a sacred service, but to speak at a Literary Morning Tea to be held by my publishers, Exisle, in the historic St. John’s Church at Wollombi.

Based at Wollombi, Exisle are very much a part of this artistic village community. I always love it that my books are displayed in the village general store!

I’ll be entertaining the muffin munchers with readings from my books, Mountain Tails and The Woman on the Mountain and talking about making literature out of my life with my wildlife refuge neighbours. Am expecting a lively Q & A session.

Sunday 8th, 11.30 a.m. Enquiries to Exisle, (02) 4998 3327.

For other events over the weekend, you can link from my event here.

Heading up the Hunter

Scone-LibraryIn a few weeks I’ll be heading up the Hunter Valley, past all the horrible coal mines of the two shires south of Upper Hunter Shire to Scone, seat of local government and Horse Capital of Australia.

(That’s Scone with a long ‘o’ as in ‘bone’, not Scon(e) with a a short ‘o’ as in ‘box’, served with jam and cream in Devonshire teas.)

For the first time I’ll be speaking at Scone Library, about my book, Mountain Tails — in association with a terrific local bookshop, Hunt-a-books.

It’s an evening talk and I hope to meet folk from my email environmental info lists there, as well as friends and readers.

See you at Erina

erina-50In early October I’m returning to my rural roots, so to speak, and heading back to Erina on the NSW Central Coast hinterland, where I grew up on a small farm.

This is me aged 11 with my younger sisters one dewy morning in our orange orchard in 1959.

Erina is more a commuter suburb of Sydney these days, and the orchards have given way to lifestyle blocks and fancy houses. But it’s still recognisable, and the privet lining the roadsides still smells the same.

I’ll be talking about my book, Mountain Tails, at the Erina Library in the mighty Erina Fair Shopping Centre. In my day a super-modern drive-in (or so it was at the time) had made history, replacing the original orchard and chook farm with a popcorn-and-pluto-pup-scented occasion of sin.

The talk is at 3.30pm on Wednesday 7th October. They will be offering light refreshments as well as my scintillating speech and readings.

Bookings are required (02 4365 6725) — but the event is free. 

Me and Mountain Tails at Tamworth

Soon I’ll be heading up the hills to Country Music Capital, Tamworth, to speak about my book, Mountain Tails, at Tamworth Library. The talk will be at 11 am on Wednesday 23rd September; Tamworth’s modern library is at 466 Peel St, (02) 6767 5640.

And no, I won’t be singing, although I’ll probably have Lucinda Williams on the CD as I hit town on Tuesday night.

garden-ausSpotted a nice little review in ABC Gardening Australia magazine, August 2009 issue, by Denis Crawford:

This delightful novel gives a lively and personal account of the animals that share the author’s wildlife refuge. The book is clearly written and is illustrated with the author’s own whimsical drawings.

Read about romping joeys, quolls in the kitchen and marsupial mice in the bedding pile. It would be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in the natural world and is the sort of book to while away a winter afternoon.

Mid-western culture, Mudgee style

Recently I spoke at Mudgee Library for the first time. Somehow I missed it for my first book, but It will definitely be on my list for any future ones. This Mid-western Council library is situated in a charming old shopfront building in the heart of Mudgee, which is itself full of lovely heritage buildings.

It is well supported by the Friends of the Library who organised the supper after my talk, patronised by the local booklovers who came to hear me, and most admirably run by Eilagh Rurenga (below).


Eilagh gave me a most thoughtful and original introduction, and had thought of everything for the evening — including alerting me to possible loud thuds from books landing in the after-hours chute box behind my lectern.


I took the opportunity to warn Mudgee folk of the spreading coal frenzy just to the north of them, not wanting this picturesque district to go the way of the Hunter — but I fear they can’t imagine the devastating effects of so many current mine approvals, let alone proposals and sneaky land buyups in advance of more. 

Mudgee has everything going for it, but they will lose it unless the community sees that the threat from unbridled coalmining is not just an issue for greenies: it’s a matter of local survival. Coal is not the smart way to create jobs — just the dirty way.

Photographer Brett Maguire took the pictures on the night; these are just a few. I was impressed with how few double chins he caught — thanks, Brett. He’s obviously a man who knows what women of a certain age want.

mudgee-3Brett and his wife Aimee are newcomers to Mudgee, seeking a quieter lifestyle, which  Mudgee still offers, along with a wealth of cultural, commercial and culinary facilities, not to mention being surrounded by wineries.

Julie from local bookshop Books in Mudgee provided books for sale and, as always, I had some great chats with people like Norman Leonard (left) while I signed their copies.

Brett Maguire, BRAW Photography: 0422 278 234.

Returning to Tuggerah

Librarians are some of my favourite people, being book lovers like me. However, the grey-haired spinster in a drab cardigan no longer fits the bill. Nor are libraries just places of shush and half-asleep old men.

Take young, cheery and goatee-d Adam Holland and his Wyong Shire Library in the enormous Westfield Tuggerah Shoppingtown on the NSW Central Coast. 

Adam’s author talks and events welcome the community in, seat them in comfy armchairs, feed them tea and chocolate bickies and grapes, while writers like me talk about my books and read from them.  For free!

My visit there for my first book was lovely, so I was happy to return last week for Mountain Tails. And, as I had grown up on the Central Coast, and my sister Robyn has retired there, it almost feels like coming home.

It was a delight to see faces in the audience familiar to me from my last talk there.

I always enjoy the interaction during question time and the chats afterwards when I sign books. Rick Finucane from Borders bookshop in Westfields not only sold my books there but took the photos for me on my camera. Thank you, Rick!
tuggerah-rosesAn extra treat was that Adam presented me with a bunch of yellow roses and some chocolates.

Back home in my cabin that night, having just beaten nightfall and the rain, I lit the fire, arranged the roses, poured myself a glass of red wine, and indulged in a chocolate or two. You could say I felt appreciated.

Next day was grey and cold and windy, but the roses bloomed golden on my windowsill, extending the pleasure of my author talk well beyond its actual time. Thank you Adam and Tuggerah!

Author on the move

After a week on the move, talking about the new book, Mountain Tails, I was glad to be home in the quiet of my natural world, especially in such beautiful Autumn weather.

But I am off again next week, as I am speaking at Tuggerah Library on the central coast of NSW.  This will be at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 20th May, and if you live in that area,  it would be great to meet you there.

The first round of talks were in quite varied venues, some more successful than others, but as always it was terrific to get feedback from the audience afterwards. 

First talk (below) was at Parramatta Library, back in the area of my birth, the western suburbs of Sydney! It was a good venue and a receptive audience, with Borders bookshop coming along to this one, for the first time.
Next was outdoors, at the café in Heritage Gardens near Maitland, where what you might call an intimate group shared afternoon tea and conversation afterwards. Thanks to Helen of Angus & Robertson at Greenhills and Jenny at the café for their support and the idea.
On Friday I spoke at the environmentally designed Wallsend Library, in their spacious multi-purpose room.

Despite the heavy rain outside, it was a good turnout, with several familiar faces and, as always, a pleasure to meet new ones. Sue-Ellen and Catherine from A & R at Kotara  were there to sell the books and give support.  

I went there the next day to sign books and was delighted that, while most people bought one or the other, at least four discerning young men bought both my books for their mothers!
On Mothers’ Day itself I was up early for a great guided walk around the Hunter Wetlands (which they do every second month). A beautiful spot, and the rain held off just long enough.
 Most striking sight was the endangered desert species, the Freckled Duck (photo by Dael Allison), which were raised from eggs as part of a conservation programme and are now managing to breed on their own.
Back at the Wetlands Centre we had breakfast, and then a small group patiently tried to hear me (mike and all) over the many other Mothers’ Day breakfasters in the café’s deck area. Clearly a favourite spot.

A special treat was meeting fellow nature blogger Gaye whose site, Snippets and Sentiments, has provided me with insights many a time.

I’ll certainly go back to the Wetlands on a quieter day and walk around to the many birdwatching spots.

More Newcastle book events

wallsendAs well as the Mothers’ Day ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ at the Hunter Wetlands, as previously posted, I am speaking about and reading from my new book, Mountain Tails, at two other events in Newcastle that week.

One of these may suit some of you better than arising so early that day!

Hope you can make it to one of them and please pass on if you like.

 2.30 pm, Thursday 7th May
Garden Table Café — Heritage Gardens Nursery, New England Highway, East Maitland.

 An afternoon tea book event in a charming garden setting, organised by Angus & Robertson, Greenhills, and The Garden Table Café.

$10 per person for the delicious afternoon tea  – being entertained by me is free! Wonderful lucky door prizes on the day.

To make a booking or for more info please contact Jenny Benning on 0419 420 775.
1.00 pm, Friday 8th May
Wallsend Library, Bunn Street, Wallsend.

 A lunchtime book event in the fabulously designed, environmentally friendly Wallsend Library.

Light lunch provided, free  — being entertained by me here is also free!

Call Wallsend Library on (02) 4985 6680 to book or for more info.

See you at Parramatta

For any of my readers who live in Sydney, I will be speaking about my new book, Mountain Tails, at Parramatta City Library on Tuesday 5th May, from 1-2 pm.

Part of their Lunchtime Author Talks programme, the event is free, but bookings are required (9806 5159). The Library is in Civic Place, off Macquarie Street.

Food and fun

dandenong forest


Sharyn&AnneWhile in Victoria I spent an amusing few hours on a community radio (3MDR) show with host Ann Creber. This dynamic pixie of a woman also hosted me for several days at her home, which she shares with husband David, two large poodles, Nina and Georgie, and hundreds of antique dishes and pots and pans — props for her food photography styling — plus more modern gear for menu testing as well as cooking for her ‘Whispers of Provence’ lines of preserves, jams and vinegars.

Rose petal vinegar was in process, the petals collected from Ann’s wonderfully wild Dandenongs garden, where natives like fern trees and giant mountain ash eucalypts happily share the slopes with oaks and birches, lawn daisies and buttercups, foxgloves and heritage roses.

At the bottom of the garden she keeps alpacas, ducks and chooks. And I can vouch for the quality of Ann’s omelettes.

Being a professional foodie, Ann gets invited to cookbook launches like the one she took me to, somewhere posh, high above the heart of Melbourne. It was for a truly beautiful book called Turquoise by Ann’s friends, Lucy & Greg Malouf. Published by Hardie Grant, it’s as much Turkish travelogue as recipe book; the photographs are stunning.

The gathering included the sort of glitterati and fashion followers that you just don’t see in a country town. I was gawking unashamedly as I scoffed whatever vegetarian offerings passed by on platters carried by extremely aloof young men.

Preston market

The other Victorian food treat was a visit to Preston Markets, where people of every colour and culture mingle around shops and stalls offering every imaginable type of produce.

They even have a wine stall, where you can refill your ceramic stoppered glass bottles! Now that’s civilised.

Clearly not everyone found the experience as fascinating as I did.

I came back to NSW determined to use more fresh dill as well as mint and parsley in my Middle Eastern concoctions, to have another go at keeping the possums off my roses, and wishing we had more migrants in our Hunter Valley towns! Woollies just doesn’t compare as a sensory shopping treat.