Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I need a little Christmas this December, 2006 because this year has been a very sad year.

On a personal level, we have lost treasured friends and dear acquaintances through ill health and unfortunate accidents.

Also I would like to include the sudden death of a fellow Queensland resident, the endearingly zealous and genuine conservationist, Steve Irwin.

I have never met Steve but our family has visited his wonderful Australia Zoo twice over the years and we have witnessed how he has invested money accumulated from his many enterprises back into the development of his zoo with the view to protecting endangered species.

It is humbling to acknowledge that he has spent his relatively short life and his family's income towards protecting other beings on this precious and increasingly fragile planet.

Below is a photograph we took in 1993 at Australia Zoo of the late Harriet the Galapagos tortoise. She would have been 163 years of age when this photograph was taken and she went on to live to 175 years in the best of retirement homes thanks to the Irwin Family.

So, given that it has been such a sad year, I have done something most unusual for me. I started celebrating Christmas on the 1st of December.

I have erected and decorated the Christmas tree.

I have placed decorations about the living area and carefully displayed any Christmas cards given to us with their greetings of love and best wishes.

I’ve been playing our Christmas carols CD, “Crooners at Christmas” for a fortnight.

I know it is annoying the rest of the family but there is nothing more soothing and reassuring than Dean Martin singing “Silent Night”.

I have been wearing Christmas themed earrings since the 8th of December when we attended our first Christmas function.

Our tasteful Christmas lights display was placed about the front patio of the house yesterday.

And, this week at work, I will be wearing reindeer antlers on my head to inspire and amuse the library patrons.

Yesterday I cooked the Christmas pudding.

Most importantly, on Christmas Eve, we will attend the beautiful church in town where we were married and the children were baptised.

Yes, everything is falling into place and I am feeling very relaxed and happy about this special season.

Christmas is not just for children, it is also for people who believe in the magic of Santa Claus and the message of hope, peace and love that was evoked by the birth of a baby.

Yes, Christmas is not just for children but for adults who refuse to be cynical and believe that, although it is mandatory to grow old, it is optional to grow up.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I bought some peaches last Friday knowing that they would take a while to fully ripen. So for a couple of days, as I passed the fruit bowl, I would pick one up and sniff at it and gently press against its skin, hopeful that it would be ready to devour.

Each time, as I smelt the sweet perfume of the fruit, I was made aware of two things. Firstly, I was reminded that stone fruit are my favourite fruit. But, more importantly, I realised that the scent of stone fruit evokes cherished memories from my childhood Christmases.

My younger sister and I shared a bedroom all through our childhood and early teen years. Each Christmas Eve we would sing ourselves to sleep with all the Christmas carols we knew. Most of the carols would involve snow. I am not sure why we didn’t pick up on the absurdity of the situation given that we were sweltering away in a humid Queensland summer.

We would finally drop off to sleep comforted by the knowledge that there was a pillow case draped over the end of our beds.

Yes, we had come to trust that Santa Claus would find this handy little item of bed linen and deposit our presents within it.

In the morning we would rummage through it and extract our various presents and then, as we reached to the bottom of the pillow case, we find the added treats of stone fruit, exotic nuts and lollies.

As stone fruit were in season, we would find a couple of fresh plums, apricots and/or peaches. Obviously Santa Claus must stop off and buy locally as he races about the globe.

The nuts were also a great treat. They were also a great challenge. These tasty walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds and, in particular, the macadamias were safely hidden in their tough shells which meant that we would have to spend quite some time during Christmas Day endeavouring to extract them.

Tiny nervous fingers would bravely hold the nut as a hammer or brick would be called upon to smash open the shells on a slab of concrete.

The results were random. It could be bruised fingers, a mangled mash of shell and nut or, if the angle of the blow was a bit off-centre, a macadamia nut would skid off sideways at speed and never be sighted again.

I still feel the need to have a bag of nuts in their shells to play with every Christmas.

My older sister had a difficult time letting go of the pillow case Christmas tradition. She continued to lay out a pillow case for herself (even as she approached her 30s) whenever she was spending Christmas Eve at the family residence. And, invariably, Santa Claus would deliver something to her.

I continued the pillow case tradition when we had our children. I embroidered their names on their own Christmas pillowcase as I knew, from experience, Santa Claus does deliver to pillow cases.

Yes, I have a lot of faith in Santa Claus. And it was from an early age that I found out that I didn’t have to worry about that “naughty or nice” list that Santa supposedly makes each year before bestowing gifts on little kiddies.

I say this because of an incident which occurred one Christmas morning. I can’t quite calculate which Christmas it was because it was quite some time ago and I was very young at the time.

We were at my grandmother’s house for Christmas and my younger sister and I had been bedded down in an anteroom at the front of the house.

Okay, it wasn’t an anteroom but I have always wanted to use that word and now I have used it twice.

As most Australians will know, the room at the front of the house was merely an enclosed front verandah. Enclosing patios and verandahs was something people would do to their houses when their family outgrew their number of bedrooms.

Anyway, back to the Christmas morning.

I awoke early as kids are wont to do on any morning but especially on Christmas morning.

I checked the contents of my pillow case and, as my younger sister was still asleep, I had the opportunity to peer into her pillow case to see what Santa had brought her.

We had been given a doll each, a few other miscellaneous toys, and the fruit, nuts and lollies.

My doll was a pink plastic cherub. She was okay. But she wasn’t overly special. Just a baby doll in baby doll clothes with a pink plastic head with painted-on light brown curls.

My sister’s doll was very special. She was a more grown-up doll in a sophisticated emerald green velvet dress.
But the thing I really liked about my sister’s doll was that she had a head of realistic looking hair.

This elegant doll had a wonderful head of shiny dark brown curls and it was a coiffure which, now that I think of it, looked very much like the hairdo that my beloved mother wore at the time. No wonder I loved her!

I felt immediately that Santa Claus had made a delivery error when depositing these two dolls in their respective pillow cases. It seemed obvious to me that, being the older sister, the more grown-up doll must have been meant for me. So I quickly swapped the dolls and went back to bed.

Although I felt Santa Claus would see that I had done the right thing by correcting his error, I was still a little uneasy.

What if my mother had been curious as to what Santa Claus had given her two younger daughters and late Christmas Eve she had done a bit of a pillow case check before going to bed?

The answer to that question hung over my little blonde head until everyone was up and about and showing off their presents later that morning.

To my relief, nothing untoward was noted and I knew that the doll swapping incident was now something only Santa Claus and I needed to know about.

Santa Claus continued to fill my pillow case each year so I knew that he was okay about my decision.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Like many girls from my generation, I did my time in Australian banking institutions.

One of the advantages of working in a bank is that they give you uniforms.

One of the disadvantages of working in a bank is that they give you uniforms.

The picture below will explain those two conflicting sentences.

(I know that my ex-work mates will be pleased to see their identities have been protected.)

Uniforms can be handy. You awake each workday morning and you know exactly what you will be wearing. Unfortunately, you will also know that you will look pathetic.

Now, besides that alarmingly pink uniform, we also had the choice of another uniform which had the shape of a large navy blue pillowcase adorned with a white collar.

But then what could one expect, it was the 1970s and all fashion was ghastly back then.

I enlisted at the time when banks were introducing computers to help with balancing their books.

Now the computers back then were nothing like the lovely little PCs of the Naughties. These computers had memory banks which were huge white monstrosities that required an enormous amount of office floor area and a vigilant caretaker.

They could get so hot and they could be so temperamental that they had to be insulated to a ridiculous degree and kept in a huge glass cage to ensure they remained dust-free and also to ensure that they had a constant temperature similar to the Antarctic environment.

My bank employers had their computer centre in the city centre of Brisbane, Queensland. It was a pleasant enough workplace due to it being a new building with air-conditioning and also we had piped music or muzak to entertain us as we worked.

Each afternoon the daily transactions from the various bank branches about the state would be bundled up and sent to our computer centre.

The cheques and other bits of paper would be encoded by the complicated machines on the floor above my workplace and then I and my workmates would sit at our computer terminals and enter the details of these transactions into the aforementioned memory banks.

Later that night the computer would spit out a forest-worth of paper featuring lots of numbers and then a group of other employees (male only, I might add) would see to it that it all balanced.

Now I know you will already have noted two things about my job. Firstly that it involved shift work and secondly that it was mind-deadingly boring.

When we were hired and trained to work in the computer centre, we were told that we would not be able to transfer to other areas of the bank. So, when I decided that I simply could not bear the job any longer, I decided that my only escape would be to transfer to a different city.

So I moved to my bank’s Sydney computer centre for a while and at first it was okay because the surroundings were different and the people were different but eventually the overwhelming boredom of the job set in once again.

So I applied to work at another bank’s Sydney computer centre where, fortunately, I was granted a position where I was one of those people balancing the numbers instead of being the trained monkey at the computer terminal.

There was one drawback to my new position. My new bank had a uniform that was even more ghastly than the uniforms I had been wearing previously. This one was a grey-blue shapeless thing that buttoned up from neck to hem.

However I decided that I could overcome the humiliation of wearing this fashion atrocity due to the fact that this job was much more stimulating.

After one evening shift at my new job, a co-worker suggested that we all go for a drink. He suggested The Taxi Club. So six people from our shift went off for a mid-week adventure.

When we arrived by taxi at The Taxi Club we found that we were required to mount a large number of steps to arrive at a reasonably inviting room with a bar and tables. There didn’t seem to be many patrons there that evening but we didn’t care as we had our own party and all we really wanted was to imbibe in a number of alcoholic drinks.

When we three girls decided to “play Ladies” and retire to a table with our drinks, we found that we were quickly joined by a trio of transsexuals.

Our three co-worker blokes, being Australian males, steadfastly remained at the bar to ensure that they kept their distance and also to ensure that there were no annoying time-lapses between the getting of the next drink.

Back at our table, there was much conversation and we found our new friends were charming. We six girls talked about fashion, make-up, nail care and all those other girlie things.

When, after a few rum and Cokes, the time came for me to visit the toilet and one of my workmates announced she needed to go too, a couple of our new friends decided to join us.

So the four of us grabbed our handbags and headed to the Ladies Toilet.

It is a sociological fact that girls are very social beings and we simply can’t stop chatting just because we need to do a pee so it is essential that we travel together in a minimum of two when we go to the toilet.

At one point in the evening I approached the bar for another drink and one of my bloke co-workers asked that less than original question, “How do you know if they are blokes?”

He was noting that my new friends were quite attractive but he was also aware that they weren’t quite entirely female.

Being the worldly 19 year old from the deep North I simply gave him the less than original answer that all he needed to do was look at the hands. Blokes have larger hands.

Looking back, I picture us three young girls in our grey-blue bank uniforms sipping mixed drinks and chatting and laughing with those three glamorous transsexuals.

Their make-up was impeccable, their nails long and painted and they were wearing trendy colourful clothes. How dowdy must we three girls in bank uniforms have looked in comparison?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Now we all have a legitimate, physiological and scientific excuse for those moments when we blurt out those inappropriate things.

Comments such as:

“Off to a fancy dress party, are you?”

“Good Lord! What have you done to your hair?”

“Are you pregnant or just putting on weight, dear?”

Now, as you watch the face of your targets crumple and their eyes tear up, you can point to your brain and say brightly, “Oh dear! Sorry about that. My frontal lobe isn’t quite working today.”

There is one little drawback I must warn you about.

If your targets know anything about the functioning of the brain or they have read the same article as I have just done, then they will know that you really DID mean what you said but couldn’t stop yourself from blurting it out.

However, I am sure that most people are quite unaware of the intricate functioning of the brain and they will immediately forget about their recently hurt feelings and begin to worry about you and your lazy frontal lobe.

I will give you a layperson’s view of the science behind this hypothesis but check this link if you wish to explore the research further.

The hypothesis is that, as the brain deteriorates, people become less able to inhibit themselves from saying inappropriate things. And the researcher states that there is evidence that this bluntness is due to the decline in frontal lobe functioning.

Normally, when you look into a pram and you see the world’s ugliest baby, your frontal lobe will inhibit you from stating this fact. You will be able to take a breath and tell the proud parents, “He is the image of his father, isn’t he?”

Because aging slows down our brain processing, bluntness is seen more in older people. Hence the research has been criticised as an attack on the over 65s.

It seems that there is no credence in our previous assumption that old people had earned the right to be blunt and that they are vessels of wisdom and we should just grin and bear it when they say something insulting to us. In fact, it is just that their frontal lobes are letting them down.

The researcher rightly defends his research and he dismisses the idea that it is age-ist. He points out that it is a health issue for the over 65s as their bluntness and their socially inappropriate questions can mean that these old people will lose their friends and thus they can suffer social consequences.

I am not over 65 but I intend to continue to use my frontal lobe to help me in times of inappropriate bluntness. If I am challenged by someone, I am simply going to say that I have had a blow to my head causing damage to my frontal lobe which will make me say socially inappropriate things from time to time.

Hopefully, sympathy for my plight will excuse my rudeness.

I will forge a doctor’s certificate confirming that my frontal lobe is dodgy if need be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


When we bought our farm, we inherited a small herd of Poll Hereford cows. They weren’t as accessible and cuddly as the dairy cows of my youth but I do enjoy watching them stand and stare into the horizon as they chew their cud.

Over the years we have bred from that initial stock, occasionally adding new cows and introducing a number of bulls. As the herd increased and the feed got scarce, we would send the steers and older cows off to the sale.

That initial herd was led by an extremely intelligent cow who had been dubbed “Mother Cow”. She was a supreme example of the breed and she produced excellent calves.

When Mother Cow fixed her gaze upon you, there was a spooky sense that she possessed knowledge of the mysteries of the universe that stretched well beyond the innate pursuits of grazing and breeding.

She was the leader of the herd but she was cunning enough to sneak away from the others now and then to find a better paddock of feed. Perhaps she simply told them she wanted to be alone for a while. She knew that we wouldn't notice one cow was missing but a whole herd trampling through and chomping down our crop of barley would not go unnoticed.

There was one occasion when Mother Cow’s eerie wisdom came to our rescue. Two cows were fighting over the ownership of a new calf. As the little calf attempted to feed from its mother, the second cow would intervene and try to coax the calf away. We were beginning to wonder how to rectify this situation when Mother Cow took it upon herself to solve the argument.

We watched as she strolled up to the battling cows and, after some mysterious communication between them, she told the calf-less cow to come to her senses, which she did, allowing the real mother and calf to be reunited.

It was a sad day when Mother Cow walked up the ramp of the yards to board the truck that took her off to her last sale.

We decided to buy a Murray Grey bull as they were reputed to be a quiet breed and his genes may help in keeping the herd tame.

Unfortunately, the girls did not like the little grey bull. From the moment he stepped down the ramp and attempted to join the herd, the girls literally ran from him.

It was quite an entertaining though poignant sight to watch a herd of maroon and white streak pass the windows followed by a small but determined grey bull.

The chase went on for a couple of days.

We wondered just what could be done to reconcile the herd with their new bull. We knew that Mother Cow was not our saviour as she was the leader of the pack. Indeed, she was probably the one urging the girls not to breed with this small grey wimp.

Eventually the bull lost all self confidence and he went off and hid in the scrub seemingly unable to face a world filled with rejection.

It was decided that the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” should be tested to the extreme. We locked up the cows and the bull in the close proximity of the small yards. We knew that contempt was already in place and we had hoped that familiarity may simply breed “familiarity”.

After a day and a night it came time to open the gate and release the cattle and, to our relief, they simply strolled off to graze. The Murray Grey had found acceptance.

When it was time to change bulls, we decided to purchase a Poll Hereford. Although the quiet gene of the Murray Grey seemed to be a good idea, we had been unaware that they also harbour a gene which leaves them with a total disregard and/or respect for fences.

Our new bull arrived with a pedigree and a hyphenated name and the girls fell in love immediately. He was with us for sometime and he produced some very good calves. We were reluctant to sell him but he brought the situation upon himself by constantly picking fights with an equally large and angry neighbouring bull.

Over time we borrowed a couple of bulls who gratefully visited with our willing girls and calves were born and the herd continued. But when the lack of consistent rain reduced feed, we decided not to breed for a while and the cows wandered about the farm bull-free.

However, Nature will prevail and a neighbour’s bull stepped through the fences and busied himself with the girls before being reclaimed by the neighbour. In time we were blessed with 5 male calves and a female calf.

Our daughter grew very fond of the heifer who galloped and tussled with her male peers. There was nothing feminine about Hef. She would gallantly fight and win the head butting contests against the bully boys. If she was a human she would have urinated standing up!

The calves grew and the mothers, unhampered by further pregnancies, fussed about their offspring. The steers grew fat from the feed and the continued suckling of their doting mothers. They grew bigger than their mothers and still fronted up for their daily feeds.

At last it was time to remove the boys from their mothers. They were getting too big and we were running out of feed. The truck arrived one afternoon and the boys were savagely separated from their mothers. There was much consternation. As the boys left the farm in the truck, their mothers trotted after them crying out in despair.

Once the truck had disappeared the mothers turned their anger upon the house. They knew who was to blame and they were going to let us know. They stood at the yard fence and bellowed at the house. We hid inside.

That night the despair continued as plaintiff moos echoed about the farm. Next day they reappeared at the fence and continued to bellow at the house. It was time for action. The spouse gathered up the gun and strode out to the verandah. He aimed the gun to the skies above the irate mothers’ heads and let it fire a couple of times. The mothers, like all animals, possessed the innate terror of firearms and immediately ceased their complaints and turned on their hooves and headed towards the trees. We did not hear another complaint from them.

Once again the farm was without male cattle.

One day our daughter looked down to the paddock below the house to see her treasured Hef stretched out on the black soil. We rushed to check why she was down. Had she developed some disease? Had she been bitten by a snake?

As we neared her we noted that she was not alone. Hef had just delivered a son. It is clear that the genes within the herd had served her well. She was smart and independent like Mother Cow, taking it upon herself to sneak off unseen and locate a bull. And, thanks to whatever skerrick of Murray Grey gene resided in her, stepping through fences would not have been a problem for her.

Yes, Mother Cow would have been so proud!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Our family has a long tradition of naming our blue budgerigars Joey.

My grandmother’s Joey was a dear creature with a vast vocabulary which made him most entertaining.

He would ask you, “Who’s a pretty boy?” and then immediately inform you that, “Joey’s a pretty boy.”

He would call out, “Where are you Dor?” mimicking my grandmother calling for my mother.

He also did an accurate rendition of my mother’s smoker’s cough.

As a child I would press my mouth against the cage and call, “Kiss, Joey, kiss.”

Joey would hop across his perch to me and tickle my lips with his beak and little dry tongue.

We lost Joey one day when my grandmother was cleaning his cage and the window was slightly open. Someone ran into the kitchen. I don’t remember who it was but, today, I have decided to blame my younger sister. Anyway, the sudden arrival of an excited child startled Joey and he flew out into the wild blue yonder.

It was very sad and most untimely as my mother had begun to teach Joey our telephone number and, given a little more time, he would have mastered it.

I would like to think that Joey landed on the verandah rail of a caring family who happily accepted the sudden arrival of a delightful bird and let him become one of the family.

When my younger sister left home, she was given a blue budgerigar by a good friend as a companion and she named him Joey. They were a devoted couple. When my sister was home, Joey spent most of his time outside of his cage familiarising himself with the flat and chatting to her.

On occasions when my sister would imbibe in a glass or two of wine, she would become festive and she would place the obliging Joey on her head and call him her Cocktail Hat.

My sister brought him with her when she came to work at the family hotel for a while. It was at this time that she felt that Joey should have a wife and she asked a local budgerigar breeder to select a suitable spouse.

She also decided that it would be a good idea to throw a Bucks Party for Joey to celebrate the end of his bachelor days.

The party was held one night after a social club meeting at the hotel. A small group gathered to wish him well.

With all windows secured, Joey was taken from his cage and placed on the edge of my sister’s glass of beer allowing him to sip at it and join in the celebration.

When Joey’s wife arrived I thought her a homely looking hen, thin and a pale yellow. She seemed to take an instant dislike to our dear Joey. In fact she lashed out at him physically. When she began to pluck the feathers from his head, my sister intervened.

The hen was returned to the breeder and the marriage was dissolved.

Joey and my sister eventually returned to the Gold Coast. One unhappy day she came home from work to find an empty cage. Suspicion fell upon the brainless twit who was a friend of my sister’s flatmate. We suspect that this unsavoury twit had spent some time behind bars himself so he decided to set free an unwilling and unprepared Joey into a world of cats and other predators.

Again I would like to think that Joey landed on the verandah rail of a caring family who happily accepted the sudden arrival of a delightful bird and let him become one of the family.

I did pine for a Joey I could call my own.

I would often tell my family that I wanted a Joey but they would remind me that my beloved cat may view the bird as a potential food source.

So I had to be content to watch the birds frolic in my birdbath and occasionally call out to them, “Who’s a pretty boy?”

One Christmas, as I unwrapped my presents, I uncovered a blue budgerigar. I instantly named him Joey. I asked him if he was a pretty boy and I asked him to, “Kiss, Joey, kiss” as I pressed his little plaster beak to my lips.

My spouse could not see why I was less than enthusiastic about my new pet.

“You don’t have to feed or water it. And you won’t need to clean up after it. And when you put it down somewhere it won’t fly off.” he pointed out smugly.

Michelle ©

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


My son became fascinated by dinosaurs at an early age. It began one day at preschool. His teacher was reading a picture book about these large extinct animals when she noticed the wide-eyed expression upon the face of my timid son. She asked him if he was frightened by the book.

But, as she told me later, it was quite something other than fear. It was awe.

His interest came at a time when there was a lot of excellent books being published on dinosaurs. Also it was at the time when the Jurassic Park movie was first released.

From then on, our visits to the library would see us leave laden down with books about dinosaurs and, being the overzealous mother that I am, I learnt a lot about them myself.

His favourite dinosaur was the Triceratops – “tri” meaning three and “ceratops” meaning…. well, I have no idea what ceratops means.

Just joking! I do actually know what it means because I found his Triceratops book and it says that the word means “three-horned face”.

Triceratops was from the Cretaceous period which came after the Jurassic period that you all know about thanks to those movies.

Triceratops was an herbivore which doesn’t mean it only ate parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. It means that it was a plant eater and it had a sharp, toothless beak to slice through rough leaves and twigs.

I did encourage my son in pursuing his passion for dinosaurs as I believed that a dinosaur digger-upper (sorry, palaeontologist) could have been a viable career option.

I found two good reasons for condoning this career choice.

Firstly, unlike a police officer, a lion tamer or jackeroo (Australian cowboy), I felt that the palaeontologist’s job wouldn’t be very dangerous. My son would have been unlikely to get shot, bitten or, indeed, trod on by a dinosaur.

The worst case scenario may have been that he could sustain an injury by kicking his toe on a very large bone and/or he may get a dose of sunburn.

Secondly I believed that, although the university fees for the 4 to 9 years of study (depending on whether you do a Ph.D) may have been high, when he completed his degree it wouldn’t have cost me much to set him up.

All he would have needed was a little pick to dig up the bones, a little brush to get the dirt off, a good sunhat and copious amounts of sunscreen.

I felt that this was much better than setting up someone for another career, such as, a person who has just done a dentistry degree.

Now that chair alone must set you back a bit. Then there are the drills and files and that porcelain sink with the swirling water and those plastic cups and that sucky thing they put in your mouth.

And then there are the wages for that young attractive dental assistant.

Also, I believe Venetian blinds are expensive these days too.

Sorry, off the track there for a moment!

Now, as I said, I learnt quite a bit about dinosaurs during those years. I practised those hard to pronounce names. I traced pictures and drew up a large poster for his bedroom door which featured all the dinosaurs.

I learnt that very young children are quite capable of understanding the difference between the various dinosaurs and they quickly learn to pronounce their names.

Not surprising really as they pick up foreign languages so readily at that age.

Now you are wondering about my disdain for The Wiggles aren’t you?

Well, I was in the library recently and I was most disturbed by a conversation I overheard between a mother and her young son.

“Dinosaur.” He announced as he pointed to a rather good plastic facsimile of a dinosaur.

“Ah, yes.” replied mother. “Dorothy the dinosaur.”

She was referring to an inane Wiggles ditty.

Well, it was too much for me. I had to intervene.

“You don’t know your dinosaurs, do you?” I chastised her. “That is a stegosaurus. Can’t you tell by the plates on its back?”

Fortunately the mother knows me quite well and she laughed rather than punch me in the nose.

So, damn you The Wiggles.

Damn you for dumbing down, not only our little children, but their parents as well.

There is no dinosaur called Dorothy and that big green yellow-spotted puppet wearing what looks like a rose-adorned cricket hat bears no resemblance to any unearthed dinosaur.

Just how lazy are you Wiggles when it comes to inventing characters? It wouldn’t have been that hard to make it look like a real dinosaur.

And, when your write those little ditties that line your pockets, it wouldn’t be difficult to whip up a rhyme using legitimate dinosaur names. Most dinosaur names usually end with ‘osaurus’ or ‘ceratops' and other easily rhymable endings.

I repeat, how difficult could it be. Young children are quite capable of recognising even the subtle differences between the many dinosaurs and, as I said, they can pronounce their names quite fluently!

I want caretakers to stop inflicting these inane Wiggle ditties upon our children.

There is an alternative and his name is Don Spencer.

Yes, the Don Spencer who has the honour of being Russell Crowe’s father-in-law.

Don writes beautiful songs for children that are not just entertaining but they contain legitimate information about animals.

I recommend “Feathers, Fur and Fins.”

Michelle ©

Friday, August 18, 2006


I was surprised to discover that my older sister and my spouse were unaware of my brief career as a stage actor. So I have decided to write my Memoir.

It all began the day our English teacher told our Year 8 class that we were going to put on a play at the end of the year and invite the rest of the school to watch.

I suspect that our teacher’s love of Language and the Arts also meant that he harboured a desire to work in The Theatre. So he became a High School English teacher, as you do.

Perhaps I should set the scene by introducing my fellow class mates.

The Powers That Be decided to set up the Year 8 classes in groups of students with similar academic performances. Hence 8A consisted of the very smart kids who chose French as a subject. 8B, my group, was the very smart kids who chose German as a subject. 8C was the smart kids who picked French and 8D was the smart kids who picked German. 8E was the not so smart kids who picked French and it continued on, like so, down the alphabet.

I do wonder just what transpired in 8J’s classroom.

Yes, they placed my sensitive soul in a class filled with very smart, competitive, obsessive-compulsive over-achievers. These kids were actually there to learn something and they had plans to eventually go out into the world to become doctors, lawyers, corporation chiefs and other highly paid highly placed people in the community.

Now, the play in question was called “The Bushrangers’ Christmas Eve”. I suspect it was written by Kylie Tennant. There were parts for the boys as (19th Century outlaws).

And if I recall correctly, and it is all a bit hazy mind, Mrs. Chisholm (19th Century Do-Gooder) and a number of her young female protégés stumble into the bushrangers’ campsite thus allowing parts for the girls.

As our teacher announced each role, he would call for volunteers. Many arms would reach up to the Heavens accompanied by desperate mutterings of, “Pick me. Pick me.”

There was a lead role (read: he had a lot of lines to remember) which went to a tall skinny boy with the demeanour of an eighth grade Gary Cooper.

There was a small but pivotal (as we actors say) role for a timid young girl.

Hands flayed about as he announced the part.

Suddenly I heard the teacher call out MY name. I looked quickly to my right and then to my left and noted that my arms were not raised. And I knew I had not uttered the words “Pick me. Pick me.”

Yet he had the gall to foist this role upon me.

But, being a timid young girl, I didn’t have the mettle to say no.

I am sure his choice would have infuriated the other role-less girls.

“It wasn’t fair, mum. She didn’t even put her hand up.”

However, there were plenty of other positions to be filled as we needed make-up artists, hairstyle artists, costume designers, set designers, poster designers and ushers.

At one point in the play, a snake slithers towards the campfire which, thanks to the set designers, was a light bulb covered in red cellophane paper surrounded by lifelike pieces of wood.

Come to think of it, they were pieces of wood.

My character was called upon to panic and scream at the sudden arrival of the snake.

It was during rehearsals that I found out that I could actually act. I wasn’t from the John Wayne School of Acting where I would woodenly swagger through the role.

No, I was Acting. I may even have been channelling Sarah Bernhardt which was fortunate because it was a female part.

Now the reason I knew that I was a good actor was due to the fact that I had nothing in common with this wimp of a girl and I had to dig deep within me to find my Motivation for this character.

For example, I am wary of snakes but I am not terrified of them.

I recall one encounter when I was about seven. I was running through a grassy paddock in a westward direction and I saw to my right a snake scurrying in a southward direction. As we interconnected I simply leapt, gazelle like, over its shiny body and then calmly asked the girl cousin if she had seen it too.

Now, when I was called upon to scream at the arrival of the snake during the first rehearsal, I let out a rather respectable “AAHHH!”

Our teacher, wearing his director’s hat, shouted, “No, no. I want an authentic scream.”

I then let loose an ear piercing, blood curdling scream which echoed about the school campus. He approved.

Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of lines to learn and I decided that the best way to know when it was my turn to speak was to memorise the line that immediately preceded my line.

Fast forward to the performances. Yes, there was such interest in our play from our fellow students that we had to do two matinee performances.

I was eerily calm.

We were partway through the second performance of the play when I sensed a prolonged silence and eyes fixed upon me. I am not talking about the audience here. My fellow actors and the prompt person were glaring at me in a menacing fashion.

I immediately threw an accusing glare at Gary Cooper. Sure, he had a lot of lines to learn, but why did he have to forget the crucial line that signalled to me that it was my turn to speak.

I took a superior breath and then bowed to peer pressure and the deafening silence and proceeded with my line.

It was after Gary Cooper let me down so badly that I decided not to continue with my career as a stage actor.

It seemed fairly clear to me that one needed to memorise more than that one line as a cue. And I wasn’t prepared to learn entire plays just because I could not trust my fellow actors to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to remember ALL their lines.

Perhaps I could have turned to the “cut and retake” world of film and television. But there would be no greasepaint and adrenalin rushes. No, it’s just not The Theatre, is it?

Michelle ©

Friday, August 04, 2006


(Author's note: As the title suggests, this is about the game of football in Australia. It begins with a light-hearted assessment of football and concludes with an amusing account of an inglorious moment during a Rugby Union match between Australia and New Zealand.)

I enjoy watching the sport coverage on television. There is nothing more exciting than setting yourself up in the reclining lounge chair ready for a day of sport armed with a cold beer, salty snacks and the remote control.

Regarding the beer, it is best not to start too early. If you don’t pace yourself properly you may find that you will nod off sometime during the early afternoon and snore your way through the crucial outcome of the game, match, tournament, event etc. Well, so I have been told.

I enjoy all types of sport but, in winter, it is mainly football that is on offer. We have three main codes of football in Australia – Rugby League, Rugby Union and Australian Rules football. I should also point out that both men and women play these codes but not usually against one another unfortunately.

Okay, okay. I just heard someone scream, “What about the “real football”. The World Game.”

Of course this clown is ranting on about soccer which is not important to the majority of Australians and rarely played by people over 10 years of age.

And that “World Game” thing is a scam. If a reliable study into sport was done and the research and statistics were to be deemed valid, they would find that the “World Game” title belongs to Netball. So there!

Why not use my formula? Add the number of participating countries to the number of card carrying players then multiple it by the civility of the spectators and then divide it by the number of people who give a damn. Netball wins every time!

I have a theory as to the evolution of soccer and it goes like this. One day two teams turned up to play hockey. They soon realised that they forgot the sticks and ball. One bright spark looked across the sports field and saw people playing netball. He scurried over to steal a ball and he returned with a plan.

“Okay. The aim of the game will be basically the same. We will use this big round ball instead of the little ball. We will use our feet and an occasional head instead of the stick. Oh, and no touching or tackling. But dramatic acting whilst feigning injuries will be greatly rewarded.”

Upon hearing this, one player turned to his mate and said, “I think my Mother will approve of this new sport.”

Now, back to the real football, in particular the games of rugby league and rugby union. The games where brave burly blokes run full speed towards the opposing team armed with little more than a mouthguard.

Yes, there is a lot of bruising, blood, black eyes, broken bones, colourful swearing, and the occasional fisticuffs but when it is all over there is a winning team and lots of handshakes and “Good on ya mate” exchanges.

I will admit that I am not so much a fan of the Australian Rules football. It is watch-able and I do like to see those tall athletic blokes in their tight shorts flying in the air or scampering up the back of an opposition player.

What I don’t admire is their “tackles”. They don’t smack into one another to see which one is sturdier. Or grab each other about the ankles with the intent of felling their opponent like a large tree.

No. Their “tackles” look a little too much like a cuddle to my liking.

Now the rugby union match I wish to expand upon was between Australia (Wallabies) and New Zealand (All Blacks).

Our two countries have a sibling-like relationship. We have nothing nice to say about one another, ever. But if an outsider should say anything derogatory about one of us or try to pick a fight then, like siblings, the other one will join in the fight immediately.

A warning to the rest of the world! We were willing to join forces when needed to fight in World War One and we were known as the Anzacs - Australian and New Zealand Army Corp.

Now, the match I speak of was played in June 2006 in New Zealand. I don’t think that I am giving too much away to say that we Aussies were rightfully thrashed by the better team.

The evening began with the All Blacks doing an energetic rendition of their haka. Words can not do justice to the fear and dread that this ceremonial tradition can evoke in non-New Zealanders. You have to see and hear it to get the full picture.

After the excitement of the haka, the players from both teams were milling about the field before kick-off. The television camera person was scanning the field, eager to record any meaningful activity. Suddenly he focussed upon an All Black player crouched on the field, seemingly attending to his inner thigh. An injury from the haka perhaps?

No. He was, in fact, shaking his penis after taking a quick pee on the field before play.

I turned to my spouse and asked, “Did you see what I just saw?” He confirmed that it was so.

At the very first commercial break I rushed to advise my daughter who was in her room watching a DVD.

“One of the players?” she asked.

“Yes.” I confirmed. “The one with the bleached hair.”

“On the field?”


“Eeww!” She said and then added. “He must have been feeling nervous.”

Now this event featured in my next round of emails to friends and family.

Dave emailed me back with this message:

Hi Michelle, the title of your next blog essay should be: There Is No P in Rugby. What do you think?


Michelle ©

Thursday, July 20, 2006


My love of cows developed during the many holidays at my uncle’s farm at West Wooroolin. Uncle Bill and Aunty Flo operated a mixed farming enterprise which included a small dairy, a small pig sty and the cultivation of crops such as peanuts, sorghum and corn.

But it was the cows that captured my heart and, many decades later, I have the good fortune to be able to look out my windows and watch as our own small herd of Poll Hereford beef cattle stroll about our farm.

I say “love of cows” because bulls aren’t quite so lovable. Especially when you get between them and where they want to be and they start scratching at the ground with their front hooves and begin to give out a warning in an unnatural growl. Cows are supposed to “moo”!

I learnt early that cattle are wonderful placid beings if treated with sensitivity. They also provide many products to sustain the human race. It seems that every atom of their being is exploited by us. They provide us with milk, meat, leather, gelatine, blood and bone.

If only humans could contribute to the planet as unselfishly and environmentally friendly as these dear creatures do.

Okay, I know about their flatulence problem, but cows don’t jump into their huge gas-guzzling vehicles that spew out toxic exhaust fumes and drive just one block to purchase a carton of milk and some carcinogenetic cigarettes, do they?

Uncle Bill’s herd was a mixture of breeds and each animal would be given a name such as “Daisy” or “Pet”. Also there was “Peter” the bull who ensured that there would be calves for sale sometime in the future.

My favourite cows were the three Jersey cows. They were the closest thing to Bambi that I was going to find, and be able to cuddle, in the state of Queensland at the time. There were rumours of wild deer roaming in the hills around the small town of Esk which we passed through on the way from the city of Brisbane to the farm. But I could never sight one, let alone get close enough to one so I could toss my little arms about its neck.

Being young and a city kid meant that I didn’t play a large role during the twice daily milking of the cows. My duties involved coaxing the next cow up to the half dozen bales and perhaps participating in the tying back of the leg with a very loose leg-rope and then wetting the teats in readiness for the suction caps to be applied.

Milking machines are a most efficient way to extract the milk from these willing creatures, that is, if electricity is available.

When the power failed, which it often did, it was back to the old fashioned method where you sat upon a three-legged stool, head resting against the cow’s warm soft belly and then tugged away at the teats to squirt the milk into the bucket clasped between your knees.

The only fun part of this practice was when you tested your aiming skills by trying to squirt a stream of milk into the open mouth of a hopeful cat.

I still marvel at the memory of my diminutive Aunty Flo’s strong hands and determined nature during one of these powerless milking sessions.

My sisters, cousins and I had a game we would play with our bovine friends. It was called “skiing”. We would grasp the tail of a cow and ski behind it, barefoot in the powdery bulldust. It was quite a thrill as our respective cows would pick up pace in the hope of losing its passenger. The boy cousin, being a boy, would up the ante by choosing the less amiable bull as transport.

I am sure the cows were not overly upset about this game. We were only little mites and they still let us cuddle them afterwards and, bottom-line, their milk supplies never dwindled.

At some stage I acquired some literature about dairy cows which featured very colourful pictures of the various breeds available in Australia during the 1960s. Perhaps I found it at The Royal Queensland Show in Brisbane. Better known to us as the Ekka.

Armed with this vital information, I gave a lecturette to my fellow Grade 6 classmates at Mt. Gravatt State School. I spent some time pointing out the various breeds available in Australia and the origin of the different breeds.

I suspect that if my classmates were asked about the regrets they harbour in life, some would recall the 10 to 15 minutes loss of real education that transpired that day.

They may well still bemoan, “If only I had spent that time studying Maths and Science instead of having to listen to her rabbiting on about cows, I could have been a Noble Prize winner!”

Well! Where are you now my indifferent classmates I ask?

I would like to muster you all together in that sweatbox of a classroom and lecture you not only on dairy cows but on the innumerable breeds of beef cattle available to the farmer in 2006.

Back then I only had a handful of dairy breeds to offer. These included the Fresian, Illawarra Shorthorn, Guernsey and my cherished Jersey.

In 2006 I can offer well over 250 breeds of beef cattle. Indeed, someone is cross breeding and using Artificial Insemination to increase the bloodlines as I write this essay.

So, my ignorant city classmates, bring food, water and a swag because I predict that it will be an all-nighter.

Michelle ©

Sunday, July 09, 2006


A few years ago I heard on the radio that Japanese scientists were developing a vaccine that would prevent dental cavities. I knew that it must be true because it was on the ABC Radio National news and they don't make stuff up.

I recalled this news item a couple of weeks ago whilst reclining in one of those comfy dentist chairs while David was busy drilling away at one of my back teeth.

More about David later!

I haven’t heard any updates about this vaccine. I had one thought though. Perhaps that research money, which was set aside for the development of the vaccine, has been diverted to another cause, for example, their intensive research of the Minke whales in our Southern Oceans.

It is comforting to know that such dogged and meticulous research has been carried out by Japan since 1987.

When the whale numbers eventually diminish, we will all recall that the Japanese did their very best to research these large and gentle creatures during their annual treks to the Southern Hemisphere to capture, kill and cut up our whales.

And, let it be known, that after all their scientific testing is done, there is no whale meat wastage because the by-products of the research are processed and they are made available to the market, fish markets I assume.

Indeed, any income from the sale of the Minke whale meat by-products is said to be used to partially offset the cost of the research (from the Factsheet of the Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan).

Greenpeace also has a view about this intensive research which you can read about at http://www.greenpeace.org.au/.

Given my upcoming dental appointments, I put my interest in whale research to one side and I went to Google to see if the Japanese scientists had made any headway with the vaccine for tooth decay.

I am pleased to report that a vaccine is still in the pipeline. The Forsyth Institute, an affiliate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in the U.S.A, has developed a vaccine which can simply be sprayed into people's noses.

Good news perhaps for all but our highly trained dentists. No tooth decay will result in a reduction in the demand for their services.

I thought of my dentist David who is the best dentist in the world. Not only is he very gentle when giving needles and very quick and thorough with the tooth repairs; he is also very funny, a talented artist and, I am sure he won’t mind if I say it, he is cute.

Now I was a little concerned about his long term future and the chances of retraining for all our highly skilled dentists. But then I came up with a solution.

I know they are good at drilling and filling teeth and they can improve the surfaces of teeth with bonding and capping. Also, they do bridgework.

Yes, you can see where I am going here can’t you? It’s obvious, with their core skills of drilling, patching, resurfacing and bridgework, they can move into road maintenance. All they have to do is think of the BIGGER picture!

However I do believe that David has a secure career in front of him. The vaccine is designed for babies of the future and it will be of no value to people born before fluoride and also those who have had a lifetime of bad eating and faulty brushing habits.

Besides, David can always fall back on a career as a painter of bold and colourful artworks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


The most important skill I learnt at high school was typing. Who, at the end of the Swinging Sixties, would have known how important it was to acquire the skill of finding your way quickly around a keyboard using all eight fingers and the occasional thumb?

And being able to do it without having to look at the keys!

Our typing teacher was an older woman called Miss Jones. Miss Jones was a tiny feminine thing who persevered with her Veronica Lake hairdo a couple of decades longer than she should have done so.

I always felt that Miss Jones disliked our class of uncooperative and uncouth teenage girls. Looking back though, perhaps Miss Jones was merely disenchanted with her career choice and she was weary of chanting:

“a s d f g f space ; l k j h j space”

and adding the occasional:

“Sit like ladies. Put those big clodhopper shoes together!”

Learning to type wasn’t a priority for most of the girls in my class. Their main aim at school was to evade the head mistress and her tape measure. If Mrs. Godfrey thought your skirt length was questionable, she would make you kneel so that she could measure the length of your hemline. Fortunately, hemlines could be easily manipulated by hoisting the skirt up over the uniform belt.

Well, it was the era of the mini skirt and we were far too cool to adhere to her matronly hem length.

One of my many jobs where I used my skill involved typing up insurance policies. I was assigned to an insurance clerk who would arrange the policy details with the customers and then pass the information on to me to type it into a large official blue form.

It was a repetitive and not overly taxing job leaving me plenty time to daydream about the upcoming weekend.

One day a co-worker told me that my assigned clerk had said that he didn’t really need to check my typing because I never made an error.

This was not quite true. If my clerk had looked a little closer at the forms he would have found that I did make errors, constantly, but I had a little tool called a typewriter rubber. This thin flat disk shaped device was a cross between a pencil rubber and sandpaper. And, if you weren’t overzealous whilst angrily scrubbing away at that wrong keystroke, you could replace your error with the right letter on the now furry spot on the form. Too much scrubbing resulted in a hole in the paper and then you had to begin again.

Overtime the typewriter rubber evolved from a disk into a pencil shape with a handy little brush at the end for brushing away the rubber crumbs and the paper dust.

Human ingenuity resulted in someone inventing correction fluid so that now we could paint over our mistakes. We girls took to this with great enthusiasm as we were very deft at using tiny paint brushes due to our love of fingernail polish.

Another invention to come to our rescue was a dry correction product which was like white carbon paper. It came in handy little strips which we would place over the wrong letter, smack it with the same keystroke again, and the letter would magically disappear, that is, providing you were using white typing paper.

The best correction method arrived in the form of the computer with its word processing software.

Ah, only a typist would know the joy I receive as I utilise the backspace and delete keys.

It was whilst working for that insurance company that I developed another skill. Through laziness, I memorised all the postcodes of Queensland. Fortunately, our customers were only from the state of Queensland.

I boasted to the abovementioned co-worker that I didn’t need to look at a postcode book because I had memorised the numbers. He scoffed. I told him to test my skill. He did. I got them all right. He was most impressed.

If the quiz show “The Einstein Factor” had been on television back in those days, then I would have been a certain winner.

I can just hear Peter introducing the contestants:

“Meet Claude whose speciality is the complete poems of Emily Dickinson.”

Respectful applause from the audience.

“Meet Joyce whose speciality is Australian cricket players since 1788.”

Enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“Meet Michelle whose speciality is postcodes from the state of Queensland, Australia.”

Sporadic applause followed by mumbles of derision.

I won’t be testing this skill though. Clearly, Queensland was a much less populated state back in the early ‘70s and therefore required fewer postcodes than are necessary today.

But I do continue to use my original skill for work and pleasure. The arrival of the computer and the Internet has meant that most people need to find their way around that curious arrangement of letters on the ever evolving keyboard.

I wonder what Miss Jones would have thought about these technological advances and about the fact that she was eventually replaced by a software programme.

But, right now, I feel the need to test my original skill. I am off to http://www.typingtest.com/ to see just how quick and accurate I am at getting about my keyboard.

Michelle ©

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Thursday, May 25, 2006


My younger sister has been called up for potential jury duty. She is most unimpressed about this as she is self employed and her time is precious.

My older sister is beside herself. She fears that her baby sister is going to be chosen for a case involving a crazed psychopathic killer. And she just knows that the killer’s equally psychopathic relatives will be in the court room and, once the said killer is found rightfully guilty, these relatives will stalk her baby sister with intent.

My advice to my younger sister was practical. Once chosen, she has two options to become unchosen. Firstly, she can call out to the said defendant, “Don’t worry cousin I will see to it that you get off this time.” Or, secondly, she can wait until the court room is settled and about to start proceedings and then nudge her neighbouring juror and nod towards the defendant and say in a stage whisper for all to hear, “That face has guilt written all over it.”

I sense that my sister is not going to take my advice because she simply laughed at me when she should have gasped and said, “Yes, yes. That is what I’ll do.”

Our recent conversation brought back memories of a similar situation which involved one of my favourite ex-work colleagues.

I will call him Stuart. I will use this alias not because I want to keep his identity confidential but because it was twenty years ago and I simply don’t remember his name.

Stuart and I worked for a large communication company. Mind you, “worked” is a very poor description for what I did.

I would turn up each day and I'd make two phone calls to follow up the two outstanding contracts in my very slim folder and then I would tidy my desk and then I would look at the silent phone and then I would tidy my desk again and then I would look, hopefully, towards the direction where the morning tea trolley would emerge.

This is well before the days of desktop computers which provide the idle worker with the opportunity for furtive Internet surfing and hours of Alzheimer-avoiding card games.

Stuart, who sat at the desk behind me, had a phone which rang constantly. Stuart arranged the tenders for the sale of excess goods and, even before Ebay arrived, everyone loves the challenge of competitive bargaining.

I loved Stuart. He was most amusing in an eccentric way. And, because I loved him, I willingly helped him with his job (which he hated) and well, let's acknowledge history, I wasn’t doing anything anyway.

Stuart was attractive in that “a little bit too religious and clean-cut, young Donny Osmond” way in the era of Punks and their mortal enemies the "John Travolta lookalike" disco dancing dudes.

Stuart would spend many hours away from his desk (for reasons I know not why) and, being his friend who also had nothing else to do, I would diligently answer his phone calls and, grateful for the opportunity to wile away the time, I would carefully write out messages for him.

Stuart would finally return from his unexplained adventures about the building and I would proudly hand over the bundle of messages. Stuart would eye them with contempt and toss them in the bin.

Eventually I saw the light and I would respond, “No. I won’t take a message because when I give messages to him he just throws them in the bin.”

Mostly the callers laughed.

Stuart’s aim in life was to leave the company and to live happily on his father’s (yet to be acquired) wealth.

One day he speculated on potential ways to bring about the early demise of his father. I listened dutifully but I wasn’t overly concerned because it was a slow day at the office and I sensed he was just being creative in a scary and "I wish he wasn’t telling me about this" way.

One morning he told me, excitedly, that he had been called up for potential jury duty. I was glad to hear that he had a new and immediate aim in life which was unrelated to acquiring his father's wealth.

He really wanted to be on a jury because it meant he wouldn’t be answering phone calls and he felt it could be extremely interesting if he came across a murder case.

The first morning that he was rejected at the court, he turned up to work most upset.

The next morning he was rejected, he came to work most dejected but with a plan.

“I’ll get a haircut.” he enthused to me.

The third day he was rejected, he came to work somewhat angry but, again, with a plan.

“I’ll wear a suit!”

On the fourth day I had to sympathise with a most distraught colleague.

He never did get selected for jury duty.

Looking back I now wonder if, on a slow morning waiting for selection, he had been overheard discussing plans with a fellow potential juror about how he could send his beloved Dad to an early entry to Heaven and leave the communications company.

So I am thinking that I may revise my advice to my sister.

“Hey sis, get a haircut, wear a suit and tell someone about your plans to off your wealthy father.”

Michelle ©

Thursday, May 18, 2006


It was Mussolini who confirmed that I had a knack for creative writing. How so, you ask. Well, it all has to do with my pursuit of a tertiary degree.

If you have a talent for creative writing but you haven’t got a plot then don’t despair. There is a way to practise your craft and be assured of having someone read it, albeit a readership of one. It is called undertaking tertiary study.

Now you will need to be careful when enrolling in a course. Obviously you must avoid courses that require a clear understanding and actual use of formulae, definitions and terminology. And steer clear of any course requiring a technical ability (either innate or acquired) beyond basic keyboard skills.

Those of you who possess the abovementioned talents need not read on. You have the tangible skills to get yourself a proper degree and, no doubt, you have already mapped out your career path and you are out there getting on with it. Indeed, you are probably constructing and practising mnemonics at this very moment in time.

For the rest of you, I recommend something under the heading of Arts or Humanities, that is, subjects that are assessed by written work (preferably long-winded essays).

I advise that you avoid any units that involve scientific reports (e.g. sociology and psychology). I know you will be tempted (hey, it’s only words and some numbers) but, be warned this type of writing will eventually crush your sensitive soul. It requires the restraint of a catwalk model at a smorgasbord and the imagination of a rock. The key words here are “precise” and “concise” – two words incompatible with the concept of creative writing.

Perhaps at this point I should introduce some “for examples” by sharing some of my experiences using creative writing to complete an Arts degree.

I knew I was on a winner during the second semester of the first year when I wandered up to the tutor’s room to collect an assignment. The title of the assignment was:

“Orwell’s style is more appropriate for reportage than for imaginative fiction. Contrast two essays from Inside the Whale with Keep the Aspidistra Flying.”

The tutor handed over my assignment saying, “This is beautifully written but it doesn’t say anything.”

Now I was not surprised to hear her comment that it didn’t “say” anything because I already knew that to be true. However, I was most surprised to find that I had received 14 out of 20.

Over time I began to notice a trend in the scribblings beside my marks. There were comments such as: “competently written essay”, “well structured”, “lively”, “clear and genuine”, and “a good and excellently written essay”.

There were also comments such as: “limited point of view”, “more could have been said”, “doesn’t come to grips with the deeper levels”, and “a little light on detailed analysis”.

I began to realise that content was a necessary but not an essential ingredient. The medium was getting me a grade point average of a credit despite the message.

By the first semester of the third year, I was full of confidence and taking on history units which is another subject which lends itself to creative writing.

One memorable unit was taught by a lecturer who was not big on having to mark papers and therefore he wasn't too keen on setting too many assignments or having to organise an actual examination. All we had to submit was just the one 5,000 word assignment for our chance to pass the unit. He was also very vague about the topic and he basically left that up to us. His only requirement was that it had something to do with his unit which was called "Modern History since WWI”.

My choice was Mussolini who was not a complex person (his hobbies being sex and megalomania) and therefore his autobiography (fortunately translated into English) was easy to read.

I learnt that from an early age Mussolini exhibited the prerequisite "conduct disorder" personality traits of a dictator-in-training. When only a young boy, Mussolini stabbed a fellow schoolmate in the back. I mentioned this fact in the assignment and stated, most dramatically, that he went on to figuratively stab the Allies in the back whilst he scurried about arranging various peace treaties in an effort to enhance his status as an influential world leader.

Needless to say the assignment was “lively” and I finally scored my first high distinction.

Now I know you will ask, “What happens when you finish the course?” A valid question. Well, you have been honing your writing skills for three years and if you attended a couple of lectures, read a couple of books or listened to gossip in the refectory, then you may have collected some ideas for writing a play, book, short story or an episode for a TV soap opera. Failing that, there is always a postgraduate course.

Me? Well, I did take on a postgraduate course. It is a bit of a challenge though as “beautifully written” doesn’t seem to be enough at this level and I had to try to keep up with the other students who could write assignments which actually “say something”.

But I do harbour literary ambitions. I fully intend to write a screenplay based on my Mussolini assignment. And I will, real soon. It’s just that I have a bit of laundry to do today and then there is the newspaper to read, and later I want to watch “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

Guess I’ll have to pencil it in for later this week.

Michelle ©

Friday, May 05, 2006


I used to watch the Oprah Winfrey show without fail. However recently I read a scholarly article that said that people who watch afternoon television are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. I think they were talking about women of a certain age like me for instance.

Of course, one doesn’t need to be a research scientist to see a flaw in their hypothesis. Perhaps those people who are watching soap operas and talk shows on TV already have the beginnings of the disease and they simply can’t follow complicated movie plots.

All that aside, I like Oprah. Oprah is like a best friend. She can be chatty and giggly and she can also be really empathic and weepy.

I used to think that she and I were a lot alike. We are both woman, we are the same age, she is on TV and I watch TV.

Well it didn’t take me long to see the flaw in my reasoning and to admit to myself that we are nothing alike.

She is a black American, I am a white Australian. She is a little on the plump side but very fit and healthy whilst I am comparatively scrawny and the only exercise I get is walking from the car park to attend medical appointments for my chronic illness. She is single with dogs, I am married with children. She has been on the cover of Vogue magazine and I can’t afford to buy Vogue. She has billions of dollars and I have billions of (let me think here), ah yes, dust mites. I am sure you get the picture.

Yes, I admire Oprah but I was beginning to worry about the direction she was taking the show and her audience. She started to rattle on about “change your life” TV.

It’s all a bit scary. She has these guests come on her show to counsel those elegantly dressed people in the studio and those tracksuit wearing, potato crisp eating people (too much about me there) who make up her TV audience.

In the olden days these guests would have been called “snake oil salesmen”.

These “guests” drag people from the audience and put them up on stage and try to change their lives. These victims look like frightened hares trapped by car headlights. They have to spew out their deepest secrets, bare their fragile souls and they must cry otherwise they don’t get help with whatever life problems they are currently experiencing. These problems can be marital disagreements and infidelities, addictions to drugs, sex, gambling etc., huge financial debts, and various psychological disorders.

Of course these saviours all have books that they wish to flog to the audience. The titles vary according to the problem. Titles such as: "Stop whinging and live your wildest dreams", "Cleanse and liberate your soul in 14 days (or was that your liver?)", "The best ever eat whatever you want especially if it is only cottage cheese diet" and "10 steps to financial independence".

Okay, I made some of them up.

But that last one is a doozy and now I am thinking of writing my own book about steps to financial freedom. It will be called “Two Steps to Wealth” which means that it will be quite thin and therefore quick to read.

Step One involves writing a book about getting rich. I’ll just make something up that sounds like financial advice because, frankly, Step One is not important.

Step Two is the tough one. Step Two involves getting yourself on the Oprah Show to flog your book to her audience. I am certain, once everything falls into place, it will become a best seller.

Does anyone out there have Oprah’s private number?

Michelle ©

Friday, April 28, 2006


“I have worms.” I announced, a little too loudly, at the supermarket checkout.

All activity ceased as people, within earshot, turned their attention upon me.

“Compost worms!” I elaborated, with emphasis.

Interest waned.

My announcement had been in response to a query about how I would recycle the outer leaves of the very large lettuce I was about to purchase.

My friend had assumed that, because I lived on a farm, I kept chooks.

Alas, my chook-keeping days are over. I adore chooks but I refuse to go through yet another heartbreaking attempt to keep them in an area filled with feral foxes.

The last time they massacred my latest batch of girls I swore to God, through angry tears and choking sobs, that I would not offer up any more sacrifices to those murdering mongrels.

I miss my girls dearly but I have found that my composting worms are an excellent alternative to chooks when it comes to recycling kitchen scraps.

Worms not only gobble up kitchen scraps but they will consume newspaper, cardboard pizza boxes, the contents of my vacuum cleaner and anything that once was alive – including toenail clippings.

They don’t require the expense of a chook-pen with the style of fencing only found in maximum security prisons. Also, they don’t need expensive laying pellets or the disruptive and often injurious presence of a cranky rooster.

Once you set up your worm farm, your worms will quietly get on with producing fertiliser and reproducing themselves. They will multiply their population within the limits of the food you provide. What you get in return is odour free worm poo which is very good fertilizer.

I love my worms.

Ok, I’ll admit, worms don’t produce eggs but I simply refuse to clean up after another frenzied fox attack on my beloved chooks.

By the way, is there anyone reading this who has contacts within the English gentry? If so, would you please tell them to bring their hounds, horns, horses and haughtiness to our farm ASAP.

I can assure them that there will be no anti-foxhunting placards or protests here. They are welcome to slaughter all the offspring from the foxes their ancestors inflicted upon this country. In fact, I would be happy to pay money to see them gallop amongst the gum trees, dodging wallabies and wombats and leaping over deadly snakes.

Indeed, I can envisage PBL and FoxSports fighting over the rights to telecast their foxhunting exploits in the Australian bush. But, bear in mind media conglomerates, it was my idea and I demand royalties.

I digress!

Now I have worms instead of chooks I have to buy eggs. I will be off now as I have to feed some egg cartons to my worms.

Michelle ©

Thursday, April 20, 2006


My mother was terrified of spiders. I wasn’t told of this fear until I was much older as she did not want to pass on her phobia.
She must have been very successful at masking her anxiety as, over the years, I had become merely wary of spiders. It seems that, only in hindsight, do we have the opportunity to comprehend just how heroic our parents have been.

Over time, I developed the policy that as long as spiders carried out their role at a reasonable distance from me I was prepared to live and let live.
When I had children, I became acutely aware that I had to remain calm in times of crisis in order to develop their sense of security. Living in the Australian bush can offer many incidences of crisis. Snakes, wasps, bees, mice, unbelievably large rats, feral cats, feral pigs, feral foxex and the like are always arriving in and around our home and they have to be dealt with swiftly and confidently. So spiders, even red backs, were the least of my worries.
I became determined to maintain my “live and let live” spider policy with an additional pledge to avoid poisons. If they became a problem inside the house, I would deal with them on a one-to-one basis using the vacuum cleaner, a fly swat or simply capture them and relocate them.

Oddly enough my pacific approach was a phenomenal success in the garage. Apparently, the Daddy Long-Leg Spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) and Black House Spiders (Badumna insignis) control the more dangerous and highly venomous Red-back Spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) population and, although they were prevalent, we rarely find them now.

However, the outside of the house seemed to be permanently festooned with spider webs. The Golden orb-weaver Spiders (Nephila edulis) seem to thrive in our yard. Visitors from the city are often alarmed at the size of some of the older specimens dangling about the house and I have often been left with feelings of shame. Spider webs are apparently a measure of poor housekeeping.

I did feel vindicated the day my daughter arrived home from school with a junior reading book for her homework. It was titled “Spiders” and the text encouraged the reader to view spiders as friends and asked that they be allowed to carry out their job of cleaning up the insects in our homes.

But I must admit that there have been times when conditions can be too good for spiders and it can become too much even for me. One such time saw nearly every part of the house, fence and yard trees connected by the strong invisible silk. After being trapped a number of times, I decided that I didn’t need quite so many “friends”.

I am happy to report though that the solution to my spider problem came to me in a surprising form.
One afternoon I was hanging out the washing when a bird landed on the railing around the back stairs. I turned to look at it, careful not to make any sudden moves as it was only a metre or so away from me. It wasn’t the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) I had expected to see but it was black and white and, not only was it unafraid of me, it appeared to be smiling at me. We watched each other for a while until I decided that I couldn’t keep still any longer so I returned to hanging out the washing. The bird remained upon the railing watching me and, shortly after, began to swoop about the windows.
It wasn’t until my husband told me that it was a Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) that I realised it had come to solve my excess spider problem. I was relieved to find that Nature had found a way to solve my spider problems and I didn’t need to resort to poisons.

Although my children have never shown any disproportionate fear of spiders, there were times when I had wondered if the fear of spiders was innate and that the children just might develop a phobia despite my modelling.
The answer came one day when I found my four year old daughter resting on her bed, her eyes transfixed on an enormous spider residing outside her window. Had she been watching its every move and was she beginning to fear that the window pane was not enough of a buffer zone?

I calmly asked her what she was doing, expecting to hear an anxious complaint about her neighbour. Her attention turned to me and her little face lit up with delight as she told me that she had been watching the spider weaving its web and, with great earnest, she tried to retrace the pattern of its movements with the index finger of her right hand.

The legacy of my "live and let live" approach to spiders continued as she grew older because, after one episode of cleaning her room, she become annoyed with me when she had found that I had vacuumed up a Daddy Long-Leg Spider from the corner of her bedroom ceiling which she had considered it to be her pet.

Looking back, I feel such pride in knowing that I have been able to continue a tradition of peaceful coexistence with these creatures thanks to my mother’s heroism.
Michelle ©

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I recently acquired three foster goldfish, although to be precise, only one of them is entirely gold and the others have a motley complexion.
Now, prior to becoming a foster parent, the only thing I knew about keeping fish involved a plastic bag and a freezer.
However, not one to be defeated by a lack of knowledge, I took the opportunity to learn about fishkeeping and to study the intricacies of a day in the life of a fish. The exercise has left me deeply distressed.

At some time in the history of the human race a myth arose that watching fish swimming in a glass enclosure was relaxing. No doubt this scam has been maintained enthusiastically by people who make a living from selling fishkeeping equipment. I feel it is my duty to expose this myth for the sick practical joke that it is.

It only takes a few minutes observing these wee creatures to realise that, far from leaving you relaxed, you soon find yourself searching the telephone book for the number of your local animal liberation group and a qualified therapist.

You see, once you make eye contact with fish it becomes apparent that they never blink and the reason they do not blink is that they have no eyelids to speak of. After this fact sinks in, you begin to reason that if they cannot close their eyes then they cannot sleep, ergo, they must stay awake their entire life!

Just as you come to terms with the torment of sleeplessness you begin to notice something even more disturbing. Fish are never still. They are allowed no such luxury as a little floating about on their backs on the surface of the water or a nice lie down on the ornamental rocks at the base of the tank.
Indeed, if they were discovered actually “being still” it could lead to an early entry into fish heaven by being flushed down the toilet. “Still fish” are considered to be dead fish.

And, if you can bear to continue your observation, it becomes unnervingly apparent that for fish to refrain from “being still”, some part of their little bodies must maintain the constant movement. As you survey their anatomy you notice that the fine feathery-like fins below the body are forever a flap and the flimsy little tail keeps a vigil, awaiting the call to propel the body forward at a moments notice. You watch. You worry. You yell, “Keep Moving”. You become transfixed. You become exhausted.

Other issues worry me. Imagine having to exist in an environment that is also your drinking water, your toilet, your kitchen table and your bath. Or worse, actually having to share such an environment with strangers. And what about the privacy issue? No amount of miniature sunken ships or toy deep-sea divers could compensate for the lack of a room of one’s own where you can escape the prying eyes and fellow inmates.

Now I know that I will be accused of being anthropomorphic, but, when the little dears frantically swim towards me, eyes bulging and mouths gulping as if to mime an urgent message to me, I become anxious. No dry lecture about short attention spans and appropriate metabolisms can stop me from empathising with their plight. It is no consolation to me that they are designed to endure such a claustrophobic existence.

My foster fish are soon to be returned to the bosom of their family of origin. I will miss them but I remain traumatised.

Fish watching relaxing? What a scam!

For those of you who wish to sit in front of a glass enclosure and watch something moving slowly to and fro, I have a safe substitution. If you wish to dull your senses I suggest that your watch test cricket on TV (re-run old tapes if necessary). A warning though, to avoid the irritation from the voice overs, engage the mute button when ex-cricketers (particularly those with the initials of “Tony Greig”) are commentating.

Michelle ©

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


There is a lot of discussion about eating disorders and who has one and who is suspected of having one. It is a malicious pastime and I am no better than the next reader of gossip magazines. My latest victim is my cat - more on his condition later.

I will not attempt to define anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa at this point. But I will discuss “restrained eating” which is another eating disorder where deception rules.

It is fairly easy to detect a devotee of restrained eating. It will be the cadaverous person at your lunch table who sighs heavily at the prospect of eating lunch and then ostentatiously unpacks a thin slice of melon, a tub of some off-white product that has been curdled by enzymes and a couple of those bread-substitute biscuit things.

Yes, these people DO eat. They will even eat in front of you. And they will talk a lot about food. But they will only eat enough kilojoules to stave off starvation.

Now, as I constantly tell my children, the body is just like a motor vehicle. If you don’t put fuel in it, it won’t go. If you put the wrong type of fuel in it, it will breakdown. And if you only put a tiny bit of fuel in it, then don’t expect it to take you very far.

I witnessed one devotee - an older, frail and rather genteel lady - at a wedding breakfast recently. She gasped at the size of the meal being distributed and advised the bewildered young waiter that she and her equally frail, elderly mother would require only half portions of the meal. Her downtrodden mother made one weak bid to get a full portion but without success.

I felt for mother as she watched the free world devour their generous portions of three different roast meats and generous servings of baked vegies and gravy. But, like all of us in the first world, I didn’t let my outrage at seeing third world deprivation interfere with my appetite.

So what has this to do with my cat? Well, he is an Oriental with one of those lean muscular bodies that never fattens and he has an intimidating manner. Until recently he was constantly hungry, meowing incessantly and weaving in and out of my legs whenever I entered the kitchen. I am sure that if he could speak English, he would have reared up on his hind legs and poked me menacingly with his pussy paws demanding: “I want food, preferably raw kangaroo meat, and I want it NOW!”

I was worried and confused. I felt inadequate in my role as primary caregiver. I would put food in his dish and he would gulp it down and then look me in the eye and ask for more.

It was a terrifying flashback to those ‘new-born baby’ days. They don’t come with a user’s manual either.

I began to wonder if I was the problem. Primary caregivers do that. Was I like that genteel lady? Was I bullying my cat into living the life of a restrained eater?

I decided to carry out an experiment. First, I gave him a dose of worming paste to eliminate a plausible alternative cause. Then after a day or two I piled food, in Mt. Everest proportions, into his dish, shoved his bossy little nose into it and locked him up in solitary confinement.

It is here that my experiment begins to lose validity. There is also a possibility that I may have violated a couple of ethical principles regarding research with animal subjects.

I decided that there were two likely outcomes. He would either stop eating or he would explode. If he exploded then he was suffering from some bio-eco-psycho-socio-somethingo-logical eating disorder. If he stopped eating and walked away leaving food in the dish then my primary care-giving role was, indeed at fault. HE STOPPED EATING!! I am currently taking a long hard look at my own eating patterns.

Michelle ©