Flying the flag

 

Australia Day – Let’s think about it.

flag-692748__180Australia Day is here once again and the flags are flying. They fly past on the motorway; they flap in the wind in suburban streets and shopping centre carparks, from the roofs and bonnets of cars and utes and trucks – vehicles driven and passengered by patriotic Australians, it would seem.

I have nothing against a little flag waving, a little honest-to-goodness national pride, really I don’t. So why do I experience a shiver of uneasiness when I see them? Why do I have to calm myself down, and come up with very good reasons why it’s okay to display the national flag once a year from your family Holden, Ford or Toyota? Or, if you prefer, on your t-shirt, coffee mug or brolly? And it is okay, it really is okay.

It’s perfectly okay to wave the flag to show you’re happy to live in a peaceful, democratic country, where your kids are safe and well educated, with a multitude of opportunities for a productive, satisfying future. It’s okay to show your gratitude for good health care, freedom of speech and social justice. It’s fine to be amazed by this country’s balmy weather, wondrous natural resources, endless kilometres of glistening coastline and vast acres of farmland, forests and wilderness. Who wouldn’t want to fly a flag when you think about all that? Who wouldn’t want to get together with a bunch of friends and sizzle up a sausage or two, down a few coldies and wave the flag for having such good fortune, for living right here in this down-under corner of paradise?stock-photo-group-of-people-waving-australian-flags-in-back-lit-215936266

Is that what it’s all about? Is that what they’re all thinking, all those flag flyers? When the Christmas tree is packed away, and the Aussie flag takes its place as the January decoration of choice, is that what they’re all saying to each other around the pool and the barbie? If Australia Day is doing that, if it’s reminding us all that we are a privileged people, then I’m all for it. But I’m still uncomfortable.

I can’t help but wonder what we did to deserve all this bounty, and I can’t help pondering what I’ve done, or could do, to safeguard it. Is it enough to wait until Anzac Day, when we can pin a bit of rosemary in our collars and wave the flag at the servicemen and women who march, reminding us that there was, and is, a price to be paid for all this?

I can’t avoid thinking that it’s such a big, empty place – surely we aren’t supposed to keep it all to ourselves, like three year olds with bags of lollies, and nobody’s going to get any because they’re ours. And I can’t forget the last two hundred or so years of sad history for the first Australians who loved this place for tens of thousands of years before anybody thought of calling it ‘Australia’.

I can’t help but feel that we ought to be a little less glib about our great big shining gift of a country when away over the ocean there are others who don’t have such nice ones. I want to hide my face when I think of them, waiting in savage lands for deliverance, or setting sail into dangerous oceans to seek it for themselves, or languishing behind razor wire, begging for just a small corner of refuge.

They’ll disappear soon, the flags. They’ll get thrown in wheelie bins, and disintegrate into landfill. There will be new ones in the shops next January, and we can fly them again.

But I’ll pass. I’ve still got some thinking to do.

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A version of this piece was written for and  first posted on the Hunter Writers’ Centre blog, 13 March 2015.

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Summer

In my part of the world, it’s summer again and I’m happy.   I wrote this piece when I was living way inland, where summer regularly serves up 40°C days, with very little moisture in the air. Now, I have a sparkling blue lake almost on my doorstep, and I feel very lucky.

(This was published in The Weekend Australian Magazine.)

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Summer is my favourite season. I watch anxiously for the first new leaves on the Chinese elms in the yard, and when I see the tiny splashes of green unfurling along bare, grey branches, the weight of winter lifts.

I love the lengthening days, afternoon light lasting long enough to sit a little before dinner, with a glass of wine or not, as the fancy takes me, to take stock, reflect on the bits and pieces of my life, or just breathe a little more slowly.

I love the frenzy of approaching summer holidays: the shops’ Christmas glitz, Bing Crosby carols over loudspeakers, unlikely Santas perspiring amid crowds of sticky children, and along each residential street, crazy displays of neighbourhood lights becoming more elaborate each year.

But more than anything, I love my annual summer getaway – a week at the 431coast, with its incredible blend of the sublime and the tacky: sublime scenery, water and sea air with that salty tang that tells me I’m here. I’ve escaped again
from the humdrum, from my own particular version of the daily grind.

Nothing beats a coastal break to zap up faded spirits, and provide a small serving of sublime freedom from the rules and conventions of real life. Because it’s not real – it’s a respite from the real, and I can let loose, a little or a lot, and nobody who matters will be any
the wiser.

Which is why, I suppose, I love even the tacky parts of my coastal break.I love the crowds, the characters, the costumes. I love the shops with their racks of sarongs and souvenir t-shirts, the ice cream vendors, the noisy carnivals that never change, the over-crowded caravan parks with kids everywhere, retirees on deck chairs outside mobile homes, dads cleaning fish and fighting off marauding seagulls, and the heavenly, rising aroma of barbecues.

Image014As night descends, the mood changes; pubs and nightspots buzz, revellers spill out into beer gardens and boulevards, and party time madness hits the streets.

There’s another thing about summer, however. Summer brings a lingering, unnerving sense of foreboding; an undercurrent of chaos and devastation that increases with the temperature as December moves into January. Back home, four hundred kilometres from the sea, Christmas lights have been packed away, and Bing Crosby has been replaced by the more usual selections of shopping centre mood music. Memories of Christmas and coastal interludes recede as the silent lethargy of another inland heat wave presses down on the dry, still landscape.

Birds shelter out of sight, dogs are stretched, panting and motionless under shade as hot north-westerlies whip up dust that swoops east and south in a dismal haze. The TV news does a bushfire watch, and we hold our breaths, together, the whole country. We cross our fingers, and pray that this year it won’t be too bad.

Summer seems to be the season for the letting loose of calamities – for nature misbehaving too.

Summer keeps me on my toes – watchful, mindful of unwelcome possibilities.

Summer lulls me, refreshes me, sharpens me up. It reminds me, by flashing past in a blur of sensation and colour, of the swiftness and fragility of life.Image017

I’m not so glad when the days begin to cool and shrink, the leaves shrivel, and the creeping dormancy of winter returns. There is too little time. Summer has the best of it.

 

 

How it looks from down here

After nearly a year of life, the time has come for this blog to work a little harder. I’ve posted 44 pieces of flash fiction over the last several months, and it’s time for ‘Onto the page’ to branch out. Ideas are buzzing around in my head, and as I’ve already confessed, I’m too much inclined to leave them there (See my ‘About’ page). A little self-discipline is required. I’d like to share my bits of this and that, and to build a stronger identity for this blog. If there are readers out there who find something here of interest, I’d love to know.

So here’s today’s offering.

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How it looks from down here.

Today is my eleventh day of the flu. Eleven days of having no energy, and no way to end the tedium. I know I need to rest, stay warm and try to breathe. Try not to think about plans that have had to be postponed and good things waiting to be enjoyed.

Today arrived with a bright sunny sky that is charging my flagging spirits, and I’m grateful. I’m loving the skyline view from my armchair – gumtree tops dark against the open blue. How I come alive to sunshine.

It’s early winter. Winter does its own thing, regardless of what I want. Winter insists on returning year after year, and some say we need the change of seasons; it’s a natural cyclic thing. We’d go crazy in endless summer, the theory goes. I’m not convinced.

Here in this temperate part of the world, there really is nothing to complain about. I know this. It’s all about acceptance: dress appropriately, plan appropriate activities, use the shorter days for some productive indoor time, indulge in some ‘comfort food’. Who invented that phrase anyway?

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Hanging out for summer

I know all that. I’ve been around for some time now, and these truths haven’t escaped my attention. I also know that as soon as the autumn days start to shrink, so does my capacity to smile and look ahead. And as midwinter passes and the days start to expand again, I find increasing lightness in my step, my back straightens, enthusiasm and vigour return.

Today, six days into winter and eleven days into influenza, perhaps my outlook isn’t to be trusted. From down here at the bottom of the annual cycle, it’s best just to keep plodding ahead and try not to think too much about whether or not one’s life and circumstances are okay. They’re bound to come out of the analysis looking a bit shabby.

The sun’s setting, mid-afternoon. About now, on a summer Saturday, I’d be thinking about launching my kayak and paddling around on the lake for an hour. I can see the lake from here; it’s calm and sparkling and inviting. But that kind of thinking’s no help at all.

The gum tree tops are darkening against the fading blue; there’s a delicate pinkness creeping up from the horizon. It’s a long weekend and the forecast is for more sunny days. Surely no flu known to man can last much longer than eleven days, and while I recover I can sit in my armchair and read, write or lose myself in knitting projects – guilt free. Counting my blessings – that’s what I’m doing.

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A winter haiku

Curled on his blanket,

our old dog absorbs sunshine’s

midmorning bounty.

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A sunny spot