For audio files and list of players: ADELAIDE DAYS
47. Welcome to Australia
The night is cool, one of those late summer evenings when it is still a pleasure to be outside, but even more of a pleasure to be with others, making communal human warmth. In Light Square hundreds of people sit close together, shielding each other’s candles from the breeze. There is something ancient about this, Julia thinks, to be human, to sit on the ground, to hold a candle.
The crowd is here because of the violent death of Reza Berat, a refugee in detention on Manus Island. People have come here because they are ashamed and angry that such a thing could happen in Australia.
Brad Chilcott from Welcome to Australia is calm. He offers no polemic, just reassurance: ‘we are better than this’. Tara Fatehi tells the story of coming to Australia as a young Kurdish child. Compassion, she says over and over again. How much it meant to her family to be met with compassion, after all that they’d been through.
Anne sits wedged comfortably between Ro and Julia and thinks about her friends and how they got here, to this country. Some came as adventurous young adults. Many more are the children of Jewish refugees, Ten Pound Poms and Polish Irish Chinese Italian Indian Greek Chilean and every other sort of immigrant. Anne’s own family has been in Australia since the 1800s but she thinks, as she always does, of Katie. Katie’s family has been here for tens of thousands of years. Everyone non-Indigenous, by comparison, is a boat person.
Ro is thinking about leadership. She hears the words ‘we are better than this’ and considers the last twenty years of Australian government, the outright lies, the suppression of information, the blustering, the failure to deal generously with this question of refugees.
Once Ro would have had to rant about it, shout in the streets. Now she is thoughtful. We can organise something better than this, she thinks. A better system than the bitter old three party machine. And, even more radical thought, once we’ve got some real leadership in place then we can support those leaders. Not rant and insult, but support.
Oh dear, she thinks. Is the fire in my belly dying?
Julia is wondering about population and sustainability and some things we know about this country. That water and arable land are seriously scarce. That the existing population is already too much for our resources. So is she here on false pretences? Does she really support an open-door approach? And would Ro ever speak to her again if she voiced such a doubt?
She looks around the crowd. Maybe we’re all going down, she thinks. The whole human race. But at least let’s go down together.
People are leaving their candles on the edge of the pool, more and more candles so that the water itself glows golden. Nobody is hurrying to go home. They stand talking quietly and watching the reflections. More ancient magic: fire and water.
We can do better, they think. We can do better.
At a sixtieth birthday Ro finds Julia skulking behind a grape trellis while everyone else shouts cheerfully inside.
‘What are you doing out here?’
‘Just having a break. I couldn’t hear myself think in there.’
‘Are you okay?’ Ro asks, looking more closely at her friend.
‘Not really. Does it show?’
‘A bit. What’s the matter?’
‘What’s she done now?’ Ro has a long experience of Julia’s mother.
‘She’s been talking to Exit. She’s got herself some sort of suicide kit.’
‘Yes. She says she’s not going to use it till she’s sure.’
‘Well that’s okay isn’t it?’
‘I don’t know. In principle I guess. But I never thought about it in relation to my own mother.’
‘She’s amazing. Very brave.’
‘I suppose so. Most people don’t even end up using their kits, so Nitschke says. Or not for ages anyway. They just like to know it’s there if they need it.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘I don’t want her to go. That’s the first thing. And second I’m jealous. She confided in Tara and not in me. ‘
‘Oh,’ says Ro. ‘But maybe it’s easier with someone not so close.’
‘She’s turning ninety soon. I’m afraid she’ll decide that’s a good time to go.’
‘Is she having a party?’
‘Oh my god. You don’t think she’d do a sort of grand … Isn’t that in some film?’
‘Well it should be. I’ll tell you something Julia. You can’t stop your Mum. Never could. Never will be able to.’
‘I know. I know. Anne says the same.’
‘Come and dance.’
‘Because tomorrow we die? Or someone else dies?’
‘Something like that.’
Back in the main body of the party there are two topics of conversation.
The first is the film version of Blue is the Warmest Colour, about to reach Adelaide cinemas, already much reviewed and talked about for its lengthy and explicit lesbian sex scenes. Apparently it was a wow at Cannes.
‘Made by a man.’
‘Oh no. Not more men getting off on lesbian sex.’
‘Are the actors lesbians?’
‘Size ten writhings I suppose.’
‘Sour grapes. Just because we aren’t size ten anymore.’
‘Some of us never were.’
‘Oh go on. You must have been.’
‘Not since I was about eight.’
‘Anyhow even the author doesn’t like it. Julie Maroh. She said they should have had some lesbian advice on the sex.’
‘So are we boycotting it?’
‘No way! I’m going.’
‘Wouldn’t miss it.’
There is no division of opinion on the second topic. Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For is coming to Writers’ Week. The only question is how best to let her know what her comic strip has meant to them since it first came their way in the eighties. Not size ten, not writhing, but doing all the things that lesbians do. And when those characters did writhe, the writhing was warm sweaty bulgy ridiculous moving and believable.
All those years when dykes (real ones) were invisible everywhere else.
Will a standing ovation be enough?
45. Don’t Mess With Great Granny
What should have been a simple homecoming from a few days at the beach has become a major family conference. Julia is summoned from the kitchen and appears in the doorway wiping her hands.
‘What’s going on?’
‘My daughter … ’ Anne begins, then stops and shakes her head. She tries again. ‘Your mother … ’
Having identified the relationships she seems incapable of continuing.
Julia crosses to Zelda and stoops to kiss her cheek. ‘What have you been up to Ma?’
Zelda lifts her chin and straightens her back. ‘I haven’t been up to anything. And don’t call me Ma.’
Julia grins at the fourth occupant of the room, Tara. ‘You been up to anything?’
Tara shrugs elaborately without speaking so Julia turns back to Anne, eyebrows raised.
‘Well it’s not my story,’ Anne mumbles.
Zelda intervenes. ‘For heavens sake. There’s no need for drama. It’s simply that Tara very kindly drove me to an appointment with Dr Nitschke.’
Julia, for once, is floored. She sits down next to Anne.
One thought surfaces from a tangle of feelings. ‘Why didn’t you ask me?’
‘You’re too close,’ Zelda says crisply. ‘I didn’t want to have to discuss the thing endlessly. Tara is a sensible young woman. And very helpful.’
Anne’s and Julia’s heads swivel in unison towards Tara. Anne is gobsmacked. And even Julia, who is fond of Tara, has never connected either adjective, sensible or helpful, with Anne’s daughter.
‘I’m proud of your mum,’ Tara tells Julia. ‘Proud as if she was my real blood grandmother.’
‘Thank you dear,’ says Zelda.
‘I appoint you,’ says Tara. ‘Officially. And you’ve got Sarah and James and Victoria too. You’re really a great granny.’
‘I am suitably gratified,’ says Zelda.
‘But hang on,’ says Julia, whose mind has been working in spite of a churning gut. ‘What actually happened? Does this mean …’
‘I’m just thinking ahead,’ says Zelda. ‘I want to be prepared.
‘But you’re healthy,’ Julia says helplessly. ‘Aren’t you?’
‘I am nearly ninety years old. My legs don’t always do what I want them to do. My bowels don’t always do what I want them to do. My eyes and ears are failing. Getting up in the morning is a long slow and often painful process. Other than that, yes, I’m perfectly healthy.’
‘So you’re not … ?’
‘About to dispense with life? No. But I have ordered a Max Dog Brewing kit.’
‘It’s illegal,’ says Anne. ‘Isn’t it?’
‘No. Not at all. It’s only illegal for anyone to help me.’
Julia’s and Anne’s synchronised heads swivel back to Tara.
‘Don’t look at me,’ she says. ‘I’m just the chauffeur.’
Julia turns back to her mother. ‘You will talk to me first?’
‘I expect so,’ Zelda says. ‘It all depends.’
Mother and daughter gaze at each other measuringly.
Julia drops her gaze first.
‘Well,’ says Anne. ‘What about a cup of tea?’
44. Sunny with Thunder Brewing
The two house guests, one daughter and one mother, are getting on so well that Anne and Julia decide to run away and leave them to look after each other. The shack at Yorke Peninsula is full of cousins. Instead they head down the coast to friends at Port Willunga.
It is a perfect holiday.
In the delicate early morning light the beach is perfect, the world reborn. The water is clear, the waves lap gently, the sand is firm for striding.
The middle of the day is also perfect. Lunch is a leisurely affair of wraps and garden salad, solutions to world problems and an intense examination of everyone’s’ Keens sandals in order to establish which style is best. Afterwards people spread out to books, naps and jigsaws.
The late afternoons are perfect. For a string of glorious days the wind shifts to the south west and produces rolling boogie board waves. Children laugh and shriek. Grannies laugh and shriek.
The evenings are … perfect. Dinner is followed by intense games of five hundred or meandering games of Dixit. Nectarines and peaches are consumed in quantity. Also ice-cream.
Anne rings home with her fingers crossed.
‘Fine,’ says Tara. ‘Everything’s fine. Don’t fuss.’
‘Is Zelda okay?’
‘Are you sure you don’t mind staying with her?’
‘Mum. I told you. Everything’s fine. I love being with Zelda.’
Anne still can’t quite believe it. ‘What do you do all day?’
‘Oh you know. Talk. Play cards. Tomorrow I’m taking her shopping.’
Alarm bells ring for Anne. Her daughter’s methods of shopping don’t always include payment. ‘Just don’t do anything silly.’
The next day is hotter. Anne spends the morning in one of the old boatshed caves while Julia swims up and down parallel to the beach. Anne watches the kids on the beach and thinks about her daughter.
Tara was nearly twelve when Ann and Julia got together. She was heading into adolescence, furious and scared about her mother’s conversion to lesbianism and quick to take offence at anything Julia did. When presented with Julia’s mother, Zelda, Tara did her best to ignore this new pseudo grandmother, a policy which she maintained so determinedly that it became habitual.
As for Zelda, Julia was her only child and no grand children ensued, so her experience with teenagers was limited. She had no regrets about this and no interest in playing grandmother to her daughter’s new step-children. She was undismayed by Tara’s coldness and the pair of them settled into mutual antipathy, mellowing over time into comfortable indifference.
Anne has tried not to worry about this coolness in the family, but she often wishes for sweetness and light. She is greatly relieved by the new alliance between Zelda and Tara.
She and Julia pack up the car and head back to the city in a state of relaxed euphoria.
They find Zelda and Tara in the living room with their feet up. Zelda is sipping gin and tonic, a drink which she believes to be a cure for hot weather and all other maladies, though her doctor disagrees.
‘How was the shopping?’ Anne asks, dropping her bag inside the door.
There is a pause. Anne looks more closely at Tara.
‘It wasn’t exactly shopping,’ Tara says.
All Anne’s worst fears resurface. Tara and Zelda have been shoplifting.
Zelda ignores this. ‘It was a very productive afternoon,’ she says. ‘We went to see Dr Nitschke’s new clinic. We had a very good talk about death.’
Anne flops onto a sofa.
The sacred rituals are over: food eaten, corks popped, wrapping paper torn to shreds.
For once the family managed a cooperative Kris Kringle, one small present and no more for each person. Even Tara was restrained and didn’t offer extravagant gifts of dubious origin. Altogether she is on her best behaviour. No 2am appointments with old friends and, so far, no arguments with her siblings.
Tara, Anne thinks happily, is mellowing at last.
Anne leaves her two guests, daughter Tara and mother-out-law Zelda, chatting amiably at the New Year breakfast table and goes off to the community garden with the grand children. Some scorching days just before Xmas have taken their toll on the vegetables.
In the last few years shade has become as important a gardening issue as water. The ingenious human mind has turned its collective energy to the issue and all sorts of systems have emerged, from the beach umbrella to the old sheet, hastily draped over sticks. It’s a question of personality type and the source of much discussion and imitation. Alice Springs expatriates talk about extensive gardens under permanent shade. In Adelaide the serious-minded and forward-thinking are building impressive structures with vertical and horizontal shades that can be adjusted like curtains to suit the day.
Anne and James and Victoria have a style of their own, somewhere between old-sheet and permanent-structure. They like to consider the situation anew each time, walking round and round their 1×3 metre plot, taking every angle and every plant into account. They avoid the professional look, preferring to use what they’ve scrounged from the tip shop. This year they have six rusty reinforcing rods, some polypipe and two old bamboo blinds. With this they have provided perfect shade. But the structure is listing drunkenly after a night of ferocious winds. They decide to add another arch of rod and polypipe.
This is a strenuous business, since James and Victoria are too short to reach the top of the arches and it is up to Anne to do all the attaching of the bamboo, which she does with odd bits of string and wire, arms stretched above shoulder level, and a lot of grunting as the blinds slip and slide.
‘Bloody fucking hell,’ she mutters as a sliver of bamboo slides agonisingly into her thumb.
Victoria looks at her with interest.
‘Sorry,’ Anne says.
‘Did you get a splinter? Will we get it out?’
This is an operation which Victoria relishes. She rummages in the basket and comes up with their rudimentary first aid kit. Anne likes to believe that her granddaughter is a budding surgeon, and suppresses a faint unease that Victoria’s is ghoulish. Certainly her seven-year-old eyes are an advantage in this situation. She gets the splinter out and applies a huge bandage to Anne’s thumb.
By lunchtime they have constructed a shade palace which they are sure will last all summer, or at least until they next feel the urge to build. They harvest tomatoes beans and cucumbers and head for home.
Back at the house, Tara and Zelda have spent the morning telling each other stories, and are as thick as thieves, the fifty year gap between them notwithstanding.
‘Now,’ says Zelda, never one to mince words. ‘What do you think about dying?’
42. Be Jolly
With Christmas only one week away the list of chores and the pace of absolutely everything has quadrupled and there are three times as many cars on the road. This phenomenon is one of the mysterious age-old Joys of Christmas.
Anne’s thoughts have turned to Tara, her baby, her distant wayward daughter. It’s not that Anne only thinks of Tara at Christmas. She thinks of her every day of the year, usually with an emotion somewhere between concern and acute anxiety. Tara is a worry.
But Anne’s particular focus at the moment is when Tara will arrive for Christmas. And will she have paid legal tender for the presents she gives or will she have shop-lifted them? And does she shop-lift for fun or because she hasn’t got enough money? And if she hasn’t got enough money could she get a better job? And in order to get a better job could she enrol for some sort of training? And if she enrolled then could she stick at studying until she completed a qualification? And so on. Nothing new. Nothing that Anne hasn’t already been over and over for twenty years.
Christmas is complicated this year in that Zelda, Julia’s mother, is going to stay with them for two weeks while her neighbour, who usually keeps an eye on her, is away. Anne is fond of Zelda and wants to help, but they only have one spare room. Tara will fly in from Brisbane at some unannounced time and either Anne will have to move into Julia’s room or Julia will have to move into Anne’s room. They will be committed to sharing a bed for the duration.
Sharing a bed with your partner from choice, whether for cuddling eating reading sex or sleeping, is one thing. Sharing a bed because there is nowhere else to go is another thing altogether, and the knowledge that you are lucky and that many people in the world have no bed at all is not a comfort.
‘When Tara comes for Christmas could she sleep in your room?’ Anne asks.
‘Oh. I suppose so. Can’t she sleep in yours?’
‘Because she’s my daughter?’ Anne’s voice has an edge.
‘Well … ’
‘Or because your mother is occupying the spare room?’
Julia gives in. It is the time for goodwill to all.
On the other side of town Maddie is facing a different problem.
She has her new phone. She has her sim. She has her plan. She is all set to go.
Here is the phone, and without doubt it is a very smart phone.
Here is the sixty year old human. The human is also smart, but not quite as quick as she was fifty years ago. Moreover she is suffering from adaption-fatigue, a widespread but little recognised syndrome affecting people who have grappled with technological change for too many years. She has had to learn too many times with too many new appliances how to change channels, receive messages, use the oven, tend her computer.
Sighing deeply Maddie turns on the phone and looks for an icon labelled HELP!!!
41. A Phone That Is Smarter Than You Are
Maddie has chatted to a friend at Feast and discovered that there is an app that would convert her phone into a microphone and enable her to hear conversations.
There are advantages in not knowing what people are saying. For example Maddie doesn’t have to listen to every single conversation about Tony Abbott. But on the whole she finds deafness an isolating experience. A benign smile is not always enough. People expect something more appropriate when they are letting off steam about Tony.
So Maddie is very interested in this app. There is a catch however. Her current phone is hopelessly out of date and doesn’t know the meaning of app. It is useless for anything except phone calls and texts. Maddie will have to upgrade.
She enlists Anne to help. Anne doesn’t know any more about phones than Maddie does but they are two intelligent women and will work it out. They choose Marion shopping centre, thinking they will avoid the Christmas crowds in the city. Unfortunately most of the rest of Adelaide has made the same decision. But our intrepid shoppers find a park within a mile or so of their goal and make their way through the acres of cars.
In the first phone shop they are greeted by an adolescent urchin. She has an endearing grin and an unruly mop of black hair, an unlikely handmaiden in this gleaming temple of commerce. But her knowledge of phones is encyclopedic. She introduces them to the mysteries of android, gigabyte and talk-time. Maddie is charmed and is about to sign up for an $85 a month plan when Anne pulls her away.
They retreat to a coffee shop to regroup.
‘I thought it was a good deal.’ Maddie says.
‘It sounds expensive to me. I’m sure Julia doesn’t even pay half that and she uses her phone all the time for work.’
‘But the stuff about the camera sounded good, on that android. All those pixels.’
‘How many pixels?’
‘I don’t know. Lots.’
‘What is a pixel anyway?’
‘Something that lives at the bottom of the garden of course.’
‘Seriously,’ Anne says. ‘Do you really care about the camera side of it?’
‘No I suppose not.’
‘I just think we should look at a few more.’
After two more shops Anne is beginning to see a pattern.
‘Where’s that brochure?’ she says.
They are on their third coffee stop and Maddie’s brain is trembling. She hands over the brochure from the original urchin.
‘I get it,’ Anne says. ‘They sell different brands of phone but only one brand of plan, their own.’
‘So how do we find out what’s the cheapest plan? I don’t think I can take too many more shops’
Anne looks sheepish. ‘We’re so old fashioned. We do what we should have done all along. We go home and Google cheapest phone plan in Australia.’
‘That’s right. And when you get your new phone you can shop from your phone.’
Outside the coffee shop the crowds are milling.
‘How come they aren’t shopping online?’ Maddie asks.
‘They must be old fashioned too. It’s reassuring really.’
But around the next corner the presence of the crowd is explained. Father Christmas is holding court.