Spontaneous collective remembering of Adelaide lesbian feminist herstory. Thanks to Chia Moan for setting it up at the launch of Big Rough Stones. Women added to it all evening.

RADIO LISTENERS – I’m talking about ‘Big Rough Stones’ on 5MBS (99.9FM) with lovely Emily Sutherland – Wednesday 11th at 6pm on Kaleidoscope – repeated Saturday 14th at 11am.
Official launch of book on Friday 13th at 6pm at The Joinery, 111 Franklin St, Adelaide. See you there!

While Sylvie, WOMAD volunteer, instructs James in the art of expressing his wishes, Sylvie’s girlfriend Bec has a tougher gig.
She is part of a young team recruited to help run a Community Consultation Day about flood prevention work on Brownhill Creek.
Bec is studying Marketing and this is a great opportunity to observe the negotiating process. Obviously the needs of the various stakeholders may conflict. She sees it as a matter of mediation, of compromise, of finding paths to mutual cooperation.
So far Bec’s main job has been to organize a sausage sizzle. Bec doesn’t approve of sausages, but she understands that in grass-roots work you have to respect the local culture. She’s compensated by recruiting a friend to make fruit smoothies in a blender powered by a bicycle. In this inner-city suburb smoothies are probably part of the culture.
The weather is good, the atmosphere cheerful. Bec and her young colleagues are fully briefed. They stand in front of displays relating to different aspects of the project: dams, culverts, rail crossings, roadwork, fencing. Bec has wangled revegetation.
Her first customer is James’ grandmother, though of course neither of them is aware of the coincidence.
‘I’m extremely concerned about the loss of tree canopy around here in the last few years,’ Anne says. ‘We can’t afford to lose any more trees in a time of global warming.’
Bec is prepared for this. ‘Yes …’
‘It’s not just about shade and summer temperature,’ Anne continues.
‘No …’
‘Trees are essential carbon-sinks and they also clean the air.’
‘The Council will be replanting …’
Anne snorts. “The Council can’t replant trees. There won’t be enough soil. The Council uses cement instead of soil to refill holes. Be lucky if they can grow grass.’
‘Uh …’
‘The cement manufacturers are pissing in the Council’s pocket.’
‘Er …’
‘Oh just give me the form to fill in.’
Bec watches Anne walk away with the piece of paper. That didn’t seem to go quite right.
But as the day wears on Bec becomes more confident and has interesting conversations with local residents about the open space they’d like: urban orchards, sensory gardens for the vision impaired, vegetables. Duck farming perhaps. Bec visualizes a happy creek-side community.
At the end of the day Bec packs up next to an older woman, and tells her about the experience with Anne.
‘I guess some people are just very negative,’ she says.
The other woman looks at her. ‘Probably seen it all before.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well you know it’s a done deal, don’t you?’
‘What is?’
‘This. This whole area’s going.’
‘The park? The open space?’
‘Yeah. Council’s already voted. Today was just window dressing. The creek’s going underground and the land is for in-fill housing.’
Bec is horrified. What about the ducks? On the tram home she does some serious thinking and by the time she gets home to Sylvie she’s made up her mind.
‘Let’s go and live in Tasmania. Off the grid. This city sucks.’

Day two of WOMAD. James and Victoria are in Kidzone. They’ve been given white plastic bottles and invited to express their dreams and hopes.

Victoria is well away. Her first dream is to have the ceiling of her bedroom hinged so that she can open it up to see the moon, the stars, and passing owls. It would be good to take the roof off altogether. But maybe her parents would be cross if it rained and everything got wet. She also hopes for a bicycle that can fly. Victoria is the perfect participant in the Dreamstore project and is busy cutting out stars and bikes and clouds and sticking them on her bottle.

The activity is not working so well for James, in spite of encouragement from Sylvie, a student volunteer. James wants to have fun, but is finding the white plastic bottle uninspiring. He doesn’t really get the whole idea. It seems to be a supermarket or something and you go through a checkout. Sylvie is feeling discouraged too. She’s not sure herself about the whole buying and selling thing.

On top of that, James has a worry. Botanic Park is right next to the zoo, and some of the WOMAD music is very very loud. What about the animals? What if the pandas can’t sleep?

He asked his Dad about it the night before.

‘You’re right,’ Brett said. ‘It doesn’t need to be this loud. We should write to the organisers.’

Now, James sizes up Sylvie.

‘I have to write a letter,’ he says.

‘Oh that’s a lovely idea,’ says Sylvie. ‘You could put it in your bottle.’

‘Would the organisers get it?’

‘The organisers of Dreamstore?’

That doesn’t sound like what Dad meant. ‘The ones in charge of everything.’

Sylvie sees how it is. Some kids believe in Santa Claus, some in the Tooth Fairy. This one has put all his faith in the organisers of WOMAD. So sweet.

‘Sure,’ she says reassuringly. ‘They’ll get it.’

‘Wouldn’t it be better to email?’

Sylvie has had limited training for her present position, but the job, as she understands it, is to get kids to decorate bottles. Nobody said anything about internet access.

‘This will be best,’ she says firmly. ‘They’ll get it.’

James looks around at bottles covered in stickers and glitter and requests to become fairy princesses. It doesn’t seem very businesslike, but Sylvie has an official badge, so she must know what she’s talking about.

‘Okay,’ James says and in green texta on a sheet of paper he writes his letter.

Dear organisers maybe you didn’t think about it but it must be very hard for the animals to go to sleep when the music is loud. Can you turn it down? Yours sincerely James.

He folds the paper, puts it in his bottle. On the bottle he writes I hope the pandas can sleep. He hands it to a beaming Sylvie.

They both feel the achievement of a difficult job well done.

First night of WOMAD and Botanic Park is alive: world music, flags, colour, food. Anne and Julia stroll under the lights greeting friends.

But all is not well with Anne. She has had too many samosas for tea. And what’s more, she’s forgotten her usual reflux emergency kit.

They pass a St John’s tent. Just the thing. Embarrassing to waste their time on indigestion, but there are two young volunteers and no customers, so obviously they aren’t busy.

‘You go on,’ she says to Julia. ‘I’ll catch you up.’

‘It’s nothing really,’ she says to the volunteers. ‘Just a bit of reflux. You don’t have a Quickeze do you? Or some bi-carb?’

By way of reply the young woman pulls out a chair, and the young man sits her down. ‘We’d just better check,’ he says. Before she can object her attendants have rolled up her sleeve and are applying a blood pressure cuff. Oh well, good practice for them Anne supposes.

The man has a clipboard. ‘Any pain in your arms?’ he asks earnestly.

In her ARMS? Anne is puzzled. ‘No,’ she says.

‘Whereabouts do you feel it?’

Anne indicates a point between her breasts.

‘Anywhere else in your chest or back?’

Well honestly, Anne thinks, do they know where my digestive organs are located?

The woman has finished measuring Anne’s blood pressure and pulse and is now listening to her front and back with a stethoscope, tapping as she goes.

‘Have you ever had this trouble before?’ the man asks.

‘Yes,’ says Anne, ‘often. Whenever I eat too much.’

‘Oh,’ says the man, and the woman rolls up her stethoscope.

Suddenly Anne realises what’s going on. They’ve been checking her for a heart attack.

‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make a fuss … ’

At that moment Julia sticks her head into the tent.

‘Are you okay?’

‘I think so,’ says Anne, though she is beginning to have doubts. Is it a heart attack? Would she even know? She feels even more stupid than she did when she first came in wanting Quickeze.

The young man smiles reassuringly at her, as though she is in her dotage.

‘Everything is normal,’ he enunciates clearly, patting her on the shoulder. ‘We just like to be sure. If you do get any other pains come straight back.’

‘I’ll just wait outside,’ says Julia, also enunciating clearly. Anne glares at her.

The young man holds out his clipboard for her to sign. She has no idea why, but she isn’t about to quibble.

‘And do you have any … ’ she asks diffidently.

The young woman rummages in a first aid tin. ‘We can only give you one I’m afraid.’

Anne emerges from the tent clutching her single Quickeze. Perhaps that’s what she signed for. She’s never thought of  Quickeze as a dangerous drug, but what would she know?    Perhaps if you ate enough of it …

Here it is – and you didn’t even know you were waiting for it! BIG ROUGH STONES – forty years of a little known lesbian world. That’s specific, but the themes are universal. Whoever you are, whatever bunch of people you fall in with, you have to work out how to do it – how to do love, how to do life.

Come to the launch! Chia Moan will do the honours – 6pm on Friday 13th April at The Joinery, 111 Franklin St, Adelaide (the old bus station). RSVP by 9 April to maddy@wakefieldpress.com.au, or order the book at http://www.wakefieldpress.com.au.

If you aren’t in Adelaide, then I hope to be somewhere closer to you later in the year!

The next laborious circuit around the edge of the ice rink is very slow, but Victoria manages it without falling over. Julia skates back and forth nearby, offering encouragement. When they reach the entrance gate they find Anne waiting.

‘Looking good,’ she says.

Victoria looks at her doubtfully. Gran is usually honest, for a grown-up.

As if she has read this thought Anne smiles. ‘Well it’s only your first try,’ she says. ‘Do you want to go out in the middle? We could hire one of those walker things.’

Victoria’s concentration has been so fierce that she has not registered anything but the guard rail that she clings to. Now she looks around, even turning her body a little. This time her feet do not slide away and she manages to stand upright.

She sees what Gran means. In the middle of the rink people are pushing themselves around on individual frameworks that slide over the ice.

‘Yes please,’ she says.

Anne gets a walking frame and pushes it onto the ice. Gingerly Victoria transfers her weight from the guard rail to the frame. But now what?

‘Push it,’ calls Anne helpfully, but she is safe on land.

Victoria pushes carefully at the frame and feels her feet slide backwards.

‘Hang on,’ says Julia. She skates up behind Victoria and put her arms over Victoria’s so that they can push together. In this fashion with Victoria half-pushing and half-dangling between Julia and the frame, they manage about twenty metres. Even Julia is puffing now.

‘What say I go round the front and pull you.’ she says.

For some heady moments, with Julia pulling, Victoria feels herself whisked across the ice. This is it, she thinks, this is how it was in Frozen. She does not see the shed they are in, badly in need of a clean-up and a coat of paint. She replaces it with the snow-capped mountains and icy lakes of her imagination.

Three girls not much older than she is whisk past laughing. Victoria begins to smile. That will be her soon. Julia, encouraged by the smile, speeds up. Victoria’s feet move more slowly than the frame and she falls flat on her front, banging her nose.

Julia pulls her up and helps her to the gate where Anne is waiting to hug her.

‘Had enough?’ she asks, checking the poor nose.

Victoria nods miserably.

‘That’s good,’ says Anne, ‘because I’m freezing. Let’s go and get a drink.’

 

Mel is watering the front garden when they pull up. ‘How was it?’ she calls, coming over to the car. All three women turn to Victoria.

‘All right,’ she says.

She sees her mother’s expression. ‘Thank you Grannies,’ she adds.

She turns and trails into the house.

 

Anne rings Mel later that night to see if Victoria has recovered.

Mel laughs. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘Vic’s had a better idea. Next time she wants you to take her rock climbing.’

 

For her birthday treat Victoria has chosen a trip to Ice Arena, generally known as Mount Thebarton. Victoria has never been skating, but she has seen Frozen, and she knows what you do on an ice mountain. You swoop and glide with snow sparkling on your eye lashes. You weave in and out of giant Christmas trees with icicles hanging from their branches. You laugh and play and throw snowballs as you zig-zag back and forth through ice caves and palaces.

Victoria’s anticipation is so great that she can’t wait quietly between her two grannies in the ticket queue. She has to bounce up and down and squeak.

Gran laughs. ‘You know I’m not going to skate?’ she says. ‘It’ll just be you and Julia. I’m going to wait here for you and read my book.’

That’s fine with Victoria. Different grannies do different things, she has discovered. She doesn’t ask why.

She is a little puzzled as they move further into the vast dilapidated shed. She can’t see any pine trees, nor any sign of a mountain, though the ceiling is high enough. She asks Julia about it while they wait for their skates.

‘Oh,’ says Julia. ‘They don’t have it anymore. It was a ski slope with artificial snow.’

Artificial snow?

Julia looks more closely at Victoria. ‘You don’t mind do you? I thought you wanted to skate, not ski?’

Victoria nods decisively. Skating, that’s what she wants. There was skiing in Frozen too, but it wasn’t as graceful.

It’s hard to walk on the skates. They are stiff and clunky and they make Victoria’s ankles hurt, but no doubt it will be different once they are on the ice.

The beginners’ rink is not crowded except for a cluster of kids around the entrance. Victoria is glad of Granny Julia, who pushes firmly past them. Victoria steps onto the ice, ready to swoop, but something goes wrong. Her feet slide away from her in different directions. She lands on her bottom with a bang and bites her tongue. The ice, it turns out, is very hard.

Julia leans down smiling. She doesn’t seem surprised that Victoria is sitting on the ice, so perhaps it’s meant to be part of the fun. Victoria hauls herself up Julia’s arm and clutches her around the hips. Julia grabs the rail and they both draw breath.

‘How would it be,’ says Julia, ‘if you let go of me, one hand at a time, and hold onto the rail instead?’

Victoria manages this, with great caution. She sees a boy who is sliding along the ice, legs stiff, by hauling himself hand-over-hand on the rail. She sets off in imitation, with Julia skating along beside her. By the end of one circuit Victoria’s legs are trembling with the effort and she has fallen over twice more, once on her bottom and once on her hip.

‘You’re doing great,’ Julia says.

Victoria thinks about crying.

The crowd is noisy and rainbow, spilling down the steps of Parliament House and across North Terrace. The police have to walk ahead of each tram clearing a path. They should have red flags, Julia thinks, like when trains were first invented.

Across the road a small contingent of NO voters is drowned out by a troupe of drummers. In any case it is vastly outnumbered by the YES contingent, people of every age, though at least half are young. The placards are good.

Don’t let your religion get in the way of love.

I’m straight, and my two mums are fine with that.

And Julia’s favourite: I don’t remember voting for Malcolm Turnbull’s marriage.

Cassie is oblivious, shouting above the noise, an indignant story about the Mygov office.

‘I only went in to give them my new address. It’s all bloody self-service and it took nearly an hour. And then yesterday I got a letter. And it was sent to the old address!’

Julia grins. ‘Oh well. The sun is shining. The rally is great.’

Cassie looks around. ‘You’re right. So many people. And not all GLBTQIetc either.’

‘No. The allies are out in force.’

‘I’m surprised you came. I though you didn’t believe in marriage?’

‘Oh well. It’s much more than marriage now isn’t it? It’s basic equality.’

‘Yeah. Marriage is an odd place to join battle, but there you are.’

‘To tell you the truth,’ Julia says, ‘I didn’t realise until now what a stone I’ve been carrying around. All these years.’

Cassie leans in closer to hear, and puts her arm round Julia. ‘An internal stone?’

‘Yes.’ Julia hears her voice going wobbly. ‘I didn’t realise how much I cared about acceptance.’

‘And now here are all these people who accept us.’

‘Yes. How many times have I marched for other issues? This seems like the first time everyone’s been out on the street for ME.’

Cassie hugs her and Julia laughs a little shakily.

‘I’ve come over all shy. I’m not sure whether it’s okay to thank them for coming. I feel like a little kid who didn’t really think anyone would come to her party.’

The crowd begins to move and there is more space and less noise.

As they walk Cassie considers a nearby slogan: Marriage is a CIVIL contract. Nothing to do with religion. ‘In France everyone has a registry marriage and then if you want you can have a church thing as well.’

‘Nice,’ says Julia. ‘Clear cut division of church and state.’

‘We seem to have got muddled about it here.’

‘It is in our Constitution. Doesn’t it come from Henry VIII? Stopping the church getting too powerful.’

‘Trying to stop him having six wives.’

‘Yes. All women by the way. And him a man.’

‘Speaking of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.’

They approach Victoria Square in companionable silence, surrounded by the warm throng. Cassie points out her favourite sign.

I’m people too.

 

[thanks Helen Printer]

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