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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, or order the book at

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]

I’ll be reading from ‘Fables Queer & Familiar’ and ‘Further Fables Q&F’ (a Feast event) at the Halifax Café on Saturday November 11 at 3pm. Come along if you’re in Adelaide – ponder issues of gender and marriage (what IS marriage anyway?) and have a laugh. See you there!

Anne plucks weeds out of the ground and thinks about exchanging her younger daughter for a son. Tara is aiming to transition before she reaches thirty.

Cross-dressing is one thing, Anne thinks. But this … this is another thing altogether. Hormones, surgery. She remembers that perfect baby body, a sleek little girl splashing in the bath.

She knows there are bigger issues at stake here, but her mind keeps stalling on what to call Tara’s new partner, how to label her. She can’t be a lesbian if Tara is a man. Can she?

Anne, feisty lesbian feminist, has never felt more outdated. Transgender is the new cutting edge. She shudders at the idea of cutting and yanks at a spreading network of burr clover.

 Julia appears waving one hand and clutching her shoulder with the other.

‘Get the vinegar,’ she shouts.

Anne scrambles up. ‘Vinegar?’

‘Ow.’ Julia does a little dance on the spot. ‘It’s that bloody paper wasp. It got me.’

‘But vinegar?’

Julia pulls the back door open and staggers into the kitchen. ‘Shit.’

Anne follows her and pulls open cupboard doors. ‘Are you sure it’s vinegar you want?’


Julia grimaces. ‘Bloody hell. It’s agony.’

Anne hesitates, bottle in hand. ‘It’s balsamic vinegar,’ she says.

‘Never mind what sort of vinegar it is.’

‘What about some ice?’

‘I don’t want bloody ice. I want vinegar.’

Anne peers more closely at the label. ‘It’s fancy vinegar.’

‘I don’t care if it’s candied with bloody liquid gold. Just give me the bottle!’

Anne is offended. ‘Well no need to carry on.’

Once Julia’s shoulder is generously coated in vinegar, with an ice pack on top, the pain eases. Anne puts the kettle on for tea.

‘It’s not that I grudge you the best most expensive vinegar,’ she says with dignity. ‘I just thought the candied-with-star-anise thing might interfere.’

Julia grimaces. ‘You know you’re in the first world when the only vinegar in the house is candied with anise’

‘Yeah. Where’s the Reckitts blue when you need it?’

‘What’s Reckitts blue?’

‘Don’t you remember? It was supposed to whiten the washing. But it was the cure for bee stings too.’

‘It’s odd though. I would have thought something like that was an alkali.’

‘So what?’

‘Well vinegar’s an acid. Maybe you were right and it wasn’t vinegar I needed. But it’s working.’

Anne snorts. ‘Chemistry. The blue-bag probably did nothing for the sting. It was the attention that did it. Mum fussing over you.’

‘Good old Mum. That’s what mums are for.’

‘When they aren’t being oppressive.’

Julia has been the partner of a mother for a long time. She doesn’t mistake this remark for a generality. ‘Who have you been oppressing today?’

‘Oh well. Just worrying about Tara.’

‘Of course. And you know that it’s the mother’s duty to oppress her daughter. No point trying to duck. Whatever happens, it’s your fault.’

‘Put the expensive vinegar back in the cupboard,’ Anne says and stalks back to the garden.

Victoria labours over her homework. It’s about Canberra and stuff.

After they get elected, she writes, lots of people find out they were born in two places. So they have to go and wait in the high court. Maybe a roof garden or something, those plants with shiny leaves. She pictures everyone crowding onto the escalator.

The question about voting is pretty easy. Everyone has to unless it’s about gay marriage, then if they don’t like it they don’t have to.

The next thing is about how to choose Prime Ministers. There are two parts. First you get chosen. Then you get thrown out. Sometimes they spill you. It’s a funny word to use. Maybe you spill off the escalator because there are too many people.

She checks with James but he’s not much help. He says they do everything in a cupboard, and when you’re spilt they shut you out. Anyhow he says it’s not this Prime Minister. It was the last one. Or maybe the one before. They shut him out because he wanted to make Prince Phillip into a knight.

This raises more questions than it answers. Victoria knows who Prince Phillip is. He’s married to the queen in England and he’s a very very old man. One puzzle is how can he be so old and still be a prince? That’s not right. Why didn’t he turn into a king?

James says Prince Phillip shouldn’t be a knight because it would be going backwards, like Victoria going back to Reception when she doesn’t fit on the little chairs anymore.

Anyhow Victoria is pretty sure Prince Phillip wouldn’t be strong enough to get onto the horse. And how would he lift that great big lance thing?


That night, in another part of the throbbing metropolis, the grannies lie in bed. They are also pondering deep questions.

‘What’s the difference between a firkin and a merkin,’ Anne asks.

Julia looks up from her book. ‘One’s rude.’

‘Yeah but which?’

‘Merkin. A firkin’s some sort of barrel isn’t it? What on earth are you reading?’

‘I’m not. I’ve just had the two words on my mind for days.’

‘It could be a song.’

‘Why is it rude anyway? Is it what a Scotsman has on his kilt?’

‘No dear, that’s a sporran.’

‘Maybe I’m thinking of those head things. You know, at Buckingham Palace.’

‘Oh yes. Busbies. But that’s a bit big for a merkin. You’d never get your knickers on.’

Anne considers throwing Julia out of bed. She swings her feet round and pushes sideways at Julia’s hip. Julia grabs the edge of the mattress, laughing.


‘It’s a sort of wig thing you put over your pubes. It’s meant to be sexy.’

Anne subsides. In that case it should be called a furkin. No wonder she’s confused.

Like her granddaughter, she is finding that every big question leads to another big question.

‘How on earth do you attach it?’

Zelda is in Rundle Mall on one of her rare forays into the city. An eye test for new glasses is not something you can organise on the phone. She sails regally through the swarms of school kids, glaring at any who are slow to move aside. It is only when one of them, a girl, stands right in front of her, lips moving, that she realises it is Sarah.

Zelda never gives much thought to her daughter’s step-children, let alone the grandchildren. She would be hard-pressed to recognise the younger ones if she saw them. But she has a soft spot for Sarah. Something about that gawky struggle for self-expression appeals to her. So now she produces what could almost be called a smile.


‘Hi Zelda.’

Zelda becomes aware that the girl’s companions are sniggering and realises that, in greeting her step-great-grandmother, Sarah has demonstrated admirable independence.

Zelda draws herself up. ‘How lovely to see you,’ she says. ‘Do you have time for coffee?’

‘Yes,’ says Sarah, not giving herself time to chicken out.

She feels an unexpected flush of pride at going off with a mad old woman, in defiance of group norms. She looks more closely at Zelda. She is very very old, no doubt about that, older than Gran and Granny Julia of course. Her skin no longer seems to be attached to her bones.

But she is more stylish than Gran. Her clothes are smart, not fashionable, but smart. She clearly takes some trouble over her appearance. She has her own style, Sarah decides.

Sarah has been mulling over the business of appearance for a long time. Her family is hopeless of course. Sometimes they say things that are meant to be kind, but what would they know? Her friends talk about diets and stuff all the time but only because it isn’t cool to admit that you look good. Sarah doesn’t trust them. They aren’t ugly the way she is.

But Zelda might understand, even though she’s so ancient. Sarah finds herself explaining about her troubles. Her teeth, her nose.

Zelda regards her unsmilingly. ‘What absolute nonsense,’ she says.

Sarah is shocked. However dumb her mother and grannies may be, they always treat her with respect.

‘You are young, all your bones are in the right place. You have the beauty that any young animal has, no more no less.’

Sarah considers this.

‘In another seventy years you’ll look back at photos and realise that what I’m saying is true, you were beautiful. So make the most of it.’

Zelda gathers her belongings and levers herself upright. Who was it who said that youth is wasted on the young?

Sarah goes home thoughtful and looks at herself in the mirror. She is not cured, but she has heard that a dash of cold water can be good for the complexion.

After seeing herself in a friend’s post, Sarah has realised that her teeth are impossibly ugly – huge and gummy.

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