James has a letter from his grandmother, a real letter with a stamp, delivered to the letter box.

It comes from New South Wales. There’s lots about rocks and crashing waves and the full moon rising out of the sea. It hasn’t really been in the sea, of course. But Gran says it looks as though it has, and it never does that in South Australia. Also Julia’s best polar-fleece jacket blew into the fire and melted in about five seconds. James would like to have seen that.

It’s all interesting, but the best part is about Gran being bitten behind her ear by a tick.

James writes up the story for school.

Read the rest of this entry »

Julia, warned that the rented camper van may need water, decides to check under the bonnet. A round reservoir sits above the radiator. She takes off the cap but can’t see in.

At this point, her customary good sense deserts her. She dips her little finger into the reservoir. It is too short to reach the water level so, on an even rasher impulse she sticks her index finger in.

Two things happen at once. Her fingertip reaches water, very hot water. At the same time her knuckle wedges in the opening so that she can’t get her finger out. She bends it as far as she can to get the tip out of the hot water, but that makes it even more impossible to extract the whole thing. She is bent over the front of the van, attached to it permanently, so it seems, by one finger.

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A golden sun rises over the Pacific. But the grannies are oblivious to the beauties of the world outside. They are busy in their tent, and because it’s the new tent, there is a disappointing lack of windows. They are absorbed in the demands of the flesh.

‘Hold still,’ says Julia. ‘Can you pull your ear back further?’

‘Not without pulling it off.’

‘Where are your glasses? One pair isn’t enough.’

The two women rummage through sleeping bags, discarded clothes, sponge bags, newspapers. Anne’s glasses finally turn up, tucked neatly into a pocket of the tent where they have been all along.

With both pairs of glasses perched on the end of her nose, Julia returns to Anne’s ear.

‘Yes I think it is. It’s sticking out more now.’

Anne and Julia live in Adelaide. Ticks, though not unknown, are not part of their daily lives.

‘Oh my god,’ says Anne. ‘What if it’s a paralytic tick? There was a poster outside the office.’

‘That can’t be right. It would be you that was paralytic, not the tick. Although I suppose if it drank enough blood it might be.’

‘Smartarse. Paralysing tick. The sort that kills dogs.’

‘It’s been there all night,’ Julia observes dispassionately, ‘and you’re not dead yet. Not even paralysed.’

She dabs a generous measure of eucalyptus oil onto the tick.

Anne is not completely reassured, and after breakfast she goes back to the office for another look at the poster.

Paralysis ticks, it announces.

Clinical signs:

slowing down on a walk and/or sitting down regularly

Is that why she was so puffed climbing Gulaga yesterday? She certainly felt like sitting down regularly.

reluctance/difficulty standing up or jumping


unsteady or wobbly gait

Anne remembers the trembling state of her knees by the time they got down to the bottom of the mountain.

fast or labored breathing, coughing



Ring the Narooma vet straight away.

Anne backs away from the notice board.

With a picnic of crackers, avocado and cucumber the two women set off along the coast, rock-hopping and scrambling. The wind whips around them and the misleadingly-named Pacific roars alongside, forbidding conversation and even, after a while, thought. They cross long stretches of beach but neither of them is game to swim in that thunderous surf. They stop for lunch in a sheltered bay and find a deep rock pool. The water is freezing but clear, and the sun is out, so they plunge into the water. Anne’s immersion time is about thirty seconds, but Julia lasts some minutes.

‘Heaven,’ she says, rubbing herself dry.

‘By the way,’ she says later, through a mouthful of lunch. ‘Did you check up about the tick?’

‘Woof,’ says Anne.


‘They only affect dogs.’

‘Didn’t they mention humans?’

‘No. Unless the Narooma vet treats humans as well.’

‘Perhaps it’s about death. Only dogs die from tick bites,’ Julia says. ‘Not fatal to humans.’

‘I’ll let you know.’

‘Or not.’

The dog gazes at the women with infinite patience.

‘Remember how you lift a sheep?’ says Kep.

‘No,’ says Anne.

‘Me either,’ Rose says. ‘Not every young dyke was a New Zealand shearer.’

Kiwi style

Kep grins and offers instruction. ‘Okay. Bend the knees. One arm around the front of your sheep below chest level, and the other around the back. Now straighten the knees.’

Rose stands up with Horatio in her arms. ‘Stand aside. I’m coming through.’

She staggers along the path for a way, then deposits the dog on the ground and leans against a tree, panting. ‘He weighs a ton. We’ll have to take it in turns.’  Read the rest of this entry »

The Four Waterfalls is a modest walk by Blue Mountains standards. Rose, their hostess, assures them that it’s flat and only an hour or so, plenty of time before Anne and Julia leave for the coast. And it isn’t a National Park, which makes it one of few places where Horatio, Rose’s ageing collie, can come with them.

Flat is not how Anne would describe it, as she puffs her way up the track from the first waterfall, trailing valiantly after Julia, Rose and Rose’s partner Kep. But she supposes it’s all relative. What’s a flight of 100 rough-hewn steps if you’re used to the thousand metre drop into the Jamison Valley?

And it’s beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. Green and lush, and everywhere the tinkle, drip and gurgle of water, wetness unimaginable to an Adelaide soul. For a time the track is level and Anne plods along happily next to Horatio. He is an affable companion, though a little stiff in the joints. Anne knows how he feels.

The descent to the second waterfall is steeper and Horatio is beginning to move very slowly, hesitating at every rock or awkward drop. Rose drops back to encourage him. At the bottom they stop for a good rest, sprawling on a miniature sandy beach, sharing trail mix and paddling in the creek. Obviously the walk is going to take longer than an hour, but never mind, they’re on holiday.

Finally they gather their belongings and lace their boots. But Horatio is reluctant to get up, and even when he’s on his feet he shows no sign of wanting to move. Finally, with Rose pushing him gently and the others cooing encouragement, he starts to walk. For a short time all is well, with some assistance from behind he makes it up the first rise.

But another few hundred metres and the track climbs steeply again. More steps. Horatio stops altogether and lies down. Nothing that Rose says has any effect. Eventually she and Julia try carrying him, Julia going up backwards with his head and forequarters while Rose comes along behind with his hindquarters and tail. Horatio utters a few very small noises of restrained protest and regards them with a pained expression. Rose hopes that it is only his dignity that is suffering. Huffing and puffing they lower him to the ground.

‘Come on boy,’ they say. ‘You can do it.’

But he simply lies in the track looking at them.

They confer. Better to go back or better to go forward? Unfortunately they are pretty much at the halfway mark.

‘Do you think we can get a rescue helicopter in for a dog?’ Anne asks.

‘For a price,’ Rose says.

They decide to go on.

After a few minutes rest Horatio rises valiantly to his feet and they manage in good order for a stretch. But Horatio is getting slower and slower.

At the next rise he stops again, he has had enough. He gazes at the women with infinite patience.

‘Okay,’ says Rose. ‘We can do this.’




HINTS for talking to a person with HEARING IMPAIRMENT

– ONE-TO-ONE is much easier than groups

– AVOID BACKGROUND NOISE. It helps if we turn off the music and I have my back to the noisiest part of the room.

– GOOD LIGHTING ON YOUR FACE. Don’t sit with your back to the light. And don’t cover your face in any way. I needs visual cues and clues.

– GET MY ATTENTION BEFORE SPEAKING. If I miss the beginning it’s extra hard to catch up.

– SPEAK MORE SLOWLY. Then my poor brain has a chance!

– SPEAK CLEARLY – DON’T SHOUT OR WHISPER. Both lead to distorted sounds.

KIDS BE LOUD AND BOLD! Young people are hard to hear because their voices are lighter and higher pitched.

– BEST IF WE AREN’T EATING. I can’t hear you if I’m chewing and I can’t hear you if you’re chewing! We should be able to get in a few words between mouthfuls.

– CHECK THAT I’M KEEPING UP. Jokes are hard because the teller’s voice changes, the conversation speeds up and everyone laughs. I love it when someone checks if I got it.

– REPEAT OR REPHRASE IF NECESSARY. Names are especially difficult because there’s no context so I can’t guess. Spelling them out can help.

– USE MIME AND HAND GESTURES. Go on, it can be fun!

– ONE CONVERSATION AT A TIME. In group situations or meetings I’m lost if people start to talk over the top of each other.



– it’s tiring! I have to concentrate much harder. I work overtime to filter out the background and to make sense of sounds that are distorted or barely audible. A lot of it is guesswork and that depends on context. But conversations may jump all over the place.

– it’s like being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you work hard and depend on all sorts of non-verbal cues

– hearing aids make conversation possible but they don’t restore the original clarity. The quality of sound is not as good. They whistle and are tinny. And the background noise is amplified, which can be overwhelming.

– my deafness is the sort that means the loss of higher frequencies. That makes many consonants hard to hear, which can mean that I’ve got the shape of the word but have to guess which version I need – pair? bear? mare? wear? dare?

– accents unlike my own are difficult. I know it can look like intolerance. But the intonation and stresses and vowel sounds are all different. The above hints help.

– it’s hard to jump in when I’m not completely sure what the conversation is about or what’s already been said. Will I sound stupid and/or inappropriate? I keep quiet more often than I used to, or withdraw, especially from noisy situations like parties.

As with every challenge, cheerful allies make all the difference. So THANK YOU!

Remember how Adelaide Days became Fables Queer & Familiar and then became a radio serial (read by me) on Radio Adelaide??
The Community Radio Network is now making the serial available to all member stations as a 55 part sound file. So you can ask your local station to play it!
For details see podcasts

If you’d like to hear a different story of mine (along with some other great Wakefield Press readings), try The Storycast

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