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Anne, feisty lesbian feminist, has never felt more outdated.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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.’




%d bloggers like this: