Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Convict Cemetery



Convict Cemetery in Launceston. A quiet field under the blue sky.


For twenty years or so I have been winding my way up or down a particular hill in Launceston on a semi-regular basis. However, it wasn't until about eighteen months ago that I noticed the sign on a small side road that reads 'Convict Cemetery'. This intrigued me, but it wasn't until last week that I finally found myself with sufficient free time in front of me as I drove down the hill, that I turned off to find out more.

As it happens, I still know little more. The only information provided by the council is a board that reads, you guessed it, Convict Cemetery. Well, yes, but you know, who, what how, when.. I guess the where has been covered. A double row of bricks has been set into the path with the names and details of the convicts who are presumably buried here. I imagine that, at a guess, they have been inscribed by the pupils at the local primary school. This is a charming idea, but not much help if you happen to be doing genealogical research, as many of them are completely illegible. Here is one of the clearest:




Dennis Bien
Age: 23
Ship: Starts with a B
Date of something or other:1848
Sentence: 14 years

Dennis, whose name was maybe actually spelt Denis? To go with his French surname?
I just did some internet research, and the only convict with a similar name who arrived in Van Diemen's Land around 1848 is a Denis Brien. See? This is why you don't get eight year olds to preserve historical data. But it might not be Denis Brien at all. His ship, Boddingtons, as it turns out, arrived in New South Wales in 1793, which is rather early for a death in Launceston in 1848. If that is indeed a death date. And when Denis Brien's age is mentioned, is it the age he was when he died, or when he was transported? So many questions. This is why I am going to be a gardener, not a genealogist.

So let us turn from the cemetery to the woods. There is actually a perfect small forest next to the cemetery.



There is a pine grove, some beautiful oaks,



a thicket of elms.



It's like the Hundred Acre Wood, but it is a one or maybe two acre wood. A perfect pocket of verdant treeness in the middle of the city, and I never knew it was there.

The moral of this story is, always explore down the road that is signposted 'Convict Cemetery'.

In a similar adventure I got lost at a TAFE campus this morning, but in the unregarded tiny parking bay where I ended up, I found a plum and an apple tree. Always a silver lining. Maybe I will remember to head back there in the autumn and pick some well-educated fruit..

Also at the Convict Cemetery - olive trees. Worth a visit in the winter..

Monday, October 30, 2017

What Next?


Every time I look at my last post I have a little chuckle. Sometimes, when I am very stressed about one area in my life, I seize on something else about which I know absolutely nothing and care less (sport, for instance..) and get very impassioned on the subject, in a cunning attempt at misdirection. Not misdirecting you, my lovely readers, but me. It makes me feel better to have an opinion about a thing than to be sitting under the bedclothes gibbering about the unknowns in my life. Mind you, I stand by everything I said in the last post. I may not know anything about sport, but I can see when Big Money is screwing a thing up and spitting out its vulnerable victims after it has chewed them well..

Anyway, here I am, and here is the angst I have been avoiding - some of it is child related angst, so I won't go into it, other than to say, oh, my dears, being a parent, who would have thought that the baby years actually weren't the hardest? People did tell me that, back in the day, and I just wouldn't believe them. What could be harder than NEVER HAVING ANY SLEEP? Well, I am here to tell you, parents of tiny babes, sending your kids out into the world is far more terrifying than any toddler tantrum, and trying to make good decisions for them and with them when they are teenagers - aargh. Who can be that wise? Not me. I have the most fabulous young people in the actual world. They are all crazy and brave and brilliant and kind. I wish I could make the world all soft and bouncy for them so it would never hurt them. Remind me why I can't do that? When The Girl was about six or seven she wrote a (short) novel about what the future would be like. When her characters finally got there, they discovered that the future was...PILLOWS! Pillows are everywhere and bouncing is the thing you do in the future. I want all the children, everywhere, to have that future. I can't stand it that we have conspired to make a pretty crap world for our kids to inherit, and that we are steadily making it worse, day by day.

However, some child related angst has been worked through by everyone, and some child related angst is on-going, and honestly, probably will continue for years, that being the nature of us all being human.. and that's ok. Angst that doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

In other news, I walked into work on Thursday and told them I wouldn't be coming back next year. Yes, I quit! I have been second-guessing this decision for weeks and months, and then finally, just did it. I feel a bit lightheaded now. I am going to do two things next year (who knows, maybe more!) - writing, and starting a very small gardening business. I will be offering organic vegie gardening services, and any ornamental garden services that don't require a truck or a chainsaw. I have one tentative client, and the rest is completely in the lap of the gods. When Rosy finishes her exams she is going to design a business card for me, and I will do administrative things to do with tax, and then I can begin.

Jumping off the cliff has the advantage that once it is done, you can't change your mind. You are committed, and the only way is down. To certain death. Hmmm. I don't like where this analogy is going.

There is a Maori proverb, quoted in Ruth Park's autobiography, Fence Around the Cuckoo:

If you climb a cliff, you may die on the cliff. So what?

So what, indeed..

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ban Elite Sports to Improve Mental Health



Welcome to Mental Health Week. This morning I was listening to the radio on which an ex-elite athlete was discussing the hidden mental health issues he suffered from during his career, and how he was now committed to campaigning for changing the culture within elite athlete circles so that athletes could feel free to 'come out' about mental health issues, and be trained in dealing with their emotions. All good stuff. People talking about how they feel? Especially if those people are elite male athletes who are supposed to be tough and win all the time? That is a great and worthy endeavour..

BUT...

Nowhere in that conversation this morning did I hear anyone question whether elite sport itself might actually have been contributing to the mental health issues to start with. All I heard was that Australia is a great sporting nation so that sport is a great place to be talking about mental health.. well, yes, but what if the sport is causing it?

If you think about it for a minute, if you had to set up some laboratory conditions to cause mental health problems, what would be more likely to do so than to look for a child with talent, train them up to think that winning is everything, and that their talent defines them as a person, then put them under increasing pressure as they get even better at what they do, so that eventually, not only is their whole life consumed by training for one single goal, also, thousands or millions of people live vicariously through their failures and successes, and if that isn't enough pressure, they wake up one morning and realise that they have become a sock puppet in the hands of the gods, er, the sponsors.

Ah, yes, and now we come to The Money. Elite sport wouldn't exist without it. Televised sport makes SO MUCH MONEY for its sponsors. The whole edifice has been built by money, and for money. And all of it creates intolerable pressure for the frail human beings at the centre of the arena. It is around two thousand years since huge arenas were last built for sport. First time round it was for gladiators. They probably had mental health issues too.

Just think, once upon a time, those elite athletes were eight year olds who liked to kick a footy, or play tennis, or run and run with the wind in their hair. What kind of a cruel society would take such a child and force them to waste their youth by practicing the thing that they love, to the exclusion of every other good thing life has to offer, hour by hour and day after weary day, for the hollow twin prizes of fame and fortune, which they may or may not attain? Is it any wonder that their mental health breaks down?

Australia could be a great sporting nation, but isn't, because most of us only watch sport rather than playing it. And the handful of sporting heroes that we watch on the telly? We are actually breaking them mentally just by watching, because in doing so we are siding with The Money.

Ways for Australia to be a great sporting nation and solve mental health issues in sport? Watch where the money is. If it's big enough to attract money, it's probably big enough to mess with your mind.. Playing footy for your local team on a Saturday afternoon? No money there, so go for it. Likewise Thursday night mixed netball, Monday night Div 2 hockey, bowls at the club, capture-the-flag on your local school oval with fifty of your best friends, and running, anywhere, with the wind in your hair.

Brought to you by Mental Health Week Life - Making Society a Nicer Place So That Mental Health Problems Mostly Go Away By Themselves.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Here is the News

News stories tend to frame issues in such a way as to reduce our will or even capacity to imagine them in profoundly other ways. Through its intimidating power, news numbs.
Alain de Botton, The News: A User's Manual, Received Ideas 8


I don't have a TV, so I don't watch the news. Even when I did have a TV, I still didn't watch the news, because I don't believe that the news is healthy viewing for young children. I briefly had a news feed on the front page of my search engine on my new computer, until I worked out how to turn it off. I happen to think that always knowing the latest news about everything is an overrated aspect of modern life.

For a start, news isn't really actually news, in the sense that we believe that the news is some kind of objective window onto the reality of what is happening in the world. Whatever the news is, it isn't that. Watch any commercial news program, or scan any news feed, and what you will see is a selection of salacious gossip about celebrities, some gratuitous and graphic violence, some feel-good stories involving children and animals, a lot of sports coverage, and some token sound bites from geo-political hot spots. National public broadcasting companies are a little more classy and a little bit left-leaning, but essentially the same beast. When I do listen to the news, almost exclusively our own Australian national public broadcaster, the ABC news, on the radio, I am continually exasperated by how much airtime is taken up by speculation - talking heads predicting whether house prices will rise or fall, what politicians are going to do next, whether international heads of state will start a war or who is going to win the Japanese election. This is not news in any sense of the word, so much as it is fortune telling. But by experts, of course. So it is practically news. Because experts are never wrong.

But this is just nit-picking about content. My huge objection to the news is its insidious project of presenting the world view that it favours as a given. I am not talking about politics, the ideologies of the left or right, or international affairs. These are debated endlessly and you can choose your news outlet to reflect your own views. What I am concerned about is that the news fails to reflect thoughtfully on our way of life at all. The chief project of our society is to not question the way we live. It is to assume that we are fundamentally correct in all our ideas and to interpret all news events through that lens.

In my utopian parallel universe journalism would exist to unpack our assumptions about our world, to drill deep, to lift the rug and find all the dirt we've swept under there. Maybe to ask the question about where the emperor's clothes have got to anyway.. Now, of course this kind of journalism exists, but it is not generally featured in any kind of major news outlet. You have to go searching for deep journalism, then you have to wrestle with its conclusions and sit quite uncomfortable with its ramifications.

Several years ago I read an article by a journalist who had travelled to West Africa to visit cocoa farms, and the children who were sold as indentured labour to work on those farms. She secretly met with these children who didn't know where their parents were, who had never been to school, whose lives were endless labour in the cocoa plantations. And she took them chocolate. They had no idea what happened to the cocoa pods when they left the farm. They chewed the raw cocoa to keep up their energy to keep working.

This one article, which I cannot find now all these years later, had a profound effect on the way that I think, and the way that I shop. When we, as consumers, discover that chocolate would need to be ten times more expensive in order for cocoa farmers to make a decent living, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong with the way that chocolate is currently produced.

It made me aware enough to start hunting for evidence about how other food is farmed and processed, and made me want to find out who makes my stuff, and under what conditions. This kind of journalism asks several key questions - how does our society really function? And what kind of stories do we tell ourselves in order to keep its machinery functioning? For instance, when we buy chocolate, what stories do we tell ourselves about the child slaves who made that cheap chocolate possible? How do we push them to the back of our minds as we stand at the supermarket shelves? That is a story I am quite interested in.

Maybe we could ask different questions of experts - instead of endless predictions about events that are going to happen one way or the other anyway, we could ask about how to make things better.

We might ask ourselves questions such as: who benefits from the news, who benefits from the stories it tells, or neglects to tell about our society?

We might think about our relationship to the news. Is the news entertainment, and are we merely consumers of the spectacle that is the nightly news, or are we citizens, receiving important communications about the truths that underpin our society? If the latter, if we are citizens and journalists are actually bringing us vital information, what are we going to do with that? Are we going to let it change the way we think and act?

These are some of the things I think about in the odd half hours that I don't watch the news..



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Green and Thrifty




Green and thrifty fun this week: I made breadcrumbs from the crusts of loaves that didn't get eaten. First I toasted the bread in the oven on low, let it dry for a few hours, then blitzed it in the blender. If you make breadcrumbs like this you can store them in a jar on the shelf and they will last forever. Well, actually, forever is a very long time. It is more likely they will get used up on homemade chicken nuggets first.



I laid another couple of metres of brick path. Now, it does look like this is a path that is leading nowhere, but never fear, all will become clear when my master plan is completed, sometime before 2025, almost certainly.



I pulled out all my celery plants as I need the space for baby spring plants. I cut a lot of the celery and spread it on baskets to dry in the sun. When it is done I will grind it up and add to salt for celery salt to make my soft boiled eggs more interesting. If your celery goes to seed, you can also use ground celery seed to make celery salt. Ground up dried celery is also good to add to soups and stews. It is naturally slightly salty. You can also make celery salt with the leaves of the celery you buy at the greengrocers.

I planted more seeds and moved a bunch of self-seeded seedlings around to fill up the gaps in my flower garden.

My mum brought me rhubarb from her garden and we ate lemons, tarragon, rosemary, rocket, kale and the last of the celery from the garden.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cheap Pear Day!


Yesterday morning I popped into the vegie shed (just what it sounds like - a large shed. With veg. It is a farm gate outlet for a local farm. It also sells lots of other local produce at very reasonable prices. It is one of my regular haunts) for apples and carrots and milk. On my way out I saw pears selling for 89c/kg (40c/lb). I don't know if this is cheap for pears elsewhere in the world, but here it is very cheap fruit indeed, where anything under $2kg/90c/lb is a real bargain to stock up on. I walked right back in and bought a boxful.



This is what 11kg (24lbs) of pears looks like.

I ditched my other plans for the day and made pear butter (pears stewed down with lemon juice and zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, then blitzed with the stick blender). Then I bottled it and used my biggest stock pot to preserve them (just a fancy way of saying 'boiled the heck out of the jars for 15 minutes'). This is what 11kg of pears looks like when made into pear butter.



It is considerably reduced in volume. It is a delicious way of storing fresh, local produce in a convenient, shelf stable package. When I run out of room to store preserves in the kitchen, I shove them under my bed! I really like being able to have stocks of food that don't require filling up a freezer. Seeing jars of food in the cupboard allows the survivalist in me to relax and not worry about starving to death if the power goes off. Also, preserves are so convenient. This morning Rosy took yoghurt with pear butter and toasted oats for lunch in a thermos. It took several hours of my day yesterday, but will mean several weeks' worth of fast food.

I have no idea why pears were on sale in the spring. Usually these sales are on at the height of autumn. Maybe they are running out of space in cold storage at the pear farm? No complaints here. I would much rather preserve on a chilly spring day than a hot autumn afternoon! But.. I miss my fruit trees! I miss lots of free fruit to process into a year's worth of free food! I am beavering away at the garden to clear and build some terraces so that next year I can plant fruit trees.

Preserving food is so satisfying, but makes for a long and tedious job of peeling and coring. I amused myself by listening to random episodes from The School Of Life. These five minute videos by British philosopher Alain de Botton address those issues that are vitally important to our well-being but don't generally get covered in academic curriculums; Resilience, How to Forgive, Overcoming Bad Inner Voices and How to Complain are some of the topics you might encounter. Little nuggets of philosophical gold all wrapped up in the soporific tones of the planet's most soothing philosopher. What's not to like?

Updated to add: Pear Butter Recipe as per request from reader:

Peel, core and quarter pears while listening to philosophical essays of your choice.

Put them in your biggest pans - I distributed mine between my two biggest stew pans.

Now, this can only be a rough guide, depending on how many pears you start with - add about half a cup of water, the zest and juice of half a lemon, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 2 heaped tsps cinnamon to each large saucepanful of pears. Cook with lid on for about an hour, or until the pears are soft and taste delicious, stirring occasionally to ensure they are not sticking.

Whiz up the pears with a stick blender or mouli, push them through a strainer, or pop them in a blender. At this point you can reduce the pear butter down further, cooking on low with the lid off to make a more reduced, thicker sauce. I was happy with my original blended sauce and bottled it immediately.

Collect your clean, warmed jars (I pour very hot water into them, leave for a couple of minutes, then tip it out again. You can also warm them in the oven). Put quarter of a tsp of citric acid into the bottom of each jar to ensure that the pear butter is acidic enough to preserve in a water bath. Ladle in the pear butter, leaving about a centimetre (1/2 inch) headspace at the top of the jar. Put the lids on and lower into nearly boiling water in your largest pot, covering the jars by a couple of centimetres (1 inch). A teatowel on the bottom of the pot stops the jars clinking around in the boiling water. Leave them on a quiet boil for 15 mins, then wrestle them out with tongs and a tea towel (I really must buy some proper preserving tongs as I keep dropping the jars using my cooking tongs..).

Now you have lovely pear butter to eat with yoghurt or spread on toast or serve with pork or make pear tarts, or maybe just eat straight out of the jar.. :)


Monday, September 25, 2017

Out With the Old




I do like to be thrifty, so I save the seed that I don't use one year and use it the next year, or the year after that. Some seed will survive that treatment, and finally germinate, but it will never spring up with enthusiasm and vigour like fresh seed will. Two weeks ago I planted out a bunch of old seed, and some cornflower seed that I bought this last autumn. The results are in. As you can see, I will have a wonderful crop of cornflowers soon, and not so much broccoli. The children will be pleased. Yesterday, the first buttercrunch lettuce seed finally raised its old and tired little head. It is up, but it doesn't really want to be. I can tell it just wants to go back to bed. I know how it feels. The cornflowers, on the other hand, are like peppy and energetic toddlers, jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, and rampaging about full of vim and vigour.

The moral is, use new seed. This is a marvellous excuse to order more seed, so there is the silver lining. Seed catalogues, mmm...



Storing seed is of course, something that does need to happen, although preferably for not more than a year. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I store mine in a basket on a high shelf in my bedroom, which is in the southern corner of my southern hemisphere house. It is the coolest room in the house and never by chance gets the slightest ray of sunshine.



Many of my seeds are collected in the garden in the autumn, and I throw them into a paper bag and into the basket. If I am lucky, I will label it.. the gold standard would be after six weeks or so, when the seed is good and dry, to re-package it in an airtight container - a jar or ziploc bag, which will help it to keep for longer. I mostly do not do this.

As a lazy gardener, often I save seed by just letting the plants seed all over the garden, and then in the spring, moving the plants to where I want them as they pop up as ten thousand tiny seedlings. This does actually create more work than saving seed properly in the first place, but is kind of fun. Right now I have lots of tiny lettuces popping up all over, a million tiny viola plants, seven million baby warrigul greens and about the same number of calendula plants. I am thinking of starting my own plant nursery.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, looking at seed websites. Such a chore.

Oh, and remember to buy local seed. There is almost always a small local seed company. They will be breeding plants for local conditions. The other place you can find local seed and seedlings is in the gardens of your neighbours. Ask! Gardeners generally love to share.


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