March 1st, 2012

(no subject)

By about 10 am today, Canberra had received (as the news delights in pointing out) nearly the amount of rain it receives for the whole month of March in an average year. March is one of our wetter months, normally, so we're talking about quite a bit of rain. At least one town in the highest mountain range in the country has been evacuated. Queanbeyan has enormous numbers of road closures: it's not a NSW thing - a chunk of Queanbeyan was built on a flood plain. And my Queanbeyan friends are probably already tired of my jokes about the cemetery releasing bodies into our main lake again (it happened once and ever since then Canberrans have made jokes about it - we are cruel people).

This is the same rain that started days ago. The weather bureau says that it will continue until Saturday, but I suspect the worst will be over today. I hope so, I had plans to see Queanbeyan friends and go shopping with them on Saturday! The shopping was for basic larder-fullness, so if we can't do it I shall have to do some strategic planning and shop every couple of days for a bit (which will wreak havoc with work, since shopping by myself takes so *long*): I can't carry much and so I fill my larder with the help of friends or with a homeshop and then do top ups - when things fall through, it becomes more than a nuisance. At any rate, it's too early to tell if Saturday will need rearranging, because we are very high (altitude, nothing to do with our local drug laws, which are more lenient than those in Queanbeyen-on-the-flood-plain) and so our floods tend to run off fairly quickly.

All this means that life is mildly interesting because of the weather. Queanbeyan and Canberra will both be fine in a few days but downstream there are quite different landscapes. We're the highlands for the Murray River and so all my friends who live downstream have an interesting few days ahead. They already have an interesting time now, given that the rain is part of a 2000 km band that's been working its way across the region for days. The wetlands will be super-saturated, the farmlands will be inundated, and Adelaide might mistakenly think that the Murray has a genuine outlet to the sea through their fair city.

My personal stake in this? (apart from so many friends and their folks being affected, that is, and not thinking of my desire to eat) I'm barely down the road from the bit of Canberra where flood fatalities in our modern history occurred. I'm don't live at the lowest point in the Woden valley, but I'm on the lower slopes leading down to it. Last time there was big rain, I watched as the drains were covered and big plops indicated their presences under a foot of water. So far this week, though, the rain has been hard and heavy, but not quite so hard and heavy that the drainage system hasn't carried it away quickly. The folks downstream are suffering and the folks in the mountains are suffering and the folks in Queanbeyan are possibly questioning their location, and more and more roads are closing in our fair city, but I myself am currently quite fine.

Women's History Month

I wasn't going to do much for WHM this year, but I was working half-awake and found I'd asked a group of rather cool people if they'd participate in my annual celebration. Some of them were too busy (why is March always so impossibly frantic?), but most of them have said yes. Watch this space!

Leading off the month will be Anita Heiss, talking about some of her favourite writers. I'll post her thoughts in just a few minutes. This is the same Anita whose poetry I was reading the other week.

Women's History Month: Anita Heiss

My name is Anita Heiss.

I’m a Wiradjuri woman, born and bred in Sydney with a passion for New York. I surround myself with strong, capable, intelligent, sassy women and they are reflected in my commercial women’s novels. I proudly support the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the National Year of Reading, and I aspire to having my own chat show one day. My memoir Am I Black Enough For You? will be on the shelves nationally on April 1.

I am who I am because of some of the deadly women writers who have influenced by creative journey, below are just a few of them…

1. Oodgeroo Noonuccal: As the first Aboriginal person to publish a collection of poetry back in 1964, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and her work We Are Going remain an influence on me today. Her ‘Aboriginal Charter of Rights’ is still a reminder of what needs to be done in Australia in terms of human rights for First Nations people here, and her words are an ongoing motivational force for me to continue to write, in whatever genre.

2. Rosie Scott: I first met Rosie back in 1998 and she has been (knowingly or otherwise) a mentor of mine ever since. Her novels Glory Days, Movie Dreams and Faith Singer are favourites of mine because they are about the human condition in all its painful truth. Rosie’s work through Sydney PEN (and with Thomas Keneally) that gave a voice to detained asylum seekers in the anthology Writers in Detention is to be applauded, and serves to remind us as writers of the freedoms we enjoy here in Australia, freedoms that come with responsibilities. I admire Rosie for marrying her activism with her writing, which is why she also won the Sydney PEN Award.

3. Libby Gleeson: It was because of Libby’s recommendation and faith in me that I ended up writing my first novel, Who Am I? the diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 as part of the Scholastic My Story series. I will always remain indebted to her for reading my first draft and offering advice. Without her support that book would never have happened, the story of the Stolen Generations would not be taught in classrooms around Australia today, and I probably wouldn’t actually be writing still today.

4. Linda Jaivin: Although not a children’s writer, Linda also read the first draft of Who Am I? for me and gave me fantastic advice about the use of senses in my work. I’ve never forgotten her help back then. But more importantly, what I have learned from Linda’s own writing is the ability to engage readers on serious, social-justice issues with humour, while also educating them and making them see their own prejudice. Her novel The Infernal Optimist does that brilliantly, using the humorous voice and phraseology of Zeke Togan and his life in Villawood detention centre to showcase the appalling reality of life for asylum seekers behind the wire.

5. Jackie Huggins: I remember exactly where I was sitting when I read Jackie’s collection of writings in Sister Girl (UQP). And I will never forget how grateful I was for her combining her ten years of writings, and her real life experiences, roles and responsibilities as an Indigenous woman of profile and power in Australia, and publishing her world in a book for me to read. Well, not just me, but women like me, and you for that matter. Jackie is one of the most dignified women I have ever met, and her ability to get serious messages across to mass audiences is what sets her apart from many others with a similar mission. It is Jackie’s style of writing, and approach that I [hope] can be found in some of my own work, because we share a common goal in documenting Aboriginal women’s stories. In Sister Girl Jackie Huggins says of writing history,

I wanted to write about the silent history of Aboriginal women that has been the experience of so many of my mother’s and grandmother’s generation. Although we learnt about the pioneering efforts of mostly European males, little was recorded about the ‘backbone’ of the pastoral industry, the Aboriginal men and women who toiled as stockmen and domestic servants… The stories deserve recognition and need to be rescued, recorded and shared.