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At the beginning of March, I was contacted by Peter Rowland who’d stumbled on this site while looking up my uncle, Lyall Watson.

Peter lived in Camps Bay, in the same complex that Lyall lived in for a number of years.


Lyall invited Peter to drop in for a drink one evening. It was winter but a pleasant evening and they sat on Lyall’s stoep and looked out across the bay. The following is Peter’s account of their conversation.

‘Lyall asked if I had ever heard of the green flash in the sky. I hadn’t and he then told me about Jules Verne and the green flash [this is a reference to Jules Verne’s book ‘The Green Ray, about two people searching for the elusive green flash at sunset]. There was a point at his house, that if you climbed onto his garden wall, you could get onto the roof. So, drinks in hand we climbed up. We sat on the ridge, looking west. The sun was still above the horizon, but as we sat there, he said he could see whale spouts from the whales in the bay. I said rubbish, or a word to that effect! But he knew what he was talking about and after a while, there they were.

‘He told me that there were two types of whales and if I watched carefully, I could see the different sprays coming from the blowholes. Then, as the sun was going down to the horizon, he told me to watch. Lo and behold, as it slipped below the horizon, just as it went and disappeared, there was the green flash! He told me that it only occurs over the sea. I have NEVER been able to see a sunset without watching for the “flash” and thinking of him. We did that a number of times.’

Thank you for sharing this memory with me, Peter. It’s given me great joy to imagine the two of you sitting on his roof, drinks in hand, looking out at the whales and watching for the green flash.

The Green Flash explained

Green flashes or rays occur at sunset or sunrise when a green spot appears for a couple of seconds above the sun or is visible as a ray shooting up from the sunset point. It usually only lasts a second or two and is caused by atmospheric refraction. Apparently it is best seen with a clear view to the horizon and in an area without pollution.

Find out more.



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Some exciting news with Motherland showing in Queensland Theatre Company’s 2016 season.

Thanks to XS Entertainment for the post.

Source: Queensland Theatre Company’s Season 2016

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A couple of years ago I wrote about my gratitude after a mammogram and a visit to the breast clinic. I finished that post by saying:

“I am one of the lucky ones. I left with a sore breast, a big smile and a light heart. The shading of concern in my scan was just a cyst. […] But the chances are that at least one of the women who smiled at me in that waiting room won’t be so lucky. So, while I feel great relief and gratitude for myself, I am sending my thoughts to those other women. Mothers, grandmothers, lovers, colleagues, friends, I hope that if your news was bad today, that it was caught early. I hope that you’ll be treated and will regain your strength and spirit and that you’ll laugh and love for many years more.”

Two years later, I have become the other woman – the unlucky one in the statistic of one in eight women developing breast cancer. And yet I am dancing (figuratively – it’s still much too sore to literally dance) because it was caught early, because I am going to be okay, because I feel like the luckiest woman alive.

pink grapefruit

Today’s post is a celebration of good news after bad, and an urgent call to all women to have regular mammograms.

I had no lump that could be felt or seen, I was strong and healthy and I was madly busy, busy enough to ignore the first reminder about my mammogram being due. The second reminder prompted action and I booked an appointment. The resulting scan highlighted microcalcification “most probably benign” according to the pathology report but worth investigating further. The subsequent biopsy revealed high grade, aggressive cancer inside one of my ducts, cancer that appeared to be invasive.

All of this has happened in the last three weeks. I have been diagnosed, hospitalised, had a lumpectomy and sentinel nodes removed, and now have the wonderful news that they got it all out. I won’t need chemo but will still need a course of radiation (probably six weeks). I am cancer free.

pink grapefruit after eating

The alternate scenario (and the one that I would have fallen into if I was one of the staggeringly huge 55% of women who don’t have regular mammograms) is that I wouldn’t have found the cancer until it became a lump that could be felt. Given how deep inside my breast it was, that would have taken a long time. Given how aggressive it was, by the time it could be felt in my breast, it would almost certainly have invaded my lymph nodes and, via them, whichever other parts of my body it fancied.

Ironically, on the same day that I found out that I had early stage breast cancer, I read an article suggesting that mammograms weren’t useful and didn’t prevent death from breast cancer.

I am so disgusted by this reporting. Apparently the machinery they used in the Canadian experiment is outdated compared to what we use here, the technicians weren’t trained in reading the scans properly – or in placing the breast to get the most effective scans – and yet, for many women reading the headline, it will give them a reason not to bother going for their regular check up.

That’s part of why I’m writing this post. I want to celebrate my newly regained health and praise the doctors, nurses, radiologists, pathologists and myriad others who found and removed the cancer. And I want to raise my voice and call out to other women to go for their mammograms.

As far as breast cancer goes, I’m young (45). I have no family history of breast cancer. I’ve never smoked. I’ve eaten well and lived a pretty healthy (albeit sedentary) life.

If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. Please, please, go and get yourself checked regularly. The minor inconvenience and discomfort of having your breasts compressed is nothing compared to the utter joy of being alive.

* The photos are of my breakfast before heading into hospital. As I sliced the grapefruit in half I became uncomfortably aware of how like a breast it was sitting on my plate. Didn’t stop me from eating it though!

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A week ago I was moved to start a petition. It’s the first time I’ve taken this initiative – I’m usually much more comfortable signing, sharing and forwarding other people’s advocacy. I did it, even though it took me out of my comfort zone, because I was so appalled by the lack of compassion we display in Australia.

Leunig cartoon on the lucky country

Leunig cartoon on the lucky country

Compassion is something I keep coming back to. I remember reading On My Brother’s Shoulders many years ago. It’s the autobiography of a post-war orphan in Vietnam. Ty was a little boy crippled by polio who could not crawl or walk and so would wriggle to where food was dumped on the ground and bite and push his way through the other orphans to reach sustenance. The book struck a chord with me when the author referred to compassion as a luxury.

I remember it so clearly because of my shock. I believed that compassion was an integral part of our humanity. Because we can imagine someone else’s suffering, we can feel compassion and we can choose to act to relieve that suffering. But the book made me consider this again. If, as Ty Andre said, compassion is a luxury for the privileged then I have to rethink all my assumptions.

Basically (and I apologise to Ty Andre if I’ve got any of this wrong – as I said it’s many years since I read his book), we need to have our basic needs met before we can feel compassion for others. If we are starving to death and there is limited food available then it is natural to push to reach the food first and neglect those who are weaker than us. It is only once we have taken care of our own needs that we can think of others and share what we have with them.

I feel very uncomfortable writing this. I like to think that I would always consider others and that I would help those weaker than myself but I do have an inkling of the strength of my own survival urge and I don’t know that my desire to be a “good” person would win out over my desire to live.

So, back to compassion and to the Australian public. In acknowledging that we have to have our basic needs for survival met before we can feel compassion, I am left with a dilemma:

If Australia is the lucky country, why are we so selfish?

The only answer that comes to me is that we’ve grown up with this myth of ourselves as the underdog. The “Aussie battler” is enshrined in our lexicon and even if we own two 4WDs, send our kids to private schools and live in a mansion, we still think we’re doing it tough.

If Australia is the lucky country then we deserve to have it easier. We should be able to have a plasma screen in every room in the house – we deserve it!

Our politicians reinforce this with their constant references to the Aussie battler and to “how tough” Australian families are doing it. Rubbish! If we’re doing it tough it’s because we’ve gotten greedy. We’re a consumer culture gone mad. We all want more of everything. Whether it’s a TV in every room, an ensuite for each bedroom, a car for each member of the family or the latest, updated gizmo to replace the one we purchased last year, we’ve taken capitalism into overdrive and it’s left us feeling as if we don’t have enough.

Have the iPhone 4 but can’t afford the iPhone 5 yet? You must be a battler, doing it tough*.

The more we think of ourselves as struggling, the more we want and the less we feel able to give to others.

This is the only reason I can think of to explain why we are so reluctant to give to charities (unless of course there’s a disaster that affects our communities and then we’re incredibly generous) and why, as a nation, we have turned our back on the world’s poorest and most desperate, who come to our shores seeking asylum from whatever hell they’ve escaped.

To be an asylum seeker in Australia is to be hated by the majority of the media, the politicians and the public. We live in a huge land with a tiny population. We have one of the highest employment rates in the world and our economy is doing better than most other Western economies and yet we think that we can’t afford to show compassion or generosity to those who arrive here with nothing.

refugee children behind bars

We take asylum seekers who are proved to be genuine refugees and lock them in detention centres, out of sight and out of mind. In a new move, those that we release into the community will be forbidden to work for the first five years that they are here. They will have no access to Medicare cards or cheap housing. They will have no access to English classes. They will receive no government aid and will have to rely on charities to survive. They will be an underclass living in Australia – most probably on the streets as without work or support how can they afford housing?

When I started my petition, I thought it was a no-brainer and that all my friends would sign it and seek to allow asylum seekers released into the community to at least look for work. But I hadn’t considered how deeply the anti-refugee sentiment runs. There seems to be a fear that if we show compassion all hell will break loose. Millions of refugees will arrive on our shores and we will all lose our homes, our jobs and our lifestyles.

Instead of looking at how much we have and what we can afford to give or share, we hold tight to our fears and assume the worst. It’s made us miserly and shallow and made me feel that I have to take a stand to try to bring compassion back into our hearts and minds.

I believe that compassion is a luxury we can afford and one that makes us better people.

For those who are interested, here’s my petition for the government to stop punishing refugees.

Further Reading

Refugee facts.

Julian Burnside’s article on 4 Steps to more humane processing of refugees.

* Of course there are some people who are doing it tough in Australia, I don’t intend to imply that there aren’t. It’s just that, on the whole, we are a very fortunate nation and most of us could afford to show some compassion.

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Breasts are on my mind at the moment for a couple of reasons.

Last night I was at the opening celebration for this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival and I commented on the marvellous cleavage of one of the organiser’s  (I know Molly well enough to do this without it being pervy!). She mentioned that it was one of this year’s featured authors who had persuaded her to be out and proud with her assets rather than trying to camouflage them as she would normally do. The featured author is one who I will be doing a panel with on Sunday and so I asked for an introduction.

love heart of books

Brisbane Writers Festival 2012

When I met the gorgeous and gregarious Kate Forsyth, instead of acting professionally and talking about our panel session, I found myself checking out her cleavage to see if it matched Molly’s. Perhaps it was the wine that made me bold – or perhaps it was the presence of so many like-minded writers and the feeling of belonging, at last, to a glorious, outspoken tribe – but my opening gambit to Kate was to comment on her boobs. This is not like me at all. In fact it is so unlike me that my usual, cautious self was left flabbergasted, watching with horror while this wine-glass clutching, animated self prattled on about breasts and cleavages.

Fortunately Kate has a sense of humour and we were soon laughing about my gaffe and bonding over a shared love of books, history, magic and fairy tales. I hope when we sit together on a panel on Sunday she will forgive my moment of breast obsession. It may have come in part from being a small-breasted woman in a family with more generous curves. I’ve enjoyed the years of being able to go bra-less while also envying my friends who look like bombshells no matter what they wear.

So, that’s one reason that breasts are on my mind today. The other is much more serious and involves a friend who is fighting breast cancer as I write. She has had a radical mastectomy and is now undergoing chemotherapy. It’s an awful process and, while I am grateful that the cancer was found and hopeful that it was found early enough to give her a clean bill of health, it is painful to see a vibrant, passionate woman brought so low by her treatment.

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Today I calculated statistics in my head, worked them like a mantra while I looked around a room filled with women in hospital gowns. We sat around the walls, a square coffee table in the centre, and surreptitiously eyed each other over the fake flowers and the pamphlets.

reclining nude by Tiziano

TIZIANO Vecellio: The Venus of Urbino

Just before Christmas I went for my first mammogram (because I’ve reached the age where mammograms are considered necessary, not because I had any concerns). I’d forgotten all about it until, five days ago, I received a phone call telling me that I needed to come in for further tests.

The woman on the phone was friendly and calm and told me not to be alarmed. The chances were it was all fine, there was just some density in the scan that needed to be checked. This morning at 7.30 I had to be across town at the large BreastScreen Qld centre in Chermside*. I took off my shirt and bra and put on the faded gown and went to wait with the other women who had also been called in because their scans showed abnormalities.

There were at least fifteen of us in the room and I pressed each face, exposed throat and V of chest into my memory like flowers. We’d been given a handout to read and, while it helped answer questions, it didn’t allay my fears. The handout said that about 7 per cent of people who go for mammograms get called back for these additional tests (I’d thought it would be more), of this 7 per cent, only 10 per cent of us will have something to worry about. The spectre of breast cancer is of course in the backs of all our minds.

I stared at these women – mothers, sisters, lovers, daughters, friends – and realised that, if the stats were right, then at least one of us would leave the room with bad news. I was the youngest one there and I felt a surge of relief that it probably wouldn’t be me. But then I looked at the lines on the faces and the worry in the eyes and regretted my selfish response. I wanted today to be a good news day for all of us. I wanted each woman to leave with a lightness in her step and the knowledge that she was healthy.

The doctors and nurses were warm, efficient and understanding. The volunteer at the front desk brought cups of tea and comfort. A couple of the women talked to each other. The rest of us read our books or magazines and tried to smile when we caught each others’ eyes. I spent two hours there and saw six different specialists. Each time I came back to the waiting room I tried to gauge the news the others had received but most eyes stayed down.

I am one of the lucky ones. I left with a sore breast, a big smile and a light heart. The shading of concern in my scan was just a cyst. A surgeon inserted a needle and drained it. (I asked to see what came out and rather wish I hadn’t!) I know my breasts are healthy after a physical examination, two ultrasounds, a further mammogram and the draining procedure. I don’t need to go back for another two years unless I have concerns or experience any changes.

But the chances are that at least one of the women who smiled at me in that waiting room won’t be so lucky. So, while I feel great relief and gratitude for myself, I am sending my thoughts to those other women. Mothers, grandmothers, lovers, colleagues, friends, I hope that if your news was bad today, that it was caught early. I hope that you’ll be treated and will regain your strength and spirit and that you’ll laugh and love for many years more.

Find out more about breast cancer.

* Something else to be grateful for: that I live in a country where there is superb, free care provided to people who need it. I saw six professionals today and underwent several expensive procedures and didn’t have to pay a cent. Thank you Australia.

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I wonder if mountain climbers get the blues after they’ve conquered Everest? If singers have an emotional crash after a big concert? If writers cry when they finish the last edit of their manuscripts? I’d have thought there’d be champagne and celebrations, but what happens when the bottle is empty and the well wishers have gone?

And what about the climbers who aren’t going for Everest, just the challenge at the top of the next rise? Or the novelist who’s pausing at the end of the first draft, knowing she has to go back and start again? Do they give themselves that metaphorical pat on the back and keep going, or do they pause and wonder what they’re doing?

Life carries on like it always does. Work continues with all its usual grumbles and challenges, laundry waits to be folded, pantries need filling and all I want is to sink into a pool of water and float just beneath the surface.

I’d like to look up at the sky through this film of water, feeling myself buoyant and weightless, hearing just the muffled beating of my heart. And then I’d like to freeze that moment in time. I’d like to be able to climb into it any time I want, stretch into the quiet and the weightlessness and float, abandoned.


I’ve never held the word before and looked at it like this.

Time to be down.  Time to be blue.


Putting time down.

Stopping the clock for a while.

I want to put the deadlines on hold, walk away from the everyday pressures and float for a bit. Just to get my strength up for the next hill.

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