When I was a child my grandmother and I circled each other in a familial gavotte – no touching; casual glances only allowed; routine conversation permitted when spoken to.

Grandma was the classic Victorian Lady – the real McCoy, she smelt of rosewater and talcum powder, never ventured out without corset and hat, extolled the virtues of junket and one good bowel movement every day. Her hands were never idle, creating beautiful needlework; delicate crochet, knitted jumpers for us all (providing us with the only decent clothing we possessed), little beaded covers that popped over milk jugs, embroidered table wear. The house was run with genteel correctness, visitors were received and duly fed tea and cake on fine bone china.

Grandpa had hit a bad patch and been forced to accept the benevolence of my father who built him a house on the far corner of our property. From upper middleclass Sydney to scorching rural Cumberland Plain must have been a stretch, particularly as it came with 7 strange children plus my eccentric father who kept a wild vegetable garden at the front door and who had the hording sensibilities of Harry Steptoe.

I was sure grandma didn’t like me.

I was too wild.

Too bolshie.

Too left-handed.

Too red-haired

I’d gotten down and dirty once too often as far as she was concerned and little girls should be seen and not heard and like the lilies of the field they toil not neither do they spin.

She tried, in a rare fit of generosity, to teach me to crochet. Through gritted teeth she complained about my technique and the impossibility of teaching anything to lefthanders. ‘Your sister does beautiful work, ’ she told me with that Queen Victoria look she could work up (she was never amused). She liked my only non-redheaded sister.

When grandpa died, she faltered. Times had changed, she was lonely without him, he had been her rock for 50 years. I was surprised when she asked me to come and spend my nights at her place because ‘she was scared at night’. I didn’t tell her I too was terrified of the dark but dutifully raced on winged heels across the paddock to her place each night. I couldn’t ignore her plight, by then all my siblings had left home except my brother who refused to take a turn at ‘grannie-sitting’. We still didn’t talk much, I sit here with a wisp of remorse for my ill-disguised annoyance at my nightly trek.

In old age she was mistreated by my mother and mostly ignored by my family. It was her old bete-noir who rode in on the white charger. Every fortnight I would bundle up my new baby and make the 2 hour drive to her nursing home – she’d had a nervous breakdown, was a little fragile but loved seeing the baby. We still didn’t talk much, but I know she anxiously awaited my visits – the other patients told me she did. We must have looked a picture – grand Victorian lady, 60’s flower child with baby at breast.

As I write this many of the objects she so carefully dusted and polished are around me. I inherited most of them after she died – my family don’t like “old” things, fortunately I do. Unfortunately little of her needlework survived the rush to cast out the old and bring in the new.

In 2010 I go to visit my mother who is 97 and living happily in a small aged hostel – the place is lovely, caring and not far from where she has lived for the past 70 years. Mothers’ matriarchal sword is somewhat blunted now and I attend out of a sense of duty – how stilted that sounds but I’m reminded of the saying ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’, we speak in generalities, or more precisely she tells me what she’s been doing – I listen; we mention politics. I am as usual, dutifully polite but as usual, it won’t last.

‘Did Grandma teach herself to crochet’, I ask.

‘I think she did – but did I tell you she didn’t know she had Glaucoma and had gone blind in one eye’, mother warmed to other memories, spoke of grandmas sister who was a well known Sydney seamstress, spoke of the people she had worked for.

I spoke without thinking, ‘What happened to Grandmas needlework after she died’.

A familiar battering ram suddenly entered the room, her back straightened, ‘why would you keep stuff like that, it was old, she’d had it for years’.

My voice was throw-away casual ‘there’s a resurgence in needlework it would be great to see it again!’

‘But there was nothing there that was any good – don’t know what your talking about.’ She gave me that old familiar God you’re stupid look.

I quickly changed the subject but the visit had taken a nose-dive – we spoke of safer things and said our goodbyes.

These familial threads no longer tie me as they have for so long. They have been cut and cut, sometimes I think about what could have been, I hope I haven’t repeated those old patterns. I look in the mirror and I see my mother, I sound off at the world with a waspish tongue – what I also have now is the fabric I have created with my children, not perfect but beautiful and based on the pursuit of truth.

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On arriving in South Australia in 2003, we were faced with a sea of challenges. My husband and I realised how hard it was to get a job, even though I already had 25 years of teaching experience and a Bachelor’s degree and he had 30 years of experience in the Air Force. We had to prepare for IELTS English Proficiency Test. Then I had to get my Teacher’s Registration and police clearance. Next I had to take a First Aid Course and attend a Mandatory Notification Course.

After achieving all these, I was eligible to apply for a job with the Department of Education. When I applied, I was told that there was a long waiting list. So, I decided to apply to do a Master’s in Education to teach learners of foreign language. I was accepted and was ready to commence my studies when I was offered a six month teaching contract position in a high school. I took the job to gain access to the system but found out that permanency was a far cry. Since I had already been accepted into the Masters program, my job and studies ran concurrently. This meant I had to buy a car to get me around quickly.

We wanted to buy a house as rent money was dead money. The banks turned us down as we did not have a ‘job’ although we had a large sum of money in a bank in South Australia . This led to postponement of our dream of owning a house here, all because of a clause that a migrant without a job will not be given a loan, even if they have four times the deposit amount in the bank. Even so, within ten months of arriving here, we bought our first home. All these cost us a tidy sum, which is one way the Australian economy gets a boost from migration.

The growth in the number of Asian, Chinese and Indian groceries meant there were hubs to meet and network with fellow Indians. As a result of the growth in the number of Indians in South Australia , there is now a monthly publication – The Indus Age.

Our circle of friends is now our nearest and dearest family. Although we hail from Singapore and are Catholics, because we have Indian roots, we had no difficulties befriending Indians, regardless of their religious, linguistic or regional roots. We have also made in-roads in making friends among non-Indian Australians. We have mutual respect and have learnt much from each other.

Nevertheless, it is only human to miss your relatives. So, we have travelled to Singapore on an average of once a year.

I am yet to make a contribution in the area of politics. Two years ago I tested the water by standing for local council election. I will pursue that goal in 2010 at the next local government election. This is my way of having a say in the way my suburb is run. By pursuing a PhD to investigate the trials and triumphs of the Indian Diaspora in contemporary Australia , I am doing my part to add to knowledge about this community. While we have integrated, we have retained our identity by maintaining our linguistic and cultural roots.

My story leads me to wonder how similar or different my mother’s migration experience was to mine. Although I have not officially, in the capacity of a researcher, interviewed Mum, I have gleaned these through my conversations with her and observations over the years:

My mum left Pondicherry , India in 1956 with a long distance proposal of her hand in marriage. Up to that point Mum had never travelled outside of her state, let alone the country. In spite of being mono-lingual in Tamil, with a primary school education and a couple of years work experience in a textile mill, Mum accepted the offer. Her motivation was to get away from poverty and perhaps be the one to help her mum and siblings have a better future.

A bundle with change of clothes and a head full of wishful thoughts, she arrived in Singapore where my dad and his sister received her. She was taken to the accommodation which Dad had organised prior to her coming. It was a one room lodging in what was called workers’ quarters, a special row of 20-25 unit double-storey buildings housing lowly paid Indians, Tamil speaking ‘coolies’ who worked for the Municipal Council. This arrangement suited Mum as she was surrounded by people who spoke her language, cooked Indian dishes and dressed in saris.

Within a month of settling down, she was officially married to Dad and before she could get her head around the socio-economic, cultural climate of the land, she was pregnant with me. Having no family or close friends to talk to, consult or confide in must have been hard for a 25 year old girl in a foreign land and multicultural environment. How lonely and isolated must she have felt? How helpless and vulnerable must she have been? These are questions I would like to ask Mum.

In spite of the uncertainties that surrounded her, the unasked questions that bothered her, she gave birth to me and subsequently to seven children. She also experienced a miscarriage and the death of an infant son. With a houseful of crying whining, hungry children, she had no time for herself. She did succumb to prenatal depression and survived it because of her tenacity to make this new life work. As she never had the time or the opportunity or encouragement to learn English or Bahasa Melayu (the vernacular), she was helpless and isolated from the rest of Singapore. Her world was made up of her husband (who worked at two jobs to feed the family and so had no time for her) and the neighbours who were kind and understanding enough to help her as and when they could.

Mum’s sheltered life may have been a blessing as she did not have to face the outside world. However, it also made her become very dependent on those around her. I remember one time, she was writhing in pain because of teeth decay and dad was not home; thankfully a neighbour decided to take her to the dentist, which meant we children had to go along, too, as there was no-one to look after us. That was the first outing I can remember having with Mum. That was when Mum found out that many of her teeth had decayed and she could not eat or drink anything cold. We bought a glass of sugar cane juice and Mum went ‘ouch’ after one sip.

Mum never left home by herself ever. Everything she needed had to be brought to her. Dad, knowing Mum’s love for Tamil literature, made it a point to borrow books for her and some children’s books. I still have this image of Mum, book in one hand, ladle in the other, preparing lunch for us. Reading, immersing in the world of fiction was her solace and her refuge (as these were the days before television). Mum spent many hours inventing games for us, telling us stories with a moral.

The only way she could keep in touch with her family in India was by writing letters. Although I do not have much recollection of Mum writing, I do remember her or Dad reading sections of the letters from India.

Then, when I was five years old, three of my siblings made a trip to India with Mum and Dad. It was Mum’s first visit back to India and she was thrilled. However, it was not such a happy one as my new born brother took ill and died within days of arriving in India. Then my youngest sister took very ill, which forced us to shorten our trip. I don’t know how Mum dealt with this unforeseen disaster but at least she was with her Mum and siblings when the tragedy happened. I wonder how she would have taken it had it happen in Singapore?

When we were all old enough to go to school, Mum would be home all by herself, doing the chores and looking into our needs. I wonder if she ever regretted not learning to read and write English or learning a skill or not going out to work, as Dad’s income was not enough to support the family. I was 13 years old when Dad decided that we would be better off in India as his income when converted to rupees would provide us with a better life there than in Singapore. In spite of my pleas to him and intervention from his friends to abort this insane idea, we were packed off to India. Needless to say, we had a very hard time adjusting to the lifestyle there and, after constant pleadings, I returned to Singapore within six months. Within a year Mum and the rest of my siblings came back as well.

I can understand the circumstances were such that Mum had no choice, she could not have said to Dad that she wanted to do something for herself or for us. During her time, a woman’s priority was looking after and listening to her husband and taking care of and supporting her children. In the 1950s-60s, women, especially migrant Indian women, saw their role as housewives and their place – home.

In spite of her not having learnt another language or a skill in demand, in my eyes she is a winner — my hero. Under such difficult and challenging circumstances, she remained focussed and composed and successfully brought up six children who are model citizens, who know right from wrong and are successful in their own small way.

This story is based on my recollections and observations; how much of this tallies with Mum’s will be known when I interview her and ask about her trials and triumphs as an Indian migrant in the 1950s.

My story leads me to wonder how similar or different my daughter’s migration experience was to mine and Mum’s. Although I have not officially, in the capacity of a researcher, interviewed my daughter, I have gleaned these through my conversations with her and observations over the years:

My daughter left for Adelaide six months before my husband and I migrated here. She began school in an Adult Education facility in the northern suburbs of Adelaide . She had a hard time adjusting to school life which was very different from that of Singapore . She used to call home on a weekly basis complaining about the lack of discipline and respect among the young people she studied with. She used to talk about culture shock giving examples of freedom of choice the Australian youths had and how they abused or misused it. As for her, she volunteered to help out in the childcare centre that the facility ran and soon was employed as a casual.

She said she felt like scared to walk the streets after dark as she feared for her life. She had arranged to be chauffeured to and from school. Having lived her whole life (18 years) in a safe and sheltered society like Singapore , she was quite shocked by what she encountered in Adelaide .

So, before we left, she advised us not to move into the Northern suburbs. She said who we network with, where we live is important for our future as this was going to be our home henceforth. I then realised how quickly our baby girl had grown up. She had learnt to be self-sufficient and independent.

When we came, we lived in the western suburbs where she did her year 12. During this time, she took up driving and has since become a very good driver, despite being involved in three accidents. She managed to make many good friends and completed year 12 well enough to apply for university. Before she started University, her former boss, who was looking for someone to work in a new childcare centre, offered her a job. My daughter worked for a few months and then gave it up to concentrate on her studies. Before long she found another part time job which meant she had to juggle work and studies.

In the midst of all this, one morning in 2005, my daughter said, ‘Mum, X has asked me to be his girlfriend. What do you think?’

‘What did you say?’ I replied.

‘I said let me think about it.’ She told me.

So, I advised her to do what she thought was right, adding that X was a good person. So, she brought X home and soon X was coming to church every Sunday, attending all our functions and gatherings, which led our friends in the Indian community to suggest that we start planning my daughter’s wedding. Both my daughter and I laughed it off saying it was too premature. True enough, within a year of their coming together, X disappeared from the scene.

Then she got involved in church seriously, taking up the leadership role in the newly formed Youth Group in preparation for the coming of Pope Benedict to Sydney for World Youth Day 2008. As she was very strong willed and vocal, she met resistance from some of the older members of the council which caused her to quit after successfully taking a delegation from the church to WYD ’08.

After returning from WYD, she packed up and left for Tasmania ‘on an open ticket’, putting her studies on hold. She did not communicate with us for almost a week and then answered my calls randomly. Every time I asked her when she plans to return home, she said ‘I don’t know’.

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The two lions, crudely shaped, sat on either side of the gate glaring at each other… With scruffy fingers, feeling the rib-like manes of those cement lions, I used to sit on the high wall waiting for the old school master. I couldn’t really say I was waiting. I always wished he didn’t come. But I knew he would always come. The soft green mounds of moss which grew in erratic patterns in the crevices of the aged wall, lashed by rain and eroded by the sun always fascinated me. Scooping a handful of the moss, spilling it around, squinting at the rising sun I kept my eastward watch.

As punctual as the rising sun, he would appear on the eastern bend of the narrow road, the russet ribbon-like strip of a road which went winding down to the east fort of the town. A tall lean man, he walked briskly in measured strides too brisk for his three score years. Under his right arm he carried his greying umbrella. With its hooded handle he would jerk me down from my perch of surveillance.

There were never any words of greetings, neither from him nor from me. I would run ahead of him to the outhouse, to the open corridor flanked by long parapets of shining black stone. I sat cross-legged on the stone seat trying to solve tedious sums, deciphering riddling phrases and proverbs. He sat facing me majestically leaning on the funny head-rest of his wooden chair. Beyond a brief nod he would never recognize my Herculean efforts to prove myself. And it pricked my little ego. Perhaps that was the reason why when my cousin told me the sad plight of my ailing school master I didn’t or couldn’t respond the way he did.

I was back home on annual leave after my first posting out of the state. I had missed my family, friends, my favourite haunts – the beaches and the waterways. I had so much to catch up on. I had all the summer fruits – a feast of mangoes, palm fruits, and custard apples. The old school master was not even in the periphery of my thoughts. My aunt reminded me once again of the old man: penniless; seriously ill; kept by one of his reluctant sons, he was slowly sinking. It was my duty, she said, to visit him.

I remember even in those days he was a poor man. I always thought it was not the pupil but the sumptuous meals my mother offered him which were his main attraction. When the breakfast arrived, for me almond milk and for him four idlies floating and diving in a ruddy pool of sambar, I couldn’t help seeing the gleam in his eyes. With expert fingers he would flick the idlies into his mouth one by one and evince his relish in a burp. Once the ritual of the breakfast was over, he would turn his disapproving eyes towards me.

“Do you know there are thousands of children in the town who cannot even dream of milk? And you sulk over a silver mug!” He hissed his words at me as though he was pronouncing a curse on me. In an incantatory voice he painted before me a ghastly picture: half-naked children drinking chalk-white kanji poured in coconut shells. Those skull-shaped, one-eyed, grinning coconut shells haunted me even in my dreams. I felt vaguely sad, vaguely guilty. And I hated the old school master.

It was not easy to find his house. I don’t know what drove me on my desperate mission, crossing railway lines, climbing over pineapple fences until at last I reached the red brick-house. A bearded man, with tobacco-stained teeth, opened the door for me. That must be his ‘reluctant son’, I thought. As my eyes grew familiar to the darkness inside, I saw him stretched on a coir-string cot, a bag of bones; surrounded by filth and flies. Was he the same formidable man who introduced me to Karl Marx and Jesus Christ? He turned towards me. And I could trace in the glassy dazed eyes a flicker of recognition. He raised a wasted hand. Was it a gesture of blessing? A recognition? A reward I had thought he had held from me, so grudgingly, for so long.

I took out a couple of hundred rupee notes from my wallet. I was aware of the reluctant son’s anxious look. I heard him murmur that a film star, an old student had recently sent him a giant sum of two thousand rupees. Obviously he was weighing my gesture of kindness. Could he ever have even an inkling of the giant debt I owed my Master even today?

Trying to put the scene behind me, I walked hurriedly.  But the wheezing sound of his troubled breathing, the persistent cough which rocked his body, followed me beyond pineapple fences and the railway lines to the beach resort where I had arranged a bachelors’ meet. Flustered, I fled to my freedom. Or was my mind still fettered? I did not quite know.

Sujata Sankranti (c)

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“Hurry!” shouted Dad. “Get in the car! We shoulda left an hour ago!”

“Not our fault, ” grumbled Jacko. “We waited all day, for you. ALL DAY!”

Jacko was angry and got into the back seat, shrinking into the corner. Five children were squashed along the back seat with the baby held on Mum’s lap on the front bench seat. The eldest daughter was sandwiched between Dad and Mum.

Dad strapped the provisions onto the roof rack and strapped the open boot over the various shapes poking out. The family and all supplies needed for the next two months were crammed into every nook and cranny of the old beat up Holden sedan. The drive home would take five hours.

When all was secure Dad jumped in the car and they drove off. Dusk was a dangerous time to drive. Dad continually slowed and swerved to avoid the roos eating at the side of the road. Just an hour onto the dirt road, a bump and more bumps, caused Dad to stop the car. A flat tyre. Although expected on these outback roads, it was a nuisance they could ill afford. Especially when the spare tyre was under all the day’s shopping that was in the boot.

Silent and edgy whilst changing the tyre, Dad jumped back in the car and started off again with a skidding of wheels and shower of dust behind.

“I’m hungry, ” sobbed the toddler sitting on Betty’s knee in the back.”Betty, get the sandwiches out and share them around, ” said Mum.

“Where are they?”

“Please tell me you haven’t got your feet in the basket.”

“Oops. Sandwich, Essie?”

Essie grabbed the sandwich and gobbled it down within moments and reached for another. Everyone ate, except Dad. They imagined the frown that couldn’t be seen in the dark.

Typically there wasn’t any other traffic.

Dad reached for the rear view mirror and twisted it. Again and again, he did this. Finally Mum asked, “What’s wrong with the mirror.”

“Nuthun. The bastard follerin me won’t dim ‘is lights.”

Mum looked over her shoulder and saw the light.

“It’s a fair way back. Shouldn’t bother you.”

“It’s gettin’ closer. Goin’ too fast on this road.”

Dad began to speed and Mum to plead.

“Slow down! What’s got into you?”

“That mongrel’s tryin ta run us off the road!”

Jacko started to cry.

Arla said quietly, “Dad.”

“What?”

“Dad, that’s not a car or truck coming.”

“What is ut then?”

“I reckon it’s a Min Min light.”

“I never thought you’d be stupid enough to swallow Aboriginal superstition, Arla. You’ve got a brain, you ‘ave. Min Mins are just for the ignorant.

Arla sat back in her seat, embarrassed. Dad hit the rear view mirror several more times and the light stayed right with him, coming closer and moving up and down. When the landscape changed after four hours of driving and there were a few hills, the light came really close to the car, then vanished upwards.

Arla didn’t say a word. Neither did Dad.

Note: Min Min lights are known phenomena in outback Australia. I never saw one, but then I knew better than to drive across vast distances at night.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s818193.htm

http://www.bepacked.com/content/AboutAustralia/en_au/myths.cfm

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 243 user reviews.


 

Queenstown 2007

In the heart of New Zealand’s Southern lakes region lies Queenstown…like a magnet, it attracts people from all over the world who fall in love with its mountainous scenery amidst a wonderland of lush green garden environment and captivating lifestyle.  Queenstown earned its name as it was “fit for Queen Victoria.”

 Nestled in an alpine valley alongside Lake Wakatipu, it’s good enough for all tourists’ clichés to ring true. Mountains pierce the sky with their snow-capped needles, and plunge downwards into these pure mountain waters forming a deep canyon of almost 400 metres deep.

 This lake bears a rare gentle tide which Maori legend states is the breath of the Giant Matau who was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief’s daughter. The fire burnt a huge hole in the ground, and melted the snow and ice of the surrounding mountains, creating the lake which is in the shape of an S.  The giant lies sleeping on his side and his beating heart is a little island called Hidden Island.  This 12cm tide occurs every 5 minutes.  Science says this is due to fluctuating atmospheric pressure, but legend states that the Giant’s heart is impossible to destroy.

 Romance created Queenstown 15, 000 years ago during the ice age, and the area has hosted countless international weddings and honeymoons since the township was settled during the 1860’s gold rush at in the Shotover River nearby.

 For Barbara, in particular, her love affair with Queenstown began when she was born.

 This attractive town of 11, 000 population hosts one million tourists each year.  It is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand.  Tourist attractions such as skiing  (five ski-fields within 90 minutes drive), jet boating, white-water rafting and A J Hackett’s bungy-jumping make the area a recreational playground.  It is a place for getting outdoors amidst the elements.  Earth, water and air all offer thrills for the adventure seeker including the world’s first commercial bungy site over the Kawarau River.

 Although Barbara visits family and friends each year in Queenstown, a fear of heights has prevented her from most outdoor sports.  Staying on the ground skiing at Coronet Peak or the Remarkables mountains is “safe.”  Seated in speedboats riding ice waters of the Shotover and Dart rivers is also “safe” for Barbara.

Reaching 50 years of age, she decided to conquer her heights’ fear by tackling one of Queenstown’s exhilarating activities with her eyes open.

 The Skippers Canyon road sign on the left of the Coronet Peak ski fields road attracted her.  Tales of fascinating 4WD driving experiences sounded interesting during her life knowing her great grandfather, helped build the notorious 22 kilometre road which was constructed as a route to the gold-rich river of the Shotover, the goldmining village of Skippers and the quartz mining settlement of Bullendale.

 Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern found more gold at Arthur’s Point than they had ever dreamed of.  They took 4, 000 pounds worth of gold, a fortune in 1862, out of the river in two months.  Within six months, 4, 000 miners were working in the river.  The Shotover was difficult to access in such isolated country.  There were no tracks and miners were lowered to the river by rope. 

The Shotover became one of the richest rivers in the world and Skippers Gorge was a major goldfield in this Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand.

 When alluvial gold became low in supplies, the miners had to turn to sluicing, dredging and quartz mining.  To do this, a major road was required and construction began.  The route was surveyed in 1883 and a gigantic feat of engineering over the next five years was accomplished as the road was hewn out of rock by manual labour.  Chinese labourers were brought in and they were paid in gold sovereigns or raw gold.  The dangerous work incurred many deaths as the labourers were lowered by rope to prepare the rock for placing explosives.

 There are few Chinese graves as their bodies were exhumed and sent home.  Only two graves remain – the unmarked one belonged to a miner who starved to death.  Twelve miners buried nearby were killed in a slip one night in 1863.  It was in the same year which claimed hundreds of local people with high snowfalls.  They died from drowning or exposure.

 The Long Gully sections depict the dramatic development by expressive titles such as Devil’s Elbow, The Staircase, Hells’ Gate, and Heaven’s Gate. 

 Twisting and turning through mountain country with sheer drops to the Shotover River below, this narrow and unsealed road is closed to rental cars.  The preferred choice to travel into Skippers Canyon is with local 4WD operators such as, Nomad Safaris.  They provide specialist “Lord of the Rings Tours” with the added advantage that a number of their drivers took part in the filming.

 Skippers Canyon Jet Company offer tourists a variety of gold claim tours, river jet rides, and organised bungy jumping and flying fox adventures.

 Bungy-jumping from the original Skippers Bridge (12 kilometres into the drive) was not an option for Barbara.  Bungy-jumping is on the back burner for the moment but the flying fox running beside the bridge 90 metres above the roaring, thunderous Shotover River took her interest.

 This Pipeline suspensions bridge was a “new’ bridge when it opened in 1901.  It is 96 metres in length.  Fourteen wire cables weighing seven tonnes each support it,

 This suspension bridge was used to portray The Ford of Briunen in flood, one of the most dramatic scenes from the movie The Fellowship of the Rings.

 After a homely cup of billy tea and hot damper bread served by a childhood playmate, Winky Hohneck, outside her goldminers’ museum, Barbara prepared for her flight across the river. 

 She weighed in for eligibility for the flying fox.  At 55 kilograms in weight, she was acceptable.  At 130 kilograms, her husband was way over the limit.

 Heroine of the Day stepped into a NASA designed parachute harness and pulled it on amidst jokes cracked by other tourists regarding the fatal space shuttle crash, which occurred only yesterday.

 One steel rod was the only connection from a clamp on Barbara’s back to the flying fox wire.  Instructions in relaxation and safety were given.  A gentle push from one of the operators sent her slowly flying across the ravine.

 “What will I do with my arms?” she called out to her husband who had his feet firmly standing on the bridge while filming her .

 “Spread them out like Superwoman!” he yelled back.  She obeyed, not realising she had also spread out her legs!!!!

 Her awareness of brilliant colours nature had created in the water below and the terraces of land on the other side of the deep narrow gorge heightened to a level of pure exhilaration.  She knew this chance of flying alone would not happen again too soon.  Blues and whites and greens and gold flashed around her.  She could hear a hum of metal rolling above her from the “fox.”  Looking ahead, the opposite cliff came rushing forward as her speed increased towards the finish of the run.  A steel pylon faced her a few yards ahead and she realised she had not received instructions about stopping.

 “My face is going to be plastered across that pylon, ” she thought. Fortunately, a sudden yank from behind brought Barbara to her feet.  An attendant materialised and assisted her from the apparatus.  The adrenalin rush gave Superwoman boundless courage, which was cooled off pretty quickly walking back across the bridge, carrying her equipment.  She was still dressed in the parachute harness and ready for interviewing regarding her now-famous solo flight!

 Emotions were still high driving back to Queenstown and the comfort of a hot spa.  Barbara saw the terrace of her family’s gold claims.  They are detailed in a goldminers map in Winky’s museum.  This is not an area of country to be taken lightly.  Skippers Road has seen little change since it was built 150 years ago.  The beauty of the landscape was probably never appreciated by these hard-working men, as they knew how dangerous and lonely their work and living conditions were. 

 Barbara’s grandfather was a miner here. Her grandparents were engaged for 18 years before they could marry and live in the city of Invercargill.  Skippers Canyon was no place for a woman and family to live.

 Great-grandfather and his son survived the avenging force of the canyon and the river. 

Barbara had survived both within 10 minutes as a thrill-seeking tourist and had conquered her fear of heights as a bonus.

Pipeline Bridge Skippers

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‘You should have asked? I don’t like anyone using my comb. I would have given you another one.’ I heard my voice shrill… needlessly, I knew.

My mother had never reproached me for anything. In fact, if I had ever asked for anything which she might have wanted to use herself, I never got to know of it…that’s what a mother’s for. To give you what you wanted; to keep nothing for herself if her baby wanted it.

Then why was I behaving so abominably? Mean, mean, mean. I hated myself for it.

‘Ma!’

I used to do it ever so often… call out to her, looking at my seven-year-old self in the mirror. I would want the reflection to, will it to look as beautiful as my mother. To see myself in her. She would slide behind me in response to my urgent cries and make my dream come true. For the moment…

She used to be lovely. Tall, graceful, with long lustrous hair that I loved playing with. I would spend long glorious moments with a comb, running it jaggedly through the hair, unknowing and unmindful of the pain it must have caused her. I learnt how to plait on her hair. She would beam at the long uneven braid that I ended up making and would twist around to peck my full cheeks in applause. And she’d ask me to run along and play with my friends.

She was love…loving, giving, dependable. Ma was a fairy, a fairy godmother who stood like a shield between my vulnerable self and the ugly mean old witch who terrorised my nights.

Ma was always there.

I fell down from my new bike and grazed my knees and let out a bawl. She was there to gather me in her arms and take me into the shelter of the house, to soothe my pains away with Dettol, song and halwa. She knew the magic combination. Soon, I would be back on the bike, unmindful of the ugly red uneven patch of dried blood on my knees.

She had honey in her voice. She had the habit of bursting into song, talking to me through them. When I burst into the house, after two hours of busy play with my colony friends, she’d enquire in song, ‘Haan, ab bolo kya khaoge, jalebi?’ What did I want to eat? Never a jalebi, which I never liked in any case but she always had some savouries ready…tikkis, samosas, bhel, chaat…

Remembering, my dormant senses are tickled. I wonder why I don’t pander to my tongue now. For one, I had never learnt how to make them. For two, I didn’t have the time to do it. My day long grind on the desk, left me with little more than the energy to drive back home and crawl into bed.

Now I couldn’t find time even for Ma. She was lined; no longer beautiful, no longer tall…I was a good four inches taller than her. The magic was gone. I no longer needed her. My life was full. Work, work, work, and more work through the week and party over the weekends.

When the doctor said that she needed to be cared for, that she needed to have company, dutifully, I locked up the bungalow on Bougainvillea Road in the small hill town where my mother had lived ever since Dad retired; alone since he died and got her to my posh city apartment.

Now why was I resentful of sharing my home, my life with her? My eye strayed to the grey hair hugging the sharp teeth of the comb…I felt the anger mounting and in spite of myself, my voice erupted harshly, “How could you, Ma?”

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My new school friends think my home in Zambia is perilous but there are perils in England that I’d never encountered there.

Today, my teacher is angrier than I have ever seen anyone angry. She looks at me as if I have no place here. She lifts her head and faces the class. Her voice cuts me like a machete: “She pretends she cannot drink through a straw. She is flattening her straw on purpose because she thinks it is clever. She thinks we will find it funny.”

My head droops over the half-pint bottle of milk and Exhibit A – the flattened straw. I can’t see why she would think I find it funny. The only thing funny about it is why anyone would need to drink milk through a paper tube that they call ‘straw’ and that’s not funny ‘ha-ha’ that’s funny ‘peculiar’. It’s the first time I’ve been made to do it and though it looks easy, somehow for me it isn’t. The milk tastes different to begin with and then it has to be sucked up through this idiotic contraption. It seems that everyone else in class can use it to drink through; so clearly it is my fault that every time I try, I flatten another straw. Why can’t I just drink my milk from a cup?

“Since she thinks it is so amusing, she can entertain us all in front of the class.” I feel the teacher pulling at the back of my chair.

In this chilly English schoolroom, my face feels as hot and glowing as the Zambian sun on a mid-summer afternoon, as she pulls me from my chair and drags me to the front of the class.

I stand there trembling, what will come next?

Her eyes are bright with victory. ‘Kneel’, she says.

I kneel.

‘Hands behind your back.’ Her voice is cool now, calm and controlled.

I will not shake, I tell myself as I clasp my hands behind my back. I will not shake and I will not cry. I won’t let her make me do that.

The teacher grabs an empty chair and sets it facing towards me. She fetches another half-pint of milk – and a new straw. She removes the milk top and inserts the straw. She lifts the milk bottle up for the class to see. ‘Let’s see how funny she is now.”

The milk bottle is on the chair in front of me with a brand new straw poking out of the neck.

‘Drink, ’ she commands.

I lean forward. I know there is a way to do this. Everybody can do it, without even trying. I have watched them. The whole class is now watching me, every face turned towards me. Teacher looks as if she is almost smiling. I take a deep breath and place my lips carefully over the end of the straw. Nothing happens. I breathe out and make bubbles. Teacher looks at me sharply. ‘Drink!’

Confused, I quickly suck at the straw. Too late, I realise I’ve sucked too hard in my effort to do as I’m told. The straw flattens. The teacher’s face drains of colour. Before I know it, I’m out in the corridor.

At least I’m away from all the accusing faces. The principal will be writing a note to my mother, apparently, to decide on punishment. That is the only bright spot—it’ll take ages to get a reply from N’dola on the Zambian/Congo border. And I’m betting they’ll be disappointed to find that mother has far more pressing matters on her mind than English peculiarities.

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One day, when I was 12 years’ old and living with my family in a semi-rural suburb of Perth, my Grandma came to visit us. I was in the upstairs part of the house with my parents, older sister and Grandma having dinner, when I had to go to the toilet. Couldn’t hold on any longer. The toilet was outside in a small room located at the bottom of the stairs, with a vast, shadowy, cavernous space ‘underneath’. No-one wanted to come with me. Outside on the balcony the bush crept closer in the darkness of the night. I stood at the top of the old wooden stairs which disappeared into the inky blackness. I tiptoed down and they creaked with every one of my steps. I held my breath and then bolted the last few steps into the safety of the toilet. Ahhhhh! Relief at last.

I was lost in my thoughts of the impending trip back up the stairs in the bushy black night when there was a sudden SMACK on the frosted window pane – an old withered hand cracked onto the glass.

I screamed, caught my breath then angrily yelled out ‘Grandma! You’ll have to wait your turn!’

No reply. I then remembered that Grandma couldn’t walk down the steps. I washed my hands quickly in the tiny sink. I gingerly opened the toilet door, peeked out but saw nothing. I bolted up those back steps faster than the speed of light and into the sanctity of my home. I walked into the dining room and there was Grandma, smiling, sitting at the table with a cup of tea in her hand. I didn’t sleep that night…

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My grandmother Daisy’s fruit mince tarts were legendary.

For years as a child I stood at her side, silent and respectful as at a sacred ritual, and watched while she prepared vast amounts of fragrant fruit mince. She hummed as she worked, an ample apron protecting her floral dress as she spun and swooped, her hands glistening with sweet stuff, her honey-coloured eyes bright and dancing with delight. Mysterious brown paper packets from the grocery store revealed their wild secret aromas one by one. Sometimes it was my job carefully to weigh and measure each alchemical ingredient, while grandma dropped them in and stirred and mixed.

Dried sultanas, currants and raisins, candied orange and lemon rinds like crystalline worms, cinnamon, nutmeg, slivered almonds, shiny glacé cherries in red and green, mixed spice, lemon zest and freshly squeezed orange juice, cider and redolent brown sugar – all well soaked in cognac. If I was lucky I’d get the bowl to lick at the end. It was strictly forbidden to pick. She would begin mixing in October, storing them in enormous glass preserve jars in the back of the family fridge.

It was when I was sixteen and daring to break out of the good girl mould I had till now desperately tried to squash myself into, that I began sneaking redolent spoonfuls of the wicked mix. I gobbled them down in front of the open fridge. At the first sound of anyone coming I rapidly moved out of the kitchen. Nothing was ever said, even when Christmas came and Daisy stood, purse-mouthed, the nearly empty jars in front of her. She simply mixed up another batch. I always wondered what she thought.

My boldness was thereby tacitly encouraged. The secret wickedness of the fruit mince in my system spurred me into other subterfuge that gradually ate into my legitimate life. Eventually I must have believed my secret life was the real one. The daytime was only pretending. It was the call of the night, the soft, enveloping darkness and vicissitudes of the moon letting me be myself in ways that were simply unacceptable in normal civilised society of church and school and family dinners. I was awakening to myself.

And so it played out that a handful of nights a week the compulsion would take me. While the rest of the household slept, I was wide awake, nearly frantic with agitation.

At midnight I dressed in black from head to foot, like a ninja. I sneaked downstairs and out the window, pausing on the threshold to sniff like a cat for wild and canny news. Sometimes, carefully, I wheeled out my bike, down the front steps to the road, or up the back garden to a much higher cliff road with a wild free-wheeling hill down to the beach.

Sometimes I simply ran, the wind lifting my long, loose hair. The night-deepened smells of jessamine, frangipani, roses and honeysuckle whipped past, my eyes wide open as my mouth, to drink in one heady sensation after another in the darkness.

Beside the lagoon, under the coral trees, the darkness was almost impenetrable. I came to rest on the black damp grass. I lay on my back stargazing through branches. I moonbathed in a delirious dream of earth beneath me, sky above. The glinting dark water lapped a few feet away. Reeds whispered and released their dank watery smell. Water rats and fish plopped in the darkness.

In the sky above were old friends. Faithful warrior Orion and the Southern Cross, Corvus and giant Sagittarius, red Mars, beautiful Venus and Jupiter, impossible to ignore, I knew most by heart. Falling stars traversed the sky to deep space beyond. Satellites winked, and I wondered if they were the kind that had astronauts. Were they spying on the Earth below, wondering if anyone was at that moment looking up? They were wonders and mysteries potent as the blood that stirred within me, unfathomable and not to be denied, but to be explored and savoured.

I was an infusion in the night. As much as the salt air on the esplanade mixed with the scent of the Norfolk pines, I would not be contained or limited. Swift in my passing like a shadow, none saw me, none could stop me. Hours later, as dawn’s pink tongue licked the rim of the sea, I crept back into the house to sleep for an hour until the rude alarm’s call to wake, shower, breakfast and catch the bus drowsily for school.

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The dogs bark and growl in a frenzy in the valley.

Ozaki pauses on the mountain trail. From where he stands, he can see the vast valley that opens to the glorious Pacific Ocean. The multitude of soporific aromas from the tropical forest is intoxicating and makes him feel at home.

“I wouldn’t swap this for the whole world, ” he says to himself as he checks his position and tries to work out where his loyal dogs are. The commotion usually means that they have found their target. Wild pigs have for centuries, occupied the immense hilly terrains and valleys created by millions of years of erosion brought on by the constant wind and rain from the ocean. The wild plums are just ripe, as are the year-round bananas and pineapples, providing ample food for the boars. They breed at an astonishing rate. Herds of boars often cause destruction to the local fauna and flora. A small group of boar hunters have maintained a delicate balance on the garden island of Kauai since time began, proud and dedicated to their tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Ozaki’s pulse quickens as he promptly works out the direction of his dogs and the fastest trail to reach them. Each time this happens, he becomes excited. He feels in his element like mist melting into the clouds. What he is going to do becomes instinctive to him. His feet find their way with ease in the ancient volcanic canyon he grew up on. He knows exactly what is going on further down the valley. Over the past fifty years as a boar hunter on the island, he has learned much about the game. It is not one for the faint-hearted.

Ever since he was in 7th Grade, Ron Ozaki would follow his father and their hunting friends into the expansive bush for boar hunting. He knows every trail on the island; and every rock that perches on the cliff means something to him. He can tell the boar trail from those of the other animals without a second look. He has seen many accidents and tragedies in the bush. Each sad event reinforces caution in every step he takes. And he remembers every one of them. He would talk about the common ones like getting lost in the mountains; as well as the ones when the hunter became the hunted: how the clever boars would lure the dogs into their own territory with thick lantana, tight trails and hilly terrains, where the dogs were mauled down, one by one, by the bigger number of boars. Ozaki takes up to a dozen well-trained dogs with him on each trip in order to ensure an upper hand.

Ozaki hunts with a knife. This is the way of the Hawaiian boar hunters, a tradition too sacred to disown. To change their way of hunting is like disobeying the sacred law of nature. It is something Hawaiians don’t do. Ozaki used to take his mule with him. The mule carried provisions for the hunter and his dogs. It has grown too old to do its job now so he sets out on foot these days.

At dusk, he would be at the foot of the valley as the magnificent Hawaiian sun rolls off the horizon. The colours of the day’s last rays spill over at the edge of the ocean, before they fuse into the retreating blue sky. It doesn’t take long for him to reach his vantage spot to take in the dimming contour. He sets up camp for the night on his favourite site as he opens his heart to his island, which rises gracefully from the ocean and reaches to the clouds. Haze and clouds blur the horizon. Light breeze and gentle rain keep the universe in harmony. Nothing has changed since the days he hunted with his father: the scents of the valley percolate into the night; mist gathers and the temperature drops to an uncomfortable level. Showers are as frequent as the mountain breezes, keeping every branch and every shrub green, clean and fresh. There is constant pressure from multi-national developers to commercialise the island, but the local people fight fervently to keep it as it has always been.

As it gets dark, Ozaki takes another look at his moonlit surroundings. A tincture of silver splashes on those slender palm leaves and other trees alike, spattering over to cloak everything in its reach, like planet Earth’s large shroud. Everything is peaceful and quiet. Feeling secure, he rolls over to sleep. His loyal dogs snuggle up to him to keep warm for the night.

Dawn arrives with all her usual fanfare, with the wild bantam roosters heralding another delightful day. The island wakes to a splendid show of colours in the sky. The air is fresh and deceivingly crisp. By now, Ozaki has already given his dogs their breakfast and put on their protective metallic collars. The boars are not going to give in without a ferocious fight. He checks his razor-sharp hunting knife once more. With his whistle around his neck and his other gear, he is ready for the hunt.

With one gesture, his dogs disappear into the barely penetrable terrain, each heading in their own direction. They bark as they search forward, keeping each other in contact. Then the barking intensifies. The gorges go quiet, anticipating. Only the occasional seagull disrupts the concentration. Ozaki picks up his pace and stops here and there to determine where his dogs are. He sends an occasional signal with his whistle, then pauses and listens. A distant tumult returns his call. He is now almost running on the uneven ground he knows so well and soon he reaches the scene.

Backing up to a wall of volcanic rock and red earth is the boar twice the size of his dogs. It bares its tusks as its eyes roll from side to side, trying to find a way out of the blockade that is now spelling its doom. The dogs pace around the boar, slowly and deliberately. They show their sharp teeth to intimidate their victim as they snarl, growl and bark. The appearance of their master is the final sign to charge at the boar. The boar fights with fury. It kicks, rolls, and thrashes with its sharp tusks, finding its target sometimes and sending dogs flying across the narrow space. But they keep on advancing, trying to pin it down on its ears, legs, neck and head. The boar pants and shrieks in vain. Its action slows to whimpers and squeals. The dogs have the upper hand with the boar nailed to the ground. Ozaki jumps in to grab hold of its hind legs, one at a time, he slices off their tendons, leaving the boar out of action. He then swiftly turns to face the boar. With one lightning stroke, his knife finds the vulnerable position in the neck. The battle is over.

Back at Ozaki’s home in Kekaha, the backyard smoke oven shimmers gently in the sun. He opens its door and takes out a piece of succulent smoked pork, tears some off and samples it. He nods to himself, knowing that his children’s families and friends would enjoy it as much as he does.

“E ai kakou, bon appetite in Hawaiian, Ozaki says, as he passes the rest of it around. He turns to the rugged landscape of the Waimea Canyon in the distance; its silhouette has not changed since his youthful days. He is contented and proud that he has fought to keep his island the way it has always been.

“I wouldn’t swap this for the whole world, ” he says.

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