Walking The Goods Line

I like walking. Now. As an adult it has led me through lush woodland and native forest, along rugged cliff tops that overlook the wild blue ocean and into cosmopolitan quarters of our rich city that I didn’t even know existed. Walking takes me out of myself and into a meditative, imaginative place of inspiration and delight. What’s not to like?


When I was a child however walking was agony. Each day I walked to school, itself a place of torture.  To get there I had to tramp up an enormous hill and whilst climbing this hill I had to scrape my shoes on the concrete footpath. My parents, having grown up in Fascist Italy had been too afraid to ignore the uniform instructions for Year 7 students, despite my protests. So on my first day of high school, I was the only student wearing shiny, black, patent leather school shoes. Everybody else was wearing desert boots. You may wonder why they wore desert boots in Moorebank. Add the word cultural in front of it and it will all make sense. And so every afternoon I walked home by myself, scraping my school shoes for the whole three kilometres, in an attempt to turn them into desert boots.

But now after many years as an adult that childhood horror has faded and I have discovered the satisfaction of walking. I’m not alone in this. The Aboriginal people who first inhabited this land not only walked it but mapped its landmarks in song, story, dance, and art. Aristotle walked as he talked to his students in his academy in downtown Ancient Athens. The medieval pilgrims traversed whole continents to arrive at their sacred places. Before the industrial revolution farmers sometimes walked several hours a day simply to till their fields and then take their goods to market. And nineteenth century philosophers, a more leisured class, walked as a way to rediscover the joy of existence.

Recently I found myself at Railway Square with time to spare and decided to take myself on a little walking adventure into Sydney’s smoke stack past. The Goods Line, an old rail corridor that runs parallel to Harris Street between UTS and the Powerhouse Museum is a wonderful example of re-imagining industrial space for public use.


This was the site of a busy freight rail system that ran from Dulwich Hill to Central Station, via Rozelle and Darling Harbour in the days before cars and trucks when goods were carted  by rail. Much of the line around Darling Harbour has been re-used for the Sydney Light Railway.

At the beginning of the walk you emerge from the darkness of the Devonshire Street tunnel, having crossed under George Street, and into the high, bright light of The Goods Line which then crosses above Ultimo Street, via the oldest iron bridge in Australia, built in 1879. At this end you will find trees and shrubs amongst the remnants of signal boxes and abandoned interlocking rail tracks. There are also table tennis tables and picnic benches, and a children’s water play area with a sand pit shaded by fig trees. It is a peaceful pocket populated by pedestrians and memories of a very different past.

Walking is an urban meditation; a riff through the soul of this made thing we call a city. Both we and it are a work in progress and walking helps us to capture the spirit of these wild new places we find ourselves in.  But be warned encountering such wonder in the ordinary can be quite dangerous for your health. Luckily The Goods Line is only about 500 metres long. You’ll know you’ve come to the end of it when you arrive at the Powerhouse Museum Shop & Café where they will serve you a much needed coffee and you can choose from their lovely selection of pastries. And what better place than a coffee house to ruminate on your next ramble.

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Little Black Box

Howard Barker, in Arguments for a Theatre, once said, “theatre should be over-ambitious … the stage should swarm with life… it should be a relentless space and never a room.” Or something like that.

I see a lot of theatre. Most of it is independent theatre. That is, theatre produced with little or no government funding; often profit share, where payment is reliant on box office return. I also see some of the productions at the better accommodated, more prestigious theatres.


What I don’t see much of are the really big shows, the block buster musicals that come to town. They’ve got big numbers, big sets, big names and big ticket prices. For the price of one of these big shows I can see maybe five ‘indie’ shows. And although the big shows can be a sensual delight if you get a seat close enough to the stage to see and hear the performances, they can also seem overly slick, a strange and not as good version of a film.

Is this what Barker meant by relentless? Was he urging theatre makers to not be happy to simply seduce an audience with beautiful pictures; to not imitate film? Was he calling for a theatre of meaning, of response, a theatre where souls torn out of both the audience and the actors hang breathless in the air?

I see a lot of theatre. I have made a lot of theatre. And I agree with Barker that “theatre should be over-ambitious.” It is only when a piece of theatre is not ambitious, when it doesn’t want to change the world, that I am disappointed. Sometimes I see a production that is simply an excuse for the actors to be on the stage. There seems very little thought about the impact they will have on the audience. That is when I am saddened by the emptiness of the ambition and the wasted opportunity.

I also agree with Barker that theatre should be “a relentless space and never a room.” The kind of theatre I like and the theatre I hope I have made is a powerful political tool. It is unyielding in its ambition to impact the world, to make us think and act for good. Perhaps for some people this clarion call to act is offensive, particularly if it is clothed in sharp satire that tickles at your insecurities with the edge of a knife blade. Or if it’s performed in a little black box by people you know.

But perhaps relentless is a harsh word. I prefer irrepressible. I want the stage to explode with energy; the uncontainable energy of artists that have something to say.


Image: The Main House Theatre, The Maltings Theatre, Berwick-upon-Tweed (Wikipedia Commons)

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Spirit of Place: The Lost City

This time last week I was in a tropical paradise. A place where the sun sets over the aquamarine waters of the Arafura  Sea, and where in the cool depths of Kakadu rock shelters, layer upon layer of gigantic fish jostle for position, overlapping each other,             x-rayed in red and white ochre, sometimes coloured in sandstone yellow, sometimes beside a wallaby or turtle or a human.


The giant fish are Barramundi. I’d been eating them all week and it was a lightening moment of connection to realise that I shared a taste for this soft, white, flaky fish with the humans that lived here thousands of years ago.


[Attribution Wikicommons: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Aborigine_kunst.jpg%5D

At both Ubirr and Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park you can visit Aboriginal rock art sites that are over 20 000 years old. The sheer scale of time is shocking. Yet on the Bardedjilidji walk near Ubirr, a walk that takes you through layered sandstone outcrops, it felt like I was entering an abandoned city. The rock shelters with their hearths and middens, looked as if the inhabitants had only walked away that morning. It was easy to imagine that the artists had only just recently been painting on the walls of these cavernous rock shelters that were an oasis of shade in the 35 degree dry season heat.

Ubirr Rock Art 1

(Image of Namarrgon, lightning man, at Anbangbang gallery)

The joy in these paintings is palpable.  It’s particularly apparent in the overlapping abundance of food, particularly fish, that is depicted. And in the fact that layer upon layer of images have been painted over the top of each other over thousands and thousands of years, giving the distinct impression that it was the making of the art that mattered so much more than the final product.  Perhaps  they were painted in the wet season when the water ways flowed and both people and animals (except crocodiles) retreated to higher ground. A time when the hunt might have been a little easier and the feasting and dancing may well have gone on well into the night.

And what about the stars 20 000 years ago? What did these spirit people see at night as they looked up from their camp fires?

Ubirr Rock Art 2

I guess we’ll never know. Because although the traditional owners, the Bininj/Mungguy, still manage Kakadu National Park and maintain a deep spiritual connection to their country, they no longer live the traditional life that had been theirs for tens of thousand of years before colonialisation. This is the joy that has been ripped out of the heart of Aboriginal culture. This is the dispossession.



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My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

The Revolution is not over. The Feminist Revolution that is. And the Democratic one too. In fact they’ve barely begun.

“All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy you have to want one.”  1

My Life on the Road GS

Gloria Steinem, in her inspiring memoir ‘My Life on the Road,’ regales us with tales from her travels as a feminist activist, democratic organiser and writer since the 1960’s.  She credits a deeply held attitude of hope to a lifetime on the road.  “Altogether, if I’d been looking at nothing but the media all these years, I would be a much more discouraged person – especially given the notion that only conflict is news, and that objectivity means being even handedly negative.” 2

From her meetings with Ghandians in India, addressing Women’s Conferences across the USA, organising for political candidates at Democratic Conventions, crisscrossing the country on book tours and engaging with the First People’s, her travels have connected her to inspiring ideas and the hope that our society’s current obsession with excess and hierarchy can be re-balanced. And it’s not just hope that have been the legacy of a life time of activism but joy, laughter and a deepening spirituality.

She tells us about discovering the Trickster from Cherokee writer, folklorist and anthropologist Rayna Green.  “A common figure in native mythologies, a boundary crosser who can go anywhere. Unlike the jester and the Clown, who are at the bottom of a hierarchical pile and survive only by making the king laugh, the Trickster is free, a paradox, a breaker of boundaries who makes us laugh – and laughter lets the sacred in. In Native spiritualities there is often a belief that we cannot pray unless we’ve laughed. Because the Trickster is sometimes female and is the spirit of free space and the road, I began to feel I’d found a totem of my own.” 3

Steinem unearths worldviews in which all living things are related, layers and layers, rich and deep, circular rather than hierarchical, that inspire us to engage in our own quest to re-balance our society away from the ravages wrought by our obsession with materialism.

One great example that particularly spoke to me was her habit of asking about the vertical history of people who had lived in the places that she traveled to. This led to her discovery of Native Indian agricultural methods.

“I try out my question about original cultures. A very old and scruffy looking white guy at the back of the book store says he’s heard there are abandoned fields nearby that have an odd pattern of large bumps in the earth every few feet, like a giant rubber bath mat. They’ve been there since time immemorial and are supposed to be an Indian method of planting. I enlist the help of a Smith College Librarian.  We discover the bumps are milpa, small mounds of earth on which complimentary crops were planted. Unlike linear plowing, which encourages water run off and soil erosion, the circular pattern traps rainfall. Each mound is planted with a cluster of the Three Sisters that were the staples of Indian agriculture: corn, beans and squash.  The corn provided a stalk for the beans to climb, while also shading the vulnerable beans. The ground cover from the squash stabilised the soil, and the bean roots kept the soil fertile by providing nitrogen. As a final touch, marigolds and other natural pesticides were planted around each mound to keep harmful insects away.  Altogether it was a system so perfect that in some Central American countries to0 poor to adopt linear plowing with machinery, artificial pesticides, and monocrops of agribusiness, the same milpa have been producing just fine for four thousand years.”   4

Towards the end of the memoir she tells us about the character ‘Spider Woman’ in the novel Ceremony by Leslie Silko.  “She is the thought Woman who makes things and so brings then into being. Until then, I had imagined myself alone in believing that spiders should be the totem of writers. Both go into a space alone and spin out of their own bodies a reality that has never existed before.” 5

Gloria Steinem inspires us to spin from our own experiences, and our connections with others, a future world where equality is a reality that exists for everybody.  Like all good books this one leaves you trawling through the notes pages wanting more and making lists of so many other books to read and ideas to think about.

1 – p171, 2 – pxx,  3 – p225, 4 – p235, 5 – p237

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, Random House, 2015

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A Christmas Trifle

There’s something about Christmas that brings out the need to prove myself.  Usually in an area that I have absolutely no prior experience in.

This year it’s dessert.

I’ve volunteered to bring dessert to my partner’s family Christmas lunch which is traditionally held on Boxing Day. I have plenty of prior experience in bringing dessert. The bakery around the corner is excellent.

But the bakery will be closed on Boxing Day and I have absolutely no experience in actually making dessert. So, a week before Christmas, and I am doing a test run.  I begin this project in the same the way I begin all my projects. By leaving the house and not thinking about it.


But then the spectre of an embarrassing failure drives me home and onto the internet. How hard can it be?

I find lots of delicious but complicated recipes for sweets. But what I need is something very simple.  I discard any recipes that require eggs. Being against cruelty I have no intention of separating a yolk or beating an egg white until it is stiff.  I also discard any recipe that requires baking. Australia’s insistence on celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer makes this no time to be standing in front of a hot oven. And I discard anything that requires a food processor, Christmas night, after a day of eating and drinking, is not a recommended time to be operating heavy machinery.

That’s when I ring a friend. Perhaps she has a spare plane ticket. She does not but she does suggest a trifle. Apparently it’s very simple to make.  She explains that a trifle is a no bake dessert. Perfect.  She also explains that the trick to creating a truly great trifle is in the layering. So I carefully write down the recipe.

There’s a lot to do before you can begin, including a quick visit to the shopping centre (strangely none of the ingredients are in my cupboard).



Prepare the jelly by following the directions on the packet. Mix jelly crystals with warm water. Add fresh raspberries. Place in the fridge for one hour or until set.

Prepare the custard, also according to the packet directions.

Now that the preliminaries are over you can tackle the trifle itself.

Take the Italian sponge finger biscuits out of the packet and layer them across the bottom of a deep dish.

Open the bottle of  sherry and drizzle it over the biscuits.
Lustau_Papirusa_Manzanilla_SherrySpoon a layer of custard over the top of the biscuits. Take the jelly out of the fridge, chop roughly into cubes and layer over the custard. Repeat. Top with candied fruit and nuts. Place in the fridge until required.

This is what it should look like.


This is not what mine looked like. I was foiled by the layers. I suspect it takes a lot of experience in trifle making to stop yourself eating each layer as you make it.

I ate the jelly with fresh raspberries straight from the fridge.

I ate the custard warm and straight out of the bowl.

I ate the biscuits straight out of the packet.

And I drank the sherry straight from the bottle.

I ate my trifle one layer at a time.

So any other suggestions for a very simple, no bake, Boxing Day dessert?


Photo attributions via Wikimedia Commons: Aeroplane Jelly: By Albert Francis Lenertz (1891-1943). Sherry Bottle: By Matt Saunders (Own work). Trifle: By Pradeepraajkumar1981 (Own work).

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Christmas Luck

This week I gave some luck.

My family and I have stopped giving each other Christmas presents. We all have too many things already. Instead we just do a lot of eating, drinking and general merriment. So I like to give the money I would have spent on gifts to people who aren’t as lucky. One of the derivations of the word ‘gift’ is from an Old Norse word, ‘gipt’ meaning good luck; making this a great time of year for the giving of luck.

Xmas  lights Redfern st

But there are so many people in need, so many charities, and so many worthwhile projects, how do you choose? Sometimes I just close my eyes and pick the first charity that comes into my head. At other times it’s the issues that make me particularly sad or heart sore, that I want to focus on. I usually can’t go past poverty, hunger and war as an excuse to give a gift.  Things so far away from the luck that is my life that I want to weep at the total randomness of our world.

I read the newspapers and I feel despair. I make a donation and I feel hope. Hope breaks down the big things into little things that we can do something about.

I can’t end war in the Middle East but I can help to look after those that are escaping it.

I can’t stop drought and famine in Africa but I can help to feed a child in Malawi.

I can’t eradicate homelessness in Australia but I can help to feed and shelter someone.

I can use my money and my voice, the gifts I have been given, to celebrate this holiday season with peace, hope and love.

Xmas Post 2 Hope

So this year I gave to Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian organisation that builds and runs schools and orphanages for girls and boys in Afghanistan.


I gave to the Australian Red Cross to support their work in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy in Australia and also support people who are homeless in our cities and towns.


And I gave to Greenpeace.  Because if we don’t start paying attention to climate change soon some of the poorest people in the world are going to suffer even more.


Xmas Post 1

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Spirit of Place: Redfern Park

There is a beautiful fountain in Redfern Park.  It’s called Lotus Line and children run through it squealing with delight. Dogs, however, stand at its edge staring in puzzlement at the spot where the water shot out and smacked them on the snout. The fountain is part of the children’s play area set amongst the Moreton Bay figs; sculptures representing seed pods, yam seeds, and Biami (an Aboriginal male ancestor figure of South East Australia) double as places to play. The whole creation is an installation by artist Fiona Foley called Bibles & Bullets.


Twenty three years ago Prime Minister Paul Keating gave his now famous Redfern speech in this park. An extract is carved on a bronze plaque at the southern edge of the water play fountain. These words inscribed in the ground at the Redfern Oval end of the park are a physical acknowledgement of Redfern’s political importance as a centre for Koori history and activism.

According to the Dictionary of Sydney, Redfern Oval and Redfern Park were, “where big plans for self-determination and Aboriginal autonomy were first discussed and made. It was here that an informal ‘politics in the park’ produced early ideas for the formation of the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service, which were both set up in Redfern in the early 1970s.” (1)


Keating’s speech was the first time that an Australian Prime Minister publicly acknowledged the responsibility of European settlers for the atrocities committed on Indigenous Australians. A brave and hopeful event in our sometimes dark history; the speech was delivered after the High Court’s historic Mabo decision which overturned the concept of Terra Nullius and acknowledged the existence of Aboriginal people in Australia before colonisation.

It begins, I think, with the act of recognition.

Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.

We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.

We brought the disasters.

The alcohol.

We committed the murders.

We took the children from their mothers.

We practised discrimination and exclusion.  

It was our ignorance and our prejudice.

And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.

With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.

We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?

As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.” (2)


There is another beautiful fountain in the park.  It’s called The Baptist Fountain and was donated by John Baptist in 1890. This Victorian era, tiered, cast iron fountain transports us back to the 19th century. A very different Redfern to that evoked by the sculptures, representing the Indigenous spirit of this place, that form the modern play area. The Baptist Fountain, in contrast, represents for me the spirit of 19th century Australia which did it’s best to crush that Indigenous spirit.

Allowing the dark and light of our history to live side by side in this local park is a powerful expression of hope; the juxtaposition of these artefacts a symbol of reconciliation.

In contrast to the 19th century, the 20th century and in particular the 1960’s were a much more radical time in Australia’s history. In 1962 the right of Indigenous Australians to vote in Commonwealth elections  was legislated .  In 1967 a Federal referendum was held asking Australians to decide whether two references in the Australian Constitution, which discriminated against Aboriginal people, should be removed. That referendum saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 90.77 per cent voting for change. The 1990’s brought recognition of land rights and Keating’s Redfern speech but it wasn’t until 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, that we formally acknowledged  the wrongs committed in the past.

These historic milestones, along with targeted Government policy and funding, have improved education and health outcomes for Indigenous Australians but Aboriginal life expectancy in Australia is still more than 10 years below that of the average non-Aboriginal Australian: 69.1 years for males and 73.7 years for females. (3)

We need to tell our Governments that this gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’ is unacceptable.

And Australians need to once again be given the opportunity to vote in the current proposal to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.

This might be a complex and difficult area of public debate but we need to discuss the possibilities and what they will mean for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and all Australians.

As I was writing this post I was trying to decide on an appropriate ending for it. I couldn’t think of anything so I decided to check my emails, as I usually do when I’m stuck on something. It’s a lovely form of procrastination and sometimes just taking my mind away from the problem solves the problem. As it did this time. Literally.

One of the emails was from my local Greens group inviting everyone to a FREE FORUM WITH FINGER FOOD at Redfern Town Hall to discuss Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution at 3pm on Sunday 25th October. Here’s the link for more info: http://nsw.greens.org.au/event/nsw/debateforum-recognise-constitutional-recognition

In two years time, on the 27th of May 2017, it will be the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. I would love to be at Redfern Park on that day celebrating that amazing event. And I would also love to be celebrating an overwhelming YES vote in a referendum on Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal Australians.


(1) http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/redfern_park

(2) Transcript of Redfern Park Speech:https://antar.org.au/sites/default/files/paul_keating_speech_transcript.pdf

(3) “Closing the Gap Report 2014” produced by the Council of Australian Governments;https://www.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/Closing_the_Gap_2015_Report.pdf)

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