Time is of the Essence

Time is of the Essence

Gouldian Finch

Time is of the Essence

What do the following animals have in common:

Estuarine Crocodile
Loggerhead Turtle
Gulbaru Gecko
Retro Slider
Southern Cassowary
Northern Giant Petrel
Glossy Black-Cockatoo
Eclectus Parrot
Powerful Owl
Gouldian Finch
Greater Bilby
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat
Mahogany Glider
Grey-headed Flying Fox
Humpback Whale

They are included in the 226 species, sub-species or populations of animals in Queensland that are considered threatened in the newly released book ‘Queensland’s Threatened Animals’ (CSIRO Publishing, 2012).

The definition of ‘a species listed as threatened is one that is at risk of becoming extinct in a short time frame.’

Gily Llewellyn from the WWF states in the foreword that ‘this book is a sobering reflection of the state of our natural environment.

More than 1300 native Queensland plant and animal species face extinction, with at least 30 already gone forever. We have modified almost the entire landscape, clearing forests and starving entire natural food chains. Not even our reefs or marine life have escaped unscathed from the activities of land-based development, agriculture and over-fishing.

Yet this book is also a symbol of hope.

Queenslanders have shown overwhelmingly that they want more action to save their native wildlife, with a vast majority in favour of the state government buying up new national partks and identifying and protecting threatened and native species.’

My friend Lee K. Curtis is the main editor of the book, along with Andrew Dennis, Keith McDonald, Peter Kyne and Stephen Debus. She is a freelance journalist, author and copywriter who is an active member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. Her enthusiasm for conservation and positive outlook are infectious.

Her goal for the book was to provide a comprehensive resource guide to ‘who was doing what, when, where, how and why with threatened animals in Queensland’. The resultant thick door stopper reference book certainly goes a long way to achieving that goal and is a significant contribution to the field. Congratulations Lee et al’, I am beyond impressed with the effort that must have gone into the creation of the book and the value of the book. I now understand why you were getting a little stressed πŸ˜‰ with the project.

Recently there has been a lot of hissy fit ranting from a certain side of politics about the horrors of so-called green tape. Well, without green tape we will soon be sitting not so pretty on a barren wasteland with only Cane Toads for company.

Anyone who makes blanket negative assessments of green tape would benefit from a read of this book.

And if they don’t want to educate themselves on the pros and cons of green tape, I can think of another use for such a thick book πŸ˜‰


The Magic Pudding

The Magic Pudding

The Magic Pudding: The Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum‘ is a classic Australian children’s book that was written and illustrated by famous artist Norman Lindsay in 1918. It has never been out of print.

I refused to read this book as a child because one of the main characters is Albert, a talking puddin’ who is regularly eaten by his friends. He is a magic pudding and every time a slice of him is eaten it reappears – ‘the more you eat the more you gets’. I wouldn’t dream of eating anything that can talk. I also found him to be rude, abrasive and unattractive with his long spindly arms and legs.

The book is listed in Jane Gleeson-White’s book of Australian classics, and my son Michael has a copy (thanks Carolyn πŸ™‚ ) so I thought I better read it. I had a suspicion that reading a classic children’s book as an adult would be less captivating than reading through the eyes of a child.

There is something very special about re-reading your favourite children’s book as an adult and being transported back to that imaginary place. The illustrations can often be the most mesmerising aspect of the book. As a child I would study every detail of the drawings in books such as ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ and ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’. They were imprinted in my mind.

I had no idea that ‘The Magic Pudding’ was written so long ago (doh!). It is very much a tale and language of that period of time. I am sure many children of this modern era would find it a very difficult book to read with its fancy and dated speech. Here is an example (which I think is very wise and wonderful):

‘You’re a bun-headed old optimist,’ said the Puddin’ rudely. ‘Puddin’-thieves never suffer from remorse. They only suffer from blighted hopes and suppressed activity.’

Priceless stuff!

The story is very entertaining and filled with lively characters and the most fantastic songs and poetry. As an adult who treasures wordplay and poetry, I love ‘The Magic Pudding’. I am pretty sure I would have loved it as a child if I could have got over my Puddin’ prejudice.

The story is about the adventures of a young koala Bunyip Bluegum, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff. These three characters own the magic puddin’ Albert. Everyone wants a piece of Albert and puddin’-thieves are never far away. Albert is regularly stolen by Possum and Wombat and then reunited with his owners after much kerfuffling. He is always grumpy and tasty.

Norman Lindsay of course is one of Australia’s most famous and influential artists. His illustrations in ‘The Magic Pudding’ are vividly drawn and expressive.

He described his book as a ‘little bundle of piffle’ and was originally embarrassed by its success in the early years and thought it was overpriced for a children’s book (sold for 1 guinea as a limited edition art book – an exceptionally high retail price at that time).

We have the 2008 edition of ‘The Magic Pudding’ which used the original artwork (scanned to reveal the fine detail of the original drawings). This edition also includes a biography of Norman Lindsay; copies of correspondence between Norman Lindsay and publisher (I found these letters fascinating); and reviews of the first edition.

I am glad I read ‘The Magic Pudding’.

I wish I had read it as a child and then the magic would have been even greater on re-reading πŸ˜‰

I will have to make sure my children read the book!

Bronze scultpture - Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne
‘skin painting’ – review plus 3 book giveaway

‘skin painting’ – review plus 3 book giveaway

Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

A few weeks back, as part of National Poetry Week we were encouraged to buy Australian poetry, so I got online (as I live nowhere near a bookshop that sells decent poetry) and bought a few collections.

One collection, ‘skin painting‘ by Elizabeth Hodgson, totally blew me away with its deeply evocative and moving poetry. This says a lot, because I have read a number of modern collections by so called famous Australian poets that leave me cold and wondering what all the fuss is about (I won’t name names but it’s no-one from the blogosphere πŸ˜‰ ).

Skin painting‘ was winner of the David Unaipon Award and was highly commended for the Anne Elder Award 2008.

Elizabeth Hodgson is a fair-skinned aboriginal woman (Wiradjuri woman) who lives in NSW. She was taken from her parents at a very young age (as were so many Aboriginal childen – the Stolen Generations) and placed in a home for fair-skinned Aboriginal children in Sydney.

The poetry in this collection tells her story:

my story cannot be painted onto a canvas – it is a skin painting.

The book begins with poems that portray her life as a little girl, alone and abused, in an institution that identifies her by number; to her development years later into a strong and self-reliant adult.

The poems are personal in such a way that allows outsiders to the Aboriginal experience to gain an accessible viewpoint. Basically the brutal honesty and ‘sting in tail’ nature of the poetry had me in tears for much of the reading and I have been going over and over many of the poems in my head (always a sign that a poem is good).

One poem outlines how she again lives with her dark skinned father when she turns fifteen. Here is an extract:

‘he is a stranger to me
he is sober, respectable, employed
he has a new wife; she is white.

I do not know him; I search his face
trying to find myself in his eyes, his skin, his hair.
My arm is pale against his black skin.
I ask him why; he dies before he finds an answer.’ ( p. 40 skin painting)

This poem is heartbreaking on so many levels – that her father chooses to become like the ‘respectable’ white man to get access to his daughter, how it changes him so he is unrecognisable; how it is all too late.

Wouldn’t it be great if ‘skin painting‘ could be widely available in Australian schools, so that young people could gain a greater understanding of some of the issues surrounding the Stolen Generations?

I have bought 3 extra copies of ‘skin painting’ as I would love the book to gain a wider audience. If you want a free copy you can email me (gbryden at bigpond dot com) – first in, best dressed!

Skin painting‘ was first published in 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

all cats have asperger syndrome

all cats have asperger syndrome

The picture book all cats have asperger syndrome by Kathy Hooperman is a highly recommended read/look if you know and love someone with Asperger Syndrome (AS).

I absolutely love this book!

Gorgeous and hilarious photos of cats and kittens are matched with descriptions of Asperger Syndrome in a touching and humorous manner, highlighting the unique qualities and potential of people with AS.

People with Asperger Syndrome are different, not defective, and this book emphasises their distinctive attributes.

The book is terrific for explaining AS to children, including siblings in a gentle, entertaining manner.

I would also recommend it as an educational tool for relatives and friends who may not have time to read copious technical material on autism spectrum disorder.

I have myself read this book to young primary school children as an awareness raising exercise – they laughed their heads off at the pictures (and I hope they learned something as well – haha).

ps. Cathy Hooperman has another picture book All dogs have ADHD which is just as good (I’m sure we all know someone with ADHD πŸ˜‰ ).

Poetry and Stephen Fry

Poetry and Stephen Fry

I have just finished reading ‘The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within’ by Stephen Fry. I am a big Stephen Fry fan and have immense respect for his intellect, expansive knowledge and talent. If you watch QI (9.30pm, Tuesday on ABC1) or have followed his comedic and writing career, you will know what I mean.

Fry writes poetry (as a private hobby) and believes we are all capable, however he says that ‘talent without technique is like an engine without a steering wheel, gears or brake’. In this book Fry outlines the major metrical forms and poetic structures, in his witty and engaging style (with many a hilarious footnote and aside, and the occasional obscenity). I warn you that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes (and if you don’t like Fry, don’t even go there).

As an apprentice poet, I found the book entertaining, readable, educational and a valuable addition to the ‘how to write poetry’ books I have on my shelf. I won’t say it is the best, but it is far less dry than many of the ‘technical’ books around. Maybe I would feel differently about the book if I didn’t love Stephen Fry so much (there you go, I am being upfront with my bias πŸ˜‰ ). Objectively, he did receive rave reviews when it was released in 2005.

Fry believes that with any hobby, whether painting, ballet or fly fishing, there is a new jargon to learn, and technique, form and style to master. Poetry is no different.Β  He says ‘only an embarrassed adolescent or deranged coward thinks jargon and reserved languages are pretentious and that detail and structure are boring.’ He gives the example of a child playing the piano – we wouldn’t just expect them to start playing, without guidance, to just express themselves.Β  His argument is that ‘anything goes’ is not the way to go with poetry.

He makes the point that with poetry you must take your time – take your time reading and savouring it (he’s not big on this fast food day and age) – and read out loud wherever possible. He also gives an excellent description of the difference between prose and poetry ‘insert some poetry inside a body of prose and surely people should notice?’

He ends the book with a rant about poetic vices which I found very entertaining and spot on:

Laziness is the worst vice that a poet can have. Sentimentality, clichΓ©, pretension, falsity of emotion, vanity, dullness, over-ambition, self-indulgence, word-deafness, word-blindness, clumsiness, technical ineptitude, unoriginality – all of these are bad but they are usually subsets and products of laziness.

Practice is so important with poetry (like scales in music) and Fry has included exercises at the end of each chapter, which he is constantly telling the reader to do, before moving to the next section (I ignored him as I am want to do with authority figures – sorry Stephen – but I intend to do some at a later date). Unfortunately for my readers, this may mean that you will be reading a villanelle or sestina down the track.

ps. this book can be purchased at an independent book store near you πŸ˜‰