Winter is a magical season of rest and withdrawal. It is a time when I seek comfort and warmth, rich foods, and good company to while away the long evenings. It is also a time when my garden looks barren, and any small flowers are welcome to break the monotony of bare trees and dull lawns.

After weeks of monochrome grey skies, days of rain, sleet and hail, the sun broke through for short periods today. There were patches of blue sky and the occasional glimmer of sunshine. That was all I needed to feel alive and thankful for this day, as much as I love winter. I made a cup of tea and headed outside to sit next to a rosemary bush. Closing my eyes, I listened to a bee make its way towards the tiny blue flowers. A doleful bird repeated the same two-tone motif in the distance. Then, the screech of a parrot joined the fray, a crimson rosella and finally, a blackbird offering a pretty melody as a counterpoint to the Australian native birds.

I rarely sit in the garden in winter. It is too cold, rainy, or windy. Instead, I observe it from my kitchen window. Today, however, the temperature was perfect. Suddenly, I felt a yearning for those easy spring days when the jumpers come off, insects emerge, and birds return to entertain with new songs. Bulbs are due to bloom soon and we are only weeks away from a riot of colour that will grace the garden once more.

I am lucky to live in a place with distinct seasons. Winters in the Central West of New South Wales can be bitterly cold with icy winds that take your breath away. Morning frosts blanket gardens in a soft white sheet and the fog settles into valleys until mid-morning transporting me into a landscapes of fairy tales. At times I drive above the fog and see an ocean of white below me. I descend like a diver into its depth and can’t help but be overcome with the beauty all around me.

Evenings are still cold, but they have lost their bite. I no longer light the fire; a mohair throw is enough to keep me cosy. The days are getting longer too. Soon, I will be arriving home in daylight and taking the dog for distant walks. We have travelled around the sun once more and the season is set to change.


I caress a first edition, limited print run of a book of photographs. The cover, green and black, is the pattern of a crocodile’s skin. Nothing else suggests what the book is about. I am intrigued.

An A5 insert explains the genesis of the book. The author, Rory King, a talented young photographer, has long been fascinated with Val Plumwood, a trailblazing Eco-feminist who lived on Plumwood Mountain in a hand-hewn bush retreat. Her ground-breaking work on anthropocentrism has influenced the way ecology is viewed – humans as part of the web of life and not at the very centre of it.

King’s photographs of Plumwood’s cottage and the rainforest in which it stands, are intimate, matte black and white images that play with light and shade. Some are fleeting moments, fragmentary, a blink of the eye. Others capture the lush growth of the forest floor. King also includes photographs of the East Alligator lagoon situated in Kakadu National Park, where he followed Plumwood’s footsteps to the exact location where she was savagely attacked by a saltwater crocodile. I find these photographs the most evocative in the book, in part because of my own memories of a trip to East Arnhem Land and in part because crocodiles take me back to my childhood, when I listened to Seppi, the crocodile hunter, tell stories of pursuing crocodiles along the Nile.

Not only is the book evocative and visually luminous, it also has a tactile allure. The recycled paper has an ecological appeal, befitting Plumwood’s philosophy. I have an urge not only to view but to touch and feel the images on the page. There are so many details to explore – the stacked books in front of Plumwood’s fireplace, baskets and trinkets, a banjo on a divan. Then there are shimmering individual leaves, reflections in water, a build-up of silt along a riverbed. My fingers trace the branches of a tree, the back of a crocodile floating in the water…

Plumwood is published by Tall Poppy Press and is available at

What’s left of a lifetime

Across the road stands an empty and neglected house. The curtains in the main bedroom are torn and I have never known otherwise. The gutters at the front lean towards the left and can no longer hold the downpour of rain. A large tin shed stands at the back of the property, its swinging doors wide open and bent, revealing a dark cavern with nothing inside. There is no light, no life, no love left in this house.

On the nature strip are the vestiges of a shared lifetime: a 1970s kitchen table with three fawn vinyl seats, a striped folding beach chair, an occasional chair, a plastic bin, an esky and a milkcrate filled with the detritus of a meagre life. They have been left for the annual council clean up and after this, there will be no sign left of the lives lived there.

When I moved to the village six years ago, I occasionally saw the old couple sitting on the veranda of the house. The husband mowed the lawn, took the bins out and did a little gardening here and there. He still drove his small car to town, although plenty of people were worried about his fast-declining driving skills. His wife, however, mainly spent her days indoors. From my study, I would see her get undressed for bed at 9pm sharp.

The couple were private. They had lived in the village all their lives and had a couple of trusted neighbours who would look in on them. Otherwise, they kept to themselves. It didn’t help that the old man was deaf and cut off from world. I would nod or wave from across the road but that was my only interaction with them.

Most weekends their grown-up children would visit with grandchildren in tow. They began to take over the mowing and one day I noticed that the old car was driven away. The son could see that old man was dangerous on the road. Everyone on the street breathed a sigh of relief. Then, I noticed other changes too – home help arrived a couple of times a week and after a while, nurses.

The first time an ambulance came, I feared the worst. I found out from neighbours that George (I finally learned his name) had a ‘turn’ during the night. I was wondering how his wife would cope but at 9pm I saw her getting ready for bed as usual. A day or so later, George was brought home and life resumed more or less as normal.

The ambulance began to arrive regularly to take George away. I saw less of him in the garden and he rarely sat out the front anymore. Neighbours who had known them for decades began to rally. Some took out and brought in the bins, other did some shopping or dropped off meals. The chemist brought their medicines and nurses visited routinely now. I was beginning to wonder how long this could last.

The last time that the ambulance arrived seemed no different to all the other times. But George never came home. The doctors decided it was time for geriatric care management, a euphemism for moving to a nursing home. The family arrived at the house and things began to move rather quickly. Neighbours informed me that a place had been found for them at a residential aged care facility on the NSW Central Coast, a long way from where they had lived all their lives.

One day I noticed that no lights came on at 9pm and the house stayed dark. Family began to arrive at odd times to clear out the house and garage, removing anything salvageable in their cars. Finally, all that was left was were the few items on the footpath.

I look at these forlorn leftovers and feel downcast. Is this what awaits us all? Cherished memories sitting at the kitchen table wiped away with a wet cloth and put out for council collection? It is almost too much to bear.

I wonder how the old couple is now and whether I will ever hear news about them again. I know they never wanted to leave this pretty little village that was home to them for over 90 years. Perhaps they are stronger than I think. I hope so. And I hope they can sit side by side for as long as they have left with one another as they once did on their front veranda.

Stationery obsessions

I used to think I was the only one who couldn’t resist Milligram, Larry Post or Bespoke Letterpress. It turns out I was wrong.

I have often joked that I could keep a whole village supplied in stationery for six months if not a year. However, visiting my friend J. in Sydney made me realise that my obsession is small fry.

I may have enough ink cartridges to last a few years for my two fountain pens, but he has ink cartridges in a variety of colours for his ten stylographic pens. He opens toolboxes filled with nibs in various thicknesses, mechanical pencils and leads and unopened packets of Rollerball pens to show me.  He wins. It’s a laydown misère in a competition I never expected to enter.

It makes me wonder about my compulsion to buy yet another writing pad; I drafted this post on a newly purchased Japanese jotter. It is gridded, not lined, and has a small diagonal cut on the bottom left corner. I wrote in violet, using the same-coloured pen that my late uncle loved. Each of these items feels gratifying to admire and hold. Yet when placed with all the other stationery supplies vying for attention in drawers or shelves, they become part of the overwhelm of ‘too much stuff.’

‘Can I offer you a pen, some ink, or a nib perhaps?’ J. asks with exasperation in his voice. He is frustrated by his own inability to say ‘no’ to his stationery obsession. I look at him with compassion because I know that temptation to buy one more item only too well. I don’t submit to it with clothes, make-up, or jewellery but I can’t resist stationery or books. It takes every bit of my willpower to walk past a bookshop and I try so hard to avert my eyes when I come across boutique stationers.

What is it about a beautiful pen or good quality paper? I am a highly tactile person and get much pleasure from feeling the way a pen sits in the crook of my hand and how it glides effortlessly across quality paper. I enjoy looking at parchment which is easy on the eye. If I had my way, all notebooks would be buff rather than glaring white.

Then there are the evocative smells. You may prefer the scent of Chanel No 5, but for me there is nothing quite like the aroma of a newly opened ink bottle or the smell of an old notebook. It turns out I am a stationery geek. And friends, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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