ENDANGERED: COASTAL EMUS AND SUGAR CANE FARMERS

Though I have traveled this stretch of highway several hundred times, only twice have I seen the rare and elusive coastal emu. More squat than his inland cousins with brown feathers, he sailed regally through the green sea of knee-high sugar cane.
I recall this windshield scene and the retired cane farmer says that although he has never seen them, they make a mess of the cane. Though his cheerfulness sparkles from sun-crinkled eyes, he speaks for a generation that battled. Like the rare emu he has arrived at his age, having raised a family amongst the flood-prone cane fields.

 

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4-July-2014 11:25 AM
After visiting my late father’s friend Doug McSwan at Woodford Island, Maclean NSW on 3-July-2014.

It is special to see such an endangered species still in the wild. There was a newspaper report about 3 or 4 years ago of a sugar cane harvester rescuing a clutch of baby coastal emus in this area. Like other emus the female lays the eggs and then the male incubates and raises them. This drabble (100-word story) was inspired by calling in to see a good friend of my late father’s at Harwood Island (just south of Maclean NSW) and our discussion about the coastal emu.

I did not manage to photograph them but I did find Lynette’s blog that has some lovely photographs of the same rare coastal emus in the sugar cane paddocks in this area on http://soulsongart.com/2011/10/29/coastal-emus-near-maclean-nsw/

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TO TRAVEL WITHOUT

Would one carry luggage
When the porters smile
Disarmingly white-toothed
Because you are their next meal
The roof over wide-eyed children
A calling-in place for global roamers
The café where you drink milk frothed
That has not curdled in distended stomachs
?
Would one knowingly choose
The life of one over another as though
It were as simple as choosing a meal from a printed menu
When the world’s children never learn to read
And their parents are too tired from illiterate working
To read stories from writers who visit from far-off lands
So distant they would torture children
For merely surviving the boat trip
?
I choose to open the blue-ringed cages of Manus
and Naru and Christmas Island
where terrible atrocities on human minds
are being perpetrated in some vainglorious attempt
to punish the distant ‘Mr Bigs’
in the human cargo transport industry
.

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A small piece of protest against the Australian Government’s Offshore Detention Policy for refugee asylum seekers who attempt to arrive by boat, particularly in response to the plight of children. Written 20-August-2014 1:16 AM. <AJC>

THE LANDING

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Not being a parachutist, I notice the incoming bird with splayed feet and the awkward wings of a teenager. Others look up, grounded as we are, to benches and grass and sand. Mothers pushing children on arcing swings. The fisherman casting bait through parabolas into saltwater. Even the dog that marked the pole.
Collectively we stop and hold our breaths against the unpredictable headwind.
Somehow, the young pelican makes a daylight landing atop the elevated street light. It is not perfect, but it is enough.
We exhale and resume our terrestrial activities.
He preens himself and watches the beings beneath.

The Charity Bin

Generous people clear out wardrobes, bagging up clothing of past butterflies, moths and grubs for someone else to assume the colours of their lives.
Small children in the back lane fossick in the bags that are left as offerings for St Vincent.
It is recycling alive.
Saffron robes could not hide the joy of woven straw hat and checked chef’s apron topping the slinky satin dress too big for a princess in oversized heels.
Her friend drapes fake flowers looped in leis around a slender neck and for a moment I remember that dressing up is not only for adults.

Stiltwalker's Butterfly Wing (detail), Living Earth Festival Inaugural Street Parade, Mullumbimby NSW Australia, September 2013. Photograph: Alexandra J Cornwell

Stiltwalker’s Butterfly Wing (detail), Living Earth Festival Inaugural Street Parade, Mullumbimby NSW Australia, September 2013. Photograph: Alexandra J Cornwell

A drabble I worked up this morning from a creative topic I thought of in Angela Meyer’s Microfiction workshop at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. I shared it with the lady sitting adjacent in a paired exercise, however the idea has been resonating with me ever since.
As for illustrating it, I just trawled through some older photographs I took last year because it is just too wet outside today while the east coast of Australia experiences a near midwinter drenching. I don’t blame the weather as it could be a drought-breaker for some on the land who are doing it tough.
Also I’d need to line up some smaller children and photograph them from a hide near the charity bin to see if it would work… if there are any outside now they would be under umbrellas and likely prefer to play in the puddles. To be honest, what gets dropped off there is all a bit too random to guarantee it would match my story… so I’ll stick with imagination instead. <AJC>

Update: Shared with the Society of Women Writers Queensland Inc 14-August-2018.

The Nude Painting

The artist’s model reclines. Fully clothed, he fusses with the line of his shirt, the trouser length, his tie. A stray thread worries him. He pulls at it.
“Comfortable?” she enquires.
His face is fully exposed to the woman sketching him, she who will paint him and capture his face… torso… legs… on canvas. He shivers.
“Warm enough?” she asks, solicitous concern underlying her enquiry.
“Very. Thanks,” he responds.
She turns away from the sketch and mixes some basic background colours to tone the white expanse. Reaching for more, she flicks the brush. A spot falls on her bare foot.

________

Did I get a booster shot of feminism while listening to the amazing trio of Jean Kittson, Tara Moss and Kate Holden talking in a session titled The Woman of Many Parts: misogyny, menopause and being human at the Byron Bay Writers Festival last week? Maybe.

I actually wrote this before but put it to one side while searching the internet for an appropriate image, mainly because i haven’t had the opportunity to photograph a nude female painting a fully dressed male model.  Maybe such scenarios haven’t been conceptualised for visual consumption on the internet yet… Maybe I didn’t have the patience to trawl through a wide repository of possible images based on various search terms… one seemingly as hopeless as another at eliminating the nude-woman-as-artist’s-subject-matter cliché.  Then I thought who needs images? Aren’t these words my paint and the keyboard my brushstrokes, or charcoal, pencil, ink, or whatever medium you like to think artists sketch and outline and shade and colour-in with… For all we know one of us could be naked while typing and/or reading this <surreptitiously checks to see if webcam light is on…>

How powerful is the imagination?! <AJC>

http://byronbaywritersfestival.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/the-woman-of-many-parts/

The Fallen Ones

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They lay in the grass looking up. Hands touching hands, as lovers that are about to be. They have come so far to be so close yet the moment passes over them. Stuck to the earth as they gazed into the blue that shields eyes from the distant stars for half our lives, they are facing in the right direction for an open future. Together they fill the void and chase the shadows in each others corners. The grass moves under lightest wind and aeroplanes out of sight cast fast moving shadows.
She closes her eyes and breathes him in.

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A note on the photograph. I took this sunset photograph at the end of winter last year.  It was just down the road from my grandparent’s dairy farm at Tyagarah in northern New South Wales. After three generations, the land left the family in the 1960’s economic down turn when dairy farmers across the north coast no longer had an export market in the United Kingdom for butter, and they were too far by rail or road from unsecured metropolitan fresh milk markets. Like many rural valleys in the region, much of the land has since been subdivided into small holdings.  As individual entities, even with correction for inflation, one would no doubt sell for far more than the original one square mile farm was purchased in 1904. Although the old homestead remains, it has been sympathetically extended by the current owners, and is now a listed local heritage item in the local planning controls. <AJC>

Footpaths and Orbits

He’s fascinated. Her skateboard has a tropical red hibiscus design that reminds him of his mother’s festive tablecloths, red , green and seasonal. She laughs. He takes the floppy-eared dog for another walk around the block while he finishes drinking the bottle of beer. He feels lightheaded. She slides the diamond stud from her ear and twirls it between her fingers until the reflected light shimmers like a disco ball. She sighs. He would talk to her if he could catch up with her flying wheels. He reflects. She considers falling into eyes that deep. One day trajectories will intersect.

Sparkle!

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“Sparkle with me, Lilly!”
The lady who harbours original growth forest secrets in her nooks and crannies has stripped off and with the brassiness and aplomb of uninhibited age, coupled with a ‘who bloody cares anymore’ attitude, calmly tacks through the beach-goers on a course for waters glistening.
Racing across the sand, my one-piece swimming costume bunched with a twisted shoulder strap, I admonish her.
“Elvere! You’re not at the clothes-optional beach!”
“Ahh! The three year olds can do it. So can I!” is her jaunty reply.
Streakin’ granny alert!
Though I must admit – she has the body for it.

Photograph: “Torakina Brolly” by Alexandra J Cornwell

Constance F. Gordon-Cumming Finds Home

Orphaned young, Constance accepted the governor’s invitation to sail to Fiji.  With pen and brush the Scottish spinster records sweating missionaries civilizing island savages.
After drinking kava from the enlightened coconut shell, the mountains beckon her with echoes of distant highlands ablaze with heather.  With the native women she climbed the dangerous tracks, her long skirt bruising orchids. They swam in deep pools of cool water, often without bathing gowns. The tropic sun coloured her pale skin.
With open eyes ‘Eka’ records the mountain tribes who descended and ate the converted ones’ flesh.
She records life on her island home.

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There are certain people who inspire me and arouse in me a desire  to sit in a shady seat drinking tea and nibbling delicate sandwiches while we chat about any topic that takes our fancy. This story is dedicated to one of those.
Constance Frederica “Eka” Gordon-Cumming (1837-1924) was a travel writer and painter.
Born at Altyre, near Forres in Scotland, the 12th child of Sir William Gordon-Cumming, 2nd Baronet, and Elizabeth Maria (Campbell) Cumming. She grew up in Northumberland and was educated at Fulham, London. With some guidance from visiting artists, she taught herself how to paint.  After spending 1867 living in India, she became interested in travel and came to be a Victorian-era travel writer and landscape painter who traveled extensively throughout Asia and the Pacific, often alone and unaided. While her landscape drawings and watercolours were much admired, Constance received much criticism from her contemporary male writers, perhaps because she did not fit in the traditional Victorian role of women. I suspect it was ego-driven jealousy, although it may well have been because the sun saw places that they never did! <AJC>