07 April, 2013

Guilt trip

Came back from South America (Chile, Argentina, Antarctica, Uruguay, Brazil) on Tuesday morning and that evening held a meeting for the 3-day Green Walks hike, Brooklyn to Somersby. A part of me feels my time might be better spent sorting through my photos and finishing my diary (I kid myself that I write on planes—I never do any serious writing) over the Easter long weekend but I'd promised a friend I'd host the hike so there I am, talking to the walkers and figuring out an inventory.

It turns out my friend, Rahima, is injured and won't be coming but now I've met with everyone else who has RSVPed I have an obligation to do it for them. The weather looks a bit dodgy—rain on Thursday and patchy on Friday—but Saturday and Sunday look all right so it's on.

The period between Tuesday evening and Friday morning sweeps by like a clock wipe on a movie screen and I find myself legging it to Ashfield Station on Friday morning, afraid that I am late. If I am late we have to call the whole thing off because the water taxi from Brooklyn to Patonga will only pick us up at 9am and the trains to Hawkesbury River Station only go once an hour. I make it and still feel like maybe I've made a mistake and should be home spending time with Boff. And yet we've spent almost 24 hours a day with each other for the 30 days of our trip, maybe we need a break?

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One of our party misses the train and needs to drop out, so there's only three of us, the bare minimum, to do the walk. We board the boat to Patonga and it's a lovely 10-minute ride across the Hawkesbury River. It occurs to me that if I had my camera and if this had been another place, ie not just outside of my city, I would've taken photos all the way: of the pelicans roosting on the boat posts, the beautiful water views and their surrounding hills.

We head off from Patonga, along the waterline at first and then up the cliff that offers stunning, sparkling vistas both of the terrific weather with which we've been blessed and the natural beauty of the river and its surrounds.

The day goes by quickly. I've walked with Sonia before but know nothing about Kirsten (who, incidentally has asked around about me and apparently discovered only my good reputation). We chat and sympathise and make jokes.

Even after what I'd consider to be a lengthy lunch on top of a windy peak we arrive at our campsite just after 2pm, at a loss at how to fill our afternoon. We unpack and set up camp. The other two laze while I check out the Mt Wondabyne pathway, which gives an excellent panorama of the waterside suburbs as well as the rolling hills to the west. Again, I can't help feeling I'm being blase about the incredible beauty of the place. Sans camera I'm just agog rather than a person making a careful record of the scene. "Stick it in your memory hole," I might say to myself if I were in the mood to seem a little mad (mostly I hide it pretty well to see who's smart enough to find it).

We make dinner at 6pm and then at 6.45pm I bring them up to the peak to show them the sunset (the good one I prepared earlier). It's true that the sun sinks a lot quicker near the equator; I actually see it plop behind the horizon when it sets. When twilight sets in we brush our teeth and say our goodnights—nothing more to do or say for the day.

In the middle of the night, which is to say around 2am, I wake up to go to the bathroom. I at first mistake the time for pre-dawn as there's a grey light that enables me to see the inside of the tent. I hold onto the hope that my bladder can hang on until morning but after establishing the actual time I unzip, unzip and unzip myself from my cocoon to find that the sky is so clear and the moon is so bright that I don't need a torch. I turn on the torch anyway because the last thing you want at 2am is to pee on yourself because you were looking at the moon and not the ground.

The second day begins with a resplendent sunrise over the waterside neighbourhoods, which we view at a distance as we pack up camp. We have a long day ahead, well, longer than the previous day (6 hours according to the notes) and rougher terrain to cover. Our next water stop is Kariong Brook Falls. Fortunately I have almost 2L remaining having carried more than usua; after a bad experience at Mt Solitary just before Christmas taught me a lesson about relying on creeks. We decide to pack and have breakfast at the falls so we can drink tea without having to carry the water.

In deference to the fact that we arrived at Mt Wondabyne so damn early we end up staying at the falls for an hour. It's better to stay at a nice spot for an hour rather than have acres of time at a dull campsite, is the new rule. Hydrated, we push on. Having come down into the valley to reach the falls, we need to climb out. Then we reach Scopas Peak. It's not as high as Mt Wondabyne but it makes us long for the falls or another way to take a dip. It's exposed up there, and we've been going for a couple of hours, so as soon as we spot some shade behind a rock wall we stop for what is nominally lunch, though I'm not as hungry as I perhaps should be.

My topo reading skills are a bit rusty (and I don't have an altimeter handy) but it looks like we're near the top anyway and shade is scarce so we make use of it while we can. As we settle, we're overtaken by two guys and encounter a dads-and-sons trip going the other way. One of the dads confirms we are very near the top so the rest of lunch feels vindicated. I don't think I've ever had a vindicated lunch before.

At about 2pm we cross a wide but shallow creek where the boys who overtook us have been (sort of) swimming. We pause to reduce our core temperature in the shady dampness. While it hasn't been blazingly hot (bureau had indicated top of 25C) the exposed parts of the walk combined with a hefty rucksack and our relentless movement northwards has driven our body heat up. It's also quite humid, which makes the heat uncomfortable.

It's not long before we cross the Phil Houghton Bridge. There's no sign on the bridge to say this is the name, but the Wildwalks notes describes it accurately enough for identification. Who knows, maybe Phil Houghton is the Wildwalks writer for this section of the walk and he noticed the bridge had no name so decided to bestow his own upon it?

The bridge crosses a very wide part of the Mooney Mooney Creek with a clearing on the other side that has been used as a campsite and an escarpment that practically begs for entry into the water. Kirsten and Sonia comply, while I'm content to remove my shoes and dip my legs in. It crosses my mind that it's amazing there are no mosquitoes or leeches, which is a thought I come to mark later on.

The last part of the second day's walk is pleasantly cool, under the canopy of trees that line the creek. At first I have a mild panic attack that we have gone the wrong way because we seem to be on the wrong bank (walking with it to our left instead of to our right as the map shows for the campsite location) but after a thorough map check and a comprehensive read of the trip notes I'm satisfied that it's because we haven't crossed the final bridge yet.

In the end it's pleasant, flat and boring: largely along a gravel road where we see a lone fisherman, some kayakers and a row of houses, some dilapidated, some prettily done up like a holiday show home. When the foliage gets dense the mosquitoes come out to play, though by the time we pull out the repellent it's too late.

Soon we reach the campsite, Mooney Mooney North having apparently missed the southern clearing, leaving a little doubt as to whether we're at the right one. Location established, we decide against a fire as too much work so set up tents next to the established fire circle. As we finish, the boys from the creek sidle up. Phil and Tim, they say. It turns out they want a fire so they spend 10 minutes gathering wood while we rethink our earlier decision and throw benefits, such as discouraging mozzies, into the mix.

I take a short hiatus in the tent while Sonia builds the ignition pyramid. The mozzies have got me everywhere, even through my clothes and I need some relief from having to fight them off at every moment. When I later check, there is an unfortunate cluster of dozens of bites along the top of my butt and the backs of my arms. Bastards.

We make dinner; soup and couscous again for me, while the boys do an elaborate pasta dish that takes three times as long to make as all of our meals combined. Although I cloak myself in the heat and smoke of the fire, my skin still crawls with the possibility of those flying bloodsuckers so I excuse myself and retire soon after nightfall. Another long, reasonably comfortable night.

Us girls wake at 6.45, just before dawn, and pack up camp. Our breakfast spot will be Mooney Mooney Dam, where we will take our water for the day. It's a flat start, with the only difficult terrain being a wet crossing about 50m wide where the creek flows over a rock platform.

We arrive at Mooney Mooney Dam without trouble... only to find that there are leeches along the shoreline. It's a less than comfortable breakfast, taken standing up and quicker than we intend. Once we take on board water for the day we sprinkle ourselves with tea tree oil and leave with pack covers on.

There's a little bit of undulation in the morning's path but no significant hills so we trundle along at a good pace. There's only one more difficult crossing: a creek that is supposed to be 'ephemeral' but most certainly exists. It looks too deep to cross with shoes but I dip one of Kirsten's poles in and figure it's shallow enough to barge through. It's slightly slippery from moss on the rocks but we all make it across without mishap. I love my Keens.

At the Quarry Campsite Sonia decides to find a bathroom spot and instead runs into a snake. Not literally, but close ("That's the kind of branch I would've grabbed to steady myself," she says, pointing at the yellow-specked black snake measuring around 3m draped on a small tree). I snap a photo for evidence and kudos later.

Some parts of the walk follow the management trails, which are quite boring but easy to navigate. At the end of a three-day hike it's good to not have to spend extra energy thinking about every step. Before long we find ourselves on the road and on the uphill climb to Somersby Store. We get there and despite the numerous signboards surrounding it declaring it 'open', it is closed. It's Easter Sunday after all. I call the taxi company and cancel my 1.30pm pick-up and order one for 'now' (12.45pm).

While we are waiting, the boys arrive, disappointed that the store is closed ("I was looking forward to a burger and a milkshake," says Phil). We donate the remainder of our food and water and wish them luck on the way the Yarramalong, where they will end the walk on Easter Monday. The taxi takes us to Gosford Station and the train takes us home.

All in all an easy walk to do and with enough views and nature experiences to make the boring bits worthwhile. The only drawback is the cost and inconvenience of the transfers (Brooklyn to Patonga, Somersby to Gosford). And now I start sorting through my South America photos...

21 October, 2012

Playing the gender card

You already know this is going to be about Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Alan Jones, gender, media and politics so I'm not going to blame you from clicking elsewhere... now.

All right. Hello, the two of you who are left.

I had a short stoush with someone on Twitter last week. This is quite unusual for me, because I'm used to whining into the ether that is the 140-character blue bird's blah stream and getting no response whatsoever from anything I say. (Actually, that's not true. I do get @ replies, comments, RTs and favorites but that's because I rarely say things that are controversial.) It went something like this:

So here's the situation as I understand it:
  • Speaker of the House Peter Slipper once wrote a text message to his former assistant James Ashby describing female genitalia as shell-less mussels. 
  • Slipper is currently under investigation for sexual harassment with regard to his conduct towards Ashby. The text was used to illustrate the sexualised nature of the exchange between the two. Ashby is gay.
  • Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott proposed a motion to remove Slipper based on his 'sexist' text. Also because this would supposedly give the Coalition an edge in a hung Parliament.
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard responded in a way that is now famous, labelling Abbott a misogynist (see video below).

  • Gillard was then accused of playing the gender card when it suited her.
  • I got annoyed.

So it seems I got annoyed without actually clarifying what I meant by not trying to play a 'gender card' and taking it out of the equation. Because Gillard does play a gender card but by doing so, it should take gender out of the equation. I'll put it this way, Gillard cannot play the gender card unless it has already been played. It doesn't work unless it has already been played. So the smart thing for the Opposition to do is not bloody well play it. But intelligence has never been their strong suit and Gillard totally owned them in 15 minutes.

I almost clapped at the end of that speech. I'm not a Labor voter and I don't even like Gillard, but I respect her and I welcome her return to form because we need someone viable to be PM seeing as I've pretty much decided to leave the country if Abbott gets elected.

Other things I believe:
  • Describing vaginas as shell-less mussels is not sexist. It's just embarrassing. And bad for the seafood industry.
  • Even if the message were sexist, a text message that was never meant for the public domain should not receive the same weight as a political statement made for many: Slipper's perceived sexism is not equal to Abbott's.
  • Abbott is not a misogynist. I think he has an outdated idea of what women can and can't do, which makes him sexist in an ignorant way but I don't think he goes out of his way to hate women. He just hates Gillard. He hates that she is not anything like what he believes a woman 'should be' (Christian and married with children, probably) and yet is Prime Minister.
  • Women aren't suited to this type of politics. It's stupidly skewed towards a male idea of leadership and governance. Women need a paradigm shift that will allow the public to recognise their talents. At the moment these are being ignored because they are not prioritised by the male idea of what is useful in government and politics.
I want to share with you this great cartoon by Cathy Wilcox as well:

A note about Alan Jones
For those who need a quick overview: Julia Gillard's father died of shame: Alan Jones.

Something else I feel the need to tack on the end here: I do believe radio talkback host Alan Jones is misogynist. He has always been condescending about women and I actually believe he hates them and is prejudiced against them.

I don't believe he should have been hauled over the coals about his 'died of shame' comment, however. Although it was offensive I think it would have been made whether Gillard was male or female because that's how tactless Jones is. His following remark about people going easy on Gillard because she is a woman is patently wrong because she has certainly been given a harder time as a woman (can anyone think of a time a male politician has been made fun of in the general media because of his dress sense? Anyone?).

But he does deserve the heat he's getting now. The Gillard comment is what broke the camel's back. Gillard reacted because Abbott echoed the 'died of shame' comment in a different context. My partner believes he did this deliberately to get a rise out of her and show how emotionally unstable she was (possibly to link that to being a woman and therefore incapable of keeping emotion out of politics). Instead, she bit back with a very well composed retort. The tide then turned against both Abbott and Jones simultaneously.

Jones should actually have been fired/jailed/banished long ago for sedition (re: Cronulla riots), bullying and harassment. If that's not enough, there should be some penalty for hypocrisy. As soon as Destroy the Joint started picking off advertisers from his show, Jones started feeling victimised. Poor diddums. I wonder if he thought like that when he was the one encouraging people to act on their beliefs. I guess not.

So let me close this rant by saying I hate the idea we are playing a game with politics, the media and online opinion but I am learning to accept the way it must be. One can live in hope that it will all turn out for the best*, right?

* The 'best' meaning 'a country in which Tony Abbott is not the Prime Minister'. I have met the man and I don't like him.

20 October, 2012

Looper (film)

I want to start on a foundation that establishes that I had no real idea what this film was about but was keen to see it as I'd heard it was good. Also: time travel!

Generally speaking, it is quite good as an action film. The performances by the three leads are spot on, and the ensemble cast was also well picked and supported the drama where they were needed most—in the fray.

Also praiseworthy was Rian Johnson's concept of the future: in the USA you could see the divide between the rich and the poor clearly and the cityscape was dilapidated enough to be a believable version of an America that was once great but had devolved into a slum-like state; in the Shanghai scenes you could see the Pearl Tower (currently one of the tallest buildings in the city) dwarfed by taller ones still, indicating China's future growth, wealth and power. Pre-empting this visual presentation is a verbal encouragement by the boss character for Joe to learn Chinese instead of French.

The premise of 'Looper' is fairly straightforward: In the future, time travel is possible but it is outlawed. A criminal organisation uses it to send people to the past (before time travel has been invented) to be killed and disposed of without a trace. A looper is a killer who works for this organisation in the past. He is called a looper because eventually the person he kills is his future self, thereby closing the loop. When the looper kills himself he gets a huge payout and lives comfortably for the rest of his life until such time as he gets sent back in time to be killed. This is presumably so the mob have no loose ends.

*** there are spoilers in this review ***

I have a fair few problems with this. Firstly, why would you need a looper to know he killed his future self? None of his other targets are identified. Except for the payout of gold bars, the looper would never know that the person he just killed was himself so why tell him? Just keep using him and then retire him. Get another looper to kill the future self, who cares?

The second, quite major, problem is the time travel element. Now, I've heard a lot of talk about 'Looper' and I can generally put the audience into one of two camps: action movie and sci-fi. I tend to find that the action movie audience like the movie a lot more, they find it cerebral without being too taxing with enough shoot 'em ups to make it a pretty good film. They believe they have a grasp of the sci-fi element.

The sci-fi camp are less impressed. They understand all the concepts of time travel presented in the film but they don't buy it because writer/director Rian Johnson has chosen to use a few theories in the one film and those few theories cannot coexist.

For example when one looper, Seth, fails to close his loop the gang hunts him down and then carves an address into his arm, knowing that his future self will bear the scars. As old Seth makes his way to the address, bits of him disappear—a foot, his nose etc—because the gang is hacking off bits from young Seth. Now if young Seth has all these deformities, how does he then grow to be old Seth, who is able to run from the young Seth when he is sent back in time to be killed? You cannot have a 'one timeline' theory (old Seth being affected by young Seth's amputations) and a 'many worlds' theory (old Seth, who originally closed his loop successfully and went on to live a good life and this situation, where young Seth does not close his loop successfully so therefore cannot go on to live the life that old Seth has evidently already lived) coexist.

So this is a really bothersome part of the main story in which one version has young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) close his loop and grow up to be old Joe (Bruce Willis) and a second version in which young Joe fails to close his loop and has old Joe beat him up and escape.

When the two later meet in a cafe old Joe tries to explain things by saying his 'memories' are vague and are full of possibilities rather than concrete recollections. The only things that are clear are the things that young Joe has already done, not the things young Joe is about to do.

This is problematic because at the end of the film young Joe kills himself to prevent old Joe from existing to threaten a mother (Sarah) and her son Cid, a future threat to old Joe. Except if we go by the 'one timeline' theory this means that old Joe should not have existed at all to come back to threaten the two. Only, young Joe would never have killed himself if old Joe hadn't come back and set all these events in motion, in which case we are dealing with a 'many worlds' theory. But in that case, young Joe killing himself would not have an effect on old Joe, who would have come from another 'version' of young Joe, one who had successfully closed his loop to become old Joe. GAH!

Even more problematic is the idea that young Joe has clearly made up his mind to protect Sarah and Cid and yet this understanding of the two has no effect on old Joe's decision to kill Cid, which proves that this old Joe is not derived from the young Joe we have followed throughout the film.

As for Sarah and Cid, the son is creepy and Sarah sleeps with young Joe for no apparent plot consequence. Also, the fact that they are telekinetic feels tacked on, even though telekinesis was introduced at the start and becomes a big deal as young Joe learns the consequences of Cid's powers.

All in all, the film appears all slick and macho and brainy but is actually a kind of mess. The only thing saving it is the performances by actors who probably didn't question Johnson's multiple uses of time travel theory too much and therefore gave a straight performance.

Film rating: 7/10 – actually quite a decent action film if you forgive all the time travel nonsense.
Enjoyment rating: 5/10 – except I didn't forgive it.

06 October, 2012

You don't know me...

I pass you on the street and I want to say 'hello', but you don't actually know me. You see, you're sort of famous. You were on that panel, the one with the funny guy who ran late. You spell well. You wrote a zine I thought was the best thing I read in 2004. You have a byline in a magazine that people have actually heard of. You've been published in Voiceworks.

I struggle a little when I go to the This is Not Art Festival (TiNA) in Newcastle. I've been to almost every one since 2000 when it was the National Young Writers' Festival (NYWF) and I was a young writer. I was a university student then. I commuted from Sydney twice because I didn't have accommodation and I remember teaching some cute guy how to make origami cranes.

I've been to NYWFs that were held in Newcastle Town Hall, the PAN building, a train yard. There were zine fairs in Auckland Street and Civic Park and panels held in abandoned arcades. I walk up past the lighthouse every year, sometimes in the windy night, sometimes in the blazing heat of the day. It's customary. Occasionally I make it to the obelisk too.

Before the Spelling Bee became a mainstay there were poetry slams, literary debates decided by Shantaram shotput, and Wriron Chef cook-offs.

I've called the YHA my second home while flirting with Noah's and Backpackers by the Beach and The Oriental when my preferred hostel booked out. Sometimes I bring friends and/or boyfriends. Sometimes I attend alone and make friends for a day.

I used to have Newcastle seasons: winter was The Shoot Out and spring was NYWF. The only year I've missed NYWF since 2000 was when I went overseas in 2005.

Unsurprisingly, I see a lot of the same people year-in, year-out. The hairstyles and clothes may change but in context they are instantly familiar. Some are NYWF legends: festival father Marcus Westbury, Geoff Lemon, Marieke Hardy, Benjamin Law, Dr Ianto Ware, Lee Tran Lam and Lisa Dempster. Others are panellists that I've come to recognise: Michaela McGuire, Elizabeth Redman, Cameron Pegg, Alex O'Neill, Zoe Barron.

The problem is that I suffer from a very particular kind of shyness that makes it impossible to treat many of these people as real people. Because they're famous. Because they're panellists. Because they publish zines. Meanwhile, I'm quite at home introducing myself to people at random events, such as other audience members or sharing a table at the Spelling Bee or, as was the case this year, being a ring-in of a literary trivia team.

I don't want to bowl up to these NYWF stalwarts and interrupt them. Or feel pressure to impress them. Or treat them as equals (they are special). And yet the NYWF is probably one of the flattest, most accessible festivals I've ever been to, where panellists from one session are gazing reverently at panellists of the next and audience members chat congenially to moderators over a post-panel tea.

For some reason I tend to forget that I'm not without credentials myself. Just editing a uni arts publication should've gotten me some cred in the beginning. Follow that with a diverse career in custom publishing, feature writing, magazine editing and freelancing and all the other odd writing jobs I've done and surely I'm not nobody.

But what am I supposed to do? Nod at these people who I don't quite know in acknowledgement and walk on by? Introduce myself and stand awkwardly fishing for an excuse not to stand awkwardly? You don't know me and I don't really know you but...


I have met these people before:

Marcus Westbury: Interviewed him in person about Renew Newcastle for a magazine I once edited, witnessed his and his wife Narinda's signature for their son Louin's passport at that meeting. Once bought him a panda hat and gave it to him at the Sydney Writers' Festival where I was volunteering. He probably finds me vaguely familiar.

Geoff Lemon: Once shared a stage with him at the Spelling Bee in 2010. I was second runner-up after Geoff and that year's winner Garth. Wouldn't know me from Adam.

Benjamin Law: He signed my copy of The Family Law after a panel at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and said my name was familiar. Probably doesn't remember what I look like, though.

Lee Tran Lam: For some years we met once a month as part of a writing group she initiated, which has since died. I used to go to university with her; we were never in the same tutorial but we did share an office: she co-edited the 8-issue/year Passing Show and I co-edited the annual Soma. We later met as junior journos at some PR thing. We exchange hellos but we don't hang out.

Lisa Dempster: Had her sign my copy of Neon Pilgrim. Later became an Emerging Writers' Festival Penpal (sponsor) when she was festival director. I like to think she has a passing interest in what I do. She knows my partner Boff as 'the dinosaur guy' after a brief nerdy stint on stage during a Spelling Bee sideshow he won by correctly naming a dinosaur or some such.

Cameron Pegg: Flattered when he recognised me (he was wearing a mask, so I had no chance) and tapped me on the shoulder at the circus-themed ball in 2011 and invited me to join his group to dance. We follow each other on Twitter. Does that count?

Alex O'Neill: After following her on Twitter for a year we finally met in person at the zine fair this year. She follows me too. (No really, does that count?)

If any of you have made it here, leave your mark below!