It’s Belinda’s way or the Highway…

Belinda the Ninja FRONTlowresSo there we are, my partner and I, and we’re slogging up Whitsunday Peak on Whitsunday Island, and it’s hot and humid. My sandfly bites are driving me crazy, and mozzies the size of elephants are trying to carry me away. I’m wondering if my desire not to be the first one to say ‘let’s stop’, will beat my desire to get back to Dugong Beach as quickly as possible and plunge myself into the beautiful, clear, turquoise water.

I give in. “Greg,” I whinge. “Let’s go back.”

He stops almost mid-step. “Phew,” he says. “I thought you’d never say it.”

So we turn around and pick our way back down through the rainforest, and into the scrub, and back along the path to the beach, and as we do, I’m thinking about my (then) 13-year-old daughter Anna, and how much she loves to do dance. I’m swatting away the mozzies, and wiping the sweat from my brow, and I suddenly get this little dancing image in my mind. At least, it’s a little girl, but she’s not exactly dancing, she’s doing Ninja moves.

“Yee-hah!” she’s shouting, as she puts up a hand to stop an imaginary opponent, and I’m surprised though, that she’s dressed in a little pink tutu and ballet slippers – because even though I’ve only just made her acquaintance I’m absolutely sure she doesn’t want to be a ballerina, she wants to be a Ninja.

The Ninja Ballerina I think to myself, and suddenly a name pops into my head.   Belinda.

Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

I’m almost jumping up and down on the spot – I’d be doing Ninja moves at the brush turkeys if I was supple enough.

“I’ve got an idea for a children’s book,” I say. “I think I’ve got to write it now.

There’s a wonderful moment as a writer, when an idea comes to you – and just for a moment you see it there, already written, already published even, and it’s perfect, it’s just as you imagined it, it’s a success, everybody loves it…and then, reality hits.

To begin with, you actually have to get the words out of your head on to paper, or computer, and then you have to begin the arduous process of working on the words, and even worse, fight off the internal nay-sayers who are only too happy to tell you that your idea is no good, and why on earth do you think you can write a book. Those voices don’t even listen when you tell them you’ve written books before – “yeah, well,” they’ll say in derision, “just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean you can do it again.” When I teach creative writing I always tell people – when you write something, at some point or other you’re going to have to cross Mordor.

But as I sat on a wooden bench, under a palm tree, trying to get this cheeky curly-headed girl out of my head and into a story, the words flowed as swiftly as a river, and within an hour, she was written. There was only one problem – I wished desperately that I could draw – I so wanted Belinda to look as I imagined her, and not how someone else might imagine her. But I needn’t have worried, because for whatever magical reason it might be, Belinda’s birth into the world of books, has been as easy and blessed as the moment of creation.

Mitch Vane's first rough drawings for Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

Mitch Vane’s first rough drawings for Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

Some people have already asked me the obvious question of whether I did ballet as a child, and I did – but let’s just say that I was not the most graceful child on the block. In fact I was pretty much permanently traumatized from the age of four when my father came to see me dance at my end of year kindergarten concert. We were doing a Little Miss Muffet sequence, and I was very proud of my pink tutu, tights and ballet shoes. I ran up to my parents after it was over, and my father looked at me solemnly.

“Well,” he said, “Stay as clumsy as that and you’ll never make a dancer.”   I sat down on my little pink bottom and burst into tears while my mother hugged me and not for the first or last time looked at my father reproachfully.

And there I was sitting under a palm tree on the other side of the world over 50 years later, and the idea of the Little Miss Muffet sequence came flooding back in – but this time, Belinda took control. No cute little costumes for her – no way, she wanted to be the Ninja spider. Graceful be damned – she was going to dance her way, or no way.

When Paul Collins, the publisher of Ford Street books in Melbourne, accepted Belinda I was delighted. I love what he does with children’s books – the care he takes, the fact that he’s stuck to his guns and still prints picture books in hardback, and when he mentioned to me that perhaps we should approach Mitch Vane to do the illustrations, I was over the moon. I know Mitch’s work well, although I’ve never met her, and sitting far away in Byron Bay, waiting for the first drawings to come in, I felt a combination of excitement and trepidation. How would Mitch see Belinda? After all, they’re not called ‘picture’ books for nothing – the words may have come first, but the pictures were essential. Would Mitch’s vision match mine, or would she see Belinda completely differently?

When the email arrived with the first roughs, I almost broke the keyboard in my excitement to open them – and WOW – there was Belinda. My Belinda. A cheeky curly-haired red-head, with a grin, and a Ninja costume, cart-wheeling her way through the pages of the book.

It’s interesting when you write a book, or a story, or essay, how other people see it – sometimes as a writer you may question their interpretation, sometimes they see something you didn’t even see when you were writing. Mitch spotted an element to the book that was entirely unconscious in the writing, and that was Belinda’s constant movement.

“Belinda’s character is never what you would call ‘quiet’ or ‘still’,” Mitch said to me when we were talking about the teacher’s notes for the book. “Throughout the story she never stops practicing her Ninja moves, and that’s why I felt the energetic squiggly pen and ink line and splashes of colour wash best reflected her personality – but I think what was most important for me was to portray Belinda’s determination and passion.”

It seemed that Mitch and Paul both connected with Belinda’s determined personality, and then throughout the publishing process there was also Dmetri Kakmi – Belinda’s editor – the contact point between us all – publisher, author and illustrator. He too loved Belinda, and carefully negotiated the minefield of dealing with ‘creatives’ to gather the various strands into the whole that has become the book that at this moment – after 14 books – has most perfectly realized that moment of creation.

I know how lucky I am as a writer to have had this experience, and as Belinda the Ninja Ballerina is launched into the world next week, I hope many young readers enjoy her message on the importance of standing up for yourself.


You can find out more about candida baker on candidabaker.com

Candida Baker also runs an online arts, culture and lifestyle magazine based in the Byron Bay region – www.verandahmagazine.com.au

For more information on Belinda the Ninja Ballerina go to: www.fordstreetpublishing.com

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Silence is Golden

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Silence is not the absence of something

but

the presence of everything.

   John Grossmannn

 

 My best friend Sally and I could ride our ponies for hours through the English countryside where I grew up.

On the way back home, all of us – humans and horse – tired from our outing, would mosey our way along the grass verge, feet out of the stirrups, dangling our boots through the cow-parsley, while the ponies took the odd snack-on-the-go.

In those moments, life often seemed sweet and almost perfect, and it wouldn’t take much for one of us to burst into the chorus of one of our favourite songs…

‘Silence is golden, but my eyes still see

Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see…’

Anybody who remembers the song will know it doesn’t say much for our taste at the time, but it was 1967 and we were 12-years-old, and we were collectively in love with the Tremeloes, who, as it turned out were going to be a one-hit wonder, with not even, as I found out many years later, their own song.

What I remember thinking in those far-off days, and it’s a thought that has stayed with me all my life, is that there are two kinds of silence – an outside silence, which in a sense does not really exist, and an inner one, which arrives on a rare occasion – well, rare to me at least – unbidden, as a sudden sense of quiet inner peace.

I grew up in the country, and I now live in the country, and I still horse-ride – these days through the green macadamia-covered hills of northern New South Wales.

Until recently when we sadly lost my daughter’s Shetland pony, Sally-the-Boy to a brain tumour,  I would take my daughter for a trail ride on him, and  I would walk beside her.  Whenever we did our lane outing, she liked to close her eyes, so, as she said, she could hear the ‘quiet’ sounds. And the quiet sounds were the sounds her pony’s hooves make clip-clopping steadily along, the sound of the breeze, the carolling of the magpies and the far-off hum of the motorway.

If you want to further the argument that silence in a sense is a concept, and not something that really exists – think of the phrase, ‘Silence please’, and where it is used.

Take a school classroom for instance, at the beginning of an exam and the room falls quiet as students begin the unenviable task of working through an exam paper – is it silent in there? Of course not. There are a million little noises: the scraping of shoes on the floor, the occasional cough, the sound of a chair being adjusted, paper being turned – there is almost, in fact, a ‘noise’ of concentration.

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And yet, conversely despite this outside noise that makes the notion of silence not – in any world I know at least – a reality, there is that time when you are in the exam, when your inner world is in silence. Then, if you are lucky and you have studied your subject, a kind of meditative trance falls on you where you become unaware of anything around you, blocking out everything other than that which you are doing.

When we were children we used to play many games in the fields and the woods around my home. One of them, a perennial favourite, involved an attempt to be silent. One of us would hide our eyes into a tree, while another would pretend to be a Red Indian – as we still called native American Indians then – and would creep silently up behind to scare the person hiding their eyes. Sometimes if one of us was feeling cruel, we would all run off and leave the innocent waiting to be startled alone at the tree, and as I know, that produced its own torturous silence – the silence of no response.

For a large part of the past 35 years I have been a journalist working in busy newspaper and magazine offices, and in those offices the ability to call on inner silence becomes absolutely vital. They’re noisy places, newspaper offices. Not quite as noisy as they were pre-computers, but noisy enough. A large open plan-office with telephones ringing and people talking, meeting, arguing, creating is not necessarily the kind of place that you would think would be conducive to writing, but write you must – and so you do – learning to block out every sound, so that you can meet your deadline. Much, dear reader, as I am doing now.

In a relatively quiet, relatively small space in my house, with white desks and two windows overlooking the paddocks below, I am typing an essay on silence. Outside I can hear the sound of the neighbour on his ride-on mower, every now and then my son’s mobile phone pings. I can hear the magpies, crows, rosellas, butcher birds, minah birds and doves that are just part of the noise landscape. One of the dogs is drinking water, each lap magnified by my attempt to hear silence. If I pause for a moment, I can absorb these sounds deep inside, and by absorbing them they become part of the silent interior, the place from which I am attempting to write.

William Penn once wrote: “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” For me that rings true, because the curious thing about turning into the inner world is how energising it is.

Sometimes, although not often enough, I manage to get up in the very early hours of the morning to meditate. Even then, deep in the country at four in the morning, the world is not silent. The creaks and groans of an old house keep me company; the cat appears at my side and grooms herself, if there is rain every tiny drop is magnified by the absence of day noise, and the silence of the night reveals itself as anything but, as I try to empty my mind and find that still place within.

If nature is so noisy, is it ever silent? “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence,” said Mother Teresa. “See the stars, the moon and the sun how they move in silence….we need silence to be able to touch souls.” I like that idea that the tree whose branch creaks over my roof, is growing in silence, that silence can be something tangible, if not in fact what we assume it to be. I’ve never thought of the sun, stars and moon as silent, but it’s true, at least from a human perspective. I see its trajectory over my house, I don’t hear it and that somehow reinforces the idea of silence being a sensation, having a presence, rather than an absence.

I have often wondered if wilderness places are silent – if you climb Mount Everest, for instance, do you sit in silence? In the Antarctic are you surrounded by silence? People tell me this is not so, that even in the quietest places there is noise, even if the noise is the beating of your own heart – even the absence of noise can be noisy.

There is a wonderful book by photographer Jeffrey Gusky entitled ‘Silent Places’. This poignant photographic journey through Eastern Europe documents in black and quite the crumbling landscape of the Holocaust. Houses, synagogues, railway lines, a simple corridor, a door, the entry to a Jewish home now used as a public toilet – every image silently tells a screaming story. His work is of outstanding quality, and somehow what he brings to the photographs is even more poignant than those of the time – the absence of people tells us these were their homes, their places of worship, of education and play – and in the case of the railway line to Auschwitz, their journey to death.   You feel that if you stare at them long enough you will bring them to life somehow, that the families will return, peeking out of the shadows, bringing light and love and warmth and noise with them, but until then this landscape bears silent witness to the bloody past.

 

 

'Corridor in Kazimierz', former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

‘Corridor in Kazimierz’, former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

Battlefields, memorials, cenotaphs, burial mounds, roman ruins – everywhere where man has once existed but is no longer, it is not the silence, or lack of it, in the direct environment of these places it is the silence of the structures themselves that strikes one as being so overwhelming, hinting at one’s own mortality. I am here, I am noise, I am flesh, I am anything but silent, my blood flows, my heart beats, my stomach growls, my joints creak, my eyes see, my ears hear, tongue tastes, in each movement I make, each kiss or cuddle I give or receive, in each angry word, or happy laugh or bossy command I am an active presence.

Perhaps it is this more than anything that creates anxiety for a lot of people around the idea of silence. In a world full of iPods, iPads, tablets, phones, facebook and computers, whether we live in the (supposed) peace and quiet of the country, or the white noise of a city, the idea of silence, without or within, can be laden with fear. I can’t hear, does that mean people can’t hear me? Do I, if I am not constantly in contact with humanity, matter? My lack of silence, my constant interaction reassures me – I am here, I do matter, I am in contact.

The very fact of modern human’s difficulty with silence means that it is increasingly more important for us to acknowledge it, to hold it within and embrace the silence – to give our soul a chance to speak.

Perhaps one of the best-known prose poems in the world is the Desiderata, which far from being written in the 1600s as was commonly thought, was in fact penned by Max Ehrmann in 1927. Ehrmann, a philosopher and writer who wrote six books in ten years and then became a lawyer because he felt he would never write a book that made him enough money to support his family, would be astonished and gratified to know that 84 years later the Desiderata is one of the most widely read poems in the world.

‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste,’ he wrote, ‘and remember what peace there may be in silence.’

What he was speaking of, I am sure, is inner silence – that deep, profound state of being when all is right with the world, so right that one could still be compelled, in the right circumstances – a horse ride along a quiet avenue of trees, a dog or three at my heels – in my case – to sing out loud, ‘Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see’. And always to remember, of course the wise words below:

Keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silence

When Less is More

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre.  Photograph Candida Baker

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre. 

“The next frontier is of a spiritual nature. Our success is no longer defined by our accumulation of material goods, but by being in service to a worthy cause.”

 Ariana Strozzi

 It’s a wonderful thing in life that we can know, or believe we know, a lot about something, and still find that there is plenty more to learn.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a clinic given by one of the Cavalia riders, Kansas Carradine, at the Byron Bay Equestrian centre.  If you haven’t yet caught up with Cavalia, think Cirque du Soleil with horses…

Carradine, who grew up in Hollywood (her father was David Carradine) has been involved with Cavalia and with trick riding for many years, but on the side she has been discovering a whole new area – Equine Guided Education.

After studying with Ariana Strozzi of Skyhorse Ranch in the US for some years, Carradine is now teaching this most gentle and yet revealing of horse practices.

I thought horse-whispering and natural horsemanship were already a world away from most of the accepted practices we learn on how to interact with horses, but Equine Guided Education takes it a step further – with absolutely no riding involved, and with the horses at liberty in an arena, the session quickly becomes more about what the horses show us about ourselves, than what we might traditionally consider we should show the horses!

With four horses at liberty, there was bound to be a bit of non-verbal discussion, and one mare, Gretel, and her follower, Lucy, quickly established themselves as the leaders. Another mare, Belle, and a gelding, Brierley, seemed, at first, to be much more on the outside, and yet, as the day progressed, the seemingly disinterested Brierley connected to those of us in the group in an absolutely magical way as he went quietly from one person to the other, choosing to stand by us, and in a couple of instances, to offer healing.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

It was surprising too, to see this most submissive horse, firmly suggest to the other horses that when he was with the humans they were not to come near.

We were asked continually to think about ourselves, how did we react being in a group of horses?  Could we imagine being a horse?  What issues did the different horses behaviour bring up for us?

It was a day full of surprises and revelations.  Some of the ideas that Carradine brought to our attention intrigued me.  She talked of how important it is to horses – and of course for ourselves – that our inside and outside landscape must match, that we must, as she put it, be congruent.  She asked as us to look at where our attention was drawn, which horses we were drawn to and why.

At one point three of us role-played being one horse, and were asked to silently move amongst the horses, as if we were a horse, which was an extraordinary spatial experience – particularly when we were sawn in half by a horse coming between us!

To truly try and put oneself into a horse’s hooves is to begin to understand their immense sensitivity to their environment – and to us.

Brierley initiates communication...

Brierley initiates communication…Photography for this article by Candida Baker

 

The Dreamer

 

 Here Everything Is Dreaming

 

Here, Everything is Dreaming, Robert Moss, Excelsior Editions pp 170 rrp $16.94

I often envy poets.   As a writer, I frequently wish I could let my words go wild – and yet, of course, the dichotomy is that poetry at its best is also highly disciplined, a technical craft it takes years to master.

It’s this combination of technique and wild words that Australian-born, now US based author Robert Moss, brings to Here, Everything is Dreaming, his poems and short stories spanning a twenty-year period.

Take the first two stanzas of ‘If You Spill a Dragon’, for example:

If you spill a dragon,

          don’t think about washing the tablecloth.

Everything interesting happens on the boundaries,

and when you are real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.

 

You can’t see the whole picture when you’re in it,

and inside the soft animal of your body, you forget

that you are a star that came down because

         you wanted a messier kind of love.

What a wonderful visual feast is contained in only those eight lines!  And it’s a feast that is repeated right throughout this enticing volume full of love, life, death, sex – and dreams.  It is also a paean of praise to the natural world, and in particular the earthly and other-worldly animals that accompany us in our lifetimes.

As a dream-meister Moss is well known.  For many years he has taught and practiced Active Dreaming, a synthesis of dream-work and shamanic techniques.  His books include Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life; Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death; and The Secret History of Dreaming.  His novels include the three-volume Cycle of the Iroquois – but this is his first collection of poems.  He is also an imaginative and accomplished artist, and perhaps it is this artist’s sensibility that creates the rich vein of visual imagery that runs through these poems and stories….

The cherry trees are disconsolate lovers;

they can’t hold their pink smiles

after the unkindness of that night…

 Or

Before the secret green cells in the leaf

drink from its suncatchers, light walks

all paths through the protein scaffold…

Moss wasn’t always a poet.  He began his career as a lecturer in Ancient History at ANU in Canberra, but after a move to the UK to study for his PhD he joined the editorial staff of The Economist as a writer and special correspondent.  He was an active commentator on international affairs on the BBC World Service and on British television, and also wrote for publications as diverse as The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times Magazine. He later became a full-time writer, publishing a series of suspense novels.

It’s an intriguing combination of erudition and belief in the power of dreaming that gives both his poems and stories layers of meaning.

In his story The Other, Again, Moss uses Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Other as a springboard to explore him meeting a younger version of himself, in what may or may not be a dream.

This story, written in 2010, reveals a writer at peace with the extraordinary, and, it has to be said, his move from the mainstream into his shamanic dream-work was extraordinary in itself.

In 1986, as Moss tells it, he felt the need to get away from the city life and moved to a farm in upstate New York, where he started to dream in an unknown language, which, after investigation turned out to be an archaic form of the Mohawk language.  Helped by native speakers to interpret his dreams, Moss came to believe he had been put in touch with an ancient healer – a woman of power – and that he was being called to a different life.  It wasn’t long before one of his animal spirits – the bear – made itself known to him – and it’s the bear that often guides, reveals and surprises him in his work as a shaman.

Bear

Here too, perhaps is the poet’s courage to charter unknown imaginative terrain – not easy to put aside a mainstream international career for a ‘calling’ into the unknown, but Moss embraced his new life with the same dedication he had put into his previous careers.  His central premise being that dreaming isn’t just what happens during sleep, but that active dreaming is also a source of guidance, healing and creativity beyond the reach of the everyday mind.

It wasn’t long before his work and writing attracted international attention and he was asked to present his method at the conference of the Association for the Study of Dream at the University of Leiden in 1994.

All of this long career involved in words and worlds of so many different varieties come to fruition in Here, Everything is Dreaming – at the height of his powers Moss entices us in; creating a pathway between the worlds, and a way for us more mere mortals to draw closer to the gods, goddesses and animals spirits that wish to live through us.  This is a book full of texture and wonder from a dreamer and poet in his prime.

You can purchase Here, Everything is Dreaming through the State University of New York Press:  http://www.sunypress.edu/default.aspx or directly through Amazon as a kindle or paperback, and, of course from US bookshops!

 

 

Power + Colour

 

Power + Colour – new painting from the Corrigan collection of 21st Century Aboriginal Art

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To me the main difference between Western art and Australia’s Indigenous art, is both simple and profound.

Western art, no matter how abstract, portrays something seen, digested and reproduced.  Indigenous art on the other hand, is a visual language; it tells of ancestors, landscape, sacred stories, forbidden relationships, and of the creation of the universe.  Even the most contemporary paintings seem often to correlate directly to Aboriginal rock art, or tribal body painting – they have simply become an extension of the way to tell stories, perhaps in the same way that creative writing has taken off in the past few hundred years for verbal-based languages.

Take, for example, the edge of an Indigenous painting – almost always there is none, the eye is led to understand that there is simply more painting, more story, outside the frame of reference – a continuing story – to infinity and beyond as Buzz Lightyear would say.

Power + Colour more than lives up to its name, having chosen as its main theme two elements vital to Indigenous art, namely tribal law and the continually stunning and inventive use of colour used to depict both country and culture.  The book showcases 129 works by 77 artists from more than 20 communities, and includes a biography of each artist. The images are supported by an interview with Patrick Corrigan, the arts philanthropist and collector of these works, and an introduction to the paintings, including catalogue-style notes for each work. The text is written by curator, art valuer, and principal of ArtiFacts, Jane Raffan.  Raffan’s writing is concise, knowledgeable and most importantly, accessible.  She opens a generous window into this massive array of artists and art works, and into Corrigan’s love of contemporary Indigenous art.

The collection of the works in this book began in 2004 after Corrigan visited the NGV’s landmark exhibition Colour Power: Aboriginal Art Post 1984, curated by Judith Ryan.  Impressed by the vibrancy of the exhibition, Corrigan, who was given the Order of Australia in 2000 for his philanthropy and art patronage, began his new collection with works by Tommy Watson and Wingu Tingima.

One notable aspect of this vibrant collection is the ration of women to men, which Corrigan believes is probably in the ratio of 70/30.  Corrigan is one of the, if not the, most important collector of contemporary Indigenous art – nothing in this collection is pre-2000, making Power + Colour a vital and up-to-date picture of the wide variety of dynamic styles, and unbridled colour that dominates Indigenous contemporary art today.

The words of this book are carefully designed not to overshadow the works, which speak most vitally for themselves in this glossy hardback.  To open this book at any page is to be met with an image of such colour, beauty and movement that it is like a visual feast for the senses.  Immersing myself in the book reminded me a visit to a perfume shop, where a thousand scents all intermingle into a tantalizing whole.

There are many familiar names here – Judy Napangardi Watson, Yannima Tommy Watson and Lucy Napanangka Yukenbarri to name just three, but it is enthralling to also discover some newer, younger artists such as the Pintupi artist Eileen Napaltjarri, or Lance Peck and Keith Stevens, or Sylvia Ken and Tjungkara Ken.

What is interesting about these younger contemporary artists, and it’s a point that Raffan makes well, is that even though they may not seem on the surface to be depicting journeys across country, if the paintings are read correctly then the ongoing connection to land becomes apparent, as does the continuing connection to tribal law, which is often present even in the most seemingly decorative of paintings.

To me one of the most appealing facets of Indigenous art is its ability to talk on several levels.  You don’t need to understand any of these complex, colourful, vibrant paintings in order to enjoy them, but what a wonderful joy it is to dip understand a particular artist’s imperative, tribal culture and personal story, so that the sub-text can reveal itself.

One of the most exciting artists in the book, and one whose work reflects the melding of the old and the new, is Sally Gabori – she uses expressive abstract techniques on her large linen canvasses – often as much as three metres wide by two metres high.  Great juicy dollops of paint reflect miniature stories:  ‘This painting is about a story place out to sea.  You can only get there by boat,’ she writes of a green, purple, black red and ochre painting, and as soon as one has read the words, a deeper layer of understanding goes into the viewing of the apparently random blocks of colour.

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Sally Gabori’s Outside Story Place reflects a melding of the old and the new in Indigenous art

As part of a preparatory course towards an MA in Australian Art History through Adelaide University and the Art Gallery of South Australia I studied Indigenous art last semester.  I wish I’d had this book to hand then.  It’s a powerful tool for education, reflection and pure enjoyment.

 

 

 

Make Mine a Mule

The Story of a Friendship
Make Mine a Mule
By Ann Walker
Equilibrium Books pp101 rrp $24.95
Review by Candida Baker

When I was a horse-obsessed child growing up in rural Oxfordshire, my mount was a somewhat unpredictable Arab/Fell Pony mare, who had some strange foibles.  She hated pigs, for instance, and whilst my friend’s horse would walk quietly through the piggery, Hester (named after Lady Hester Stanhope), would balk, buck and bicker with me for what seemed like hours.

She was also in love with a donkey.  We would pass this particular paddock on one of our rides, and I never knew whether to be amused or furious when she would literally dash across the road to his field, and stand there talking to her long-eared friend, and taking absolutely no notice of my orders to her to “walk on”.  One day my friend and I talked about what would happen if she was allowed to run with the donkey.  “She’d have a mule,” my friend said.  “Yuk,” I shuddered.  “A mule!”

Make Mine a Mule

Not that I knew much about them, but I knew they were stubborn, and I knew they looked, well, a bit peculiar – beyond that I didn’t ever really think about them much at all.

But that’s all changed now, thanks to Ann Walker’s splendid book, Make Mine a Mule, the remarkable true story of her twenty-eight year friendship with Pepita – a beautiful, 12 hand high mule with the largest brown eyes you ever saw.

Walker is also from a rural English background, and when she and her husband – who had owned ponies and a donkey in the UK –  emigrated to Tasmania, they decided to continue their interest in donkeys, little realising that they were moving to a state where, at the time, there were none.

When Ann and her husband decided to import six donkeys as a basis for their newly-formed Keysoe Donkey Stud, the new arrivals featured in all the State’s media, quickly becoming stars of TV, radio and press.  Ann, a novice breeder, became an overnight donkey ‘expert,’ somewhat to her own amusement. It just so happened that one of the numerous people who sought Ann’s advice, was a woman from Victoria who was keen to breed a mule.  The woman wrote to thank her for her help, and a year later again to tell her that her mule filly had been born.

Fast forward four years, and Ann and her family had moved once more, this time to Victoria, where Ann had gathered mule experience in the form of Juanita, whom she had raised as a weanling. (Years later, Juanita, with her owner, Patsy Sinfield would become famous for being the first mule to complete the arduous 100-mile-Quilty endurance ride.) When she got a call from the woman in Victoria, offering to sell her Pepita, Ann jumped at the chance of owning her.  Assured that she was quiet and had been taught all the basics, Ann decided that Pepita would make a perfect family mount.

As it turned out, Ann was right – but not before she found out to her cost that, as Ogden Nash once wrote, ‘In the world of Mules, there are no Rules’.  Quiet Pepita certainly was, but mules, seemingly endowed with much more brain than either horse or donkey, need to have confidence in their owners before they will allow themselves to be persuaded to do something.  But the amusing to read although no doubt les amusing to experience trials and tribulations in the end created an extraordinary bond between Ann, her family and Pepita.  After a somewhat rocky start, Pepita even became a Pony Club mount, taking part in all Pony Club activities, including jumping, which she was remarkably good at – always clearing the jump by just a few centimetres – another mule trait, as Ann discovered on her mule journey.

The wonderful stories in this book will delight, entertain and enthral animal lovers everywhere.  There’s the story of Pepita’s first mule class, when she realised it wasn’t her beloved Ann behind the long reins, and dashed the entire length of the ring braying the entire way, to stand beside her; or how Pepita saved Ann’s pony, Peppi, one day when Peppi fell down a steep bank, and in her anxiety was struggling so much she was in danger of falling into a ravine.  Ann describes how Pepita stood there and ‘talked’ Peppi into becoming calm.  Many years later Pepita saved Ann herself from a ferocious ram that was about to charge into Ann with full force.

Not that Pepita was always perfect – with her delightfully stubborn mule streak in evidence, Pepita would try and persuade Ann that she didn’t want to take a particular route by lifting a hind leg, and gently tapping Ann on the heel.  If Ann persisted in her desire to go her way, Pepita would try once or twice more before reluctantly giving in.

But perhaps the two most moving messages to come through this enchanting book are the level of telepathic communication available to equine owners if they should choose to listen (and it’s something I’ve experienced myself), and the intense loving friendships that animals can have with one another (also something I’ve witnessed).

Pepita lived to the ripe old age of 32, succumbing, sadly, to colic, when Ann had to make the decision to have her put to sleep.  Shortly after, she received communication from a clairvoyant with messages that Ann knew could only have come directly from Pepita.

This story of a lifelong (and beyond) friendship is heartfelt and humorous, and full of wisdom and insights into the world of mules.  It’s a perfect gift for all ages.

The only problem is that now I want a mule!

Order Make Mine a Mule through Equilibrium Books: http://www.equilibriumbooks.com

Meditation on: Our Inner Child

“The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us, when the world seems familiar – when one has got used to existence one has become an adult.”
– Eugene Ionesco

Photograph of Anna by Candida Baker

My daughter recently turned 12, and over the past six months or so I’ve watched that perilous rocking between childhood and young womanhood with a sense of trepidation and excitement – on her behalf, and on mine too, I might add.

I could almost pinpoint the exact moment when lists of girlfriends gave way to lists to One Direction’s names, with Harry being Numero Uno of course; the moment when riding up the lane on her bicycle became ‘boring’; when going to the movies with mum or dad became no match for going with a rabble from school.

My daughter’s growing up – no doubt about it. And, paradoxically perhaps, I see part of my continuing job as her parent to help her stay in touch with her inner child – to help her, if I can, to keep her soul alive with those little things that have sustained and nourished her throughout her childhood.

I’ve seen Anna look after herself in dark moments by dancing, or by drawing, and as a small child she could summon her imagination and her humour to her rescue easily. May those qualities stay with her always!

Surrounded by Anna and her friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inner child recently – by the time I was 12 my mother was an alcoholic, my father was often drunk and abusive and for me childhood was something I wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

Through a friend’s posting on Facebook the other day, I chanced across a wonderful letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his then 24-year-old son, Nicholas. Nicholas was only a baby when his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, took her own life, and sadly, Nicholas too committed suicide in 2009.

In part of the letter Hughes talks directly about the vulnerability of our inner child, and of its essential importance to our lives and our own understanding of ourselves. He writes:

“Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them…It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful.”

In inner child therapy what is looked for is what therapist Robert Burney describes as the tools to unlock the magic of the inner child, without giving it free rein to drive the bus, and derailing life because of its lack of a proper place in someone’s life.

One of the main keys to understanding this internal secret garden is to remember what your child liked to do when he or she was young. Often, if we stop and ask our inner eight-year-old what it might like to do as a hobby, a surprising answer will emerge – an answer which can lead us towards a more creative, more joy-filled life.

 “The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anais Nin in her diaries.“Every child is an artist,” said Picasso, who knew a bit about his inner child, “the problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up.”

Such a multitude of grown-up concerns drive us away from that childish sense of glee and excitement in life – so many shoulds, musts, can’ts, fill our days, and as we grow older the accumulated weight of life’s lessons seem, well to me, I must confess, sometimes overwhelming.

Living in the country I’ve learned that sometimes something as simple as lying on my back under a tree and looking at the patterns in the leaves against the sky makes my eight-year-old grin with pleasure.

If I could say anything to my daughter now and have her remember it, it would be always listen to your heart.

As Ted Hughes writes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Quote of the Week: 

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
G.K. Chesterton.