23 January 2006

Temporary Distractions

It has been too long since I last made an entry. I could blame the hectic pace of the holidays, my frantic social schedule, the demands of my stressful job or even the overwhelming responsibilities of my household. But then you would say, “Liar, liar, pant’s on fire”, and the fire-ies would have to be called, the neighbours would stare, and we’d, neither of us, be any better off. So let us begin rationally – I’m just lazy, easily distracted and fantastically unorganised. I still have nothing weighty or revealing to enter here (as if I ever have); nor do I have any original thought of any depth to share with you.

I have, however, had some recollections, insights and thoughts during my blog absence, so here goes:

First, I remember being taught how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Note to my Australian friends: that’s ‘jelly’ as in ‘jam’ not as in ‘gelatine’.) My tutor was one of our favourite babysitters, Roberta Supranaut. She was a teenager who stayed with us during parental, and then paternal (after the divorce) absences. We’d had two elderly sitters, Mrs. Paugh (who made apple pies that were to die for) and Miss Nichols (who I think we scared too much for her to eventually return, having once ‘played dead’ under my bed), but Roberta had energy, humour and didn’t just sit in the lounge room and crochet or watch telly. Besides, her sister was a neighbourhood friend of ours, so we already knew her.

One afternoon, I wanted her to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but she proposed to teach me how to make my own. What is that old saying? Make a kid a PB&J and she’ll be fed for the afternoon; teach her how to make a PB&J and she’ll never bug you again. I think that’s how it goes. Anyway, this was her explanation: Take two slices of bread. Butter one slice. On this slice, spread your jelly or jam; the butter will keep it from seeping through the bread, especially if you take it to school in your lunch. Spread the peanut butter on the bare slice of bread – because, she explained, it is too difficult to spread on the butter. Put the two slices together and cut as desired. I like my sandwiches cut in fours in those days. Today, I’ll settle for halves, but I prefer my PB&Js to be sliced down the middle, top to bottom, rather than diagonally.

Pondering #2: Munchkin gave me a book for Christmas this year – always a good bet for any gift-giving occasion because I love to read. And I think she gave me a book last year, too, and she (or her mum) proved they know my tastes pretty well, as I’ve enjoyed both. Last year it was Pamela Stephenson’s Billy, about her husband, Billy Connolly. This year, she gave me Great Pioneer Women of the Outback by Susanna de Vries. I suspect Munchkin gave me this book because I published a book on Eucla (in Western Australia) history last year. She didn’t know it, but some advice published by de Vries on making histories accessible to the reader and true to the facts was one of the first sources I read when preparing to research and write my Eucla history. I have not finished it yet, but two-thirds of the way through, the book has not disappointed. It is not a deeply intricate scholarly history, nor is it lightweight, fluffy, made-for-TV-movie gloss. And the women about whom de Vries writes are not women who left behind just one or two letters and no other evidence about them. They are women who were the first, or among the first European women to live in the areas where they were pioneers.

What strikes me about this book and the histories of these women is that their hardships occurred later than those pioneering stories I read about in the US frontier. Australia is a slightly younger federation than the US, and it was settled after Europeans began their settlement of the US. For example, Jamestown was founded in what is now the US state of Virginia in 1607, but Australia’s First Fleet (whose arrival we celebrate this week, on the 26th of January) anchored in Sydney Cove in 1788. Western Australia, where I live, wasn’t established until 1827. John Forrest was in favour of Australia becoming a federation but only if it meant Western Australia could become a state. In 1901 all the negotiating and bickering was settled, and Western Australia entered the Australian Federation as an original state – too late to be included in the Constitution’s Preamble – but there anyway.

All that leads up to my observation that the hardships I researched for my book (Spirit of the Desert – you have to go to Eucla or know the author to get a copy) and read about in de Vries book. They amaze me for the era in which they occurred. Iowa, where I was born, became a state in 1846, thirteen years after settlement of Iowa Territory began in earnest. The population in Iowa in 2004 was estimated to be 2,954,451, whereas the 2004 estimated population of Western Australia was 1,982,204 (based on 2001 statistics). – a difference of 972,274 people. To put it in perspective, nearly a million more people live in Iowa, much smaller in area than Western Australia, which has an area of 983,482 square miles – roughly the same size as Western Europe. Also, there are no freeways or interstate highways connecting eastern and western Australia – just phone and internet lines, a two-lane highway or two, and the airlines.

So to be a European woman settling with her husband in Western Australia in the 1800s was a daunting ordeal – no doctors, no nurses, hospitals, shops, fresh fruit or vegetables (unless you were lucky to live somewhere, like the southwest, where there is adequate rain), no other women unless there were Aboriginal women nearby, and more than likely there were men who either did not want a woman’s presence or weren’t comfortable in a woman’s presence. So the Georgiana Molloys, the Bussell women, the Muirs (of Eucla and the southwest), Jeannie Gunn, and even those countless women who left no diaries or letters, or even lonely tombstones, are women I admire; not because they were the first feminists or because they were brave beyond measure (although many of them surely were), but because when they were ‘roughing it’ in the Australian outback, they could have been living lives of leisure and east in Sydney or Melbourne, or better yet, England (where some were from) or the US. Absolutely amazing.

Pondering #3: I have been going through all the photos I brought to Australia with me in 1999 and those I have taken since my first visit to Australia. That’s a lot of photos. I also have a moderate collection of photos from my childhood and ‘the secret lives of my parents’ secret lives. The reason for this walk through photographic nostalgia is that I’ve run out of new photos to post on my new favourite website, Flickr. So I’ve been scanning film photographs and uploading them to my account at Flickr. I’m hoping that someone will have pity on me and pay for a pro account for me as a birthday present (which I celebrate right after Australia Day). I’ve spent so much time at Flickr, that I barely have time for my two favourite computer games, the online Runescape and Civilization III (because I’m too poor to buy Civilization IV). It’s also edging its way into my book-reading time, so that it took me much longer than normal to finish my last book, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, even though it was a good read which I quite liked.

This brings me to Pondering #4 (and my last for those brave enough to have made it this far): I’m so easily distracted. Sometimes it’s for reasons that I can’t avoid. For example, while I have been typing this, I had to first, go talk to my doctor about the dosage of a medication I’m taking suddenly being unavailable at all chemists, at least those in Kalgoorlie. No one knows why; it has not been discontinued by the manufacturer, it is still on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and the problem doesn’t seem to extend to any other dose. Then, of course, I had to go to the chemist’s to get the last packet of this medication he had in stock. We’ll look at the problem again, if there still is one, when this runs out. Then I had to get some printer paper, day runner refill for 2006. (I’m running a bit behind – not to mention I may be one of the few people left on earth who doesn’t own a PDA.) Of course, I couldn’t find one. But I was so happy about not having to argue with doctors and chemists that I thought I would buy some goodies for morning tea and go see a friend. But she returned to work today. Then I went home and ate the pastries myself. But whilst engaged in yummy jam donut gobbling, I discovered that the freezer door wouldn’t close. It’s long past time for it to be defrosted (yes, we have an ancient fridge), and since I had opened it this morning, delicate ice crystals had begun to form in reaction to the warm air seeping between the door seal and the ice blocking its ability to form a vacuum. I should have taken a picture of it. Instead, I got out a mixing spoon and broke off all the ice that was in the way. That, in turn made the kitchen floor wet, so I had to mop up that mess. Then Ratbag came home for lunch, which he rarely does, so I had to torment him. In the middle of all that, the remote control for my camera and a lens filter arrived in the post, so I had to try them out.

In other words, it’s taken me about seven hours to pound out this drivel, which I have to bring to an end because I have to get groceries if we’re going to eat tonight. It’s just one thing after another!

Ain’t cha missed me?