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Migration

May 6, 2013

Now that the dust is settling around me, I am taking some time to pause, reflect, and every hour or so remind myself that I have done it. I moved to Melbourne. I live here now!

Just over one month ago, a few days before my 30th birthday, I decided to make this move. It seems that I am the only person who was surprised by this decision, which came suddenly like a bolt of lightning all up in my brain.

At the time of my epiphany, I was in Melbourne for a week of leave to celebrate my birthday with my parents, my brother and his partner. Spending time in this city, I somehow felt more like myself than I had for a long time. With each day I felt my identity strengthening and my resolve galvanising; it suddenly became apparent that it was time to move forward, and this is where I want to do it.

A year ago, my daily goal was to get out of bed, clean my teeth, have something nutritious to eat, try to summon the strength talk to another human, and not sleep for the rest of the day. I often did not achieve this goal. I did not fret that I was unable to achieve my dreams – I fretted that I had no dreams. My view of the world was myopic. I could not conceive of a better life, and was filled with bitter resentment at all that others were able to do that I could not.

Things began to change for me when I moved in with Minyarose, a beautiful and talented photographer who I met through mutual friends and was looking for someone to rent the spare room in her recently renovated house. It did not bother Minya that I had suffered setbacks as a result of my mental illness. She accepted me for exactly who I was, and for the contribution I made to her home. Very soon, I had a job and settled into a happy domestic routine – she cooked breakfast; I made lunch. Our friendship grew with every shared meal.

Slowly I began to feel less like someone whose life was defined by an illness. Most of the time, the only reminder was the handful of pills I continued to take morning and night. Occasionally I had bad days, but they were far outnumbered by the good. And then, sure enough, I began to dream again. I rediscovered an eagerness to return to study and move my career forward. I joined a writers’ group. I embarked on a creative project with an inspiring and talented friend, which excited my passions for history and music. My world began to grow. I soon realised that I would need to escape my stifling job and find something that would allow me to express myself. Then I came to Melbourne, and my path was clear.

The weeks that followed my decision were filled with sad goodbyes, but also celebration of the life I had in my hometown. In the past three years I have cultivated an amazing and eclectic group of friends. I am eternally grateful for their boundless support, and I know these friendships will be life long.

There has not been one moment of doubt or regret. I don’t have a job, but I have enough to pay the rent, for now. I live with my brother and his partner, who are both incredibly brilliant, and also supportive of my decision to forge a new path. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know I’m going to do something.

This will be my last ever post on Cattle & Cane. But I am starting a new project, where I will be exploring my adopted home through curious eyes. I hope you can follow me there – The Go-Between.

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Kind of blue

November 4, 2012

It has been a long time since I have cooked for pleasure and an even longer time since I have written about it, or engaged at all in the act of artfully arranging words. Distressingly, I have until very recently also been unable to seek comfort and pleasure in the words of others. The insidious depression I experience on a predictable basis leaves me unable to see light, colour and beauty. It leaves me unable to create, and unable to enjoy the creations of others.

The great beauty of this affliction though is found in the revelation that occurs when light starts to peek through the darkness. A bar of music is unexpectedly experienced as a revelation; the contrast of the grey sky against prolific Jacaranda blossoms is electric; perfection is found in a punnet of local blueberries. Very soon these isolated experiences become less and less unfamiliar. So begins a period of renewed energy and appreciation for the world and its offerings.

This has been my recent experience, and while I am hesitant to celebrate a long-term change in mood, I have been taking joy in small things like cooking, reading bits and pieces, taking in films, seeking out new and exciting music and enjoying the company of others.

As I now begin to slowly work my way through several months worth of accumulated literature, one volume that stands out is Charlotte Wood’s Love and Hunger: thoughts on the gift of food. Wood writes about food and friendship in a way that I aspire to: with honesty, humility and warmth. With each essay she brings something new and meaningful to an over-saturated genre and provokes the reader to reflect on her own approach to nourishing the self and others.

One delightful chapter champions the oft-forgotten tradition of the homemade (or homegrown) ‘hostess gift’, small offerings that speak of love and gratitude. I had this in mind when I was invited to visit my friend the Shoegazer and her newborn son. A gastronome, and a time-poor one at that, I thought she would appreciate a luxuriously tasty treat. Happily, I spotted the perfect recipe on the Full of Grace granola facebook page in which I could incorporate the fine local blueberries currently available as well as a fragrant item from my mum’s garden.

Rose geranium scented blueberry compote by Matt Wilkinson

200g fresh blueberries
110g caster sugar
1 leaf and stalk of rose geranium
generic and best tadalafil 20mg medication online

Place the blueberries, caster sugar and rose geranium in a large saucepan on medium heat. Gently cook for about 10-14 minutes or until the blueberries start to break down, then take off the stove top. Remove the rose geranium and refrigerate. Serve with yoghurt or ice cream or all the things!

Pride, stripped bare

April 12, 2012

I have lost my muse. At least, I have misplaced her, along with my dignity, self respect and several odd socks. My inability to write over the past weeks has been a genuine source of alarm; for without writing, at least these days, I feel that I have little purpose. It occurred to me today though, that perhaps the problem is not a lack of inspiration, but my avoidance of an abundant source of inspiration that is literally right under my nose. For me, writing is truth and, currently for me, the truth is painful. It is something I wish to avoid, and yet something that dominates my thoughts every waking moment. The truth is, I am fat, and I am addicted to food.

I don’t mean the kind of food I used to greedily consume in my down time at Sydney’s temples of gastronomy, or the down-to-earth home cooking previously promoted on this blog. I mean common junk, designed by committee and honed in laboratories, the kind that would cause Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to call for an exorcism. Exactly the kind of food that, intellectually, I abhor. I hate it; and yet I can’t get enough of it.

As a champion of good food, found in nature, this is a cause of shame and humiliation of a magnitude that eclipses my seemingly more socially acceptable diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I have spent weeks, months, ruminating on the vicious circle that has formed in my life, intellectualising my problem and trying to understand why I keep reaching for food as a crutch when the very same is quickly eroding my wellbeing and sense of self-worth. As someone who has previously shown a predilection for addiction, perhaps an ‘addiction’ to food is a natural progression – cocaine being out of my price range. I have read and re-read the work of Dr David Kessler, who aims to explain how foods engineered to be hyper-palatable combinations of salt, sugar and fat tap into our brain chemistry and stimulate a desire for more. Mindless consumption is the enemy of mindfulness, which is the path to a balanced and meaningful life. And yet mindfulness serves as a, sometimes literally, painful reminder that I am fat, and it is uncomfortable.

I understand. And yet, I eat.

Addictions are often secret and deceptive affairs, and my propensity to gorge myself with Tim Tams is no different and has worsened since striking out on my own. Perhaps by bringing my problem into the light, I can begin to be more truthful with myself and others, not to mention illuminate something which those around me have surely noticed but kindly refrained from mentioning: I am getting really fat. I have increased my body weight by something approaching 30kg in around 18 sorrowful, sedentary months. My body is beginning to feel alien to me, as if I am wearing a fat suit. Though sure enough, when all is stripped bare, the fat remains.

As long as I have had a body, I have hated it, but I have a newfound appreciation of how healthy the size 14 me looked, even if she was not satisfied with her shape. Perhaps the key lies in learning to accept my imperfect self and making the most of my life regardless of my size. Perhaps if this can be achieved, I will begin to care for the self instead of trying to destroy it.

Having intellectualised my problem, perhaps overly so, my Doctor is urging me to focus on the positive things I have achieved in the recent past. Today I stopped to appreciate the beautiful home I have created. I also laughed – really and truly – for the first time in what seems like weeks. There is much hard work to be done though, and I am currently (perhaps foolishly) enrolled in not less than two exercise programs that I hope will help give me the kick-start I need to begin rebuilding my self confidence.

I write this with the measured awareness that my deepest shame is now on the public record. But I’ve never been one to shy away from the painful truth. Now I need to learn how to be mindful of it.

The house that sanity built

February 23, 2012

I have just awoken from my first sleepover in my new house. After more than two years living with my parents by the riverside, I have flown the nest for the second time to a beautiful historic house on the north side of town.

Just two months ago, a move towards independence was unthinkable to me. Years of struggling with mental illness and accompanying long periods of self medication, rendering independent living untenable, had destroyed my self-confidence. Sadly, I had come to rely on my parents to keep me healthy and alive. So it is with amazement that I now find myself in my very own space, alone and happily so. How quickly things can change.

The turning point for me was my sojourn at the private psychiatric clinic I fondly refer to as Club Loco. Although I initially found myself there in a time of crisis, facing the challenge of taking ownership of my treatment and spending a measure of time somewhere away from home independently, albeit somewhere safe and nurturing, provided me with great unexpected confidence.

I have also been blessed with the generosity of an extraordinary friend, owner of Grafton’s newest dining establishment No. 1 Duke Street, who has taken on the project of converting a nineteenth-century inn into a boutique guest house. I am to be the caretaker in this undertaking. But, referring to me as her ‘writer in residence’, Liza has seen an opportunity for mutual benefit. I will undertake the simply satisfying work of greeting guests, laundering sheets and cleaning bathrooms, and in exchange, be given the space and opportunity to grow and write in my own space and time.

Over the past week, I have made this space my own. Being the first time I have lived alone, as well as the first time in many years I have had the motivation and strength to create a peaceful sense of space, I have filled these light, spacious rooms only with objects that I love; created a reflection of myself in each strategically-placed ceramic pineapple, thrift-store painting and well-thumbed book.

It is a joy to once again live in an old building, each room echoing the presence of residents past. It is a thrill to be a part of its story; may the story I write here be a happy one.

Argyle House, 1879

The joy of unpacking

My kitchen: is Don; is good.

Hooters

Liz

Lounge and library

Desk of my dreams

Music nook

Iron lace

Window box

A little bit of Holland Down Under

February 10, 2012

In a continuation of the reorganising frenzy that saw me practically catalogue my books according to the Dewey Decimal system, I have lately been tidying up my hard drive. Generally, I use my computer as an expensive word processor and storage device for nearly 600 hours worth of music, but the highlight of this tedious task was revisiting the hundreds of photographs I have taken since I purchased my beloved Macbook, Felix Jr.

For me, photography has been a saving grace. Not only do my images serve as reminder of times past, but a window to my quirky worldview which brings me comfort during times of depression and hopelessness. Moreover, nothing allays my tendency to experience anxiety in foreign places and social situations like being able to hide behind the camera.

Last night I came across a collection of photographs which were begging to be blogged, a record of one of the best days of my life; the day I visited the Clog Barn in Coffs Harbour.

People who have travelled along the east coast of Australia may be familiar with this landmark which is admittedly dwarfed by its more famous mate, the Big Banana. Indeed, anyone who is lucky enough to have spent time on the North Coast during the 1990s would be familiar with its jolly jingle promising “the best fun in Coffs Harbour”, an earworm matched only by the tunes for Bangalow’s Abracadabra,“right on the highway, west of Byron Bay”, and Coffs Harbour Zoo “where they all come up to you” (an institution sadly no longer with us).

No jumping off clogs!

The day I visited the Clog Barn was special for me not only for my unique encounter with the culture of the Netherlands. I had just returned from a two-month stay with my beloved Aunt and Uncle in Adelaide, who are second parents to me, a time which was both one of the most rewarding and difficult periods of my life, during which I suffered my first manic symptoms of Bipolar II. This road trip was to be a reunion with my old chum Mr History, my wingman in zany road trips.

Mr History and I share a deep appreciation of the eccentric and the absurd, and we have spent countless hours over the past two years discovering new ‘worlds’: the brazen and bizarre ‘architecture’ of the kit homes and incongruous landscaping of new housing estates encroaching on the beautiful hinterland of the east coast; the forgotten worlds of historic cemeteries; the sights and smells of cattle sales; eclectic country homes; countless colonies of garden gnomes; and best of all, unique cultural icons such as the Clog Barn.

Though a lesser-known attraction on the scale of Australian icons, the Clog Barn belongs in the pantheon of ‘big’ monuments alongside the banana, the merino, the prawn, the pineapple and the countless other eccentric tributes to the diversity of our great land.

The realisation of a dream of Dutch-born Tom Hartsuyker, the holiday park is a celebration of Dutch culture ‘down under’ and features a clog-making workshop, an extraordinarily extensive gift shop, and for refreshments, Big Oma’s Coffee House, specialising in crepes and the ubiquitous Dutch treat poffertjies (Big Oma knows a thing or two about pancake batter!)

The highight of the Clog Barn experience though is the model village. Admittedly, I was already having an emotional day, but I actually fought back tears when I saw the tiny world inhabited by tiny people connected by their tiny model railway; the delight of seeing someone’s passion manifested in such a carefully and laboriously constructed tribute to his cultural heritage was palpable. I will let my photographs speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, Mr History and I will continue to seek out worlds within worlds.

Clogging

Culturally appropriate toilets

Model living

Gone fishin'

Percy rides again!

I've fallen and I can't get up!

Windmill

Big Oma's Coffee House

Multicultural

Dutch decor

Why leave when you could stay!

A mere trifle

February 4, 2012

As many readers of this blog would be aware, I have faced a long struggle with mental illness and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depressive illness). I have always been very open about this fact; as a young contrarian, I am keen to challenge social stigmas and preconceptions about mental illness, and as a writer, I feel that I have an opportunity to help fellow sufferers and their carers by sharing my experiences. In the parlance of Charlie Sheen, I’m not bipolar, I’m bi-winning.

While their effects can be debilitating, my experiences with depression, anxiety and bipolar have also resulted in great periods of reflection and creativity, greatly expanded knowledge and increased empathy towards others. I do not wish to be without my illness; my only wish is to be able to manage it so that I can lead a functional and fulfilling life, a struggle which continues.

As a self-appointed mental health advocate, one of my causes célèbres is the demystification of the mental health system, as I have experienced it. While great strides have been made towards destigmatising mental illness and providing access to care, the system, particularly in the public sector, can still be hostile and difficult to navigate. I am not an expert, I am just a person who has invested a lot of money and time in mental health treatment, and I am willing and able to share my experiences in an effort to help others to access the care they need.

I am currently holed up in a private mental health facility, following several negative experiences in the public system. I was first admitted to the clinic following an acute crisis last year, and I have returned in order to be supervised during a medication change, negating the need to wait months for specialist appointments and instead seeing my doctor twice a week, as well as providing respite from the big wide world at a time when my brain is adjusting to its new regime.

The concept of spending time in a psychiatric clinic may seem extreme, desperate and frightening. At least, that was my initial reaction. But my experiences have been unexpectedly positive; so much so, that this period has been a life-changing and life-saving turning point.

One of my initial fears was that being locked up with a whole bunch of other crazy people would cause further detriment to my mental health; in fact I have found the opposite to be true. In few other places is it possible to find a group of fellows so empathetic and non-judgemental. The relief at being able to truly be comfortable with oneself is palpable, and there are few things more valuable than learning from the experience of others and being able to honestly share one’s darkest fears in a safe environment. This is in addition to frequent access to highly experienced psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health staff, as well as three meals a day and a 50m walk to the beach. Think brain university meets Club Med, but with more psychotropic drugs.

Potentially lifelong friendships are formed thick and fast in this intense environment, and I have been blessed with several such connections in addition to the welcome company of people from all walks of life with whom I would otherwise never have crossed paths.

When I discovered that one such friend was celebrating his birthday yesterday, my inner food fanatic emerged and, following a dinnertime conversation about trifle, I decided to concoct a spectacular dessert to make his milestone ‘on the inside’ a bit special. This ‘recipe’ is not simply psychiatric clinic specific (though alcohol has been omitted for obvious reasons), but would be useful in any situation where little equipment is available, such as staying in a hotel, camping, or living in a dodgy sharehouse.

Going for a chocolate theme, the star of my trifle was a Belgian chocolate mousse made using a pre-packaged mix by the small award-winning company Nicholson Fine Foods based in Yamba, just downriver from my home in Grafton. I implore you to seek out this rich, velvety treat which is guaranteed to impress your guests and takes no time to (literally) whip up. (While you’re at it, they have some other great products, best of all their piquant beetroot finishing vinegar, but I digress.) Of course vanilla sponge could be substituted for chocolate, strawberries for cherries, raspberries or other seasonal fruit, and mousse simply for whipped cream. The possibilities are endlessly delicious.

A mere trifle (or: how to make a spectacular dessert without a kitchen or sharp instruments)

1 chocolate sponge roll sliced into 2cm rounds
1 packet Nicholson Fine Foods Belgian chocolate mousse mixture (requires 300ml whipping cream)
250ml vanilla custard
500ml raspberry jelly
1 punnet of strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthways into thirds
1 Cadbury Flake bar

The raw materials

Step 1
Find co-conspirator in institutional kitchen to provide basic equipment and help with the washing up.

Step 2
Make the chocolate mousse according to the instructions on the packet by incorporating cold water and whipped cream and whisking until smooth.

Lush

Step 3
Artfully arrange rounds of sponge on the inside of a glass bowl, or whatever you have at hand.

Step 4
Layer the mousse, jelly and custard until you can’t cram any more in, finishing with a layer of mousse.

Layer cake (feat. the sous chef)

Step 5
Decorate with sliced strawberries and finish with a flourish of crumbled Flake.

Mental health food

Step 6
Lick the bowl.

(F)licking the whisk.

Step 5
Demolish and enjoy with friends!

The birthday boy blows out the candles.

Demolition!

Heroes and Villains (Chapter 1)

January 8, 2012

Thanks to our recent discovery of a previously unnoticed vermin habitat, I spent a good part of this weekend reorganising my reasonably extensive collection of books, which has lately been stored in my parents’ garage. Happily our furry friend Ratty had left them largely untouched with the exception of Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country which may well have left a bad taste in his mouth, thereby saving the rest of my printed matter from becoming rat snacks.

Despite the sweaty conditions, this labour was an unanticipated delight. Like Hornby’s Rob Fleming reorganising his record collection, I embarked on an autobiographical journey of my reading life. Unlike him of course, I did not reorganise my books autobiographically, indulging instead my inner librarian and painstakingly categorising and alphabetising them. That’s how I do. But I did create a small collection of my most favourite and beautiful tomes to be near me always; some new but many long forgotten. Most of them are the books that have inspired me the most, particularly as a writer, and require regular reference and rereading. I came up with a Hornbyesque shortlist of some of my favourites, by no means exhaustive but a collection of items that have reinvigorated my literary excitement.

Shortstack

Top 5 Most Inspiring Books (or Collected Works) I Saved From Rat Consumption This Weekend

1. Helen Razer: Everything’s Fine Fucked; Gas Smells Awful

Helen Razer was the first person to make me realise that you can simultaneously be unashamedly intelligent, piss funny and have phenomenal taste in music. And that it’s OK for girls to swear and be argumentative and even offensive if they fucking feel like it and/or for the purposes of hilarity.

Probably the greatest tragedy ever to occur in the Twitterverse (aside from the current vomit-inducing Warne/Hurley charade) was the day Ms Razer deleted her account, after many months of hilarious banter, to avoid possible ‘derailment’ for speaking her extraordinarily insightful but admittedly divisive mind (following the actual derailment of colleague and fellow leftwing warrior princess Catherine Deveny). Like her, I am highly critical and unafraid to voice my strong opinions in public forums, from right here to Twitter and the pages of my local newspaper (and wherever else anyone cares to publish my demi-coherent ramblings). I realise that these opinions and the way they are sometimes expressed may be offensive to some, and I am unapologetic. The fact is, many of the media I engage with are reactive, and I have no desire to moderate my reactions, particularly when they are both truthful and potentially hilarious. Whether I succeed in provoking the reaction I seek is another question, but people seem to read the shit that I write, so I must be doing something right. As a young woman Helen Razer almost singularly gave me the courage to do this (though later on I would discover Marieke Hardy and shriek with delight on a regular basis at the potential for the use of swears as punctuation). I am sure that my mother is regularly horrified.

I bought Everything’s Fine at the height of Helen’s broadcasting career in the 1990s which coincided with my mid-teens, needless to say a formative period. I remember gingerly peeling the backing off the helpfully provided ‘FUCKED’ sticker to apply to the front of the book and feeling triumphant; ‘I’m right, and this book proves it!’

Essentially a survival guide to navigating the shitful realities of (post)modern life, with special reference to Hey Hey! It’s Saturday, I vividly remember  laughing until my ability to breathe was comprimised upon first reading Razer’s pernicious prose. This delightful passage, about New Ageism for fun and profit, in particular remains with me and really sets the tone for the book:

Quite apart from violating five third-world cultures in a single afternoon, these people are responsible for creating a niche market for New Age music. Now, there’s a place for a stitch of the Orb, Tricky or even The Aphex Twin in my own time. But you know, enough is enough and sometimes you just really NEED to play Back in Black. I used to really enjoy getting facials until every beauty salon became an ‘aesthetic therapist’, replaced my favourite chemical peel with essential oils that gave me a rash and started piping dinky Orca The Stupid Fat Whale Seaside Music through w-bins next to my ears. This diffident ooze attacks me at every turn and succeeds in only making me want to piss. And who is this ditzy Rapunzel shit called Enya? When is she going to choke on a poison apple? Why does some slappable skinny brunette slag who managed to stop sticking her fingers down her throat just long enough to how to use some substandard sequencing software have to whine about cock-sucking green fields and clouds and the western European goddess tradition every time I go and eat in a restaurant. There’s a burial mound baby, in County Meath and it’s got your stupid name on it, Enya! I’d rather listen to Bill Wyman’s solo album. I’d rather eat mystic dolphin poos. Nothing, not even Italian house remixes of Celine Dion dueting with Michael Bolton with solos by Kenny G, John Tesh and Yianni with lyrics by Alanis ‘Isn’t It Ironic Not!’ Morisette, makes me so livid and full of acrid tension.

Imagine my delight upon discovering that my inner monologue had a public voice more expressive and erudite than my own! To the right-wing Boltophiles who think leftwing ratbags are stifling free speech with political correctness, suck on that.

Moving right along, I had been meaning to reread Gas Smells Awful for a while. Though I do not recommended it to people who are scared of crazy ladies and postmodern theory, Gas Smells Awful is probably one of the best books by a raving nutbag for raving nutbags ever written. I am a raving nutbag, and I need help. Gas Smells Awful provides this desperately needed help not only through its practical advice regarding the usefulness of Nietschze and witchcraft as an adjunct to traditional methods of treating mental illness, but also simply by reassuring one that one is not alone, and that things will get better. Indeed, is a great source of hope that if Ms Razer has managed to overcome her mental infirmities to become and remain the impressive and respected cultural critic that she is, then perhaps I too may one day realise my dreams of transcending the blogosphere to exchange my opinionated rantings and/or more nuanced written work for cash money.

I began reading posthaste, and was delighted to find this passage which reflected my current bibliophillic activities, and my proclivity for collecting in general and the role it plays in my life:

The things one collects, the objects and articles and remnants from pop or high culture one prizes, can offer great solace. I was recently reminded of this by a Walter Benjamin Essay called ‘Unpacking My Library’ which a friend suggested I read when I was moving my own book collection. I had asked this person, who as a particular interest in Teutonic-type philosophy, ‘Why am I getting off on reorganising my books so much? Am I, like, some materialist capitalist object-fetishising pig dog?’ Fortunately, this bloke said that no, I was merely reveling in the anarchy of memories. Well, jolly good. Hate to be a capitalist object-fetishising pig dog. Benjamin asserts that we build a dwelling of the artefacts we adore and disappear within them. That our precious bits and pieces, in all their chaos, can confer a sense of order and comfort.

Once again, this makes complete sense to me. I do not simply collect vintage ceramic vessels in the shape of foodstuffs because they are so hideous it is irresistible, it’s because it makes me feel better! As long as I’m not sitting in a rocker on the porch pitching cats at passers-by, I feel that a slightly eccentric affinity for owl paraphernalia and model flamingos is totally acceptable. I would sincerely like to publicly thank Helen Razer for providing me with these and so many other valuable insights, even if the fact remains, I am still noticeably single.

2. John Birmingham: He Died With a Felafel In His Hand; Dopeland; Leviathan. 

Speaking of literary inspirations, this man is a behemoth. Who could have anticipated that the author of a generation-defining biographical account of drug-addled sharehouse living would become the epic polymath he is today, churning out reams of fiction, non-fiction and opinion of extraordinary breadth and quality, from his Quarterly Essay A Time For War to Leviathan, the history of Sydney that redefined what written history can be. I don’t know, maybe those who knew him and his work when Felafel was published in 1995 would have predicted his subsequent success; I didn’t know him then, I was 12 and I didn’t even know what a bong was. But I know him now, and he’s a fucking legend.

I first read Felafel when I was living in sharehouses of various levels of squalor and chaos in Sydney and still revel in Birmingham’s peerless ability to tell a cracking story, so it has always been a text that is close to my heart. I am particularly fond of my copies of Felafel and Dopeland however, due to the manner in which they were procured.

Very recently, one of my closest friends was required to delete a certain person from her life, a person who I was none too fond of from the moment I first met him, and who subsequently betrayed my friend and my grudging trust in an epic display of arsehattery. Deleting this person involved convincing him to come and pick up what appeared to be the extent of his wordly possessions from her house, which I can only assume he had left there in order to keep a foot in the door that was so clearly going to be slammed behind his arse on the way out.

Because my friend is a reasonable person who possesses little malice, she gave said individual ample opportunities to collect these belongings, resulting in a tedious saga that will not be recounted here. Suffice to say, it culminated in a final demand that if they were not collected within a specified two-hour period they would be generously distributed amongst the community’s charity shops. This, of course, got immediate results, so we decided made a day of it, a group of buddies descending on her house to help move his crap out onto the lawn while simultaneously taking the opportunity to enjoy a barbecue and some cold beverages. Prior to his arrival, I decided to souvenir something as a symbol of the wake of hurt and destruction he had left in his path. Frankly, Felafel and Dopeland were standouts, and I knew the author would be delighted at my relation of this undertaking. Said previous owner may well be reading this, in which case, I’ve got your books, dickhead. And your limited edition Best of TISM CDs. Just in case you were wondering.

This, while a personal triumph, is a diversion from the moral of the story which is that John Birmingham is one of my all time literary inspirations, not just for his ‘work on paper’ but for his prolific online opinion pieces which, like Helen Razer’s, make no apologies for their divisive content. I mean, he has a blog called Blunt Instrument for Goddess’s sake. I don’t know what the trolls who feebly attack him in the comments threads are expecting. And to cap off his written achievements, I admire the way that Birmingham interacts with his readers and peers through his blog and social media. For a budding writer like me, the opportunity to connect with writers like him and my lady friends Maggie Alderson and Charlotte Wood is a rare gift that would have been almost unimaginable pre-interwebs. Thus ends my circuitous Birmingham fangirl moment.

3. Gillian Mears: Fineflour

Gillian Mears is a somewhat reclusive female author of renown and one who happens to come from Grafton, the New South Wales northern rivers town I grew up in and in which I currently reside. Indeed, my first (and only) literary accolade is the memorial prize for art and literature held annually at my high school in honour of her mother Sheila Mears which I won with a short story I wrote when I was 17 (the aforementioned Maggie Alderson may be interested to know I purchased her Pants on Fire, another evergreen favourite, with a portion of the prize money).

My reading of Mears’s work, of which I have long been a fan, has always been coloured by the fact that she was, at one time, the wife of my greatest mentor, who is also now my closest friend and confidante; moreover, the book that launched her literary career was a thinly veiled and viciously untruthful autobiographical account of their brief relationship.

That said, her collection of stories titled Fineflour, which I read as a young girl and is ostensibly about life in Grafton, changed my ideas about what writing can be. Her poetic prose is terse yet evocative. Though the names in this book have been changed I can see, hear and smell the places she is writing about, places which I have known from childhood and have observed both closely and unconsciously over a lifetime. More importantly I can feel them deep within me when I read these words. These places are portable, and I have taken them with me on many travels. I have encouraged people close to me to read this book to get a sense of who I am and where I am from. It has also taught me that great literature does not have to be about great people and places; that the ordinary is worthy of reflection and elevation. Patrick White taught me this too, though Mears’s work does not begin to approach the emotional complexity and nuanced storytelling of works like the Tree of Man and the Solid Mandala, which have also been a great influence in my adult life.

The story ‘Ferryman’, one of my favourites, recounts the last day of a ferry driver on his watch. I can only imagine that the story describes the picturesque and still-functioning vehicular ferry at Lawrence, a charming feature of the landscape of my youth.

Vehicular ferry sunset, Lawrence, 2009

This morning, the mist trails soaking the paddocks by the river, was his last. He didn’t think he’d ever see a moon so pale and fat. The moon moved slowly, a half-grown slug, casting reflections into the ripples near the ferry. Across the other side of the river, Garnett’s milk truck was passing the poplar trees. He thought he’d miss the poplars most of all. They were fast-growing trees. Every nine years workers from Fineflour’s match factory would chop down the silver trunks. The chut of axe on wood or, more recently, the squeal of saws, leapt across the river. He preferred the sounds of ploughing and the silence of new saplings being planted. It was silt river soil, dark and rich with earthworms, He watched the trees grow tall and the leaves turn from translucent yellow into green, into dead leaf drifts. The trees formed cathedral-like avenues. At certain angles from the ferry he could see far doorways of light at the end of each tree-line. Now the poplars were still bare with a thousand crosses of twigs spiking into his middle distances.

Thus ends Chapter 1 of my Top 5 Most Inspiring Books (or Collected Works) I Saved From Rat Consumption This Weekend. I had intended to knock out all 5 in one hit but this has proven far more verbose than I had anticipated, and you probably have better things to do by now. Stay tuned for Chapter 2 which includes one of my favourite essays of all time, Orwell’s ‘The Sporting Spirit’, and my prized first edition of John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), an object which tells a far richer story than simply the text within.