Category Archives: The Lady Novelist Travels

The Lady Novelist Meets a Bear and Cheers a Lumberjack

On this, my third day in the Great Northern Metropolis, I made my way up the perilous paths to Grouse Mountain (by which I mean I stepped onto a bus and rode to the cable car over the trees to not-quite-the-summit).

Walking around a mountain was different to the previous two days, which mainly involved a cool walking tour and going to interesting places to eat. But, being that I am who I am, and none other than who I am, the trip to Grouse Mountain also involved food. But with views! Of bears! And lumberjacks! and distant lands like the United States of America! And giant wooden sculptures of eagles!

The wooden sculptures inevitably reminded me of the White Witch of Narnia turning talking animals to stone. Perhaps this day she was feeling more in the mood for earthy colours and the scent of woodchips.

Because frankly, this eagle would be even more imposing in stone.


But onto the bears! Two orphaned cubs were found some years ago and brought to Grouse Mountain to be cared for. Now around 4 years old, they are too used to humans to successfully return to the wild (where they might still be hunted). This one looks like I do before my first coffee of the day.


The second bear was more of a water baby:A Swimming Grizzly Bear

I felt the need to get down to the micro level for a bit, so here are some flowers and what might be a bee. Or a wasp. Or some other form of flying death. Seriously, I was more concerned by the stripey bug than the bear with the huge claws.


But never mind all that. Furry or flying forms of death-by-nature (and we all know how I distrust nature) be damned: there were lumberjacks on show. I mean doing a show. Pretty I mean fit I mean how very skilled they are.



And look. Footage. My intrepid fellow traveller and organiser-of-holidays extraordinaire said it all turned very Mr Darcy at the end there. Waterlogged Lumberjacks

Poor Johnny was nearly unmanned.

I found comfort in a Beaver Tail, my first! It’s a lot like a cinnamon and sugar doughnut that has been tortured on the rack before frying. The resulting squishy-outside-crunchy-middle meets with my sterling approval.


Having dessert before lunch was a bit arse-about, I know, but hey. I’m an adventuress now. I make WILD DECISIONS and I DO WHAT I WANT, OKAY?

We found a place on the deck overlooking the city below. We could see the border between Canada and the US very distinctly. It honestly looks like someone went out there and painted a great big line down the middle, like you’re tempted to do when you’re having a huge demarcation dispute with an annoying sibling with whom you share a room.




Though perhaps that was just my siblings.

Altitudes provided lunch (thank you Altitudes!) so we scarfed down a delish bready pretzel spread with Guiness-whipped soft cheese (no really, it’s much nicer than it sounds) and a spot of British Columbia salmon on flatbread for starters, and then onto the ling cod tacos, accompanied by a Ginger Ninja beer. This is not ginger-beer-as-softdrink. It’s beer with a bit of ginger zing. These Canadians. They know a thing or two about food.


Entertainingly, the view of mountains, the valley, the city, the river and all those trees was occasionally interupted by brave souls fluttering past on hang gliders. From where I sat, I couldn’t even hear any screaming. (Well, if it was me on one of those contraptions, probably the diners would have heard the screaming. And the swearing. And the ‘oh god what was I thinking?!’ so it’s just as well I was on the patio instead.)


Thank you to Grouse Mountain and Tourism Vancouver for hosting us today. In the Australian vernacular of my teenaged years, I had a grouse time!

The Lady Novelist turns Adventuress

20130824-063154.jpgDiary, 23 August 2013

We rose at 3am, the hour of ghosts and other unnatural stirrings of the night, so our timing in that regard was good. From this rude hour we bestirred ourselves to the airfield for our craft to Sydney, and thence to our machine to take us across the great Pacific to Vancouver, another outreach of the Empire.

Diary, 23 August 2013
What is this devilry? A day repeated in so unwarranted a fashion? I suppose we all wish for a do-over day sometimes, and at least this one I can do over NOT in the confines of a cramped airship full of people with a peculiar idea of the definition of ‘a single item of carry-on luggage’.


Nevertheless, here we are, I and my stalwart First Mate, despite exhaustion and frankly making not much sense at times, exploring Vancouver. The locals have been forbearing with us, especially when we nod off mid-sentence.

My favourite discovery so far in this city of hills and waterways: East Van Roasters. An establishment that makes coffee on a par with that of the hold homestead, and a spicy Mayan hot chocolate to kill for.

Organic coffee and cacao beans are both roasted on the premises and this not for profit business provides training and employment to local women.

Come to Vancouver for the gentle adventure and charmingly pleasant townsfolk. Stay for the beverages and chocolate products at East Van Roasters.

East Van Roasters: artisans chocolate and coffees at 319 Carrall St, Gastown, Vancouver


It Means What It Is

I’ll always be grateful for Matthew Collings’ 1999 TV series This is Modern Art. It taught me a lot about modern art, for a start, but more importantly it taught me that enjoying a piece of art is very subjective: and so is loathing one, or having no reaction to it at all.

I mean, either I respond to a piece or I don’t; and if I respond, it may be positive or negative – but in the end, I just feel how I feel. Maybe I can articulate the reasons for my reaction, maybe I can’t, but how I feel is no indicator of whether a piece is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. All I can say is how I respond to something, and then try to understand why I respond that way.

Once I let go of any idea of what kind of art I was supposed to think good or bad, I could just get on with either liking it or not as I saw fit.

And apparently, what I see fit to like (or not) in art revolves around humour and an appreciation of layers of meaning.

This appreciation of my own art appreciation came home to me as I visited MONA in Hobart on 21 February.

I first visited MONA in 2011. I love that gallery. I love the way it uses technology to make viewing art easy and more interesting. I love how texts on its O device help to break down those barriers of how art ‘should be’ received and instead opens visitors up the the excellent notion that all responses are valid.

This visit, my layers of appreciation revolved around:

  • thinking about artworks I was seeing for the first time.
  • enjoying rediscovering pieces I’d seen an loved in other exhibitions and didn’t know I’d find, like Zizi the Affectionate Couch and Korean video artist Junebum Park’s 3 Crossing.
  • rediscovering pieces that I enjoyed the first time around at MONA, like the two live goldfish swimming in a deep plate of water around a chopping knife, and the Pulse Room.
  • amusing myself with the way certain pieces and moments made me think of other things in pop culture.

That’s one of the fun things about seeing lots of art as well as seeing lots of pop culture that may mention art. Everything you see accumulates layers of meaning.

One evocative piece had two speakers in a darkened room, each emitting the voice of the artist singing two versions of a folk song.

The song is the story about two sisters in love with the same man. One sister pushes the other into the river so she can have the man to herself. The drowned sister dies, is washed ashore, and her bones and hair are made into a fiddle that will only play a lament.

One speaker is the song of the sister who pushed; the other is the song of the sister who drowned.

It’s a wonderful piece of sound sculpture, with two simple speakers standing in for those tragic sisters. It also is the latest layer in my relationship with that story, which I’ve heard in different folk songs and in different forms. One of my favourite versions is Loreena McKennitt’s The Bonny Swans, which adds another sister and incorporates at least two versions of the story in a single song.

Not all of my pop culture associations were so elegant. At various times I was reminded of Rimmer admiring Legion’s light switch [at 1:50], or John Cleese and Eleanor Bron admiring the TARDIS in Doctor Who’s City of Death, or Ben Miller’s crusty old historian saying ‘It is, of course, absolutely priceless’ just before he manages to destroy whatever fabulous historical artefact he’s looking at in the Miller and Armstrong sketch show.

So it may be that no-one else but Tim knew what I was giggling about at some of those exhibits, but it’s liberating to know that it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thought about either the art or my giggling.

I love the layers of perception I experience, without regard for ‘high’ or ‘low’ art. Art is just art. Creativity is just creativity. And whether I like it and the ways in which I do (or not), matter only to me. It’s enough to have an opportunity to see other people’s imaginations splashed out for the world to see, and to feel however I feel about it, and try to work out why I react the way I do.

That way, I don’t just learn about art. I learn about myself.

In No Way a Little Bush Maid

Adventure Bay RetreatAs I write, I am sitting at a rustically hewn wooden table in a kitchen overlooking a paddock. Across the way, I can see the waters of Adventure Bay, on the eastern side of the south half of Bruny Island. This morning, there were wallabies on the lawn in front of the patio, including one of the island’s 200-odd white wallabies. Birds were calling, including one that sounded like a squeaky bed being put to energetic use.

Yesterday, I was on a cruise around Bruny Island, heading far enough south to cross into the Southern Ocean (a new ocean for me!) to see seals, albatrosses, mutton birds, jellyfish and several kinds of gull. The little boat sped through the Monument formation at speed, throwing spray into the air and banking steeply past the rocks. (Do they call it ‘banking’ in boats?) It was a hoot.

bruny island cruiseTasmania is tinder-dry at the moment, but even with the yellow grass and thirsty-looking plants, and signs of bushfires from both last year and the fire that devastated the island in 1967, there’s something magnificent about the Australian bush. A kind of austerity and hardiness about it. The skeletons of dead gum trees poke above the canopy of the regrowth like a signpost to tenacity. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I can’t help but think of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country. I do love a sunburnt country. This wide brown land is definitely for me.

When I was a young girl (some time in the 17th century, it sometimes feels like) I used to read the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce (including The Little Bush Maid, of course). I also read a lot of Australian horse books, including the Silver Brumby series and books by Mary Elwyn Patchett).  I loved Dot and the Kangaroo. I ate up Snugglepot and Cuddlepie with a spoon. ON TV I watched Skippy and Cash and Co and Luke’s Kingdom. In short, I devoured any and all stories set in the Australian bush.

Of course, I didn’t actually grow up in the bush. I grew up on air force bases and in suburbia. As an adult, my homes crept closer and closer to city centres until now I live diagonally opposite Melbourne’s former GPO – as close to the centre of the city and the 0 mile marker as I can get without actually living in the post office.

You see, here’s the thing. I appreciate that nature exists. I am glad that it’s out there, and that there are people who love living in it and are competent in that environment.

I am not one of those people.

As much as I like the idea of nature, I generally don’t much enjoy being right in the middle of the fact of nature. It’s itchy and hot and uncomfortable, or wet and miserable and uncomfortable. The paths, when there are paths, are uneven, and I have twisted my ankle or slipped onto my arse more than once. Scuttling things live in nature. Being Australia, they can be scuttling venomous things.

And please note, I do not have an irrational fear or phobia of spiders. I have twice been hospitalised with venomous spider bite, on both occasions in suburban homes. If that’s what they can do to me when surrounded by concrete and breeze blocks, what could they manage in their natural environment if they spat on their way-too-many hands and really got down to business? My fear of those little bastards is perfectly rational and based on painful personal experience.

Perhaps I’m just a living example of that whole dichotomy of the European relationship with this land, drawn to and terrified of it in equal measure.

The gorgeous lodge where I’m staying, at the Adventure Bay Retreat, is giving me a wonderfully safe way to prod at the fringes of the Australian landscape. I’ve watched the sun climb into the sky, listened to the kookaburras and that squeaky-mattress bird from the comfort of this beautiful wooden kitchen, sipping on an espresso coffee and eating toast and marmalade.

Last night, after the aircon cooled the house down from the very hot day, Tim and I sat on the patio with a glass of wine and watched a white wallaby and its brown herd-mates bounce down to the road. I read on my Kindle for a while and just before we climbed into a king-sized bed with fluffy soft pillows we went out to look at the stars and the wisps of white that give the Milky Way its name – something we never see from our city abode.

So yes, I’m a soft city girl. I need a buffer between me and Nature. I like a view of the sunburnt country that does not require that I, too, must be sunburnt, or bitten by mosquitoes (or spiders) (or snakes). I love the other parts of this beautiful planet, too:  the deserts and forests I’ve seen, the farmlands and the mountains, the tamed suburbs and the untamed wilds.

But I always come home. Whatever the world has to offer, it’s still her beauty and her terror, her pitiless blue sky, this wilful lavish land for me.

Well, as long as a decent café latte isn’t too far away.

Disclaimer: My cruise was courtesy of Bruny Cruises and my accommodation was courtesy Adventure Bay Retreat.