Spring is Coming

Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina that “spring is the time of plans and projects.” With  the passing of equinox, July inspires us to seriously lift our game. Slow, cosy winter days are replaced with big plans for action.  There are many  spots to find little signs that Spring is coming. Here, in July, in the Southern Hemisphere, on a particularly bleak wintery day, it is reassuring to go into my private backyard woodland and note that unlike in Westeros, spring really is coming.

 

Who Castlemaine Remembers

“The past does not lie down and decay like a dead animal. It waits for you to find it again and again.”
“The Gilda Stories” ~Jewelle Gomez

This map depicting the journey Burke and Wills is a key part of the monument in Castlemaine

At the time when I was running the Soul Food Cafe I created a number of features which are stored in the Box of Wonderment. One was The Dig Tree which examined the fated journey of Burke and Wills and explored what the creative writer or artist could learn from their expedition.

My great grandfather, George Chale Watson, took a great interest in this expedition. He was in Echuca at the time and was inspired to set off on his own journey of exploration after their departure.

Finding myself in Castlemaine I was intrigued to discover that Castlemaine was the first town to decide to build a monument to Burke and Wills. Initially they wanted to bury Burke at the Castlemaine cemetery.

By May 1862, the citizens of Castlemaine had raised £450 for a memorial from public subscription and donations and on the anniversary of Burke’s death, 1 July 1862, a public holiday was declared. A procession of over 2,000, including John King, John Macadam and Frederick Standish, marched from town to a hill to the east of town where a ceremony was performed and a foundation stone laid by the Sheriff of Castlemaine, Richard Colles.

Why Castlemaine? Why the passion and drive to erect this monument? It appears that Burke, who was born in Ireland in 1820, became the Police Superintendent in Castlemaine in 1858, before being appointed to lead the ill-fated Victorian Exploring Expedition which embarked from Melbourne’s Royal Park on August 20, 1860. Their mission was to become the first expedition of Europeans traversing the interior of Australia from south to north. They traversed successfully but that ultimately this venture would cost Burke and his third-in-command Wills their lives on the return leg. Perhaps if they had connected with the owners of the land they crossed they may have survived.

It is fascinating to check out who Castlemaine likes to remember and offers pride of place to. A visit to the local museum gives one perspective of who the town remembers and equally, chooses to forget.

Out at nearby Guildford a memorial has been created for one of their favourite sons, a Castlemaine born footballer, Ron Barassi

At Chewton there is the Monster Meeting Place where the miners rallied. In pride of place, on a hill overlooking the town, a monument costing a small fortune was erected to remember a fated journey and Robert O’Hara Burke, a policeman who is described as being one of Castlemaine. In actual fact he was an immigrant from Ireland and only lived here for a couple of years. At least Senator Lawson who stands in Lyttleton Street had a long association with Castlemaine.

Personally I would like to know more about what the land remembers; what the land looked like before the European invasion. I would like to know more about the lives of the indigenous people who lived here! Who will you remember and how will you remember them?

Things I Love About Castlemaine

Many years ago, in another life, in a parallel universe, I gave my heart and soul to the creation of the Soul Food Cafe. The Creativity Portal was just one major site that featured the work that I was doing.  Facebook completely changed the online environment and the shift that came with it, along with consecutive losses, silenced me. Ten years ago I walked away from everything I had known, including Soul Food. Eventually I found my way to Castlemaine and settled here.

Reinventing oneself takes time. While Waiting for Godot is a place to wait, a place to reconnect with who I am and what I am passionate about. Now it is enough to sow a new wild garden. The ground is fertile here in Castlemaine and I  know that something will grow. It may be nettle or thistles or roses or carrots or oranges on my citrus trees. If my backyard is any indication something will grow. Fertile ground never remains empty. I am reminded to stay earthed and to attend to my growing ground.

Back in the day Betsy Bayers, “Pinballs’ prompted me to promote list writing. I used the Indian War Bonnet as one way to encourage students to make lists of 28 things they loved, hated, were disappointed about etc. In this instance I will use it to record 28 things I love about living in Castlemaine.

28 Things To Love About Castlemaine

  1. Living within walking distance of the centre of town, the Botanic Gardens and the railway station which provides a regular service to the city.
  2. The host of wonderful spots where I can take my dogs walking – many of which are featured in this blog.
  3. The devoted team who work down at the Botanic Gardens. The gardens are a jewel, something Castlemaine is rightly proud of! I particularly love the woodland area beyond the creek.
  4. The sound of football and cricket matches and sporting teams training at the Camp Reserve.
  5. The comforting sound of the Post Office bell ringing. It brings back memories of my late husband and us staying in an English village.
  6. The sound of the old steam train chugging out to Maldon.
  7. Being able to make full use of a wonderfully stocked, welcoming, library.
  8. Having an electrician respond to an SOS call (the sound of the smoke alarm chirping was impacting on my dogs) and came at 5 on a Saturday afternoon.
  9. Having devoted tradespeople restore my home with loving care.
  10. Having a woodland spring up in my backyard within a couple of years of planting!
  11. Warring with the flocks of sulphur created cockatoos who descend upon my trees. They are hooligans but I cannot help but love those life affirming rascals!
  12. The Pennyweight cemetery is the spiritual place I love to visit.
  13. The exhilarating history of this place! Places like Forest Creek Diggings, the Oak Forest and Specimen Gully Road where history changed.
  14. Good quality book shops.
  15. Turning off the highway and knowing I am almost home.
  16. Proximity to diverse places such as Chewton, Fryerstown, Taradale, Guildford, Newstead, Maldon, Daylesford and Harcourt.
  17. The natural beauty of nearby Mt Alexander and Dog Rocks.
  18. Stunning autumns and spectacular springs.
  19. Looking at old Jack Frost while sitting by my fire.
  20. Enjoying the view across town from the Old Castlemaine Gaol.
  21. Getting a coffee from James and sitting on the platform, deep in conversation, with a friend at the Railway Station.
  22. Knowing my neighbours and knowing how supportive they are.
  23. Waking to the sound of so many birds, knowing my beloved ravens are on the watchtower (neighbouring tall trees) and watching a family of birds take turns bathing in the water in the enamel dish on the back deck.
  24. The community garden at Continuing Ed.
  25. Great supportive friends.
  26. The dog walking community.
  27. Entering my drive, parking the car and walking in the front door after being away.
  28. My home! I give thanks every day for finding it, for being brought to Castlemaine!

Germ of Australian Independence

Much is made of the Eureka Stockade, a rebellion that took place in Ballarat. However, 160 years ago, in 1851, 15,000 protesters gathered on the Forest Creek diggings in central Victoria to object to higher gold license fees. This gathering took place at what has come to be known as the Monster Meeting place at Golden Point. While the Eureka Stockade has a place in Australian history many believe that the Monster Meeting actually started the chain of events. Miners became stronger political force and were stronger and stronger in demanding their rights as citizens as well as miners.

Many of us are guilty of taking hard won rights for granted! Few Australians would think to stop and give thanks to these miners who defied establishment and won democratic rights.

Gratitude is the art of receiving gratefully, of showing appreciation for kindness great and small. It is easy to show gratitude when you receive a gift or an obvious benefit and, alas, just as easy to forget to show gratitude for seemingly less personal benefits.

1. Keep a gratitude journal this month. In honour of the people who met here keep a list of things you are grateful for and things worth fighting for.

2. Each time someone does you a favour make it a practice to look them in the eye and thank them.

3. Think of ways to repay those who have made sacrifices that have been beneficial to your lifestyle. How can you give more than you take? What legacy can you leave? What will your footprints be?

Treasure Hunting in Blanket Gully Road

Ochre was the most important painting material used traditionally by Aboriginal people. It is mined from particular sites and is a crumbly to hard rock heavily coloured by iron oxide. The source material was traded extensively across Australia in the past, with some material traveling many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from where it was mined to where it was used. It comes in a variety of colours from pale yellow to dark reddish-brown.

Follow Blanket Gully Road until it comes to a T intersection and you enter a very different world from the new housing estate, on the outskirts of Campbells Creek, that you pass to get here. This is a corner of the world full of stones, ochres and pigments. It is not the ideal place for the dog or the little people but it is a surreal landscape full of treasure for the artist.

Nature’s Rock Art

In ancient India lived a sculptor renowned for his life-sized statues of elephants. With trunks curled high, tusks thrust forward, thick legs trampling the earth, these carved beasts seemed to trumpet the sky. One day, a king came to see these magnificent works and to commission statuary for his palace. Struck with wonder, he asked the sculptor, “What is the secret of your artistry?”
Eknath Easwaran

The sculptor upon taking measure of the monarch explained the process. Nature is yet to reveal the secret of its artistry. Perhaps she will reveal it to you if you talk to one of these stone people!

 

While Waiting for Godot promotes contemplative practices. Take the time to check out Contemplative Practices for inspiration.

Leanganook (Mt Alexander) Stone People

Rising 350 metres above the surrounding area, Mount Alexander (Leanganook) Regional Park is a prominent landmark offering magnificent views and a natural forest setting for picnics and bushwalking. It also provides important habitat for several rare or threatened species.

On a bitterly cold winter day the mountain took on a spiritual quality. It was enough to simply check out spots like the camping ground and commune with the stone people. The stone people, as the ancient one’s of this planet have much to teach us.

DawnEagle Summers tells us that “the stone people you find in your travels will tell you about their gifts, if you listen to them. They each bring their own lessons to our lives, whether they are a precious stone, gemstone, or just a piece of tumbled granite out of your driveway.” She says that once you begin to explore their world, you will learn more about them and suggests that we try carrying a few Ancient Ones in our pocket when we go out to face the world, to help your energy, or to learn from them. She says that stones love to talk with us, to help us, and they want others to know that they will share their teachings with us, if we but listen.

I will wait for another day to spend some time at dog rocks listening to those ancient ones and creating art.   The sniffers were not entirely happy to be confined in the car so we did not linger. Happily they did get out briefly, on lead, at the picnic ground.

Try spending meditative time with a stone person and enhance knowledge of indigenous culture by making dreamtime story stones.

As an aside, while googling, I happened upon this wonderful local concept.

Little Habitat Heroes is a group which invites children to become little habitat heroes. The group, based in Castlemaine, aims to plant indigenous species,  reduce erosion and improve biodiversity, encouraging a return of local wildlife. They wish to foster an ongoing stewardship of the site with regular events to maintain and nurture the growing habitat.

I acknowledge the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of this land. Through their cultural traditions and stewardship, Aboriginal people maintain their connection to their ancestral lands and waters. Take the time to check out ‘Set in Stone’ for something about world famous indigenous rock art.

Remembering Old Roadside Stops

When travelling long distances which is common in Australia (given the size and isolation of the country) sometimes it’s best just to pull over and have a rest.

 

While waiting for Godot I decided to head out and wander up to Leaganook (Mt Alexander). Coming back on the old highway between Harcourt and Taradale I came across one of those old road stops, in the style that I remember from trips to Melbourne with my parents from Gippsland. It was a long trip to Melbourne and Mum had invariably packed a thermos and her tin with the fruit cake we loved.

As I wandered about a flood of memories rose! I also remembered those carefree days in the early sixties when my parents had their first portable bar-b-que and we stopped at places like this picnic ground at Leanganook  on the slopes of Mt Alexander (Leanganook). I think we mainly had sausages wrapped in white bread with tomato sauce, but somehow it tasted so much better than sausages cooked on the wood burning fire, or under one of the earliest portable, electric cookers at home. Life changed for Mum when she afforded that household luxury.

When I take people out on my mystery writing/art making tours I will remember to include time at places like this.

Winter on Mt Franklin (Lalgambook)

Mt Franklin, known as Lalgambook to the Dja Dja Warrung people, is a small volcanic crater that offers ideal place for a picnic set amongst plantings of huge conifers and deciduous trees that create an exotic atmosphere. It offers a fine example of a breached scoria cone. The breach, through which the road now enters the crater, is thought to have been caused by a flow of lava breaking through the crater rim. Lava from Mount Franklin and other volcanoes in the area filled valleys and buried the gold bearing streams that became the renowned ‘deep leads’ of the gold mining era.

 

 

Since I walked away from the city and the life I had known, Mount Franklin has become my point of reference. Up close its size belies its presence on the landscape. It continues to be a marker for me!

Inside the crater of this ancient volcano, once described as a hellish place, it was cold and damp. Other than a solitary camper, huddled for warmth over a fire, we had the place to ourselves. No doubt because pagans have a gathering here, and dare to have a good time, rumours abound about witches inhabiting this place. Bollock to such naysayers! Today I found only welcoming nature spirits, beckoning me to come back, telling me that it is now an idyllic place to retreat to and decompress after a build up of minor annoyances.

Dig out the frisbee, pack a picnic, pile the kids in the car and head out for a nature fix. Allow 30 min max to get to Mt Franklin from Castlemaine. And do pop into the nearby Chocolate Mill for a warm hot chocolate and to replenish the stash you hide from those kids!

The Gower School Ruins

I have no particular talent! I am only passionately curious
Einstein

In 1912 the Gowar township was gazetted, but little came of it.

Gowar is a rural locality 7 km south-east of Maldon. It was known as Muckleford North until 1880, but one hundred years later Muckleford North has probably become the name more often used. It is thought that Gowar derived from an Aboriginal word meaning big hill.

There were minor gold rushes at Muckleford but nothing permanent eventuated. The Muckleford Creek, however, was a source of permanent water for agriculture, the nearest such source for Maldon. A school for Gowar was opened in the early 1870s and closed in 1908. The stone ruin remains.

Gowar was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:

Any evidence of the town has long gone! All that remains are these ruins!

Forest Creek Diggings

Forest Creek Historic Gold diggings is situated mid-way between Castlemaine and Chewton. This historic mining site is in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, and there is to do free of charge. A 400-metre walk allows you to discover how miners won gold from Forest Creek. The walk commences at a small shed below which is a dam.The dam has clean beach and is a great place to learn to pan for gold. At the waters edge you will find gravel which has been put there for you to try your luck at panning.

The Forest Creek Diggings caused quite a stir in 1851. As more and more newcomers pegged their claims, they followed the deposits of gold up the eroded flats and valleys feeding the creek. It soon dawned on the crowd that gold washed into the river flats came from the surrounding rises.

In March of 1852, White Hill was the scene of a rush within a rush, and a month later the adjacent rise known as Red Hill was swarming with hopefuls, some lying stretched out on the ground to secure their eight foot by eight foot claim (about two metres by two metres).

Today, the Forest Creek Gold Diggings occupies the remains of White Hill and Red Hill. There have been nearly 150 years of continuous mining here, and a remarkable range of techniques has been used to extract the alluvial (river deposited) gold. All of these techniques were versions of the panning process, whereby clay and gravel are washed away from the heavier gold, and all have left their traces.

At first, miners of the 1850s dug shafts through the layers of the ancient riverbed, and carried gravel and clay to the creek below to be washed in pans or wooden ‘cradles’.

Sometimes miners digging a shaft would be tricked by a layer of sediment `as hard as the pyramids’, and abandon their shaft before reaching richer deposits below. A number of 1850s shafts remain on White Hill today.

Later mining methods included puddling, a process of washing and working clay to release fine particles of gold. This could either be done by hand in a small trough, or with the help of a horse working a large circular puddling trough. In times of abundant water, surfacing was practised. It was a process of flooding the surface of a hill to remove the gold-bearing topsoil, and directing the flow through a series of barriers, known as a ground sluice, to collect the gold. Source: Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings

The Forest Creek Geo Maze is constructed from eight concentric circles of rocks. The six types of rocks are representative of the main periods of geological activity in the goldfields region. The oldest rocks are placed around the outer circle and the younger rocks are in the centre.

Scar Trees and Battle Coats

Scarred trees are trees which have had bark removed by indigenous Australians for the creation of bark canoes, shelters, shields and containers, such as coolamons. They are among the easiest-to-find archaeological sites in Australia.

I have been out and about with the dogs and while they sniff map I am capturing images of some (modified) scar trees. The scars on these trees, as they age, have a poignancy.

I have always been fascinated by Clarissa Pinkola Estes idea of making a full length scapecoat to detail one’s scars in painting, writing, with all manner of things pinned and stitched inside. It is the perfect place to pin all that one has endured, “all the insults, the slurs, all the traumas, all the wounds”. Such a coat is a way of visually portraying one’s endurance and the victory of still standing tall.

I really love what Alice Wellinger has done here. This beautiful piece truly resonates and fuels the desire to do something using a grey coat that I have had hanging, unworn for many years.

If I Do It All Over Again

My shipmates and I liked the sea lions, and envied their lives. They were all either fat or dead; there was no half way. By day they played in the shallows, alone or together, greeting each other and us with great noises of joy, or they took a turn offshore and body-surfed in the breakers, exultant… Everyone joked, often, that when he “came back” he would just as soon do it all over again as a sea lion.
Annie Dillard

I have thought of that if I am called upon to do it all over again I would ask to be a lappie, beamed down to a home where I would be taken out three times a day to run, frolic joyfully and sniff map. But I do understand why Dillard, upon returning to the Galapagos, realised that, rather than returning as a sea lion she would come back as a palo santo tree, standing on the weather side of the island. Standing there she could be “a perfect witness”, able to simply look, be mute, wave her arms a lot and be a source of holy wood.

If I do return it will be a bit like returning after having lived with fairies! Nothing will be as it is now! Everything changes! But that is nothing new! I have not always lived alone with lapphunds! I reinvented myself when multiple deaths changed the world I had known. Perhaps I will come back in a very different form. I might come as an iconic Boab Tree and silently dispense creative bush medicine to those who understand. Of course, unless I end up in some kind of alternative universe, that will not shield me from the loss and grief so much a part of life on this planet.

Who will you be and how will you live if you do come back for another round on planet earth?

The Potential of Stones and Pebbles

The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff – but we all live like this – is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk.
Annie Dillard

 

Annie Dillard’s essay, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is one of her most brilliant. Whereas wisecracks abounded about the young man who tried to teach a stone to talk, for the most part everyone respected what Larry was doing. It is certainly less controversial to sit, partaking of a conversation with a stone that has been carved into the shape of a man.

In creative classes that I have run I have regularly dispensed stones and asked people to spend private time talking to them. Try it out for yourself! Take a walk sometime, watch for a stone that seems to grab your attention… pick it up, turn it over a few times and look for images on it’s surface. Allow those images to relay words to your mind. Let something emerge and grow.

Of course, like me, you may be content to simply photograph the stones you have been inspired to stop to discuss the meaning of life with. The ones here were photographed at the Forest Creek Diggings. After the total upheaval of the 1851 gold rush like me, in the face of compounding losses, they are mute and have little to say about their loss. They cannot find a way to tell me about the utter carnage that took place as every stone was turned over and the landscape ravaged in the mad quest to find gold. As remnants of much bigger stone, I understand and respect their silence. Perhaps if I visit regularly they will find a way to tell me how they have gone on living on this rock we both call home.

Or, like William Steig who created the delightful Sylvester and the Pebble, you may end up writing a story. Sylvester, a young donkey, finds a magic pebble and thanks to some very mixed up communication ends up trapped within it. It is a sobering reminder to be very careful what you wish for.

 

A Nature Fix

Old tree
Giant towering
You
Who saw the rise
Of ancient suns,
Chris Magadaza

I would like to learn or remember how to live. I come to Troll Corner not so much to learn how to live as to learn from this giant yellow box, long separated from any kin. Friends estimate this old man’s age age at around 600 but I am not sure if this is true.

600 years ago the Chachapoyas, a tall, fair-haired, light-skinned race had  one of the more advanced ancient civilisations in the South America. Adept at fighting, they commanded a large kingdom from the year 800 to 1500 that stretched across the Andes.

Joan of Arc was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks.

Everyone in Fiji lived close to the sea from the time of first settlement 3,100 years ago until about 600 years ago —when, suddenly, everything changed profoundly. According to scientists Fiji has experienced climate change at least once. Within a couple of generations, most coastal settlements in Fiji appear to have been abandoned in favor of new ones in upland, inland locations.

Little is written about what was happening here 600 years ago! Many have suggested that this was the ’empty country’ and that the great southern country lay sleeping while the world turned. This is not a very likely scenario! The indigenous people who loved this ancient land have something quite different to say.

It is winter in this quiet corner of the world but the birds still sing and dance here.

Here at troll corner this proud tree stands a silent witness to ancient dawns! If I sit here, Waiting for Godot, gently encouraging this tree to talk, I might learn about who passed by 600 years ago. I don’t expect the tree to speak in the way I speak, or describe its long life in the traditional way. But I know it has stored much knowledge about the past within its bark and roots.

This old yellow box has nothing to say to me about the insanity of the gold fever that bought hoards here and even less about the people who lived in the nearby ruins. But maybe, if I come visiting often enough, he might just reveal something about how to live alone through times of loss and change.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »