Wildlife on campus

[Written yesterday in my notebook]

Wildlife today so far: the noise of kookaburras, echoing creepily; tiny rising bubbles and large splashes that resolved themselves into the dim shapes of the koi in the Reid Library moat, the red-and-white koi catching my eye until the brown ones swam across them, going from invisible to green to brown and then disappearing again behind the green fan of their tails. A threat of ravens, grasping with confidence the back of the silver chair opposite me, and glaring at my doughnut peach; the shrieks and strutting of seagulls, and the smug swimming-by of the ducks.

It turns out, seagulls can be quite peaceful if they think no-one is watching them, or coming near them to take the left-behind bowl of rice  away. I swear, I saw one seagull today – thinking it was unobserved – stop eating, and look like it was pretty full and had had enough.

There were bees in the waterlilies, and a tiny cockroach in the takeaway container protecting my peach: eeew. Also ants aiming for the scalloped circles of my biscuits as I sat on the lawn.

I wasn’t content to observe the wildlife only, and fed the cockroach to the fish.

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The Heaviness of Cupcakes

I have talked a lot with friends lately about the weight of housework: not so much the actual labour, although that is significant enough, but the feeling of having a burden of responsibility for the housework if you work mainly at home.

I’m often at home. I have a great privilege, one not available to all women in all countries, or indeed even in this one, of studying full-time, and for a postgraduate degree at that. It is of course a privilege I am very keen to shuck off, and I hope to take my place in the workforce before many more weeks are out! This post comes out of my general frustration with the drawn-out way I’ve been finishing the PhD, but I feel justified in this particular whinge because: a), it’s a blog, it’s totally FOR whingeing, and b), because of the gendered nature of domestic guilt/endeavour is worth bringing up.

See, I just found myself thinking, “it’s not so bad if you don’t have much money to spend, but it sucks when you don’t have money OR time.” And the reason I was thinking this is because I want to go on a picnic, but you’re supposed to bring food on a picnic, and I can’t work out when I would have time to make any, but I don’t feel I can just go and buy a bunch of food to bring. And even as I’m thinking this there’s lists and recipes and places to go shopping drifting up from somewhere down in my brain, demanding that I think about them, plan whether or not to do/go/buy/bake.

But the reason I wanted a picnic was really just an excuse beyond loitering to sit by the river and read, and maybe write out a blog post, with only J. and maybe some dolphins for company.

I wanted, of course, to relax.

The kernel of the problem, for me, is that there is anxiety mixed in with the pleasure of food – is it the right kind of food, is it what J./friends/family would like on a picnic, does it look simple and easy enough, so no-one is stressed about me having put too much thought into it. I’ll let you unravel the ironies of that thought in your own time.

What my inner monologue doesn’t ever seem to say – and what I hope you, dear Reader – (possibly Readers, I am on Twitter now after all) would have already muttered at the screen, is, “who cares? It’s just food.” I can’t tell you how strongly it goes against all those drifting, jarring dodgem-cars of impulses I have in my brain to write that, to write “it’s just food.” Of course that’s partly my hedonism, my interest in food & recipes and food culture, but that pleasurable and defenisble aspect of planning for a picnic is so entwined with a feeling of – I suppose the word is duty, a duty to be a source of food.

Some of my friends and I have agreed that it’s important to fight the feeling that the housework is your responsibility, and to fight the expression of that feeling in apologising for a messy house, to visitors or partners (or in someone’s case, the cleaning ladies themselves- not to dob anyone in there). But I am going to fight against the feeling of responsibility for cupcakes.

I cannot arrange to meet with my friends for a picnic, or visit at their houses, without feeling, immediately, like a hot blast from an oven, that I really need to bake. Like scone-dough that you can’t get off your hands even under the tap, the feeling sticks to me that I must bring something, and that it should be homemade, because it’s more appreciated, more earthy, more tasty, more thrifty, and more likely to dispel the aforementioned fear that people will feel themselves pressured if I go overboard.

My feeling, turning the blog-lens on my behaviour, is that probably my friends don’t want cupcakes, and are sick of eating cupcakes, and admiring cupcakes, and having guests turn up late because of taking cupcakes out of the oven. My guess is, if you’re a mum with a toddler and people visit you or you go to visit them 3 days out of your week, then you must feel like Santa with all the hopeful pressing-on you of biscuits and muffins and cupcakes and cake. As a student and inhabitant of cafes I sometimes wish I didn’t propose to meet people in them quite so much, as one of us will always propose having some cake, and the other will always acquiesce, but if you catch up with enough people in a week (a bad student habit anyway) you end up having cake for lunch four days in a row.

And really, a domestic-guilt driven exchange of dainty cupcakes is not the metaphor I want for my friendships, I want to be impulsive ice-cream purchases, and simple weeknight pasta that can be shared by toddlers, and off-the-main-street Thai restaurants, and a heel of bread and jar of honey and leftover apples hastily thrown into a plastic bag on the way to the zoo, and pizza in front of the TV, and jazz club food that’s horrifyingly expensive but you’re too hungry to resist, and cold roast potato and garlic, picked out of an ice-cream tub in the fridge.

I’m not saying I forswear all cupcakes – they are very pretty, after all – but I slam the oven door on the idea that meeting my friends = I really ought to bake.

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The Perils of Eco-Chic (Brown is the New Black)

New Year’s Eve: I’m in front of the mirror running an approving eye over my outfit, which is “vintage” (or close enough) from head to toe: vintage cotton dress, lace-up vintage boots, second-hand necklace fashioned out of an 80s earring, and a skinny brown belt picked up at Good Sammy’s. My gaze stops though on the lacy headband holding back my hair that completes the outfit – an elastic-y synthetic-y thing that, I suddenly remember, I bought at a major chain store.

The headband made me think about some of the perils of trying to be “eco-chic”, and how easy it is to confuse one good motivation with another. When there are so many feel-good reasons informing your choices, it’s a little too easy to let one ethical consideration stand in for another.

Shopping at opportunity shops is great, a pastime in itself, one that’s more challenging but less exhausting than department store shopping. There’s so much more to sort through, but so much less you would actually pick up and try on. I often walk back out of my favourite “label” shops after completing one slow revolution, because I like everything, and how could I possibly choose? In the op-shops I could go for hours rifling through the racks. When you go op-shopping you get to congratulate yourself  on developing an “eye” for hidden gold .Of course my “eye”, when I get it home, proves pretty much always to pick things out that are brown. Seriously, every third dress in my wardrobe is brown. I can say that my favourite shades are autumnal, at about the point at which the fall of autumn leaves become indistinguishable from the sludgy mud …

Even though they are so noticeably brown, I love my op-shop outfits – they’re a bit different, they might even be “vintage”-y finds, and you get to feel smug if someone asks you “where is that from?” and you can answer that you found it in an op-shop – very different from you bought it at such-and-such. Saying you found it acknowledges the dress or the top as an object of a quest; a prize fought for and achieved, snatched from the grasp pf the cheesecloth-wearing rainbow-headbanded hippie just behind you.

(Actually my Mum and my Nana hate it when I announce my outfit’s op-shop origins to the world, they seem to be a bit embarrassed that I would prefer to tell someone the story of dragging the severed head of the questing-beast bumping behind me back down the cliff instead of shrugging over one lordly shoulder at the head neatly mounted on the wall – oh this? I had Alannah-monster-hunter mount it for me. The walls wear them on Gossip Girl.)

Op-shop clothes are cheap,  and have no carbon footprint for their production; you are recycling the materials, and the carbon cost of getting the cardie to Good Sammy’s and then you to the shop are pretty minimal; and op-shop clothes allow you to avoid paying money in support of unethical labour practices, and best of all, op-shop clothes are cheap. See the thing is, I included my lacy headband, picked up at Diva, in my catalogue of ethically-sourced fashion because what I remembered was that it, like my other clothes, had been really cheap. Given the long hours of questing through the racks at Good Sammy’s, which is what I really remember, it’s difficult not to think of the few-dollar accessories I pick up on the spur of the moment as a matching part of the eco-chic ensemble.

So what happened is my mind blurred together the eco-savvy-not-supporting-sweatshop-labour-and-cheap. This worries me because I can see that this is part of a wider trend, at least in the middle-class Australia that I’m familiar with. For me, eco-chic becomes troubling when human rights and environmental responsibilities become conflated. We are told that our consumer choices have power, and with all the subtleties and problems that we are asked to consider, it can be difficult to avoid letting one aspect of ethics stand in for and replace another.

Diva products are sold all around the world. According to their website, Diva products “meet all EEC requirements (no nickel content) despite there being no legislation governing this in Australia at present.” So it seems that my outfit ticks a box for energy efficiency and is still pretty eco-chic, but I want to avoid allowing environmental concerns to stand in for the other ethical concern of labour conditions. Who made my headband, and in what conditions? Diva doesn’t have a statement about labour conditions on their website; and I would doubt that they or other similar retailers would feel the same kind of pressure to look ethical in relation to human labour as they are to look “green”.

I have thrown the tag away; I can’t tell where the lovely lace headband was made, although that would tell me little anyway, as the only country whose industrial relations laws I know anything about is Australia. That is the problem though, I don’t assume that my mass-produced (and lovely) headband would be produced in an unethical way, but the point is I don’t know. Unlike the dress from a stallholder I chatted to, the shoes from the second-hand boutique I visited in Melbourne, the belt from my favourite local Good Sammy’s and the necklace fashioned from discarded junk ( stuff from the 80s) at the bottom of my mother’s jewelery box, my headband is an object without history. And because I’ve bought it directly from the retailer, I am the demand that creates the supply, and I have tacitly accepted how that supply is met.

Serendipitously, just yesterday, as I was writing this, I received a note in my inbox exhorting me to “buy Australian on Australia Day.”  I’m pleased to see that I’m not expected to lug into Harvey Norman, politely wait around while I’m first ignored and then patronised by sales staff until it’s time for me to personally carry home a fridge – no, all I have to do is look for gorgeous Australian-made things on etsy, such as for example these:

Not Brown!

Admittedly I probably won’t have magically earned enough money by writing my thesis or this blog by Australia Day to join in the economic patriotism, but I am going to keep track of some of the local markets and other shindigs where I could buy locally and Aussie-made accessories to dot my field of brown dresses.

Made on the Left will be hosting a pop-up-market for the Perth Cultural Centre’s O’day on 30th of January. Made on the Left Markets are a source of local handmade products, their website also provide links to local craft artists and their work.

Made on the Left drew my attention to the wonderful Oxford Street Market which is on at the moment, every Saturday from 9am-4pm down the “cafe” end of Oxford street, and which I always forget to go to, even though the silver choker with malachite teardrops I bought at the Oxford Street markets when I was in year 12 is still the most-often complimented of my necklaces, and also the go-to piece if I want to look a bit bohemian (am going to Fremantle). I resolve to go and see if I can’t find one or two locally-made accessories to go with my op-shop glamour from one of the talented stallholders there.

Of course it occurred to me that a place to go to accessorise my second-hand – sorry, “vintage” – clothes could be the vintage markets (which actually haven’t been around that long). There’s a few coming up – the Retro Markets that are hosted every month by Sugar Blue Burlesque are coming up on Sunday January 30th, from 12pm to 4:00pm, at “The Burlesque Lounge”, 267 William St, Northbridge. These are markets that I have met on the internet and in the photos of veteran market-goers on facebook, but I’ve yet to make it there myself.

On Sunday went to check out one of the facebook pages that usually indicates when a collection of stallholder’s wishing to sell people vintage clothes reaches critical mass and erupts into a market, or, as the official term now seems to be established, a HUGE VINTAGE SALE. It turned out that the sale had been on that day, and so I missed it. It is of course a good thing I missed it, a good thing, as people who are still students at the beginning of ’11 have no money. But still 😦 It was huge!

Mind you, second-hand clothes from seasoned sellers like this come with their own ethical hooks and catches; two of the dresses I bought from the gorgeous and quirky Oh Henry Vintage had labels telling me they were imported from Japan – so buying from someone who sources and then imports gorgeous vintage-y clothes means paying a carbon cost that is potentially very high.

I think that next time I scrounge up some change for funky headgear or belts or brooches to liven up my army of op-shop brown, I will go back to the source of my favourite Good Sammy’s (Rokeby road, and the one in Osborne Park) and maybe, if my lovely friend Sally is in the mood to take me (although I probably won’t be listing it among my heroic exploits) – the tip!

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First Post

This is a space for me to scribble down some “First Thoughts” about what nature looks like in culture. Because it’s a blog, it will primarily be about the “culture” that I walk past or walk into everyday; things I see an experience that touch on my daily life, which is about how most personal blogs go, as far as I can tell from peering through one or two windows into the vast blogosphere. And because it is a personal blog, because it is mine, Laurie Ormond’s, it’s also going to be (occasionally) about fairies.

It would be difficult to write a post about fairies that was not, in some way, also a post about nature, or about how we have thought about nature at some point in time.

I might have heard about fairies first from books, but I met fairies and lived with them in my head when I was outside, in schools’ grounds and in gardens, on the edge of the rainforest or looking up to the tops of mountains.

Still, the books had a pretty heavy impact on the kinds of place I would have considered the likely habitat of fairies. And those places looked like this:

"Fairyland of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite"/verses by Annie R. Rentoul ; stories by Grenbry Outhwaite and Annie R. Rentoul

From "The Enchanted Forest" (1921)  Illustrated by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

The Torn Wing


Fairies and Gum Trees

Fairy Beauty Looking Over The Happy Valley

The Waterfall Fairy

Nothing to me has ever seemed quite as definitive a picture of fairy-land as those by Victorian-born illustrator Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. That’s not to say that I was not also a native of the Shirley Barber landscape. And fairy horses, naturally, looked like Rainbow Brite’s Starlight:

while fairy palaces must be as magically impregnable as the Palace of Lady Lovely Locks:


Why did I never notice that the foundations are made of living hair?

Fairyland at first glance is tinted by 80s Technicolour, on the whole, though, fairyland was illustrated by black-and-white line-drawings (especially those in my Reader’s Digest collection of “The World’s Best Fairy Tales”), the kind that seem to capture a moment of movement, the kind that, like the best writing, make a scene all the more real for your ability to distinguish the individual scratches of a pen. The cross-hatchings on Deirdre’s dress convey the feel of fine cloth against fair skin more than any of Barber’s beautifully tinted gauzes. Line-drawings, like the sparse telling of folk-tales themselves, are true illustrations because they leave so much room for the imagination.

Although my favourite illustrator to capture the stark but exotic nature of the choices you get offered in a fairy tale is definitely Jan Pienkowski, whose sillhoutettes draw you into the story more deeply than any glitteringly sharpened coloured pencil…

It never bothered me that so many of the landscapes were not particularly Australian ones – I approved of landscapes and gardens if they were romantic and fantastic enough – this did not exclude Australian plants, because when I was little I don’t remember knowing the difference; I never knew one plant as native and another as introduced, or one plant as a weed from another state and another one as part of the local habitat. I still think of the spicy smell of lantana as the smell of the rainforest, because it, vociferous weed, clamours noisily at the edges of the rainforest’s deeply textured and quieter dark greens.

To me at eight (and let’s be honest, although more secretly, through to about 15) the FNQ rainforest – or the edges of it that I visited – were a perfect setting for the medievalist fairy courts and spaces of adventure that lived in these books and in my head.

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