Category Archives: Australia

It was a long journey through the night…

Travelling faster than human speed across time zones causes jetlag. That and a sore backside from sitting too long on a long-haul flight. But I musn’t complain: initially it took homo sapiens thousands of years to immigrate across the world, today we can do travel half-way across the globe in about 30 hours including ground travel and transfers. It is the 7 time zones between the one we left on the East coast of Australia, to the one in Northern Europe that is the killer, together with the dry, putrid air that comes from so many people stuck in a small space, the sore eyes and swelling legs that stay with you for a few days after you have again stepped foot on solid ground.

In this light, it is very hard to understand why traveling is equated with living, when all you want is to survive the situation you find yourself in to be back to where you came from. At best, it is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, to be in this moment without longing for a future one.

Here, share some of our long trip.

At reise er at leve

Such wrote Hans Christian Andersen in ‘Mit Livs Æventyr’ in 1855. To travel is to live. I would translate that title, given the HC Andersen context, The Fairy Tail of My Life, though literally it may be better translated as The Adventure of My Life.

It has been 18 months since we returned home to Australia from our big year in Copenhagen. We have created new routines and new ways to make meaning of life and the everyday routines back in Brisbane.

We are back on Danish soil to see family and friends in Europe for seven weeks of holiday. And a little bit of library conference at the public library of the year DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Jetlagged and with sore legs and bottom, I don’t necessarily think HC Anderson was right: life happens where you are and you make a choice to live in it, whether or not you are travelling. Travelling gives you the opportunity to experience something new and make memories. But if we live to travel, we invariably spend most of our life yearning to be elsewhere.

Before we go, I wanted to say See Ya Later to my home suburb and my boys. So I made this little film, though you may feel cheated if you expect to see Yayoi Kusama and an upside-down elephant in Mitchelton. I added for effect and to try out my new-found iMovie skills.

Glædelig jul: Merry X-mas

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

I wish all my readers a merry x-mas and a happy new year.

This time last year, we celebrated a true Danish jul together with my siblings and their families, managing to serve up our own version of the x-masses we remember from our childhood home, complete with pork roast, ris-a-la-mande, live candles on the newly felled pine tree and Santa who delighted most, but terrified one five-year old. On x-mas day we walked through a bright morning with sparkling snow in beautiful, cold sunshine. All up we were 17 people together, ranging in ages from five months to 72 years. Continue reading

Treading lightly doesn’t cost the Earth

Police estimated 10,000 people turned up to the People's Climate March in Brisbane. Photo: Mick. 2015.

Police estimated 10,000 people turned up to the People’s Climate March in Brisbane. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The human impact on our environment on Earth has concerned me since I can remember. The issue was first raised in my family when I was six years old in 1973. I remember this vividly because of the car free sundays introduced by the Danish government in response to the oil cricis. Car free sundays from november to february meant no driving. I recall the excitement of walking through the abundant snow with my brother to the baker for breakfast rolls, playing out the scenes of Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prarie that our mum was reading to us.

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Home and November

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

It has been a week now. A whole week since we came home from Copenhagen. Home to our two gorgeous sons, our familiar house, our green garden, our neighbourhood in our suburb in Brisbane.

It was a good time to leave Copenhagen. October was mild and full of sunshine, blue skies, red ivy blazing on old brick buildings, brown chestnuts falling into the lakes and green treetops fading to yellow to brown. You would still see the odd person in shorts and singlet in the sunshine on Dronning Louises Bro. Granted, the sight was much rarer than in spring, when the Danes seemed to strip at the slightest ray of sunshine. But November was, well, rather Northern European November-like: Colder, wetter, grayer, windier, darker. Not quite cold enough for snow, not quite warm enough for comfort: just that miserable in-between. And our tenancy was up. Yes, it was time to leave.

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Revenge and power

We had to improvise the Abbot bottle to mark his demise. Photo: Mick. 2015.

We had to improvise the Abbott bottle to mark his demise. Photo: Mick. 2015.

You win or die when you play the game of thrones. Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones

A few weeks ago we had to improvise a red wine bottle for the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott’s demise. This is tradition in our household. When a new Prime Minister, Premier or Mayor takes the reigns, we buy a bottle of wine, stick on the best image of him or her, and save the bottle to savour when they are catapulted out of their seat of power, whether by election or leadership challenge.

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Life imitates art

Image credit: REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHA

Image credit: REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHA

When the image of the drowned boy on a Turkish beach first came onto my screen I thought it was an art work. An artist highlighting the tragedy playing out in the mediterranean with thousands and thousands of ‘boat people’ crossing the waters away from chaos and conflict in search of asylum and peace in Europe. The porcelain coloured skin against the absurdly bright red t-shirt, the soles of his shoes and that pasty colour of his ear seemed to me surreal, artistic, not real life. I did not pay a great deal of attention at first.

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Images of the aquarium

Large pike live in the Lakes in Copenhagen. This pike did not live to tell the tale of the water it swims in. Photo: Mick. 2015.

Large pike live in the Lakes in Copenhagen. This pike did not live to tell the tale of the water it swims in. Photo: Mick. 2015.

It is said that it is always hardest for the fish to describe the aquarium it swims in. Whether that is so, being at a distance away from Australia, I am able to see my adopted country through different eyes. In northern Europe, the image of Australia is typically one of dangerous wildlife and the foolhardy larrikins who laugh in the face of such danger, pop open another beer can and throw another shrimp on the barbie. It may be one of bronzed, muscular surfers on white sandy beaches and it may involve red dirt and Aboriginal people living in harmony with country. It is a happy-go-lucky place where people speak English, the climate is warm and nature is stunning.

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Independence and empty nests

We nurture our young until they can get by in the world by themselves. Are we doing our children a disservice by letting them stay in the comfort of the nest? Photo: Mick 2014.

We nurture our young until they can get by in the world by themselves. Are we doing our children a disservice by letting them stay in the comfort of the nest? Photo: Mick 2014.

Young adult children tend to hang around in their parents’ home for longer these days. Perhaps it is just the difference between the 1980s when I became an adult and the 2010s when my kids do. Perhaps it is the difference between a country and social security system that – in the name of equality and social mobility – provides a living wage for young students and a country that does not.

My boys are 18 and 20, and even if they would like to move away from home, it would be very difficult for them to do so financially.

Informally, I moved away from home when I was 16. My room was still in tact with my furniture, clothes, posters, records, stereo and stuff, but my boyfriend had his own flat and it seemed a good idea to hang out at his place, rather than my family’s place. Except when we were really hungry. The fridge at my parents place was regularly stocked with small goods from Gøttsche, the butcher in Herning and there was fresh bread from the baker in Skolegade, where my mum would stop by on the way home. The fridge literally boomed with luxury, ready to raid by ravenous young people. My parents never minded us coming to feed: at least they never let on. My mum would love to offer a beer and sit down for a chat and a smoke while we fed. Food was one way to connect to her growing children and I am finding myself doing much the same with my sons and their crowds. Forever offering up food in return for their company and a snippet of conversation.

Formally, I moved away from home in 1986, when I started university 120 km away from my parents house. There were very few options to study in Herning, unless you wanted to be a textile designer or work in mercantile professions, convincing people to buy stuff they did not necessarily want or need to boost profits for someone else. After three years in commercial college and in spite of my father’s entrepreneurial spirit and growing business, I was not interested in book keeping or sales.

I was much more interested in the world of ideas, in the humanities. A brand new degree had just started at Aalborg Universitetscenter – Humanistic Informatics. It combined humanities with the rising information abundance and explored the interface between humans and information technology systems – a course fit for the late 20th century.

I enrolled in the second intake year of that degree and I had to move. My parents helped me out with accommodation at first. I started university in August the year I turned 19. Until February, when I turned 20, I lived off my savings from the summer job. According to the rules at the time, turning 20 made me independent of my parents’ income and I was entitled to SU, a study allowance courtesy of the Danish tax payer. Each month, a sum of money turned up in my bank account to supplement income from my job. From then on I was able to pay rent, eat well, buy university books and supplies, pay public transport and have a good time as well. In other words, I was truly independent and able to learn how to live within my means by managing a finite amount of money – a precondition for functioning in an adult world.

I understand that things have changed in Denmark and young people face harsher requirements to open the Sesame of government sponsored study. However, young Danes still do not pay for their education and still are paid to study, thus providing the realistic opportnity for everyone to get a qualification, irrespective of their socio-economic status.

How can we help our children fail small and early, so they can succeed later?  Photo: Mick 2014.

How can we help our children fail small and early, so they can succeed sooner? Photo: Mick 2014.

In 2014 in Australia, very little support is available to young people to live independently, even if they study, and by no stretch is the study allowance sufficient. My sons are not entitled to any help, at home or living independently. Their entitlement remains dependent on our household income. We are not a double income family and our household income is not massive. We are fortunate to be able help out our adult children, but I think it quite unfair that all young people – irrespective of their financial background – are not offered the opportunity to study independently. We really are failing to reach Australia’s potential because they are not.

Perhaps I am engaging in pure after-rationalisation: When we leave the kids in our house in December – for a whole year – it is not just to satisfy my self-centred need to go back to where I came from: it is also a step along the way toward my children’s independence. Rather than pushing them out of the nest, we leave the nest to them. And see what happens. We will provide them a study allowance so they can have a go at managing themselves and a household.

I know the boys will rise to the challenge and I know they will develop and grow. I don’t know what kind of hygiene or messiness the place will endure; I don’t know how big the washing piles will grow (will the washing even leave the floordrobe of their bedrooms?) or what kind of food they will eat. Or how the garden will look and whether the chooks will be watered and fed. But that is all part of it: I too have to let go and trust them to do the right thing.

Would you consider running away from home to give your adult children a chance at independence?

Dogs and death

Josie was part of the family - and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie was part of the family – and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie died this week.

Josie – or Josephine, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s lover – was our sweet yellow labrador who had been with us since 2003. She had become very lumpy, with a melon sized cyst on her neck, and very tired and spaced out most of the time. Half way through the first anaesthetic needle, she took her final, laboured breath.

I am not sentimental about pets – I love them and care about them, but when life has become unenjoyable for them, I see no reason to prolong it.

My first dog was Vaks – after Lady and the Tramp‘s little grey male puppy, Scamp in English. Vaks, a black cocker spaniel, lived with us on Chopinsvej in Herning in the early 70s. I was very young when Vaks and I played in the rumpus room. We found a feather doona with a hole in it – that hole fast grew and suddenly we were pioneers battling a white winter landscape. On a visit to my grandparents, I had to get something from our car. Vaks merrily followed me out, probably expecting we were leaving and not wanting to be left behind. He refused to get out of the car, so I closed the door and left him there. When it was time to leave, Vaks had literally chewed everything soft and bite-able inside the car. In our home he had also gnawed all of the door frames to about 30 centimetres up. So Vaks did not move with us when we moved to our next home on Solbakken in Gjellerup in 1972. I am not entirely sure what happened to that little black dog, but he was no longer part of my universe.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

The next dog – Buster, after Buster Keaton – was really my brother’s. He started a campaign to get another puppy. I think my mother, the vet’s daughter, was secretly supporting his campaign – she loved animals. My father, the farmer’s son, had a more utilitarian view of the role of animals. Eventually he gave in. Buster was a small fox terrier, white and beautifully marked with black spots and small brown ones above his eyes. Buster had the run of the yard – and the neighbourhood, with the owner of a female bassett hound particularly complaining about Buster’s promiscuous behaviour. Buster never became fully house trained and usually left small surprises behind the oval Piet Hein Superellipse table with the six orange Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs in the upstairs living room that doubled as my father’s office. On Saturday mornings, Dad removed the smelly parcels so he could hold author meetings around that table. In the early 1980s we moved again to Klokkebakken in Gjellerup; Buster did not follow. My cousin, the computer programmer who worked in my father’s company, reluctantly took care of him. I am still not entirely sure what that entailed.

Our new house was massive. Big enough for two apartments – one for our family of six, and one for my parents’ two business partners and their two dogs, a newfoundlander and a chow chow – and the office of my parents’ growing business. The house had been built as a single family house by a wealthy business owner who insisted on living higher than the old Gjellerup church. This time my sister and I started a campaign for another dog. My father would find carefully designed posters on the mirror inside his wardrobe and notes under his doona or in his office drawer, and again my mother secretly supported the campaign. We promised to housetrain the puppy, to walk it daily and to feed it and look after it. Mum bought Donna, a golden retriever, from a breeder in Hammerum and we were ecstatic. Mum took Donna to puppy school and she became a very well-behaved dog. Occasionally, I did walk her, but generally Mum fed her and let her sleep near her feet in winter.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes - my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes – my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

One summer, after I had moved away to go to university in Aalborg, Donna had six beautiful little puppies. Entirely unplanned, a yellow labrador belonging to my brother’s friend had rendezvoused Donna in the small forest behind the house. That summer I looked after the puppies while my parents, sister and brother went to Italy. I taught them how to run down the steep stairs to get to the enclosed garden near the swimming hall every morning, and carried them up to sleep in the bathroom every night. We found good homes to each of the puppies: family, friends and one went to my flatmate. She named him Kasper and loved him to bits. And so did I – he was a beautiful dog, easy to love.

We partied hard in that student house. One night Kasper got out through the door left open. It turned out he was a very clever dog: he took the bus from the main road out to one of the suburbs. On the bus he met a group of Norwegian young men on a drinking spree. They sang Norwegian drinking songs for him and the next morning took him to the pound. They offered to take Kasper home on the ferry to Norway if he remained unclaimed by the end of that Sunday. Meanwhile back in the sharehouse, my flatmate fretted and kept me awake all night. In the morning I called the pound, could describe Kasper accurately and we went out to get him on our bikes. Kasper became my dog, when my flatmate could not have him in her flat when she moved back to Copenhagen. So he came back to Gjellerup when I left for Australia to study. Eventually he was adopted by my brother’s girlfriend’s family. Kasper managed to walk into every heart that he met.

Three years later, in Australia, Mick and I stopped to look at a clutch of new-born staffordshire bull terrier cross puppies. Before long we named the little black staffy Bo – after Boudicca, the East Anglian warrior queen. The name was apt and she ruled us for 14 years – sweet, adoring and completely mad! She loved people, but was so rowdy that most were dead scared of her. She suffered terrible anxieties and needed stable routines and predictability. She was very awkward right up to her death. We had moved to acreage on Samford Range and had bought Josie. Each morning we took Bo and Josie on a five kilometres walk, up and down steep hills through the bush. Half way, Bo had a stroke. Unable to walk, Mick had to carry her all the way back to our house. The next morning we left her in her bed and when we came back from our walk, she had peacefully passed.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time - butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time – butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Pugsy's ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Pugsy’s ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Josie had learnt lots of bad habits from Bo and she had let Bo be the dominant dog – but she had always ruled the roost at dinner time. Food was the one thing Josie cared immensely about. That and being part of the action when the click of the washing machine door sounded. She would rush down the stairs and roll on the grass next to the washing line. Beyond that she was happy with lots of laziness and pats.

RIP sweet Josie, we miss you.