Sarah Holland-Batt on bearing witness

Shortly after Sarah Holland-Batt’s father Tony was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – and told he was no longer fit to drive – he bought himself his dream car. A Jaguar. He made the purchase via eBay, sight unseen; the first his wife knew about it was when it was delivered to their front door. It was an impulsive act of rebellion, but also symptomatic of the loss of judgement and compulsive spending that can accompany the early stages of the illness.

In the title piece of her third volume of poetry, The Jaguar, Holland-Batt writes that the vehicle – an emerald green vintage 1980 XJ – “shone like an insect in the driveway”. Sometimes, her father would defy doctor’s orders and his family’s wishes and take off, ignoring his tremors and impaired vision. More often, though, the former engineer tinkered obsessively with the machine, until, eventually, it could no longer be driven:

… it sat like a carcass

in the garage, like a headstone, like a coffin

Holland-Batt’s grief for her father, who died in March 2020, is at the core of The Jaguar. She describes the collection as an act of bearing witness. “It is a profoundly intimate thing to watch someone you love go through a long decline and then die,” she says.… Read more..

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The waiting game: UQ’s pitch drop experiment

On a Friday afternoon in April 1979, John Mainstone, a physics professor at the University of Queensland, rang his wife at home. He wouldn’t be back that evening, he told her. For the previous 18 years, Mainstone had looked after the pitch drop experiment, a long-form demonstration of the extreme viscosity of pitch. For the first time since August 1970, the pitch was about to drip from its funnel, and Mainstone didn’t want to miss it.

Pitch is a resin: a viscoelastic substance derived from petroleum or coal tar, used in bitumen, and for waterproofing. Which is ironic, for as solid as it appears, pitch is fluid – at least, it is when you put it in a funnel, the sloping sides of which create a pressure gradient.

Mainstone stayed up all that Friday night. He continued to keep watch on the Saturday, eventually ringing his wife back to tell her he wouldn’t be home that night, either. Still, the globule of (literally) pitch-black liquid hung by a thread from the bottom of its funnel. On Sunday evening, exhausted by his vigil, he went home. By the time he returned to work on a sleep-deprived Monday morning, the pitch had dropped into its beaker.… Read more..

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Dying wish


“Hi Mum,” I say.

I lean over, kiss her forehead and pull up a chair. She’s in a dark-blue nightie and is lying on her side, legs drawn up beneath her like a dying bird, arms held out in front of her, bent at the elbows across her scrawny chest.

She pulls at a thread hanging from the sleeve. “Ny-ny-ny-ny-sh-sh-sh-sh-ny-ny-ny.”

At the same time, she is grinding her teeth, a sound as loud and harsh as a stick being dragged along a picket fence. In the background, a CD of meditation classics pipes from the small stereo on a side table.

I try her name, more brightly, but feel helpless. “Susie,” I call. I stand over her again, forcing myself into her line of vision.

“Yes,” she says flatly, and I’m taken aback by the sudden acknowledgment. For a moment, it seems she’s recognised her own name.

But I cannot be sure, and her grey eyes don’t meet mine, or register my presence. “Ny-ny-ny-ny-ny,” she resumes. Her head lolls back and forth.

Suddenly, a deep exhaustion seems to fall upon her. She raises a hand to her brow, sticks her thumb in her mouth, falls silent, and her bowels open.

Sue is seventy-two.… Read more..

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The fig tree

On the east side of my apartment block is a large fig tree. In its halcyon days, its canopy covered the length of the balcony, providing shade from the morning sun. At the base of the trunk, an extensive buttress root system had pushed up and cracked the concrete driveway. This made the tree unpopular with the body corporate, but the tree is a protected species in Brisbane under the Natural Assets Local Law of 2003.

For a long time, that law protected the fig, and much else besides. Every spring, the fruit of the tree provided food for mobs of Grey-headed and Black Flying-foxes which chattered and bickered among themselves all night as they gorged themselves. Brush-tailed Possums ran riot. During the day, Australian Figbirds and Koels were regular visitors. The Koels would shriek their heads off at 4am almost every morning through October and November.

There were butterflies, too. When I started taking a serious interest in them, most of my early observations were from my balcony. I identified members of almost all the Australian families: swallowtails (Blue Triangles), whites and yellows (Lemon Migrants), nymphs (Evening Browns, White-banded Planes) skippers and blues (most thrillingly, a Bright Cornelian, which has vivid spots of orange, instead of blue, on the upperwings).… Read more..

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David Pocock leads sporting charge on emissions

Wallabies flanker David Pocock, along with teammates Bernard Foley and Dane Haylett-Perry, have announced their partnership with a scheme that aims to compensate for the carbon emissions associated with travel.

Earlier this year, musician Heidi Lenffer, from Australian band Cloud Control, launched FEAT. (Future Energy Artists), an initiative that would allow musicians to invest in a solar farm on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

Lenffer was concerned about the carbon emissions generated by her group’s touring schedule and what she saw as her own contribution to the climate emergency. Now, FEAT. is opening up to other sectors and individuals.

When FEAT. was announced, Pocock responded via Instagram – “he was putting enthusiastic emoji responses on a lot of our posts,” Lenffer said – and contacted another songwriter, Jack River, who put the two of them in touch.

Pocock, currently with the Wallabies in Japan for the Rugby World Cup, told the Guardian that “as an athlete, you’re in a somewhat similar position to artists in that there’s no escaping what you do requires travel, and I’m very conscious of my personal contribution.

“To see what FEAT. was doing, and to see people like Heidi getting on with it and trying to harness that energy into actually building the future we know is coming and we all want to see, but need to speed up, that was really exciting.”… Read more..

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Tribute to Andrew McGahan, Brisbane Writers Festival

I’ve said for a long time that Praise was to Brisbane literature what the Saints’ album (I’m) Stranded was to music. In fact, I first made this analogy on the last page of my first book Pig City, a book in which I quoted Andrew at several key points.

Why the comparison to Stranded? It seems pretty obvious to me. The rawness. A voice that blew away all the surrounding bullshit – the boredom and stasis and sweat of Brisbane – with short, bullet-tipped sentences.

Demolition girls, nights in Venice. Paralytic tonight, Pig City tomorrow.

Praise described a town I recognised, but hadn’t been in for very long. I got here on Christmas Eve of 1986 on a Greyhound bus. It took a while to find my feet, and my way around. On the surface, there didn’t seem to be much happening. Underneath it was a different story.

Praise is a bit like that, too. There wasn’t much of a plot, but all the main characters seemed to be in various stages of losing it. That was a good metaphor for Brisbane around that time. Those characters and Andrew’s language were what gave his debut its narrative propulsion.… Read more..

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