The day I met Martin

January 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

At the end of my second year at Mallalieu I marched up and down Sherwood Road knocking on doors for a summer job. I needed an excuse to stay in the city over summer and leave the country behind. I wanted to call Brisbane home for good, and this was my poorly-aimed shot.  I pressed my resume into a neat folder, dressed in my best guess at office attire and rehearsed a polite, earnest offer of work.

Which failed. After numerous rejections I slumped in the corridor on the first floor of an office building and considered my options. Tramp down the hill defeated and leave town yet again, or try something crazy.  I walked into the very next place of business, took in a towering, horse-faced receptionist called Philippa and the words “Body Corporate Services” stuck to the wall behind her.

In an airbag-like burst of entrepreneurial vim I demanded to see the manager. Lucky for me she was curious enough to fetch him.

“I’ve just finished my second year of a Law degree and I could make a BIG difference to your business this summer!” Without the slightest idea what that business was. I regurgitated this offer right on their floor mat like an optimistic pet.

The boss, Martin, blinked at me with bemusement and said “Oh, you would, would you?” and gave me a job on the spot. I was almost 19 and had never seen a payslip.

I spent that summer preparing and lodging by-laws for apartment buildings.  No parking, no noise, no sub-letting. The job gave me my first overnight business trip, an assignment that I could not possibly have taken more seriously if I had been sent to the UN to broker world peace. Actually it just meant that I took a bus (two buses; I had to change) to Noosa to sort out their by-laws. No pets, no garbage, no swimming. My travel allowance paid for a three-star motel and a meal at the Reef Hotel and I kept every receipt. I like to think that my colleagues in the Noosa office admired my calm dignity and big city smarts while I attacked their by-laws, but I was probably an enormous sore.

Fill in the census (eventually)

August 9, 2016 § 1 Comment

I regret having to break this news, but your individual census data is just not that interesting. I’m sorry. It just isn’t.

The ability to link that data, in an aggregated way, across data sets held by different government agencies, or even the same data sets but over time, is what is interesting.

The government doesn’t care about your individual characteristics. It’s interested in people sort of like you. People who share some of your characteristics like age, income or ethnicity.

If you were a policy maker, or a funding body, a minister, public servant, or journalist, wouldn’t you want to know if (other things being equal):

  • Wealthy people are more likely to access mental health services than the poor? Or c-sections? Or student loans?
  • Home owners are more likely to be recipients of certain types of welfare payments than renters?
  • People who walk to work have fewer knee replacements? Or more skin cancer?
  • Youth in remote areas aren’t better educated than they were five years ago? Or they are, but only if they moved to a capital city?

I just made those up, but the point is: If you were responsible, wouldn’t you want to know if people’s lives improve over time, if payments and services go to those who need them, and if policy settings actually help people? We spend billions every year on things that are meant to help people, and we don’t really know who’s getting what, in which combination, or if it’s achieving anything.

You can get some of this information from surveys, but only from a small sample of the population, and only based on self-reported information rather than what products and services are actually being consumed.

You can get some of it from separate data sets held by government agencies, but not the kind of analysis that linked up data offers.

Say 5 per cent of 20-year-olds have a medical condition. We know how many because they have been treated for it by medical practitioners via the MBS. Say there’s an expensive drug prescribed to treat this condition. The drug is on the PBS.

Five years down the track, 5 per cent of 25-year-olds have this medical condition. Are they the same people? We don’t know! They might be. Without data linkage, we’ll never know. If the same people aren’t better after five years of government-subsidised treatment, isn’t this a problem? What if the first medical condition is gone but now they all have a different one? Surely that tells us something about this condition and those treatments and these patients.

Wouldn’t you want to know?


Boomers, bushwalks and beauty

January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

So, I went to a retreat.


Shoulda seen this coming, but it was reeking with boomers. Comfortably-off boomers (just comfortable; if they were wealthy they’d be at Gwinganna) taking time out from their busy lives for some well earned pampering. I never knew such a group of soft cores, as dependent as children on how to eat and where they are and what to do. Whose idea of a personal health revolution is to eat a salad, ride a minivan to a lookout and then have a body wrap. Conversation often revolved around treatments. What treatments are you having today?  What treatments are you having tomorrow? How was your treatment? This is the language of the retreat.

I met Celia from North Bondi and offered she must like the beach. No, she hates the beach. In her youth she left England and traveled on freighters, got off in Sydney, asked for (and got) a job at the ABC for the next fifteen years. That is just how it was then. Eventually she married (rather well I assume) a lawyer and lived in Vaucluse. She just loved the constantly changing views of the harbour from the house in Vaucluse. The lawyer died of smoke cancer, as people do, and Celia is seeing off her inheritance one holiday at a time.

Then there was Chris who worked in road construction, staying for 12 days. Twelve days! It better not be some kind of workers compensation deal. When in disbelief I told my partner, he said gravely “the first 12 days are the hardest”. Chris said that he had needed to “break some bad habits”. I was dying to know what the bad habits were but he didn’t elaborate. He said that he had learned some Good Strategies during his stay. I don’t think the strategies included walking because later that day he was driven the couple of hundred metres to the train station.

Which brings me to manicured and preserved Di, quintessential Third Wife, wearer of sunglasses at breakfast, finder of six-star cruise deals. Prefers to fly business class, is here for the treatments, puts ice cubes in her Sauv Blanc. In the hours that must be endured between treatments, finished her book.

In the gym where these people flex their limbs, raise their heart rates (but not over 60%) and push at machines there are (no joke) motivational posters. CHALLENGES. PERSEVERANCE. SUCCESS. The values that got boomers where they are today.



I went to the pre-breakfast stretch class and the bedtime guided meditation. I missed life coaching and Aquafit and Pilates because I was in the national park sweating away on foot and on bike. Like the kids of yesteryear, I showed up at meal times (the meals were nutritious and pretty).

Morton NP was damp, fragrant and gleaming, its escarpments and gorges like the blue mountains but with all the people removed. The forest was a catalog of our most famous natives: banksia, fern, tea tree, grass tree and several kinds of eucalypt. I had close encounters with a very vocal and demonstrative lyrebird. Deep in the valley I chittered at silvereye and yellow robin; up on top I admired a yellow tailed black cockatoo. There were grey kangaroos but also soggy, chocolate-coloured wallabies with weighty tails that looked like draught stoppers.


There are stair warnings everywhere. Steep track! Grade: Difficult. Contains steps. Take care when descending the stairs. I feel sad that it has come to this, that we are now so useless at moving that able-bodied people have to be warned about going up and down steps.

Erith Coal Mine was fascinating, Fairy Bower Falls scenic, Tooths Track treacherous. I had to turn back when, having traversed a newly fallen tree, I could no longer see the route. Alone and wary, I scrambled back uphill bashing at leeches clinging to my shoes. Fear is a good motivator.



I had a facial. This is an indulgence to which my conscience, if not my wallet, will not often stretch since it can more or less be replicated at home for free. I have never forgotten a Women’s Weekly or some such story about Princess Diana’s secret to a flawless complexion: an old fashioned scrub with a face washer. It probably wasn’t true.

Once you disrobe and arrange the towels in their strategic places, you wait. When the therapist knocks softly and enters, she adds MORE towels and blankets on top. Lying in a darkened room, eyes closed, legs together, arms by my sides, under covers up to my collar bones, I’m transformed into an olden day bride on her wedding night. Waiting.

And listening. Listening to the thread of a jar lid turning, to the rhythmic pumping of some thin liquid, the placement of mysterious instruments. Running water. A cloth being wrung out. The squelch and slap of oily hands warming and emulsifying. More pumping. More slopping. At last, the defeated puff of a cushion as she plops on a stool behind my ears and goes to work on me.

When, nearly an hour later (I have become a woman), she leaves the room so I can privately re-robe, I finally steal a look at the creams and oils and serums. They have names like Mermaid Scrub and Goddess Mask. I am very serene. On the way out, as I’m gliding across the floor like a ghost, she warns me to watch my step.


In sync with its clientele, the whole place is shutting down at the end of the week and going on retreat itself. The regulars (one is already booked in for March) understood, murmuring about how you need to take time out now and then and that they will probably do some maintenance around the place. I guess the retreat is having some retreat-ments.

The pool

January 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

I went to the pool and got these anecdotes.

The spider

I swam in lane five. On my second lap I noticed there was a spider in lane five too. It was sitting, presumed dead, in the deep end, directly underneath my path. It was, despite its furled state, an alarming size and menacingly dark colour, and appeared fully intact. Doomed to check on the spider another forty times, the thought of how it perished would at least keep me occupied.

Did it drop in the pool from the side or run out of thread and fall from the ceiling? Did it spring from an underused swimsuit (pressed into action by new year’s resolutions) only to be whacked with a thong and swept into the drink? Was this spider error or did it encounter foul play? Did it almost make it almost to the blocks before succumbing to damp and chlorine?

I don’t know.

The spider drifted back and forth on unseen currents both human and industrial, and for an uncomfortable couple of laps disappeared altogether against the black line. But in the end it stayed, like me, in lane five. At the end of my set I dived down with the intention of plucking it out, but as I stared through my goggles at it, already out of breath, I saw that I didn’t have what it takes to grab a large black spider, neither alive nor drowned, and cradle it to the surface.

In a watery grave it stays.

The coach

There was a big man sitting in the bleachers, almost as round as he was high, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, socks and shoes. I assumed he was there for some kind of physical therapy reserved for the morbidly diabetic. He heaved himself up and, with the rocking motion of those with uncooperative joints, painfully navigated the steps to the pool deck, then leaned over to bark instructions at a young man in the fast lane wearing a team USA cap.

Never assume.


A very long time ago, I lost my kick board and pool buoy at the pool. I say at the pool but truthfully it may have been some other place. Nevertheless, I decided to ask the pool if they had them. The pool said they would let me look in their lost property. It soon became apparent that my kick board and pool buoy were not there, but many other people’s were.

After some fruitlessly specific digging (‘Was it the 3rd of January?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ I frowned, dishonestly) the pool attendant said I might as well take anything from That Pile Over There, nudging his foot at the pile of last resort; an undated heap of motley swimming aids; the long-term unemployed. This was the outcome I had more or less expected. I pawed through the actual (as opposed to metaphorical) flotsam and selected a not-too-shabby kick board and pool buoy. Some unexplained stains on one, a negligible bite taken out of the other. It was only later, as I was proudly examining my new gear, that I realised there was a name printed on the pool buoy.


Now I will spend the rest of my days hoping Zerler never shows up and challenges me for legal ownership of my pool buoy.

Of course, if it happens in lane five I might be in a position to throw a huge spider at him and run away.

To church, to rejoice, sort of

January 3, 2016 § 2 Comments

I was raised Roman Catholic and attended church more or less weekly throughout my childhood and adolescence, attended Catholic schools and took all the Catholic rites on schedule.

Like most adults, I stopped practising once I was independent, not through any violent opposition but just because going to church seemed not relevant. Whenever I returned from uni at Christmas or Easter, I felt uncomfortable being one of those ‘special occasions’ Catholics that fill the church at major anniversaries.

I will always be Catholic though.

My children are not baptised, a slightly uncomfortable decision for me but an honest one. I’m not practising religion so why collect an emblem if you aren’t planning to be a member of the community?

We did, however, sign our kids up for (optional) christian education in their state school, and they like it. A few days ago, 9yo asked if he could ‘get some of that religion thing’ I have so I said I’d take him to church.

It was…nice. We sang songs, recited time-worn phrases, sat, kneeled and stood at the appropriate times. I took Communion, showed the kid how to get a blessing. I remembered most of the words of the prayers, though strangely the language has become more, not less, flowery and brimstoney. Like the penitential rite, which I learned as

I confess to almighty God,
and to you here present,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;

…and I ask the blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you here present,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God.

I’ve always quite enjoyed its rhythms. Except now instead of “I have sinned” it’s “I have greatly sinned”. And before the second paragraph they’ve addedthrough my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” with the instruction “[striking breast]”. Pshhhh.

The priest was kind but, as is mostly the case nowadays, very old and rather fragile and weary, and so was the Brother. Church music has not, I’m afraid to say, improved. There are still prayers set to illogical, unmusical tunes; such vaguely melodic chanting has never inspired me.

This artwork made an impression on me, as an example of the church’s rather depressing mixed messages. The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel gives Mary her big assignment (being the mother of Jesus), is a major deal. But did you ever see a more downbeat messenger? Rejoice Mary!


Mary receives this news with an equally rapt demeanour. Bugger.

FullSizeRender (1)

I feel like Alain de Botton now.

To be fair, the Annunciation has almost always been depicted with similar severity and even a sense of grief, perhaps at the gravity of all that is to come. (You’ll be homeless, on the run, and eventually your misfit son will die nailed to a cross.) It weighs on the mood in church though.

Anyway, I’m sure there are better masses and more eloquent priests and more inspiring places of worship to take a child to, but 9yo seemed pretty damn satisfied. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it.


I Quit Sarah

November 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s time I confessed my borderline-unhealthy interest in Sarah Wilson, of the I Quit Sugar empire.

Sarah Wilson, Shedder of Sugar, Queen of the Quit, first monarch of the kingdom of sweet-free heaven.

I first noticed Sarah Wilson in the Sunday paper years ago, writing about her gentle journey into living. Life, as the first world knows, isn’t just something that happens automatically. You have to do it consciously. And Sarah Wilson is the most conscious living creature there is. She can spend hours each day just thinking about how to live.

The thing is, I like Sarah Wilson. She wears shorts. I wear shorts! She likes bushwalking. I like bushwalking! She rides her bike. I ride my bike! She eats healthy. I eat healthy! She has the face and body of a catwalk model. I–

Anyway, I follow her on Instagram. In its normal state it’s a pleasant enough account featuring food she has appreciated (one of the nicest breakfasts I’ve ever had was a tip-off of hers – the green bowl at Blue Door in Newcastle), idyllic moments spent at bush and beach, and the sort of benevolent philosophy-lite that comes from someone who lives a life of comfort and privilege and wants to share that. She’s an inspiration for anyone who seeks enrichment and authenticity. People looooove her.

But ever since her latest book Simplicious appeared on this sunny, sunny horizon, her Insta has become excruciating. It is the Brand Power of book marketing, every single post gunning for a sale. It was bad enough when they were still writing the goddam book. Now that it is actually on the shelves the account is out of control. I click on Instagram with dread and fear, knowing that the newest post will be Sarah’s, and the one a few below that, and the one a bit further down (I need to follow more accounts). Every one of them will be here’s-one-we-made-earlier photographs of recipes accompanied by the promise of miracles for your skin and gut, followed by enthusiastic hordes of followers tripping over themselves in excitement. I gotta have this book now! 

If there was variety to this never ending stream of self-help it wouldn’t be so bad, but I started to notice an undeniable skew towards, well, dessert.

Here are the names of recipes that have landed in the past two weeks:

  • Chocolate peanut butter crackles
  • Pumpkin pie custard ice cream
  • Coconut marshmallow gummies
  • Lamington ice cream
  • Turkish delightfuls
  • Choc ginger and pear muggins
  • Berry, coconut and marshmallow gummies
  • Strawberry cheesecake muggin
  • Chocolate cake batter smoothie bowl
  • Raspberry ripe bites
  • Mango and coconut water gummies
  • Chokito truffles
  • Raw snickers ice cream bars

I should have foreseen that the Star Wars-style fleets of gummies would precede her announcement that a hot Food Trend of 2016 is gelatin AND by the way you can now buy Sarah Wilson-brand gelatin (which she cheerfully announces is made from ground-up, all-Australian surplus cow parts) from her online store. How prescient! What an incredible coincidence!

On the other hand, the storm of tweaked rip-offs of famous brands (Snickers, Turkish Delight, Chokito, Cherry Ripe – hey, anyone want a Tam Tim?) smacks of addict’s desperation. I’m increasingly convinced that these people work harder at quitting sugar than I do at eating it. That, like the vegetarian who stuffs his fridge with bacon-shaped soy rashers and tofu hot dogs, they are even more addicted to sugar than the rest of us.

But the muggins (duh, a muffin made in a mug – don’t confuse these with meffins which are muffins made out of meat – the book is full of childish mashups like this) confound me most of all. I have always naively assumed there is a correlation between the real food movement and the slow food movement, but apparently once you have quit sugar for life a cake has to be microwaveable in two minutes. What.

Still, none of this seems to bother the vast sugar-free army of devotees with names like jennalovesfood and healthyeatingmum and cupcakesandcookies and paleogeorgie. (Names changed slightly.)

Look. Sarah Wilson has some decent ideas on nourishment, physical and otherwise. We could all stand to lose a few pounds and ‘eat the rainbow’, as they say. She has shared some meal images that look so good they’ve become that night’s dinner.

But this pseudo-scientific dedication to sweet substitutes (in which cane sugar = bad, rice syrup and stevia = good) and healthy treats isn’t setting anyone free from food addiction. It’s probably perpetuating it.



September #mygoalrox: It’s a wrap!

September 20, 2015 § 3 Comments

Race report and final thoughts post Amy’s Gran Fondo.

The final two weeks

Two weeks before Amy’s Gran Fondo I was scheduled to race (on foot) a hilly 24km in Wingello State Forest, in the beautiful Southern Highlands Challenge. It was a bit wicked of me to add this to my diary, but the event had been calling me for months so I thought ‘What the heck, I’m going to be in it.’ I’m glad I did. The red course was 60% twisty single track and (thanks to recent heavy rains) 50% mud. Fun course, scenic terrain, terrific organisation.

The only problem was, I was coming down with a virus. I dosed myself to the eyeballs and got through the race, then collapsed into a nasty flu that reduced me to an aching, shivering wretch and lasted about 10 days. As a consequence, I rode less than 40km in the final two weeks and was contemplating a DNS until just a few days pre-departure. There is tapering, and then there is being bedridden.

Happily, this misery eased enough to turn my head hopefully towards Lorne.

Pre-race preparations

My race base was only 1km from the start line. On AGF eve I took an easy 16km test ride: all good. That night, we made a fish (local flake: delicious!), veg and brown rice meal. Then I started to feel nervous, but kept reminding myself: ‘All you have to do is keep pedaling. You can do this!’


Check check…the day before

On race day I:

  • woke around 6.30am, checked the sunrise, saw it was going to be a clear (and warm) day
  • had a cup of hot water, small bowl of muesli and milk, piece of toast and peanut butter, some banana
  • did a gear check, bike check, nutrition check, applied sunscreen, got dressed
  • went to the toilet multiple times
  • had a few gulps of iced coffee before leaving
  • spotted Alanna (my Roxsolt sister) in her start group, gave her a hug, took a selfie
  • found a place in the start line, waited and listened to the announcements.

With Alanna at the start line

Rolling…How the day unfolded

Straight away the pace was on. Along the first 40km of Great Ocean Road, it felt like I was passed by a thousand people. Sometimes one by one, sometimes in large and determined bunches that yelled at everyone to get out of the way. The wind blasted down from the north, shoving me sideways and whipping spray off the top of the breaking waves. I kept up a steady effort and remembered to enjoy the scenery.

The KOM was long (a full 10km uphill into the Otways). I climbed steadily and comfortably, easing my way past several people. It was hot in the sun and in the lee of the hill.

Almost everyone on course was terrific, but I learned to beware the handful of bad-mannered middle-aged (male) Clydesdales: cutting in, cutting off and littering. And some of the older riders who freight-trained past shouting orders. It’s a ‘sportive’, guys.

The aid stations were well stocked with fruit, cake, lollies, bars and gels but I only needed to top up my drink. I didn’t really find a bunch that suited me pace-wise until around 70-90km when I rode with a handful of blokes. My energy level was good, even up the final, intimidating 5-10km climb to the finish. This section brought a few riders unstuck; some stopped with cramps and others whose walls had been hit.

I was filmed for a couple of minutes here and must have looked a sorry mess because only my ankles made the video. It was so exciting to see the finish line! My back ached, my bottom was sore, and it was past midday. The sweeping 10km cruise down the mountain to Lorne was sweet.

Some facts and figures

  • Including the ride to and from the start/finish I rode 123km. I think this is further than I’ve ever ridden before.
  • My Garmin thinks I climbed 2,700m, which is impressive but wrong; it was less than 2,000m. But that is still a heck of a lot of hills.
  • The field was 85% male. I’m proud that I was part of the other 15% and I’m used to being in the minority at events, but we can and should do better.
  • I clocked 4:17, ending up well outside the top 25% of women in my age group, so no UCI qualifying medal for me. This was slightly disappointing. I didn’t anticipate the calibre and competitiveness of the age-category field. (Top 22% if you include both UCI and recreational field.)
  • I expected to climb slightly better than my overall performance, but actually my climbing ranked virtually the same as my overall ride. For both the KOM (40:51) and the total ride time, I was just inside the top 50% of the whole field. Again, a little sobering, but illustrates the quality of the company I was keeping; in other fondos I’d normally expect to finish higher than mid-pack.
  • Nutrition plan delivered. I had a gel at 35-40km, 70km, and added one to my water bottle at 90km. I started with 700mls of Hydralyte Sport that I topped up with water at 50km and 90km. I ate two-thirds of a Winners bar (Cadel Evans FTW) and two mouthfuls of peanut butter sandwich.

What I’ve learned and what’s next 

I don’t think I’m ever going to be a cycling obsessive, because if I was it would have happened by now. I love riding my bike but I crave variety in my workouts; it’s good for my brain and better for my body. The thing is, I am content to be average at several things rather than a master of one. Plus, I’m just not that talented anyway.

EDIT: I’ve resolved never to target an event in early spring again. Peaking in early spring means training hard all through autumn and winter, and this was an extra long and freezing one. Actually it’s still cold; as I write this the apparent temperature is zero and it’s the third day straight of a wicked southerly. I think I’d have trained more and enjoyed training more in different conditions.

The road to Amy’s has been a powerful source of motivation, but I’m looking forward to a period of being goal-free. For the next little while, my workouts are going to be fun (doing what I love and what I want, when I want), or they’re going to be functional (getting me from A to B), or maybe both! And I’m going to add back the yoga that took a back seat over the past year and the weight training that I’d barely started on.


Looking over the horizon


Thank you to Kelvin Rundle from Roxsolt, and his team, for the generous sponsorship that enabled me to travel to this event and to ride it in style. He’s a huge supporter of women’s cycling. I have enough quality Velocio kit to get me through a few more years of cycling.

Eliza and Alanna, my Roxcycl sisters, my year is so much better for having met you!

And big love to my family for putting up with my efforts (and my complaining, and my self-absorption) and for coming along on the adventure. Especially Richard who picked up plenty of slack at home while still fitting in his own grueling training.

Okay, I think I’m done. xo