Wild weekend

Tropical cyclone Marcus paid Darwin a special visit last Saturday. It was called a Category 2 cyclone; though the damage it caused has many people questioning that classification. Hundreds of trees down, power lines bursting into flames, some suburbs still without power three days later.

Everyone assumed I would stay at a friend’s place…the way I do, two or three days out of every week, already.

But Sonofagun is my home. She’s all we’ve got. And in a cyclone, you stay with your boat because your presence can make the difference between a boat that makes it, or sinks. She’s also one of the biggest boats up the creek…the bigger the boat, the bigger the responsibility. Can you imagine how I’d feel if I was safely ashore when my monster boat breaks her ropes and goes smashing the smaller boats around me at the height of the cyclone?

As it was, I did have to crawl out front once, with the maelstrom howling overhead, because the rubber guard that protects my rope from chafing against sharp steel had come undone; also, my crazy fig and morinda trees were catching the wind too well, and very close to pitching overboard, so I finally just lay them down on the deck.

All in all, I am glad I stayed with Sonofagun, though I didn’t sit down until the sun emerged and weather maps announced that Marcus was finally past Darwin, some four hours after it started. I had two candles lit the entire time, my little nod to The Powers That Be, and chain-smoked while standing on the bridge, like a third candle.

For me, Tropical Cyclone Marcus ended as soon as it had moved away. I sort of assumed that the cyclone was over for the rest of Darwin, too. It wasn’t until the next day, Sunday, that I heard there was no electricity throughout Darwin…friends were cooking on barbecues, or had to go in search of gas camping stoves. Roads were blocked off by fallen trees. For 48 hours everyone was advised to boil their water before drinking. All the food in freezers and fridges had to be cooked on the spot, or moved into cool boxes with bags of ice. Candles and camping lights were being used inside houses at night, and those sleek modern apartment buildings without windows were unbearably hot and airless. My friends disappeared from social media…the batteries in their phones were dying. The city was so quiet at night, and there were no lights in the distance when I looked in the direction of the CBD. It was like being the last human on earth.

It’s times like these that living off the grid shows its real mettle.  By Saturday night, life on Sonofagun was back to the way it has always been…cool and fresh, thanks to sea breezes and all the rain we’d had; the solar panels had kept phones, the internet thingamajig, my laptop, Bluetooth speakers, camera, even the vacuum cleaner, charged. I was soon playing music and painting  and reading and looking things up on the web. My kitchen was stocked with the canned and dry food that I normally keep—not in case of emergencies but, simply, because I do not own a fridge. There were 800 litres of clear rain water in my tanks. My lights blazed all night. The only inconvenience (pure coincidence) was that my LPG tank was nearly empty, and would run out by Monday morning. So I looked up cold brewing on the internet, and made a primitive version of coffee in a jug with water, and left it standing overnight. It was okay.

More importantly, we’re okay, Sonofagun and I. Made it through another storm. It does not mean more, nor less, than just that. It’s not bravery, it’s not heroic. Stood and watched until something needed to be done, did the thing, and then went back to stand some more. When it was over, forgot about it, and found something else to do. Lucky this time. That’s all. That’s enough.


petit dejeuner pres la plage

Almost like a painting...
I’m enamoured of this photo I took in the morning, because it looks like an Impressionist painting, or something by Seurat or Andrew Wyeth. Got lucky with the filter and sliding things up and down…

Café De La Plage…friends have been trying to get me out there, but I’m allergic to anything that serves “smashed avocado”, and this seemed like the sort of place that would…
So happy to be wrong. It does, of course, have smashed avocado…how could it not?…but that’s really just a symbol for the sort of crowd that usually gathers at these trendy places: the desperate vying for public attention, the celebrity complexes, the identical ironic beards, and the sort of loud idiot talk that passes for conversation these days, are really what I am allergic to.

In this wide open-air space, however, distance from others is a key feature, and the presence of The Sky & Sea reduces everything else to unremarkable elements in the landscape.  Crudely assembled tables out of shipping pallets, a couple of hammocks, and carpets strewn with bean bags, were spread far apart on a softly sloping grass lawn that leads down to the beach. People sit in small groups in the shade of Casuarinas and palms. The clouds were piled high on the horizon, a strong breeze blew in from the sea, and the water was like olive oil. Also, an emerald green oriole sat on our table, within arm’s reach, eating the leftovers of my muffin. Neither I nor my companion wanted to ruin the magic by pulling out a camera, so we just had a really good look and savoured the moment.

I wasn’t in the mood for a serious breakfast, though, so can only say the cappuccino was good, the muffin was crumbly and dry. Though the oriole said it was nice, he polished it off.

An old friend I hadn’t seen in years and years finally got me out there. I confess I’m charmed, though it’s too far by bicycle from my part of Darwin to get there very often. What an amazing place it would be to spend a long afternoon with a sketchbook or journal!

This should really be viewed full-sized, please click the post title to see without the WordPress sidebar…

Love for Breakfast

Love for breakfastSunrise on the creek this morning, after a night of light rain…crushed berries and saltwater licorice.

Saturday, 10AM — Although thoroughly charmed by my friend’s lovely little apartment on the Nightcliff foreshore—the winding bicycle lane along the edge of the cliffs overlooking the sea, the beaches, the numerous cafés within strolling distance—and having formed slight attachments to her Ninja blender, her air-conditioning, and the palm-surrounded spa, I came back to my tranquil little bend in Sadgroves Creek, yesterday, and found myself emotionally, spiritually At Home.

In my Inbox was a farewell message from Kris, who is leaving Hawaii today or tomorrow, for the next leg of his journey home. Even though it was just a few lines in an e-mail, it’s a love letter I will treasure as much as the dozens of beautiful art letters he’s sent me over the 19 years we’ve been together…

My love,

The epiphany I had while sailing from Panama had to do with the guilt I felt about not being able to contact you when I said I would. I understood that instead of guilt I really feel concerned love, and the love I feel for you is the dominant emotion in my life. I am not just coming home to Darwin, I am coming home to you…a fulfilled man, a sailor returning not because he has a woman, but because I have sailed all I wanted to sail, and now a new stage in my life is opening, and i want to live it with you.

Take care, it won’t be long, now.

I love you.
We are getting a cat.
Home is where the cat is.
Or cats. I will look after them, employed as a part time janitor at Tipperary Waters. ( Just a joke).


Good days

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


I spent last payday’s wages on books…I went a little crazy, online.

I ordered back issues of the literary journal Granta, collected works by Graham Greene and a novel by William Faulkner. I snapped up some short story collections of Latin American writers, in Spanish. I took out two literary magazine subscriptions: Overland, and The Lifted Brow. I impulsively put Taschen’s massive full-colour art books of Egon Schiele and of Peter Beard, in my shopping cart, and paid for them with my eyes half-shut, and without looking at what the total came to. Then I ordered Dan Eldon’s The Journey Is The Destination, because he was influenced by Peter Beard.

Finally, and already made extremely uncomfortable by this binge of book-buying, I threw the last of my sensibility (and money) to the wind and bought the out-of-print, hard-to-find monograph produced in Germany of the works of Expressionist artist Jeanne Mammen. She was an amazing painter, and so little is known of her…apart from this one monograph of her work, there are no books, illustrated or otherwise, about her.

I know what you’re thinking: did I rob a bank…or am I printing the money at home? This sounds like the online shopping spree of a person with lots of disposable income, but I’m actually just a salesgirl in a shop, I work three days a week, and I send a third of my income to help an elderly parent.

The decision to enrich my life with books means that I give up other things. For the last four days I have lived on pots of coffee and boiled spaghetti with salt and garlic—which is the only thing that I have on my boat— because I can’t afford to go grocery shopping for a week or two.

Do I care? Not really. I love elaborate cooking, and among my friends I am known as a bit of a foodie. Just a bit. But I love books. I love them first. I love them more. If I were to be completely practical and honest about things, food is ultimately just fuel for the body to run on. (My foodie friends will have heart attacks when they read this blasphemy). I could have a whole Instagram account dedicated to what I eat, but can I tell the difference between a five dollar meat pie and a 70 dollar three-course dinner, in the…um…at the…end? LOL

Besides, we all eat too much, these days, so that a few days off food won’t hurt. I don’t mind eating salted chickpeas out of the can with a spoon as my one meal of the day, if it’s because I have just bought some fabulous books on art, or literature.

I found that I didn’t really want to eat, these past four days, anyway. I was lost between the pages of my books—some of which have started to arrive from the booksellers—and wasn’t hungry for anything but beautiful prose and inspiration.


Paradise Found

Paradise Found

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

excerpt from Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot

I went away for two years, to marvel at vine-hung jungles up muddy rivers, at tepuys rising like wizards fortresses out of a sea of greenery, at waterfalls so high that half the water had blown away on the wind before a drop reached the ground where I stood. I clung to mules as we descended near-vertical mountain paths in the Andes. I bedded down for the night in bus stations, in traveller’s inns that felt like army barracks, in 18th century mansions filled with antiques, and in a crash pad in New York—eight Latin Americans in one room, of whom one spoke English.

I stayed with locals in disparate settings of 18th century charm, or 18th century poverty…in a clapboard house sinking into the squishy mud on the edge of a filthy canal, in a house in the old slave quarters of a medieval city, where the young prostitutes drank and argued on the old cobblestones, and  I spent one night in a communist-style block of Cuban apartments where the water and electricity came on for a few hours each day, but every resident owned an instrument and the building twitched its hips to salsa music, morning till midnight.

Naturally, when the time came to return home, I was a little worried that life in Darwin, Australia, would seem poorer for all the places I’d been.

I needn’t have worried.

As the old cliché goes, “There’s no place like home.” Back up the creek on our houseboat, SonOfAGun, the mangroves swayed in the sea wind, and morning sunlight lay slick on green-gold water like fine olive oil. For many months I was utterly spellbound.

When Kris and I moved our boat to this spot, I loved it right off the bat: the solitude, the natural surroundings, the quality of the light, the chi of living surrounded by water. I didn’t think it was possible to love this place any more, until I came back from my wandering and found that I did.
paradise found 2

“Paradise Found” was made for the exhibition “Gypsies, Vagabonds, and Wild Mad Women”. I priced it to discourage anyone from buying it and, luckily, no one did. I’m glad, because I want to live with this one for a while. It’s the beginning of what I suspect may be a bunch of love letters to my home and my life.
paradise found 3
It’s composed of watercolours, acrylics, collaged papers (linocut, textured or painted beforehand) and a bit of colored pencil. I’ve just uploaded the image to my Society6 shop, so it’s now available as a fine art print on acid-free rag paper.

Burning the midnight sun

POLLINATE Rechargable solar lamp

I bought a POLLINATE ENERGY Rechargable solar lamp recently, after seeing it in action at a friend’s garden party. I’ve been using it every night, since, and cannot praise it enough.

I connect the lamp to its small solar panel (installed permanently on the roof of the houseboat) during the day to charge it; at night, I disconnect it from the solar panel, and can then use the lamp as a desk lamp (it comes with a stand), a hanging light, or as a handheld torch/flashlight, anywhere on the boat. It casts a warm and extremely bright light.  At it’s brightest setting (it has three: a night light setting, a regular setting you can read or cook by, and a turbo setting good enough to embroider by,) a fully-charged lamp will last 6 hours.

The boat has always been equipped with solar lights, but because they run off a large deep-cycle 12-volt battery, they have wires, and had to be permanently fixed to the ceilings; I can’t move around the boat to work, and the light coming from several feet overhead just isn’t powerful enough to do fine work by. I used to have to stop doing finicky crafts or drawing when evening came, because most LED solar lights are bluish, sickly, and flicker in a way that tires the eyes quickly.


Since buying the Sunking Pro2 from Pollinate Energy, I have been able to stitch, write, read, paint, and bind books well into the night. I’m no longer confined to my worktable inside the cabin, but free to work anywhere on Sonofagun’s spacious deck, as well. Heck, I could take my needlework with me, camping, if I was so inclined.

Both the lamp and its solar panel are ruggedly built and virtually indestructible. The battery has a lifetime of 5 years, and the lamp comes with a 2 year warranty. I didn’t even mention the 2 USB charging ports, because I don’t have any use for them…my big solar panel and battery set-up handles that.


And if all of that doesn’t make this lamp desirable enough, then you should know about Pollinate Energy’s mission to provide safe, clean, solar-powered light (among other things) to households in India. When I buy one Sunking Pro2 lamp, in Australia (about AUD130, with shipping), I subsidise the costs of production to make 5 solar lamps affordable for families living in the urban slums of India—so that kids don’t have to study or do their homework by the dangerous, smelly, toxic light of a kerosene lamp, and their parents can do their livelihood work in the evenings by good, bright lights. These lights save on kerosene, on carbon emissions, save eyes and lungs, and won’t start fires…


They’re perfect, really. I recommend the Sunking Pro2 to anyone wanting a good, bright portable light…not just the odd boat or caravan dwellers and enthusiastic campers, but even anyone that currently owns a large flashlight and buys disposable batteries for it. Check out Pollinate’s website here.

And no, I was neither paid nor prompted to write this. I am only too happy to recommend good products for free, when I come upon them. 🙂