Monday, November 20, 2017

Ever Heard of the Hobyahs?

I have. When I was in my second or third year of primary school we had as our reading book Book Two of the Victorian School Readers. These had been put together in the period between 1927 and 1930 and so were already very dated - but post war shortages of books and other education materials which lasted well into the fifties I guess meant that Education Departments had to make do with whatever they could find. The Victorian Readers had a moral agenda intending to teach their readers among other things appropriate behaviour as well as an appreciation of literature, patriotism and their place as Australians in the world. The later books were also a reflection of their times in the casual racism they expressed. If you're interested this very readable article - The Victorian Readers by Claire Bradford - on the Austlit website gives more information.

What brought this book to mind was a recent column in the local West Australian newspaper by Robert Drewe. Drewe's columns are entertaining musings on whatever he's thinking about at the time and recently that was The Hobyahs, which was one of the stories which featured in my Victorian Reader at the time.

The Hobyahs is a grim tale of a little old man and a little old woman who live with a little girl and their dog, Little Dog Turpie, in a house made of hemp stalks. Every night the hobyahs come in from the bush saying 'Hobyah, Hobyah, eat up the old man and the old woman and carry off the little girl.' Every night Little Dog Turpie barks and drives off the hobyahs but his barking annoys the little old man and so he bit by bit dismembers Little Dog Turpie by the first night cutting off his tail, then one leg, then another and so on but the dog keeps on barking his warning until finally his head is cut off. The hobyahs then kill the man and woman and carry off the little girl in a sack which they leave hung up while they go to sleep - because hobyahs sleep in the day. The girl cries so much that a passing man with a big dog hears her and rescues her and puts his dog in the sack. When the hobyahs wake up the dog jumps out and eats them up. I gather from Robert Drewe's column that in the next edition Little Dog Turpie became Yellow Dog Dingo in an attempt to make what was according to the book originally a Scottish tale more Australian. All that did to judge from the flurry of letters that resulted after Drewe's column was to terrify a whole new group of children.

Why anyone would have thought this was a suitable tale for seven and eight year olds I have no idea. As you can see the details are firmly fixed in my mind many, many years on. It didn't give me nightmares but it certainly did to others of my generation and I wonder if the fact that I had access to and frequently read a book of the original versions of fairy tales set in obviously distant lands was the reason I was able to understand this was not true. The fairy stories I was reading were certainly not lacking in brutality - Cinderella's stepmother cut off the toes of one of her daughters so she could fit into the glass slipper, someone else had magically red hot shoes placed on her feet as a punishment and someone else had shoes that forced her to dance until she dies magically fitted are only a few examples that I remember - and I do wonder now if my parents had actually read this particular book. If they had I'm pretty sure I would have been banned from reading it since it also had a whole bunch of Greek and Roman myths which were, to put it mildly, problematic reading for a seven to eight year old. Who knows, though, it might have contributed to my ongoing interest in speculative fiction of all sorts. If it did I'm grateful but I have to say if you mention hobyahs to almost anyone of my vintage who went through an Australian school at the same time you are likely to set off fearful shivers at the memory.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


A dear friend has been working on a memoir and recently he was talking about his experiences as a non-sport interested schoolboy in Australia back in the day. No matter how he tried to fit into the pattern that demanded boys be at least competent at sport and that they should also take an interest in the various sports that dominate Australian conversation he never seemed to get it right. That he preferred to read rather than play sport branded him as an outsider and as a result he was the butt of continual bullying throughout his school days.

As a girl my experience was different but no less unhappy. Things started out well. I loved my Year one teacher and I still have happy memories of that class. The next year wasn't so good. Mrs A frankly terrified me. She shouted at the least infraction and her punishments were harsh considering we were only seven years old. Things looked up when one day in the middle of the year I was sent home with all my gear and a note to my parents saying the school district boundary had changed and I was now to attend another school. Initially I was seriously scared  - Mrs A had severely damaged my expectations of school - but as it turned out my teachers during my time there were a delight and I was very happy.

But then the school district boundaries changed again and it was back to the first school. My class teacher was great and every lesson was a joy - and that was in a class of 65 kids (fairly typical in those early post war days). Things went sour pretty quickly when I met Mrs B. She was the sewing teacher - girls had sewing two afternoons a week - and she took an instant dislike to me and another girl, M. Nothing we did was right. I'd sew something and it was terrible and had to be pulled out and that was the pattern for the whole year. I didn't complete one of the items we were supposed to because I spent the year stuck on the first one. Even worse she gathered a small coterie of girls she favoured around her and they took their cue from her so M. and I were always under verbal attack.

The following year was more of the same - great class teacher, monstrous bullying by the sewing teacher and her cohort of favourites. Then things got worse because in Year Six Mrs B. was my classroom teacher as well as sewing teacher and she extended her dislike to two boys as well as M. and me. We were ignored, ridiculed and made to feel as if we were total failures. Later when this all came out we were asked why we hadn't said anything but when you're a child and someone like a teacher tells you that you're worthless you believe it. It's your fault, you're not trying hard enough, you could do better and so your self esteem bottoms.

This all came to an end when one of the boys she was bullying became seriously ill and in his delirium it all came out. Bizarrely he was the son of one of her fellow teaching staff so why she had thought he was a good target who knows. Although I didn't know until years later apparently the parents were all called in for a meeting and things did improve as far as she was concerned but we remained the target of bullying by the other kids who saw no need to change their ways. M's parents decided to move away but the remaining three of us just had to get on with living. The next year we had a great class teacher in Mr F. but I was still in Mrs B's sewing class and because no-one had told me she had been confronted about her behaviour, I lived in terror of her bullying coming back.

The two boys and I moved on to different secondary schools the next year but we stayed in contact until our lives got too busy in our twenties. We were all lucky because our secondary schools encouraged us to achieve but the bullying has had life long effects on all of us. In those days the after effects of bullying were not understood and I suspect that our parents and the school thought they'd dealt effectively with the situation but the fact that I'm still angry even this long after the event shows they had not.

The friend whose post got me reflecting on my own experience has added a postscript where he speculates about how different his life might have been had he not been bullied and has come to the conclusion that bad as it was he might not have met his wife if it hadn't happened. My view is somewhat similar. I wish I hadn't had to live through what I did but if I hadn't my life choices would most likely have been very different. As a result I wouldn't have the life I have now, one with which I'm very happy.

I should say that I was in two minds about posting this but bullying is serious and those who have not experienced it really don't understand just how much damage it does. If this helps one person understand that it is worth posting about it however uncomfortable it has been for me.


Saturday, November 11, 2017


I've posted before about our resident froggies. We love having them around and encourage them as much as possible. The vast majority are motorbike frogs (Litoria moorei). They range in colour from vivid green and gold to dark brown and are classed as a tree frog although they spend most of their time on the ground. The common name of motorbike frog comes from the males' mating call which sounds something like a motorbike changing gear. You can hear it here.

Bear in mind that what we hear is that sound being repeated by numerous frogs and you'll have some idea of the cacophony surrounding us every night. We don't mind them calling for the most part but at the moment they're having a bit of breeding frenzy which means it can get somewhat deafening out there in the evening in the garden - and some of them are nowhere near the pond. Just imagine if you will several dozen males scattered all over the garden and all calling at once. Several are in the pond but others are calling in the veggie garden,  among the pot plants, in the flower beds and there's even one outside my window in the front yard. That's an awful lot of  'Hello, ladies.' going on and today there's even one calling in the midday heat. I went to have a look and he was sitting half submerged in the pond on a pad of algae. Somehow I doubt he'll get too many takers as he spruiks the delights of his pond, the females being sensibly tucked up in their daytime hidey holes

It's not only the horny males who are out and about, though. A couple of nights ago I went outside and nearly hit the veranda roof as a startled youngster took off and sent a pile of bamboo stakes flying. Then last night I almost stepped on another juvenile which was outside on the doorstep engaging in a staring contest with Mr Puss who was inside. As it had no intention of moving - and Puss was poised to overcome his fear of the outside world and pounce as soon as I opened the door - I had to go around via the back door so I could pick it up on a trowel. Of course, it waited until it and the trowel were up at my waist height before it remembered it could jump and did.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Morning Pages

Like most writers I journal. So did Queen Victoria as it happens but I doubt historians are going to paw through mine when I die or that my children will bother to check whatever remains as hers did to make sure nothing salacious or inappropriate remained. Can't have any of dear Mama's ramblings about John Brown or Abdul Karim getting out, can we. The scandal of it.

I, on the other hand, do destroy a lot of my journals myself on a regular basis or we'd be drowning in pages of very uninteresting twaddle around here. This is because, unlike the kind of journalling recommended by my writing teachers, many of these journals are very much a reflection of what I have on my mind at any particular time. This can be a rant about the state of the world or my own life or my family, a list of things to do or a reflection on what's happening around me, some of which I'd be happy to share but others I definitely would not like to.

My journalling is based on Julia Cameron's suggestion in her book The Artist's Way that we should handwrite what she calls Morning Pages first thing every day. That is three pages - I use A4 - of whatever comes to mind with no preplanning and without any taboos or restrictions as what you write about. I'm guessing you can see why, quite apart from the build up of paper and books taking over the house, I might feel destroying these journals is sometimes a good idea. The other option, if I feel there's a possibility that I might write something that I'd rather no-one else saw, is to use loose sheets. It's also a good idea when I'm away from home.

There are several reasons for journalling this way. Mainly I use it to clarify my thoughts on whatever I'm writing about (and usually by the time I reach the end of the third page I have sorted out whatever is bothering me and can approach the day with a clear mind). I'll probably never even reread this kind of journalling nor will I when these pages are just me looking back at what happened the previous day (and that means thinking about what I did or didn't achieve) and deciding what I need to do next. Once it's written down it gets fixed in my memory so there's no need to look at it. Thirdly, at busy times - like the lead up to Christmas - I might make a list to work through. Then there are the days when I simply have some idea that I want to get down before I forget it. That's when this becomes more like a regular writer's journal where it might turn out to be a thought about whatever writing project I'm working on or a paragraph or more that I'll transfer to the computer later on - something like a description of a character, an outline of a scene or a story line.

I do this every morning - as I have for more than twenty years - as soon after I get up as I can. For me that is after I've made a cup of coffee and fed and medicated my cat (wouldn't be left alone to do the pages otherwise) and ideally before anyone else is stirring. I'm an early riser - usually up well before Pisces comes to - so this time to myself is not difficult to find - but over the years Pisces has learned that, should he happen to get up before I've finished, quiet is appreciated.

 At the moment my Morning Pages are a mix of things. On the one hand there are writing bits and pieces because we're in the middle of NaNoWriMo which is the annual attempt by many writers to try to get around 50,000 words written in November. I'm not to sure that will happen to me at the rate I'm progressing but at least I'm writing which has not been the case since I got sick twelve months ago. On the other hand I'm trying to set myself a list of tasks to get done so we can tackle the many things that need doing around here in an orderly way. Next week or month it may be something entirely different. No matter what form it takes, though, I can't see myself giving up doing these pages until I can no longer hold a pen.

Monday, November 06, 2017

World Fantasy Awards 2017

These prestigious awards are announced at the annual World Fantasy Convention. The 2017 winners have just been announced and you can see the full list of winners here. Heartiest congratulations to all.

I might have had to visit an online bookseller to see what all the fuss is about - and invest in the winning books. Actually I invested in the books by the other finalists as well. So I now have the following on my Kindle:

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North (Redhook; Orbit UK) which is this year's winner.

Borderline by Mishell Baker (Saga)  - finalist

Roadsouls by Betsy James (Aquaduct) - finalist

The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK) - finalist - and since this is the second book in The Broken Earth trilogy I also had to buy those on either side of it, didn't I. These are The Fifth Season which I think won a Hugo last year and The Stone Sky. 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (Harper) - finalist

The there's the long fiction:

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe By Kij Johnson ( Publishing) this year's long fiction winner

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle ( Publishing) - finalist

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing) - finalist

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson ( Publishing) - finalist

I also bought one anthology Dreaming in the Dark ed. Jack Dann (PS Australia) and winner of the anthology section before guilt kicked in and I decided I'd reached my spending limit for now. Maybe I'll go back for the rest when my credit card has recovered.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

There Are Days

when you wonder if it's worth the effort. I'm talking about gardening, of course. Today I went out to put up the summer shade cloth covers over the most delicate veggies - this is essential here and the daytime temperatures are already reaching the low thirties - and discovered the following:

1. I have bud worm in my tomatoes. The fruit affected were already on advanced plants I bought a few weeks ago so whether they were already infested or they came from my garden - the most likely scenario I have to admit - I don't know but now I'll have to start some sort of spraying regime. I don't like to use poisons so this means I need to track down one of the Bacillus thuringiensis based sprays specific to these destructive, little critters. These sprays contain a bacterium that kills caterpillars once ingested and has no effect on other beneficial insects - or people for that matter.

2. Something is eating my pak choy. They are covered in so many tiny pin holes that the leaves literally fall apart when you touch them. This has happened suddenly and is not due to the ubiquitous white cabbage butterfly because 1) I can't find a single one of these caterpillars on the plants proving the BT based spray I've been using to combat them is effective and 2) those little beasties don't cause this kind of pin hole damage anyway. I'll have to pull these plants out and dump them and hope that the caterpillar spray I'm getting for the budworm works on whatever this is before they decimate the new seedlings I planted out yesterday.

3) The garlic chives are again infested with black aphids. These nasties have already wiped out most of my red onions - they brought some sort of a virus with them as well damaging them by sap sucking. Luckily, although they attacked the spring onions and onion chives as well, those have survived - so far at least, though if the aphids spread from the garlic chives I'll be in trouble. I've seen some ladybirds in the garden which is heartening because their nymph stage just loves to eat aphids.

The good thing is that I can still find plenty to eat in the garden. The first zucchini flowers opened this morning. They are glorious to look at and to eat. I think I'd grow zucchini and pumpkin even if they didn't produce such tasty fruit because the flowers are so beautiful. I'll try to get a photo tomorrow so you can enjoy them, too. The rainbow chard is just as stunning - with red, yellow and pink stems that positively glow when the sunlight hits them - and they taste as good as they look. Then there's the kale which so far hasn't been attacked by whatever has attacked my other brassicas - and has been keeping us and our neighbours fed for months. The grape vines are shooting madly and that means dolmades soon while the dwarf French beans I planted months ago are still producing and we still have beetroot, Florence fennel, lettuces and nasturtium flowers and leaves to pick. Oh and I forgot to say we have just picked the first of the strawberries and blueberries.

So we're not going to go hungry just yet. Unfortunately neither are the bugs so I'd better get on with finding a suitable spray, hadn't I.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Getting Ready for the Apocalypse

So I was reading The Path trilogy by Diana Pharaoh Francis while I was sick this week and enjoyed it very much. The characters do a lot of travelling around in their magical, pre-industrial world - on horseback, on foot and magically - and, of course, they have to carry whatever they need with them in backpacks. At one stage she lists what the protagonist takes with her which is 2 blankets, an extra set of clothing (including spare boots) but not for herself, a waterproof cloak, waterbag, food (she hasn't much of this but then she is an excellent forager), a pot, a bowl, a belt knife, paper, a leather kit (for a particular purpose otherwise I doubt you'd include this), string, needles and thread, pouch of oil (I have no idea why you'd take this with you. Cooking, perhaps?), flint, whetstone, fish hooks, comb, extra socks, cake of soap, 4 candles, money and medicine kit.

This was not unlike what I would have selected in a similar situation albeit I'd be leaving out the candles and instead taking a torch and I would include a sleeping bag of some sort in preference to blankets, adding a spoon, extra underwear, something to write with (since paper is of limited use without a writing implement) and some things would have been substituted with more modern items.

At least that's what I thought until coincidentally The Link - a local TV program headed by Stan Grant which featured interviews and discussions with people on current topics of interest (and which sadly is not being renewed for next year) - showed an interview with a man who is determined to be prepared for any calamity that might happen and this in turn led me into the world of the Doomsday Preppers and the Bug Out Bag.

I'd never really considered the need to be prepared for more than day to day mishaps which means I do no more than keep a first aid kit, an emergency blanket, wind up torch, matches, a weatherproof poncho, a spare jacket and hat that roll up small enough to put in a pocket plus (this is Australia after all) some water in my car - and while I've never needed to deal with an apocalyptic situation they've all been used at one time or another.

Preppers take things to a whole different level. They want to provide for their survival in the case of major disaster - and by that they mean DISASTER on a large scale like civil unrest, major earthquake, eruption of a super volcano and so on. They are determined to be prepared for any eventuality and one of their basic tools is the Bug Out Bag. These are many and varied but are intended to provide for your needs for 72 hours while you head for your chosen - and ideally preprepared - bolt hole, which is somewhere off grid where you can protect you and yours.

If you google 'bug out bag' you'll find it's big business, too. Survival equipment, lists of what you need in your BOB and even ready made packs are all available whether you intend to head to the wilderness or withdraw to the safety of your home (which you’ve made secure from attack) along with your emergency supplies - and in the case of the US preppers where it is strongest, armed to the teeth. Given our gun laws in Australia weapons are one aspect that's unlikely to rate highly here. Not to say, of course, that weapons couldn't be needed or made if things got really bad but it's not a high priority here.

I was fascinated by what I found - and it's going to prove useful in my fiction writing - but I don’t intend to invest in a Bug Out Bag or stock up on more than I already have. With luck in any emergency (which here is most likely to be a natural one like storm or earthquake damage) I’ll be able to cobble together the essentials from the pantry and our existing camping gear.

That said I can understand why folk feel under threat. The world is not a stable place at the moment and the desire to feel you have some control over your destiny is inevitably going to appeal. I'm just not at all convinced this is the way to go about it. Let's hope I'm right.