Monthly Archives: March 2014


He was a beggar. Laxman. Just another of the hoarde of beggars who clustered around the Ashram, where they could always anticipate a good midday meal handout, and perhaps a few paise in alms from the pilgrims and devotees of Ramana Maharshi, who passed by in a constant flow.


Like many of the beggars, Laxman had not always been one with his hands stretched out in hope of generosity. He had a history too, of a life far less dependent on others; less humbling. Continue reading LAXMAN


Beggars Banquet


I was absolutely broke, in India. Well, to be more accurate, I had just four rupees and a few paise – around forty cents – in my wallet, although I had several thousand dollars in traveller’s cheques. My problem was really only temporary, since as soon as the banks would open, my poverty would be past.


It was Sunday though, and I had just arrived in the large town of Dehra Dun after almost a month walking in the Himalayas, in a remote area. I had intended to trek for much longer but had made a slight misjudgement. Having been told it was possible to cash cheques in the small town of Purola, I descended from the high passes and tiny villages, just to get some money. Anyway, I really did need a few days of some comfort to recover from too much time spent trekking in the monsoon season. All my clothes were damp or soggy, and certainly filthy. Stinking actually. There had been literally not even half a day without rain to consider drying anything. Added to this, my heels were pulpy with blisters from walking a couple of hundred kilometers at altitude, and were threatening to become badly infected. I had to have a hotel room for some days rest.


Purola had no bank for changing money, and I had barely enough rupees for one night’s very basic accommodation, plus the bus fare to Dehra Dun. No choice. I took the bus at the crack of dawn and arrived jolted and bruised in the early evening, with my four rupees, which was clearly too little even for the most spartan hotel room. Somehow I had also managed to lose my rubber flip -flops. I limped painfully on the heels of my sodden boots, hoping to win the favour of a cheap hotel on credit. Luck was on my side and an inn-keeper trusted me enough to allow me to pay on the morrow. With the four rupees still intact, I had to choose between soap and a meal of dal and chappatis. Hunger won my decision. I ate frugally, had a soapless shower, and crashed into bed exhausted. Tomorrow I would eat like a king, wash myself and my clothes spotlessly clean, and buy fresh clothes while all my laundry dried. I slept like a log, dreaming of indulging in all those luxuries.


Waking refreshed and buoyant, I decided it was ridiculous to continue playing the pauper. I approached the inn-keeper and, offering my expensive camera as surety, asked if he could lend me some money which I would repay as soon as the banks opened at ten and I had cashed my cheque. His generosity had reached its limit.


‘I am not a banker, sir, and will not be lending you money,’ he bristled, and was even more adamant when I pleaded with him.


Well damn him then! I stormed out of the hotel, fuming at his refusal. There had been no question of wearing the boots again, so I was bare-footed, with my festering feet a perfect accompaniment to my putrid clothes, lank oily long hair and untrimmed beard. I must have looked like the original dirty hippy, and certainly felt like it. The world out on the street mirrored that perception, and my appearance earned dark expressions from more than a few in the streets, and derisive comments from a pack of toffy private schoolboys who jeered and mocked as I passed. I felt miserable, and hobbled as fast as I could beyond their presence. Well stuff them too; I would hang out at the bank until it opened in an hour or so, and my situation would be remedied. I limped up the dusty street, trying to insulate myself from the world around me.


“Hey mister, hey!” I ignored the call, which was clearly directed at me. Putting my head down, I kept walking, wanting to distance myself from more attention. The caller would not be put off though, and I was aware that someone was coming after me. “Hey mister!”


My damaged feet would not permit me to run. I felt a hand on my arm, and turned.


“Hey mister, kya baat hai? What’s the matter?” My questioner was a middle-aged man, apparently a shopkeeper from his clothes and demeanour. A kindly face though, and the concern on his face seemed genuinely sympathetic. It melted my resistance, disarmed me. I allowed him to gently herd me over the road to his shop.


It was a very simple provenance shop, open-fronted with bins of grains, a few onions and potatoes, and little else apart from crude shelves behind him, sparsely filled with jars of spices and condiments, and a modest range of household necessities such as candles, matches, tooth powder and soaps. He repeated his first question.


Kya baat hai,” he enquired, indicating my appalling state of dress and injury. My Hindi was far from fluent, but I spoke enough to be able to communicate my situation. Walking in the mountains, incessant rain, blisters, no bank to exchange my traveller’s cheques; the basics of my plight.


He looked at me, brow furrowed. Clearly dubious. He probably thought I was too proud to admit to being destitute. Determined to at least change my immediate circumstance, he reached into one bin, pulled out a dried coconut, and gave it to me. Then, looking at my bare and wounded feet, he tugged my shirt sleeve and led me next door. A shoe seller. Some words from my benefactor, and the proprietor looked through his modest stock, selected his largest pair of rubber flipflops, and fitted them on my feet. Slightly too small, but certainly adequate.


With my feet now shod, I was guided back to his shop. Deftly twisting a square of newspaper into a cone, he filled it with dried savouries. “Le lo – take it, sir.” Apparently still not satisfied, he opened the cash drawer, took out a twenty rupee note and pressed it into my palm, closing my fingers over it. “Abhi challiye, khaiye, ji. Now go and eat, sir.” I was dismissed, with tears in my eyes and the most appreciative salutation I could offer.


There was only an hour to wait until the bank would open, but I had enough money to pay for a very substantial – almost luxurious – breakfast. I indulged myself gratefully, my mood transformed from self-pity to delighted humility. How exquisitely generous India can be, often moreso when we reach rock-bottom.


Relaxed and with my hunger well-sated, I headed to the bank at 10 o’clock, and cashed enough to ensure that I could rest well for a few days and return to my beloved mountains. I felt very rich and well-taken care of. In fact, I felt a sense of guilt, that I had taken money on false pretenses, even though I had done my best to explain that my poverty was very temporary. I returned to the provenance store, determined to return the money which the shopkeeper had pressed on me.


When I sought to give him money for all that he had given me, he stiffened in indignation. Then he looked closely at me, and apparently decided that my intentions were honorable. His manner softened, although he made clear that he was still refusing to take my money.


“Today sir, the beggars will do well, yes?”



At last the sleeping boot awakes; Permaculture in Italy at last is moving – some people have actually heard of it! I was tired of the lack of people interested in Permaculture courses and workshops, in the ignorant criticisms by people who had little idea of it, and no experience of having tried to put Permaculture principles into practise. Tired of hearing that it wouldn’t work in Italy, as if by some miracle Italy is another planet that just happens to occupy a space on Earth. As if Permaculture is some sort of exotic cultural virus seeking to invade from somewhere else. From Australia? Well of course it couldn’t work here, since Australia is on the other side of this planet. The upside down side, to make matters worse.

But wait a minute. Continue reading ANYONE FOR PERMACULTURE – Italy too?!





Day 1

Northern New South Wales, 1865


With one last blow of his well-honed axe, the great red cedar let out a mighty crack. That sharp sound, of splintering wood, announced to the ancient forest that one tree’s last resistance against an antagonist had been broken. The axeman leapt down off his springboard and craned his neck to look way up the mighty trunk, to ascertain the perfection of his cut, the direction of the fall. He knew precisely where it would drop.

 For a few long seconds the whole forest was suspended in a breathless silence, witness to the ear-splitting crash that would inevitably follow. Many heads turned towards the source of the sound. Soft furred marsupials, shiny scaled reptiles, many-coloured feathered creatures too, peering through the leafy mid-distance from canopy perches, staring between the lichen mosaics of other tree trunks, ogling upwards from the mouldering forest floor.

 Jack Threader stood transfixed, head thrown back as he looked up forty metres of perfectly straight thick trunk to where the branches seemed to tremble for a second. Not a sound punctuated that momentary dance of leaf and limb.

 `Waaaah!` the wiry wood cutter yelled as another crack cleaved the air, and the tree shuddered, teetered, and began to fall. …… 

This novel is complete, but I am not yet satisfied  with the editing process. It goes on. Nevertheless, I welcome any feedback. Here is the skeleton of this tale:

This is a three-generational novel set on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia. The interwoven stories explore the different relationships of the characters with their environment, and how they confront their individual issues in the cultural context of their times. 

The first is a novel covering three different generations of settlers on the far North Coast of New South Wales, exploring their relationships with their environment and the cultural context of their times.

The first main character is Jack Threader, an indentured convict who has escaped with his companion from violent forced labour near Sydney to the anonymity of a harsh life as a cedar cutter in the rainforest valleys in the 1850s. A loner, he errs when cutting a huge tree and is trapped under the fallen giant for 4 days, watching his life ebbing out as he slips deeper into insanity with each passing of the moon. Finally he is rescued by two local aborigines alerted to his plight by their capacity to ‘read’ the landscape.

The second is a nephew, John Threader, who has settled the land as a returned soldier following the horror of Gallipoli. Working his land is an escape from the nightmare of his memories of the war and his incapacity to fit into peacetime life in the city. His wife joins him when John has created a primitive farm nucleus and together they pioneer the pastureland he has wrested from the rainforested slopes.

The third character, Peter Threader, is a ‘refugee’ from the city in the nineteen seventies, part of the ‘back-to-the earth’ migration to the countryside in the wake of the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. Full of dreams and ideals, he and his partner must confront the realities of their choice of ‘the simple life’.

The three stories of three ages are woven together through the hallucinations and illuminations of Jack Threader’s experience while trapped in the great rainforest.



JANUARY, 2013 – Tuebingen, south Germany

I must be honest with you from the start. It was not simply that I liked the title for this essay, but I also believed it to be true. It was not. That ‘year’ has now entered it’s third, and I can’t be so bold as to say that it has finished yet. The ‘gratitude’ bit, though, is absolutely true.

Two perspectives: the patient and the beloved-carer. Of course we’re talking about the same subject: my cancer and my transplant, and all that has gone and goes with it. But how diverse are our viewpoints. Much of my memory needs to be prompted by Franci’s recollection of events and emotions, but often what emerges is again a pair of different pictures, of the same theme but from a different angle. Continue reading A YEAR OF GRATITUDE


No matter what country it is, regardless of faith or faction, age or education, politics or persuasion, you’ll always find people waving at trains. Passenger trains especially, but goods trains also have drivers to return the gesture, and even if his existence is masked behind reflector-glass windows, the waver knows that he is a presence, guiding his irresistible charge towards it’s destination.

How many of you have never waved at a train ? Be honest now. The response of silence is quite deafening, like the roar the beast makes as it clatters through a cutting, as it rattles over a bridge. As a kid, I was blessed with the good fortune to live near a railway line in a small Tasmanian country town. That boon all the greater for the location of our house being just half a kilometre from the rail-bridge across the river, where the trains rattled over.

From the glass-fronted living-room, I could watch the great metal serpent speeding on it’s way to destinations further afield which at first I could only imagine as an exotic ‘somewhere else’! Continue reading EVERYONE WAVES AT THE TRAIN


Many times while bush-walking, or roaming my land, I’ve felt an uncanny tingle – my snake alarm – which has sharpened my attention to reptillian danger. An extraordinary number of times, this sixth sense has been confirmed an instant later with an encounter of a reptile. Never threateningly, but at close quarters. So I tramped the bush with a certain confidence that, on the rare occasions when a snake would not slither away at my approach, then my chances of falling prey to it’s fangs were very slim indeed.

Mind you, I don’t like the creatures, and despite faith in my intuition, I still react whenever one crosses my path; first with heart-thumping fear and then, when recognition tells me that it is harmless or definitely retreating, with a healthy respect.

After twelve thousand units of tiger snake anti-venene, and countless earnest expressions of ‘You’re lucky to be alive’, my confidence in having a built-in fool-proof snake detection mechanism has deserted me, and that respect has grown many times over. Continue reading TIGER!!