April Favourites

Fiction books

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

I found the plot of this novel really gripping and hence raced through it within a couple of days. It’s very much a thriller with lots of plot twists that keep you guessing about which characters you can and cannot trust. The basic premise is this – a group of teenage girls go missing from a school excursion in Tasmania’s Greater Western Tiers. Years earlier, five young girls went missing in the same area and the tales of the so-called “Hungry Man” still circulate in the small town of Limestone Creek where the lost girls are from. The complex relationships between the characters are a key focus of the novel – the lost girls; their friends, families and teachers; the local cop; the police investigative team brought in from Launceston… There’s a lot to take in. You will most likely get sucked into this novel and spat out the other end.

While I definitely recommend this book, I did find it a bit frustrating in the sense that it consistently stated how atmospheric the Greater Western Tiers where it is set are, without actually describing what makes them so. It was a plot driven novel, so I didn’t expect it to devote page after page to verbose description, but for me it just seemed to come up short on this front.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

This was April’s book club book – it’s hard to know where to begin in describing it because there were so many layers to it: a compelling narrative and protagonist, important themes (sexuality, cultural identity and expectations, attachment styles) and a really interesting structure.

The novel switches frequently between time and place – from the protagonist’s youth to her adulthood and back, from the US where she lives as an adult to the Middle East where she spent time as a child and back. In doing so, the novel illustrates how much our past and present are bound up with and inform one another. The protagonist navigates the complexities of being queer and coming from a family where this isn’t accepted; being in relationships but always searching for more; wanting to grow and understand herself but also fearing what that growth and understanding might reveal.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

This was the book I selected at the book club Christmas party last year. Everyone bought a book they love, wrapped it and wrote their own blurb for that book. My blurb said “A family is forced to leave their home and start again. A page turner I couldn’t put down. Fiction but equally real. DO IT, you won’t regret it.”

I finally got around to reading it in April and I certainly didn’t regret it. This is the story of a Nuri and Afra, a Syrian couple forced to leave Syria due to civil war, and their journey to the UK. Nuri is a beekeeper by trade, hence the title of the book, his wife Afra an amazing artist. Both are deeply traumatised by their experiences in Syria, particularly by the death of their son. One of the most wonderful (and simultaneously horrible) things about this book is the way Lefteri demonstrates the impacts of Nuri and Afra’s trauma on them. She’s doesn’t tell you as a reader that they both have their own unique version of post-traumatic stress disorder, she shows you.

This book also has an interesting structure. Each chapter is divided in two – the first section of the chapter dealing in the present, the second dealing in the past, with the present and past sections connected by a shared word. I haven’t encountered this device before. I think it was part of what made Lefteri’s demonstration of trauma so powerful because the device blurred the lines between present and past. There was no full stop dividing present from past, you were propelled from one to the other by the shared word.

Non-fiction book

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey

I had such good fun reading this book – there was laughing out loud, reading passages to others, turning over corners of pages where there were gems of wisdom or humour. Divided into short (four or five page) sections on things which bring Bailey joy and happiness, this book is the perfect thing to pick up when you’ve got a spare five minutes and/or you’re feeling tired/down and need a boost.

It also made me think a lot about the things which bring me joy and happiness. Many of them are the same – trees, birdsong, walking etc – but there are also plenty of other things I would add to my list – swings at playgrounds, cryptic crosswords, bouldering-style hiking, dipping my feet in a cold ocean/creek, food in bowls that is eaten with spoons…

Another joy of this book were the comic illustrations and cartoons peppered throughout which were drawn by Bailey himself.

Events

Collins Bonnet and Collins Cap hike

I’ve been doing quite a lot of hikes where there is a significant climb in altitude recently. I find these sorts of hikes force me to be mindful, not so much of my surrounds but simply of myself – breathing in and out, watching where I’m placing my feet, pacing myself. I do remain aware of my surrounds, particularly the soundscape. Often being visually aware is more challenging – when I find myself looking around to spot a bird, I’ll often stumble because I’ve stopped watching where I’m placing my feet and will have failed to correctly negotiate a rock or root or whatever else is in my path.

There’s something so satisfying about the effort of climbing followed by the release of making it to your destination, often the top of a peak or a view. In this case, I had two climbs – the first up Collins Bonnet (1260m elevation), the second up Collins Cap (1098m elevation) – after starting from an elevation of 550m at Myrtle Forest. The two climbs were quite different. To get to the top of Collins Bonnet, you negotiate rocky scree slopes by following arrows on poles. In my case, when I got to the top, I saw very little – cloud rolled as I made my ascent and by the time I got to the summit I was basically floating in the clouds. To get to the top of Collins Cap, you follow a narrow, rocky track through scrubby bushland. At the top, I had expansive, 360 degree views. I stopped for lunch. From where I sat to eat my extremely satisfying sandwich (food always tastes good outdoors after exercise), I could see other nearby mountains to my left (possible future hikes), New Norfolk and Mount Field straight ahead, and Hobart to my right. In both instances, I ended up in conversation with fellow hikers. On Collins Cap, I even got to share some cake with two friendly fellow hikers.

Maria Island retreat

I was fortunate to have the opportunity in April to go on my first ever retreat, one of my 2021 intentions. I’d never been on a retreat before because I’d never felt I could justify the expense. But having been and done the retreat, I think the money I spent on my three days and two nights on retreat on Maria Island was money well spent. The retreat had everything up my alley – meditation, yoga, watercolour art, singing, amazing vegetarian food, cups of tea, beautiful nature (including lots of wombats), walking, swimming, social connection, sunshine, wood fires.

It was quite the experience and I came back feeling inspired on many fronts – cooking, singing, meditation, art. I also came back feeling cold, but that’s another story – the weather turned on our last day and suddenly it was below 10 degrees Celsius with an apparent temperature around zero. The wind gusts were strong, bringing with them rain that soaked us as we made our way back to the ferry. And it wasn’t just on Maria that the weather was turning – we had suddenly arrived at crisp Autumn weather, which was a bit of a shock to the system after pretty mild days throughout March and early April.

Yoga pose

Boat pose

I’ve really been enjoying the combination of strength and balance required by this pose. When you’re aligned correctly, I also find it to be a really satisfying way to stretch out and elongate both the legs and the spine. I used to think I’d never be able to get into the full boat pose, now it’s second nature – goes to show what consistent practice can do.

Food

My simple food favourite is pears – they’re in season and delicious.

My other special mention goes to that sandwich I ate on top of Collins Cap. It was kind of like a vegetarian Ploughman’s sandwich – homemade wholemeal sourdough bread, wholegrain mustard, crumbly Mersey Valley cheddar cheese, sliced tomato (fresh from a friend’s garden), basil leaves (from the same friend’s garden), pickled cucumber (cucumber grown by someone at work, pickled at home by me) and cracked black pepper. combination

TV show

Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds

Series two of this show is just as delightful as season one. It’s a slightly different premise – instead of the older participants being people living in aged care, this time they live independently – but it works equally well. Once again, it is such a joy to watch the bonds develop between specific older adults and four year olds, and to see both parties challenged to face their fears, knowing that their buddy has got their back.

I had somewhat forgotten why I liked this show so much the first season when I saw that it was back for a second, but I very quickly fell back in love with it and the new participants.

Self-care action

I’ve been pretty tired since moving to my new place, so it’s been important to manage my energy levels carefully and not to push myself too hard. Last Friday, I tried working from home for the first time at my new place. It was great! I finished up my work at 4.30pm and went straight to my yoga room for more than two hours of yoga and meditation. While I do really like being in the office, it does save quite a bit of time and energy not having to get to and from work and do all the logistical thinking that goes with that (packing lunch, packing my work clothes if I’m riding and so on). It’s also just really nice being in my space.

I’m planning to work from home more regularly going forward, probably on a Friday, because I like the way this eased me from the week to the weekend. Whether it’s once a week or once a fortnight I’m not sure at this stage, but I think it’s a good self-care move.


Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Astounding

The 11th of this month marked eight years since I was admitted to hospital for eating disorder treatment. Eight whole years.

Recently, I revisited my journals from the time and a few things stood out which I would like to share.

Trigger warnings for you: eating disorders (obviously), fatphobia, suicidal thoughts.

One – the quote on the wall

There was a quote on the wall of the common area on the ward which said:

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you go, they merely determine where you start.

Nido Qubein

I started as a deeply troubled teenage girl on a psych ward in Melbourne. I was merely surviving one day to the next, I didn’t believe there were any reasons to be alive. I was afraid of life – school, my friends, food, my feelings, my body. I could not see a way forward.

Eight years later, I have so many reasons to be alive, too many to list. I am not afraid of life – life is exciting and full of possibilities, new experiences, people, places. I am a balanced, stable adult sitting at the dining room table in the home that I own in Hobart. I am happy.

It astounds me to witness my own transformation. I hope that deeply troubled teenage girl on the psych ward in Melbourne can see me now. I certainly see her. I still carry her pain deep within me and it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Two – fatphobia

Despite making significant strides in my recovery on the ward, my fatphobia remained strong.

In my journals, I repeatedly expressed an intense fear of “letting myself go/overeating and getting fat”. I was afraid to give up my thin privilege (although obviously I didn’t put it in those terms at the time).

I think this entrenched fatphobia impacted my ability to fully recover for years after my admission. Fatphobia and diet culture are the water we’re all swimming in and for years either no one pointed this out to me or no one pointed it out with enough cut through to get me to take notice.

This is something I’m still working on but thanks to my wonderful psychologist here in Hobart I have found intuitive eating, health at every size and all the associated resources (podcasts, Instagrammers, books), and these are really helping to guide me in the right direction.

Three – insight

In hospital, I worked through the exercises in the book Eight Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Grabb. A question in one of the exercises was “What do you think are the characteristics of a person who is okay with their body?”. Despite my pretty intense fatphobia and very problematic relationship with food and my body, my response to this question was pretty much bang on:

  • They wear whatever they want, regardless of whether society tells them they should/shouldn’t wear a certain kind of jeans etc.
  • They eat whatever they feel like and do not relate this to their self-worth and whether they are a virtuous person.
  • They accept the fact that it’s okay and enjoyable to eat chips and chocolate sometimes and that this won’t make them ugly, fat etc [my only edit to this is that it’s okay and enjoyable to eat whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it].
  • They don’t compare themselves to other people or magazines and say things like “I wish I had her flat stomach” etc because they accept that this is not natural for their body [let’s be honest, most of what you see in magazines is not natural for anyone’s body].
  • They know that their natural body shape is healthy and that trying to change this is not healthy and will be detrimental to their life.

Basically, I knew what a healthy relationship with my body (and food) looked like, I just didn’t know how to get there. Thinking about this now, I’d probably add the following:

  • They appreciate their body for what it does, for being the vehicle that carries them through the world.
  • They are attuned to their body’s needs and responsive to these.
  • They move their body in ways that feel good to them.
  • They have compassion for and either accept or are working towards acceptance of their body’s imperfections and limitations.  

Reflecting on this now, again it astounds me that from where I was eight years ago in my relationships with my body, I have now reached a place where I pretty much am the person described above – a person who is okay with their body. Even more astounding is the fact that I am more than okay with my body, I’m actually pretty happy with it! Who’d have thunk it?


How can summarise these reflections? Clearly a lot can happen in eight years. Thankfully a person who thinks they are broken can be put back together again and not only that, but they can become stronger, kinder, better. I think that’s what my experiences have done for me.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Home

I spent more than a year walking around Hobart looking at people’s homes and gardens with envy, yearning to have a home and garden of my very own. Just over a month ago, that dream became a reality.

Now that I “own” (in a very white Western sense) a very small piece of this place we call Australia, it was important to me to acknowledge that “my” land is stolen land. Pretty much as soon as I moved in, I stuck the sign picture below beside my front door to remind me and any visitors of the simple fact that the land on which my home stands always was, always will be, muwinina land.

My acknowledgment of country sign

I have been incredibly lucky to not only find and be able to afford a first home, but to find and be able to afford a home that hasn’t been a compromise just to get into the market. I didn’t have to buy a run-down old house in need of lots of back-breaking work to make it liveable or a soulless, off-the-plan new build that looked the same as all the other houses in the neighbourhood in order to be able to afford the purchase. Instead, I was able to buy a solid, established house which pretty much ticked all the boxes I wanted a house to tick.

It has a garden (not massive, but big enough for me to grow some produce and get creative); a solid kitchen with generous pantry space; a recently renovated, spiffy bathroom (complete with rainfall shower and an excellent bath); a generously sized living/dining area; and lovely views from the living/dining area down to the Derwent River.

It is light-filled and bright; low maintenance (floorboards or tiles throughout, brick construction); within active transport (in this case cycling) distance of the city; and on a quiet street (in fact it’s in a dead end street).

Some things I am enjoying about my space include:

  • The view down to the Derwent River, watching the boats come and go;
  • Having a pantry rather than just a cupboard to store my food in – my range of ingredients has already expanded;
  • My very comfortable couch – a great place to sit with a book and a cuppa;
  • Sitting around my gorgeous wooden dining table sharing food with friends;
  • The excellent bath – makes for a very relaxing soak;
  • Having a dedicated yoga room (luxurious I know);
  • My bedroom being just that, my bedroom, rather than being multi-purpose; and
  • Having lots of cupboards and a garage to store things in.

Things I am enjoying about my new location are:

  • Riding my bike to and from work (previously I walked, which I also enjoyed, but riding has quickly become a positive part of my daily routine);
  • Being able to see the Derwent River from home (not possible from my previous abode);
  • Being close to Cornelian Bay with its abundant birdlife, boat sheds and boathouse (great for coffee and sweets);
  • The maritime sounds of ship horns and gulls; and
  • kunanyi/Mount Wellington revealing itself when I walk up the hill from my place.

Mostly, I am just feeling extremely fortunate and grateful to have broken into the property market and to have secured such a wonderful place as my first home. I’m not sure it has fully sunk in yet that I actually own this place, although having to pay a mortgage and bills is helping it feel more real!

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

March Favourites

Fiction books

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few wonderful novels recently where the natural world is just as much part of the story as the characters are and this was another novel of that ilk. A previous novel I’ve written about which integrated the natural world beautifully was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (refer to my January Favourites).

This is also the story of an unlikely friendship between an eccentric (in the best possible way) eighty-nine-year old woman and a young, broken-hearted soldier. There is also an element of magical realism woven through the narrative a la Trent Dalton.

Ultimately, I just found this novel a pleasure to read and am grateful to the friend who lent it to me.

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

Book club was how I found myself in possession of, and reading, something I would never choose for myself – a young adult fantasy novel. And book club was how I found myself enjoying a young adult fantasy novel and wanting to get my hands on the next one in the series.

I don’t suddenly think I am a young adult fantasy fan – my two friends in book club who read this genre on the reg said this book was quite unique – but I am really glad to have kept an open mind and discovered this.

Protagonist Ophelia is promised to a man from another “ark” and sent off to live in his world. As quickly as she can, she has to learn who in this new place she can trust and who to be wary of in order to protect herself, her family and her people. And of course, figuring out who she can trust isn’t simple.

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

So technically I finished this in April but it was so heart-wrenching that I want to tell you about it now. Books don’t normally make me cry, this one did. And not just once, but multiple times. Maybe it was just the tiredness talking (I was really tired as I read this) but I think there was something more to it than that.

To be honest, I wasn’t absolutely sold when I started it. I thought it would be interesting, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would suck me in, how utterly invested in the main character Caitlin I would become, how strongly I would identify with Caitlin’s experiences, despite significant differences in the particularities. This book cracked me open and I cried, because it described mental illness with such brutal honesty. In this way, it reminded me of Clare Bowditch’s descriptions of her mental illness in her memoir Your Own Kind of Girl (refer to my 2020 December Favourites).

Selfishly, my tears as I read The Morbids were as much for myself as they were for Caitlin. Just as I have, Caitlin breaks, hits rock bottom and starts on the long-haul journey of clawing her way back again. So I was crying for her and for myself. On the one hand tears of grief for the suffering I and Caitlin experienced, and on the other tears of joy and gratitude for the life I have now, and the life Caitlin starts to find for herself.

Music

I was on a Bat for Lashes bender throughout March, both discovering some newer (2019, I’m so not up with music these days) and older (2006) work of hers, all of which I have been absolutely loving. The album Fur and Gold (2006) was on repeat as I moved house, showered, did yoga, drove somewhere – basically if I had music on, it was highly likely to be that album. Then later in March, I had the brainwave that maybe there was some newer Bat for Lashes music I had yet to discover – sure enough, there was a whole album Lost Girls (2019). Since I discovered that, that album has also been on repeat. I’ve also been listening to the two Bat for Lashes albums I thought I knew well, The Haunted Man (2012) and Two Suns (2009) and have (re)discovered gems on those albums as well. So, here are three Bat for Lashes songs I am currently obsessed with.

I’m on Fire (from Fur and Gold, 2006)

Glass (from Two Suns, 2009)

Peach Sky (from Lost Girls, 2019)

Podcasts

Cautionary Tales – I think this is the third season of this podcast which I’m pretty sure I wrote about when each previous season was released. Just as good as ever, I love the way creator Tim Harford weaves together historical events, psychological research and present-day events to not only make us aware of our cognitive biases but also illustrate how these can lead us very astray.

I Weigh with Jameela Jamil – Dr Jen Gunter and Dr Jen Gunter Returns. with Dr Jen Gunter. So basically, I love every episode of this podcast but the two episodes with Dr Jen Gunter, ob/gyn extraordinaire and author of The Vagina Bible, stood out. My word, there is so much they don’t teach us about female anatomy and these podcast interview dig a bit deeper into just some of these things – very enlightening and very needed.

Food

As I moved out of the share house I’ve lived in for just over twelve months, I revisited my favourite local café spot with Mum and Dad one last time and it didn’t disappoint. I had the beetroot and seed bread with poached eggs, whipped feta, asparagus, pickled beetroot and dukkah. Absolutely delicious and very wholesome – the bread is dense and very seedy, with stunning pink marbling through it from the beetroot.

Another highlight was Dad’s Birthday lunch down at Willie Smith’s in the Huon Valley. Mum and Dad kindly came down to Hobart to hep me move into my place, and both my brother and his fiance were here, so Dad got to celebrate his Birthday Tassie style. We shared a selection of dishes – dips with bread and crackers, sundried tomato and basil arancini, a scrummy vegan charred pumpkin dish, epic roasted potatoes with salsa verde and the Willie Smith’s salad (featuring pecorino cheese and, of course, apple). We of course finished the meal with apple pie. I also tried their spiced apple tea which was sensational – it’s essentially mulled apple juice, but “spiced apple tea” definitely sounds better!

Event

Moving into my very own house has got to be the most exciting (but also most exhausting event) not only of the month, but probably one of the most exciting of my life. Like all such events, it’s taking a while to sink in that it’s actually real. Having a friend from Launceston stay the night definitely helped (same person who lent me A Year of Marvellous Ways) – somehow having someone else in my space made it feel more real that this is my space.

That friend and I had a really lovely Friday night and Saturday together. Friday night we went for a stroll around my local area, ate curry I’d made for dinner and chattered away until suddenly it was late and we were tired. Saturday morning we had tea/coffee and breakfast sitting in my living room window looking out at the Derwent River, then headed out for a hike. We climbed steep fire trails to New Town Falls, bush bashed our way up beside the falls, headed along the Hunters Track admiring the rocky scree slopes in one direction and the views to Hobart in the other, checked out the interesting rock formations, found some crazy purple fungus and cooled off at the end of the hike with a restorative foot dip in the New Town Rivulet. There were lots of gorgeous little birds about – Eastern spinebills, pardalotes, scarlet robins etc – and virtually no other people. The more time I spend on that mountain the more I love it! We then headed to a café for a late lunch before coming back to mine for cups of tea and a bit of restorative stretching, before my friend headed back to Launnie. There was plenty more chatter on the Saturday – we’ve definitely got one of those relationships where conversation just naturally meanders its way from topic to topic and there are always more things to say.

Yoga

Not a pose, but a place. The house I now own and live in (still doesn’t quite feel real) has two bedrooms, but it’s just me living here, so the second bedroom is a bedroom no more – it’s my own personal yoga studio/room. I am insanely privileged to have this wonderful space and I am making the most of it – my at home yoga practice can go for up to two hours these days. I love the way the sunlight comes into the room and the views I get out to my garden.

Self-care action

In my new house I am blessed with a very good bath. The week after I moved, I was struggling physically – two migraines in as many days led me to take a sick day the following day to rest and decompress. A long soak in the bath with a candle lit, some tunes playing and a book in hand was an excellent self-care act and one which I will definitely be repeating.


So, that’s March.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

February Favourites

Event

The highlight of the month would have to be one of the biggest things I’ve ever done – buying a house! Unsurprisingly, I am incredibly excited about this, but it’s also kept me busy, hence the lack of any writing on this subject as yet. Settlement is in one week, so I will be living in my very own house very soon!

Other events

Aside from the small thing of buying a house, February also featured some wonderful hikes; trips to the beach to make the most of our lukewarm summer; two book clubs (despite February being a short month, January’s meeting actually ended up being in early February and February’s meeting was towards the end of the February); and a series of brekkies, lunches, dinners and coffees with friends. My brother’s fiancé moved to Hobart last month so it’s been particularly nice spending time with her and with my brother when he was here.

The photos below are from the Tarn Shelf hike out at Mount Field National Park which was just magical.

Fiction books

The Survivors by Jane Harper

This was February’s book club book, chosen given that several of us had read and thoroughly enjoyed Harper’s first novel The Dry, with the bonus of being set in our home state of Tasmania. This latter point turned out not to be a bonus as Harper didn’t quite nail the small-town dynamics and location of her fictional Tasmanian town. While The Survivors probably isn’t quite as good as The Dry, I still enjoyed coming home from work to keep reading it as the mystery at its heart unfolded.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Lin is a violinist and former child prodigy who ever since falling (metaphorically) from the staggering heights of her childhood stardom has been trying (and failing) to fill the void left by her fame. Admittedly Jena is not a protagonist to whom I related strongly, but I found her fascinating nonetheless. Tu doesn’t shy away from the complexity and messiness of her protagonist and writes unapologetically about female desire.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Fat Round Things and The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, both by Carolyn Mackler

I’m on a bit of an odyssey at the moment into the world of fat/body positive young adult fiction – ie fiction I wish I’d read as a teenager (you may remember me writing about two young adult novels by Bethany Rutter in last year’s November Favourites).

Both of these novels feature the bold and wonderful Virginia Shreves as she navigates all the complexities of family, friendship and love. They are both highly readable and fun, but also tackle some difficult and important themes such as self-harm. As I said when I wrote about the Bethany Rutter books, I would recommend these whether you are a young adult or not!

Memoir

Bewildered by Laura Waters

I met Waters on the Three Capes Track last November and discovered that she was an author who had written a memoir about hiking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, a trail which takes you from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. I really liked her and we had some really good chats on the trail (mental health, family, work, other things besides), so I was keen to seek out and read her book. I’m pleased to report that she is an excellent writer – reading Bewildered was a pleasure! I love the way Waters weaves together the physical journey of the track with the metaphorical journey she is on to process her recent past. I also love the way Waters prods at learned ideas about how women should behave and what women should be capable of doing. Reading this inspired me to keep hiking, keep challenging myself and to perhaps one day attempt the Te Araroa Trail.

Podcasts

Maintenance Phase

The tagline of this podcast says it all really: “wellness and weight loss, debunked and decoded”. Co-hosted by journalist Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon (Your Fat Friend, check her out, she’s amazing), each episode focuses on a health and wellness fad (think Halo Top ice cream or intermittent fasting) and reveals the junk science behind and deep cultural roots of each. This podcast makes me feel smarter but also motivates me to keep pushing back against diet culture, fatphobia etc.

Music

Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi

I’ve been loving this whole album. This album was created in locations relevant to the Japanese American incarceration during World War II and the songs clearly draw their inspiration from this history. I don’t think this is an album it’s appropriate to pick a favourite song from – the whole experience is kind of necessary. And as you listen, definitely worth looking up the lyrics of the songs – they tell some pretty important stories.

Dark Eyes by Half Moon Run

This is another whole album I’ve been loving. Yes, it’s from 2012, so it’s not exactly new, but my love of Half Moon Run only started more recently with their more recent music, so it’s been a pleasure to go back and discover this 2012 gold. Picking a favourite off this album is challenging, they are all favourites, but recently I’ve been loving the slow burn of the song Unofferable.

TV show

Aftertaste

If you;’re after something fun to watch and can stomach quite a bit of swearing, this is a really well crafted and funny show about a middle-aged, angry white male celebrity chef Easton West (he has distinct Gordon Ramsy vibes) who has completely fallen from grace and alienated pretty much everyone in his life. So he returns home, to the family he left behind 30 years earlier, hoping to rebuild his life. Enter his niece Diana, an extraordinary baker and all around queen, and an unlikely professional partnership begins to emerge. And boy does Diana have things to teach Easton. This show is full of warmth, wit

Self-care action

February was a hectic month for me – I bought a house, started my new role at work and instantly got stuck into the project I’m managing which due to COVID-19 delays we have six months to complete rather than the ideal 18, plus had to of course keep doing all the mundane things you need to do to keep life ticking along (washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking). This meant self-care became more important than ever. An important aspect of this for me was taking a few naps on weekends when energy was sapped and needed replenishing. Not glamorous or interesting or ideal, but necessary and an important act of self-care to allow myself to just lie down and rest.

Yoga pose

Dancer’s pose

Another balancing pose (like last month’s favourite of half moon), dancer’s pose is both a challenge and a joy. It requires balance, but also strength and flexibility, making it incredibly satisfying when you get it right!

Food

I ate a lot of good food in February. Something I’ve enjoyed quite a few times, both in cafes/restaurants (special mentions to Hobart’s Raincheck Lounge and Straight Up Coffee & Food) and at home, is a “nourish” or “Buddha” or whatever else you want to call it bowl. Basically, it’s a bowl based on a grain such as brown rice with an array of toppings, usually involving most or all of the following: roasted or sauteed vegetables, a vegan protein (eglentils, falafel), pickles of some kind, salad veg, nuts/seeds, some kind of sauce (often hummus/tahini based). They’re always more aesthetic when I order one at a cafe/restaurant, but my DIY versions, while less photogenic, are at least as tasty as the cafe/restaurant ones!

Feeling At Home In My Body

Recently, I’ve been feeling much more at home in my body. Instead of fighting against my body, I find myself increasingly able to work with and into this body of mine. Instead of tuning out the inevitable unpleasant sensations and imperfections, I am aware of its sensations and, yes, even its imperfections. Judgment and criticism have been supplanted by curiosity and openness. How does my belly feel after a big dinner? What does the flesh of my thighs look like when I kneel down, bum to heels? What signals does my body send when I’ve been sitting at my computer for too long at work?

Fullness, fleshiness and flickers of unpleasant sensation no longer set off alarm bells that cause me to disengage from my body. Now, these are all just pieces of information which I trust myself to experience and respond to if required. And the more I do this, the more the effect multiplies, my belief in my ability to positively engage with body reinforced.

As a result, I feel far more confident and comfortable in my body, just as it is. Confident and comfortable enough to practise yoga on the beach in sports shorts and a bikini top. Confident and comfortable enough to undress and look at myself in the mirror after eating a large meal and simply observe the roundness of my stomach. Confident and comfortable enough to take myself off on hikes I haven’t done before, knowing my body will respond to the challenge.

I feel liberated – I have liberated myself.

It has taken me years to get to this place. I now realise I have lived years and years disconnected from my body because of my discomfort with it. So why now? How is it that I am finally coming back into my body? There are a few things which have helped me immensely on this “journey”, each of which I will address in turn.


Intuitive eating

In recent months I have finally, after years of holding on to just a little bit of control over what I ate, making rules (albeit nowhere near as extreme as the rules my eating disorder set for me in my youth) about when it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat, how much it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat and so on, I have let go.

Intuitive eating is a multi-faceted concept, but ultimately for me it about trusting that my body knows what it needs and will ask for it, and then honouring these requests. At its core then, intuitive eating is about coming back to the body. In doing so, I have found so much freedom and headspace. I have given myself unconditional permission to eat whatever, whenever, however feels right and I have quieted the voice in my head that tells me what, when and how I “should” eat.

You can read my post Intuitive Eating & Body Trust for more on this.

Spending an increasing amount of time in nature

Being in nature reminds me that I too am natural. I am not a machine, I am a complex organism made up of many parts. Every weekend now, I find myself called out into nature. I wend my way up hill after hill, feeling the sweat coat my body, my heart pound in my chest and the air rush in and out of my lungs. I stop to watch an echidna forage for a snack or to feel the smooth bark of a eucalypt. I apologise aloud to a mob of Bennett’s wallabies when my footsteps startle them into action. I break into a run on a downhill stretch, feeling the wind in my face and the strength in my legs. I come home with blisters on my toes, sand in my socks, mud on my boots, tangles in my hair and a smile on my face. On the boulder fields, in the forest, on the sand, in the water – this is where I find myself, find my home.

My deepening yoga practice

Breath and body – these are the fundamental building blocks of yoga practice. Breath and body. As with nature, I increasingly find myself called to my yoga practice, to my mat. On work nights, I am drawn home by the desire to get onto my mat and reconnect with my physicality – with breath and body – after a day spent in the cerebral space that is my work. My yoga practice is a chance to explore and celebrate my body’s strength, flexibility, balance. It is a chance to play with movement and stillness. It is another way in which I honour my body and show it kindness, because I respond to its signals. And throughout, whether in movement or stillness, I breathe deeply into every fibre of my being, refreshing, renewing, restoring. On my yoga mat, I am again at home.

Positive social media

I only got Instagram about six months ago, primarily to share photos from my hikes and other Tassie adventures. But the other thing Instagram has allowed me to do is to curate a feed of images, videos and messaging from people unashamedly, passionately inhabiting their bodies, feeding their bodies, moving their bodies, dressing their bodies, whatever that body may look like. In doing so, these people inspire me to unashamedly and passionately inhabit, feed, move and dress my own body. As such, my Instagram feed becomes a constant reminder to come back to my body, to nurture it, love it.


As I said at the top, in reaching this place, I have realised how disconnected I had been from my body because of my discomfort with it. I never want to go back to that state of disconnection because feeling connected has allowed me to feel free. And what an immense gift that freedom is.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

I Weigh

On Friday, I found out what I weigh for the first time since 2013. When I was in the throes of my eating disorder, I weighed myself at least once a day in order to track my “progress” downwards in weight, “motivate” myself to continue and investigate the impacts of different meals or forms of exercise on my weight.

When I was admitted (voluntarily) to hospital for treatment, while I was weighed once per week, I never saw the number on the scales. The weekly weigh in was solely for the benefit of my treatment team as they tracked my “progress”, this time upwards.

Leaving hospital, I vowed never to weigh myself again. I didn’t need to (newsflash, you probably don’t need to either) and I didn’t want to give the number on the scales even the merest chance of regaining power over my thoughts and behaviour.

For years, not weighing myself served me well in my recovery, but in the past couple of years discussions with psychologists (first my psychologist in Melbourne, then my psychologist in Hobart) revealed to me that not weighing myself had in a way begun serving the disordered voice in my head rather than the healthy one. This is because not weighing myself had become a safety behaviour borne of a fear that if I found out what I weighed, it would spin me back to disordered thoughts and potentially behaviours. The number on the scales hence gained gravitas, precisely because I didn’t know what it was and feared the truth and the effect this might have on me.

So, on Friday, in the middle of a busy workday, in a room surrounded by intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery books and soft, upholstered furnishings, I stepped onto the scales and looked down at the number blinking back at me.

The number was lower than the fairly arbitrary number I’d been telling myself, and any person or form who asked, for years. The disordered part of my brain jumped for joy at this. The healthy part laughed – who cares? When I left the appointment, the disorder part of my brain told me I could, and should, calculate my BMI now that I knew how much I weighed. The healthy part laughed – who cares?

Why should I care what that number on the scales is when I weigh so much more than that, here I mean in a metaphorical sense, in the Jameela Jamil I Weigh sense. Here are some of the things I weigh:

  • I weigh my resilience, the fact that I have withstood chronic physical and mental illness over many years.
  • I weigh my kindness, compassion and care for others and the world.
  • I weigh my family, friends, colleagues and all the wonderful people in my life.
  • I weigh my love of words – written and spoken, by me and by others.
  • I weigh my commitment to my work and to excellence in all that I do.
  • I weigh my strong self-care practices including yoga, cooking good food, hiking and staying connected with loved ones.

Weighing myself was anticlimactic, exactly as it should have been – take that disordered voice! But it was simultaneously a significant moment that illustrated to me just how far I have come. Here I am in Hobart enjoying my work and my life more broadly, going for amazing hikes, practising yoga, connecting with new people, cooking and eating lots of good food – in summary, living life to the fullest and loving it. Knowing the number on the scales isn’t going to change that!

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

January Favourites

Fiction book

Free Food For Millionairesby Min Jin Lee

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I was really keen to read Free Food For Millionaires and it didn’t disappoint. Lee’s characters are always so wonderfully complex and multi-faceted, making them relatable and realistic. The protagonist of Free Food For Millionaires, Casey Han, is the child of working-class Korean immigrants in New York who, after attending the prestigious Princeton, is trying to work out what she wants in her life. Where do the expectations of her parents, peers and mentors end and her own desires begin? Casey’s struggle to work out her answer to this question is the central force of this novel and it’s a highly relatable struggle – I imagine we’ve all struggled to find that line between what we want versus what other people tell us we should want and what they want for us.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I know I’m a bit late to the chorus of people praising this book but I’ll join in anyway! This is such a beautifully written and constructed book, with the natural world as its beating heart. One of my friends told me I’d love the way Owens describes nature, especially birds, and she wasn’t wrong! As a wildlife scientist, Owens clearly has a keen eye for the natural world in all its intricacies which shines through in the prose.

The novel centres a wonderfully unique protagonist, a girl, then woman, who essentially grows up alone, is finally taught to read as a teenager by one of the few people who take a genuine interest in her and, by combining her love of the marsh where she lives with the natural science books he brings her, becomes an expert in all aspects of the marsh.

This is also a story of learning how and who to trust, and ultimately love, when you’ve been let down again and again by all the people who are supposed to love and protect you. And it’s a murder mystery. Yes, I know that sounds like a lot, but nature is the very effective and affecting thread weaving it all together. At times, this book made my heart ache, at others it made me smile. At all times it inspired with its beauty. Obviously highly recommended!

Podcasts

Dara McAnulty and the joys of nature from ABC RN’s Conversations

Continuing on the theme of an appreciation for the natural world, this interview with a 17 year old naturalist and author (so impressive, I know!) was a beautiful ode to the landscapes and fauna of Northern Ireland. While I don’t know this landscape intimately, the way McAnulty talks about the landscapes and fauna of his home just served to deepen my love of the natural world in general and the landscapes and fauna I live with here in lutruwita/Tasmania more specifically.

I Weigh with Jameela Jamil

Each episode of I Weigh is an interview with someone interesting, whether they be a writer (eg Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive, among other things), comedian (eg Celeste Barber) or something else entirely. The underlying premise of the podcast is that we are much more than the number on the scales, so at the end of every episode Jamil gets each guest to tell her how much they “weigh”, not in terms of kilograms or pounds, but in terms of their qualities, their values, their achievements and what is important to them in their life. Common themes of the broader conversations are mental health and illness, body image and acceptance, and feminism. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every episode I’ve listened to so far.

Discovering this podcast this month has also been really serendipitous as this was also the month that I found out how much I weigh in kilograms for the first time since 2013. I will write a separate post about that soon.

Music

Seasons of Change by Half Moon Run

I’ve been really enjoying this EP from 2020 from a band I already love. I particularly love the way this EP starts – the first song begins with a combination of acoustic guitar and bird song which is like relaxation in musical form!

Self-care action

Outdoor yoga practice

I’ve practised yoga outdoors a little in the past, but having wound up with a migraine a couple of times after this style of practice I got scared off. When practising outdoors, I definitely do need to think about the position of the sun and shielding my sensitive eyes from its glare, however recent experience has proved that outdoor practice doesn’t inevitably create migraines. In letting go of the fear somewhat, I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of outdoor practice.

  • At a guided morning class in the Botanic Gardens, I had the joy of practising under a huge canopy of green leaves and listening to the contended quacking of ducks as I meditated.
  • In practising on the beach after work on a hot day, I enjoyed the somewhat cool breeze off the Derwent River and a well-earned swim at the end of my practice.

I’ll definitely be going to yoga in the Gardens semi-regularly (I’m actually going back tomorrow) and I’m looking forward to repeat performances of the yoga on the beach and swim combination when we have warm Summer days (rare but not unheard of).

Yoga pose

Half moon

I’ve been practising both of this posture quite regularly and am hence developing some sense of mastery over it which is very satisfying. As a balancing pose, half-moon can still have its challenges as my balance (like everyone’s) varies from day to day, but I’m now mostly able to stay fairly steady in the pose. I love the sense of extension you get from the tips of your fingers on one hand to the tips of your toes on the opposite foot on both sides, on one side in a horizontal direction and on the other vertically.

Also, side note, I love the synergy of the fact that my music favourite is from Half Moon Run and my yoga pose favourite is half moon!

Events

So many lovely things have happened this month – life is just feeling full in the best possible way at the moment. Here are a few highlights:

  • Spending New Year’s Day with my brother for an unplanned sibling bonding day. We went cherry picking at Sorrel Fruit Farm, shared an amazing cheese platter for lunch at Wicked Cheese and spent the afternoon exploring the historic town of Richmond which is full of amazing old buildings and lots of lovely shops.
Richmond Bridge, circa 1825
  • Dinner at Dana Eating House with someone I met on the Three Capes Track. This was a highlight not so much for the food or venue, although both were wonderful, but for the company and conversation.
  • Seeing an echidna up at Knocklofty Reserve.
  • Attending an exhibition at the old K&D Warehouse in Hobart as part of MONA FOMA with a friend, followed by a lovely dinner at a Mexican eatery nearby.
  • Walking from Roches Beach to Seven Mile Beach and back, followed by a swim, with three girlfriends.
  • Hiking from Lenah Valley all the way up to the Lost World and back again. Climbing more than 800m in altitude over the course of this hike, I really enjoyed watching the vegetation change and seeing the ever more impressive views as I ascended. The lost World part of this track (about 45 minutes one way) is more bouldering than hiking, requiring you to follow orange arrows on the rocks and use all four limbs to haul yourself up. This is my favourite sort of hiking/almost not hiking – so satisfying. I did get slightly off the track at one stage and incurred some minor injuries as a result, but nothing is broken and I would do the hike again in a heartbeat!
  • Farewell morning tea from my current team at work. As I finished my time in my current role and team this week, my team hosted a morning tea to say farewell and thank you. The really special parts of this were the speech my manager gave (“we threw a lot of challenges her way, although nothing really seemed like a challenge for her”) and the card I received with messages from each of my colleagues. I also received a generous gift of a voucher to one of my favourite Hobart eateries, Veg Bar.
  • Seeing a blue tongued lizard in the Waterworks Reserve on Gentle Annie Falls (a dry stone structure).

These are just some of the highlights of what has been a wonderful month.

Food

Just as there have been lots of event highlights, I have also eaten a lot of really good food. I’d have to say though that the dark chocolate, oat and almond cookies which Mum baked for me and brought down in December have been the delicious Christmas gift that has kept on giving all through January. These cookies make the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up in the midst of a busy work day and every time I eat a cookie I am reminded of how much I am loved, which is obviously a wonderful feeling.


Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Educate Yourself – Recommended Reading This Invasion Day

Often around Invasion Day, NAIDOC Week and other significant times in the Australian calendar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, news outlets and book sellers will publish lists of recommended reading. I thought I’d steal the idea and share my recommended reading list. I know it’s quite long but don’t be put off. Even if you just pick one book, that’s an important step as an Australian. Our education system does not do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories and experiences justice, so it’s up to us to do the work to learn and understand. So, here are my recommendations.

Note: The same list is under the recommended reading (Indigenous Australia) tab on my blog.


NON-FICTION

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Talking To My Country by Stan Grant

Grant was inspired to write this long letter to his country following the racist booing of Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes. It is a deeply touching book, a powerful call to action, a succinct explanation of so much of what is wrong with Australia and how it needs to change, written in Grant’s eminently readable prose.

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Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

This book lays out a stunning array of evidence that Aboriginal people in what we now call Australia have been practicing agriculture and aquaculture, building houses, and doing many other activities associated with so-called civilised people for tens of thousands of years. The popular belief in Australia is that Aboriginal people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, but the evidence points to something quite different. This book is a must-read for all Australians, because it corrects many of the popular misconceptions we have about Aboriginal people which we then use as the justification for dismissing their land and rights claims.

Van Diemen’s Land: An Aboriginal History by Murray Johnson & Ian McFarlane (non-Indigenous authors)

A must read if you are a Tasmanian or are going to be spending any significant period of time in lutruwita/Tasmania. This book is the culmination of years of work and teaching by Johnson and McFarlane which charts the history of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people from before the British invasion through to the present day. Significant elements of this history include the Black War, the Black Line, Wybalenna, and the resurgence of Tasmanian Aboriginality led by figures such as Michael Mansell. It’s tough reading at times, this being a book about invasion and violence, but it’s also a vitally important account of a history which has been swept under the carpet for far too long, perhaps due in part to the assertion that Tasmania’s Aboriginal people have died out (newsflash, this is far from true).

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Beyond White Guilt by Sarah Maddison (non-Indigenous author)

A highly informative discussion of the issues stemming from the British colonisation of Australia. Maddison highlights the importance of confronting our past and making changes in the present which will help to remedy the injustices which Indigenous Australians have faced and continue to face. This is a book written largely for non-Indigenous Australians, encouraging us to ‘unsettle ourselves’ by reimagining our country, national identity and future.

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Why Weren’t We Told by Henry Reynolds (non-Indigenous author)

This is a wonderfully accessible and engaging book about Australia’s history, the parts of our history they don’t teach you at school. The book’s triumph is in the way it relates our history to the present, illustrating how the past informs current attitudes, policies and practices. In doing so, it helps you to understand your own experiences in the present day in a historical context.


MEMOIR

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My Place by Sally Morgan

Considered an Australian classic, My Place is about Morgan’s life experiences and her journey to understanding her family history and culture. This leads her to explore issues such as the attempted assimilation of Aboriginal people into white Australian society through the institutionalisation of children; the rape of Aboriginal women by white men, often leading to pregnancy; the years of labour done by Aboriginal men and women on stations and properties without adequate, if any, remuneration; and much more.

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Wandering Girl by Glenyse Ward

This is a memoir by an Aboriginal woman who grew up on Wandering Mission (hence the title) under the care of German missionaries. Once she was old enough, she was sent to work for a white family as their black servant girl. Most of the book is about her experiences in this white household and the horrendous racism of her employers. As a reader, you find yourself well and truly on Ward’s side as she finds ingenious ways to subvert her employers and assert herself.

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Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss

This book is a joy to read. Not only is it well-written, but it’s also very funny and entertaining. Heiss’s sharp wit and infectious personality burst off every page. But this book is more than fun, it also has a serious side. Heiss is the daughter of a Wiradjuri woman and an Austrian man, so she her story tells us a lot about race relations in Australia and the various ways in which discrimination can be experienced.

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Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann

This book is another at times confronting memoir, written by another remarkable woman. The author was part of the Stolen Generations, taken from her family at birth and thereby disconnected from her culture. The book follows her journey to rediscover her Aboriginal roots, find her family, and heal herself. This book has very short chapters, making it very easy to read, and also includes panels of poetry every now and then as the author is an acclaimed poet.

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Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara

Marie Munkara grew up in a strict Catholic family. She always knew she was different (i.e. adopted) but has never been able to learn much about her true family as her adoptive parents would simply say that the past was best left in the past. All they’d told her was that her mother didn’t want her. Then, as a 28-year-old, she discovers a link to her true family. Keen to know more, she follows this lead and begins a remarkable journey that challenges and surprises. Her account of this journey is both touching and funny, as it is an account of two worlds colliding – the clean, strict world of her childhood and the chaotic, frighteningly different world inhabited by her blood relations in the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.

Riding The Black Cockatoo by John Danalis (non-Indigenous author)

Growing up, Danalis’ family had an Aboriginal skull on the mantelpiece. It was only through an Indigenous writing course that Danalis began to realise how bizarre and inappropriate this was. This book is the story of his inner journey to this realisation and his physical journey to return the skull to its Wamba Wamba descendants. This is a very honest book which I absolutely loved and is a very accessible read.


FICTION

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

I have read this novel twice and will probably read it again, which should tell you how good this book is as I’m someone who rarely rereads books. Terra Nullius is genius because it takes the story of the colonisation of Australia and twists it into a new form, creating a narrative which is simultaneously new and all too familiar. Coleman also has an incredible knack for writing seemingly disconnected strands of narrative and then weaving them all together, something I find supremely satisfying as a reader. You go from wondering “where is this going?” to aha moment, “I see where this is going”. This book will certainly make you think.

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Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

Through its thoroughly engaging narrative, this novel explores many of the issues Aboriginal people face, including the difficulty of claiming native title, the loss of language and culture due to colonisation, and the complexities of Aboriginal identity. Words from the Bundjalung and Yugambeh languages are mixed into the prose, and the novel has a sharp focus on the land and natural world – the birds, the trees, and the weather all feature quite prominently.

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Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

A much grittier novel than Mullumbimby, Too Much Lip deals with some fairly difficult themes including crime, incarceration, sexual abuse, and so on. The characters are all too real, people who are far from perfect and are just trying to survive. Sadly, the difficulties faced by the characters are similar to those faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. This book provides an important insight into their struggles, all the while highlighting their resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

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The White Girl by Tony Birch

I have written of my love for Tony Birch’s writing before, both his novels and short stories. This is his new book and it is absolutely fantastic. The book explores the lengths a Grandmother will go to in order to keep her granddaughter and protect her from the authorities. The book is set at a time when it was common practice for lighter-skinned Aboriginal children to be removed from their families and placed into care or foster homes in order to assimilate them into white Australian society. This book is so well written and an achingly beautiful reflection of the power of familial love.

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Ghost River by Tony Birch

This book is set in Melbourne, Collingwood or Abbotsford specifically. The Yarra River plays a prominent role in the novel, almost becoming a character of its own. But it’s the two boys, Ren and Sonny, who give the book its substance. The novel follows their adventures in their thoroughly working-class suburb populated by a suite of interesting characters – crims, corrupt cops, the homeless ‘river men’ and so on. This is a gritty book, well written and well worth a read.

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Blood by Tony Birch

This novel is narrated by a thirteen-year-old boy, Jesse, unusually mature for his age because life has forced him to grow up. His mother Gwen is neglectful, and his younger sister Rachel has needed looking after, a job which has fallen to him. Moved around from house to house and city to city, the kids are forced not only to fend for themselves, but to protect themselves from Gwen’s boyfriends, many of highly dubious character.

The Promise, Common People, Father’s Day and Shadowboxing, all by Tony Birch

Tony Birch’s short stories are fantastic. Set in Melbourne, his stories feature gritty, often troubled characters who are just trying to get by in life. Each story sucks you in and you become invested in it such that when it ends you are devastated. But then you start reading the next story, and immediately you’re invested in it.

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Home by Larissa Behrendt

This novel starts off late in the twentieth century with a young woman who is visiting the traditional land of her Aboriginal grandmother for the first time, but the majority of the action is set much earlier in the century when her grandmother was a girl. The novel follows the grandmother’s life experiences as she is taken from her family, placed in a home, sent to work for a wealthy white family, marries and has a family of her own. While being a really engaging work of fiction, the novel touches on so many of the injustices Aboriginal people in Australia have faced and continue to face, making it educational at the same time.

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Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison

This novel is about a young girl who, when she leaves her home town in rural Victoria to take on a law degree in Melbourne, begins to discover who she really is. Adopted at birth, Kirrali gradually begins to understand her Aboriginal heritage as she connects with her biological parents and meets others who have embarked upon similar journeys. A really heart-warming read that is hard to put down.

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Bitin’ Back by Vivienne Cleven

At once funny and deadly serious in its subject matter, this book explores life in a small town for single mother Mavis Dooley and her son Nevil, who wakes up one day and tells his mother he is now Jean Rhys, a woman who wears make-up and dresses. Mavis is mystified, but determined to hide her son’s new identity from the town, resulting in a series of hilarious yet revealing encounters that tell us a lot about issues of identity and belonging.

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Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

This book won the David Unaipon Award in 2013. It is a lovely collection of short stories which, like all good short stories, completely draw you in, only to spit you out the other side. You become totally invested in each character’s life and fate, only to be left hanging and wondering what did happen next. What I particularly loved about the collection was that many of the stories feature gay or queer characters, characters who sadly remain quite rare in works of fiction.

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Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane

This book won the David Unaipon Award in 2010. Like most winners of this award, it was a great book. Based on the author’s experiences as a child, Purple Threads is the story of an Aboriginal childhood in rural Victoria, with all its challenges and triumphs. Identity is a significant theme in the book, as the young protagonist tries to figure out who her father is and therefore who she is.

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Dancing Home by Paul Collis

This is yet another winner of the David Unaipon Award (2016). Very different from Purple Threads, this book focuses on the exploits of recently released prisoner Blackie, who is determined to get his revenge on the corrupt cop who sent him to prison, as well as reconnect with his grandmother’s country. These two aims, while they may seem antithetical to one another, are symbolic of the way in which Aboriginal people can become wedged between the white world and its institutions, and the Aboriginal world. This is not a book for the faint-hearted – drugs, swearing and violence abound.

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Bloke by Bruce Pascoe

This is a fantastic novel, written by an incredibly versatile and knowledgeable writer in Bruce Pascoe. Most famous for the factual Dark Emu, What I love most about Pascoe’s writing is the way he weaves nature into his narratives, particularly birds and bird calls. Bloke is a book about a young man (Jim Bloke), a fisherman and diver who gets caught up in illegal business dealings (not his fault); escapes to La Paz, Bolivia with his girlfriend, the wonderful Giovanna; is extradited to Australia and scapegoated for the illegal operations; finally finds his family thanks to some blokes he meets in prison (he grew up an orphan); and on it goes – I won’t keep listing because it will reveal too much. It’s well worth a read, that’s all I’ll say.

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Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman

While this is classified as a fiction book, the story is based on Coleman’s mother’s life and experiences living on the Koonibba Lutheran Mission in South Australia in the 1940s and 50s. The story is told by a young girl on a quest to figure out who she is, specifically who her father is. Aboriginal English and Kokatha language are woven through the story, giving it a really authentic feel and linguistically reflecting the multi-faceted identity of the narrator who finds herself living between two worlds – the Aboriginal and the white.

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Sweet Water… Stolen Land by Philip McLaren

This frontier novel focuses on events in the lives of two families, one black and one white. It is an incredibly powerful account, albeit fictionalised, of how Aboriginal people’s lives are turned upside down by contact with white settlers, as well as being a fascinating exploration of the psychology of white missionaries. This work’s great triumph is in the way it exposes the violence and immorality of white men on the frontier, particularly the missionary and one of its main characters Karl Maresch. It reminded me of Kate Grenville’s historical novels The Secret River, Sarah Thornhill and The Lieutenant, all of which focus on the same time period and themes.


CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Silly Birds, Mad Magpie, Kookoo Kookaburra and Cunning Crow by Gregg Dreise

This series of four picture books is wonderful. The illustrations are so beautiful that every page is like a work of art, and there is a strong moral to each of the stories, each based upon an Aboriginal saying. For example, Kookoo Kookaburra is based on the following: “Kindness is like a boomerang – if you throw it often, it comes back often. If you never take the chance to throw it, it never comes back”.

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Stolen Girl by Trina Saffioti and Norma McDonald

This is the story of an Aboriginal girl who is taken from her family and sent to a children’s home. We share her heartache and grief at being separated from her family and land, and placed in a foreign, loveless world, before she finally finds a way to escape.

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I was on my way to Tasmania to start a new chapter of my life – new city, new living situation, new job.

Time is such a strange beast. On the one hand, the year since I hopped on the Spirit of Tasmania with my brother and my car packed to the rafters with all my stuff seems to have flown by. And yet, on the other hand, it feels like I’ve lived here forever, I think because I feel so at home here.

The concept of home is something I’ve had cause to think about over the last year. When I had just moved, I definitely still thought of, and referred to, Melbourne as home. But as the months passed and the border restrictions meant I basically had no choice but to stay here, Hobart became, both in thought and word, home.

They say home is where the heart is. You could say my heart is divided – so many people who I love are in Melbourne, but there are ever more people here who I love too. And when it comes to the land, it’s the land here that makes my heart sing – the mountains, the rivers, the beaches, the cliffs, the oceans, the forests.

Now, Tasmania is a small place full of families who’ve lived here for generations, so I’m not sure I can claim to be Tasmanian. But what I can say is this – Tasmania is gradually claiming me. And while in some ways it’s inconvenient – note my earlier comment about there being many people I love in Melbourne – I’m also not resisting it, because this place has been so good for me.

When I moved, while I was doing better than I had been in the years prior, I was also still struggling with chronic fatigue, migraines and low mood. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would go with attempting to work full time, wasn’t sure whether I would cope with having to take care of all the life admin tasks Mum and Dad had previously taken care of, wasn’t sure whether I would find people to connect with.

I would love to be able to write that I now no longer suffer from any of these ills, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I still get tired more readily than your average person and have to, ironically, put energy towards managing my energy levels, but I no longer need afternoon naps just to survive my days (the occasional weekend nap suffices). I definitely still get migraines and headaches – Tasmania sadly hasn’t fixed them, not that I expected it would.

What has changed enormously though is my mood and outlook on life. As you would know if you’ve read previous posts (for example see The Happy Ending Is Just The Beginning), in the last twelve months I have enjoyed the novelty of actually feeling happy / contented / fulfilled. I say novelty because, if I’m honest, I probably haven’t felt this way since I was a child.

It seems strange to have written this without really discussing COVID-19, when COVID-19 has had a massive impact on almost everyone’s past 12 months. And while the pandemic has undoubtedly inflected my experience, it is not the thing I look back on the past year and think of. Instead, I think of that novel feeling – happiness. I think of how I have grown as a person, how my heart has opened to the world, albeit from a little corner of said world. Ultimately, I just think of how grateful I am that I made the leap – out of the family home, across the Bass Strait and into the unknown – a new city, a share house, the workforce, new friends, new landscapes, new experiences – and that now, the unknown feels very much like home.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.