Some random thoughts are teeming around in my brain vying for ascendancy in this current blog. I have been very focused lately on topics such as Rugby League Football and Rock Concerts (episodes six and five respectively). However, there is nothing quite so all-consuming raising its head and begging to be focused on this month…so I hope you will enjoy this ‘flotsam and jetsam’ webisode.
Firstly, I want to pay tribute to my maternal Grandmother Mary Browne, born Mary Wright (1872 -1951). In 1890, she married Arthur Browne when she was only 18 years old, and they had eleven daughters. My mother Margaret was the youngest girl in the family. I was very small when my Grandma died, but I still remember with great fondness her white lace collars, her talcum powder smell and her comforting arms around me.
Mary Browne (nee Wright) in a very jaunty hat
As a fitting follow-up to the little tribute to my beloved Grandmother, I am attempting to complete the bulk of this blog on Mother’s Day, in the midst of heading out to perform a ritual celebration with a close friend, the glorious Lisette and her beautiful daughter Liliana. Both being motherless, Lisette and I started this ritual in New York in 1997, when we were hanging out in a trendy sidewalk café in SoHo, and people seemed to think I was her Mom/Mum, as it was actually Mother’s Day in that country. One person who sat down to chat warmly with this ‘mother and daughter team’ when he heard our accents, was the renowned Australian artist David Rankin, married to the famous author Lily Brett. We laughed at this mistake (I had to grit my somewhat ageing teeth a bit), but since then Lisette and I have met for little treats on Mother’s Day to keep the New York myth alive. Given that Liliana is now on the scene, I guess that I must now be a token grandmother myself!
At the Woolloongabba Antiques Fair cafe for the New York ritual Mother’s Day catchup
Weathering the weather..a woman of all seasons
I recently visited the Blue Mountains and Sydney and, while I had a lovely time partying and seeing old and new friends, visiting art galleries, restaurants, pubs etc., a recurrent weather phenomenon raised its seemingly inevitable head. At both places, suddenly everyone was saying words to the effect that: ‘if only you had come here yesterday/last week, the weather was so lovely and mild – but today and from now on while you are here, it will be very chilly indeed’. Thanks to the unexpected temperature drop, my hands nearly froze and I developed an unshakeable headcold.
The beautiful but freezing Blue Mountains
I do have a form of recurrent weather paranoia, a condition which began quite memorably in New York City the first time I visited in the early 80s. Juanita and I (later joined by Suzette and Pierre) hit the ground running and then stumbled and slipped on the icy footpaths in our wrong Aussie shoes and inadequate Aussie winter clothing. As I recall it, December 1980, the tragic month of John Lennon’s murder, was deemed to be the coldest Christmas in 108 years. Juanita thinks it was the coldest in 40 years, but whatever it was, a record low was announced, and the windchill factor was blisteringly unlike anything we had ever experienced before in our subtropical lives. We would struggle into many layers, then hit the streets, and almost immediately find a café or bar for refuge from the relentless wind and sleet.
Weathering NYC December 1980
The terrible weather in New York worked in our favour at least once that holiday, as, on Christmas Eve, we were able to get last-minute returns for rare tickets to the sensational sold-out Broadway play The Elephant Man starring David Bowie. The weather was too bad for out-of-towners to make it to the theatre, and we benefitted greatly, enraptured by Bowie’s magnificent performance in the title role. The only downside of the night was that everyone disappeared immediately we got outside the theatre, and we tried for ages to get a cab back to the Lower East Side. We tried to wave down many cabs that simply went past us empty – the drivers scurrying home to the folks for Xmas Eve. Finally someone took pity on these underdressed shivering people hanging on for dear life to a lamp-post to stop being knocked over by the wind. The cab driver asked us where we wanted to go, finally agreeing to take us because his wife was Australian, even though he had finished for the night. Thank heavens he was still on good terms with his wife.
The reason we didn’t venture into the subway home that evening was that we had been strictly warned by a New York friend not to go there at all unless accompanied by a member of the vigilante group the Guardian Angels, whose sole mission at that time was to protect innocent people from increasing violence in the subways (the day we arrived in New York the headlines read: Three murdered in midtown subway bloodbath). There was no Guardian Angel visible that night, except in the form of the reluctant off-duty taxi driver who decided finally that he could take Australians back downtown.
Memories: the magnificent Chrysler Building, NYC.
Fortitude Valley and cloudy shenanigans
From December 1980 onwards, I have noted the pattern of my arrival in places, only to be subjected almost immediately to climate change in the form of record summer highs or winter lows. While I have tried hard not to personalize this phenomenon, in my darker, more fanciful moments, I sometimes feel that this may have something to do with the fact that I am the daughter of Arthur, a legendary weather oracle, aka a meteorologist. In a fit of gloomy weathernoia, I wonder occasionally that he might be up there somewhere on a cumulonimbus cloud, giving me a dose of weather payback for something naughty I did in my youth – e.g. Dad always warned me against going to Brisbane’s then very seedy district Fortitude Valley (being a shiftworker at Brisbane airport, he often drove through the Valley in the early morning, witnessing much flotsam and jetsam action). However, of course, his dire warnings made me want to go there and check it out as soon as was humanly possible.
Fortitude Valley today – Wickham Street still has its seedy side
My defiance knows no bounds, it would seem, as I now reside very close to that forbidden zone, the Valley, in a street deemed, rather quaintly, to be Brisbane’s Most Livable Street, 1993. Of course, as this was the very year I came to live in this street, I feel that I somehow intangibly helped raise the livability level of the street, having left the sleepy suburbs behind.
To this: High Livability near Fortitude Valley
Some friends and members of my family were rather astonished by my moving here, especially when a murder occurred down the road in a Sydney Street apartment the very weekend I moved into the area. Furthermore, prostitutes and drugdealers were then ever-present up the road on the corners of Harcourt and Brunswick and /or Kent and Brunswick Streets.
One transaction hub in New Farm/the Valley
I argued with such people who were mystified at my move, that I wanted to live in an innercity area of Brisbane, close to eateries and cinemas etc, where something was actually happening, unlike the leafy sleepy suburb of Rainworth where I had resided for years.
Partying like there’s no tomorrow…
Den and me – greeting party guests in the Millwood Street abode in the mid-Eighties
For me at least, the most exciting thing that happened in beige-ish suburban Rainworth post-divorce, seemed to be the fairly colourful parties and soirees held in Millwood Street, when the Thirties wooden house would move precariously on its stumps as we danced all night, with fluid relationships forming, unforming and reforming in unexpected modes and scandalous mutations that have since merged into urban mythology. I once had a memorable, jam-packed New Year’s Eve party that was the very one that a large slice of Brisbane’s glittering literati, glam academia (not an oxymoron), and the usual flotsam and jetsam decided would be the best party to descend on for the actual midnight celebrations. No need for social media in those days.
While being the ‘Numero Uno’ New-Year’s-Eve party thrower certainly enhanced my celebrity status in some quarters, I was pretty annoyed when I discovered the next day that my crystal glasses had all been smashed and that my favourite (authentic) Polish Solidarity poster had been nicked. I also found someone’s underpants inexplicably in the freezer the next day…
At that New Year’s Eve party – or was it another one? – I recall amidst the haze that there was a flotsam guy there, a good-looking rightwinger (also sadly not an oxymoron), who said that being with me was like being in a Woody Allen movie. He meant this to annoy me, I think, as he certainly didn’t like my politics, but I embraced it as a compliment…
The noble fridge in the Rainworth kitchen, witness to many hair-raising events
Get your red dress on…
It may seem to some that the ‘most liveable Brisbane street’ parties have lost some of the ‘oomph’ of the sprawling, meandering, uncontollable Rainworth gigs…although, empirically, such nostalgia-tinged judgment has to be suspended when post-1993 partying memories come flooding back – e.g. gorgeous Missy dancing in the wee hours, until and even after her clothes fell on the floor; a feisty couple pursuing cigarettes having some hilarious misadventures; someone concocting an excuse to hurriedly remove their flirtatious semi-dressed partner when that person got out of control…etc., etc. I will never say that my ageing correlates with a more sedate social life, as this is patently untrue in any case.
A Dorothy red dress for magical Liliana…definitely a swirling party frock in the best tradition