The Rose

Today, I plucked a posy of small but perfectly formed roses and placed it in the centre of my dining table, just as my aunty and grandmother had done for decades. What makes this posy special is that it comes from the same plant that supplied their posies.

Cecile Brunner bud Cecile Brunner posy

Back in the 1920s, my grandmother, Mary O’Leary (yes, the same Mary O’Leary who features in my novel, Union Jack) admired a rambling rose grown by her neighbour and asked for a cutting. The Cécile Brünner grew, along with Mary’s children, and her house filled with the wonderful perfume of the roses.

Mary’s husband died—tragically and far too young; her eldest child left home, rarely contacting his mother; her two daughters married during World War II. My mother moved out when her husband returned at the end of the war, but my aunty and her husband remained in the family home.

During the 1950s, Mary sold the family home and my aunty and uncle purchased a new one, taking Mary and a cutting of the rose bush with them. Aunty Madge continued the tradition of cutting the tiny dark-pink buds which open to a full-blown pale-pink rose within a day. Whenever I walked in her front door, I smelt the familiar perfume.

Years passed. My sister, Beverley, and her husband were visiting Aunty Madge when David, admiring the perfect flower, suggested they should take a cutting—in case aunty’s bush died.

More years passed, and my own daughter set the date for her wedding. Beverley and I gave her a kitchen wedding shower, and Liane opened the useful gifts we all brought—we laughed at how boring most of them really were. Beverley disappeared from the room, then reappeared nursing a pot with a small rose plant. She had struck another from our grandmother’s Cécile Brünner.

All this time, I had loved the rose, but had never owned one myself. Twenty years after my daughter’s wedding, I took cuttings from her plant, and now have three healthy bushes of my own that reward me with posies for my dining table. My son, Glenn, and his family have just moved into their first home. This year’s prunings are in potting mix…

This story has one final twist. The neighbour who supplied the first cutting to Mary was the aunty of my children’s father.


When to use, or avoid, an apostrophe

I recently had to explain the correct use of the apostrophe to some people, and thought it might be of interest to others.

Herewith my interpretation of when to use, and when not to use, an apostrophe. Hope it is of help.


The baker went to town. (This is a simple statement about a person who is a baker by trade going to town.)

The baker’s dog went to town. (This is telling us that a dog, belonging to the baker, went to town. i.e. the apostrophe describes ‘possession’. The dog is owned by the baker.)

The Bakers went to town. (This is another simple statement about a family called Baker who went to town. The ’s’ indicastes it is plural, no possession, therefore, no apostrophe.)

The Bakers’ dog went to down. (This is telling us that a dog, which belonged to a group of people of the Baker family (plural, hence the ’s’), went to town. again, apostrophe describes possession.)

The Bakers and their dog went to town. (Another simple statement. The family called Baker went to town with their dog. No possession, just two separate things going to town.)

The baker’s gone to town. (This is telling us that a bloke who is a baker has gone to town. It is a contraction of ‘baker has’, so needs an apostrophe to indicate a missing vowel.) 


Golden rule is that an apostrophe is used:

when referring to something owned by someone. 

If it is singular, the apostrophe comes before the ’s’ (baker’s); if it is plural, the apostrophe comes after the ’s’ (Bakers’).

exception is if the singular (say John Jones) ends in an ’s’, in which case it comes after the ’s’; e.g. John Jones’ dog

When two words are joined together, and some letters (usually vowels) are missing; eg it’s for it has.


Brumby Running – from Yenohan’s Legacy


Brumby Running

As Autumn approached, Roger called the families of Boboyan together for a brumby run. Within a few weeks they would begin mustering cattle for the long trip back north for the Winter and on to Sydney for market, and they needed to ensure there were sufficient horses for the job. A few spares to take to the horse sales wouldn’t go astray, either.

The brumby runs were a community affair. These horses belonged to the mountains, so the people of the mountains shared in their capture and ownership.

Early on the morning of the run, Nola heard the dogs bark the arrival of her neighbours in the house paddock. This was the first time they had visited Grassy Creek since her arrival.

Little clouds puffed from the mouths of each rider and horse to hang in the misty air as Nola crunched across the grass to greet them. They weren’t all men either. Nan Davies was as good a horseman as her husband, John.

At first Nola took this flat chested woman — dressed in moleskin trousers and shirt, with short brown hair tucked beneath a broad-brimmed hat — for a man sitting astride her mount, and was surprised when a female voice greeted her.

‘Hello Mrs Thompson. I’m Nan Davies. Your nearest neighbour from over the Pass.’

She pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.

‘I’ve been meaning to come and say hello for some time now.’

Nan leaned down from the saddle and offered her hand to Nola who accepted the firm handshake.

‘Please, call me Nola.’

Then Nan beckoned to a boy and a girl who were waiting nearby.

‘These are the kids, Rebecca and Steven. Would you mind if they stay here while we go out after the brumbies? They won’t be any trouble. Just put them to work if they get under your feet.’

Nan suspected Nola would have taken part in the brumby chase had she not been so large with her unborn child. Nola, for her part, had no doubt she would become friends with this no-nonsense woman. They were of an age, although Nan’s angular face had seen much more of the sun than had Nola’s.

Rebecca approached the two women. She was a soft child, caught between puberty and womanhood, who bore the attitude of being more comfortable around the home than on a horse. Steven was ten and knobbly kneed, and not quite old enough to take part in the run. He hung back, resentment pulling his face into a scowl. Stan Robinson had brought three of his sons along and Jack Swift stood beside his only son, Michael.

Nola watched the party head off towards Mount Clear, fanning out across the valley searching for the tracks of brumbies, wishing she could have taken part.


Yenohan was sitting by the fire with her mother, Mooroo, when the men rode across the creek. The tall slim man with the big black beard, who she knew to be the white girl’s father, waved to them. Yenohan lifted her hand to wave back, but her mother caught her wrist and forced it back down by her side.

‘No girl! Look away. You must not wave to those men. They grab girls like you and take them away from us. Make them sick or give them babies with pale skin. Sometimes, they never come back. You’ve got to be very careful, especially when we don’t have our own men to scare them off.’

Yenohan had noticed her mother and aunties were particularly nervous when their own men were away hunting the jar bon moth or mustering the white men’s cattle.

But her people had grown to depend on the tea and sugar and baccy the white men exchanged for help with mustering the white-faced cattle. And, once a year, the boss man killed a big cow and left it out for them to eat. Mooroo said this was a small price to pay for using land her tribe had wandered since the beginning of time.

Yenohan stayed close by Mooroo’s side.


Joe led his father and uncles to the site where he had last seen the horses at the foot of the mountain. They found them gathered in their day camp beyond the frost hollow, and the riders approached slowly, not wanting them to run just yet. The stallion eyed the approaching horsemen with suspicion and nipped his mares into a canter. The wild horses followed their well-worn path to safe ground higher up the mountain. The riders followed at a distance.

Halfway up the mountain, at the entrance to a narrow gorge, Stan and John were waiting, hidden within low scrub. During the past week they had constructed two sapling wings that funnelled into the gorge. Each wing followed a spur for a mile and was well screened by bush. They knew the horses would come this way: their track ran right through the gorge. That morning, the men had blocked off its far end.

As the brumbies approached the concealed wings, Roger cracked his stock-whip. At full split — mares and foals up front, the black stallion at the rear — the horses thundered straight up the side of the mountain into the jaws of the trap set for them. The riders tailed the horses, growing closer with each stride. The stallion overtook his harem heading for the top of the mountain but Alec, on the left wing, cracked his whip and the horses veered to the right. Following instinct, the wild animals headed for the protection of a densely forested ravine.

The trees whizzed past in a blur as Joe gave Whisper his head. The wild horses charged through the thickest bush attempting to shake their pursuers, but Whisper skilfully found his way between the trunks. The Boboyan riders kept pace with the horses, steering them by the crack of their whips. Nan rode on the right wing, keeping level with Alec on the left, the horses between.

The horses broke through the bush, nostrils flared, breath rasping to be greeted by Stan and John who, upon hearing the approaching thunder of their hooves, sprang from their hideout. The wild horses, spooked by the sudden appearance of men, were left with no choice but to run between the two granite pillars.

As the last tail flew past, Nan dismounted and pulled hard on a rope. A sack, weighted by a thick branch sewn in the bottom, dropped to block the entrance. The horses circled inside the enclosure, trapped, looking for escape. Their eyes flashed fear and fury.

Alec took control. Selecting some of the quieter pack horses, he led them into the enclosure with the thirteen bush horses. The stallion eventually calmed, sending a message to the rest of the mob that began to relax as they sensed that their leader had lost his fear. But night was closing in. The riders rubbed down their saddle horses and hobbled them nearby, then fed their dogs and built a fire on the leeward side of the corral. They cooked a simple meal. Rolled in their swags, they talked until the adrenaline finally slowed in their veins, then one by one, fell asleep with their heads on their saddles.

The sun rose to find Roger and Alec quietly walking among the brumbies, beginning the long task of getting them used to humans. They blindfolded the stallion and mares for the trip back, knowing that if the horses couldn’t see where they were, they wouldn’t try to escape. They secured halters to all bar one: a chestnut mare they could not pacify.

‘Let her go,’ called Alec as he swung the gate open. ‘There’s always one rogue. We’ll catch up with her next time.’

The rest of the camp ate breakfast and packed their saddle bags ready for the ride back down to the valley floor. Roger handed the reins of the two golden foals to Joe to lead out. Once they were far away from Mount Clear, they removed the blindfolds from the older horses. Now lost, they didn’t try to escape.

When they returned to Grassy Creek, Alec put the twelve brumbies into the horse yard with the packhorses, then waited outside the yard for the wild horses to settle. Hours passed before Alec made his next move. He’d made his mark. He entered the yard talking constantly in a smooth, barely audible voice and approached the black stallion from the side. He gently laid a hand on its thick mane, talking, talking, constantly talking, never taking his hand off the horse, then worked his way to the ears, fondling, stroking the nose, the forelock.

He brought his whole body in contact with the horse and began to crawl over him, playing with the thick tufts of hair around the horse’s fetlock. The stallion bent his head and grazed. Alec took the cue and crouched beneath, stroking the animal’s belly. Nola gasped as she saw this.

‘Is he some sort of fool?’


Roger motioned to Nola, and everyone else, not to make a move or a sound. He had seen his brother work his magic many times. Wild animals trusted this man who was devoid of social graces.

Supper was a very happy affair around the Thompson’s kitchen table that evening. They had secured twelve good horses which they would share evenly between the families. Not a bad day’s work.

After dinner, Roger wandered outside to smoke his pipe. He saw Joe leaning on the top rail of the enclosure gazing at the stallion.

‘He’s too frisky for you, lad,’ he said as he approached the yard, packing a fresh load of tobacco into the clay bowl with his thumb.

‘I could tame him.’

‘I don’t think so Joe. Besides, he’ll fetch a pretty price at the sales.’

Joe had learnt well from Alec. He slipped beneath the rail and approached the horse, following the same procedure he had seen earlier that day. Roger watched his son’s confidence. Before long, Joe was stroking the animal’s neck. It lifted its head and turned towards Joe, snorting as if nodding acceptance.

Dan was to return to Melvale to help Harry through the coming Winter. This did not please Joe who mooched around on Whisper as the days shortened. Forced to leave his school friends behind when the family left Queanbeyan, he had transferred his affection to Dan. He shadowed his uncle, learning about horses, cattle and life.



In Defence of AAE 2013

For the past week, I have followed the unfolding saga as those onboard Akademik Shokalskiy watch the weather, the ice, the approaching icebreakers. Ten months ago we were battling the ice approaching the Ross Sea in MV Ortelius. Greg Mortimer was our leader then, and he is co-leader of the team on the edge of Commonwealth Bay now. I have only briefly met team leader Chris Turney, but I know of his dedication to science and all things Antarctic. Any expedition guided by these two men is in good and safe hands. Both are careful, considerate leaders. Why, then, are there those who criticise and belittle this expedition?

The world is divided into those who ‘get’ Antarctica, and those who don’t. Those who do are people who make the short trip to the wonderland of the Antarctic Peninsular, and ones who take the continent more seriously and venture into East Antarctica. The REAL Antarctica. Of those who don’t ‘get it’, most still appreciate what a special place this is, and understand the need to monitor its changes which affect the whole planet. A very few laugh at serious scientists who take risks to gather this information.

I have followed just about every tweet and post and blog (including some on WordPress) and am disgusted at the minority who call Chris and his gang all sorts of names – like idiot. They accuse him of running away from the ship, of having too much fun (!). These critics obviously do not understand that science is not tied to the ship. In Mawson’s case, the ship left them. For a year. In Chris’s case, his science is complete, and he needs to return to analyse the data and write papers. The Shokalskiy will be left in the very capable hands of its Russian crew who know very well how to look after themselves and their ship. The scientists are merely passengers.

And as for having fun – surely it is the role of the expedition leader to keep morale high? When we were battling the ice last February, there were a few onboard who grumbled. Greg jumped on this very quickly, organising activities to keep everyone content: Zodiac rides among the ice; helicopter flights over the Transantarctic Mountains; trivia quizzes.

This afternoon, according to Chris, a helicopter has come from the Xue Long and they will be flying out within the hour. The plan is to lift all non-crew onto the Xue Long, then transfer to Aurora Australis who will resume resupplying Casey Station. I have to admit, I am envious. I would give anything to be with them; to experience everything that powerful place has thrown at them, and share the camaraderie I know will be strong.


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 Union Jack – synopsis

This dramatic political novel features a cast of rogues, opportunists and idealists set against a background of corruption, strikes and union bashing. Yet this is not the 1980s but the 1920s and Jack O’Leary — socialist, railway worker and fiery unionist — befriends Fred Paterson, a young lawyer who has joined the newly-formed Communist Party of Australia.

They face two very powerful opponents; Queensland Premier and Labor big man Bill McCormack is trying to bully his party into following his line, supported by his mate Ted Theodore. Years of behind-the-scenes dealings and manipulation of government contracts have cemented their friendship and turned them into wealthy men.

When McCormack and Theodore direct members of the ALP to sign an anti-Communist pledge or be expelled, Jack and Fred lead a campaign to hold the Party true to its socialist roots. Ultimately, McCormack and Theodore fall victim to their own vendettas when Jack’s union exposes their crooked dealings, ending their political careers.

Thinking he can make a difference for his members, Jack becomes organiser for the Australian Railways Union but lives with a secret that, if uncovered, will end his political aspirations. However an altogether different danger stalks his future.


 This book is intended for those interested in Australian political and working-class history. Whilst the manuscript takes the form of an historical novel, it is thoroughly researched and factually correct and could reliably be used as a reference source.

Jack O’Leary was the author’s grandfather.


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Antarctica at Last!

Imagine sitting in a zodiac on a heaving, breathing sea of brash ice, in the middle of the Southern Ocean with 4,000 metres of water beneath. We are 500km from the Antarctic coast, 1,700km from the closest human presence in the Ross Sea. Yet again on this trip, a reminder that I have voluntarily placed myself so far from my comfort zone. From the safety of Ortelius, brash ice and large icebergs appear benign as they drift past. Their beauty dominates, along with the awe they inspire. Up close, it is their power that dominates. The ice through which we push screeches as it grips the rubber, then reluctantly moves aside to let us pass. Every few metres our guide, Elke, cuts the outboard to tilt it free of the surface and kick away lumps of ice that foul the propeller.

Ever so slowly, we creep away from Ortelius to seek out a crabeater seal one of our crew has seen on a distant flow. Personally, I would rather circle the blue, blue bergs nearer to us. For nearly an hour we weave through promising leads, often to reverse and try another path. We make the seal, cut the engine and roll with the swell. The seal opens an eye and stretches luxuriously. It is tempting to think she is observing us, but have learnt she is short-sighted out of water. The weather is kind. No wind, air temperature hovering around zero, high cloud that blocks the glare and favours the many shades of blue the ice holds. After an initial flurry of camera clicking, the shutters slow and we resume our seats on the rubber sides of the zodiac. We can no longer see out mother ship.

There is one more iceberg to visit before returning “home”. It is almost a small island of ice mountains constantly being scoured by frothy waves, deepending the central lagoon of brilliant blue. We pass beneath icicles metres long fringing one of the peaks, and the whole magnificent berg is rocked by a surge of water. I am caught between the hope that something spectacular will happen and the feeling of vulnerability being perching on the edge of a little rubber boat. “It will break up soon,” says Elke. She has read my thoughts.

We are all cold. Elke produces a much-needed block of chocolate, then turns back for Ortelius. This is not a direct route. The sea ice has thickened markedly in the past two hours, and no one talks as she, oh so skilfully, weaves the zodiac through large chunks and mushy ice. We meet Rolf on the way back. The ship has been trying to contact us since we disappeared from sight over an hour ago. Radio on the wrong channel! Back safe, hot chocolate and a tale to tell as we set sail to our next adventure.