Vive Les Mis et La Revolution!

Tom Hooper’s musical version of the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables,a classic tale of romance, morality and crushing poverty in revolutionary France, is spell-binding. This is due in no small measure to the astonishing performance of ex-convict Jean  Valjean by Aussie actor Hugh Jackman. Valjean, a credible thief, who does his hard time for 19 years before his redemption by a bishop. He rips ups his parole papers ushering in a life on the run relentlessly pursued by gendarme Javert played by Russell Crowe.  Surprisingly, Jackman has a strong, powerful voice as he sings his storyline, however a disappointing Russell Crowe fails to deliver as the ruthless Javert.  Although he has a history of excellent roles, he fails to deliver the terror Hugo clearly meant to capture in his novel.  Based on Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s musical version of Les Mis, this well-made film is expected to collect a fistfull of Oscar awards thanks to its brave direction and the excellent cast, which sings live, outstanding costumes and make-up.

The storyline reflects tow strong tenets of 19th century French society – the ruthless pursuit of wrongdoers by the law and the French citizen’s psyche which continues in contemporary society, which prides itself on evading the law.  Years after breaking parole Valjean has made good owning a factory where Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young, abandoned mother works, but whose life crumbles when she is fired due to an oversight by Valjean.  Her downward spiral towards destitution and prostitution is shocking.   Her beautiful song, I Dreamed a Dream, delivered in a heart-felt, desperate manner, stuns theatre-goers.  In this renowned French tale, Valjean takes over the care of her orphaned daughter, Cosette, against a tense backdrop where revolutionaries plan the stand-off at the Barricades. Such dramatic action is paled slightly when one learns the dramatic marching of the French Army, bayonets drawn was actually filmed in Greenwich, instead of Paris’s stsreets.  Les Mis captures the powerful revolutionary emotion of the French and the restorative power of love – packaged in an exhilarating musical.

Jackman, a nominee for an Oscar, well deserves to win because Les Mis not only does his excellent portrayal of Valjean anchor the film, the role displays his vast range of acting talent, with his wonderful voice an exciting discovery.


Oswald floods Queensland with cyclonic rain

So much for the idyllic Sunshine State! Brisbane seems to be drowning in a cyclonic drenching and 80km winds lash relentlessly around the Queenslander house built on stilts where my daughter lives, luckily high on a hill. However, the lower suburbs and restaurants along the banks of the Brisbane River are flooded and it is hard to believe that on Wednesday last week we strolled nonchalantly riverside along Southbank to the Science Museum.  Afterwards, we had coffee at trendy GroovyTrain at the City Cap dock.  Now the Bribane River is expected to peak at 11 metres higher than its normal tide sometime tonight leaving a swathe of flooding in its wake. The weather here is all-consuming and I sit daily on the balcony watching in awe as the sheets of pelting rain swish down the road like some giant broom is sweeping it along. This is unfolding under a low-hung heavy grey sky,  where nothing is visible beyond the two-storey block of flats opposite. I watch mesmerised as a ferocious wind howls around me, thrashing the palm trees in our garden and the street, Visibility is minimal, yet I can hear aircraft overhead and feel relatively safe under the wide eaves of this lovely timber-clad home.

On Friday we had a pleasant day at Ipswich taking the grand-children to the Rescue exhibition at the Art Gallery and despite the rain we could hardly envisage that three days of constant rain later, Ipswich is bracing itself for a high Bremer River tide of 15 metres, which has flooded many homes. Although two metres lower than the devastating 2011 floods to the Aussies, the hapless victims we meet on the nightly news, this flooding of their homes is just as devastating.

My heart goes out to them and find it hard to believe there have been so few fatalies – although the four confirmed so far is too much.

We know Australia is a land of weather contrasts, borne out by a Facebook posting from my son Tyson reporting on his role giving out Cancer Council sunscreen at theTour Down Under in Adelaide while we cannot venture outside in a city experiencing its fifth day of constant rain,  where the Premier advises everyone to stay indoors because of flooding creeks, power failure and uprooted trees. Cyclone Oswald has wrought damage right along the coast of Queensland including the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. Hard to believe also that we went on a pleasant day-trip to Doonan, near Noosa on Tuesday – a mere week ago where the children swam in the pool of our friends Chris and Rob Nicholls… Now the Bruce Highway is cut and Gympie half an hour to the north is experiencing serious flooding. Airports on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast are closed because of high winds reflected in coverage of one small aircraft flipped  over.


How strange also, that our nation has only just recovered from devastating bushfires in Tasmania, NSW and Victoria to now be struggling as a community to come to grips with the damage of Cyclone Oswald.  Now there is a new cry for  donations for Queenslanders who once more have lost so much two years after the 2011 floods.

It is quite a different feeling to be living in the community suffering this disaster rather than sitting safely in my armchair back in sunny Adelaide.




Diversity in Aged Care

The Federal Government’s national ageing and aged care policies move beyond mainstream to diversity.
The Federal Government has released its first national ageing and aged care strategy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people and for those from different ethnic backgrounds.

Initiatives include sensitivity training for the aged care workforce and a review of guidelines to promote access to advocacy for LGBTI people.

The strategy, recommended by LGBTI groups and the Productivity Commission, would also help to ensure all government-funded aged care providers develop policies and processes to address discrimination and prejudice, Ageing Minister Market Butler said.

Source: National Seniors newsletter.

More Water Saves Mighty Murray

It is a once-in-a-lifetime moment  at, arguably, Australia’s most controversial spot – the mouth of the mighty River Murray.

Today, the mouth is open and a mere sliver of blue waters run from the river to the sea, but until recently, dredging machines 24 hours a day were needed to stop it silting over.

We are aboard the Spirit of the Coorong and from here I notice countless pelicans on the sandhills, flapping their wings for flight and seals splashing  their flippers in the river.  As the pelicans lift off I capture this wonderful wildlife to remind us that the river is habitat to myriad bird species, fish, emus, kangaroos and turtles.

It is the here that the deteriorating  river system has manifested so profoundly that built-up silt and sand closed over the river mouth  in 2002.

It threatened disaster for the river, the third largest navigable river in the world, and particularly, the delicate Coorong.  However, today floodwaters have naturally flushed open the river’s mouth and the dredging machines have been removed.

“There is 40 feet of water below us now at the Murray Mouth and that’s the way we must keep it if the river is to be healthy,’’ says Captain Bain Pedler, who has been taking tourists from Goolwa to the Coorong for 30 years.

This cruise was a highlight of our 12-month sea-change on Hindmarsh Island, a man-made riverside marina where we loved watching  the swans, herons, pelicans and plovers.

Australia’s longest river is beautiful, dotted with ancient river gums, national parks, river towns and magnificent limestone cliffs.   Its irrigation system provides the “food bowl of the nation’’ and vineyards, orchards and olive groves create a lush spectacle of fertility.  Its unique landscapes include the Murraylands,  the distinctive Mallee scrub and wetlands.

our adult children canoeing on the River


Riverside communities rely on river water for their livelihood and have watched alarmed at the decline in river health.

Over-irrigation upstream from SA and the effects of the 10-year-long  drought have stressed  the river causing deterioration of its banks, drying up of wetlands and closure of the mouth.

Political leaders have listened to the war of words about the river’s  critical state – and the first national plan to save Australia’s most important river system  has been signed into law. It guarantees 3200GL will be returned to the river by 2024 to restore its health. It reflects understanding that whatever happens along the Murray-Darling Basin impacts at the Murray Mouth 2520 km away.

The Advertiser must be congratulated for its community campaign “I Love the Murray’’ which has  helped achieve this legislation in Federal Parliament.

Xmas Pudding and Trifle terrific treats

Is there anything as sweet and alluring to the eye than Christmas Day desserts?  Ours were a delicious trifle which was a treat for the eye as well as the taste buds and a home-made Christmas pudding with an aroma to capture the spirit of the season. Yet I cannot take credit for either and admit I have never made either.  I am not a dessert cook, although I have mastered scones.

However, the grand desserts of my daughter-in-law Vanessa and her  country-bred mother, Sandra Herbig have inspired me to buy a book by Michael McCamley entitled Gluten Free Baking.  Until that moment when I have mastered a dessert, Sandra and Vanessa have agreed to share their recipes with you.

The meats ready for serving

Delicious Xmas spread



New Year’s Friends, Fireworks & Memories

Olivier and I at Pinocchio Restaurant in December 2011 just before new year.

Hoorah for January,  the best month of the year. Only New Year heralds a respectable chance to wipe the slate clean and, armed with resolutions, to begin anew on this adventure called life.

The best attraction of the first month, though, is that it shuts the door so effectively on all the downsides and disappointments and (for me) the absolute tragedies of the old year, 2012.

And so it is that on New Year’s Eve I take that familiar road from Adelaide to Hindmarsh Island, where husband Olivier and I lived for 12 months while our new house was being built. It’s a jolly reunion of mates from our sea-change era, at the island home of long-time close friends. Many people at the gathering have helped me adjust to my new reality – becoming a widow.

Smiles are the passport for fun tonight and twinkling lights entwined in the shrubbery sets the scenario for merry-making.  Music is strictly 80s and 90s and the food – with everyone bringing a plate – comes in waves like the ocean not far away over the sandhills.  Home-made Indian-style Samoosas  and Aussie sausage rolls, Maxican guacomale dip and smoked ocean trout is handed around like “pass the parcel” which triggers the taste buds for the feast which follows.

Ham-on-the-bone may be  the focal point but it is surrounded by a United Nations of foods- Italian lasagne, Moroccan-style eggplant casserole, prawns, Greek meatballs and salads galore.  Wine flows like the great River Murray lapping very close to our hosts’ back yard.

Yet, at around the time our hosts begin pouring that last drink for midnight toasts, I take my leave and explain that this first New Year’s Eve without Olivier, I want to be alone. I understand why  Greta Garbo made that statement so famous.

Mercifully, there have been no tears and much enjoyment and lively conversation with friends and strangers alike, but I do not want to find myself at midnight within this milling throng of couples yet alone without my own loved one to kiss.

In this mood of remembrance, I am jolted back to the harsh facts of life when I am pulled over by the Breathaliser police just before the bridge.
There are no side roads here and we are sitting ducks. Fortunately, I did not drink that last full glass of wine and so I pass the test. “You don’t look as if you have been drinking, Madam,’’ says the fresh-faced policeman.  “No sir,’’ I say heaving a sigh of relief.  Losing my licence would have been a nasty start to 2013.

There is a favourite spot of ours in Victor Harbor just down from the landmark stone whale and here I park the car along with many other vehicles.  Revellers have spilled out onto the lawns and while they overlook Encounter Bay below us and wait for the fireworks on the causeway, I think upon how this Bay is so pivotal to my life with Olivier.  If the South Australian Government had not decided to celebrate the 200thanniversary of the meeting right here (actually about five miles out to sea) between British navigator Matthew Flinders and French sea captain, Nicolas Baudin in 2002, then Olivier and I would never have met.  The other important development to clinch our meeting was that I was the cultural issues writer at The Advertiser and nothing was more cultural than writing about how different we would have been as a society if by a sheer flick of fate we would have been French.

Olivier’s and my favourite view of Encounter Bay where I returned on New Year.

I might never have met him, but for providence – that unlikely meeting at sea of two captains when their countries were at war. This thought fills me with pleasure at such an opportunity dropped into my world which helps ease the emotional pain of the now – living the first New Year without him.

However, there is a much more emotive reason for seeking my own company if only for this final 15 minutes of 2012.  On New Year’s Eve nine years ago 2003/4 Olivier and I became lovers for the first time and now I move back  mentally  into that delicious moment, which transformed my life.  I can easily visualise his handsome face and imagine his arms around me because I wrote about it in my memoir From France With Love.  Yes, it is recorded, but right now I want to keep it in my mind,  and in my heart I still feel his love which never wavered from that night. It is very comforting.

Then the sky bursts forth into colourful sprays of fireworks and the crowd outside the window erupts into cheers welcoming 2013 – as I do, too from inside my little leather and chrome cacoon, our car.