May 2, 2013

Free Range Children

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:32 pm by ursli

For me it was being sent out to roam the farm- no coming back. “I will meet you all at the bridge over the creek for a picnic lunch”, said Gran most days. Not alone, but with my fearless brothers. We explored the creek, fording winter torrents with the aid of a long stick, my older brother testing the depths; we trudged for miles, whipping our fingers on the gates we couldn’t wriggle through (when the stick latch flew back and hit us) climbing creeper-covered trees high off the ground to lie like lords on our green hammocks, surveying the wonderful view of the lakes and mountains, until the creeper began to get dangerously large holes and we would shimmy down to safety; we avoided fiercely glaring bulls as we nipped into the cool shade of the haystack where we spent hours in conversation and challenge; we balanced on fences as we dared each other to walk the furthest and not fall into the smelly sheep yards; we scared each other with tales of snakes, leeches, the killer cramps Gran said you could get in the dam, which would cause you to sink like a stone and the weeds and sticks which would entangle you in the creek’s deepest swimming hole. We sat on fat bales of wool and watched the flash of the shears, goggled-eyed at each other by the noisy skill of the shed. In the evenings we would fall asleep in the dead stillness, and wake like little birds at dawn, ready for a new day.

April 18, 2013

April is here

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:29 am by ursli

I love autumn. It is so still. The mornings are misty, with soft grey curtaining the hills.

April 7, 2013

Books link

Posted in Brilliant books for children at 5:25 pm by ursli

I enjoy reading so much I am going to start posting a few more reviews. I will do this on a linked blog called

August 19, 2012

Struck by Pussy Riot

Posted in Commentary at 3:34 pm by ursli

Struck by Pussy Riot’s sentence and wondering what other Russian news we do ont ever hear, I will write when I have thought about further what it means to be a long way from Russia, from its history and its future.  Why do I care?


Posted in Commentary at 3:25 pm by ursli


I thought briefly of taking my camera, glancing at its cobalt blue cover as I opened the drawer for a tape measure, then left it there. I wasn’t sure it had been charged up, and the charger is a European one, since I bought it in Italy to take Orvieto for the Umbria Winter Jazz Festival. Easier to just go out the door, out into the beautiful sunshine.

We drove over to Denmark in the little cream Karmann Ghia, for a walk along Wilson’s Inlet. The day was extremely still, not a whiff of breeze not even in the treetops. The inlet was like glass. As we strolled along the old railway track, now a walking trail, past paperbarks, wattle and plants I cannot name. I absorbed the perfect stillness of the day, talking with my companion, glancing at the changing landscape- wetlands, little tracks to the shoreline, a hillside cutting, tall trees, yellow sand on the tiny beaches, rocks, leaf litter with the rustle of lizards, the blue water, groups of gossiping birds, cormorants lazily taking off, dripping glistening drops, white wings surging, I did not think of the camera once. I was there, breathing in the freshness, the cool tunnel roof of trees, the soft footfall of the level track, loving conversation. We walked for two hours, past Pelican Island, Rabbit Island, remnants of a rudimentary jetty, in utter peace, with only the distant sounds of occasional traffic far away and no other people.

Last night I thought about blogging, because I am struck by how images dominate our world (more later) and I realised how much I love Sarah Toa’s blog,, because of her writing, but also the stunning pictures. These, notably the Neil fish paintings she has on her blog site, have been quite serendipitous for her creative career. They lure you into a world where the profound physical beauty of our environment is inescapably evident. It is the presence of the photographs which add authenticity to her almost tall stories of fishing adventures, so those of us who would never get up at four o’clock on a winter’s morning at remote Pallinup Inlet to go out in the dark to pull nets can truly understand why she is out there fishing and believe what she writes about it.

In wildlife documentaries, it is the images that astound us no less than Attenborough’s narration. We absorb endless magazine gloss, along with 3D-like websites and 4-wheel off road advertisements where we charge recklessly (but safely thanks to Holden) through forest tracks, or follow climbers all the way to the high Andes or Himalayas, or African desert dunes where lusciously beaded-with-sweat models sell perfume in silky floating fabric blown by hot winds.

I love them. They are cleverly constructed. The composition of each image or sequence is as satisfying as a red raspberry from the local deli when you first pop it into your mouth as a child. All hail graphic designers and advertising companies whose industry supplies us with sugar and sweetness, reassuring us that the world is indeed full of glamour and adventure!

We gaze into these images for such reassurance- that is how we look, that is how the world is, this is what’s available, this is how far we can travel. Look! Look!
Some years ago, discussing child rearing practices with a friend, I noticed the shift in modern society to an almost total- and utterly exhausting- focus on the child. In our quest to ameliorate child health problems and create a safer world for our tender offspring (admirable goals) we have intensified our gaze and our full attention is on the Child who has become the centre of the family and not just one part of it; witness rooms full of photos recording every triumph or lost tooth, reflecting back to the child at home how important he is. He can see photos of Himself at every age, every day, rather than photos of distant grandparents, aunts or friends. He is on display – even in the sanctuary of his own house, where it might be more prudent to allow space for growth and becoming, not fixing (as in glue) into a settled identity.
Fluidity and creativity seem to be the primary states of childhood- and yet so frequently parents seem more concerned with capturing each moment as if it might somehow otherwise slip away unnoticed. Or perhaps other people might not be aware what diligent parents they are, how loving, taking the child to every conceivable opportunity to develop his skills – sporting, musical, social, including international travel. Look here we are in Bali, cycling through the jungle. Here we are in Cambodia, nailing on the wooden sides of houses for our charity expedition. Look how special and good our children are. See how well we record each and every significant moment.
(I have to admit, the low cost and ease with which we can now click and create, photo shop or print onto every imaginable surface, allows the camera to be an omnipresent piece of technology. It is no longer the province of the wealthy. That universality brings a lot of joy which I cannot criticise. I just wonder what some of the consequences are.)
For an adopted child, even at the age of two, conscientious parents are having serious discussions, telling the big truth about the child’s origins and having picnics with other adoptive families of Chinese or Korean or Sudanese children, so that they can be made aware of how they fit into the larger global scheme of things, and that they are loved (presumably) but a wider family than the one whose house they live in. The watchful gaze centred on these children seems to be like a pressure cooker.
Surely children were designed to grow up watching others, watching adults, imitating learning by looking outwards, extending themselves, not having every slight breath or mouthful taken monitored in a with claustrophobic attention. Not to mention the photos taken, as a sign of complete love and devotion, even TV camera crews for programmes made about the family dynamics and how it all works. (So what’s it like, Hyacinth and Henry, bringing up a little black baby?) Children grow outwards, so adults need to step back and give them room to breathe, room to imitate, room to experiment safely. If you crowd them with reflections of themselves, how can they see horizons?
For those of you who don’t know, a school ball is now no longer a dance where you shyly stress about partners and winning the attention of the opposite sex. It is now an occasion where you dress up in a full length full gown, arrive perhaps even in a limo, and spend a good third of the night posing for a professional photographer – to show you were actually there? – Or to record that glamorous moment for posterity. The dancing is only a sideshow. There is no possibility of there being no photographer, both for personal orders and so that your school or college can have the photos reproduced as a full page spread in the local paper.
After a vigorous day on the spectacular site of College oval for the Inter-house Athletics Carnival, I saw some students in the library for after school tutorials. A colleague was kindly showing one senior student the photos of novelty events taken for the record, to put in the newsletter and the College annual magazine. Laptops and digital technology make this process as instant as like noodles. It’s heaps of fun and she was laughing. I was glad- but I wondered. Had she laughed at the time? Would she laugh when she retold events of the day to her parents around the table that night? Would a memory of that day light up her face as she told her grandchildren what sports days were like? Would she be able to remember the day without the photographs?
We know that for most of human history, storytelling has held a central place in our cultures, across the world. We still love gossip, fairy tales, Hollywood movies, novels and soapies. Just as around one third of a final year English exam (previously reading and writing) concerns itself with images and visual literacy, more and more of our world, our self-expression and our creativity relies on a visual images.
This wordless world has great possibilities. I only hope that one of them isn’t that we become so concerned with how we appear we lose touch completely with the depth of an inner self and the rich complexity of words, strung together in wonderful patterns and requiring imagination to fully appreciate. Joseph Chiltern Pearce’s book The End of Evolution has a section in which he explains how neural pathways are formed and how an overload of visual information physically deprives the mind of its natural ability to imagine, to create its own images.
Perhaps I should have taken my little blue camera, so that I could post photographs to my friends overseas and show them what they’ll see when they visit, or show them how I can spend a Saturday morning. Or so that I can remember our walk in twenty years? Perhaps I should just treasure my memory.

July 17, 2012

resonant stories

Posted in New stuff I'm noticing at 7:51 pm by ursli

Multicultural Education

A world of dolls- and stories including Ursli’s search for the bell.

A fantastic writer – have a look at his website.

travels from a reclining position

Posted in New stuff I'm noticing at 7:41 pm by ursli

I have always loved reading in bed. I have always chosen to write in bed. Now that I think about it, this private, comfortable place of solitude is the best spot for the initial daydreaming and playful thinking that accompanies escape through words.

Having discovered Mr Bs Emporium of Reading I went there, via the website. What a luscious environment! What clever business action! I feel I have been to Bath and smelt the rooms, been delighted by the sunlight at the curtained windows and overheard the staff chattering. I wish I were there again, at Mr Bs Bookspa.

Read away

Posted in New stuff I'm noticing at 6:55 pm by ursli

Mr Bs Emporium of Reading looks like a restful and restorative place to visit.

April 30, 2012

I love my son Tom

Posted in Commentary at 12:22 pm by ursli

I have to admit it. His brain is bigger than mine. I may have given birth to him, but his genes and his life circumstances have created a funny, witty, incisive mind. What I most admire is his engagement with the world, and with intellectual matters. He has a way of rushing forward with ideas, so that they pour out like a frothing, forceful, cascade at a waterfall. It is his birthday today. I am so glad he was born. I still remember looking up at his father when those magic words sounded- its a boy!- holding his hand, feeling wonderful. Thank you, both of you, for being who you are.

Having coffee in Cafe Turreno, Perugia

Posted in Looking back at 12:09 pm by ursli

Having coffee every morning is a delight. Patrizia greets us with Buongiorno carissmi! which is hello darlings, and begins making us our regular coffee which is a cappucino. We have a panino tonno e pomodoro and a brioche con mela and a chat. Sbagliando, s’impara means By making mistakes, you learn, which is what I am doing everyday since I don’t know the name for ironmonger or for screwdriver or dustbrush. I am not using a dictionary beause I am buying other books. So I muddle my way along.     I wrote this in January but forgot to publish it- never mind, here it is at last. Short and sweet.

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