Friday, 20 March 2015


As Grumps walked along, he could feel Oli’s hand, small and trusting, in his own.  There was a time, he supposed, rubbing his free hand across the stubble on his chin, when his own hand had been as soft. Now it was burred and scarred.

 ‘What’s that?’ Oli asked, pumping his two-year-old legs to keep up.

‘They’re cows,’ Grumps replied, eyeing the Friesians in the field ahead.

Almost on instinct, Grumps took in the information about his dairy farm. He’d been born here one winter morning nearly seventy years ago, and there was nowhere in the universe that he knew better.

With a single glance he counted the cows (forty with calves at foot), he assessed when he would need to move the cows to preserve the paddock’s carrying capacity (Tuesday next week, around lunchtime), and he estimated how much he would make at market when he sold the yearlings (not as much as last year before the drought broke).

He stopped next to the gate, opening its catch. ‘Come through mate,’ he said to Oli who stepped around a cow-pat and stood on tippy-toes to push the latch back into place.

He liked helping Grumps. It made him feel grown up and competent with technical things – and Grumps had a lot of those.

His favourite place was in the shed. This was where Grumps had let him hold a funnel while he poured oil into a jerry can. Oli even helped wipe around the lid with a rag made from an old singlet. Another time he had helped Grumps straighten nails with a hammer. That took all afternoon.

‘For next time,’ Grumps had said, placing all the nails into an old jar on the shelf where he kept his tools.

This morning, as Oli made his way around the paddock with Grumps, he noticed that there were hundreds of spiderwebs strung between the wire strands of the fence. When he looked closely he saw that they shimmered in the morning sun because dew drops had collected on them overnight. He touched one, sending the dew drops scattering, but when he pulled his finger away, the web stuck to him and broke.

Oli thought he might cry, but Grumps distracted him. ‘Look over here,’ he said, leading Oli to where a newborn calf was nursing from its mother.

‘It’s hungry,’ Oli observed, watching the calf flick its tail while it drank. He flicked his fingers in time with it, and edged closer.

The cow wasn’t happy and shook her head at Oli. When she mooed, Oli jumped back, frightened, and hid behind Grumps.

‘Breakfast time for all hungry littlies,’ Grumps said, suppressing a smile as he picked up Oli and walked towards the house.

Oli had recovered from his fright by the time they arrived at the gate, and he fastened the latch. All by himself.

‘Can we go to the shed later?’ Oli asked, keen to be with Grumps.

‘Yes mate,’ Grumps said, laughing. ‘Where would I be without my helper?’

Friday, 13 March 2015

Drive Towards Mullumbimby

When I crest the hill I see the curve of the land cupping the bay and holding it up to the horizon. As I drive towards Mullumbimby, hugged in the palm of the land, the thumb of the lighthouse is at one end of the bay and the skyscraper fingers of the Gold Coast are at the other.

Each time I see this I feel the same kind of wonder that I experienced the day Dad had opened his hands to show me the surprise nestled inside; a blue diamond butterfly that had flicked its wings before flying into the sky.

Drive Towards Mullumbimby: Karin Maier 2015

Our farm was wrapped in the embrace of ancient hills that spoke of the time when volcanoes ruled. The valleys held remnant rainforests that drew on this alluvial legacy, making ferns and orchids that were too fragile to pick. 

As a child I played in the cold, cold water of springs that tumbled down the rocky steps of waterfalls. I squeezed the silt, soft as silk, between my toes. It seemed like a paradise full of treasure.

‘What do you think I’ve got?’ Dad asked, playing the game that required me to guess.

‘A flower?’

‘A sparkly stone?’

Often it was a dandelion ready to be blown. Sometimes a piece of quartz washed from the mountain. But it might also be a beetle, shiny and iridescent like a Christmas decoration. Or a cicada, green and quivering with the noise of its life that seemed somehow trapped inside it. This time it was the butterfly.

‘Look how it goes,’ he said.

I watched its wings beat up and down. The propulsion took it into the green leaves of a tree and it flew there a while in the dappled light. Exhausted, it settled on a branch.

‘Will it die?’ I asked, knowing even then that all creatures have a time and place allotted.

‘Eventually,’ Dad said.

We stood for a moment, acknowledging that truth.

As an adult, I value that instance of honesty more and more. It held within it the need for urgency; to do what you can with the time you have. Your wings may be small, but they can lift you.

So today I am trying to fly - into an expanse of creativity, mapped against the contours of the place that nurtured me. Every heartbeat pumps a memory. I breathe the ageless air that lifted the butterfly and I know I am coming home.  

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


Squinting against the sun, the boy lifted his sand encrusted face.

So thirsty

Slowly, struggling in the heat, he sat up. The ocean that had wrested his fishing boat from him in a gale was now supine, resting itself on the white sand where it had tossed him in its earlier fury. Fragments of his vessel were strewn along the high tide mark; the splintered deck, some coiled rope, a flask.

Seeing the flask, the boy scrabbled across the sand on all fours.

Must drink

Water spilled over his face in his eagerness. It dripped into his tangled hair and onto his chest where it stung scratches he had sustained in the storm. After gulping half the water, he looked around him, taking stock. The beach was small, no more than a dimple in the coastline, and indistinguishable from a dozen others. He felt a momentary panic as he tried to find his bearings.


Cliffs, red and ragged, but perhaps offering a foothold, bounded the beach. This meant he had drifted south, well beyond the usual fishing grounds. If he could climb the cliff, he knew it would take him days to walk home.

His belly rumbled and he realised he had not eaten, having fought the storm overnight and then been unconscious all day.

Need food

Rocks on one end of the beach offered the best prospect for foraging, so the boy walked towards the outcrop, collecting any flotsam that he thought useful. When he arrived at the serrated-edged rock-pools he held the rope, his jacket which had been lying under a pile of kelp, some splintered planks that he intended to use for kindling if his tinderbox dried out, and a piece of frayed netting that might be repaired.

Peering into the pools, the boy found them inhabited by crabs, small fish and molluscs.

A feast

The tide was turning, and when the cliff’s shadow fell across his shoulders, the boy began looking for a sheltered place to spend the night. Scrub and heath covered the clifftop, but he thought he saw an indentation, perhaps a cave, partway up. Using the rope, the boy tied together the wood and netting, into which he had placed two small crabs.

Seeking a foothold, his limbs ached as he hung against the cliff face. The pads of his fingers bled where the rocks had cut them and he regretted carrying the net which caught on the spiky shrubs that somehow eked an existence in the cliff’s fissures. Somewhere above him was the cave, although he could no longer see it and doubted he would be able to reach it before dark.

Keep going up

He forced himself to climb further and as he did, he thought about his family. Perhaps they were looking for him. Or they may think him dead.

But I’m not

At last his fingers found a ledge, and hauling himself over it he lay there panting, watching the last of the light fade.

I’ll survive

Friday, 6 March 2015


The bundle of conference papers LJ carried was becoming crumpled as she scanned the eager faces of the crowd for the colleague she was meant to meet. Hawaii was the third Pacific country she’d been to this week, and the novelty of airports was wearing thin. As the humidity engulfed her, she wondered again about the impact of global warming, and was grateful for a job that enabled her to make a positive difference, however small.

‘Sorry!’ her colleague called, pushing through the crowd to help LJ with her bags. ‘I was running on local time.’

‘Are we doing the set-up today?’ LJ asked, referring to the conference preparations. She liked to make sure the meeting rooms were arranged and the microphones and PowerPoint were working. Last minute glitches with technology were all too frequent, and detracted from the message she was here to present.

‘Sure,’ said her colleague who knew from experience that LJ would not be happy until after the venue was sorted.

Looking at the lectern and the circle of chairs LJ was reminded of the heated discussions she had attended recently in Kiribati. Delegates from some of the smaller Pacific Islands had been frustrated by the higher ocean levels and the repeated inundation of their homes. They threatened a walk-out at the apparent lack of commitment to change on the part of larger, more developed nations. It had taken all her powers of persuasion to prevent this happening and to move the discussion along. In the end an agreement of sorts had been reached, and she now looked forward to months of shuttle diplomacy as the details were refined.

I need some fresh air,’ LJ announced, suddenly realising that her jetlag was taking hold.

'Come on,' replied her colleague.

An hour later, standing on a mountain outside the city, LJ followed her colleague as she shared some simple poses. ‘You will feel the power of the island inside you,’ her colleague said, beginning to stretch.

To her surprise, as LJ emulated the island’s rugged peaks by pointing her toes to the sky, a sense of calm and equilibrium enveloped her. When she curved her body like the waves rolling in and settling on the sand below, she realised they had travelled across the expanse of the Pacific. Just like me, she thought. 

The next day at the conference, buoyed by the island’s energy, LJ found that an unusual harmony had calmed the fractious delegates. She drew in a deep breath, remembering the feeling she had experienced as she stretched in the sun. From now on, she resolved, I will carry the strength of the mountain and the persistence of the waves inside me. 

As a Hawaiian song drifted across the conference room, LJ hoped there might one day be a solution to the rising tides that battered islands like Kiribati.