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Netiquette: 3 essential guidelines for online behaviour

I’m frequently asked for advice regarding online communication, and, in particular, social media etiquette. It’s a conversation I’ve had with people of varying online experience over many years, about a conversation about communicating with clarity, with regard for ethics and etiquette.

Plenty of guides exist, as a simple search would reveal. For example, the BBC‘s netiquette page is a sturdy place to start. Many are geared toward social media behaviour for younger people: Achieve Virtual offers a comprehensive guide aimed at students, and also lists pertinent references. The sources are a few years old, but still relevant. There’s a particularly handy hint here, too: Read everything out loud before you post.

The nature of online communication means that messages must be simple, as they’re digested quickly. Misunderstanding abounds.

Include sarcasm and you dance beside an online minefield. Emoticons may shield you from explosions of misunderstanding, but be prepared for collateral damage.

Same goes for “quirky” humour (*see below).

Some people will judge your poor grammar and spelling. They may be potential clients, employers, friends, or lovers. These are not necessarily mean people; they just have high standards*.  (*Insert jokey emoticon of your choice here.)

Don’t steal other people’s stuff. Acknowledge where that meme, image, clever sentence, or concept came from. If you don’t know, at least acknowledge that it’s not yours. It works wonders for your credibility.

Understand that someone’s own perception is their reality, and try to empathise, perceptively, their reality. Understand that there’s a world of cultural differences out there.

After working with and teaching online communication (and using it personally!) for decades, I realise the conversation can spiral outwards like a lovely Mandelbrot iteration. Which is not a bad thing. But understanding the needs of social media communication, both ethical and etiquette, begins with three brief points. If you start here, you start well.

 

Netiquette: guidelines for online behaviourNote that we’re talking here about online communication for individuals, mainly. There’s a further level needed for commerce (including individuals – “influencers” – who virtually operate as businesses if they accept products and/or payment), but that’s an issue for another time.

  • Comments Off on Plastic bag ban backflip backflip: Coles the supermarket gymnast.

Plastic bag ban backflip backflip: Coles the supermarket gymnast.

 

*** As I wrote my way through this rant earlier today, Coles doubled down in backflip town. NOW they will cease handing out free bags at the end of August. While this will be, eventually, good news, I thought I’d set this piece free anyway. Because, honestly, some of you bloody whingers need to get your act together.***

Oh, I am more than a little annoyed.

And I’m supposed to write nicely to you. I understand that the philosophy behind public engagement encourages a supportive approach to making people feel like a valued part of the proposed change, to assist in dealing with the challenge of adopting different behaviours (particularly when these behaviours are beneficial to society), to speak kindly and help people feel loved and relevant, as part of the behavioural change that’s happening, so they’ll own a slice of the conversation and not walk away from it all…

But BUGGER IT, I AM BLOODY CRANKY.

You are a bunch of big whingeing entitled waste babies.

Seriously.

Coles, all you had to do was get your message right. You even had a scapegoat, for Uma’s sake, since the plastic bag ban IS LAW.

And people. You big waste babies. All YOU had to do is REMEMBER TO CARRY YOUR OWN GODDAMN BAG.

Yes, Coles, you are freaking commercial cowards. But, this time, blame doesn’t rest solely with the big guys. Because I’m sure those “reuseable” thicker plastic bags cost a stack of a lot more than the thin grey turtle killers. I guess this current situation is not your ideal choice, either. Your stupid competitive approach, rather than collaborating with Woolies on this issue, has done you in.

No, wastebabies, this one’s on you. Con-freaking-gratulations, you win. You’ve taken a positive piece of legislation (here in Queensland) and MADE THINGS WORSE THAN BEFORE.  ‘Cause look around – do you see many of those “reusable” bags walking with their big wastebaby owners back into Coles?

You asked for it, no, demanded it, when you whinged and whined and bullied checkout operators for the plastic you see as your entitlement.

Over the past week, I have visited an Indian takeaway in West End, a bakery in Highgate Hill, and a general store in Darra. Each of these establishments displayed a sign at the counter, prominent and at eye level, stating that because of the new Queensland law, they could not provide plastic bags, but a “reusable” bag could be purchased for ten cents. Yet, at each of these three stores, the assistant automatically moved to place my purchases in a plastic bag – without even asking me, and definitely without asking for ten cents. Why? My guess is to avoid the hassle/drama/angst/abuse they’ve been copping from customers, those wastebabies who feel that somehow they are missing out on their free plastic bag entitlement. So these small businesses now absorb a fee that their customers should be paying, a fee designed to encourage people to remember to carry a bag into a shop. Even if Coles stops giving out free bags at the end of the month, will all these smaller businesses cop it? Lose, lose.

It’s not as if Australia is leading any plastic-bag-free charge here. (South Australia, maybe.) Dozens of countries have instigated bans or levies over the past decade or so. Bangladesh was the first, after plastic bags waste contributed so seriously to floods in that country. For Bangladesh, it was, literally, a life-and-death decision.

 

Where? When? Ban or levy/tax?
Antigua and Barbuda 2016 ban
Bangladesh 2002 ban
Belgium (Wallonia, Brussels, Flanders) levy
Belize 2019 ban
Benin 2017 ban
Bhutan 2009 ban
Botswana 2007 levy
Buenos Aires, Argentina 2017 ban
Bulgaria 2011 levy
Cambodia 2017 levy
Cameroon 2014 ban
Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward, Quebec) ban
Catalonia 2017 levy
China 2008 ban
Croatia 2019 levy
Cyprus 2018 levy
Czech Republic 2018 ban
Denmark 2003 levy
England 2015 levy
Eritrea 2005 ban
Estonia 2017 levy
Finland 2016 levy
France 2016 ban
Gabon 2010 ban
Gambia 2015 ban
Georgia 2017 ban
Germany 2016 levy
Greece 2018 levy
Greenland 2004 levy
Guinea-Bissau 2016 ban
Haiti 2012 ban
Hong Kong 2015 levy
India (Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Mumbai, Maharashtra)
Indonesia 2016 levy
Ireland 2002 levy
Israel 2017 levy
Italy 2011 ban
Ivory Coast 2014 ban
Kenya 2017 ban
La Paz, Bolivia
Latvia 2019 levy
Lithuania 2018 levy
Luxembourg 2004 levy
Madagascar 2015 ban
Malawi 2015 ban
Mali 2013 ban
Malta 2009 levy
Mauritania 2013 ban
Moldova 2017 ban
Morocco 2016 ban
Mozambique 2016 levy
Myanmar (Rangoon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw)
N’Djamena, Chad ban
Nepal 2015 ban
Netherlands 2016 ban
Niger 2013 ban
Northern Ireland 2013 levy
Panama 2020 ban
Papua New Guinea 2016 ban
Penang, Malaysia 2011 levy
Poland 2018 levy
Portugal 2015 levy
Republic of the Congo 2011 ban
Romania 2011 levy
Rwanda 2008 ban
Sao Paulo, Brazil 2015 ban
Scotland 2014 levy
Senegal 2015 ban
Serbia 2018 ban
Slovakia 2018 levy
Slovenia 2019 ban
Somalia 2015 ban
South Africa 2004 levy
Spain 2018 levy
Sri Lanka 2017 ban
Sweden 2017 ban
Taiwan 2019 ban
Tanzania 2005 ban
Tunisia 2017 ban
Turkey 2018 levy
United States(California, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Hawaii)
Vanuatu 2018 ban
Wales 2011 levy
Australia
South Australia 2009 ban
ACT 2011 ban
NT 2011 ban
Tasmania 2013 ban
Queensland 2018 ban
Western Australia 2018 ban
Victoria 2018 ban

 

 

What drives this international swell against plastic bags? Concern about the impact that bags have on the landscape? Self interest (some African bans follow loss of livestock after eating bags)? Marine impacts (heard of floating syndrome in turtles? It’s awful.)? Aesthetics? Common bloody sense?*

Apart from being a decent and conscious human being, yes, I have historical skin in this game. In 2012, I accepted a contract to work with an environmental organisation to coordinate a campaign designed to remove free plastic bags from shops in Queensland. When I began, the fledgling campaign had been tentatively named “Ban the Bag”, but in the interests of a more positive approach, I changed this to “Plastic Bag Free Queensland (PBFQ)”.

409632_456551054408693_1850491534_n-2It was my first engagement in the environment sector since 1989, when I worked at the incipient Brisbane office of Greenpeace Australia as one of their original volunteers, helping launch the “Adopt-a-Beach” campaign. This, the first Greenpeace campaign for Queensland (somewhat presciently) involved cleaning up waterways and beaches in a forerunner to the excellent work now done by organisations such as Tangaroa Blue.

Like Adopt-a-Beach 20-odd years earlier, PBFQ was launched with a function on the shores of Moreton Bay, as marine impacts were (and are) one major reason why the removal of plastic bags is so important. More on that, elsewhere*. Clean Up Australia’s legendary Ian Kiernan AO joined John Phillips OAM from Keep South Australia Beautiful to help launch the campaign. Within months, an online community of over 2000 supporters rallied.  Key public figures from Bindi Irwin to Michael Zavros pledged their support. Chef Ben O’Donoghue donated a day of his life to film a fantastic short film called “Gutful” thanks to the generosity of Phil MacDonald and his team at GPYR. No less than three Australians of the Year (Kiernan, Peter Doherty AO, and Ian Lowe AO) joined supporters Nick Earls, Veny Armanno, Jessica Watson, and many others.

 

The PBFQ position was not without its challenges, and not just the political climate in which it dwelled. I’d brought my inner teenage environmentalist along to the gig, and her naivety was tested by office bullies and personal politics. I was working in an unwell organisation. In addition, I experienced a little shades-of-green environmental angst. A certain corner of the movement felt that plastic bag ban campaigns were a misguided use of limited resources that should be directed towards serious, pressing “dark green” issues such as climate change. I understand the validity of this argument. However, in an interesting discussion with Ian Kiernan, I saw how waste issues could be considered a gateway to a deeper form of environmentalism. His philosophy was that waste is tangible to all (eventually, even those who forget their reusable supermarket bags), and that an awareness of the waste that we produce as humans leads to an awareness of our environment in general, and our impact upon it. When you realise “there is no away”, you question much of our consumerism and disposable society.

PBFQ was smashed to bits in a single morning. A new import, a right-leaning editor of the state’s newspaper got wind of a discussion paper (considering a possible plastic bag ban or levy) being considered by the LNP government. His front page dog-whistle (the incorrect and histrionic “Shoppers will be slugged $2 for a bag”) to the premier was answered by Newman’s unilateral decree “There will be no slug” – which he announced immediately, without any cabinet consultation (Welcome to Queensland). Death by slug.

And a certain mindset of plastic bag entitlement was strengthened, a progressive opportunity lost. Why do people think they are losing some basic right when losing access to free plastic bags?

On a distant acquaintance’s Facebook, I read a boast about how she just “used lots of those produce bags” to get around the ban. Really? What an effort. How about applying that energy towards carrying a big reusable bag? Whatever would you do with all those bags afterwards? I guess they’d go straight in the bin, being too small for much else.

One main reason behind removing free plastic bags is to prevent them from escaping into the environment, particularly the marine environment. They’re slippery little suckers. Granted, when they are wrapped around household rubbish, they’re less likely to blow away. But is this even necessary?

“But what will I use in my bin?”

Oh, please. I’ve been having this friggin conversation for six years. I guess another hour won’t hurt.

  1. You don’t need to line your bin. Simple. Got a hose? Dump the kitchen bin into the big bin, and hose your kitchen bin out.
  2. Too icky? Put a bit of newspaper at the bottom of the bin. Or junk mail. Or scrap paper.
  3. Use bread bags, or pasta bags, or juice cartons, for the meaty/messy stuff. Make compost with your scraps rather than putting them in the bin. I’ve had two healthy worm farms on tiny unit balconies; it’s not hard.
  4. Use a box.
  5. Wrap rubbish in newspaper if you’re in a unit and need to put it in a chute.
  6. Really must line that bin? Then buy a goddamn bin liner. You’ll still use less plastic if you take your own bags to the supermarket and buy bin liners. Look for compostable, not just degradable. Bags labelled biodegradable bags are frequently still plastic, and still stay in the environment for 1000 years.

In ACT and SA, sales of bin liners, it was reported, did increase a little after the plastic bag bans – but not as much as expected. And in ACT, bin liner sales actually dropped, as people looked at other options.

And even if bin liner sales HAD increased by 100%, this is nothing like the amount of plastic supermarket bags that had stopped being handed out. The South Australian government estimates that their ban has saved 400 million bags annually.

Happy birthday! Taking part in a beach clean up on Moreton Island, May 2012.

Happy birthday! Taking part in a beach clean up on Moreton Island, May 2012.

 

*For more information about the impact of marine and other impacts of plastic bags and other plastic waste, here are a few links.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-12/what-you-can-do-to-reduce-plastic-pollution/9642352

https://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/impacts

http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-02-27/plastic-and-plastic-waste-explained/8301316

https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/waste-pollution/plastic-bag-ban/environmental-impacts

http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/impacts-plastic-debris-australian-marine-wildlife

https://greenerideal.com/news/environment/0613-how-do-plastic-bags-affect-our-environment/

http://qldbagban.com.au/plastic-bags-costs-environment-economy/

 

Other references

http://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/curious-canberra/2017-08-28/does-a-plastic-bag-ban-cause-a-spike-in-the-use-of-bin-bags/8819504

http://wastemanagementreview.com.au/ban-the-bag-debate/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags

http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/plastic

 

Bringing back MacBride

File this story under op-shopper’s boast, except, you know, I wasn’t even in an op-shop at the time.

But heavens, what a discovery.

 

I can’t even remember the original reason I was in Reverse Garbage, now, but it wasn’t to look for paintings. Yet there they were, four or five boxes of them: all oils, most in lovely vintage frames. Coastal landscapes, a few portraits, rural scenes, waterways, forests, a horse or two. And florals, arrangement upon arrangement.

I pulled some striking pieces out, and then some more.

Heather MacBride

Glasshouse mountains and wide sandbanks. A dark little rainforest. A small town harbour with 1970s-era boats, I held on to with the self-deluding excuse: my partner would love this (it’s really for me). A Lynch-esque portrait gripped me. I gathered flowers to create a feature salon hang for my parents’ wall. A bouquet in old oil.

Heather MacBride

Feeling greedy, I returned a few to the pile. Two portraits replaced I now particularly regret. I halved my swag and still walked away with a dozen beautiful paintings. At home, away from that junky environment, they glowed. I stared at them on the tiled floor.

Why would anyone dump these at Reverse Garbage?

I sent a picture to a friend who I know was in the market for similar vintage floral oils. I sent a picture to another vintage-art loving friend.

Heather MacBride

I examined the signature: H MacBride. Deceased estate, I assumed. There would have been a hundred paintings in those boxes.

Most had a description pencilled on the back. A pattern emerged. I noted the majority of landscape painted was southeast Queensland coast or hinterland, from north of of Brisbane to Coolum, and particularly Caloundra and the Pumicestone Passage.

Caloundra by Heather MacBride

My friend Wendy grew up in Caloundra in the 1950s and 60s, and knew artists there. I sent a speculative message. Any clues about this dumped art? Who was H MacBride?

“That must be Heather MacBride,” she responded. “I heard she died a few months ago.”

“She surfed with Ma and Pa Bendall.”

I sent through the portrait: yes, it was a self portrait of Heather MacBride.

Bingo.

I GoScreen Shot 2018-01-12 at 12.51.30 PMogled, and found a tantalizing slice of an obituary for Heather MacBride, but the link was broken.

 

My friend texted back: an image of eight floral oil paintings. So did my other friend, who was ecstatic at her haul of beach scenes and flowers. In their images, I noticed beautiful paintings that I hadn’t seen in the RG boxes, earlier.

There must have been more!!!

Wendy sent a message asking if I could pick some up for her. It was Saturday afternoon, and RG would close in 5 minutes. I made plans to be there Monday.

Some of the work had been framed in gorgeous old frames, particularly the larger paintings. I dreaded to think that these had been collected by people to use the frame only, and I hoped that the paintings wouldn’t be dumped. The two portraits I’d left behind haunted me: one was of a swarthy man with an intense gaze, the other a blue-eyed woman in a red scarf, hand on chin, looking pensive.

I arrived a few minutes before RG opened on Monday, and asked about the paintings. As much as I love RG, I explained my surprise at the art ending up here (at a depot to recycle materials otherwise destined for landfill) rather than an op-shop, or even a gallery?

The driver who’d collected the donation happened to be on-site: he explained that he’d picked up around 300 works of art from a man in a suburb on the north of Brisbane. He thought it was the artist’s nephew.

But didn’t anyone in the family want her work?

The driver believed that the family had already taken what they wanted (or could). These were the rejects! They’d also offered them to some places in Caloundra, and the regional gallery, he said, but nobody was interested. The collection was too large. RG was a distress option.

I explained that I had been asked to buy some work for an old acquaintance of the a
rtist, and was invited into the back room, where another hundred or so paintings were waiting to be priced. Some of these works were of lesser quality, but amongst the dusty frames were more gems.

Sadly, my two portraits were long gone, but I discovered another image of the blue-eyed lady in this back room.Heather MacBride
I gathered paintings like it was Christmas.

 


 

Later, I give away paintings like it’s Christmas, and it is so much fun. Friends have floral arrangements, surf breaks, a serene image of a canoe on the upper reaches of the Brisbane River.

A discerning connoisseur visits and falls for the portrait of Chairman Mao as a young man, so I give it to him. I complete my parent’s salon hang wall, and create a small collection of hibiscus paintings at home. I am a little bit in love with Heather MacBride, and I wish I’d met her.

Wendy’s mum tells me she was a doctor in Caloundra. She went to Caloundra State School, then Nambour High (“I don’t think she wore shoes until she went to high school,” she says.).

Wendy sends me the cover of a 2018 calendar put out by Caloundra council.

There, amongst the Moffateers, is Heather MacBride and her surfboard in 1974. She is beautiful.

The Moffateers, Caloundra

The Moffateers, Caloundra, 1974. Heather MacBride is at left.

 

 

Art in the community

TRACE4101 2017 FB bannerIt has been an absolute delight to work with the TRACE4101 team to bring TRACE 2017 to the public.

TRACE4101 is a biennial contemporary art exhibition and auction that takes place throughout the streets of West End (hence the “4101”: we dig our postcode in these parts). And the art is outstanding. I’d fallen in to TRACEd throes two years ago, being able to stare for eons at a powerful work by Vernon Ah Kee in Charlie and Liz’s fruit shop, among many other highlights.*

Gordon BennettTrace 2017 is the second TRACE4101, and it’s equally awesome. I get to look at this year’s art a lot more, too, as I’d been asked to help out with social media (you can *like* your life away here and here), and have been behind a camera while the indomitable Bec Mac interviews TRACE subjects for the new POPSART series (more on POPSART, to come). People like artist Joe Furlonger, such a lovely subject, my newest art crush Ross Manning (*sigh*), Judy Watson, and effervescent Leanne Bennett, who has donated 100% of the proceeds of a significant work by her late husband Gordon Bennett to TRACE4101.

TRACE owes its existence to the stamina and perseverance of its founders, force-of-nature Marilyn Trad and designer Jason Grant, who writes about the exhibition on his inkahoots blog (where you will also find a shout-out to the rest of the stellar crew).

It raises funds for the work at Community Plus+, which is a very good thing.

 

*The work sold; I know where you live.

Wordsmithery

 

Bowie noseAt this delightful soiree a few weeks ago, mid-anecdote, I was whacked with one of those personal life realisations: not quite an epiphany but probably not far off.

It was a fabulous shindig: a local landscaper, nursery owner, and all-round bon vivant threw a party to celebrate his premises expanding from the heritage brick bakery into a vast white warehouse next door. So he invited a half-dozen aerosol artists over to paint the walls, popped up some scaffolding, opened the gates to a couple hundred of the neighbourhood’s finest citizens, whacked a lot of booze in ice tubs and some fume-protecting masks on the tables, and threw a bash* that lasted well past dawn. Or so I am told.

I’d remembered how, in a low demand period of my writing life, a few years ago, I’d seen a help wanted sign in this nursery. I love gardening, and the thought of getting to hang out around plants for a day or two a week tempted, despite the pay cut.

So, as I told my polite-but-probably-bored audience at the party, I wrote an email to the business owner. This bloke, incidentally, knew I was no horticulturist, and that my frontline retail experience was faded beyond recognition, and that I probably couldn’t even lift half the pots in the showroom. But Christ I loved writing that email. Necessary words and useless words about random things that may have been related to the position, or may not. Like my infatuation with Costa Georgiadis (pre-ABC, mind, when he was still on SBS and before he was media-trained to speak like every other… incorrectly punctuated… newsreader). And inheriting a rose garden, even though I’m not really that type of girl. And weeding.

Of course I didn’t follow it up, and of course he didn’t even reply. Was probably scared out of his wits. Perhaps he’d never received such a fiercely gonzo application before. But while recounting the story, I became aware that this was around the same time that I had been receiving comments on things that I was listing on Ebay in an attempt** to de-clutter. I had listed some of the op-shop treasures that were hulking in crowded corners of the house, and may have had a bit too much fun with the descriptions. I had a couple (yes, more than one) comments from people saying, “When are you going to list some more things? Your descriptions are hilarious.” And “I don’t want to buy anything but I’ve just favourited your account because I love reading your stuff.” I think I was funny, too, but I’ll never know because I didn’t keep a copy and Ebay surely doesn’t have any sentiment for old content either.

With a flash of lovely hindsight, I see now that I wasn’t doing much writing about this time. And so, I’d relished any chance to get my hands wordy, to knead sentences until my knuckles ached, and flick punctuation around for fun. Because I am a wordsmith. I may not be a particularly interesting writer, I can appreciate this sad fact, but I need to write. I realise how lucky I am that writing occupies a significant proportion of my working hours.

And it’s a trade. It’s my trade. The more I write, the less the subject even matters – it’s all about the action, the work, the process of clicking these strokes together to make some sort of sense for a reader. I love writing for clients in fields I know little about, because then I get to learn a bit about something as well. And I love creating something from nothing. Words fly together in my head when I’m in the shower. Sometimes I even write them down. As much as writing, I love the edit. I love to chop dead limbs away, or leave that little bit of purple there if it helps with tone. I actually was the little girl who said she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, and although most of my writing goes unacknowledged as “mine”, I don’t care.

By the way, I’m not sure what the point of this post was, and it contains far too many personal pronouns for my taste. Also, I’m going to stick it straight up without proofing it or giving it a tidy-up edit, because I’m anticipating delightful irony for you, dear reader, when you see a whole shipload of infelicities in a blog post about the act of writing for work.

But gosh it was fun to write.

 

 

*soiree, shindig, party… Yes, Ros would scold me for “thesaurus syndrome” here, but I do like all those festive synonyms rolling around that paragraph

**unsuccessful

 

 

Mourning trees

At risk of being outed as a tragic old hippy, I’m mourning a tree. Again.

This tree-mourning, I’ve only just realised it even happens. This time, this tree. It wasn’t even a significant tree, or a pretty tree, or even my tree. Just a big, old tree.

My neighbours, I like them, and I think they thought I’d be happy to see it go. Its absence would impress real estate-y types. Our outlook has been, they would say, enhanced. The aspect to the north-east has opened substantially with the tree’s departure. Property values probably up up up. Whoopee.

It was an old pecan, too tall for us to reach any nuts (but the cockatoos could). Some of it was dead, but not all. And when the branches were all stacked on the truck on Saturday, when they were cut and stacked to be taken away, you could see all its little spring buds ready to burst. As it transpires, never to open, but ready anyway. As a deciduous tree, it did us all a favour, keeping a few houses in a row cooler in summer and letting winter sun through.

It’s not the first tree felling to make me sad, but I’ve only just named these individual sadnesses as actual mourning. The old fig up the coast at my folks’ house, the one that cooled and protected a garden and homed birds and bugs and green tree snakes… whole bloody communities of critters. Cut down by its “owner”, and we’re not quite sure why. It’s hot up there now, in that yard.

The common mango in my street.

The big old school fig, 120+ years old, lost in a storm; the same storm took some of the figs down near the river, including the one with the secret cave that my boys and their friends liked to hide in.

The leopard tree at the house I grew up in, planted by one of the first families in the area, maybe the first exotic in Sherwood. I used to look out my bedroom window and watch kingfishers nest in its fork, as a teenager.

The 60-year-old magnolia we lost in a drought.

The 80-year-old banksia, the ancient melealuca, and every other single tree on the block of a house in Yaroomba, cleared for an architect’s ugly folly. (The neighbour’s son used to play on the footpath; it was the only land spare.)

When these big trees go, it’s rare that anyone checks them for nests first, and this makes me sad, too.

Bloody hippy.

 

The common mango

There’s this guy who lives in my street. Called Dutch. Rides a motorbike. Looks like the type of cat who’s already gone through a few of his nine lives. Lives in the front half of a rented place at the bottom of the hill.

Dutch, of course, is not his actual name. I don’t know what name he was given at birth. I asked him once; he laughed at me. I don’t know how long he’s lived in this street: longer than us, probably quite a long time. He’s good for a chat.

Out the front of Dutch’s place was a magnificent gnarly old tree: one of those old-school no-nonsense common mangoes. The kind whose fruit is good for Asian salads and daiquiris, but too stringy to eat straight up, compared to designer mango brands trucked down from FNQ. This tree, a densely canopied beauty whose blossoms cranked the birds, its leaves threw the coolest shade. Dutch, you could tell, Dutch was proud of “his” tree. (It seemed quaintly contra-character, the way he called it “my tree”. Un-tough.) It’s how I met him, originally – I think it’s how half the neighbourhood met him – when one summer I picked my way through the bike parts decorating his front path to ask if I could please pick some of the green fruit to make a salad? It became a summer ritual, picking Dutch’s green mangoes. Heaps of the neighbourhood did it. I made salads (Dutch’s mangoes were always in a salad on our Christmas table); some made pickles. Standing on the footpath outside, I once watched a cheeky Vietnamese woman drive up, park underneath, and unload the branches from the bonnet of her car. Last year, Dutch’s neighbour stood on his own car bonnet to pick late-season fruit for me.

It was Dutch’s conduit to the community. A sweet crack in tough-guy exterior.

And mangoes for all. This year promised to be the best yet: just last month, the tree was so fecund with blossom I stuck a picture of it on Instagram (it wasn’t very good). We were excited. The common mango blossom

Then this week, walking down the street, I become muddled in my bearings. One of those shaky virtual-reality moments slows my feet, and I stop outside a house I can’t quite recognize. The massive old mango has vanished.

Later, I see Dutch, ask what happened. He looks sad. He says he has no idea. Woke one morning and “a couple of tree guys” were on his front lawn. Someone had complained about the tree to his landlord. He didn’t know what sort of complaint. Blossom dropping? Says if they’d just spoken to him, he would have taken some branches off the front if they were in anyone’s way (they weren’t) – it’s what he did each year, just hadn’t got around to it this year. Says he wishes his landlord had spoken to him about it. Says he’s not sure what to plant in its place.

Says, “Why didn’t they just speak to me?”

Says he thinks it might get a bit hot, his house, this summer.

We discuss the tree’s unprecedented blossom this year. Shake our heads. I say I have a frangipani in a pot, if he wants it. The November sun, glaring across his bare front yard, hurts my eyes.

Winter sun

It’s one of those winter mornings when the slanting sunlight is a treasure. Our morning schedule is thrown sideways by the end of school holidays colliding with the 5am World Cup final, so I drop my partner at work over the Victoria Bridge.

We are fortunate to spend a few traffic light changes waiting on the bridge in cross-river traffic. Fortunate because, looking up, we catch miraculous smoke above the Treasury Building. The sun’s rays, angled from the north, grab hold of steam rising from the old building’s vents. The steam twists, throwing rainbow clouds of sunbeams. Refracted? Reflected? It’s like someone’s barbecuing unicorns in the casino below. The spectrum bends in two columns, rainbow clouds.

 

Back home fifteen minutes later, I take last night’s scraps down to the chickens. Turn on the hose. Our lawn is brown. It seems we’re heading back into drought; I’ll just hit the essentials. (Also, the necessity of a full day of work is muscling in on my desire to stand here and dreamily water the garden for an hour.)

The essentials: some seedlings planted on the weekend, the chickens’ water bowl, a transplanted lime, the bird baths. There mustn’t be much water around, because I’ve already been visited this morning by some of the regulars. Common city birds. Timid wattle birds, a young magpie, crows all drink from my garden’s water bowls.

A noisy miner lands on the ancient rose beside the largest bird bath. It’s cool (for our subtropics), but he dives in, rolling around and splashing. He’s bathing with what I imagine as anthropomorphized delight.  Sunlight streams from the north behind him. As the bird moves, drops of water splay, catching beams. Throwing the sun back out over the roses’ bare limbs. Again he dives, rolls, splashes, and returns to his branch. Then back to the water, flapping and shaking, broadcasting gold spray.

It’s too gorgeous.

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