Tag Archives: migration

Cool Bird


A bar-headed goose
and her ten goslings
nest in a belt of superlatives

Himalayas rifted with granites
and acid volcanoes

She would prefer glacial rivers
away from ramparts

of thin air and a tough life
but old habits

At quiet times
she’s disturbed by novice monks
honking their silly horns

Herons make a racket
trumpeting the secret of long life

and when there is a sky burial
saffron robes climb a revered peak

eyed by snow leopard
hungry as China’s sorrow

When the urge comes
beaks become missiles

gearing south in an arrow
as cold brings new smells
to the mountain

First published in Under the Radar, 2016

The Golden Age Joan London Review by Julie Maclean

imagesimages (1)







Speak to anyone of school age in the fifties and they may recall hearing or chanting cruel names and running a mile from the callipers of polio survivors. London’s latest novel is a poignant and important story set in a convalescent home for victims of the disease after WWII when Australia was thronging with new arrivals and refugees from Europe.

This book is strong on place but especially on people; their inner lives and anxieties around separation and containment. London knows people, their motivations and disappointments and she knows of their resilience and ability to adapt. ‘The Golden Age’ is written in elegant and confident prose with the added bonus, to me, of it being about an aspiring poet, Frank.

‘Meyer knew Frank loved him intensely. As Ida did. As had his parents and his brothers and his one poor little sister, Roszi, and his friends, nearly all of whom, had died in the war. Wherever he went he carried their love around with him, their mysterious, unasked-for gift, like a bundle on a stick over his shoulder.

He sometimes thought he only loved properly in retrospect.

He’s often wondered whether he has a cooler temperament than others, and that was why he had survived.’

Ida and Meyer Gold are Hungarian Jews fleeing Hitler’s gas chambers, seeking a new beginning in the strange, empty city that is Perth in the fifties. They have brought their precious only son Frank with them. Themes of attachment and containment rub up against those of dislocation and freedom  as in life when it is so difficult to know how much freedom is too much, how tightly should we hold and be held. These delicious notions of Melanie Klein and Winnicott infuse the story.

Whilst there is melancholy and a sense of loss when Sullivan the real poet and inspiration, loses his fragile grasp on life and where relationships and marriages are put to the test, London never sinks to the maudlin or sentimental.

In Perth, Ida, the mother has lost her core strength and has trouble connecting at any level. Her future as a concert pianist is never to be realised, and Meyer as a romantic and something of a leader is relegated to driving a truck. The only glimmer of hope is in their only child, thirteen year-old Frank in this dust bowl of a place where nobody walks after dinner, nobody sits and drinks on the verandah and where they find themselves in a dead city in need of character, habitation and love.

And then Frank is stricken with the polio virus and a lengthy stint at the convalescent home called, ‘The Golden Age’, a name typical of that era of optimism and hope over death and deprivation. The action is centred around the home which is ironically illuminated by factory lights at night, showing the city in its manufacturing heyday.

London’s style is tender and objective and does not shout for attention, but is surprising in the terrain that it covers, from rape in war to European cake-making and yet the narrative is uncluttered. There is no moral judgement, no hint of the salacious when we read of Meyer’s peccadilloes, his physical attraction to Penny and her casual encounters with other men. There is pathos in the description of Frank and Elsa trying to connect in a dimension beyond the platonic and horror when the sunny, loving atmosphere of the home, where patients are treated with kindness and compassion, is suddenly compromised and the magical spell broken.

The story is full of love in all manifestations; love of country, fellow creatures, familial love and romantic love. And while the power of the first love is a key element and could have taken over the main plot, London uses restraint in maintaining focus on sub plots and vignettes that show on the one hand our need to be free, on the other, our need for containment.

London shows the power of the survival instinct and the strength of the human spirit, the nuances that make us human both disappointingly and gloriously real. Meyer and his predilection for romance outside the marriage can be forgiven so easily.The cake that appears at Ida’s concert recital is as good as any in Vienna. The Golds and post- colonial Australia were becoming. They were forging a new way to be.

The sense of place is strong and significant but is not overwritten. We are transported to war ravaged Budapest then to the Australian desert, inhospitable and remote. Yet time allows adjustment to the most challenging situations. Humans adapt like animals to new surroundings. Nowhere is this more strikingly displayed than in the scene when the black stallion gallops out of the desert with his thirsty mares demanding a drink, and being turned away. But people are London’s primary focus.

This novel made me cry on a few occasions because London makes the characters and situations so universal and a reminder of how much we struggle for life, meaning and belonging, and of how randomly tragedy and horror can strike at the heart of a country and its people.

The Golden Age deserves the accolades. It provides an important glimpse into our relatively unexplored social history. Its subtleties demand reflection. Its unadorned, gentle rhythm and style can lull the reader into thinking that this is a simple tale. Don’t be fooled. The History syllabus would be richer for texts like this to encourage research, debate and tolerance. This is a story for our times without a skerrick of the didactic. It is a thoroughly human, glowing and golden story. I loved it.

could you give a rat’s?



Australia Day is a scorcher. Couldn’t I just go to the counter and get my certificate?  I’ve been in this country for decades, voting, using expressions like beaut and good on ya. When people ask how I am I don’t say Well, thank you, I say Good.

I want to go down the beach. That’s what it means to be an Aussie. But here I am, lining up with a hundred and forty others at Hawthorn Town Hall armed with a pledge, a badge and a tissue in case I wet myself or find something up my nose, travelling south. After thirty years I’m here to become Australian.

The foyer is like a holding pen at a shearers’ bash in Bourke. Hordes are milling, spruced like dogs’ dinners. The Indian women are splendid in saris of ochre, turquoise and peacock green, their piercings  are elegant and exotic. But the men look uncomfortable in cheap, dark suits that are too big. Their stiff collars ride up under their ears. Think Aziz in Passage to India. They wear ties. What are they?

This is unAustralian but secretly I hope it will take on. Something needs to replace tracky-dacks and tee-shirts and homage to stretch everything. Australians dress like their children. Tits, bums and balls bounce about like pumpkins on party drugs. It’s enough to put you off your rocket salad.

There’s a pair of white runners. One, mercifully. White runners have spread like a bad virus world wide with all generations infected, particularly older Australians and grey nomads in RSL clubs who can be spotted eating the Roast of the Day using a Seniors Card and spilling gravy on these ugly bunion concealers. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a pair. This pair is on a fellow Pommy which is typical and ironic since the British neither walk nor run. They drink and make a lot of noise. The British are responsible for introducing several bad practices to this country and bad dress is only one of them.  Whingeing and queueing are others.

As a Pom myself, I feel uncomfortable and faintly passé. I shouldn’t be here at all. Not any more. Not at my age. I should have stayed home in the cold, moaning about the Government, the weather, the price of petrol, resigned to my ugly regional accent that I still haven’t managed to disguise.

We’re given numbers and herded into the hall. It’s like lining up at Safeway for a roast chook on a Saturday morning. Aussies now accept queuing, so new citizens will have no trouble assimilating here. Australians are now so good at waiting in lines that they will camp out for days in the hope of getting a ticket to the cricket, a 60c stamp, fifty dollars of their own money, and for the chance to get to work over the Westgate Bridge.

Surrounded by these young hopefuls with smiling, distinctly non-Western faces, I think, What can I contribute to this country now; arthritis, early onset dementia, general irritation with everything?

Anyway, there’s not another country that would take me now. The US might, temporarily, but only if I came with a Latino accent, a toilet duck and a scrubbing brush. Sweden wouldn’t because I’m not a natural blond and I’ve so far resisted the temptations of IKEA.  France wouldn’t take me because I won’t eat brains and I don’t piss in the street. I shave my underarms and I think the parterre at Versailles has no charm.

At the end of the ceremony, (pronounced cereMONY, thanks America), it was time to sing the National Anthem. Our new citizens didn’t have a hope of getting through this in spite of the words on the screen but they tried very hard. In this way they were fully assimilated already. Not the trying hard bit. The Prime Minister is the only Australian who can sing our anthem. The rest ofAustralia, particularly footballers lined up before a match with vacant eyes and emptier heads couldn’t give a rat’s arse. And that’s another expression a New Arrival’s going to find handy.

Our land is ….WHAT??  Girt by sea. Yeah! Work that one out.

Our new citizens are younger than me. I have the whitest, wrinkliest skin, the shortest name and the widest arse, except for one obvious American in patterned Crimplene. She is girt by lard.

When presented as Australian, many cried, overcome with emotion. I felt embarrassed about being old, privileged and British and past my best-by date. But I would like to assure you that I would still chant Warnie, Warnie, if he appeared on our cricket pitch rubbing a red stain into his white pants. I even let my cynical self go and cried when Bindi got up and spoke about her dad, and continued to sniffle as I watched the  ute nose its way out of the Crocoseum.

It could be that I’m a true blue Aussie after all; a mongrel, like the rest a youse.