Putting away the pieces

I have had a weekend of… something-yellow-labelled-Thrive and old lace. And bottles with odd contents, labelled only with the names of family members. Cufflinks and photographs and records, nutmeg graters, aprons, diaries and slides.

Tomorrow: a 12 hour drive with my knees underneath my chin because of ballgowns, very old mixmasters and paintings by a minor artist of whom Google says his works hardly ever come on the market, which is probably because my grandmother owned most of them. I’m at risk of being flippant, but it’s only to keep general spirits up. We were in hysterics yesterday afternoon, and all burst into tears together yesterday morning.

Everyone says it is sad deconstructing a life, and I keep saying that she wouldn’t have been sentimental about everything – there are things you treasure, like the wedding ring and watch and the ring from the man who asked you to marry you but you didn’t want to get married again, and those you put in a shortbread tin at the bottom of a cupboard under your folding travel hangers. But other things are just the clothes you wore because a body has to wear clothes, and there’s no point getting sentimental over that – unless its over the scent that lingers on them.


Page 31

I’ve been absent for several reasons – limited internet access, family health, my health and, most recently, two funerals.

The first was my grandmother’s. Her name was Challis Barling and she was 87. She was loving and generous, one of those proper North Shore ladies who on occasion cheerfully let her guard down and revealed her country upbringing. She had been involved with Red Cross and Lifeline and Meals on Wheels for decades, she gathered people into her orbit. She was sensible and selfless and never saw the reason to say ‘why me’ – though she had been widowed, her older son had vanished in the Andes, her daughter nearly died of a bone infection, her second husband was sick for a year and then died and her younger son first brought over an American bride to whom it took the family a little while to warm (until, as she told my mother, “I’ve seen how happy you’ve made my son”), and then was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and couldn’t go to the funeral because, physically, we could not get him to Sydney. She had also – and I must have forgotten this when I was reading Cryptonomicon – been a cryptography clerk at Macarthur’s Brisbane headquarters during WWII and had decoded the message that the battle of the Coral Sea was on. She also had a strong and enduring faith, and that was reflected back by all who spoke at the service, even those who did not share it. And there were so many people at her funeral in Sydney last Wednesday – from the minister who got choked up because he had known her since he and his wife first came to the parish to her quiet gardener and the hairdresser who used to open after hours for her and said it had been a beautiful funeral for a beautiful lady, but he had to run because he had left someone under the dryer.

On Thursday my mother, my younger sister and I flew back to Brisbane and spent the evening visiting my father where he was in respite care. The next day I went to work and read my email to find out that Kris Hembury had died.

Kris was a writer, past president of Vision Writers (of which I am current president because of a reverse-coup staged by Kris). He was my age – only two months younger – and was vibrant, clever, witty, never passed up a pun, wise, a keen critiquer, a mad fan, someone who, as was said at his service today, not only connected with people but connected people to each other. He had won writing awards, had started investigating screenplays and had started another degree and work on a novel and was still emailing the list with schemes in spite of the frustrations caused by his malfunctioning email. He died of aggressive bronchial pneumonia and his funeral was today. It was very well attended and an announcement was made by Fantastic Queensland which I will let them announce officially first. It was beautiful to see so many people who had known and loved him gathered around his family – a family that was clearly used to having a house full of people of all ages who loved Kris, both in life and death.


  1. Heath Ledger. My first thoughts on hearing of a death do not always reflect creditably on me. When I was on the bus to work my sister sent me an SMS with the news Heath Ledger had died. It was a shock, and my first thoughts were “Oh no!” which is rather better than I managed when Robert Jordan died. I suppose there is that disconnect when I only know of someone and relate to them through their work – it is easier to feel cheated of what they produce than to feel on more than an intellectual level that a person has died. Not right, but easier. And I had just been thinking the week before (after seeing the previews for Batman) that Heath Ledger seemed to be really coming into his own as an actor – that he’d ceased to be a fill-in-the-blank pretty face and was becoming an individual and a force to be reckoned with, that he was reminding me a little bit of Jack Nicholson and Tommy Lee Jones, and I was sorry for all the films he’d never make and I wouldn’t get to see.
  2. The Bulletin. I have mixed feelings on the folding of this magazine because it is not something I have much immediate emotional connection to. Like a house being torn down – not one I’ve lived in but one I’ve grown used to passing on my way to the corner shop. It was a very old publication, with some less than glorious moments (Australia for the White Man, etc), but it was… there. And now it’s only of historical importance.
  3. My cousin. Actually, he didn’t die. Concussion and some interesting scars are getting off pretty lightly when you’ve been shot in the head and arm during a home invasion.
  4. Not death, but with an appreciation for the beauty in decay and good manners in all things: Lady of the Manners and the Gothic Charm School.
  5. Honorary unsubscribes. I subscribe to This is True and the best and most fascinating part of the newsletter is the Honorary Unsubscribe, created to “recognize the Unknown, the Forgotten and the Obscure People who had an impact on our lives”, fully listed here, by – upon their death – honorarily unsubscribing them from the newsletter.