Friday, 9 November 2018

When things explode

Someone asked me recently what living with PTSD is like, and I found it hard to answer. Today there was a car fire/explosion in Melbourne’s CBD. I am fine. It sounds pretty awful for those involved but I am totally fine. Sort of. Suddenly I can answer the question about PTSD, though.


I don’t know many people who know what being in an explosion feels like. I do. And I also know what PTSD after an explosion feels like. I can’t yet say whether or not it ever goes away. It’s been 11 years so  far.

It depends a little on how tired and strung out I already am, but there’s a fairly predictable chain of physical and psychological reactions when I hear about, see, or hear an explosion:

  • Adrenalin courses through my veins. An almost immediate reaction to the sudden high dose of this hormone is nausea, and - somewhat counter-intuitively - fatigue. I want to run from the apparent threat at the same time that I need to urgently lie down and sleep.
  • The backs of my hands feel like they are burning. Sometimes I need to check to make sure they are not.
  • The smell of singed hair tickles my nostrils. Sometimes this is accompanied by the smell of paraffin (which I find interesting, because the paraffin comes later, at the hospital, when you are safe and being treated for the burns).
  • Every sound that could possibly be construed as a building crumbling around me becomes a building crumbling around me.
  • For a while afterwards, every unexpected thing (bus detour, phone call, my thing not where I thought I left it, ants behaving oddly) becomes more evidence something scary is happening, triggering more adrenalin and jumpiness.
  • The logical part of my brain battles with the flight or fight mode. Logic eventually wins (these days) but it can take some time and all of my concentration and attention.
  • Every message along the lines of “There was an explosion … are you ok?” is both a lovely reminder of friendship and solidarity and yet another reason for my brain to focus on Exploding Things, for adrenalin to come, hands to burn...

Eventually, it passes, of course. I will be embarrassed at my erratic behaviour and ridiculous over-vigilance, but I’ll get over it.

There was an explosion in Melbourne today. I was nowhere near it and I’m fine. Whatever the reasons, I’m really sorry for the pain, shock and possible lasting trauma it will cause some people.  

I am weeding my garden, listening to very loud music, trying not to think about exploding things and hoping the pending post-adrenalin come-down means I get an excellent night’s sleep tonight.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Language, parliament, hypocrisy: Happy (belated) International Mother Language Day

February 21 was International Mother Language Day,  a day dedicated to celebrating, preserving and protecting languages of all peoples. In the week leading up to the day, media reported that, late last year, NT MLA Bess Price was told off by house speaker Kezia Purick for using Warlpiri, her first language, in Parliament.

Purick told Price “the language of the assembly is English”, although it remains to be seen where, exactly, that rule is written down. Around one third of the Northern Territory population is Aboriginal, and Warlpiri is one of the stronger NT languages, with around 3000 people still speaking it. In the NT, there is a daily ABC Radio news broadcast in Warlpiri (and another one in Yolngu Matha).

The news about Price being denied the right to speak her language came shortly after PM Malcolm Turnbull’s February 10 Closing the Gap report, which once again showed the extent to which Australian governments are failing the first people of this country. Turnbull started his speech in Ngunnawal, the language of Canberra’s Aboriginal people.

Australia: where the leader of a racist government can use a few words of an Aboriginal language while brushing over the ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism, while an Aboriginal MLA gets a dressing down for speaking her language, the language of her constituents.

Monday, 12 October 2015

September Travel Log

Number of nights away from home: 15
Number of hotels: 5
Number of flights (including connector flights): 7  
Places visited: Cairns, Bamaga, the northern-most tip of Australia (!) Yungaburra, Melbourne, Broome
Number of Australian languages worked on/with: 6

Phew, September wore me out and I am still feeling it. The trip to far north Queensland was amazing though - so I am posting some photos. One is a view of a  river joining the Gulf of Carpentaria, taken from our light aircraft, and the other is from the tip of Cape York, looking out into the Torres Strait at two small islands just over the way. 

In Bamaga, I worked with a group of sisters from a family who had been part of the  forced relocation of the Mapoon community in 1963. They now live 200km north, up on the Cape, in a new community  called "New Mapoon". You can read an article I found about that sad story here. Cape  York was  fascinating in many ways. Still thinking about it all and hoping to write something soon, but that's all for now.

Monday, 31 August 2015

August travel log

Well, August was pretty quiet. I am mentally preparing myself for September-October though, it's going to be a bit full on.

Number of nights away from home: 4
Number of hotels: 1
Number of flights (including connector flights):  6 
Places visited: Geraldton
Number of Australian languages worked on/with: 2

I know the photos of airports and hotels get a bit boring and repetitive. Believe me, I really do know. Welcome to the travelling life.
Up next, between now and December: Cape York, Cairns, Yungaburra, Melbourne, Broome, Kununurra, Mt Gambier, Melbourne. Will I see you on the road somewhere? In an airport?
Here is a picture of a famous Geraldton leaning tree (because sometimes I do some sight-seeing).

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Things that happen on planes

I am exhausted after a long journey from Darwin to Geraldton, via Alice Springs and Perth…. straight through the  centre of this  massive country.

I don't know how close to my old stomping ground in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands the plane flew. Certainly it was red desert down there below us, for at least some of the flight. Anyway for some reason I suddenly remembered these three poems, written when I lived in the desert, 15 years ago.

Mail plane
- - -

Flying low over Blackstone Ranges
Plane full of strangers
But they're not even there
It's just me in the air
I could float here for ages.

- - -

In this dry desert land
Miles from any watery place
I once saw the ocean in your eyes
As your saltwater sprayed me
And I almost drowned in your tears

The real thing
(Ode to a windmill)
- - -
I saw it once
on a hill,
alone  and still -
though it gave life to many.
And my tears blessed its rusty song
and my head spun
from the stark beauty of it all.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

On phonetics & colonisation

Here is a something I wrote about how I sometimes feel about my job.  Of course I also feel like I love it, enjoy it, it's a privilege, blah blah blah but I need to hold onto this thought at all times, also.

I sat with my head inches from his
for what felt like hours
this proud young man
with tears in his eyes
watched my lips teeth tongue
he wanted me to teach him
the sounds of his language
a language silent for so long
taken away from its people
when their lands were invaded
he wanted me to teach him
the sounds. knowledge stolen from him
but somehow imparted to me
because of my education
because of my colour
he was so grateful
i was so sorry
the whole situation
felt so wrong

Monday, 10 August 2015


The bizarre intimacy of having a nurse spend hours carefully picking scabs off my face. Her face inches from mine. She would focus on my top lip, an earlobe: the burn had caused my earlobes to stick to my scalp, held there by scabby skin that slowly dried and came off, gently encouraged by the nurse.

It didn’t hurt, unless the nurse accidentally grasped a bit of not-yet-dead skin, holding on for dear life. Then the pain would make me jerk, which only made things worse.

But that didn’t happen very often. Those women were so professional. I felt totally enveloped and safe in their hands, literally.They created the perfectly calm, controlled environment I needed after the turmoil I’d been through - was, in fact, still going through. But I didn’t know that yet.

All I knew was the morphine-induced bubble they let me float in, not enough to kill the pain entirely but to take the edge off. Morphine, pain, the smell of singed hair and acute awareness of skin.

I remember asking one of them if she enjoyed picking scabs as a child, and we shared a knowing smile. She confessed to enjoying this task, coming back to my earlobe every day, to see if more skin was ready to let go.

I remember the day the nurse on duty got the last bit of scab holding my earlobe to my head. I felt the lobe flap back to its  natural position, tender with new skin, exposed to the air for the first time, cold.

I remember, all too vividly, the smell of paraffin, layered thickly on my face and ears to help the healing process. I remember the taste of it, melting and running off my top lip into my mouth.
I remember thinking about my hands, wrapped up in bandages like boxing gloves for so long I felt alienated from them: what was the skin doing? How many layers had I lost? Would it grow back with webbing between  the fingers? Apparently that was a risk.

Nobody could tell me if I’d be able to use my fingers again, but we were all optimistic (or pretending to be?) about what we’d see when the bandages eventually came off. I was given exercises to do twice a day and I did them every hour, for good measure. I had plenty of time, afterall.

My hands were hidden from me long  enough to forget what they looked like. “Like the back of my hand….” I would think to myself, trying to remember it.

I remember piercing pain  if I suddenly dropped my hands to my sides and the blood rushed to them: like  the new skin under those bandages was so sensitive, so thin, it could barely contain my blood.

I have a notebook. It sat beside my hospital bed, for other people to write things down. Lists of things I needed, important phone numbers. Then suddenly one page with my handwriting: large, chunky, barely legible... scrawled with the pen held between two bandaged hands. “Day 5. Had tantrum.”

Strangely, I don’t remember the bandages coming off, just a new kind of pain afterwards. Trying not to knock my hands, with their precious new skin, against anything, trying not to touch anything too hot, too cold, too rough or sharp. Aware of the high risk of infection while I waited for my new outer layer to toughen up. Slightly obsessive about  hand hygiene now I was out of the ward and in the big dangerous world again.

And a diary entry, in almost-back-to-normal handwriting: “”I have started this new journal  because 25 days ago, on June 1, our house exploded. My other journal is in there amongst the rubble somewhere.”