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Martin Sharp circa 2011 (Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Martin Sharp circa 2011 (Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Summer is odd, especially in Australia.

The first dose of decent weather – as in clear blue skies, no wind, 35-degree temperatures, and, where I live, 50% humidity (or less) – brings a sense of optimism: finally we’re through the winter and can now go outdoors without worrying about being frozen to death or being blown off the face of the Earth.  This week we at last had that feeling, because we had two days in a row of good summery weather.  So, yes, optimism.

But this week has also brought sadness.  The passing away of Nelson Mandela.  Closer to home, we’ve had the death of eminent Australian contemporary artist Martin Sharp at the age of 71.  It might be just a little strange to put these two names in the same paragraph, but I think it’s apt, not because of these two men having made similar contributions to the world – they didn’t – but because both lived such genuine and genuinely inspiring lives.

Martin Sharp was – and no doubt will continue to be for some time – Australia’s answer to Andy Warhol.  There’s plenty written about him, and there’s certainly been quite a few thoughtful and informed obituaries, including this one from his colleague and friend Richard Neville.  To many, Sharp will be remembered for being a founding member of Oz, a radical and irreverent magazine –  today we’d call it a zine – that lampooned authority and tradition, particularly the church, including conservative attitudes to sexuality.  He also designed some of the most iconic rock-music album covers from the 1960s/70s.  Later, he’d become an obsessed champion of Tiny Tim, Ginger Meggs, and Sydney’s site-of-thrills-and-fun Luna Park.  He continued to practice for the rest of his life, though became fond of spending years, if not decades, touching up his earlier work.

A cover of Oz by Martin Sharp featuring Bob Dylan

A cover of Oz by Martin Sharp featuring Bob Dylan, 1967

Amazingly, through sheer luck, in early 2011 I interviewed Martin Sharp in his Sydney home for the Canberra Times.  He was warm, generous with his time, thoughtful, always choosing his words carefully, not because he was guarded (though he might have been), but, I think, he just wanted to be clear.  He chain-smoked through the entire morning, constantly rolling homemade cigarettes, the tobacco in a bowl in the table as though it was merely just some kind of herb that he was about to use for cooking.  I found him to be utterly unpretentious, and during the interview we spoke about his great love of Tiny Tim, Vincent Van Gogh (his life’s great inspiration), and that he thought the best art was being done by school children.  He’d become religious in his old age, though in the broad, somewhat mystical sense that artists can become religious (I doubt he went to church), and I remember how he said that in certain contexts conservative thinking can be radical.

I asked him if he had any modern-day heroes, and without blinking an eye he said, ‘Susan Boyle.’  I knew only a little of Boyle, but when I got back home made sure to learn more about her.  What was it about this UK talent-show contestant that had intrigued Sharp so?  I remember how he said that she’d given her all, everything, put her whole being on the line, words to that affect.  So I googled her and was amazed to find myself getting goose-bumps.  When I could drag my way from Youtube I wrote up the interview and the resultant feature article – it wasn’t so much about Martin Sharp but about a new (at the time) gallery and arts facility in Goulburn called South Hill, of which Sharp was the patron – and I also wrote a short piece on how Sharp had given me goose-bumps while telling me about his love for Boyle.

Just before I left Martin Sharp’s house that January day, he gave me a copy of a Tiny Tim album that he’d produced (at considerable expense).  For some reason I’ve never listened to it; perhaps I just didn’t want to take it out of its resolutely plastic-wrapped sleeve.  Maybe I just wanted to keep it as perfect as it had been when it was given to me.  Every time I saw the CD in my collection I thought to myself, Wow, what an amazing day that was.

But I’m listening to it now.  It’s hilarious.  But also important: Tiny Tim, just like Susan Boyle, gives every fibre of his being to his performances.

Thanks, Martin, for your time, your wise words, and, above all else, your art.

If I make it to 71 I’ll be sure to remember that morning with you.

The city’s been good to me, one particular city, it’s called Canberra and it’s an hour down the road.  I lived in the place from 1987 to 2010, over half my life.  I moved there as an eighteen-year-old, escaping Sydney, that city of two million people at the time (it’s four million now), purposely leaving behind everything that it had been to me, for me, the rich district where I grew up, the private schools, the Mercedes and BMWs and Volvos and Porsches, the loveliness of all that, but also the dreadful emptiness – I’ve been disinterested in material wealth ever since.

In Canberra I enjoyed university life, group-house life, working my way into adulthood, finding myself (more or less), making friendships, many of who remain with me to this day, settling down, running amok, settling down again.  In Canberra I met my partner Tim.  In Canberra I rediscovered my love of reading and writing, committed myself to both, started writing poetry (the first thing I ever wrote and had published – under a pseudonym – is now embedded into the pavement in the heart of the city) but quickly moved onto short stories and then longer forms.  I began doing freelance work for The Canberra Times, interviewing writers and artists, which has been such a pleasure.  In Canberra I had a stroke of good real-estate luck, which now enables me to live in the country without debt.  Now when I look at my resume I realise how good Canberra has been for my creative life.

So, for almost two and a half decades, Canberra was home, that most modern of cities, imagined from the ground up by the American architect and landscape planner Walter Burley Griffin and his professional partner and wife Marion Mahoney.  The Griffins won the international design competition in 1912, and the first peg was hammered into the ground in 1913, so next year one of the world’s great designed cities turns 100, which is quite something, wouldn’t you say?  But not everyone will be celebrating.  To the majority of Australians, Canberra is just the place of Australia’s federal parliament and all the public-service departments that go along with that.  Only ever experiencing the city via compulsory school trips, they see the intricate order of every street and street corner unnatural, as if the city isn’t Australian at all.  Indeed, as a child and I’d visit Canberra with my family, I always thought that as we drove across the border we were stepping into another world, a bit like how it’d be travelling in Europe, so I day-dreamt.

It’s true that Canberra is quite odd; now that I don’t live there but remain close by I can see that now.  It is ordered, it is polite.  It is a city-state, which means to many it’s neither one thing nor the other.  It can be the most beautiful city in the world – 70% of the Australian Capital Territory, of which Canberra is the centre, is mountainous national park, much of it getting dustings of snow in winter.  Regrettably, to many it can also be the most boring city – it’s never developed the pub culture that makes a stack of other Australian places come alive.  It should be made clear, though,that  these days Canberra has many fine cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants, and the diversity and quality of cuisine matches or surpasses that available anywhere else in the country, even Melbourne and its ridiculous self-belief that it’s the centre of Antipodean culture.

In the end, however, Canberra is just a community of 350,000 people getting on with their lives – half of the residents don’t have a thing to do with the parliament or public service.  In general the population is well-educated, well-read, and politically leans to the left.  For a long time it has had progressive policies on recreational drug-use, prostitution and pornography, it was the only state or territory jurisdiction to vote YES in the 1999 referendum for Australia to become a republic, and on Tuesday 14 August 2012 the ACT Legislative Assembly will vote in favour of the most advanced same-sex relationship laws in the country.

Manning Clark: possibly cranky.

It’s not surprising, then, that Canberra is also a creative and cultural place.  Statistics regularly reveal that the city’s rate of participation in the arts is higher than anywhere else in Australia, and many high-profile artists working in all forms of creative practice call the ACT region home.  In particular, Canberra has for decades well and truly punched above its weight in terms of writing.  The list of eminent writers from this neck of woods is long: Miles Franklin, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Manning Clark, Roger McDonald, Marion Halligan, John Clanchy, Alan Gould, Geoff Page… In fact, the list is so long that as part of the centenary of Canberra celebrations a major anthology is being published – it’s called The Invisible Thread.  The book will be launched in November as part of the National Year of Reading, but will also have a long run through the centenary shenanigans.  This in itself is very exciting, but it’s also personally very exciting because my work has been selected for inclusion, which is an almost unbelievable honour.

But here’s the rub: despite the project attracting a publisher, Halstead Press, and support from the ACT Government as well as other literary and related organisations, including my own publisher, Blemish Books, The Invisible Thread does not yet have enough money to get over the line.  It says something about the status of writing – any kind of creative practice – in Australia when a book of this – dare I say it – importance has to put out its hand.  Because that’s exactly what the project team, led by the tireless Canberra writer and editor Irma Gold, has done: it’s started a Pozible campaign to help pay for the marketing side of the book, to make sure the work has the best life possible out in the community.  At the time of writing, 40 generous people have pledged $3,335 with the target being $5,000 .  If you have a few dollars to spare, why not throw them into the Invisible Thread bucket; if not, perhaps you might pass this post onto someone who might be interested.  There are 28 days to go to make this happen.

So, yes, Canberra has been very good to me.  It’s where I found myself, where I found family and friends and love.  How lucky I’ve been to have spent so long in a community where democracy is at the heart, where people like to think, where people have the long view and move forwards, where the diversity of its population is held up for all to see, where the reality of contemporary living informs policy and legislation, and where a book that celebrates 100 years of working words is about to spring to life.

Death’s been good to me. Up until relatively recently at least.  I’ve lost grandparents – as if somehow I’ve simply misplaced them – but that happens to all of us, doesn’t it, the loss, not the misplacement.  Then, strike, first one, then another, two wonderful people, a cousin and a friend, both women, strong women, no nonsense, no bullshit, and now they’re gone.

My cousin, my extraordinary cousin, she was a poet, a good poet, eminent say some – they made a movie out of one of her books so that might qualify her as eminent.  But she’d hate that word.  ‘Oh cuz,’ she’d say, ‘don’t go down that road.’  She was the oldest of cousins, and I am the youngest, so I have only a few memories of her when we were growing up, family get-togethers at Christmas.  Some of the parents called her precocious; I was scared of her.  As an adult, however, I plucked up the courage to email her, and she replied with the best words I’d ever heard: ‘Cuz, if you’re looking for a friend for life you’ve got one in me.  I really am a very simple person.’  A friend for life.  But now she’s gone.  (She would never have wanted her end to define her, so you’ll get no details from me.)  I can’t stop thinking about her.  To some – many – she was indeed a poet.  To me, she was the guide to my family, my nut-case family, because from her position she could see so much.

My friend, my extraordinary friend.  She was an actor.  Whenever she was on stage I couldn’t see her, so completely did she dissolve into the characters she played.  Strange how now I’m thinking about this, my friend reminds me of my cousin, because both of them were small in stature, but strong, fierce, yes, they could both be fierce.  And hilariously funny, and sweet.  My friend: she married a good man, a kind man, a man with a motorbike.  One Saturday night, late, after midnight, she posted on Facebook: ‘Trying to work out whether or not to put on another load of washing.  That’s how exciting my life is!’  The next morning she and her good-man husband went off for a Sunday bike ride on the back roads into the country.  They didn’t come back alive.  So now my friend is gone, and I can’t stop thinking about her.  She was mad on pets, completely mad, so that every time one of my own animals is sick and I’m trying to decide whether or not a trip to the vet is warranted, I hear her say, ‘I can’t believe you have to think about this!  It’s your duty to spend every cent on your little guys if you need to!’

I love angels, in fact, if the truth be known, I’m obsessed.  But I don’t believe in them; I’m not sure I believe in an after-life of any kind.  Somehow, however, in some way, my cousin and my friend aren’t entirely gone. Yes, I think about them so much.  I hear them speak to me.  Wise words from my cousin, wise and blunt – ‘Compare yourself to no one, cuz, compare yourself to no one’ – and adoring words from my friend – ‘Oh Millie is the most beautiful dog, you know that, Nigel, don’t you?’ as if I’m blind to the luck around me.

And no doubt I am.

Cowan Creek, Kuringai Chase National Park, Sydney, 1986

‘Don’t do it,’ she said, ‘they’ll eat you alive, you’ll regret it, you might not write another word.’  We were in a cafe and I’d just told my friend that I’d been invited to attend a Canberra book-club to talk about Fall On Me.  ‘They forget that you’re the writer and it turns feral,’ she explained.  ‘I certainly won’t be attending one ever again.’  So I worried about it, whether I should go or not; I became more and more nervous as the evening drew closer.  I seriously considered cancelling my involvement, or perhaps I could come down with a very rare but completely depilating illness.  Which, thankfully, never had to happen.  Because my evening with a book-club turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done in 18 years of doing this; in fact, it’s in my Top Three Writerly Experiences of All Time.

For a start, the host was an old high-school friend, and we’d not seen each other for 25 years.  I knew this already, which is why I would never have cancelled, because Rosy was wonderful at school, so kind and generous and good natured, and I had no doubt that she wouldn’t have changed, and I was right.  Secondly, how often does a writer have an opportunity to discuss his/her book for three hours with people who’ve read it so closely?  Even to the point that they picked up a mistake: in the book, two characters – Lou Bard, a single father and cafe owner, and his enigmatic housemate Anna – are having a deep and meaningful discussion in the kitchen over a bottle of red: large wine glasses are used, and the wine is poured out three times, which the book-clubbers said was unlikely out of just one bottle.  (I really should know these things, shouldn’t I.)  But how lovingly – have I mentioned that the group comprised only women? – this observation was made.  In fact, it was a great laugh.

Thirdly – and here’s the truly amazing thing – what really clinched it for me was this: each book-club session someone volunteers to bring food inspired by the book.  One of the women made a pizza based on the favourite topping of Lou’s son Luke: potato, fetta and chilli.  With a huge smile on her face she said to me, ‘It must be very yummy for you to put it in the book!’  And I said, ‘I have no idea – I just made it up!’  That’s fiction for you.  Thankfully Luke has excellent taste, and we all woofed the pizza down, and I’m going to make it, too, life imitating art.  She also made caramel slice, because there’s mention in the book of Lou having caramel slice in his cake display at the cafe, but it must have been there for a while because it’s started to get that slightly unsavoury dew on top.  So she put her home-made slice in the fridge for an hour to replicate the effect.

How good is that.

It makes me want to do it all again, which is handy because, as reported earlier, it is all happening again: Blemish Books is publishing another novella from me later this year, another of the Launceston novellas, the stories I wrote while I spent a month in that town as an artist-in-residence at the Cataract Gorge Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage courtesy of the City Council.

As a kid I loved writing, telling stories; the highlight of my week was the double creative-writing period.  I’d write and write and write, just made shit up really, but I loved how the pen seemed to get carried away on the page, except it was really me who was getting carried away, wasn’t it.  And I still get carried away, especially when writing by hand, as in handwriting, which is what I did in Launceston during those four weeks.  When school finished all that time ago, however, there was no thought – it simply never occurred to me – that I might go on to do something with this story-telling thing, so I enrolled in landscape architecture, because it seemed interesting enough, and it was.

But the boy in the photo above: though he’s hiding from you, though you can’t see his face, you know what he’s thinking: school is finished, I’m off to university, it’s all a great adventure, but what am I doing, what am I to do with this life?  It’s not until now that he knows.

Because the boy is me.

In Hong Kong they were everywhere: in doorways, in foyers, in shopfronts, in courtyards, they were even on the smallest of balconies; they were used by the wealthy and the not-wealthy-in-the-slightest. And the first thing I did upon returning home – well, not the first thing: I showered, I emptied the backpack, we slept for twelve hours – was go around to the local garden-nursery.  I didn’t expect to find one; I thought I’d have to drive up to the Southern Highlands where the prevalence of rich people might mean these things would be more readily available.  Luckily I didn’t have to go up to the Southern Highlands.  There they were, tucked away in the citrus section: kumquat trees.  I bought one, one with a good shape, and I also bought a suitably deep red pot, and took the lot home, where, happy as a pig in shit, I got it all together at the backdoor.

In Hong Kong, in China, in much of Asia, kumquat trees are a wish for good fortune.  They’re gifted during the various Lunar New Year festivities.  More often than not they’re kept as a very small tree, a couple of feet high at the most; sometimes they’re almost as small as a bonsai.  So, while the fruit is edible (it can be turned into marmalade and chutney), the tree is seen as decorative more than anything else.  Kumquats have been around for centuries: the earliest historical record of the things is in twelfth-century China.  The rather appropriately – and deliciously – named Robert Fortune, a collector for the London Historical Society, introduced them to Europe in 1846.  And I’ve introduced a kumquat tree to my little old house in Goulburn on Tuesday 14 February 2012.

Do I need good fortune?  In the greater scheme of things I’ve been fortunate in my life: I’ve had – I’m having – an excellent education; I’m healthy (no doubt there’s some dodgy wiring in the old brain-box, but that’s de rigueur these days, isn’t it), and I have family and friends, and I have something that I enjoy doing, writing, which brings in next to no money, but that’s hardly the point.  The point is I don’t really need little trees and the associated superstitions to bring in good fortune.  But I did want a kumquat tree at the backdoor; in fact, I’d made the decision even before leaving Hong Kong.

Really it’s just a souvenir, and certainly it’s better than the tacky crap you can buy in the markets or in the tourist shops or at the airport in the moments before departing.  But perhaps there’s more.  Maybe I do want my good fortune to continue.  Maybe I know how lucky I am to be able to jump on a plane and spend a week experiencing another country.  Maybe I don’t ever want to be in a position where opportunities such as these aren’t possible.  What if my good fortune is about to run out?  Not with my kumquat tree at the back door, it’s not.  So I’m off to water it.  I’ll water it every week.  I’ll give it fertiliser.  I’ll look after it during our severe winters; I might even cover it with a blanket to protect it from frosts.

Fine little kumquat tree: I’ll be good to you; please be good to me.

Everything about writing is luck.  Everything.

There’s the luck of the idea, that little ‘what if’ that pops into your brain, you write it down somewhere – a post-it note, the back of a napkin (how appalling it’s been that sometimes I’ve had the best ideas when a little too drunk, so the idea is gone by the morning, it’s never stuck) – and then at some point or other you see if you can turn that idea into something.  There’s the luck of having the time, or being in a position to make the time, to do the hard work of writing.  And there’s the luck of being in the right headspace to produce that particular story, because every story is different.  And then there’s the luck in having the right editor read the piece and there’s always a bit of luck in terms of whether or not the publisher has the physical – or digital – space to get it out into the world.

More specifically, I have looked back at the publication of my novel Remnants as a series of events and confluences that have had as their commonality good bloody luck.  In 1999/2000 I did a Masters in Creative Arts (Creative Writing) at the University of Wollongong.  It was a great experience, a highlight of my life.  First up, I had the good fortune to spend time with writers such as John Scott, Merlinda Bobbis and Tony Macris.  Most closely I worked with Tony, and he was sufficiently blunt to tell me that my major project was good enough to give me the qualification but wasn’t good enough to find a publisher.

That night I started on a new project.

By the end of the year I had the bones of a story that I knew I wanted to take further.  I spent three years editing and re-working and polishing and worrying and fretting.  After shopping the manuscript around, and being told that it was well-written but would never be a commercial proposition, Francesca Rendle-Short, now creative writing academic RMIT but at the time was at the University of Canberra, suggested that I might like to have a chat with Ian Templeman, who was the head-honcho of Pandanus Books, the academic publisher at the Australian National University.  Excitedly, impatiently, I arranged this meeting.  (I am the least patient person in the world, so perhaps I should be serving burgers rather than writing stories.)

Over lunch Ian told me how he’d read a story of mine, ‘Song of Excess’, in Overland and would love to read the manuscript for my first novel – what luck that he’d read that particular issue!

A month later, I received a letter saying that Ian enjoyed the work but as Pandanus was primarily an academic publisher of non-fiction they couldn’t accept it; I should, however, again make contact with Ian.  More than confused, I rang Ian.  He said that he would like to publish Remnants, but he would have to establish a special imprint to do so, and this would take ‘some time’.  Ian was true to his word, and in 2005 that little novel eventually saw the light of day through Pandanus Books’ Sullivan’s Creek series.  Which would fold within a year because the ANU was adamant about focussing on the academic, not the fictional.

Remnants went on to achieve ten reviews, in places like Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Australian Book Review, Antipodes as well as literary journals.  Nine of the reviews were positive; eight of those nine were glowingly enthusiastic. There’s no doubt in my mind that I was a very lucky person indeed throughout the whole journey of Remnants, and if that book hadn’t appeared it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t have continued trying my hand with the longer narrative form.

It’s a humble book, and a flawed book, but the more distance I get from it the more I like it, the characters and their situations have resonated with me, and the story has found a small but appreciative audience.  However, it left me with two feelings: one, how lucky we need to be for our work to be published; two, that I want to go on, that I want to write more, that I might just be able to do better, but I’ll need a shit-load of luck to go that next step, along with drive and tenacity and sheer hard-work.  Plus a good idea every now and again – that wouldn’t go astray.

In terms of current work, my novella Fall On Me was published by Blemish Books last month, and I could tell you a story about that story, how my partner and I went on holiday in Tasmania in 2007, how we stayed a few nights in Launceston, how, one night, we walked up Cataract Gorge and went past the Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage and I thought, Mmm, how good would it be to write in a place like that, how two years later, I discovered that the Launceston City Council ran a program where artists could indeed live and work in the Gatekeeper’s Cottage, so I applied, was accepted, and in April-May 2010 went down to Tasmania to live in that Cottage for a month, intending to write short stories, but instead I wrote three novellas, Fall On Me being one of those, how, a year later I saw that Blemish Books was looking for manuscripts around the 40,000-word mark, so I sent off a submission, and the good, generous folks at Blemish loved the thing, so here I am, talking to you about luck and publishing and I’m realising that good fortune plays such a big role, perhaps a bigger role than hard-work and any talent one might have (though talent is always debatable).

And I could tell you how lucky I am to have found someone like Alec Patric with whom I co-edit Verity La.

And how lucky I am to live in a country where I’ve been able to receive a good education, and there are opportunities to continue that education.

And how lucky I am to have had an English teacher in middle school who once handed back a story I’d written, an obviously average story by the look of the mark written on the top of the front page, but he said to me, ‘You can do so much better.’  So here I am, aged 42, trying to do so much better.

And I could tell you how lucky I am to make a real-estate decision eleven years ago which now allows me to write as fulltime as humanly and financially possible.

And how lucky I am to not be in the twenty per cent of the world’s population that can’t read.

And how lucky I am that you’re reading this post.

All this – every little bit of it – has lead to publication, and now I realise that I am a man of such good fortune.  And how grateful I am for every little cheeky drop of it.

Perhaps all writers feel this way, at times, to a certain extent.  I’m reminded of the greatly loved Dorothy Porter, whose final poem, ‘View from 417’, finishes with these delicious words: Something in me/despite everything/can’t believe my luck.

*

With thanks to Irma Gold, who asked a question that inspired this post.

Last month, with Christmas building up on the horizon like storm clouds, I came home to discover that where my letterbox had been for years was a hole; and leading away from the hole was a trail of dirt – it may as well have been blood.  My humble brown-metal letterbox had been stolen, possibly murdered.

That night, I lay in bed and made myself breathe slowly, deeply.  But just as I started falling asleep, a question detonated in my head.  Had I not only lost my letterbox but actual mail too?

Mail to me, you see, is like gold bullion.  After months, often years, of working on a writing project, a short story say, putting it aside, then working on it some more, there comes a time when it must be sent away.  It’s like flinging a pigeon into the air.  With any luck it’ll come home in the form of a letter saying ‘we want to publish you’.  But how could this happen when I no longer had a letterbox?

The next morning, I started my writing session by typing out a note.  Dear Postie, some drunk bastard [the culprit had to be drunk otherwise the world no longer made sense] has stolen my letterbox.  I’ll try knocking up a new one over the weekend.  But in the meantime, if I have any mail, could I humbly ask you to leave one of those cheery red calling cards at my front door so I can collect my mail from the post office? Thanks heaps. I stuck the note to a piece of cardboard.  I stuck the cardboard to a tomato stake.  I stuck the stake into Ground Zero.

Work colleagues said I looked like I’d been in a car accident.  I told them what had happened.  Knowing me to be a bit of an anti-handyman, they lovingly gave me some advice – about football-field-sized hardware stores, about the difference between concrete and cement, about the pros and cons of various letterbox styles.  Privately I mourned the publication acceptance letters that may have gone astray forever.

That evening, I rode home slowly via the shops – I’d drown my sorrows in pizza.

Then I turned into my driveway.  But what’s this?

Something was lying beside the hole, beside the sign.  I leapt off my treadly and had a close look.  I picked it up, I cradled it in my arms, I almost gave it mouth-to-mouth.  Yes, my beloved letterbox was back.  It even had mail – not acceptance letters (how I wish I could report otherwise), just bills.  But handwritten on a bill was this: Dear Nigel, I found your letterbox up the end of Marsden Street, Postie Warren.

Marsden Street was such a long way away.

The next day, I dug out the hole, hammered in my letterbox, and secured it with the quick-set cement I’d bought from a football-field-sized hardware store.  Then a friendly old neighbour from across the street came over.  He said, ‘It was the funniest sight, the postie carrying your letterbox on the back of his bike.  My grandkids stood at the window, saying, Quick Grandpa, look!  Mate, you’re a lucky man.’

‘Yes,’ I said, smiling at my neighbour and then looking up to a cloudless soon-to-be-summer sky, ‘I’m a lucky man.’

Happy Christmas, Postie Warren.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, December 15 2007)

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