Athenapallas's Blog

May 15, 2016

HOW THE PARTHENON MADE ME CRY

The following post was published five years ago and now at last I have finished my novel:  

DIGGING UP THE DEAD

 Greek Mythology Meets Coal Mining

by Narelle Scotford  With Art by Selina McGrath

It  has been a long journey but the experience recorded in this post has become part of this extraordinary novel…. to learn more follow the link at the end of the post… now read on…

I arrived in Athens  accompanied by a flight full of Greeks from Melbourne making their annual pilgrimage to the islands of their youth. After listening to conversations that criss-crossed the plane in that peculiar antipodean version of Australian Greek, peppered with Ozzie slang and words in English with the Greek endings, I was in a state of exhausted anticipation. However I managed to find my way via the Metro to my Hotel in Plaka and somehow my energy returned.

I needed to seek out my temple, the PARTHENON. Walking through Plaka’s seedy but somehow charming streets, passed hawkers and markets full of trashy goods and hopeful shopkeepers I abandoned the map and chose one of the many marble-paved lanes that headed upward to the Acropolis.                

Here the seediness disappeared as I passed  quaint tavernas

with smiling owners touting for business,

Athenians in intense conversation,

with only a few tourists in sight.

Then looking up to see what appeared to be a giant wall, columns peaking over it, what is that? Many steep steps in narrow lanes all leading up, following  a wider path not wanting to look up to my left, that must be it, it’s so large,steep, high, a mountain of a rock but where is the PARTHENON?

The  Acropolis, the Uluru of Western Culture, and I felt like I was an ant, my cloak of knowledge abandoned, falling off. I tried not to look at it, maybe this was not it,  and maybe the PARTHENON doesn’t even exist except in my imagination.

I stopped to listen to a lone Greek player of a kind of medieval lute or sitar, soft sounds in a minor key as I sat beside him on the pavement. I hummed the chords quietly, we talked slowly with him respecting my meditative state as he waved away people who tried to take his photo. I felt my heart opening, breaking at the same time, saying at last I’m Home. I said goodbye to the slim fine-boned intelligent man whom later I would call Dimitri as he became my friend and guide. He stood and shook my hand, thanking me for stopping and sitting beside him. No-one ever does that, he said in perfect English. Was he Hermes the Divine Messenger?

The smog was lifting and the sun shining more than I expected, the pink white rows of houses and small apartment blocks sparkled from this distance, their shabbiness turned into jeweled boxes as I looked across the plains of Attica. I realised as I looked up again at the rock, it felt like the backside of the Acropolis with just a hint of columns above what appeared to be giant city walls. No wonder Pericles chose this place on which to build his monument to the glory of  the Athenian Empire!

As I reached the car park and tourist office I could see the magnitude of the rock, it truly was a fortress. I bought a 4 day ticket and withdrew as  tourists swarmed, not wanting to join them. I wandered into the Pnyx, hurried off the wider path into narrow tracks in the bush, surrounded by ancient debris, feeling the presence of the past, still hardly daring to look up to my left towards the PARTHENON. Seeking shade and solitude. Found the prison of Socrates, caves in a rocky outcrop  with bars across the interior,wondering how it was for him as he waited to take his poison receiving his students and friends all of whom were offering him escape in exile which he refused. I wanted to climb up the rock to get  a better view but could not, I crouched behind a bush to have a pee hoping the cops on motorbikes don’t see me. At last I lay down exhausted, my view of the Acropolis and its elusive temple obscured by the fir trees scattered among the pine cones. I sat down with my back to a tree and then I saw framed in its branches the unmistakable PARTHENON, hardly daring to look at it as if its shining might blind me like Tiresias. I had no camera with me to capture this first image, the photo below was taken at 8am the next day when I was alone on the Acropolis except for a few workers.

Now the sun was at its zenith, no clouds, bright bright blue sky and here I am, am, am. Tears coursed down my face, my whole body shook with joy, relief, pneuma, knowing, gratitude and awe. I lay there and the only words that came to me were, now I can die. I’ve seen all I want to see, if I die now it doesn’t matter. Transcendent  was the word that came to me later as I encircled this experience and found more and more places to catch this image and blend it into my psyche forever. I sat upon  a rock nearby while my image of the corner of the PARTHENON grew and grew, shone and shone, two long thin cranes appeared like beacons above this wounded cultural icon of the West, here at last we were restoring Pericles’ vision of the embodiment of sophrusune/balance after centuries of pillage,theft, misuse, war and pollution – or was it just as it should be with its complex history still present?

I hoped the restoration would not result in it becoming a plastic caricature of itself. I tried not to load it up with concepts and kept coming back to my body, exhausted, tingling, awake, aware, feeling ‘zoie’ divine breath, everything in my life that had led to this moment , an older woman, ‘xseni’ foreigner, from 9000 kilometres away, guardian of the temple, Athena inside me, calling to passers-by ‘Ela etho’, look up, stand here, they obeyed and thanked the strange woman lying on the ground as if I must somehow belong here.

I can still feel that moment within me, it is enshrined forever no matter what ugly and sad realities I must inevitably encounter here and elsewhere on my journey.

 

http://www.scotford.com.au

 

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July 18, 2011

WITNESSING THE ATHENS UPRISING May/June 2011

Narelle Scotford, the writer of this blog, visited Greece in May and June this year. Although of course her alter ego has resided for 2500 years in Greece, this was Narelle’s first trip. Long long ago she was a Greek bride and learnt to speak, read and write the language of her beloved Greek Gods and Heroes. In preparation for her trip she studied Greek language, mythology and history again as well as re-learning how to make Greek coffee and sampling the culinary delights of the great cooks in her Modern Greek class at Sydney University.

Narelle arrived in Athens at the beginning of the recent unrest finding a small hotel half a block from Syntagma Square. She  wandered around the square on her first day where only a handful of students were gathered and after this she was there every day until she left Athens for Delphi and for her attendance at a  Buddhist  retreat north of Athens in the company of other Athenians.

The following photos and comments are her personal record of her time in Athens. She left Athens a few days before the Parliament passed the Austerity Measures Bill when TV screens around the world showed over and over again violent images of what was happening on the streets. More about that later in the post……

Greek Cops Waiting

 
 
 
 
 
 
It was a common sight to see groups of cops (police) on bikes or foot around the square and gradually as the week  progressed their presence became more obvious particularly towards evening when the people were starting to gather in Syntagma Square for the evening discussions, speeches and songs.
 
 
 

Beginning of the Tent City in the Square

 
 
 
 
At this stage there were just a few tents and people were busy talking as usual and some were creating makeshift signs.
 
It looked more like a scout camp than a revolution.
 
Most of the young people I met spoke good English but appreciated my attempts to converse in my faltering Greek.
 
They were pleased I could read their signs some of which I will show and translate below.

Greek Parliament

 

Fancy Dress Soldiers on their way to guard the Parliament

 
 
 
 
 
 
           

What We Need!

                                                                                                   

 This is the first sign I saw after I started going to the Square, as you can see it
is Texta on Cardboard, hardly high-tech. Before I had a chance to translate it (always tricky as Greek Capital letters are often different to their lower case equivalents) I thought it must be a kind of  Bill of Rights or List of Political demands but no, it is nothing of the sort. Ever practical they were asking for:
 
CLOTH,CARDBOARD,PAINT,TEXTA PENS, SELLOTAPE,ROPE, BRUSHES,
TABLES,CHAIRS,TENTS,PORTABLE LAMPS, MICROPHONES,WATER, RUBBISH BAGS, NOTICE BOARDS, MORE TENTS, FLOODLIGHTS.
 
When I asked where these would come from they told me ‘the people’ and they were right, as the days went by all this as well as food and drink and sleeping bags, linen, clothes etc were donated by ‘the people’.
 
 
  

Love this tent!

              

More and More Tents

                                                                                              

 

REAL DEMOCRACY like we had 2500 years ago!

 
 
 The young Greek students who painted this sign and set up their website were well aware of the sorry history of their failed political process where cronyism, elitism and bureaucratic feather bedding had eaten away not only at their democracy but also their economic and  civic resolve. 
They all knew how Western Democracy and its many imitations around the world started here, when each of the 12 tribes of what was then Greece or Attica sent a representative to live and work  for one month in what was then their National Assembly returning home afterwards to allow another member of their community or group take their place.
 
 
 

In the name of Melina Mercouri

          
A visit to the New Acropolis Museum is a must for any traveller to Greece if only to realise how much has been stolen from  the birthplace of democracy by many of the countries whose citizens make their pilgrimage here.
The new Museum stands out for its modern architecture which aligns itself with the Parthenon way above  on the Holy Rock called the Acropolis.  What made the most impact inside the museum  for me was not the few marvellous sculptures that have managed to survive, but all the gaps left in the Museum’s mockup of the Parthenon where images of the Gods and mighty heroes of our shared mythology and history have been hacked away and taken to museums and private collections all over the world. If all these stolen artifacts and works of art could be valued and Greece compensated for them imagine how their economy might be!
                                                                                                             

Global Stooges

     

No word needed here

Individual citizens express their anger and frustration at what feels to them to be a return to a kind of dictatorship with the ordinary people having no say in  their future.

 
 

Man with a Mission

                    at first I did not realise what this man’s mission was until I saw the reference to the Bible, John 14:14. Standing at the top of the steps with the Parliament as his backdrop and looking down on all the activity in the Square,  seemed oddly appropriate when I translated his biblical quote: If you ask for something in My Name I will do it’.
 
 

Message from France

     

Riot Police Relaxing outside the Parliament

         

Syntagma Square Filling Up

Every night more and more people would gather in the Square I would walk there for a while and then go into nearby Plaka the old area of Athens to my favourite tavernaki to eat and listen and talk with other people working or dining there. Most of them depended on tourism and were worried on the effect of all this activity, noise and crowds on the tourists. Many were sanguine about it saying nothing will change, it never does.  ‘We have been living in a dream and now it will become a nightmare,’ one philosopher told me.
 
I came back to Athens on the night of the  biggest demonstration ever(over 200,000 people) travelling on the metro which was packed with well dressed well spoken people all heading for the Square. They advised me to take the back exit from Syntagma station which I did but the crowds were just as thick and it took me a long  time to find my way through them to my friends.
Back on my hotel balcony late at night I could still hear and see the crowds singing, shouting and blowing whistles and banging drums. I fell asleep to this cacophony wondering about the clash of pragmatism and idealism,the need for economic independence, civic responsibility, true democracy, the battle of the Titans, Heracles 12 Labours, Odysseus’ 20 year journey home to his faithful wife Penelope, and the mighty Achilles defeating Hector on the plains of Troyzzzzz zzzzzzzz.
 
Later at home in Australia watching the violent images from the Square where I had spent so much time, I was at first sad and then angry particularly when I had a message  from a friend in Athens I trusted who told me the rioters were paid provocateurs who had nothing to do with the People’s Movement I had been privileged to witness during my time in Athens.
                                                                

January 20, 2011

DISCOVERY : A REVIEW of wrack

 Athena has retreated to her cave at Santorini ( see 2010 August 27 )   and has asked me  to do a guest post .

Recently I was visiting ‘my home away from home’, the serene women’s pool at Coogee. In the change room is a reading corner where swimmers leave books for others to read.

This time I picked up a book entitled wrack and it was this word that grabbed me. Intrigued I read the extracts from the reviews on the back and realised that the author’s name, James Bradley, was familiar but I was sure I had not read any of his work. The reviews used words like ambitious, intelligent, provocative, ingenuous, sensuous, erudite, and the short précis sounded enticing.

However I was at first sceptical, jaundiced from the struggle with my own writing and the glut of both popular and literary books that tumble off the shelves and disappear into oblivion.

With nothing else to read while I lay in the shade between swims I panicked, hoping this book might live up to its marketing hype. It was after all by an Australian writer with a peculiarly Australian story emanating from the controversial maps of the journeys of Portuguese explorers to Australia nearly two hundred years before the discoveries of Cook and Banks.

I couldn’t help wondering about the journey of this book from its no doubt proud display in a major bookshop in 1992 to some second-hand bookshop or exchange where it was sold for $2.95, maybe to the person who had left it here, and now it came free of charge to me, perhaps not the first women’s pool reader.

No wonder writers struggle to make a living just from their writing.

As a writer and would be novelist now happily blogging, writing songs, and little books, I thought of all the energy and emotion I had put into my several unpublished novels, so I approached this novel with both trepidation and humility.

This was James Bradley’s first novel published in 1992 when he was already a published  poet and editor of an anthology of Australian writing, so the inside cover told me.

I had left my iPhone at home but even if I’d had it with me I would not have googled him.

I wanted to see if indeed I had happened upon a treasure and I didn’t want to be influenced by anything else but my own reading here and now in January 2011.

As I turned the first two pages I liked what I saw, a dedication to the memory of his grandfather and an extract from the shorter Oxford dictionary with seven meanings for the word wrack some of which I didn’t know, and in reading those definitions I started to feel a sense of excitement as to what was to follow.

Then I was delighted to find a list of Maps that were included in the book as well as a table of Contents including Acknowledgements which I quickly scanned. So far so good. But it got better.

A Prologue headed by a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was followed by an extract from the journals of a William Townshend the Surgeon aboard His Majesty’s Vessel Berkeley written on the 17th August 1794 telling of the discovery of a shipwreck believed to be of Portuguese or Spanish origin witha  ship design not seen for over 200 years. And amongst the debris a box containing papers with the name De Cueva and the date 1519.

 No comment was made by the author about this extract except to follow it with a page from Mathew Flinder’s Voyage to Terra Australis 1814 alluding to a French chart that showed an extensive country south of the Moluccas called Great Java which agreed with the extent and position of Terra Australis and could have been the result, wrote Flinders, of observations of the Portuguese on their voyages from India before and after 1540.

Then someone asked the question, How to tell this story, where to begin?

When I first read this page and half I was not sure who was asking this question of me, the reader, using both the first person plural we and second person you.  Not knowing was good. Here was the theme and that was also good. 

Perhaps it begins in a storm…..or there are patterns we can detect in the motion of the sand…..symbols which might trace out a story of love and death. About loving and dying…..emotions moving like tides like rivers deep within the sand…feeling stealing across the years like shifting hills slowly inexorably burying all that lies before them……

The poet was speaking here and then suddenly we were into the story with the introduction of one of the main characters, David, the present day Archaeologist who was supervising a dig for what we already knew would be related to that ship and that name and those maps.

 The short first chapter headed Discovery was not just about this, it was the start of a complex, compelling historical murder mystery linked to the present by archaeological secrets, rivalries and obsessions, and including two beautiful, terrifyingly real love stories.

I couldn’t finish this book at the pool, I had to dive in and swim to come up for air so immersed was I in its pages, so I took it home to devour it over the next week. I was fascinated and sometimes annoyed by the structure but full of admiration as to how the writer almost managed to pull it off.

It didn’t matter if I found some of the transitions from present tense to past, or changes in narrator or lack of punctuation or the interjection of succinct essays on the political history of European expansion challenging, since I had experimented with all such devices in my own writing and I knew how well this writer was handling these.

And above all, the story, the characters and the clear but lyrical prose carried me into worlds that I knew and didn’t know, the familiar and the strange interwoven in a book that doesn’t quite fit any genre,  resulting in a reading experience rivalling some of my best.

Original, exciting, seriously scary in parts and oh so erotic with a sometimes perverse edge, are some more epithets I would add.  And hurrah for a man who can write erotic scenes so well!

I googled James to find out more and I remembered why his name was familiar, his blog  had been recommended in Newswrite the journal of the NSW  Writers’ Centre, and  he’d had gone on to win further acclaim with his next two novels. His blog is generously full of ideas, information, provocative essays, comments, videos, cartoons,  and the longest blog roll I’ve ever seen. Well worth a visit particularly his video interview about his book The Resurrectionist.

However there is nothing like the experience of reading a great novel, lying in the sun overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean in this land we now call Australia or the map calls Great Java.

Wrack will stay with me a long time, it is already in my psyche burrowing away and prodding my wretched muse to do its work. I don’t want to part with this book yet but eventually I will take it back to the pool and let someone else have the joy of Discovery of this treasure. And I will buy  a copy of The Resurrectionist.

December 20, 2010

WHAT DOES CHRISTMAS MEAN IN 2010?

Filed under: Athena's musings,Modern Athenas,Who am I? — athenapallas @ 8:47 am
Tags: , , , ,

Our Lucky Land

How can I write anything meaningful about Christmas when thirty desperate people have lost their lives trying to come to our  so-called lucky  land.

A land that unlike most places that these people have escaped from is peaceful, prosperous and supposedly welcoming and inclusive.

How have we so easily forgotten that we all came to this country as refugees or even prisoners and occasionally free settlers but usually escaping from persecution, or class hatred or poverty or the harsh winters of Britain or Europe in which our babies died.

As I walk along my street in Leichhardt I often pass a woman on her way back from  the shops. She walks lopsided, gripping plastic shopping bags and I notice her unsuitable shoes, her sad eyes, her dropped face and her thinning dyed black hair, and I wonder about her.

I usually try to make eye contact and say Hello, but mostly she does not see me, or if she does she gives a hardly perceptible nod of her head.

A part of my professional mind thinks she must be depressed, another part of me gets annoyed at her avoidance and concerned that she doesn’t seem to know how to look after herself, or as I think she should, by using a trolley, or wearing a hat and more suitable shoes for her shopping trip.

Last week I looked towards her house to see if she was coming down the street.

I could see her outside her gate because she was wearing a bright orange pants suit so different from her usual dark attire. As I approached her, I smiled and said, ‘I love your orange pants suit, the colour really suits you.’

Her face lit up like she was a young woman again, standing in the moonlight with her sweetheart, and she smiled at me.

 ‘I bought it at Millers. I buy all my clothes there..so cheap.. my daughter buys me other things not necessary…

And so she started to talk and tell me her story.                                         

‘ We came here from Italy in the 50’s,  a village north of  Roma,                        

my husband he was a good man, he worked for the big builders

in the city, he built Australia Square, we had a good life here,

then he has the head thing and he nearly died, he was only 45,

I nursed him for ten years but he was good man,

and the neighbours here very kind people, I have lived here 50 years, 

I have two daughters they work in the city they do well,

we very lucky, I have been robbed three times in this street,

once they knocked me down and took my bag,

and I fell on my leg, I’m ok now, I have a 26 year old grandson,                                                      Village in Italy

I say to him you can put me in the place in Marion St but he says no,

you don’t need that, Nona, I’m lucky I know people here,

the woman in your house was my friend she died of  cancer long time ago….’

 The rain is starting to spot her lovely orange jacket but still she continues to talk.

So much history and so much to be thankful for despite all she has gone through.

No wonder some days she looks grim and does not see me. Now, however she will see me, I know her name and I  have welcomed her into my world without judgment.  And we can at last be true neighbours.

What a pity we don’t do this more often.

My Bella in Tuscan Village

December 5, 2010

ATHENA SINGS WITH JONAH AND THE WAILERS

 

Athena sang with Jonah and the Wailers at the Basement earlier this year. If you like the sound and energy of this wonderful Acapella group you can see them and Athena at their final concert for the year, End the year on a HIGH NOTE, at the Mosman Art Gallery, December 12th at 3pm. You can purchase your tickets online and find out more about this wonderful concert.

April 25, 2010

Athena and the Anzacs

Athena the warrior Goddess did not fight in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915  but her grandfather did.

Three thousand  years earlier, however, she had  fought beside the Greek heroes in the ten year Trojan war not far from the Gallipoli peninsula so she knew the impossible terrain of this wasteland, she’d witnessed the dubious politics of such wars, and had admired the determination of the Trojans and now the Turks to defend their homeland.  She decided that unlike the Greeks who had the help of the whole lexicon of the  Olympian gods, this modern army faced a Troy  that could not be taken.

She also knew that unlike the Bronze age soldiers,  these modern ones had not been trained from birth in the art and skills of war.  Even though they were armed with guns and explosives she realised that hand to hand combat would  also be needed. And this was not the work of 20th century farmers, drovers, carpenters, clerks and teachers. 

However she had not counted on the peculiar ingenuity, character and dogged courage of so many Australian men, some hardly more than boys, when confronted with impossible odds. She watched and marvelled how in the midst of brutal chaos men held each other as they died, kissed photos of  their loved ones, dragged their mates to safety, railed  against the stupidity of their superiors, and played two up or football in no-man’s land, taunting death which often took them even at play.

How these men kept their humanity and became gods seemed miraculous even to her. It was a Turkish captain who told an English officer as they went to collect their dead in no-man’s land,  ‘At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep.’*

Athena, through her most recent mortal manifestation as a modern woman in 2010, had access to the written account of her grandfather’s experience of the landing and the first few days afterwards. In it he tells of the savage killing  that took him to the brink of insanity. He wrote: 

 A melee took place between us and the enemy on Tuesday  morning and it was a shocking affair, yells and groans and curses mingled with the crack of rifles and revolvers and men stabbing and clubbing each other to death. Might was right in that “do” and we hacked our way through them and back again, no time to see to the wounded, it was kill or be killed and we killed. This was however just a minor “scrap” only about 150 men were laid out and……..

He wrote to his sweetheart the following:

Imagine a ridge sloping towards the enemy(who were close) covered with shrubs about 2ft high on the  top of this Ridge, the remains of as brave a lot of men as ever stepped. Billy was dead, Steen was dead, dead men lying in grotesque attitudes covered  with reddish black blood which was oozing from them. Heads, arms, and legs to be picked up or one would kick a hand or face as one moved. These poor devils were raving mad (badly wounded) singing songs and cursing the Turks. When I saw Bill and  Steen I swore and cursed long and badly for the first time. It relieved some of the devil in me that was making me madder every second.

Later he came to the end to his Gallipoli campaign:

I seemed to have a charmed life as on my right and on my left next to me men fell but I was just about to take cover as they were machine gunning us when a shell burst near me and I was done. I am indebted to the signaller who was with me for saving my life, he dragging me back out of the “Scrap” and seeing with the assistance of my Sergeant that I was taken to the beach.

A final letter to his soon to be wife Alma said:

We have had love’s young dream to the fullest sense while we were together. But I’m afraid you will find me changed, not in my love for you, never! but I don’t care to joke. I’ve been through hell and it’s left an impression, a lasting one…pray for me, I need it.

He then concluded with a sobering final sentence:

The Colonel had the Battalion mustered 3 days after the landing; 98 men I am told answered the call out of  960. I think the First Battalion has done its bit.

*caption to  photo in Les Carlyon’s  classic book Gallipoli 2001

Other quotes in the above post are from the personal papers and letters of E.V. Timms, some of which were also published in 1996  in The Distaff Side by Jessica Scotford his daughter. 

E. V. Timms came back at the age of 20 to his  mother and his stepfather the Rev. Angus King, minister of St David’s church in Haberfield, to be feted as a hero. He could not bear such attention so he fled the manse (the house next to the church where his family lived) and went to stay with the family of his fiance Alma McRobert, in Summer Hill until they were married.

He suffered from hearing loss, periods of  deep depression and  bouts of  rage, no doubt the result of the neurological and psychological trauma he’d experienced. With the love and help of his wife and family and his own courage and determination he became a  writer of  short stories, radio and film scripts and 20  books including the Australian saga of 11 bestselling romantic historical novels. He served in the Second World War as the Officer in charge of the Italian section of the notorious POW camp at Cowra. (And that’s another story). After his death at the age of 60,  his wife Alma completed the 12th novel in the saga and went on to write another novel of her own.

April 12, 2010

Warrior Goddess ready to do battle

Last night after watching 4Corners on the ABC I went over to the Bronte Surf club to retrieve my helmet, spear, and shield (aegis) because I’m going to to need them. I’m going to have leave my musings behind for a while and get dirty. Dirt is what the ABC  program was all about. Dirt from the 14 Open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley that make the lives of its 40,000 inhabitents like living in  Hades.

A truck driver encounters an orange cloud of toxic  gas and is so overcome with its poison he nearly  loses control of his truck;  families have all their children suffering from coughs,  asthma, bronchitis, hideous skin allergies which all disappear within days of holidaying on the coast.

In one small town 100 of the 150 people who have lived through this enormous expansion of King Coal in the area, have left to protect their families’ health. For some interviewed it’s already too late as they have inoperable cancers which they attribute to living so close to the  toxic dust and gases from the area’s mines and two power stations, and there is mounting research, overseas and here ,to support this claim.  

some stats:

14 mines in the Upper Hunter pump out 99 million tonnes of coal a year for the furnaces of Japan, India and China.

100 kilometres to the south the port of Newcastle has become the biggest black coal exporter in the world and the mines are going to get bigger in the next 6 years maybe doubling their output. 

At any one time 20 to 30 coal ships are lined up all the way to the central coast waiting to swallow their loads of black gold.

For the 40,000 people who live in the Upper Hunter, some of whom have been there for 5  or 6 generations,

there is no escape.

Latest yearly stats show a total of 108 tonnes of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead soaking the air of the upper Hunter along with 122,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.

If Mt Olympus was an active volcano and if  my father Zeus got really angry and ignited it,  it could not produce a cloud of poison as bad as this.

You may ask why this makes me so angry. I’m the narrator in a  factional fantastical story Digging Up the Dead  being written  about  the effects of coal mining on a  town and its people in Queensland in 1972 and 1992.

The local mine is  small compared the ones of the Hunter and the Bowen Basin in 2010. But even back then people who lived near or worked in the mines were dying from underground explosions, fire, blasting accidents, toxic dust and gas.  In my story, when the coal company decided to go underground again and mine the area in which 12 men were entombed in 1972, the town calls on me in my mortal manifestation as an unusual sort  of diviner to help… more  about this later

I was  so moved by what  the local GP  in Singleton is doing

 to try to get the government to even acknowledge there could be a problem

that I wondered if I should be going there to help him.

This man, who has been living and working there for years, is one helluva god.

After no response to a well written and researched submission from the town

for some sort of study into what might be happening,

with the help of volunteers he started a study of his own, 

 testing the lung capacity of 900  local children  to see if they had asthma related problems.

 One in six had significantly lowered lung function compared to the national average of one in nine. 

 He would like to test the lung capacities of a  matched group  on the coast

or in some other rural community away from mines. 

But this surely is  a job for the government.

I’m going to let him have the last word on this post.

Dr Tuan An said ,’ I’ve been here for 14 years, I have a good family and wonderful community and friends.

I can’t just pack up and leave. I hope every body working together, we can change the community.

 I think the community’s not against the mining company or power station, they just want change.

The would like the goverment to listen to their…what they request

and because it’s their life and their family

and if we do not do anything else, the one we lose is our family…..’

Sorry, he can’t have the last word.

 Unlike him I’m angry and

when Athena the Warrior Goddess is angry the whole universe shakes

I don’t want to have to use the full strength of my powers, not yet anyway,

but I’m aiming my spear of Pallas and woe betide if it’s aimed at you: 

 irresponsible mining moguls, greedy consumers,

dumb governments, and dumber media

who think all we want to know about is Britney’s latest disaster.

What about a disaster that’s happening to  40,000 people

who live in what was once the most beautiful valley in the world.

and one more stat:

the  NSW government earns 1.5 billion from coal royalties

and earnings from power stations and coal transport,

that’s a lot of reasons to ignore the people of the Upper Hunter.

Much of what I’ve written is based on the transcript of the  excellent 4corners program of last night.

Any errors of stats, facts etc are my own as are the opinions expressed.

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