where nothing was before

I try to talk mainly about words and books when I write for Riverton Press, so this comes with a warning: today I’m going to talk about weaving. Soon enough I’ll be telling more about Lyn McGettigan’s new book Lucky to be Here, now in the design process, and about Vittoria Pasquini’s upcoming work, The Legend of Busby, now perfecting its text and translation.

It’s not a deviation from theme to talk about weaving: text and textile, line and word count, line and stitch count, not to mention yarn and yarning. It’s the same vocabulary so there must be some connection. In one, structures are made of warp and weft, in the other, they’re based on verb and noun.

Just as we might tell you, we’ve published a book, today the news is, I’ve made a basket. When I began, I had in mind a basket big enough to serve as a fruit bowl, say three or four mangoes.

I attended a series of workshops at the Museum of Sydney’s Weaving Room. Indigenous women came from various parts of New South Wales, exhibited their work and taught and talked with anyone who came through the doors. I began in December when Kodie Mason from La Perouse gave me a small circle of woven bone-coloured raffia and a yellow plastic needle. This was a “starter” and you proceed, basically, with blanket stitch. I sat at the table with other learners, we swapped stories as we worked, or worked companionably in silence. Sometimes groups sat around the two circles on the floor, their central point being a mountain of coloured raffia.

Visitors included schoolchildren and their parents, tourists from abroad, Sydney locals. Probably the most enthusiastic learners were the museum staff, who started weaving during their turns in that Museum space, then saw no reason to stop. Their managers have no problem with that, and now you might be greeted at the entrance by staff with a weaving project in hand.

My basket began with Kodie and Tarli Mason, two sisters from La Perouse, on 23 December. On 9 January I retuned with my friend Eilean, and Tarni Eastwood from Darug country showed me how to join new raffia to the growing basket. Eilean worked with raffia and made a bracelet, then chose some paper raffia to start making a circle. She worked quietly, waiting, she said, for the meditative state.

The following Monday I returned and met the Gomeroi women from the Yinarr Maramali cultural hub at Tamworth. This collective has made a magnificent large turtle that hangs on the Weaving Room wall: many small woven pieces of various patterns were cleverly joined together. I loved these women and their laughter but that day I had a struggle with raffia as a material. This is not my medium, I thought, and the more I thought that, the more the raffia tied itself in knots.

On 23 January Tegan Murdock of the Barkindji and Yorta Yorta peoples showed me how to move from the flat floor of my basket to start building its walls, this was an exciting moment for a novice weaver. I told Tegan she has a special place in my heart for that bit of teaching. Now I became more enthusiastic and did more weaving during the week, building up the walls so the basket would be ready for (what I thought would be) my last workshop. I needed to learn how to finish off the work.

The wonderful women from Bundjalung country were at the Museum on 6 February and Kylie Caldwell helped me complete the basket. It turned out to be a flimsy lightweight affair, but it’s a basket, and I made it! Then I tried my hand at the lomandra grass that had been dried then dampened again and lay in strips on the table in a wet towel. Auntie Margo Torrens and Kylie helped me create a small piece much the same size as others on the table, these were going to form part of an installation to be assembled the next day.

So I went back on the morrow to see that. It was the last day of the workshop season. As in all yarning circles, things don’t happen in an instant, one waits. I sat at the table talking with the weavers and had a look at the Visitor’s Book. I hadn’t planned to do any weaving but when I closed the book, I saw my hands were holding some raffia threads. I swear I didn’t pick them up! Well, I thought, I’ll have a go at starting a new piece, I saw how Margo did it yesterday. Soon I showed the teachers my progress and Kylie taught me how to make a stronger basket. Which is now in stages of becoming, and I have made my peace with raffia.

The phrase, where nothing was before, from I poem I used to know, floated into my mind as I thought about creating books, baskets, works of art, and it seemed appropriate to describe the results of creative process. Then I remembered more words and found the full poem. The poet wasn’t talking about making, but about first contact between cultures.

It’s a sonnet by JC Squire, on the first sighting of foreign ships on waters (where nothing was before) from a shore where there was an Indian, who had known no change. The poem is about that moment just before first contact between an indigenous community and sailing ships from Europe: the man on the beach sees for the first time, Columbus’s doom-burdened caravels.

The Museum of Sydney is all about that first contact in Sydney Cove. You hear voices as you pass a set of high standing timber on your right as you enter the museum. These speak to me of ancient culture, ancient forest, and remind me of that beautiful installation of didgeridoos at the National Gallery in Canberra. The Museum is built over and around the remains of Governor Phillip’s Government House, and exhibits reflect stories from both cultures in the early years of the English invasion.

small beginnings
fruit bowl
the weaving room

Journeys in Melbourne

The Melbourne book launch of Journeys and Operation Pedro Pan was all it might have been, with many encounters of friends and colleagues who hadn’t seen each other in ages, and many interesting things to learn about stories told in the books. Real life stories, I’m talking about. The staff of Readings bookshop in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn were wonderfully welcoming, as were the good people of Melbourne who helped me find my way there on public transport. (I prefer to ask for personal directions, so much more fun than using the phone.)

Ralph Newmark of the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Melbourne was our amiable MC, and editors Ruth Adler and Jenny Cooper spoke about compiling and editing Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico. It was great to see them, especially Jenny who had come all the way from Mexico. It was Jenny who co-ordinated the Journeys publication process with the Australian Embassy in Mexico City and our designer and printer there. The Embassy financed the design and printing costs, and then we were able to donate our profits from that print run to Mission Mexico, an Australian charity operating in Chiapas.

The Embassy staff who worked with us in 2020-21 were Bernard Unkles, then Deputy Head of Mission and Lorena Zapliain, who was Public Diplomacy Officer. Well, what a surprise it was to see Lorena at the launch. She is now studying in Melbourne, and guess what, she came to the book launch with Bernard’s parents!

I was pleased to meet one of Journeys contributors, Heidi Zogbaum, and speak with her about the subject of her studies in Mexico, the author Bruno Traven. I had read and enjoyed Traven’s books and I was able to tell Heidi how surprised I was to discover her negative opinion of the author. She was happy to tell me why she’d formed her opinions about the subject of her thesis.

Manon Saur, another excellent contributor to the book and creator of the image on Journeys cover, was unable to attend the launch, but her work looked fantastic on display in the crowded bookstore. It’s very colourful and suggestive of Mexico, and sits so well on the cover designed by Ricardo Gallardo of Mutare in Mexico City.

It was lovely to meet Deborah Schnookal, author of the book about a stolen generation of Cubans – children taken from Cuba to the United States in 1960-61 “to escape communism” – and to hear some details about Operation Pedro Pan. Around 14,000 children and adolescents were airlifted to the US under this scheme, purportedly to get an education, and many were never able to return. Shnookal also spoke of the literacy programme established by the Revolution, when some 100,000 youths went to rural areas in Cuba to teach reading and writing skills.

This literacy programme was echoed by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and in other parts of the globe, including Australia, where even today Cubans are teaching literacy skills in remote parts of our country. I have met one of these teachers, and I can assure you that adapting to life in Bourke or Brewarrina, New South Wales, is no easy task for anyone from Havana.

Operation Pedro Pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children by Deborah Schnookal was published by University of Florida Press, 2020.

In 1989 Deborah Schnookal, together with David Deutschmann, established Ocean Press, a publishing company focussing on Latin American politics and culture. Their first big hit was The Motorcycle Diaries, the memoir of Che Guevara, later made into a successful movie starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal.

Our amiable MC proved himself to be a conscientious fellow, and not only because he performed his duties well and observed agreed time constraints. I say this because Dr Ralph Newmark declined our invitation to join us for dinner as he had a busy 10-hour day ahead – he was to run the conference Food and Society: Latin America, Iberia and Australiaat the University of Melbourne. He was also to present his talk on Soundscapes of Sustenance: Music & Food in Latin America, a multimedia analysis of how music and songs about Latin American foods can both internally celebrate and externally denigrate Latin American society and culture. Dr Newmark has developed two methodologies, “Aural History” and “Tasting History”, to explore political, economic, social and cultural aspects of history.

Finally, thank you to the people who sent us photos of the event and whose work I post here without permission. Please let me know if you would like some acknowledgement. You can write to:


Three editors to meet again

Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico

Edited by Ruth Adler, Jacqueline Buswell and Jenny Cooper

Riverton Press, 2021

I think there was perhaps a glass of wine or two in our hands when our book Journeys was born – as one of those ideas that you might or might not do something about.

It was December 2017 when we sent out our first convocatoria, our call for writings about experiences of Australian women in Mexico. We started to write our own, and stories, poems and photos slowly began to make a book.

We formed an editorial team with members in Mexico, Canberra and Sydney. We produced an interesting and heart-felt book with contributions from very different people, who wrote about experiences in Mexico funny, sinister, exasperating, exotic, loving. We wrote about friends who had been with us in Mexico and have since died. We spent hours in online conversations discussing things large and small of an editorial process.

Even without Covid, it would have been an online process because of our geographical distance, but Covid gave us time and taught us patience. The idea we had in 2017 became a book in 2021 with contributions from 12 Australian women and one male to female transgender person.

The book was designed and printed in Mexico. Then began the logistics of launches, and Covid made things more complicated. Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico, has already had three launches – one online, directed by the Australian Embassy in Mexico City, one in a garden in Tepoztlan, Morelos, which morphed into a birthday party for editor Jenny Cooper, and one combined live-online launch in Canberra, organised by editor Ruth Adler with the Centre for Latin American Studies of the Australian National University (ANCLAS).

We are pleased to announce the fourth launch, to take place in Melbourne on 17 November 2022. The big thing for us is that all three editors plan to be there, live and in person, at Readings Bookshop, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn. We haven’t been physically together since that day when we casually thought “it would be a good idea”.

This will be a double book launch, as Deborah Shnookal’s book Operation Pedro Pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children will be launched too. Deborah examines the airlift of 14,000 Cuban children to the United States in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.

Thursday 17 November 2022 at 6.00pm-7.30pm

Readings Bookshop, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria



This event will be held in conjunction with the conference Food and Society: Latin America, Iberia, and Australia, at the University of Melbourne on Friday 18 November, organised by the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Enquiries: Dr Ralph Newmark –


Who was the translator, did you say?

Riverton Press plans to publish a translated book with the translator’s name on the front cover. It’s not new to have a translator’s name there, but it’s not common either. Probably most translators of books would say they should be recognised as creators of new versions of texts with their name in a prominent place. In this case, we met a translator who said he did not want his name on the book cover. So we’ve had to consider the question.

There are a couple of main arguments posed against putting the translator’s name on the front cover of a book, firstly, an imagined or real prejudice by the potential reader against “foreign” works: fear of the foreign will hurt sales. This argument is surprising today, we’re always being encouraged to enjoy our diverse multicultural societies, yet some publishers hide the foreign, assume we don’t like it, and “protect” us from it!!

Even literary translators such as David Hahn say that a jacket is there to sell a book, not to list credits. I think that’s a limited commercial view of the book cover, which should make a book aesthetically pleasing per se. This brings us to the second point, design. Graphic designers can argue that adding the name of a translator on a cover is a challenge. But they are often asked to accommodate words of praise by famous persons or other promotional material. The European Council of Literary Translators Associations (CEATL) believes that a book cover with the translator’s name on it does not have to be ugly, and has taken the trouble to make a collection of book covers from Europe to demonstrate that point. Sometimes these covers also mention the name of the source language, sometimes not. One cover even says “translated from the Spanish (Cuba) by…” 

Publishers who agree to put the translators’ names on the front cover believe that translators create new versions of an original text, they create work that is their own, and deserve due recognition. In the best of cases, in the world of books, that recognition is their name on the front cover. More commonly however, their name will be on the title page.

Translators aim to be invisible in the text, that is, they aim to make their language flow, to write like a native, I suppose we might say, even as they convey ideas and behaviours from other languages and societies. But that doesn’t mean translators should be invisible or hard to find in the presentation of their product.

Readers might WANT to know about the translation. Why not tell me straight away that this book by Jose Saramago has been translated by Margaret Jull Costa, that this book by WG Sebald has been translated by Michael Hulse or by Anthea Bell? That this book in Spanish has been translated from Basque or Catalan or Nahuatl?

In the case of our upcoming book, a translation from Italian to English, the author was always happy to share cover space with her translator, he was the one who didn’t want his name there. After some time, the author told me that the translator had reluctantly agreed to have his name on the jacket. At least I think that’s what he said, I’m told that he agreed with “malincuore”. This word sounds to me like he feels bad to the heart if his name is on the cover. Well, we don’t want that, so there’s a conflict for Riverton Press!

The Society of Authors (UK) believes translators’ names should appear on book jackets. They say:

Translators are the life-blood of both the literary world and the book trade which sustains it. They should be properly recognised, celebrated and rewarded for this. …. From now on we will be asking, in our contracts and communications, that our publishers ensure, whenever our work is translated, that the name of the translator appears on the front cover.

It’s fun to browse through the book covers collected by CEATL, you’ll find a link on this page:

I should add that David Hahn writes in the excellent online literary translation journal Asymptote.

The photo shows part of a door in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona.


new books on their way

Riverton Press has two books in the making, one about a house and its people, the other about a bomb aimer with the Australian Air Force in WWII. The first is evidently about life and love, family and friends, yet the other book is too, even while it tells of the aerial bombing of Germany and France. For the only hope of an Australian crew dropping bombs from a Lancaster aircraft would be to survive this mission, live tomorrow, dance and drink tonight, get a letter from home…

It’s different to think of the Second World War while this violent sudden Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. Watching old re-runs of Foyle’s War is no longer the simple comfortable consideration of its moral dilemmas. I know wars are always raging, I know I haven’t paid sufficient attention to those in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, that the current one is considered shocking by our Western media because it’s Europe and Europe was supposed to be over it. Not true of course, remember Chechnya, Georgia, Kosovo?

I have written a poem about learning ethno-geography through news bulletins from war fronts. How did I learn of the existence of a country called Chad, called Timor Leste, called Rwanda? Of people called Saharawi, called Mapuche?

Wars haunt us, and that’s one reason Lyn McGettigan is keen to publish her father’s memoirs from WWII. Wars haunt us, just read WG Sebald. As I prepare to publish Lyn’s book I think of the history of aerial bombing, of Guernika, the Blitz, the napalm in Vietnam, today’s missiles hitting Ukraine.

Lyn McGettigan wants us to know how it was for her father to fight the war he was sent to. We follow Jack Bewes as he moves from young man keen to learn and travel to the man five years later who realises – in his understated prose – that he “was not quite right” when he got home. His dancing and singing, his caring for others, his notes on 35 flying missions, his humour, carry us through the miracle of his survival.

The other book coming soon… I’ll tell you about in a separate post. It’s a translation!


poetry reviews

Some reviews have come in about sprinting on quicksand and it’s surely time to share them here, along with a photo from my bookshelves, a miniature from my world.

“I have a new way of starting my day – with my early morning cup of coffee I savour your poetry and it’s such a joy! I’m taking Jan’s advice to go slowly, which I can also apply to my activities after reading a few of your poems. I’m sure this is good for my blood pressure.

“I loved your searching for Haiku! You can see I’ve jumped to the back of sprinting on quicksand, but I’m also into Bedrock. I love the images in the shearing shed, as I have memories of visiting sheep properties in rural Queensland years ago, and the little girl watching the re-invention of clouds – magical! (I used to lie on the ground and look at the sky watching clouds, even several years ago when I had my cottage in Tassie, but never thought of them being re-invented). And then there’s the contrast of the modern counting of “sheep” at the train station. Such different worlds.

“I look forward to continue reading your poems that create perfectly the images and stories that can lead me gently into a new day. Thank you for sharing your gift through words.” Annaxue

“Your gift: I read with recognition, reflection, curiosity, delight and wonder. I haven’t proceeded apace, I want all these experiences and more to continue. I want to spin out, be languid in, let your words, their placement play in my mind and create images, thoughts, ideas.  How special. Truly, who receives a book of poems from the poet for their birthday. Thank you, thank you. I’m honoured.” Sue

“Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your extraordinary new book of poetry.  It arrived on Friday and I have snatched some brief moments to look through and read some of your creations.  In that short time I have come to this conclusion: from book title to photography; publishing to personally signed book; exquisite wordsmith and ordinary poem titles that capture the extraordinary, you have created a masterpiece.  Congratulations!” Maureen

“I have just finished a first reading of sprinting on quicksand, and like the collection a lot.  You cover a tremendous range, and the book is full of surprises (among them, the line that the title comes from), but I can always hear your voice. 

I think Taking down the shingle got to me particularly. But I also loved the sequences, including the haiku adventure.” Raewyn


Is a poet to blame for this kerfuffle?

thoughts on the brumby wars

As a poet I find it interesting to reflect on a poet’s role in giving wild horses a prominent place in Australian imagery, and thus indirectly leading to current debates:

heritage of the brumby VS environmental destruction by the brumby

It seems people are inspired by the story of The Man from Snowy River by AB Paterson when they argue that the feral horses known as brumbies have social/cultural heritage value for this nation. Others argue that the proliferation of feral horses in the Snowy Mountains is destroying soil, vegetation, native fauna and their habitat, and ultimately the health of the Murrumbidgee and Murray river systems.

When has a poet been behind such impassioned conflict?

As I child I knew Banjo Paterson’s poem off by heart and recited it. I’ve never seen the film, I imagine it’s a blokey thing with all those crack horse riders from the stations near and far… Harrison, Clancy, the stripling on the small and weedy beast and the rest of them. I know that this kind of man on a horse starred in the inauguration ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, so the image was obviously seen as a significant national symbol. Which is funny, when you see today’s urban society, full of people who may have met a horse rarely or never.

I read Paterson’s poem again now, and I’m still moved by its rhythmic energy and movement, especially when I reach the climax and denouement, when I break:

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur

Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896

This is not an honourable ride among the noble animals, it’s a merciless hunt, man against animal, man having to see the animal cowed and beaten so it bends to his will. Spurs, for those who don’t know, are cruel pointy metal things attached to the rider’s boots specifically for the purpose of sticking them into the horse’s sides. Any rider who wears spurs mounts the horse with intent to hurt the animal. And why? Paterson has already told us the rider let the pony have its head to find its own way down that terrible descent, where the wild hop scrub grew thickly, hiding a terrain full of wombat holes.

Perhaps the wild hop scrub was the creeping hop bush, Dodonaea procumbens, native to the Monaro region. It is now a threatened species. It grows along with the Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora (pictured), in alpine woodlands.

Dr Clare Buswell, chair of the Australian Speleological Federation’s Conservation Commission, says that visitors go to the Kosciuszko National Park to see and experience the uniqueness of its flora and landscapes. To put it another way, you can see Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila in all its glory only in the Australian alps. You can see horses in paddocks all around the country.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service recently accepted submissions on the management of feral horses in the Kosciuszko NP and the 2018 legislation that allowed for increased numbers of brumbies in the park. The Speleological Federation, referring specifically to the karst area around the wonderful Yarongobilly Caves, was one of many concerned groups and individuals to make a submission.

An excellent documentary film has been made recently: Where the Water Starts, by the hard-working and grand-hearted film makers Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini. It’s available from

The film examines the campaign to reduce numbers of feral animals that are damaging water sources, the habitat of native species, and Indigenous cultural heritage in the Kosciuszko region. Neglect and contempt for Aboriginal land management practices has certainly played a part in degradation of the natural environment.

Feral horses directly impact 23 threatened flora and 11 threatened fauna species in the Kosciuszko National Park. Brumbies disrupt natural habitats by trampling and wallowing, track creation, soil compaction, erosion of stream banks, overgrazing, and destruction of sphagnum bog and wetland, where, as Banjo put it,

the reedbeds sweep and sway to the breezes…

Where the river runs those giant hills between.

The Snowy Mountains ecosystems cover a tiny region of the continent yet are vital to the health of land and rivers in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. Think: food production, vineyards, watermelons, backyard gardens, think: town water supplies, think: Gundagai, Narrandera, Echuca, Mildura, the Hay Plains, the Coorong.

The Snowy alpine region was a grand setting for a good yarn in the 19th century. A poet might say, Don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story. But if we’re concerned about survival in times of climate change, let’s turn the phrase around: Don’t let a good story stand in the way of the facts. And here is a fact: large numbers of feral horses are destroying the very environment in which they are allowed to roam. We should care for the Snowy Mountains, for what they are, for those magnificent contorted snow gums, for the wonderland that is found in the Yarongobilly Caves, and because we depend on them.

The poet created the myth, brumbies are doing the damage, but it’s women and men today who must resolve problems created by introduced species that have gone wild. Think also: camels, cats, deer, cane toads, bindiis, asparagus fern, garden escapees. Decisions have to be made on complex environmental and ethical questions. Let there be movement at the station!


of shawls and words

While Riverton Press has its origins along the Murrumbidgee River, it has strong links to Mexico and the Spanish language. I’ve been thinking recently about the Mexican shawl known as the rebozo and simultaneously heard comments about la mexicanidad, the essence of being Mexican. I have always seen a similarity between weaving and writing, and Riverton Press accepts that this post is relevant to the business of words, as in spinning a yarn.

The rebozo is finely woven cotton and/or silk, in varieties of black and white / grey and white / grey and silver, it belongs to the rural working woman, la campesina. The soldaderas wore it when they rode the trains and tramped miles with guns and kettles for the Revolution in the early 20th century. You could say the rebozo has marched for Mexico.  Women carry babies in those shawls, at front or back, and today you can watch videos on how to use a rebozo during childbirth.  

The shawl is sold in the market place, no-one said you, foreigner, can’t wear this, for Mexico is always generous and a merchant happy to sell. I wear it gladly, though it feels too big, I don’t have broad industrious shoulders and carry no baby there, but fold it around me, wrap myself in Mexico.

Mexicans abroad might say that you don’t have to dress like la china poblana to express your mexicanidad, but I used to wear my rebozo like that, a statement of my acquired-something-Mexican, and my shawl seemed stiff and new for a long time.

Just so you know, la china poblana wears a white blouse, a full coloured skirt and a woven silk shawl, with beads, embroidery, floral motifs, often with colours of the Mexican flag (green, red and white) and indeed the very flag might be embroidered there sometimes.

I think of a certain Señora at the Sunday market who doesn’t pay for a stall but places her avocados and wild mushrooms on a strip of plastic to one side of the square. Her rebozo is a faded old second skin across her back. She lends no thought to any mexicanidad.

Of course the idea of quintessential Mexican-ness is contested. On social media someone recently posted a short video of a young woman singing La Llorona at a taco stall. The workers served the food, the clients ate, no-one seemed to pay her much attention, except for the person behind the camera and those of us caught up in the “video-went-viral” moment.

No sooner had I watched the clip when a comment was posted by a person known to me, praising the singer’s talent and declaring that she and the taco stall were more Mexican than a well-known singer who flaunts una mexicanidad que no tiene (a Mexican-ness that she doesn’t have). I thought that was a bit unfair on the famous singer, who has done a great job expressing things Mexican, including a fantastic version of that same song.

There are words so Mexican I can’t happily translate them into English, as you will have noticed while reading this text. I am never content to translate campesina as peasant, because I see too many socio-economic shades of difference. I see I have not translated la china poblana (the Chinese woman from Puebla) or told you her story. I can translate an expression I just heard on the radio: bigger than Ben Hur, without knowing who or what was Ben Hur and how big he or it was. All this brings us to the question of translatability and the transfer of meaning, which we can leave for another day.

Let me just say, millions of shawls are woven in Mexico and around the world, but when I use the word rebozo, I’m not thinking of all the coloured varieties, only of those in tones described above. And, to me, the rebozo is quintessentially Mexican.

Riverton Press usually takes its images from personal photo collections but our photo of a rebozo was definitely dull compared to the one borrowed from

It shows an image from the Mexican magazine Revista de Revistas (1910-2005), with Mexican actor Maria Felix in a film called La China Poblana. Apparently all copies of this 1943 movie have been lost.


free books!

The free street libraries are one of the best things in our cityscape.

There are treasures to be found, books I’ve always wanted to read, authors I’ve heard about, books that look interesting, and all for the taking! Then of course, it’s wonderful to be able to clear out our own bookshelves and give old books a new life by “returning” books to a library.

I’m in the business of making and therefore selling books, but I am delighted by the proliferation of free books. I have managed to curb my initial enthusiasm of “it’s up for grabs, seize the day” in an effort to prevent stockpiling.

Most street libraries have at least two shelves, some even have compartments and categories, books for children and books for adults. The library called “Free French Books” has at least four well stacked shelves. Book for adults seem to be just that, not as in “adult fiction”, “adult movies”, expressions which seem to mean pornography. When I see libraries labelled with more than three sections, such as fiction, travel, cooking, youth, I think, OMG they’ll be using the Dewy system soon!

I have begun to notice the architecture of street libraries. They imitate other city buildings, and a plain square box, which might be adequate, is rare. Most libraries have arched rooves, and indeed, they have to let the rain fall down and away, just like a house. Some are old and the wood is cracking, the paint is chipped, the doors have fallen off. Some are free standing, others, I suppose you might say, semi-detached. By far the most beautiful local one glitters with its polished wood and even has a miniature staircase, also in wood. Somehow it reminds me of the old wooden houses in Michoacán, Mexico, called trojes. And anything that takes me off today’s suburban street to the beautiful (though troubled) lands of Michoacán is very welcome, so that particular street library has tripled in value.

Riverton Press has not placed any of its publications in these libraries and is still open for business to sell you our books. Plans for new editions are also being slowly cooked.


a hybrid affair

The launch of Journeys in Canberra on 16 July was a hybrid event – pandemic style – live and via zoom. Not a fortunate coupling without adequate technical support, but “we’re all in this together” and “we are constantly having to adapt”. Those of us on zoom could see the speakers, and hear those with louder voices. At times the camera turned to the audience and from zoom we saw them and heard fragments of their questions / comments.

Photo: Manon Saur, Ruth Adler, Remo Moretta, Caroline Schuster

The Australian Ambassador to Mexico, Remo Moretta, spoke about elements the two countries have in common, one of these being indigenous populations and history. It’s not all about trade and money, he said, we could grow and learn by sharing indigenous experience, past and present.

At least that’s what I think he said, I was a bit distracted because a dear friend and colleague was urging me in the chat room to put my hand up and say something. She tried several times, and finally wrote “think of your mother” (founding force behind Riverton Press). So I did, and I remembered something about her that related to one of the questions, about the book’s cover image. In the end I didn’t get a chance to speak, so I’ll tell you here.

Manon Saur’s painting for the cover has a skeleton in it, why is that? someone asked (I think). Obviously both the question and the skeleton are pointers to speak about the annual major happening in Mexico that is the Day of the Dead. Manon was one of the launch speakers, so she related some of her experiences of el día de los Muertos. Thanks to Penny’s urging, I remembered when my mother Nita visited Mexico and we went to Oaxaca.

We didn’t particularly plan it that way, but it was THAT time of year. Oaxaca was dressed for the occasion and the streets were full of performers dressed as skeletons. I found it a bit mono-thematic, given that Oaxaca is so rich in history, art and social currents. Of course, we visited the archaeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla, were gold-struck in the church of Santo Domingo, tried the mezcal and ate the mole, but each evening we were pursued by noisy and colourful skeletons. I think Mother was a bit frightened, she had asked if it was safe to go out at night.

At the end of the weekend her comment was, I was chased by death, I was nearly grabbed by death, and when I got back to the hotel, death was waiting for me (in the form of miniature you-know-what on the dresser). I’m still alive, hurrah!

Later when she talked about what she liked of Mexico, she would say that she loved that it was not a materialist society in the way of money-loving, real-estate-hugging Australia. She admired Mexicans for having the spirit to look death in the face, play games about death, and not hide it away. Nita appreciated that in Mexico there was space for magic.