Award-winning journalist Michael McGuire has worked for more than twenty years at the Australian in Sydney, and the Adelaide Advertiser where he is now senior writer. He has also dabbled in state and federal politics. His first foray into fiction, Never a True Word, has been called ‘a political novel for our times’ (Australian).
What were you like as a child? Did you ever get into trouble?
Mostly okay, I think. There were two parts to my childhood. Up until I was 10 I lived in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of my memories from that time involve playing football or watching my dad playing football. I was fairly obsessed. Most people would say that hasn’t changed a great deal. It’s that old Jesuit saying – give me a boy until he is seven and I will give you the man. Just substitute the Jesuits for football and Celtic.
After we left Scotland we moved to Naracoorte for around four years. That was a great place to grow up. Lots of freedom and days running around the streets with friends. Being the country there was also lots of sport. Footy on Saturday and two games of soccer on Sunday. Bliss. It also gave me my first introduction to cricket. I couldn’t bat or bowl so I became a wicket keeper.
The other memories of childhood revolve around books. Famous Five, Biggles, Hardy Boys when I was younger then lots of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth. I always had my nose in my book. When I was eight I went to the Louvre in Paris with my family and caused some bemusement by reading a Peanuts book the whole way around. ‘Look son, there’s the Mona Lisa …’
What prompted you to write Never a True Word?
Probably several things. There had been a long-held desire to write something, anything. But I either didn’t have an idea I liked or just blamed the fact that life was too busy. Eventually, I decided I should just stop complaining and get on with it. By this time I had turned 40 and thought unless I start something soon, I will never get around to it. I had worked in politics for a while and found it tough, but fascinating. The personalities, the power, the egos. All the stuff that is hidden away generally from public view. I had loved shows like Yes Minister and, in particular, The Thick of It, but I hadn’t really read anything explained politics as I knew it to be. I wanted to write a book about how politics worked for people who were outside that world.
What is the biggest difference between working in journalism and politics?
They are two sides of the same coin. Now that I am on the side of the angels again in journalism, it’s all about holding politicians and politics to account. Politicians are not the enemy as such but you have to be wary. There’s different mindsets at work. Journalism is more about holding an attacking mentality – we are always chasing a story, pursuing a lead. Politics is often about defence. Killing that story, plugging the leak. There is much more paranoia in politics than media. The bunker mentality is the prevailing mindset in most political offices. Everyone in politics thinks the media is out to get them at all times. There may be some truth in this, but it also breeds an unnecessarily narrow world view and is responsible for much of the short-term thinking you see in politics at the moment.
What’s been the best reaction you’ve had so far to the book?
Lots of people have been very supportive which has been lovely. It’s been well reviewed in the Australian and the Age. On the ABC Peter Goers said many positive things about the book. As a journalist, it’s a bit weird when people are nice to you. It’s hard to know how to handle it.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Can I be seven again? I would come back as one of the great Celtic players. One of the European Cup winners of 1967, maybe Jimmy Johnstone, or my hero growing up, Kenny Dalglish. Although, unlike Dalglish, I wouldn’t have ruined my career by joining Liverpool.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
I couldn’t possibly go past the excellent Red Silk: The Life of Elliot Johnston QC by my friend and colleague Penny Debelle. Although, for a story from the other side of the legal tracks, Dead by Friday by another colleague and friend, Derek Pedley, is also a cracking read.
For NAIDOC Week, we are sharing this story from Phoebe and Savannah Brice, two of the many inspirational activists in Breaking the Boundaries.
We live in South Australia in a small, close-knit community about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
Our story started in 2007 when our Mum explained to us what being Aboriginal meant. She told us we were different from other people. When we asked how, she said, ‘It’s simply because our skin colour is different and we have a different flag. When you’re older you will understand better.’
We went to school the next day and when I noticed that our flag wasn’t flying proudly next to the Australian flag I started asking questions. I asked my classroom teacher why and she decided to follow it up. She spoke with our principal and they both decided I should contact Mr Rowan Ramsey, our federal Member of Parliament, and ask for an Aboriginal flag. I was successful and also received a medal for my achievement and initiative. Sadly, the flag was never flown because we didn’t have a flagpole to fly it on, and later, mysteriously, the flag disappeared.
After a few years, in 2012, my sister Savannah and I wanted to review this problem. We discussed it with our new principal, Maceij Jankowski, and our new classroom teacher, Katie Deverall, and decided that we would again write to Mr Ramsey asking for a new Aboriginal flag and an Australian flag too, as the old one had been put through quite a bit. But to prevent the dilemma we were earlier faced with, Savannah wrote to Mr Ramsey also asking for a flagpole.
About two weeks later we received a letter in the mail each and a parcel containing an Australian and Aboriginal flag. We had successfully gained two new flags for our school. But there was still the problem of the flagpole.
Phoebe was lucky. Her letter came with a parcel of two flags. My letter was a disappointment. It said that the flagpole fund had ceased but the good news was that my request had been forwarded onto Mr Geoff Brock, our state MP, to see whether he could be of assistance.
I waited for around two months to get a reply from Geoff, and when I finally got one it said that he was trying and he had sent my letter on to other people.
Then it was the September school holidays and my family and I went to the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic. As we were walking along Sideshow Alley my mum spotted Geoff Brock and she told Phoebe and me to go over and talk to him. So we did. We shook his hand and told him about the school and the flagpole. He told us that he was planning to visit our school in the last term. When school started again, I told my teacher and the principal and they were very excited.
It was Monday of the last week of term for the year and Geoff Brock still hadn’t come to visit, so I asked my teacher and principal for permission to send an email telling him how upset I was that he hadn’t come. The next day the principal asked for me in his office. I thought I was in trouble but it turned out that Geoff Brock was going to be at my school at 10 am that day. When he arrived, the principal, Geoff and I had a short meeting updating me on what was happening.
Then it was 2013. Phoebe had started at high school. We didn’t hear from Geoff until early in term two, when the principal called me into his office. He said that we had finally got the pole. I was so happy I started crying. A few weeks later the pole arrived and by that time some of the local reporters heard about the story and by the eighth week of term two, I had already been in six newspapers. In the last week of school we had a NAIDOC celebration where one of the other Rocky River schools came to celebrate with us. We had a huge flagpole ceremony. All the parents came, and both Geoff Brock and Rowan Ramsey were there along with news reporters. After Rowan and Geoff read their speeches, the school captain and I raised both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. For the first time in all my life at that school I saw my flag rise.
I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with getting the flags and pole, and all of my friends for their support, my teacher and my principal and, most importantly, my mum, dad, sisters Phoebe and Samantha, and my older brother Mathew. At primary school it’s a tradition that the Year 7s leave their mark. As I go into my last year here, I feel my mark has already been made.
Find out more about Breaking the Boundaries here.
We decided it was time to bring back our popular author profiles, and who better to start with than Stephen Orr.Stephen Orr is the award-winning author of six novels, including Time’s Long Ruin, The Hands, Hill of Grace and Dissonance. Peter Goers has called him South-Australia’s finest novelist. A fascination with the dynamics of families and small communities pervades his fiction and non-fiction. He contributes essays and features to several magazines, journals and newspapers. Stephen’s short fiction has been published widely over the last ten years, and a selection has gathered for the first time in his new release, Datsunland. His website is stephenorr.weebly.com.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I did write a novel when I was sixteen. It was called A Drop in the Ocean. Terrible, I guess, and I later burned it, like some sort of Nazi book-burning to rid the world of undesirable reading matter. Then forgot fiction until I was in my late twenties. I worry that Australian culture is adept at removing the dream gland from kids, when they start out at their most creative, enthusiastic. That’s how I remember it. Like writing in a void. And it still feels this way. I never liked sport. I hated sport. I detested sport. All of my protagonists hate it too (strangely enough). So you become a boilermaker, or sell things, or know someone who gets you a job in the public service. But god, you never waste time writing books. I’ve taught, which is the noblest of professions, and I try to get in the ear of the writer kids, and tell them to keep at it, because although they’ll never get a Best and Fairest trophy, they’ll have a hundred little worlds of their own making (note italics).
Do you have a writing routine? Why/why not?
Whenever I can. Mornings are good, the brain’s clearer. I like quiet, but my street is full of lawnmower-obsessed people (oh, and the metal grinder guy), so when that starts I have to stop for an hour, start again, then someone’s dog starts. So it goes. I’d like to make some sort of writing pod. My dog, Molly, sits with me while I work, and farts, and I growl at her and she looks at me like, Is there a problem here? Then I wonder what the hell I’m doing making up stories when everyone else I know is out earning lots of money, buying holiday houses, skiing.
What do you like about short stories (both writing and reading them)?
I think short stories are a good way into reading and writing longer fiction. Peter Carey seemed to hone his art with The Fat Man in History. Borges’s Collected Fictions are the first and last word (along with Juan Rulfo perhaps) in short fiction. And Robert Walser’s micrograms, which led to Kafka. The list goes on, especially Joyce’s Dubliners, Chekov’s short stories, Thomas Mann. Each writer found a way to compress the world, find a moment that represents many, pick up on a dilemma, problem, disaster, ecstasy that says much more than it seems to say (on the surface). Leaving the reader anxious, but unable to know more. Then having to rely upon their own sense of ending, or non-ending, to complete the experience. Flannery O’Connor’s stories, too. Dark, unsettling, violent, from this very Catholic and catholic writer.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?
Just finished a book about Ethel Malley (Ern’s sister). Yes, I know she was made up, but I wrote a novel about her life, loves, relationship with Max Harris. It’s a strange piece, but that’s just how it comes out. I seem to write stranger books as I get older, and the market seems to want more predictable, clichéd, pointless s*** to feed the groaning shelves of Big W and K Mart. If one of my books ever ended up there I’d know I am, at last, a failure. Where does this leave us? I predict there will soon be a reality show with writers churning out a book, with the prize being a big contract. We can watch them melt down, cook stuff, date in the nudie, try to sing like Celeste (or whatever her name is). And then people can switch over. Hear that ring in your ears? It’s the sound of cells dying. And you’ll never hear that frequency again.
If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
If I were Buddhist, this would be a problematic question, because it would suggest I’m moving down through the realms, instead of up. And if that were the case, and assuming I had any say in it (which I think is reasonable, but optimistic) then I’d be a seagull. Spend my days scabbing chips at Semaphore and flying to Adelaide Oval to poop on footballers.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
I love that Wakefield publishes so many art books: Drysdale, Dobell, and contemporary artists. Steidl, an excellent German publisher, does the same, and has many similarities to Wakefield: quality books, excellent editing, discerning titles. Wakefield is in one of group of publishers like Transit Lounge, Black Inc, that still stand for what publishing was years ago. As far as I know, big Mick Bollen doesn’t have a numbers-man with a degree in finance or marketing telling him what to publish. Without getting too political, I just wish the SA government would recognise that this type of work needs some support (no, not half a billion, stadium-style, but just a bit). That if Wakefield wasn’t publishing local stories there wouldn’t be anything to remember, wonder about, be moved by. Just the government’s view of the past, present and future. Which is a pretty grim thought.
Rhondda Harris came across something fascinating when researching in the State Records of South Australia at Gepps Cross for an archaeological dig at the old Adelaide Gaol: a long-lost journal written by the gaol’s first governor, William Baker Ashton. But we’ll let Rhondda introduce the journal herself through this short preamble from her book, Ashton’s Hotel. This includes an excerpt from the journal itself which, yes, may contain some ‘mistakes’. As Rhondda says in the book, ‘I have turned off the autocorrect and transcribed it just as it is in the original. It is an editor’s nightmare but an authentic read.’
June 11 Wednesday: A Poor Woman Named Wilkinson Supposed to be Insane was found at 71/2 this Morning with 2 Small Children Nearly Dead from wet and Cold at the end of the ditch Near the Gaol the Poor Children were in a Dreadful State their Arms and legs being quite Stiff from the Wet & Cold I had the Woman & Children brot into the TurnKeys lodge by a good fire and Mrs. Ashton and Mr Perry took their Wet Clothes off and put warm Blankets on them and they Soon got better . . .
– Sheriff Visited the Gaol Saw the Prisoners and Saw the poor woman & children found in the Water this Morning, wished her to Remain in the Gaol and he would Report the Circumstances to the Government her Husband was for some years in the Government Employ at the port but have left the Colony Since and this Poor woman has no home for herself or Children.
June 12 Thursday: Mrs Wilkinson Still in Gaol and her children Supplied from the Gaol Rations by order of the Sheriff.
This story is from an old journal, written in Adelaide, South Australia. The date was 1845, in the sixth year of this extraordinary journal and in the ninth year of the South Australian colony. This incident, so briefly recorded, is in itself an ordinary story, yet it hints at the far-from-ordinary character of the writer, William Baker Ashton, first governor of the Adelaide Gaol.
There are many such stories in his journal. They provide entry into the little-known underclass of early Adelaide, a world where many of the poor, the inebriates, the prostitutes, the debtors, as well as many Aboriginal people, mentally ill people, children who stole or absconded from their masters, sailors, runaway convicts, petty criminals and serious criminals, including bushrangers and murderers, were collected in the confines of the first Adelaide gaols. Some of these people escaped and were recaptured. Some were hanged. Many were transported by sea to be punished in the penal colonies of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, out of Adelaide’s sight. They were all looked after for a time by the governor of the gaol, William Ashton; his wife Charlotte; the guards and turnkeys and sometimes their wives; and by visiting officials – doctors, nurses, the protector for the Aboriginal people, the sheriff, religious ministers, and the colonial governor. It is a fascinating journal, a real treasure, and now that it is known, it is a fabulous addition to the story of early Adelaide.
Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.
Christine V. Courtney’s Venetian Voices takes you on a stroll over bridges and under cloisters, following Venetian locals and visitors as they pass through centuries.
On Saturday 24 June, Wakefield Press is joining with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to launch Venetian Voices with a unique afternoon of music and poetry. Graham Abbott (ABC Classic FM) will be conducting members of the orchestra in a Venetian-inspired program, interspersed with readings from Christine.
The program includes Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which we recommend listening to while you enjoy a taste of Christine’s poetry.
Late in 1882, an odd-looking couple
on their daily pilgrimage
stroll through St Mark’s Square.
Liszt’s daughter Cosima
and the master Richard Wagner pause;
listening to a haunting refrain
from his masterpiece:
the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Music of wondrous beauty drifts aloft,
heard with rapture by the locals
and played in tribute
by humble musicians of the Café Florian.
He dips his head in acknowledgment.
An imperceptible down beat, and pause
from the sick master quavering,
crotchety on his final walk.
A lifetime subject of notoriety,
and gossip, he senses
an unknown conductor
hovering in the wings, waiting
to conduct his Liebestod.
In the Palazzo early in 1883,
the stranger calls in the dying day
to dim the rays, to snuff his light.
Wagner’s lifetime of creativity
paid the ferryman in full.
As Charon led the funeral cortege,
the gondoliers raised oars in a ‘Piscopian’ salute,
when the procession
passed Palazzo Vendramin Calergi,
where the masterpiece was completed.
It moved slowly, respectfully
pianissimo along the Grand Canal,
towards his final resting place,
the Pantheon of Bayreuth.
Opening this coming weekend, the Discovering Dobell exhibition at Tarrawarra – and its accompanying book – features the artist’s controversial and recognisable portraits of Joshua Smith, Dame Mary Gilmore and, as we see here, Helena Rubinstein, alongside other vital strands of his output, introducing the creative achievements of this great Australian painter for a new generation of art lovers.
The cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein became an obsession for William Dobell. He fretted over her portrait for six years, producing many versions in an effort to portray what he considered an allusive personality. She had led a chequered and colourful career. Having arrived in Australia from Poland in 1902, and speaking almost no English, she went to live with relatives who ran a store in the rural Victorian town of Coleraine. Affected by Australia’s dry heat, Rubinstein tried to make a moisturiser by experimenting with lanolin, which was in plentiful supply in the sheep district. Within twelve months she was selling homemade beauty creams to an expanding clientele; a Collins Street cosmetics salon opened in Melbourne the following year, then she expanded to Sydney. Leaving her sister running Australian operations, Rubinstein moved to London in 1908 and progressively became one of the leading cosmetics manufacturer – and richest women – in the world.
Helena Rubinstein was in her late eighties when William Dobell began work on her portrait. Having made several drawings in her Sydney hotel room, he went home to Wangi and dashed down five very small oil sketches on board, which conveyed her posture and skin pallor. He thought about them for some time, actually several months, then made an initial large portrait. There would be seven more in following years.
Sketch portrait of Helena Rubinstein 1957
What baffled the artist is how Rubinstein had alternate personalities she applied to situations as needed. In personal terms he found her shy and diffident, but in the workplace she was an efficient and resourceful businesswoman: the private and the public Helena Rubinstein were so different. How to convey this psychological complexity via a painting? Added to this paradox was her size, because Rubinstein was a tiny 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimetres), although by pressure of personality she seemed taller, even large-framed. The solution he reached was to contrast her delicate face (carefully made-up, eyes distracted, quite feminine) with her powerful hands (very large, professional looking, strong). Each informs us about the sitter’s temperament. Rubinstein may appear in different gowns, different jewellery, different interiors across the eight finished portraits; and Dobell’s summary brushwork alters as he presents the sitter as either vulnerable or tough, that is, as either a private person or canny executive. But underpinning all is the ‘character’ of face and of hands, and what they reveal about the inner life of Rubenstein and her strength.
Find out more about Discovering Dobell here.
On a Clare Day might be one of our favourite pun titles, but it’s also a wonderful book, and is launching today as part of the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend. Jeni and Burt Surmon’s tale of leaving their city life to start a winery includes a number of delicious recipes, a few which of course incorporate some of their Mt Surmon wines! These beef cheeks sound like exactly the thing for an Autumn Sunday lunch.
Beef (calf) cheeks in red wine
Ingredients for 4 servings
4 beef cheeks
150 mL olive oil
1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 onion, chopped
1 red capsicum, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
2 springs of sage, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, chopped
salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
250 mL beef stock
half a bottle of Nebbiolo (Mt Surmon or otherwise!)
Wash the cheeks well. Put half of the oil into a large saucepan and sauté the cheeks until brown on both sides. Remove the cheeks.
Add the remaining oil, vegetables, tinned tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot, cook for a few minutes then add the garlic, spices and herbs, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop from sticking, in which case add a little stock.
Now add the cheeks, stock and red wine. Reduce the heat, put the lid on and cook gently for 5 hours.
Want to know what it’s like to start a winery? Find our more about On a Clare Day here.
Guys guys guys, the book world is out of control at the moment. Everyone’s having way too much fun and just needs to calm down a little.
For example? Well, the New Yorker has picked up on the fact that every single book seems to be called The Girl on the Something at the moment, and they’ve run this glorious spoof. Funny book-related content + an astute observation of the issues of depicting sexual assault + casual references to lacrosse teams? I’m in.
Next, romance seems to be the genre that just keeps giving. There’s this list of the greatest romance covers of all time, which also links to one of the most ridiculous readings of all time. Then there’s the news that KFC has legit released their own romance novella starring the Colonel, with their own schmaltzy promo video. Legit.
Finally – and this one’s for the editing dorks – the New York Times now has a copyediting quiz series so you can test your editing chops. Here’s a hot tip: it’s a good idea to be on top of your who/whom usage before you start. So much fun. So dorky.
And now, to get your weekend off to a good start, let Wakefield FM court. YouTube get you in the mood. A bit of Pharrell seems appropriate for a Friyay … Have a good weekend, everyone!
It’s difficult to know how to begin talking about a book as beautiful as this. Tracing Australian Dance Theatre’s often tumultuous and always interesting fifty-year history, Fifty contains interviews, archival research, and stunning photography.
Did you think I was exaggerating?
Read an excerpt below, or find out more about the book here.
The beginnings of Australian Dance Theatre were radical, daring and new. The company was created in Adelaide, South Australia in 1965 with a vision to support Australian dancers, choreographers, composers, and musicians, as well as visual and other associated artists. We planned to pioneer contemporary dance throughout Australia and across the world. Through our dance we wanted to inspire people everywhere with the philosophies of the modern art movement that encouraged an awakening in consciousness and an honouring of our shared humanity.
By 1970 ADT had become a visible force in the theatrical landscape of Australia and was considered to be the national contemporary dance company. How did we do this? In the beginning ADT accepted every opportunity to perform – in theatres, outdoor venues, fashion parades, social functions, school halls and on television talent shows. I constantly sought performance opportunities locally, nationally and internationally, and during the first 10 years we presented regular seasons in Adelaide, toured regionally throughout South Australia, and made regular tours to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Brisbane and regional Queensland and Tasmania. Additionally, the company presented dance workshops, lecture demonstrations, forums and some of the first dance-ineducation programs in Australia, quickly building up audiences for modern dance. Company records for 1971–1973, for example, show that the number of performance attendees was over 58,000. Records show that the number of performances varied each year, ranging between 68 and 173 in the years 1965 to 1975.
It was a struggle all the way, but I believed passionately in the validity of dance as a powerful art form and an essential part of our humanity. I saw the modern art movement as a vehicle for the expression of contemporary ideas and hoped that it would help lift Australia out of its colonial stagnation. I also believed that modern dance was an excellent way for Australian dancers and choreographers to express themselves as artists, particularly as Australian artists. Through all of its work ADT contributed greatly to the exciting revolutionary social changes that were happening during the 1960s and 1970s both in Australia and internationally. The fruits of the seeds sown by the company in those years are still visible today in both professional dance and educational arenas.
Founder of ADT, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman
(Photos top to bottom: Creation. 1969. Dancers: Bert Terborgh, Jennifer Barry, Roc Ta-peng Lei. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. This Train, 1966, photo taken 1970. Dancers, left to right: Cheryl Stock, Bert Terborgh, Delwyn Rouse, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Jennifer Barry, Neville Burns. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. Be Your Self. Dancer: Troy Honeysett. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions.)
Sally van Gent has lived adventurously. She’s dined with the Bedouin, dived deep into the Arabian Sea, and climbed aboard a tanker for a midnight rendezvous. Her latest memoir, The Navy-blue Suitcase, is a collection of stories from her travelling life told with ‘optimism, humour, an indefatigable faith in a better future, and a powerful sense that life is what you make of it, no matter what cards you’ve been dealt’ (ANZ LitLovers LitBlog). Today we’re sharing a little snippet from the years that Sally spent living in Doha, Qatar.
Patterns in the rock
There are no fancy restaurants or indoor cinemas in Doha. Those Westerners who work for the oil company have their own pool and sporting facilities, but for the rest of us, our social life centres around a modest sailing club and whatever home entertainment we can devise.
We know all of the expatriates in Doha who drink and want to let off steam: the Lebanese, the Armenians and French, the Germans, Brits and South Americans, Singaporeans and Aussies. Between them they throw some wonderfully wild and varied parties – so good that no one wants to fly home for Christmas.
There’s no work on Fridays, and in summer we sail or swim. Winter brings with it mild, balmy days, and we take our children into the desert to explore old forts or to slide down sand dunes on cheap tin trays.
We’re heading north one afternoon, driving along a track parallel to the beach, when there’s a flash of pink and we spot a dozen flamingos wading through the shallows. To our left a limestone outcrop rises from the sand, and we drive over and park beside it. The children in the group run off to play on its slopes while we adults lay out the rugs,
unpack the picnic baskets and pour coffee.
Before we can drink it, Angus and his friend Hamish wave to us from the top of the hill and cry out, ‘Come and see what we’ve found!’
I climb up the slope and the boys lead me to where a rectangle has been cut deep into the rock, perhaps for the purpose of catching rainwater. Strange indentations spread out around it – circles, and holes set out in rows, reminiscent of a board game the locals play. There are boat-shapes with what look like oars. I call out to my friends and for an hour we search the rocks, finding more and more carvings. Who would do this? And why?
As evening unfolds the wind stills, and the late-afternoon light casts a rosy glow onto the desert. I look out over its vast sameness and am reminded of how the Bedouin pick out subtle variations in the sand, recognising landmarks that we Westerners will never see.
It’s time to pack up the picnic things and take our children home. The sun is going down and on our way back to the city we pass cars pulled over to the side of the road so their owners can turn to Mecca. They prostrate themselves on the ground and pray.
Later we ask our Qatari friends about the carvings in the rock but few have seen them. Those who have tell us they are very old, ancient even, but as to who made them or for what reason, they have no idea.
Find out more about The Navy-blue Suitcase here.