The mysterious sands of Qatar

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?

Illustration by Sally van Gent.

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.

Ministers and the Media

Launching this week is Never a True Wordthe debut political thriller from Michael McGuire. The book follows Jack, a journalist who thinks he’s met every shade of nutter, narcissist and bully, until he enters the bizarre world of politics as a spin doctor. Perhaps Jack might have benefitted from reading John Hill’s how-to, On Being a Minister – here John discusses his experiences with Adelaide’s ‘best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers’, Matt and Dave.


My first Matt and Dave interview, as a minister, happened on my second day in the job. They asked me why I hadn’t fixed some problem or other in the environment area. I think my response was along the lines of ‘Give us a break; I haven’t been in the job 24 hours yet!’ I don’t think either they or their listeners ever care what the minister’s reason is – there’s a problem and it’s your job to fix it, no excuses! Fair enough.

In almost 11 years as a minister rarely a week went by that I wasn’t cross-examined, poked, accused, joked with or challenged on their morning program. Many weeks I was the minister du jour two or three times – depending on the issue. The environment and health portfolios always had something of interest happening. That means that I did in the order of 500 or so live interviews with two of the best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers in the business.

Matt’s and Dave’s specialty is what I call the ‘twist and turn’. They like to take something you say and then use it against you (the twist) or jump from one issue to another (the turn). The fact there are two of them against one of you makes these interviews a challenging experience. I can’t say I ever looked forward to these interviews, but I usually felt OK once they were over. To be honest, I generally enjoyed the contest – a seasoned gladiator in the arena with two growling middle-aged lions.

Some would argue that there is often little point going on these kinds of shows – relatively few people listen and the audience is generally older with established political points of view. Why go on and potentially make the issue worse? There is obviously merit in this argument; from a strict media management point of view it makes sense. And maybe my point of view is old-fashioned, but I think that if you can’t stand up to tough media interviews you really shouldn’t be in the job. It’s like wanting to be a top cricketer without facing fast bowling. Ministers should front for a variety of reasons: it’s part of their job, it toughens them (or destroys them) and helps build their reputation for openness (the public hates politicians who hide behind media management).



Find out more about On Being a Minister here. Never a True Word launches 4 April at 6.30 pm at the Advertiser; find out more here.

An extract from ‘Here Where We Live’ by Cassie Flanagan Willanski

Here Where We LiveCassie Flanagan Willanski’s debut collection Here Where We Live is one of our must-reads for the year.

Winner of the Unpublished Manuscript Award back in 2014, it received high praise from the judges for its ‘subtle, assured writing that deftly weaves dialogue and description and expertly uses imagery to plumb the depths of its protagonists’ emotions’. Brian Castro said ‘I was moved and I was haunted’, and we agree.

We’d like to share one of our favourite extracts from the book with you today. It’s a short story called ‘Karko’. We hope you enjoy it!



Oliver’s mum had a stupid boss. The night before the class excursion to the Tjilbruke Trail, the boss mixed up the rosters and called Oliver’s mum back in for the night shift. She’d been working all day and was watching telly to relax. Oliver had to get out of bed and go and stay over at Aunty Peta’s house again.

Aunty Peta was pretty good if you needed to stay somewhere else away from home all the time. She was probably Oliver’s favourite aunt. She tucked him into bed, even though he was eight years old. Aunty Peta straightened back up with an effort, because she was about to have a baby, and it was hard for her to bend. She set her alarm so Oliver wouldn’t miss the bus.

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More from Quiet City

Carol Lefevre will be launching Quiet City at the West Terrace Cemetery this Sunday May 15. To celebrate, here is another extract with an illustration by Anthony Nocera. This extract comes from the chapter “In Deep Water”.

The names of people who drowned in the River Torrens would fill a book. Many of them were children, and although few could swim they found their way towards the water. On a Sunday afternoon in November, Henry Charles Etheridge, aged nine, and his brother Edward, seven, left their home on the Parade at Norwood and went to the river near Hackney Bridge.  Neither boy could swim. The younger boy entered the water and at once sank to the bottom. His brother jumped in to save him, and he, too, disappeared.
Some small boys who were on the riverbank noticed what had happened and raised the alarm. Three lads of about eighteen rushed to assist – Charles Veitch, Clem Hill, and Herbert Leslie. They stripped off and leapt into the water, and after several dives the body of the older boy was found, soon followed by that of his brother. Charles Veitch brought them both to the surface; they had been in the water for twenty minutes. Three medical students came upon the scene, along with Dr Brummitt. Resuscitation was attempted for almost an hour, without success. The boys were the sons of Henry (Harry) Joseph Etheridge, a bootmaker, and his wife Mary Frances (Minnie).
Money to fund a headstone was collected by a Mr Blunt, and in February 1903 it was unveiled by the mayor of Norwood. The monument of white marble stood seven-and-a-half feet high and was surmounted by a cross; the grave was enclosed by an iron fence. At the unveiling ceremony much was made of the older boy’s heroism in sacrificing his life to try and save his brother. It was good to die for another, the mayor said, but he hoped everyone would remember that it was good to live for each other, hence the sympathy and goodwill evident in the memorial designed by Mr Blunt.

Anthony Nocera

Dead by Friday extract

Dead by FridayDerek Pedley’s a man with a taste for the darker side of life. His award-winning true crime books are gripping, mesmerising – and occasionally terrifying, when he reminds us what even the most ordinary of folk are capable of.

Dead by Friday recounts a tale of murder and adultery that gripped Adelaide over ten years ago. Shortlisted for the Ned Kelly True Crime Award (the nation’s highest true crime honour), Dead by Friday tells the full story of what happened in the Carolyn Matthews murder case of 2001. With a cast of unbelievable characters – including the hitman who ate his contract in a sandwich! – Pedley skillfully and entertainingly manoeuvres his readers through the details of the case.

It’s an amazing book, but if you’d rather try before you buy: a long extract can be found here.