… and a new story unfolds.

I was married for ten years, and my divorce came through this morning. A big day, then – a mountain: the day on which a terrible incision has, at long last, been sutured.

I loved my husband very much. I loved him for years, and through improbable complications. I am no longer in love with him and haven’t been in love with him for a long long time, but I am not sorry that we married. Even knowing how it ended, I would do it a thousand times over because my daughter was the flower of our union and also because I loved him. He made me happy and then he stopped making me happy, but that isn’t a crime. In the end, neither of us was able to bring out the best in the other. Not true love then, but love nonetheless.

When I wrote my vows, I was very specific.

“I vow,” I wrote, “to make you as completely happy as I can.”

“I vow,” I wrote, “to search for truth with you and through you.”

“I vow,” I wrote, “to honour you, and always to honour your memory.”

My consciousness of the limitations of our relationship in this document is obvious to me only now, but my understanding of the importance of honour in marriage was conscious even then.

Ten years ago, two people came together and now they have come apart. The unravelling of that love story is a narrative ordinary in its suffering and sorrow, but the conclusion, like the beginning, is infused only with light.

The shock of the new

I have a mobile phone. After decades of studiously avoiding the things, my oldest girlfriend bought me one for Christmas. It’s an elegant-looking object, with curious abilities – images that move as you move the screen, and so on. I have yet to register a number; I’m not sure I can handle the commitment. We address each other with masked interest and not a little trepidation. Can I handle it? Do I really need one? The really exciting news is that it also takes photographs, which means that I am – at long last – able to upload images to Instagram. This is mad fun, as I have always loved taking photographs. For about two and a half minutes in my youth, I was an actual photojournalist – no war zones, just authors coughing over vodka in dim rooms whilst pontificating about the death of art – but then my Nikon broke and I had no money to get a new one and so that all went to hell in a handbasket. Clearly not my destiny. It was easier to intently focus on my interviewee and get someone with significantly greater technical finesse and a refined eye to shoot the images. But now that I have an Instagram account, anything is possible. Who knows, I may even actually leave the house. Live on the wild side, carpe diem: all that. So do follow my account here. Oh, and I’ve updated my gallery, too. This year feels like a year of new beginnings, full and fresh and fragrant – and, like all roses, not without the occasional prick.

Love, etc.

It was my daughter’s birthday today, and remains my daughter’s birthday in some parts of the world. A decade ago at 4am, my waters broke; she appeared fifteen or so hours later, a long and slender baby with a head the colour and shape of a grapefruit and a Dr. Seuss curl on the crown.

Then ignorant of so many aspects of the birth experience, I had not made the right decisions. My experience of labour was, as a result, traumatic – nothing extreme: no organs were punctured (this happened to two girlfriends who selected c-sections); my child did not sustain brain damage because of medical incompetence; I was not rendered incontinent – but it was long and it was bloody and I lowed like a Texas longhorn because I was in pain and I was scared.

When I first heard my daughter’s voice, that golden thread, everything changed.

All the books I had read, and there were many, warned me that I would experience confusion or depression or disappointment or blankness or terror or boredom, but I did not. I experienced a transforming ecstasy, and this ecstasy did not dissipate as I had been warned that it would; it lasted and lasted and lasted and it lasts still, imperturbable and glorious and knocked from its chair only by exhaustion and even then, only for a matter of hours. For what is a child but an excuse to experience the most absurd love, the kind of love that revolutionises all the world?

I ask those who would dismiss this as hyperbole to consider the impact on our world of the absence of love in, say, Adolf Hitler’s life. The damage we see in those around us, the abuses of our environment: all are due to lack of love and the respect that love entails.

In every man’s life, love should always be the priority: the preservation of love, the ignition of love, the inspiring of love, the celebration of love. Everything else is an illusion.

Love came to me in the form of my daughter. After I turned her light out tonight, I asked her to come into the kitchen. She later told me that she had been frightened that she had done something wrong; my request was, she said, so unusual. When she entered the darkened room, she saw that which I photographed for you below. “And this,” I softly said, “is what I feel for you, have always felt for you and will always feel for you, even after my body has blown away.”

So today, on the tenth anniversary of that love, I wish you the same abundance. Thank you for being there. I hope that you, too, had a ridiculously lovely Christmas and if you didn’t, I wish this for you: over the coming months, may you not only be transformed by the love you feel, but may you be overwhelmed by it. Strip everything else back in preparation. Happy new year.

I_LOVE_YOU_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

The Ballina Prawn Festival (with two little prawns)

For those of you who just received a half-baked message, my apologies; I accidentally pressed publish before the post was ready. So here it is: our day out at the annual fair. The abundance of vast breasts in the carnival artwork was somewhat disconcerting, but the food, music, rides, boating displays and skateboarding were excellent. The little prawns and I had a wonderful day.

IMG_4507

IMG_4515

IMG_4239

IMG_4311

IMG_4365

IMG_4306

IMG_4336

IMG_4562

IMG_4228

IMG_4372

IMG_4411

IMG_4501

IMG_4530

IMG_4572

IMG_4590

IMG_4582

IMG_4559

IMG_4528

IMG_4558

IMG_4544

IMG_4665

IMG_4619

IMG_4432

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MAMA

Antonella_Gambotto-Burke_North_Coast

New review of Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution

“Today, being a mother has become one of the most underrated roles in society. Being just a mother is no longer enough. With technology advancing by the second, job opportunities flourishing, and social media taking over, life has become fast paced and reinvented— no one now wants to be known as just a mother. Many women want to be much more. They want to have their own identity, their own life. They do not want to be oppressed by the 1930’s stereotype of what a woman should be. Instead, they want to be greater, achieve higher, and accomplish more …”

Read more of this review here.

Female_Gaze_Literary_Review

The ghost of Marie Antoinette haunts Cub Scout Hallowe’en

16th October, 1793, 4:30am

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time.

MA11

I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.

MA09

I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you.

MA10

Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness.

MA12
Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example.

MA14

In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family?
MA02

Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

MA03

It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

MA05

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy.

MA06

I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

MA08

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

Marie Antoinette

MA07

MA01

MA02

MA03

NEWS UPDATE: She won!

The princesses and the sea, a fairytale

I once knew a woman – a terrible old woman, with bright blue eyes and a stone black heart – who sneered at everything in Ballina. She sneered at the sand, she sneered at the trees.

Angels_Beach_Ballina

She sneered at the sky, she sneered at the sea.

WAVES

She even sneered at the beautiful old bits of driftwood that wash up always on the shore.

Driftwood

But most of all, she sneered at the Princess Street sign.

“Can’t imagine there would be too many princesses around here,” she scoffed.

But she was wrong. For Ballina, you see, is a town replete with princesses.

Bethesda_Gambotto-Burke_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

These princesses are everywhere, if most always in disguise.

Bubs

They meet secretly and whisper of tiaras, jewelled slippers and ballgowns. Sometimes they find each other by moonlight but mostly they meet by the sea, because the sea is always magical.

Bethesda_Summer

(Their mothers, who occasionally tire of ruling the kingdom, can be heard discreetly snoring on the sand. Even the ones who really should have their cherry-red toenail polish topped up.)

Angels_Beach_Ballina_feet

The princesses of Ballina decided they had had enough of the terrible old woman with the bright blue eyes and stone black heart, and so decided to cast a spell. They found a length of sea grass and spoke magic to it, words so ancient they weren’t quite sure of what they meant. When the light became brilliant, the princesses walked into the ocean and began to skip.

Skipping_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

The ocean rippled, the ocean roared. The princesses skipped faster, singing their enchantment.

Skipping_girls_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

Far away, the terrible old woman with the bright blue eyes and stone black heart began to feel unwell. Her head ached, and she felt queasy. Her legs grew unsteady and she gasped. And then, at last, her face began to crack. Piece by floating, minuscule piece, it blew away.

The princesses laughed, the power of their happiness insurmountable.

Girls_laughing_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

The light that shone from deep within the princesses had done its work.

Bethesda_Gambotto-Burke_with_Summer_and_Jesse_Robertson_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

They returned the sea grass to the wild, beautiful ocean, walked a distance and then collapsed, exhausted, on the sand. Nothing was left of the terrible old woman, not even her bones.

North_Coast_NSW_by_Antonella_Gambotto-Burke

The princesses went home, but not before waving to the migrating whales in the distance. Sometimes all you could see of them was a little white fleck on the horizon as they waved back.

Whales_in_the_distance

And everyone – the whales, the princesses and their mothers – lived happily ever after.

: : Story by ANTONELLA GAMBOTTO-BURKE

The light

The sun came out properly today. September is usually spectacular on the North Coast – Chris Hemsworth marching about near-naked certainly does the climate no harm – but this September was mean and dark and cool. And then, this light, and the air was suddenly warm.

Sun_Ballina_NSW

I had about sixteen thousand pressing things to do today, but the light called me forth.

“Put on your boardies, dude,” I told Bethesda. “We’re hitting the beach!”

This beach, you understand, is a whole three minute stroll up the road, very hard yakka indeed. As a result of these exertions, I fell asleep at Flat Rock as Bethesda scoured the rockpools with her old ballet school friend, Summer (not just an actual person, but one with iridescent dreams). Awakening with a start, I watched hundreds of Caspian Terns wheel and screech in the sky. The distance was a thing of yachts and dolphins. I wanted to resume snoozing, but was also vaguely worried that Bethesda would be swept off to sea by a freak wave, or that she would slip and hit her head on a rock, whereupon she would be swept, unconscious, off to sea by a freak wave.

Sometimes I remember passing entire days during which I failed to entertain a single terrifying thought of Bethesda swallowing broken glass (which she once almost did) or falling into the gap between a train and the station platform (which she once actually did), but that was only because she had yet to be born. Now I’m lucky if I can get through an hour without worrying that she’ll catch pneumonia because she’s not wearing a cardigan, or that she’ll contract meningitis from a bubbler. I even carry a snake bite kit in my beach bag, although I don’t know why.

It’s a twenty-first century fetish, perhaps, to ward off the Australian Evil Eye. Great Whites, Eastern Browns, Lionfish. Fishermen in particular know all about this kind of thing.

IMG_3719

My take on Hot Dog Legs. I think one is supposed to be oiled, wearing a Brazilian bikini and have an infinity pool in the background, but this will have to do for now.

Angels_Beach_hotdog_Legs

“Why can’t I wear a bikini?” Bethesda asked today. “All the other girls wear bikinis, but I just look like a nerd. Only boys wear board shorts and rashies. And I have to wear a hat!”

“I’ve never seen a boy in a pink rashie,” I mused.

“Not pink, but still.”

I closed my eyes. “All the surfer girls wear rashies. I wear a rashie. As you can see, I’m wearing a rashie right now. At the age of twenty, do you want to look like the kind of old man’s shoe you find at the bottom of a Salvation Army Shop discount bin?”

Bethesda was silent for a time.

“I guess not,” she said.

“Well, then.”

She sullenly stared the horizon. “Can I wear a bikini at fifteen?”

“Sixteen,” I said. “And only in England, where there’s hardly any light at all.”

THE SECRET SEVEN: LAL HARDY

Lal Hardy and Cally-Jo, who works with Hardy at his studio.

Lal Hardy and Cally-Jo, who works with Hardy in his studio.

Lal Hardy is a London-based tattoo artist and self-described “old rudeboy who done too much much too young” (British readers will recognise this nod to the Specials). Born in 1958, Hardy was his own guinea pig: he first tattooed himself on February 8, 1976. Hooked, he launched himself into the world of professional body art in 1979. In 1986, he co-founded the first London tattoo convention, the precursor to the acclaimed series of Dunstable Tattoo Expos, and then travelled to Tahiti and Japan, where he learned to incorporate ancient tattooing techniques into his work. Hardy and coworker Cally-Jo have inked Liam Gallagher, Rihanna, Sienna Miller, Marc Almond and others, including dozens of high-profile sportsmen, between them. This year, he is working with the Museum of London on “a really exciting” tattoo project. Hardy’s anthologies include Tattoo Masters, Mammoth Book of New Tattoo Art, The Mammoth Book of Tattoo Art, and Tattoo Showcase. He can be contacted through www.newwavetattoo.co.uk.

How would you describe yourself?

“Fatter than I’d like to be. A good friend. Never afraid to apologise if in the wrong.”

Your finest hour?

“Not sure it’s arrived yet. I have had many fine hours in all manner of ways.”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

“Getting rid of the entire human race would probably ensure the planet lasted a bit longer, but if humans really had to stay? I would make every weapon of war obsolete.”

Whom would you like to kick very hard in the shins?

“TONY BLAIR.”

The book you have most loved.

“As a child, Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff; as an adult, The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall.”

Your current obsession.

“Collecting tattoo books. Trojan label music. Instagram.”

And your epitaph?

“Did he really just say that?”

: : Interview by ANTONELLA GAMBOTTO-BURKE (tattooed by Hardy).