March 21st, 2015
|07:58 pm - Autumn is here|
Hey Readers (if there’s any of you left),
Where have the last three months gone? Autumn is here, winter is coming, and I haven’t updated my blog until now. So here it is, the first entry for 2015. I’ll try not to be so slack with entries in future.
What I’ve Been Doing
1. Spending Christmas and New Years Eve in Perth – snuck in a quick trip to Cervantes and the Pinnacles too.
2. Driving Across the Nullarbor – In early January, Craig and I drove from Perth back to Canberra in five days, stopping at Esperance (Western Australia), the Nullarbor Roadhouse (South Australia), Clare (South Australia), and Narrandera (New South Wales). We encountered dust storms, heavy rain, and forty-five degree (Celsius) temperatures while driving through Port Augusta.
3. Attending the amazing Doctor Who Symphony Spectacular in Sydney. Also stayed with my brother and had a go at stand-up paddle boarding, which seems to be all the rage right now.
4. Visiting the Night Noodle Markets in Canberra. Sooo busy (it was basically like a mosh pit on opening night, so we came back later during the week). The N2 icecream was a hit. I hope that next year, the organisers will hold it in a larger area, with more stalls so that the queues aren’t as bad.
5. Bike riding in Newcastle, along the foreshore.
6. Attending E-’s wedding in Perth. Fantastic night – one of those weddings where the bride and groom put a lot of effort into looking after their guests, right down to home-baking the cookies for the dessert.
What I’ve Been Reading
1. “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen. I can see why this is described as one of the top books of the 21st century (yes, I know we’re only fifteen years in, but still…). I’ve become a Franzen convert. His novel of Mid-Western Melancholia struck a chord with me. Parents in the west? Kids in the eastern states? Sound familiar?
2. “Time and Time Again” by Ben Elton. Not quite up there with “Dead Famous” or “Blind Faith” but still a good yarn for a (very) long car trip, with a neat twist at the end.
3. “Slush Pile” by Ian Shadwell. Book about a frustrated writer who takes a job reading unsolicited manuscripts. The fun starts when the writer decides to plagiarise one of the manuscripts and pass it off as his new novel.
4. “Schooled” by Gordon Korman. I loved Korman when I was a kid. His “Bruno and Boots” series (which Korman mostly wrote when he was a teenager himself) was hilarious. So this is technically a kids’ book, but I had a blast reading it. Korman hasn’t lost his touch.
What I’ve Been Watching
1. Season 4 of “Game of Thrones”. Craig and I have been very good, and watching one episode at a time, rather than gobbling up the entire season.
2. Season 2 of “Rectify”. Slow burning, but absorbing show about a guy released from Death Row.
3. Season Two of “Broadchurch”. It’s a reunion of actors from “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” (and no, that wasn’t a complaint!)
4. Season Six of “My Kitchen Rules”. I now know how to cook scotch eggs and what a gozleme is.
December 21st, 2014
|06:23 pm - December already|
Over the last month, I have been:
- attending my Department’s Christmas Party. Food was good, but the band was way too loud. When you have to shout at the person next to you to carry on a conversation, it’s not working. The afters party at Mooseheads was even worse. Top floor (which we had booked out) was jam packed, and the DJ was so loud that you practically needed sign language to communicate;
- baking slices with home grown apricots and cherries in them;
- tending my cherry tomato and potato plants;
- farewelling a couple of friends from trivia who are off to Jakarta for a three year posting;
- catching up with friends for various coffees, lunches, and ice creams before the Christmas break.
2014 has been an eventful year. MH370, Sochi Winter Olympics, civil war in the Ukraine, Ebola crisis, World Cup, MH17, and Peter Capaldi making a hit as the new Doctor.
Closer to home we had the Mr Fluffy asbestos issue, the Martin Place siege, and the encroaching hipsterisation of Canberra (Bent Spoke, Restaurant 86, Hopscotch, Elk & Pea, I’m, looking at you).
Personally in 2014, I developed a “Game of Thrones” addiction, found an amazing new hairdresser and learnt how to straighten my hair, grew a new wisdom tooth, wrote seven short stories (one of which was shortlisted in “Writing Magazine”), started planning a novel, called 000 for the first time in my life, taught myself how to ice cookies, met Thomas Keneally, and traded in my car of 13 years for a new one.
I also attended events of loved ones including a 90thbirthday party, engagement party, and wedding. I went to Wagga Wagga and skied Mt Buller.
Best books I read in 2014 were:
- Bird Box (Josh Malerman);
- The Watchtower (Elizabeth Harrower);
- Warrior Scarlet (Rosemary Sutcliffe);
- On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan); and
- How To Write (Harry Bingham).
Best movies I watched in 2014 were:
- Up In The Air (2009);
- The Field (1990);
- Miller’s Crossing (1990);
- The Blue Angel (1930);
- The Intouchables (2011); and
- Lawn Dogs (1997);
Best TV shows I watched in 2014:
- Game of Thrones;
- Walking Dead; and
- Doctor Who.
November 22nd, 2014
|07:23 pm - November Happenings|
So I’ve finished reading “The Artist Is A Thief”. It’s the sort of book that would make a better movie than a book. The plot was pretty good – an accountant from Melbourne arrives in a remote indigenous community to investigate the vandalism of an Aboriginal painting. The scenery is described well. There’s even a love story sub plot. But there were too many philosophical musings which became tedious after a while.
Last weekend, Craig and I also did a fly in, fly out, trip to Perth to attend my cousin’s wedding. It was a great night – ceremony and reception at the Darlington Estate Winery. Good food, lovely speeches, Bride and Groom looked fantastic, and I had a blast catching up and dancing with my family.
Earlier this month I placed my annual bet on the Melbourne Cup. Five horses, $2 for a win, $2 for a place – twenty bucks in total. Two of my horses came in. Protectionist (1st) and Don’t Shoot The Barman (3rd). Got $30.60 back, which equates to a profit of $10.60. I was feeling pretty chuffed. Then I heard about the deaths of Admire Rakti and Araldo. Will have to think hard next year as to whether I want to place a bet on the Cup, and support the horse racing industry. The whole Melbourne Cup seemed on the nose this year – if people weren’t actively condemning it, most (like my colleagues) seemed disinterested.
The other week, I also called 000 for the first time in my life. I’d been back to the dentist for a check-up and was walking back to work along Northbourne Avenue. An elderly gentleman ploughed his car into a row of parked vehicles right alongside where I was passing. Bang, bang, bang, bang. A ute and a car were pushed out into traffic. The airbags had deflated, and the old chap was stirring, but only slowly. A few workmen came rushing over and they checked on the driver while I called an ambulance. The operator also sent three police cars and a fire truck. We waited with the driver until all the emergency personnel turned up (which was within five minutes). The driver had cuts to his hands and face, and had chest pains. He was taken to hospital, so hopefully he’ll be ok.
It’s been so hot this month! My new potatoes coming up; shoots emerging from the soft soil, like baby’s teeth from a gum. I’ve got cherry tomatoes growing as well.
I haven’t done NaNoWriMo (yet – technically I could still start; there are eight days left) this month. But I’ve been researching and planning for a story I’ve got in mind.
October 19th, 2014
|06:09 pm - October Country|
Another month gone by. Craig and I went up to Newcastle for the recent long weekend, and I attended a couple of Young Writers Festival events. The first was a panel of young editors, talking about their jobs. The second was about the dangers of being a writer and taking on too much. A panellist at the second event said that someone once advised him to “sleep faster”!
Finished reading “On Chesil Beach”. Really good read – very basic plot, but delves into the backgrounds of the characters. The novella thrums with a satisfactory sense of unease; something is going to go awfully wrong for this young couple on their wedding night. My current book is “The Artist is a Thief”, by Stephen Gray – the 2001 Vogel Award winner.
I am still torn between deciding which show is better: “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead”? I love the complexity of “Thrones”, the amazing and intricate societies that George RR Martin has created, the houses with their sigils and mottoes. But I also love the taut and gritty world of “WD”, the relentless struggle for daily survival faced by the characters. While the storylines are fairly simple, they are no less compelling.
On another note, NaNoWriMo is almost here. The forums on the website http://www.nanowrimo.org have re-set, and once again, I find myself drawn to the reference section. So many quirky questions! How do you get out of a burning underground house? Detective work in the 1970s? Quickest way to kill a lot of people? Writing a person who can see and converse with ghosts? How far would you travel on horseback in a day? How do you make a person snap and go on a rampage? Loom sabotage?
Will I be giving NaNo another crack this year? That’s the plan, but I need to get plotting!
September 21st, 2014
|06:43 pm - Winter Has Gone|
Since posting last, I have been:
to Melbourne and Perth. Spent a weekend in Melbourne with my brother and we took a day trip to Mount Buller. Busier than Perisher and Thredbo, but we went up near the top and the crowds thinned out. The weather was a balmy eight degrees. Hadn’t snowed for a couple of weeks, but the runs were still decent. More recently I spent a week in Perth with my parents, and caught up with friends and family.
The Melbourne Writers Festival. We attended two talks. The first, with Malcolm Fraser and Bob Carr, regarding Australia’s strategic position in the global world. In particular, they spoke about how this country shouldn’t be too quick to align itself with the Japanese and the Americans against China. The second was Hannah Kent, the twenty-something author of “Burial Rites”. Hannah’s talk was very interesting – she visited Iceland (where “Burial Rites) when she was seventeen, but didn’t write her novel until she was doing her PhD.
E-’s engagement party. Great night – catching up with old friends, drinking tasty European beer that slid neatly over your tastebuds and down your throat, and marvelling at the homemade cupcakes and candle holders (E- and her fiancé are a talented pair).
“The Starlost”. Got Craig the DVD for his birthday. A 1973 Canadian production, made on a shoestring budget. Starred Keir Dulla and was set on a spaceship drifting toward the sun. Lasted one season only. Yet strangely entertaining.
Season 4 of “The Walking Dead”. We’ve gobbled up seven episodes so far. While I’m still loving “Game of Thrones”, the more stripped-down, single-narrative WD is a welcome change.
Season 8 (or 34, if you include the old series) of Doctor Who. Am liking Capaldi immensely, but the season has so far been a little uneven. “Listen” was terrific; “Into Dalek” and “Robot of Sherwood” less so.
Lemons. And more lemons, thanks to our bumper crop. Made lemon delicious pudding, lemon shortbread, lemon aioli, and today, a lemon cheesecake.
Decent fish and chips, thanks to Pescardo’s in Floreat, WA.
“On The Beach” by Nevil Shute. First published in 1957, but it still holds a sense of dread and hopelessness. No happy endings here. And – minor nitpick – Shute is fond of the adverb “equably”. In the first five chapters, several characters say things “equably”. Next on my reading list is “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan. I picked up a copy at the Lifeline Book Fair yesterday.
August 3rd, 2014
|06:25 pm - These last six weeks|
How I’ve spent the last six weeks:
1. Wrangling with car salesmen. As stated in my previous entry, I placed an order for a new car. It’s coming from Sydney, they said. Should take 10 days. Fast forward one month, and the new car finally turns up. Only – it’s got a 2013 build date! First World Problem, yes, but it’s one that trips up a lot of people. Want a new new car? Check the build date. Not the compliance date, the build date. If it’s the previous year, it decreases the value from a resale point of view. And not only did my car have a 2013 build date, it was also a 2013 model, a fact that was omitted (or forgotten) during the negotiations. After some back-and-forth phone conversations, they finally arranged to give me a 2014 model (with a 2014 build date) for the initial agreed price.
Good news is, I picked the car up on Wednesday, and it’s awesome.
2. Getting into Game of Thrones. Yes, I’m jumping late aboard the bandwagon here. But goodness, that show is addictive! I love it all – the characterisation, the emotion, the sheer scope of the world-building, even the theme song which I’ve learnt to play on guitar (thanks YouTube!). And as my department’s last bake sale had a “Winter” theme, I baked some cookies, and using icing, piped mottos from the main Houses. Like “Winter is Coming” (the Starks) and “Hear Me Roar” (the Lannisters).
3. Reading “Eerie” by Tim Winton. Excellent prose, some nice descriptive passages, but the plot was wafer-thin and the ending somewhat ambiguous.
4. Watching “These Final Hours” at the movies . Pretty good end-of-the-world movie, set in my home town of Perth. Although it was very obvious the actor who played the main character was from the Eastern States. He pronounced words like “here” as “heeh”. A true Sandgroper will pronounce it “hee-yah.”
5. Staying warm. Minus five degrees this morning. Went outside and the water in the birdbath was iced over. And on Friday, the city had a few snow flurries.
6. Trying out the Bent Spoke Brewery in Braddon. Yes, I know. Bandwagon. It seems like the most popular place in Canberra right now. Been there a couple of times; once with colleagues for Friday drinks, and once with Craig for dinner and a drink. The Dick Tracy beer didn’t pack the punch I was hoping for (pun intended), but the Mort’s Gold is a great drop. Can highly recommend the buffalo wings with the blue cheese sauce too.
June 15th, 2014
|04:34 pm - Weekend musings|
A good weekend for:
1. Writing success. My story was shortlisted in this month’s Writing Magazine. The theme was “Comeuppance”. I had a good feeling about this story, and was pleased to have cracked the top ten.
2. Buying cars. Yes, after thirteen years, I’m trading in my little Barina. It’s been great, and thanks for the memories. But yesterday I found my new car – a shiny Peugeot 208.
3. Selling cars. Craig got an offer for his 1989 Nissan Skyline.
4. Lemons. Our tree is dripping with ripe yellow orbs. I’m baking lemon and sour cream cupcakes as I type this.
5. Group Rankings. Sure, Australia went down 3-1 to Chile. But right now, we are above Spain in the Group B rankings!!!
A bad weekend for:
1. Sampling Harry Potter themed beer. The Wig and Pen has a low alcohol beer called “The Three Broomsticks”. Gave it a try on Friday night, when having a drink with colleagues. Too bland, sadly.
2. Pizza delivery. Took two hours for Dominos to deliver our food on Friday night. We called up, only to find the pizzas were still in the oven. And worse, they’d completely run out of soft drink! How does that happen? They gave us a couple of cheesy bread sticks to compensate, but only after we’d asked for something to recompense the lack of drinks.
3. Weather. Persisting rain all of Friday night and Saturday. Mini hail storm on Saturday afternoon. Watery sunlight and chilly breeze today.
May 18th, 2014
|05:59 pm - Book review - "The White Peacock"|
“The White Peacock”, published in 1911, is the first novel of D.H. Lawrence. ‘The usual way of constructing a novel,’ the young Lawrence remarked at the time, ‘is to take two couples and to work out their relationship.’ Lawrence certainly achieves this in his novel, through deft description and piercing characterisation.
The novel follows a group of young friends living in the English midlands. The narrator is middle-class Cyril Beardsall, who lives with his mother and sister Lettie in Woodside cottage. Cyril’s best friend is working-class George Saxton, who lives on the neighbouring farm with his sister Emily. Then there is Leslie Tempest, son of the local mine owner, who is courting Lettie.
“The White Peacock” is divided into three parts. The first two parts take place over several months, and follow the growing attraction between George and Lettie. The third part describes, in a series of episodes, how the characters change and suffer over the next decade or so, after they marry. It is not giving too much away to say that Lettie settles for a comfortable life with Leslie, and George – lost and miserable – marries barmaid Meg, who proves to be a wholly unsuitable spouse for him. Marriage and disillusionment are major themes in this novel, as is class difference.
In this sense, I found Lawrence’s novel to be almost a prototype of “The Great Gatsby”. The peripheral, detached narrator. His flawed best friend from humble origins, who falls in love with the narrator’s flighty female relative. The wealthy husband/suitor, whom the female protagonist eventually chooses. And the tragic ending which befalls the lover.
However, unlike Fitzgerald’s brazen tale of the Jazz Age, “The White Peacock” is a quiet novel. And Lawrence’s George Saxton is more akin to Frank Wheeler from “Revolutionary Road” than Jay Gatsby. Lawrence paints a fine word portrait of a young man who is both ambitious and timid; brash and cautious.
Both the main strength of “The White Peacock” is the description of the countryside and changing seasons. Here is one example:
“Against the wall the globed crimson plums hung close together, and dropped occasionally with a satisfied plunge into the rhubarb leaves. The crop of oats was very heavy. The stalks of corn were like strong reeds of bamboo; the heads of gold swept heavily over like tresses weighted with drops of gold.”
Alas, these descriptions are also a weakness, due to their sheer volume. The young Lawrence over-eggs the pudding, resulting in all the constant descriptions of nature – while lovely – becoming tedious.
But the novel’s main weakness is that, quite simply, the device of first person narrator doesn’t work. There are many scenes detailing intimate conversations between Lettie and George, or Lettie and Leslie, where Cyril is not actually in the vicinity. This makes the reader wonder how Cyril could possibly have overheard them. As Cyril has little to do in the story, a better option might have been to scrap his character altogether and write the story in third person. Or – as Nick Carraway does a few times in “The Great Gatsby” – have Cyril imagine the conversations that might have taken place.
While “The White Peacock” might seem slow to a modern reader, there are plenty of biting observations that some might say hold true today. Here is Lawrence, describing the older Lettie’s interest in her children to the exclusion of all else:
“This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development… Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good progress of one’s life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness and, and the heaviest of responsibilities.”
Ouch. And further on the subject of motherhood and marriage:
“Meg was quite indifferent. She listened occasionally, but her position as a mother made her impregnable. She sat eating calmly, looking down now and again at her baby, holding us in slight scorn, babblers that we were. She was secure in her high maternity; she was mistress and sole authority. George, as father, was first servant; as an indifferent father, she humiliated him and was hostile to his wishes.”
Yet Lawrence also has a sense of humour. Here are the young friends, having tea at the Saxtons’. Leslie asks George:
“’Do you play tennis, Mr Saxton? – I know Miss Saxton does not.’
‘No,’ said George, working the piece of cheese into his cheek. ‘I never learned any ladies’ accomplishments.’”
“The White Peacock” is in parts brilliant and flawed. Recommended, if you enjoy a slow, insightful read.
March 23rd, 2014
|05:41 pm - More than a game? Or more than Victoria?|
Autumn is here. Footy is back. This weekend is the second half of the first (split) round of the Australian Football League (AFL). For the next six months, 18 teams will compete in the competition. Ten from Victoria. Two each from Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. As can be seen from these figures, the AFL continues to be dominated by Victorian teams. Even when accounting for Victoria’s larger population (as compared to WA and SA, anyway), this is still a disproportionate number of teams.
But what if this wasn’t the case?
Some quick Fun Footy Facts for my non-Australian readers (and possibly some readers from New South Wales and Queensland):
- The two main codes of football followed in Australia are AFL* and Rugby League. These codes are basically divided along state lines, with Rugby League being the main code in New South Wales and Queensland; and AFL being the football code of choice in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.
- Until the 1980s, each AFL state had its own state-based football league. All were founded in the late 19th century, starting with the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) in 1877, the Tasmanian Football League (TFL) in 1879, the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) in 1885, and the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1897.
- By the 1980s, the VFL, despite being the “baby” of all the leagues, played the highest standard of football, due mostly to its larger population and better financial resources.
- The VFL turned pro in the 1980s and 1990s, changing its name to the Australian Football League, and admitting teams from other states. (South Melbourne was also relocated to Sydney in 1982 to become the Sydney Swans, and in 1996, the Melbourne-based Fitzroy Lions relocated to Queensland to merge with the Brisbane Bears, forming the Brisbane Lions). The VFL changed its name to the Australian Football League in 1991.
- In the last couple of years, two additional teams from the Gold Coast and Western Sydney respectively, have also been admitted.
The result of having the AFL spawned from the VFL, is that the leagues in WA and SA have declined. Wikipedia indicates that the average attendance at a SANFL match today hovers around the 3000 mark – a far cry from when matches in the 1970s or 80s might attract around 25,000. In addition, much of the footballing history of WA and SA is lost. Most books and articles on AFL which cover the pre-1991 history of the AFL will focus on the VFL, and ignore the history of the WA and SA leagues**.
Remarkably, nearly all of the foundation clubs of the VFL still play in the AFL. To put it in perspective, this would be the equivalent of the original small-town/city clubs such as the Akron Pros, or the Dayton Triangles, still playing in America’s NFL today.
What’s done is done – if the national competition had to have been derived from any of the state-based leagues, it would have been the VFL, as the strongest competition. But it’s nice to think about what could have been.
Take soccer***. In Britain, soccer teams move up and down divisions, according to their performance in the previous season. For example, the bottom two or three teams in the Premier League are relegated to the next tier down (the Football League Championship), whereas the top two or three teams in the Football League Champion get promoted to the Premier League the following season.
Could this have been done in Australia? Could all the state-based teams have merged into the one big system, with the top few teams forming a premier league? Imagine a Grand Final, where Glenelg plays Collingwood, or South Fremantle takes on Hawthorn!
However, I believe this wouldn’t have worked in Australia, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, with Victoria having the numbers and finances, a premier league would have quickly become dominated with Victorian teams anyway (although the traditionally weaker teams such as St Kilda, Footscray, and Richmond would have languished in the lower divisions) with a few of the stronger teams from WA, SA thrown in for good measure. This has already happened a bit in Britain, where the same few teams – Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, etc – dominate the Premier League.
Secondly, Australia’s geographical size presents another drawback. Whereas the lower division teams in Britain can travel around that small island relatively easily, Australia’s size makes this less feasible. There’s no way a team like Peel Thunder would have the financial resources to fly to the eastern states every fortnight. , the lower tiers would have to fly great distances
What about American football? Wikipedia tells me the NFL has 32 teams playing in two conferences (the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference). Each conference is further divided into four regions – north, south, east and west. Eight teams (four in each conference) play in a region. Teams play most of their games against other teams from the same region. Then the winners of each region/conference, and four wild card teams make the play-offs.
I believe the NFL system would work better for Australia. Obviously, we only need the one conferences, due to Australia’s smaller population. But the competition could be divided up into west (WA), south (SA), east (Victoria and Tasmania) and north (NSW, Queensland). Or you could simply have two regions. North-west (WA, SA and Queensland) and south-east (Victoria, Tasmania and NSW) or however you want to divide it. The top ranked teams from each region would compete in the finals.
Playing most games in the same region would solve much of the travel issue (currently the two teams from WA are at a disadvantage, as they have to fly east for at least ten “away” games. In comparison, a Victorian team might only need to fly four or five times). And because scheduling for the following year is based on the rankings in each region from the previous season, the invariable annual debates over the “fairness” of game schedules would be resolved.
Most importantly, it would ensure a fairer representation of teams across the country, to make it a truly national competition.
*The proper name for this code of football is “Australian Rules Football”, but it has come to be known as “AFL”.
**A similar thing has happened with Rugby League, where the local New South Wales competition has expanded into the national competition, to the detriment of the local Queensland league.
*** Yes, I know it’s technically “football”, but this is Australia, and we call it “soccer”!
March 10th, 2014
|04:58 pm - Book review – “Over The Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon”. |
Last October in the USA, Craig and I spent a day at the Grand Canyon National Park. We rode the shuttle buses around the South Rim, took a plethora of photographs, saw a chipmunk, an elk and a condor, and hiked part of the South Rim trail. Interesting thing about the Grand Canyon: the only safety rails you’ll see are at the main lookouts. Despite America’s reputation as a litigation-happy, safety-first country, most of the Canyon is unfenced.
‘How many people die at the Grand Canyon each year?’ is a question often asked by visitors, according to Michael P Ghiglieri and Thomas M Myers, co-authors of the book: “Over The Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon”. In this gripping and sobering book, Ghiglieri and Myers recount the ways in which people have died, or come close to death, at the Grand Canyon.
Of all America’s national parks, Grand Canyon holds the record for the most fatalities. In the past one hundred and fifty odd years, nearly 700 people have died in or around the canyon. “Over The Edge” devotes each chapter to a certain category of fatality, including: falls from the rim; drowning (the Colorado River flows along the bottom of the canyon); aircraft crashes (including the tragic 1956 crash between a TAA plane and a Delta plane which killed a total of 128 people; deaths caused by animals and plants; and murder.
The book is stuffed with fascinating tales. Consider newlyweds Bessie and Glen Hyde, who in 1928 decided to spend their honeymoon attempting to become the first man and woman team to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In a homemade boat. Without life jackets. The ambitious Hydes decided this trip would be their ticket to a lucrative life, giving lectures and writing a book on their adventure. Sadly, the young couple disappeared four weeks after they set off. Their scow, containing all their possessions, was discovered several days later. But despite a search financed by Rollin C Hyde, Glen’s wealthy rancher father, Bessie and Glen were never seen again. Or take the 1992 manhunt for Danny Ray Horning, a bank robber and child molester. Horning attempted to take a family hostage, before eluding police. For the next five days, hundreds of law enforcement personnel swarmed the Grand Canyon. Yet Horning managed to change his appearance, and take another couple hostage, before finally being captured.
Some of the most personal and harrowing stories are found in Chapter 3 – “Environmental Deaths”. Each summer, many unprepared hikers get lost, and risk perishing from heatstroke or dehydration. For me, the most heart-breaking story was that of 24 year old Margaret Bradley. In 2004, with her companion “Ryan”, she attempted to hike a 27 mile trail. The pair failed to take an adequate amount of water. Halfway down the trail, Ryan collapsed from exhaustion. Margaret pushed on ahead to get help, only to lose the trail and become hopelessly lost. Ryan was discovered the next morning by an NPS ranger who assisted him back up to the top, and gave him a lift home to Flagstaff. Ryan did not inform the ranger (or indeed, any other authorities) that he had been travelling with Margaret, or that she might be in trouble. As a result, a search was not launched until the following day, when Margaret’s family reported her missing. Tragically, her body was discovered in a pitfall 500 feet above the river, only hours too late. Ghiglieri and Myers stop short of blaming Ryan for this tragedy, merely stating that Ryan felt “an enormous amount of responsibility for Margaret’s death”. Today, there are signs at the Grand Canyon with Margaret’s picture, warning hikers of the dangers of dehydration.
A point that is made repeatedly throughout the book, is that many of these deaths are entirely preventable. None more so than falls from the rim. Incredibly, most falls are the result of human behaviour such as skylarking, urinating off the edge, and “backing up” for photos.
However, “Over The Edge” is not a morbid expose on deaths, nor is it a condemnation of human stupidity (although the authors’ somewhat dismissive comments about the ‘selfishness’ of suicide victims sit a little uncomfortably). Ghiglieri and Myers also cover much of the Canyon’s history, as well as outlining ways in which fatalities can be prevented in future.
“Over The Edge” is well researched and comprehensive. The authors have utilised NPS reports, old newspaper articles, and books; and have conducted many eyewitness interviews with eyewitnesses. The book is dense, yet readable, although some of the descriptions may raise one’s eyebrow. (“She went over the falls like a piece of limp spaghetti!” is one quote from an eyewitness.) “Over The Edge” should be essential reading for anyone planning to visit the Grand Canyon. It is also highly recommended for people who are interested in topics such as American history, wilderness survival, and aviation disasters.
As dusk fell on our day at Grand Canyon, Craig and I caught the Orange Shuttle to one of the lookouts to photograph the sunset. There we saw a group of Asian tourists in their twenties. One young man was standing on a rock jutting over the edge. His friends cheered and laughed as they snapped photos of him balancing on one leg and pulling crazy poses. But if he’d lost his balance, even for one second, he could well have joined the list of tragic, yet preventable, fatalities that occur all too frequently at the Grand Canyon.