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Welcome!

I’m an Australian writer with a very varied occupational background from archaeology to migration law, to English language teaching to dog-sitting and tour guiding!

I’m a life-long reader and a student of the world.

Yes, the world is a fascinating place…and there are so many interesting places to visit, experiences to have and yes, books to read (and write)!

Career 1: Archaeology

I studied archaeology at the University of Melbourne and excavated with university research teams in Turkey and for four seasons in Syria. I’ve also excavated in my home state of Victoria and in Tasmania.  More recently I've excavated in Jordan and on the Spanish island of Menorca.

Through the 1990s, I was part of a research team excavating the site of Tell Ahmar, a multi-period archaeological site on the east bank of the Euphrates River, North Syria.

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The village of Tell Ahmar from the river Euphrates.

People have been living on this site for thousands of years, but the villagers have moved away because a dam has been built further downstream, flooding the valley. I’m not sure where they went; some to Manbij, a city about 45 minutes away, other people to an arduous life of dry farming on the desert fringe.

The dig director invited me to look at the figurines found at Tell Ahmar and my investigations turned into a PhD which I finished in 2001.

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This is a horse rider figurine. It's a bit hard to tell because he's broken off his horse, but the pointed helmet and the way his arms are forward of his body are indicators that he once was on horse back.

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This little head would originally have been joined to a pillar-shaped or columnar body.

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This is another head from a column or pillar shaped figurine. It's interesting because it's holding a smaller figurine, probably a baby or small child.

If you're interested in reading about what figurines mean, I have posted about the figurines using the category TAH Figurines. Here my best articles to get you thinking about how archaeologists interpret figurines:

  • Figurines in my home
  • Louisiana Dolls and the Dilemma of Context
  • What do the figurines from Tell Ahmar look like

Then my career took a little hiatus from archaeology…

Career 2: Immigration Adviser

Why did I leave archaeology?

Well, two main reasons spring to mind: I didn’t know how to create a career in archaeology, and I had always been interested in working with people from other cultures and had for some time been interested in the law. Perhaps I should have pushed harder or asked more questions, but there was very little mentorship in archaeology back then. I was exhausted and broke at the end of my PhD and really just wanted a ‘normal life’. Nobody told me about post-doc research positions and how to apply for them, I had no contacts in publishing to get my thesis ‘out there’ and the thought of presenting my findings in the dog-eat-dog world of archaeological conferences reduced me to jelly.

So I did the migration agent’s course at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Fitzroy, Melbourne, enjoyed it immensely, and got a job within weeks of completing it at the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre, Footscray, in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

I loved it. I loved the sound of Amharic, Greek, Vietnamese, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Tigrinya and Urdu spoken all around me. I loved meeting and working with the clients of countless linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The stories were mostly tragic but it was a very rewarding experience, especially when visas were granted after long and arduous processes: an overjoyed woman brought her orphaned nephews to meet me, the catch in the throat when I rang a man to tell him his wife had been granted a visa, or a mother that her young daughter would soon be arriving in Australia. 

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Singing in the community choir Canto Coro was another way to enjoy my love for languages. We sang in Spanish and Greek; excerpts from the Missa Crioja and Axion Esti.

Unfortunately, funding is tight in the community sector and I lost my job twice over a three year period. I wondered whether working for myself might be better so I set up my own small business, as you do.

It wasn’t better or easier. It was stressful, confusing and horrible.

I learned a lot but again I found myself exhausted and in debt…so I became a teacher!

Career 3: English Teacher

Look, I’d tried it all… Small Business Victoria training sessions, countless networking functions, business mentorship, expensive paid advertising and other promotional campaigns to try to build my immigration business. The fact was I was a very small fish in a very big migration pond filled with monster legal firms and I couldn’t compete, especially as most of my work was humanitarian visa applications for refugees on benefits. Wonderful people, not good business propositions.

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Teaching English in Hohhot, the capital city of the province of Inner Mongolia, north-central China

And look, I love reading, writing, languages and all that good linguistic stuff. I could do research and write an academic essay. Surely I could share this with students. I had heaps of experience working cross-culturally. Surely I could retrain as an English teacher, couldn’t I?

This is the age of changing careers every five years, isn’t it?

I did a Certificate IV in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and armed with my passport to overseas work headed for China for three fascinating years.

But despite enjoying my various careers enormously, I still wondered about archaeology…

Was I just too old now? The creaky knees told me to get a move on if I ever wanted to work in the field again. Then the war in Syria broke out. I wondered and worried about my friends from Tell Ahmar. I was horrified by the damage to Aleppo and Crac de Chevalier, Palmyra and Raqqa… I was shocked and saddened by the murder of Dr Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist of Palmyra. I was appalled by the abuse and carnage wrought on Syria’s people and heritage by the armies of ISIS.

I felt grateful and guilty at the same time that I had experienced many of the wonders of Syria before their destruction. What was I to do with all those blissful memories of me in my 20s, loving the experience of working such a fabulous site in Syria when the villagers were no longer there, pushed out of their houses, not by the dig but by the dam, and now their very lives under threat?

I'm thinking about all these things in a memoir-in-progress, focussing on travel and digging in Syria nearly twenty years ago...

But back to the thesis…

I had long wanted to rewrite my thesis as a book for general readership and 2013 was an exciting year for me as I launched Visible Bodies, Resistant Selves: The 7th Century Figurines from Tell Ahmar at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. The following year I reworked the book for teenagers and published it under the title Figurines, Slaves and Soldiers: The Iron Age Figurines from Tell Ahmar.

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Visible Bodies, Resistant Selves (general readers)

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Figurines, Slaves and Soldiers (teenage readers)

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I I launched my first book at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. 


Creaky knees notwithstanding I returned to the field in 2016, excavating at Tell el Hammam in Jordan and taking a course in archaeological photography at Tell Bethsaida, Israel that same year. In September 2017 I participated in a month’s excavation at the Roman city of Sanitja, Island of Menorca.

It feels good to have a trowel in my hand again!

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Excavating the Roman city of Sanitja on the island of Menorca.

Oh, and I did finally pluck up the courage to make it to an archaeological conference. Here at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference in 2014, along with all the 20-something postgrads, I presented my PhD research in poster form. OK, still not brave enough to present a paper!

On this blog you’ll find pieces of writing about digging and travelling in Syria in the 1990sHere are a few of my favourites:

  • I’m brushing my teeth and I’m blissfully happy)
  • It’s Time for Tea at the Jassums
  • Proverbs in the trench

Apart from archaeological excavations, my other happy place is museums (and libraries). Oh I love a good museum! Here are some thoughts I’ve had recently about museums…LINK TO MUSEUMS ARE MY NATURAL HABITAT and about figurines in museums here

Do you:

  • Wish you’d studied archaeology (as you always wanted) but chose something more ‘sensible’ instead? (you wouldn’t be the only one…)
  • Wonder what it would be like to take part in an archaeological excavation?
  • Enjoy strolling through museum exhibitions and thinking about the objects there and what they might mean?

Then I think you’ll find something of interest on this blog for you.

Perhaps you also enjoy traveling to ancient sites in fascinating countries?

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Umm Qais, an ancient city in northern Jordan.

Syria, China, Jordan, Turkey – other places too, USA, Vietnam, Laos, Cyprus, UK - …perhaps you can tell I’m rather fond of travel and in many ways, for me, travel and archaeology go hand in hand. My parents were not keen overseas travellers but as kids the family travelled around a fair chunk of Australia (not all, it’s a big country, you understand…) but I’m pretty certain my love of travel comes from those early trips in the caravan.

Here's a small selection of my posts about travel:

our holidays with the kinger and the caravan post).

Street photography in Jerusalem

Arwad

Other stuff I love to do:

Reading and Writing

You’ll find excerpts from my memoirs on travel and working in Syria and also in China, as well as general posts about travel (non-archaeological). Some of these posts have information about how you can find these places yourself. Complete memoirs will hopefully be out during 2019.

Now I’m turning my hand to another of my great passions…murder mysteries! Did you know Agatha Christie’s husband was the great archaeologist Max Mallowan and that she accompanied him on his digs in the Middle East? My favourite Christie novel is ‘They Came to Baghdad’, set on an excavation in Iraq and there are others, set in Egypt and Jordan.

My heroine, Quintilla, has a degree in archaeology and lives in Melbourne during the final years of the First World War. She uses her archaeological skills to solve all kinds of criminal activities.

I’m still working on the first book, so watch this space for updates!

On this blog you’ll find a mish-mash of posts reflecting my varied interests. I'll use categories and tags so that you can find what you're interested in:

  • Slow Travel
  • Visiting Archaeological Sites
  • Digging
  • Museums
  • Ancient Figurines
  • Teaching and Travelling in China
  • Digging and Travelling in Syria
  • History and Archaeology of Melbourne
  • Favourite Books and What I’m reading Now
  • Contented Life (Why a book and a cup of tea – and sometimes other things too - make everything better)

I live in a tiny home on wheels, somewhere in Australia, with my cat Dougall. Here’s how we met. 

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