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Adventures of a Girl Reporter

This category contains 56 posts

A day out with the Spackmans – bring your camera


Cameras were our constant companions. One of my favourite set of photographs was taken on Christmas Day 1967, our first celebration of the season in Hong Kong. I was five and my sister Alin had just turned two a few days earlier. The Spackman family headed down to Statue Square in Hong Kong’s Central district. And we took our cameras. Continue reading

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Maria Spackman Exposed: I am Your Girl Reporter


Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter is a fictional character whose persona I adopted when I had the bright idea five years ago of starting a blog. My name is Maria Spackman and it’s time to come out from behind the curtain and say g’day.

Your humble Girl Reporter created the blog with no greater intention than to have a go. I wondered how far I could take it on a budget of no money and minimal time [Answer: Quite far, actually].

The online persona was all the rage in 2012 and the question of my identity irrelevant. So off I went, setting up a free blog and associated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Content was the key, of course, and a need to come up with some was the reason I turned down Memory Lane a few months into my blogging journey and unearthed a funny little story about my dad, Jack Spackman. Continue reading

Dodging rats in the dark for photographic magic


The kitchen at our flat in Macdonnell Road in Hong Kong backed on to a dank, rat-infested space, a convenient landing spot for rubbish hurled from the windows above. 

Mr Chan, the building manager, was a regular visitor and would organise workers to come and clean up the waste, set traps and write letters to the residents reminding them to use the bins.

On one of his visits, he called it a courtyard, which made it sound like something you could visit or stroll through, but we only ever called it ‘Out the Back’. I only ever went through it at a run and would have avoided the place altogether except for one very tantalising attraction. That’s where my father Jack Spackman had set up his darkroom. Continue reading

Absent from duty for the 1997 Hong Kong handover



My father Jack Spackman said, when we arrived in Hong Kong in February 1967, his questions about what would happen in 20 years’ time when Britain’s lease on the New Territories expired were routinely brushed aside.

“With few exceptions, no-one wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Whether it was government officials, business people with Chinese interests, journalists – the common response was that it wasn’t something to worry about.”

Dad said exceptions included David Bonavia, Hong Kong-based stringer for The Times of London, and Dick Hughes, whose 1968 book Borrowed Place Borrowed Time was an early attempt to provide some answers. Continue reading

Hong Kong 1967: Snapshots of my grandmother


Macau 1967 Perfectly composed amidst the chaos: My grandmother Doris Estelle Spackman, taken either just before or just after a Communist demonstration. Picture by Jack Spackman

Those first months in Hong Kong for your Young Girl Reporter are a series of snapshots which must be connected by the memories of others. Hong Kong in 1967 was a very different place to the city I left 20 years later. My memories are small but so was I. And it was a small place, on the verge of becoming something bigger.

Traces of an older society were still visible. One day my grandmother and I were walking on Macdonnell Road when we saw an old woman hobbling on bound feet. We were amazed that she could walk at all.

Another time, on the way to a birthday party, it was patiently explained to me that the woman we were honouring had two mums and I was not to remark upon it at the gathering. The practice of concubinage was still legal in Hong Kong – it wasn’t banned until 1971. “So don’t be surprised that Wendy has two mums,” I was told.

Continue reading

Hong Kong 1967: So you say you want a revolution


Like a burst of spring thunder China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution arrived in Hong Kong in May 1967. The catalyst was a strike at a factory which made plastic flowers – one of the colony’s biggest exports at the time.

Labour disputes were not uncommon in Hong Kong, nor were violent clashes between workers and police. This time, however, there was a political element. The Little Red Book of Mao’s Thought was everywhere, along with loud and violent calls to overthrow “British fascism, imperialism and tyranny.”

Bloody clashes between demonstrators and police outside Government House on 22 May led to 167 arrests and prompted David Bonavia, The Times of London’s Hong Kong stringer, to observe that the worlds of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) and Somerset Maugham had come face to face – and both had retired baffled. Continue reading

Death in paradise: it’s murder in the veggie patch


We haven't been the only threat in the garden this summer. This guy was making quick work of our young grapevine before justice of a swift and terrible kind was served.

We haven’t been the only threat in the garden this summer. This guy was making quick work of our young grapevine before justice of a swift and terrible kind was served. Picture courtesy Lady Severine Sinful

I regret to inform you, Gentle Reader, that there’s been a killing done. It happened one evening, shortly after my previous filing from a Traditional Aussie Backyard, in which Your Girl Reporter crowed about the array of vegetables we had crammed into our brand new raised beds.

There was no malice aforethought, just incompetence and the over-zealous application of a seaweed emulsion without the necessary dilution.

Sally’s Gardening Tip: Work out how to use an applicator before you start spraying things on your plants. Continue reading

The things you find on bookshelves


More than a year after doing the grown up thing and buying a house Your Girl Reporter is finally sorting through the books that just got thrown on to shelves when we moved. How did I live with such disorder for so long?  A well-ordered bookshelf gives me a sense of peace and well-being that is hard to match and goes all the way back to my childhood in Hong Kong.

In the bedroom I shared with my sister in our flat in Macdonnell Road, there was a low bookcase between us, so that first and last thing were my books. That’s where it began, the endless idle-minded task of moving them around, by author… by typeface… by subject… by colour – the possibilities went on and on.

One day it was perfectly logical for Kafka’s Letters to Felice to snuggle up next to Ronnie Barker’s Christmas joke book, the next a vile travesty and the rearrangement would begin again. Continue reading

It’s getting darker – a year in review


Time to kick the shit of 2016 off our shoes and contemplate the mire of 2017 which lies before us. Anyone else feel exhausted at the prospect? None more so, I expect, than the journalists who have worked tirelessly to cover the rising tide of what looks more and more like fascism in the United States and Europe, a tide that laps even the fair and far shores of Australia.

And for what? To have their good work – and there has been some truly great work from journalists in 2016 – overwhelmed and largely overlooked in favour of what we are calling Fake News. Continue reading

Race Day fashion starts at shoes, makes a fine finish with hat


Racetrack attire is a minefield, and you don’t have to attend the races to be aware that some appalling fashion choices are made each year by young ladies who have misread the brief and gone with ‘nightclub sexy’ instead of ‘wedding elegance.’

It’s an easy enough mistake to make and Your Girl Reporter’s only observation would be that if you’re going to participate in the dated ritual of playing clothes horse for a day, start with the footwear.

A well shod filly should be able to handle the wobbling walk from bar to bookie and back again in the softest conditions. The most elegant outfit will be let down by a staggering gait.

And after the shoes, the hat. Mine is a jiggling mess of dyed chicken feathers which most recently bobbed and nodded its way through the crowds at the Doomben track in Brisbane, Australia when Black Caviar enjoyed one of her many winning outings some years ago. Continue reading

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NOW FILING AT WWW.MARIASPACKMAN.COM

Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.