March 2

Elements of surprise: review of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024)

This review mentions plot elements for Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024) and may contain spoilers.

Unlike many Avatar* fans I didn’t grow up watching Avatar: The Legend of Aang (2005) because I was an adult when it came out and in my late thirties when I finally took a friend’s recommendation, borrowed her DVD box set, and watched the animated Nickelodeon series.

The Avatar series is a secondary world fantasy in which some people, called ‘benders’, have the ability to manipulate one the four elements: earth, fire, air, or water. The Avatar is a reincarnated person who can master all four elements and also enter a powerful ‘Avatar state’. The role of the Avatar is to maintain balance in the world. (More info.)

Despite its issues, the original series was largely well-received and has many fans around the world. The 2010 live action film adaptation by M Night Shyamalan was, by contrast, widely panned. The Nickelodeon series also has an animated sequel, Avatar: The Legend of Korra (2012), which is about Aang’s successor.

The 2024 Netflix adaptation, Avatar: The Last Airbender, therefore came as a surprise to me. Live action adaptations of animations are fraught on a regular Thursday, why fiddle with an already successful IP and muddy the waters? But here we are.

Promotional poster for Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix featuring the seven main characters

Decent: sets

Fortunately, the Netflix budget managed to buy a visually rich world with sets that are both functional and aesthetically consistent with the world-building with some nice CGI enhancements. Essentially, Avatar is a road trip story so the team travels through many different locations and that shit’s expensive, so good work designers.

Questionable: costumes

I do have a gripe with the costumes, though. Aesthetically they align with the world-building, but the very first thing I thought when I laid eyes on Sokka and Katara was that their clothes looked too new, neither lived-in nor weathered. (I recall visiting Hobbiton in 2012 and the guide told us that there was a person who walked from one of the Hobbit houses to the washing line every day for like a year to make a path that seemed realistic – and that was for a panning shot barely anyone would have noticed. While I don’t expect that dedication for this show, maybe a wearing-in period might’ve helped.)

The other thing is that what you can get away with in a cartoon is very different from what you can get away with in live action shows. In the original series, each of the four kingdoms  pretty much wear the same colours as their cohort – earth = green; fire = red; air = orange and yellow; water = blue – and as a result, the distinctions between them are always visually clear. Unfortunately this becomes ridiculous in a live action setting, which is immediately made clear when the team is trying to get into Omashu and are wearing non-earth clothing. Once they get their hands on a disguise, suddenly it’s all resolved.

Decent: casting choices

I was surprised to find the casting choices fit with the characters. The actors aren’t all at the same skill level, unfortunately (I could often feel Gordon Cormier’s effort to act as Aang and Ian Ousley’s Sokka feels a little too American) but I was pleased that the cast largely resonated with the vibe of each character, which is more important in a series like this. There have been some great choices in difficult roles, particularly Dallas Liu as Zuko oscillating between angry ousted prince and young man coming into his own.

Questionable: pacing

The animated series had 20 x 23-minute episodes in the first season; the first season of the live action series is 8 x 55-minute episodes, which is roughly the same length. Somehow the pacing of the 2024 series feels rushed, though, front-loading the exposition with flashbacks and featuring big dramatic moments, usually fights or battles, in each episode without enough time for the audience to become invested in the side characters (and ‘side quests’) involved.

This is particularly glaring when Aang decides to venture into the spirit world for a disproportionately long time, and in episode 8 when the team are fighting against the fire nation with the northern water tribe but we don’t feel a great deal of affinity with the tribe because we’ve spent too little time with them. This affects the way we view the stakes and the overall mission of the Avatar and his relationships with various communities.

It is also difficult to accept Katara’s mastery of her waterbending because we haven’t experienced a sense of time passing and effort being expended, both throughout the journey, when she learns from the scroll, and once they reach the north and she’s supposed to learn from the masters there. (Additionally, Aang is supposed to learn alongside her, but he is never seen to practice waterbending.) In the original series, we understand weeks pass on their journey and they spend at least several days with the northern water tribe before the Fire Nation navy arrives.

Decent: bending

The depiction of bending is really well done. The styles, which were originally created with specific martial arts practices in mind (for example, the circular airbending has its roots in baguazhang) are well portrayed by the bending characters, whose actors have obviously undergone martial arts training. This is enhanced by some slick CGI work, bringing to life the dynamism of the forms. One great sequence is when Katara fights Pakku and the waterbending forms are depicted as both fluid and icy.

Why are we here?

A glaring omission for me is the lack of heart this new series displays. The cast is doing its best but essentially, it’s really hard to see what we’re all here for. This is not at all helped by  a script devoid of humour that’s simultaneously really heavy-handed with genocidal themes and ‘save the world’ rallying.

The original uses a fun escapist fantasy to depict a young boy coming to terms with his responsibilities. The characters are kids and the target audience is kids who are perhaps the same age or a little younger than the characters (Aang is 12 and Zuko is purportedly 16 at the start of the series). We want Aang to succeed as he steps into the role of the Avatar, but not at the expense of his humanity. Somehow that line is never quite thematically resonant in the new series, either too cleanly dismissed when he talks to his past selves or laughably ‘tested’ when he’s antagonised by the likes of Bumi and Zuko. It feels too serious for a kids’ show and too one-dimensional for older audiences.

I feel the biggest misstep is actually the central premise of turning an animation into a live action TV show. There are lots of things you can get away with in a cartoon that the audience accepts because it’s animated that suddenly becomes jarring in live action. (See also: musicals. Cats (2019) was not just a terrible film, it failed to understand how much suspension of disbelief happens in a theatre such that the film highlighted how everything in that musical was actually ludicrous.)

One major element is how cultural differences are flattened in a cartoon and this is acceptable, but this flattening becomes problematic in live action. In addition to the costuming, as mentioned above, the lack of linguistic differences between nations is too obvious to ignore. Furthermore, the ‘Fire Nation is evil’ schtick is fine for a cartoon but too simplistic to work in a live setting.

I haven’t figured out why they’ve bothered with this. I’m happy it’s kept interest in the IP alive (not that it was under threat – plenty of spin-offs such as novels, graphic novels and games have been produced since the original series) and I’m keen to see the young actors launch their careers from here, but if you’re looking to get into Avatar, the original animated series is still right there next to this on Netflix.

*Not the James Cameron film/s

January 16


“Don’t move. Never move.”

For months after we’d packed up our flat in inner west Sydney to move to Parramatta, I persuaded everyone who would listen to me that moving was The Worst. And it was the worst move I’d ever made. Not because the place we left was our dream flat or that the unit we moved into was hideous, but because it was patently obvious that somehow, over the course of the six-and-a-half years we’d lived together in the flat beside Liverpool Road, we’d accumulated a lifetime of paraphernalia, secure in the knowledge that we would never have to move. Until we did.

My partner is a hoarder. Not in a ‘stacks of newspapers so high it’s a fire hazard’ kind of way. More of a ‘I have a lot of boxes of random things I haven’t looked at in years, why don’t I just hang onto them until I have time to take a closer look?’ way, when that time is ‘never’. There were pockets of actual rubbish in his study, empty yoghurt tubs and lolly wrappers and tissues. I would nag him about it, and then police my nagging about it and then re-nag him about it, knowing that if he didn’t do something I would need to pick up the slack down the line. Having to manage his stuff as well as my stuff and our stuff was a bridge too far. On top of keeping one eye on the news during a global pandemic, I was trying to maintain my workload as a freelancer, cognisant that saying “no” to any commission in these lean times might shut off future work.

I have hoarding tendencies too, to be honest, but I make time periodically to shed excess paraphernalia because it’s an excellent way to procrastinate on other things I don’t particularly want to do. In the clear-out a few years before this move, I finally let go of a box of notes from my HSC French course, which I’d taken by correspondence because there were just three students in my year who picked the subject, too few to form a class at my high school. I removed all the staples from the corners of the worksheets and put the box of paper wholesale into the recycling bin.

When I was 14 I thought I was the best French speaker in the world. It was not that I literally thought this, more that a kind of hubris took over where being the most enthusiastic student in my class somehow conferred this status upon me even when I knew it was not, could not be, true. Being good at French somehow made up for the fact that I was so very bad at Mandarin, which I’d tried to learn at age five and then again at 12 thanks to parental urging. At 37 I tried again for three terms of my own accord – paying out of my own pocket – at evening classes held at the University of Sydney, only to rediscover how horribly undisciplined I was at homework.

I don’t recall much about learning Mandarin, aged five. I remember the day I had learnt the word for ‘moon’ but not the word itself. I remember telling my parents I didn’t like speaking a funny language, so they took me out of Saturday school and enrolled me in swimming lessons instead. Of course, had I known what an asset Mandarin would be in the 21st century I might have wished for my parents to be more insistent about sticking with it, but they were Malaysian-born, British-educated folk who spoke Hokkien, a dialect of Cantonese, with their families and had little more than “nǐ hǎo” and “xièxiè” themselves.

Once, in Beijing, in a time before smartphones, I spent a few days with a white Australian friend who was living and working there. We were walking home from dinner one evening when a tourist couple approached us for directions. I can see why they did: in strangers’ eyes I looked like I was local and that she had a good chance of speaking English. But within a few words it became evident that their English was hesitant at best. They were French. So my friend, who lived a few streets away, issued a set of directions to guide them to their destination and I, in my best schoolgirl French, translated them for the confused but grateful pair. “Je ne suis pas Chinois,” I explained. “Nous sommes Australiens.”

I am not Chinese. We are Australian.

My friend’s fluency and my lack of Mandarin became a novelty act throughout our trip to the weekend markets as I let her haggle our way through the stalls.

“A lăowài speaking for a Chinese?”

“Do you have a problem with that?” she would shoot back.

Later, she would explain to me that even though she told them I was Australian, they would always consider me Chinese.

“But I was born in Australia and this is the first time I’ve ever been to China!”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Even if I’d been born here and you’d never set foot here, you would always be Chinese, and I would never be Chinese. They claim you.”

The swimming lessons in lieu of Mandarin class worked out well, actually. It seemed to me growing up that being able to swim is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition to be Australian. I wasn’t speedy, but I was a strong swimmer who could hold her own at squad.

When I first moved out of home I rented a flat with a friend in Waverton, which had the same postcode as North Sydney. Once a month I would walk down to North Sydney Olympic Pool on a Friday evening when I could claim a lane to myself. I had a four-lap warm-up, a one-kilometre routine cycling through freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, and a four-lap wind-down. Doing backstroke afforded a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up like a quotidian festival.

Swimming wasn’t just exercise, it was a kind of mindful debriefing. I was working in magazines at the time, writing for one and editing two others, and I didn’t really drink, so going to the pub after work on Friday was not a regular habit. I wondered if this made me somehow less of a cultural fit for publishing, but I could not help that alcohol made my face red and that drinking more than my low limit made me either sleepy or sick. I wanted a quiet place to hang out late at night that didn’t rely on having to buy booze, somewhere where I could read a book and be alone with everybody.

By the time I moved from north of the Harbour Bridge to inner west Sydney, I had already started to restrict my book buying. It was not that I found books expensive – even though Australian prices were comparatively high compared to the UK and the US, there was something to be said of solidarity with the book industry – but the cost of the real estate to keep them was becoming prohibitive. I was fortunate to move to an area where the council and street libraries were well stocked, and I was more than happy to give away or donate books on a two-out, one-in basis. As my arts peers began to find their voice, I found that more and more of what was on my shelf was a reflection of who I knew.

This self-imposed restriction began to buckle as time wore on. Books bought at writers’ festivals and launches were exempt from the rule, as were books about tea, which had become more than a beverage to me. One day, on a browsing trip to Kinokuniya, I caved and bought a stack of hardcover tea books that made signing up for a membership – which cost $15 a year for 10% off all purchases – a sensible financial choice. I needed tea knowledge, and I had decided it was going to come from reading as many books as possible.

It was not long after we moved into the Liverpool Road flat that I cottoned on to the potential of the garage. We didn’t have a car – my partner had never gotten his licence and I hated driving, so had always chosen to live near a train station – and the space was haphazardly filled with boxes that could be easily stacked towards the back, leaving room for a tea salon at the front. And it wasn’t just any oil-stained garage. Our landlady, who had moved out to go into aged care, had never owned a car either. We heard from a neighbour that, although she’d lived alone in a three-bedroom flat, she had a penchant for fashion and had used the garage for clothes storage. This explained the white painted walls and the presentable tiles in the lock-up space, which became an asset when I converted it for tea appreciation with a full Chinese tea tray on a low table surrounded by large sofa cushions from a leather lounge suite salvaged on council clean-up day.

Moving to Parramatta, where we had an impersonal car space we weren’t allowed to use for anything other than a vehicle, meant giving up the salon and all of the furniture in it. The vintage display cabinet went to a twentysomething on Facebook Marketplace, the pair of curio cupboards to Salvos, and the replica designer stools we used as side tables to a woman on Gumtree who was disappointed we only had two.

Much of my teaware I sold to my tea appreciation group one rainy Saturday before the move; the next week I offloaded a couple of boxes of books to a friend who’d posted photos of the garage sale to her reading group. The rest of the valuable jetsam washed up in homes offered by Freecycle, Vinnies and Salvos, and anything that remained after that we deemed actual rubbish, to be disposed of at an out-of-season council collection we ordered a few days following our move.

This meant the cushions we had rescued finally met their intended fate. We said goodbye, thanked them for their service and stacked them neatly next to dismantled Billy bookcases and broken office chairs.

I felt sad about the Billy bookcases. Most of them were originally from my parents’ house, decades old, making them ancient by IKEA standards. Others were unstable or falling apart thanks to various types of abuse – my career in magazines meant each shelf had been supporting 15 kilograms of publications for years on end. They were, collectively, unlikely to survive another move.

The magazines I decided to hang onto, despite no longer needing them to decorate my portfolio. They represented boxes and boxes of heavy cargo that I hadn’t interacted with in any meaningful way in years. Some are gorgeously designed art pieces on heavyweight semi-gloss paper stock; others are shopping centre rags where I’d written advertorial feature stories profiling store managers of high street brands. All of them found a new home in the built-in wardrobe of the room that came to be my office, paid for by excising an enormous to-be-read pile that I hope one day to reclaim via libraries, Kobo and loans from friends.

Every now and again I will forget about what I’ve jettisoned, and I’ll look for an item that is long gone. A clay teapot, perhaps, or a book I no longer own, and I will wonder if it was wrong or premature of me to get rid of it. Was it the act of shedding, or what I had shed that said more about me? Had I become someone by sending my French worksheets to be pulped but keeping my Mandarin textbooks, or donating unread novels but maintaining my archive of bylines in outdated magazines? Or is my identity always in flux, untethered from material objects but edited when reminded of their contribution to my life?

One time, after my partner and I had frantically tidied up for a rental inspection and our hoarding tendencies had come to a head, he confided that he sometimes fantasised about losing everything in a fire, as if it were a chance to start anew. “I would be sad,” he said, “but a part of me would also be happy.” And, I thought, me too.

This essay was first submitted to Liminal in 2021 but didn’t get anywhere with them.

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February 18

Facebook has always sucked but maybe now you know it does for sure

This one’s going to be a short one because I have work to do, deadlines to meet. By now you might have heard that Facebook is blocking its Australian users from sharing links from anything it deems a news site. Caught up in the filter at one point or another were government websites, including sites that contained health information which is not important because it’s not like we’re in the middle of a global pandemic or anything*, the Bureau of Meteorology, indie literary magazines and even satire outlet The Betoota Advocate.

I can’t say any of this surprises me. When Facebook first started showing its, er, face in Australia I was extremely sceptical about its motives and super reluctant to get on board**. At the time it touted itself as a watercooler that brought together everyone you knew, which not only turned me off instantly as a serial social compartmentaliser, but also aroused my suspicions in the ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’ way.

Nevertheless, it persisted. The only way it could monetise itself was through advertising, which is why one in every four posts I see are ads, and through getting organisations to pay to boost their posts to their own audience. To incentivise this, they throttled organic views; an organic post that used to reach 16 in every 100 people who Liked the page now only reaches 4.

As with so many things, the first hit is free. They promoted the fact that brands and organisations could build communities on the platform for free and effectively communicate with them. And that was largely true. Until they tweaked the algorithm and made people pay to play.

This is a taste of how social media can control your life, by influencing what you see and don’t see and if you’re not getting information from a variety of sources – if you relied on waiting for a flawed algorithm to serve it up to you – then you know now how dangerous that can be for your news diet.

Facebook is a business, not a public service and we should never have put so much time, attention and resources into it as we have. The fact that it has now shown itself to be okay with serving a large portion of fake news while blocking access to people – not just media brands – sharing links to news sites should not be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

*Yes this is sarcasm.

**My friends started a Facebook Group called ‘People who think Adeline T or A Teoh should join Facebook’ and it was only because I had to join to be an admin for a work page that I’m there at all. Ironically, those friends have left the platform but I’m still there because I joined some groups that don’t exist off it.

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January 1

Films I watched in 2020

Got nowhere to track my movie-going so I get to put together an annual list. Some of these I’ve reviewed (hyperlinked).

At the cinema

  1. The Gentlemen
  2. The Rise of Skywalker
  3. Jumanji 2: The Next Level
  4. Little Women – twice
  5. Farmageddon
  6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (French)
  7. Birds of Prey – twice
  8. Bit
  9. Queer Doc Shorts (Mardi Gras Film Festival collection)
  10. Out Here Shorts (Mardi Gras Film Festival collection)
  11. Sell By
  12. Trans Shorts (Mardi Gras Film Festival collection)
  13. Asia-Pacific Queer Shorts (Mardi Gras Film Festival collection)
  14. Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) – twice
  15. My Queer Career (Mardi Gras Film Festival collection)
  16. Distance (Tagalog)
  17. Aniara (Swedish/English)
  18. Babyteeth
  19. Tenet
  20. Coffee or tea? (Mandarin)
  21. Flash Gordon
  22. Happiest Season
  23. Warrior Queen (Hindi/Marathi/English)
  24. Persian Film Festival Shorts Collection (Farsi)
  25. A Hairy Tale (Farsi)
  26. The Chess of the Wind (Farsi)
  27. Wonder Woman 1984

Released* online

  1. In my blood it runs (via Vimeo/
  2. Enola Holmes (via Netflix)
  3. Disclosure (via Netflix)
  4. Proud (French) (via Queer Screen Film Festival/Ferve)
  5. Holy Trinity (via Queer Screen Film Festival/Ferve)
  6. Gossamer Fields (via Queer Screen Film Festival/Ferve)
  7. Gay Shorts (via Queer Screen Film Festival/Ferve)
  8. Lesbian Shorts (via Queer Screen Film Festival/Ferve)

*Widely released/first available in Australia in 2020. Older films and TV shows streamed online not listed.

You can see the effects of Queer Screen in the heavy queer content of these lists; not only was the Mardi Gras Film Festival the last major festival before pandemic caution hit my movie-going, they were also hella organised about running the Queer Screen Film Festival online in September.

By contrast, my viewing of foreign films really took a hit because the various festivals didn’t offer a streamed version; ironically three Queer Screen-curated films were foreign language and one of the British Film Festival movies I watched was in Hindi/Marathi as well as English.

I also saw more films that catered to the female gaze/with a feminine lens – in particular Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Little Women, Birds of Prey and Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) – and they were truly the better films of the year.

Alongside that, I learnt to appreciate more whacky filmmaking from Bit and Holy Trinity to Coffee or Tea? and A Hairy Tale. Not sure what it says about mainstream movies that these four films were queer and foreign language.

I’m looking forward to going back into cinemas this year and I hope it will be safe sooner rather than later.

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December 26

5-question film review: Wonder Woman 1984

Why did you go see this film?

I thought 2017’s Wonder Woman was all right (actually Very Good compared to most of the recent DC fodder) and I wanted a little escapism these holidays.

What was the best thing about it?

The opening segment with young Diana competing in the Amazon’s athletic competition was thrilling to watch with a lesson well learnt by the end of it.

There were a lot of small jokes done really well: Steve’s ‘man out of time’ confusion as a 1910s pilot trying to adjust to the 1980s; coffee cup anecdote; “I wish to be famous”.

I kept seeing Maxwell Lord as an Hispanic Alex P Keaton? I guess that was deliberate?

What was the worst thing about it?

Really hard to choose but on a film level, I’m going to go with no chemistry between anyone who really needed chemistry to sell the story. I’ve always detested the romance between Diana and Steve and, as a lot of the plot hinges on this relationship, their lack of chemistry is rather grating.

I would also say Maxwell lacks chemistry with his son Alistair, and there are massive parts of the climax that rely on that relationship that just fall flat.

The most chemistry I see is between Diana and Barbara and we don’t get enough of them together – their fight scene as Wonder Woman and Cheetah seemed unnecessary by the time we get to that.

On a cultural level, it was problematic. A lot of the cultural tropes used to show the antagonists in Maxwell’s journey were lazy and stereotyped and just downright offensive.

I’ve also heard from the pro-Palestine community that Wonder Woman saving children in one action sequence was particularly on the nose considering Gal Gadot’s pro-Zionist stance but I don’t know enough about the context of that to elaborate further, please seek out a more nuanced take by better informed critics.

Who would you recommend go see it?

If you like something flashy with no substance, be my guest. You will probably see it because you’re curious about the reaction or not see it because you are boycotting Gadot.

If this film was a piece of clothing, what would it be?

Parachute pants: 1980s in flavour but effectively useless for slowing a plummet to earth.

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November 22

5-question film review: Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt)

Why did you go see this film?

I first heard about the development of this film, and watched an early teaser, via Queer Screen so I pitched $ in via Pozible. In addition to being Australian-made, what attracted me was that there are so few young adult queer rom-coms where coming out is secondary to other themes and I wanted this to see the light of the silver screen. Also I love Rachel House (who plays ‘aunt’ Patty – not the dead aunt).

What was the best thing about it?

The two leads, Sophie Hawkshaw (Ellie) and Zoe Terakes (Abbie), have real chemistry and really nail the swings between awkward and bolshie, jocular and tender in their interactions with each other and other characters.

The story is also genuinely moving. It has nicely timed dramatic moments that make the comedy a fantastic release.

What was the worst thing about it?

For a rom-com it could’ve done with more comedy but in the swing of things I thought the comedy worked well because of where it was placed in the scenes so they did a lot with what they had.

Who would you recommend go see it?

People who are interested in the interplay between queer history and how queerness emerges in the current generation; people who want to see a queer YA rom-com without coming out as the major theme.

If this film was an item of stationery, what would it be?

Ooh, glitter pen.

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November 11

5-question film review: Coffee or Tea?

This film was presented in Mandarin with English subtitles. The Chinese title for the film is 一点就到家 (Get Home at One Point), which I think translates to A Homecoming.

Why did you go see this film?

As a tea fanatic I was interested in the setting of the film, Yunnan, which is the birthplace of tea. It has also been a long time since I’ve seen a Chinese film and the trailer for this one looked like fun.

What was the best thing about it?

The slightly zany energy that infuses this film really makes an otherwise predictable narrative arc quite fresh. The themes feel familiar but the delivery makes it by turns more funny or more dramatic than it would be.

What was the worst thing about it?

Wei Jinbei (the ‘entrepreneur’ of the three) attempts suicide near the opening of the film and there’s nearly nothing you can do to prepare for that without a content warning.

Who would you recommend go see it?

This feels like a film for young Millennials/older Gen Zs who are not just inspired by entrepreneurialism but really want to live their life with authenticity. It also speaks to an audience who sees the mass migration of youth to the cities as a problem and is keen to see revivification of more remote villages.

If this film was a car, what would it be?

A novelty delivery van.

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June 22

Yours racially

I have altogether too many thoughts on the current spotlight on race to be coherent and comprehensive at the moment, so I’m going to be adding a bunch of stuff here as a sort of ‘contents’ page as they’re published, including previously published articles on diversity and cultural appropriation.

Here are some articles and essays you can read by other people in the meantime:


9 tips teachers can use when talking about racism
By Leticia Anderson, Kathomi Gatwiri, Lynette Riley and Marcelle Townsend-Cross

A White Damsel Leveraged Racial Power and Failed
By Ruby Hamad

Deflecting from the real issues of Black Lives Matter
By Osman Faruqi

Diversity in Australian film and TV: ‘I am limited to being a token’
By Ahmed Yussuf

Ex-Cop Brandon Tatum’s Success Doesn’t Disprove White Privilege
By Alex Kasprak

‘I knew that Jonah was me’
By Garry Maddox

Our Media Had A Chance To Fix Its Race Problem. It Blew It.
By Osman Faruqi

‘There are no more excuses’: six industry insiders on Australian TV’s problem with race
By Steph Harmon

They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist
By Jenny Zhang

This is not a critique. This is a condemnation.
By Likhain

Today’s standards
By Luke Pearson

Why I can’t hold space for you anymore
By Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures

Why so many black deaths in custody and so little justice?
By Joshua Creamer



It’s Shit to Be White [$]
By Michael Mohammed Ahmad

So White. So What.
By Alison Whittaker

Stewed Awakening
By Navneet Alang

The Great White Social Justice Novel
By Sujatha Fernandes

Image credit: The Martin Luther King mural in Newtown by Hpeterswald

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January 24

Their Little Lives

Dora died on a Monday night. Her limp white body felt smaller, lighter, than the square of paper towel we used as a shroud. We buried her in a Leggo’s tomato paste box in the front yard just as it began to rain. My partner, a 50-year-old man, cried as I piled the earth back over the hole. “She’s just a mouse… why do I feel so sad?”

As a pet mouse, Isadorable ‘Dora’ Cu Chi Coo was not expected to live a long life. The average pet mouse lives 18-30 months in good health and Dora was not well in the closing days of hers. Triply named after her cuteness, willingness to explore (à la Dora the Explorer) and a love of tunnels (Cu Chi in Vietnam), Dora embodied everything that was endearing about pet mice. She was not as bolshie as her cagemate Marlene ‘Peaches’ Dietratte, whose entire purpose in life was to hide from humans forever and, if she did get caught, to bite the hand that fed her. She was not as demure as Wilde, whose pensive demeanour reminded us of an aphorism by her namesake Oscar: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” She was sweet, loved being handled, and performed her duties as a cagemate well. And at nine months, died too young.

Peaches (on house), Wilde (coming out of house) and Dora (coming out of tunnel)

The first death is the deepest

The other two passed under the care of a mouse-sitter a year later while we were on holiday. The day after we returned home, I picked up their bodies and shed some tears with the sitter. Later, I wrapped them in an old cloth and buried them together in the front yard near to Dora’s grave. For some reason their passing didn’t impact me as much as Dora’s. Was it because Dora was my favourite and her death had been the hardest blow? Or had the first death primed me for the following ones?

People often think of mice as pets for children. They are easy to look after, good for smaller homes and teach kids about pet responsibility. But inevitably, their little lives mean children will need to face their deaths.

Death of a pet is often used as a teachable moment. It is commonly the first death a child will experience, and the manner in which parents handle the process of communicating the death, treating the dead animal and managing grief becomes a model for how the child might handle later encounters with death. This will also reflect the family’s values: religious parents may talk about how the pet has gone to God; avoidant parents might talk about the animal going to ‘the farm’ or ‘the forest’. Very young children find it very hard to understand death’s permanence, so it is crucial for them to understand that their pet will never wake up, or that an absent pet will never return.

Relationships also matter. I cried more about Dora than I did when either of my grandmothers died (one grandfather had passed before I was born, the other when I was too young to know him). Maybe it was because she was my colleague as I spent late nights at the computer so I felt a bond that I did not share with my grandmothers, who lived in another country, to whom I barely spoke. Perhaps it is because both grandmothers had lived full lives, they were old and their times had come, whereas Dora was barely halfway through an already short lifespan. Or it could have been that, as Dora’s caregiver, I may have been able to do more to save her compared to my grandmothers, who died in a foreign land.

About a month after we buried Peaches and Wilde I bought two boys, fuzzy Rex mice we called Arthur and Gustav after our favourite kings, one fictional, the other Swedish. Parenting guides are split on this practice. On one hand, having a new pet – especially with a different personality to the former one – can help with the grieving process. It takes the focus off the sadness of loss and reminds kids of the joy of having a pet again. On the other, parents need to avoid sending the message that an individual pet is replaceable.


As adults, we understood Arthur and Gustav would never be like Dora, Peaches and Wilde. While Arthur was timid and loved to be petted, Gustav spent the entirety of his time asserting his dominance over both his brother and his hapless human handlers. The military spirit of Gustavus Adolphus reigned within.

We had them a year before we holidayed again. An acquaintance who’d had mice as a boy offered to look after them. He lived closer than the mouse-sitter I’d used previously, and it was nice to know they’d be in friendly hands. I told him the story of my girls, priming him for the possibility that they might not make it through to my return and instructed him not to tell me if they passed while I was away.

Upon my return I learnt that Arthur had crossed over the rainbow bridge several days prior and had been buried in the park nearby. So it was recalcitrant Gustav I took home that day. He was in rude health considering the recent demise of his brother, but I’m guessing that if you only live for 18 months, ten days is a long time ago.

We formed an uneasy relationship. I couldn’t, of course, prove that Gustav had topped Arthur but suspected him of relentless bullying that probably contributed.

When he started hiccoughing, a sign of respiratory issues, he was 17 months old – one month shy of the line where I’d issue only palliative care. I took him to the vet.

One thing you don’t realise about vet waiting rooms until you walk in with a mouse is that it is full of animals much, much larger than yours, many of which are predators – not just watchful cats but adorable Yorkshire terriers and otherwise friendly rats. I was relieved when a vet called us in. I paid $200 for the privilege of her small pets expertise and a few millilitres of broad range antibiotics to be administered via mouth. I was also to buy a tin of Ensure, a nutritional supplement, and feed him manually because he would lose his appetite on the drugs.

Drugging and feeding a sick mouse who resents you is a thankless task. Because they are small, it’s difficult to hold them in a way that is both comfortable for them but allows you to force things they don’t want to consume down their throats. The only way to constrain them safely is to wrap them like a burrito in a hankie so they stop scrabbling. Eventually Gustav resigned himself to my ministrations and somehow, in my thrice daily care for him, I grew to love him.


About three months after he recovered, he relapsed. He started wheezing and losing weight so I defrosted the remaining Ensure and made enquiries of my pet-owning friends about drugs I could siphon to give him another fighting chance, although he had officially entered the palliative-care-only period. It was because of this close attention that I saw he’d developed bumps on his paws. They were not advanced enough to cause him to limp, but I suspected bumblefoot, a bacterial infection. I decided to disinfect his feet, so placed him gently in a takeaway container with a shallow pool of warm saltwater. As I dried his paws with a cloth, he drew his last breath, eyes still bright in the diffuse sun reflecting off the bathroom tiles. Did I drown him by accident? Did his lungs finally give out? Or was it multiple conditions ganging up to issue the final blow?

Gustav was not my favourite mouse, but his death hit me unexpectedly hard. I had been so involved in the last months of his life – we had grown strangely close to one another – that I seemed to take it more personally than any of the others.

I buried him in the front yard wrapped like a burrito in the cloth I’d been using as a towel. Within earshot, a real estate agent was showing a neighbouring apartment to prospective tenants. I didn’t care if they saw me dig the grave. I’ve never known a funeral to stop for a flat inspection.

This essay was shortlisted for the New Philosopher Writers’ Award, themed ‘Death’.


P.S: At the time of writing, I have two new Rex boys, Olaf (a Manx named after a former king from the Isle of Man)…

Olaf is ridiculously photogenic

…and Nero, who is quite a mild-mannered mouse considering he is named after the tyrannical Roman Emperor. Nero once cured himself of necrosis of the tail by chewing off the diseased bits.

Nero is much cuter in real life than he looks in photos

They are brothers and lived together for a while until Olaf insisted on picking fights, despite the fact that Nero is 15g bigger. They are now neighbours.

Category: Write | LEAVE A COMMENT
November 19

In which I decide to get over myself

When I was 7, one of my favourite books was a tall joke book called, I think, 1000 Jokes for Kids. It had a bold blue cover with the title in large snazzy orange font and was roughly the dimensions of a foolscap sheet folded lengthwise.

One segment was a list of fictional books and fictional authors all with punny titles like ‘Songs for Children by Barbara Blacksheep’. I remember clearly one from the list because it was the first time I had ever seen my name in a book. The pun title was ‘The Unfinished Poem by Adeline Moore’.

Fast forward some decades and I’ve decided I’m not writing enough for myself. I know exactly why, too: I’m one of those writers who don’t like to show their work-in-progress. I hate admitting that I have half-baked ideas, I don’t like my foundation of knowledge to be too fresh. But what this does is stifle the natural learning process of working through an idea, an argument, a voice. I want to get over myself. I want to forgive all the mistakes I’m going to make before I make them, knowing I’m going to make them but also knowing that I need to make them to progress.

Bear with me. Prepare for changing perceptions as I uncover new information. Allow for paradigm shifts.

So here it is, my newly anointed blog: Unfinished writing by Adeline.

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