All posts by Jen

One Delhi winter, ‘Manushi’ and that scene from ‘The Piano’

The middle-aged proprietor of our local news stand was sitting cross-legged in a lunghi on the pavement, chewing paan, his newspapers and magazines in neat stacks around him.

‘Do you keep Manushi journal?’ I asked.

He scowled and spat a bright-red, betel-stained gob at my feet. Hmm, I thought – I might be onto something here …


It was 1995 and I was living in Jaipur, Rajasthan when I first heard of the Indian feminist journal Manushi. On my next trip to Delhi I went to Connaught Circle and visited a bookstore, one of those dim, dusty rooms crowded with creaky spinners, cheap Indian publications of Western literary titles, and shelves of Russian classics and socialist texts. ‘Manushi journal?’ I asked. The owner, in homespun Gandhi kurta pyjama, roused himself and pointed at a far wall.

Continue reading One Delhi winter, ‘Manushi’ and that scene from ‘The Piano’

Well Thumbed Books: ten years of books, food, community … and fun

‘We had no idea what we were doing. We had no books, no bookshelves. No cash reserves to speak of. And none of us really wanted to work.’

That was Heather O’Connor, remembering a planning meeting in May 2010. Someone had ‘some damn-fool idea’ of a second-hand bookshop in Cobargo, and five women – Heather, Virginia White, Louise Brown, Annie Lee and Chris Haynes – had gathered to discuss it over lunch.

‘Seriously, we weren’t even through the hors d’oeuvres and there seemed to be no hope… Four months later we opened.’

Continue reading Well Thumbed Books: ten years of books, food, community … and fun

Something that wasn’t in the book (or, a shameless plug for my Goodreads page)

I’ve never been in jail, and I wasn’t educated in a 20th-century British boarding school. So I’m not used to being referred to by my surname and it’s a bit jarring reading the reviews of Long Road to Dry River on Goodreads. ‘Severn is a master wordsmith’ (thanks ‘Lib Kilian’), ‘Severn’s writing encapsulates what is special and unique about memoir’ (thanks, ‘Tash’). ‘Severn’s story is a mish-mash of disastrous life decisions, pseudo-medical theory and pop-psychology’ (OK, I made that one up).

But it makes me ponder ‘Severn’ and how I came by it, because it hasn’t always been my name. It’s not a married name either, in the way that many women, even today, take their husband’s surname.

It also makes me realise that I didn’t cover this in the book.

Continue reading Something that wasn’t in the book (or, a shameless plug for my Goodreads page)


Our neighbour Hanno finds the walk to school arduous. So when he goes to pick up his big sister Eve in the afternoon, Jens takes him in the wheelbarrow. And sometimes after a big day at kindy, Eve hops in too for a lift home.

Jens and Tash used to have one of those Dutch bicycles with a child capsule on the front of it. Both kids fitted, side by side. But they lost it in the fire when their house burned down.

The fire happened six days after Christmas and four days after Eve’s birthday. Tash tells me that sometimes they remember presents that were in the house. ‘Burnt?’ says Eve. ‘Yes,’ says Tash, sad face. ‘Burnt.’

Continue reading Aftermath

Anzac Day, Covid-style

I wheeled down to the road at 5.30 am, moved by the concept of the ‘driveway dawn service’. I wasn’t sure if my Bermaguee Street neighbours would be partaking, and when I reached the street, mine was the only light. So I headed up to the cenotaph in case there’d been a social-distancing rebellion – no-one. But I knew that Helen and Peter Taylor would be out the front of their place in Bega Street with candles and wreath – and a radio. The ABC was broadcasting live the service at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Continue reading Anzac Day, Covid-style

An interesting time to launch a book

Who could have known, back in December when I started the immune-suppressant Ocrevus treatment for my MS, that a pandemic was brewing? I’ve been feeling particularly exposed and even asked people at my March book launch (more on that later) to refrain from the usually obligatory hugs at the occasion. But now, a month later, I have the results from my latest blood test. My white cells are ‘completely within normal range’, said my GP (she of The Joke fame). Great! So I’m not immune depleted after all! But hang on—the Ocrevus isn’t working? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Continue reading An interesting time to launch a book

‘Keep rain where it falls’: Michael Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy’

After Council connected Quaama to the Brogo Dam supply in 1984, they sent a truck through the village collecting everyone’s rainwater tanks. ‘You won’t be needing these anymore—let us do you a favour and remove them for you!’ They needed people to pay for household water now—the last thing they wanted was people collecting their own.

But by the time we built our new house in 2008, the NSW Government was offering rebates for every new tank connected to toilets or washing machines. And development approval relied on such environmental features too.

Many Quaama residents collect rainwater from their roofs now. For those who don’t, their share soaks into their garden, or runs off into the channels that Council digs along the roadsides, breeding mosquitoes and frogs until it seeps into the ground or evaporates. But at least the rain ‘stays where it falls’—one of the main tenets of Michael Mobbs’s presentation to the Bermagui Institute in February. Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy‘, has disconnected his inner-Sydney home from mains water and sewer (and electricity) and promotes sustainable living.

Continue reading ‘Keep rain where it falls’: Michael Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy’

The writer, stripped bare.

Write what you know, they say—and I know night.

Jet black, dark of the moon night. Crisp shadows on bright, silvered lawn night. Still night of hush and mopoke hoot. Howling night of seethe and crash.

Doona-burrowing, extra blanket, bed-beanie night. Night of sweat and swelter, sheet-tangle, turn and tumble.

On a steamy summer night, 4.12 gleams greenly at the bedside. Blackbird song, else silent. Then a creaking, then a tearing, a ripping, a shearing, a shredding … the crackling subsides, then silence again. Re-enter the blackbird. Later I awake and step outside to rolls of pink bark and new, smooth, fragrant, pale trunk exposed. A gum, stripped bare.

I started writing my memoir nineteen years ago—unknowingly. In a cosy sharing of Quaama women writers, I jotted down vignettes. Longhand pieces, dislodged from memory’s dim corners to briefly breathe fresh air, then closed tight again in notebooks. Fifteen years on, I wrestled with a novel but the memories, old and new, kept breaking through. Refocus.

Two years of filling the gaps, explaining, considering, blaming, absolving, reckoning. Pain, fear, confusion, exposure, realisation, understanding. Relief.

The writer, stripped bare.

Long Road to Dry River will be launched by Jack Miller at Well Thumbed Books in Cobargo at 10.30 am on Saturday 7 March. Then I’ll be in conversation with publishing industry icon Mary Cunnane, there’ll be a couple of readings, then we’ll hoe into one of WTB’s renowned morning teas. If you’re around these parts, it would be wonderful to see you there.

In the line of fire

1.30 am, New Year’s Eve. The FiresNearMe text: Put your plan into action. I hear a vehicle down on the road, coming in from the forest. Then another. Soon, a constant stream.

2 am. We’re backing down the driveway, in two cars. I have the dogs, food for them, water, my walker, and the Mechanic has my scooter, our documents bag and the go-bag, which has been sitting in a corner for weeks.

Down at the Quaama fire shed an RFS guy stops us.
Do you know anyone out at Verona? he says.
Plenty, why?
Lots of homes are threatened. We can’t get out there, not enough of us.
Later, too late, I wondered if he wanted us to ring and warn them.

Continue reading In the line of fire