My heart runneth over

Updated: Oct 06, 2019, 07:14 IST | Meenakshi Shedde |

One of the great things about travel is you learn about lifestyles so different from your own, and it makes you re-think ways of living and being

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi Shedde"I feed my dogs steamed vegetables every day. It keeps them healthy, and their poo is a pleasure to pick up." Only someone like my friend Maxine Williamsom would say such a thing. She's entirely serious—but very funny as well.

One of the great things about travel is you learn about lifestyles so different from your own, and it makes you re-think ways of living and being. I'm in Australia to select nominees for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), given to the best Asian and Pacific films from 70 nations. And Maxine, who is Australian, is like no other friend I know. She's a visionary and solid at work, former Associate Producer and Film Director of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and much more. Solid integrity. Very generous spirited. Vegetarian. Mindful of the planet. Thinks out of the box, and unafraid what others think. She lives in Brisbane with her children Buddy, 15, and Dusty, 13; Peter Moyes, ("he's not my husband, he's the father of my children,") and has adopted two rescue dogs, Buster (who is three-legged) and Maggie May. Buster behaves as if he never noticed a dog needs a fourth leg ("Oh, that, bah," is his general attitude), as he energetically gambols with Maggie May.

Maxine's gorgeous home in Brisbane has a distinct Japanese influence, that "invites the outdoors in"—with large glass doors and windows, exploding with purple wisteria creepers on one side, and a thick wall of bamboo on the other. Her atmospheric country 'church house' is a former Lutheran church, built in 1909, decommissioned in 1988 and converted into a home, in Mount Alford, Boonah, in the 'Scenic Rim,' 1.5 hours' drive from Brisbane.

Beyond her city and international assignments, Maxine is a country girl at heart, so she's unsqueamish about things that may make city types shriek. She has compost bins in her Brisbane backyard, and a compost toilet in the church house; the family drinks purified rain water collected off the roof in Boonah. And she enjoys working the land, mulching the sprawling garden—with "5-in-1" (poo of five farm creatures, including horse poo and "chookpoo" or chicken poo), gypsum, twigs and leaves—that can be exhausting under the fierce, antipodal sun. Living close to the land, you see the circle of life up close, eg animal poo and your poo become fertiliser; and you also see life and death up close. We drive past a dead kangaroo by the side of the road— roadkill—whose body is marked with a spray-painted cross—indicating confirmation that the dead kangaroo did not have a joey (baby) inside, because the joey would then need the help of animal rescue.

But a morning walk with the dogs is lovely: kangaroos and their joeys have come close to the house looking for water in the dry season; the dogs chase hares across the fields. All day, it sounds like a rainforest, with the birdsong of cockatoos, rainbow lorikeet, parakeets, galahs, melodious pied butcherbirds, ibises and noisy miners. We go star-gazing at night—it is so rare to be in a town with little or no lights for miles around at night—that the Milky Way appears like an enormous celebration of stars above. I meet all kinds of exciting constellations in the southern hemisphere I've never met before.

As we drive back to Brisbane, Maxine puts on music, the French-style Farsi chansons of Iranian singer Soheil Nafisi, that she knows I love, and my heart runneth over.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on meenakshi.shedde@mid-day.com

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