How can I describe this peculiar man, my Beloved?

Let’s try: tough, gentle, warm, witty, sharp, stubborn, mischievous, determined, and quirky. Karl is as cute as a button. Everyone loves his warm brown laugh, his apple cheeks, and shining hazel eyes. That twinkle!

On our honeymoon, December 1994

Breakfast the day after our wedding, 18 December 1994

Karl is, above all, a risk-taker: he nearly falls off the roof several times, falls off several short and tall ladders, welds without a mask, saws through a live electrical cord while working on our roof. For Karl, there is no substitute for authentic risk.

Photographing rock art, Arnhem Land, 2008

He is a wild spirit with a wild mind. And predictably unconventional ways of doing things.

Karl is a misfit, a tough nugget of man. (He is a mystery, as he also had many endearing, innocent, child-like qualities that sat comfortably with his nuggety side.) He had lived the sort of life that made for legends, working in shockingly inhospitable and dangerous places (like isolated desert mining and railroad camps), experiencing hardships that defied description. He’d witnessed several men die while welding in shipyards. These challenges help him grow into a modern-day miracle of courage, resilience, determination, stubbornness, and perseverance.

His calloused hands tell a story of a hard life. I smile as I wash my delicate silk nightgown, now torn by the caresses of my welder lover’s hands.

Karl mending the barbecue
I scrub up pretty well for an old welder.

consummate Romani tinker skills

Karl’s consummate Romani tinker skills are the resilient ones we’ve mostly forgotten. Like mending, they require persistence, repair, restoration, and loving care. He was always mending something. The solar lights, in particular, take a lot of maintenance.

Karl has a range of tools more fitted to a shoemaker than a builder. There was nothing he cannot fix with glue, clamps and elbow grease. After Karl and I begin to live together, I’ll get decades of wear from one pair of Birkenstock sandals. (In the end, they are little more than glue.)

It breaks my heart to give away the humble “food safe” Karl built from scrap bits of lumber lying around the place. It kept the rats out of our packaged food for years until we finally have a lock-up, rat-proof kitchen.

Karl knew little about house building

After we embark on our rural eco-village house-building adventure in Nimbin in 2001, it slowly dawns on me that Karl knows little about house building. (I know nothing at all.) But an owner-builder he becomes. He enrolls in the owner-builders’ course, studies hard and then gets down to it, making it up as he goes along. He perseveres, despite our chronic shortage of funds, the intricate house design, incomplete drawings, and our young, inexperienced designer. My heart softens at the sight of his perseverance.


Despite his many hardships, Karl never loses his sense of wonder: that distinctive mystical and quirky Romani magic that stays with him until the end. (And after.)

Karl tells me stories about when he was prospecting for gold in the desert country near Leonora in Western Australia. One Dry Season night, lying in his swag looking up at the stars, he was “enraptured” and drawn up into what he called “the dome of the sky”.

I have been there myself.

Enraptured. When I lived in the bush not far from Darwin.

When I show him my drawing of the swirling vortex of stars, Karl says he understands.

That is it!

Karl understands.