Donna Lee Brien, BEd (Deakin), GCHEd (UNE), MA(Prelim) (USyd), MA (Writing) (Research) (UTS), PhD (QUT), is Emeritus Professor, Central Queensland University, Australia. Donna has authored over 20 books and monographs and over 300 refereed published journal articles, book chapters, scholarly conference papers and creative works. Her latest books are Paradox, Image and Identity: The Shadow Side of Nursing (2020) and Speculative Biography: Opportunities, ExYesperiments and Provocations (2022) both for Routledge, UK. Donna is currently studying for her second doctorate at the Australian Catholic University, writing a history of Bondi Beach.

Pigments and Paints
I have always disliked the colour red. Especially blood and cherry hues. My entire life, I have shied away from choosing red clothes, accessories, homewares, stationery, even flowers.

I don’t know why. I know red symbolises all that is energetic, dynamic and exciting – yet to me red is loud, and harsh, and jarring. Red is angry; all hot, flaming danger. The colour of wounds. Stop signs are red. So are lobsters after they have been boiled alive.

On the other hand, I am extremely fond of pink (which I know is actually light red), all pinks from Barbie bubblegum to purpled eucalyptus and dusty tea rose.

My husband W. and I have renovated five houses. Well, W. did most of the work and I decorated the results. My paint palette has always consisted of only three colours. ‘Blade’, a pale cool green for living and sleeping areas, ‘William Byrd’, a delicate eggshell blue for the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry, and ‘Silver Thaw’, a clear mid-grey for exteriors. We paint everything in a room with the same hue, walls, ceilings, bookcases – low sheen acrylic on the walls and high gloss, oil-based enamel for the skirting boards, woodwork and doors. Three colours plus white for curtains and blinds, accented with pops of watermelon, cherry blossom or subdued tea rose pinks.

We started following this colour program two decades ago, and I still revel in how these shades glow from within, and how paintings seem to pulse against them. At once tender and serene, they are also hopeful, the colours of spring and new growth, of the soft furze covering gum branches and the reflection of a flawless sky at the creek’s edge.

Sometimes I imagine repainting everything a bright flat white. But then, I see our cat purringly rubbing his dusty head against the doorway and the old dog stretched out asleep in the afternoon sun, feet dancing against a wall, chasing rabbits in her dreams. I remember that it doesn’t matter if our boots leave mud scrapes on the skirting, or those thin little wisps of smoke waft up to the ceiling when we add more logs to the fire. Soft and gentle can be quite tough and forgiving.


Kim was born in winter 2006. If you make the ‘one of our years equals seven for a dog’ calculation, then she’s just about to turn 105.

But that’s not quite right. She is decidedly stiff in the mornings, almost completely deaf and very grey, but there is nothing wrong with her eyesight, and she still loves her beach run. She swam in the dam until the first frost of winter just a few weeks ago, gobbles up anything chicken, and does most of what the younger dog does. Just for less time.

I found an online calculator that is based on comparing DNA aging in both Labrador Retrievers and people. When I put her age in, Kim came out at 74. That sounds much better, but I have to admit that Kim is not a Lab. She’s finer and leaner and blends the gene pools of both smaller and larger dogs – an elegant brindle mix of Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Great Dane, but no retriever. Confirming this is how she loves chasing sticks and balls, but only very rarely brings them back.

Another recent version of these estimates suggests that the first year of a dog’s life is equal to fifteen human years. That makes sense, as during that year dogs grow from squirming newborns to being able to have puppies of their own, although, just like for human girls, this is not recommended. Their second year of life is worth an additional nine of ours, meaning that two-year-old dogs, often wild with reckless energy, are akin to young adults in their early 20s. Then, for each additional year, four or five of our years are added. This makes Kim equivalent to somewhere between 76 and 89 years old.

That sounds about right, but I know that, in general, larger dogs live significantly briefer lives than the smaller breeds. I locate a chart that has figures for small, medium, large and even giant dogs, and with Kim on the lower end of large, her age is valued at 93. I don’t like that at all. Plus, the chart only goes up to 15, which was the most terrifying information of everything I found.

Living on a farm, death is part of our everyday. But every loss hits hard and I can’t imagine life without Kim. Instead of worrying though, I’ve decided to stick with her 15 actual years and my hopes of us celebrating at least a few more birthdays together.