Unexpected, Unplanned, and Unpredictable but Marvellous Melbourne!

mairi melbourne museum

On Saturday, I met my older sister, Cate at Southern Cross Station. A quilter, she had come down from Albury for the weekend to attend a Stitches & Craft show at the Exhibition Buildings in Carlton. We discussed attending weeks ago but no definite arrangements were made until she knew she could get time off work and a seat on the train.

I’m catching the train at 6.00 am – see you at 10.30.”

‘The weather’s forecast to be hot and humid – don’t overdress!”

In September, when Cate visited for the Dior Exhibition at the National Gallery we experienced a warmer than average spring day and she regretted wearing too heavy clothes while I worried about her increasingly flushed face and a shortage of breath.

Yes, we are both at that age where warnings about blood pressure, heart strain or breathing difficulties loom large and prescription pills rattle in our bags!

Don’t worry,’ she said, “I’m prepared this time.’

Plans, Preparation – and the Weather!

We caught a tram up Collins Streets and walked through the gardens at Carlton admiring the lush greenery and bright blooms. Lulled into peaceful serenity by the azure sky and fluffy clouds, families having fun, and tourists snapping selfies.

We shared pleasantries and the promise of a wonderful day catching up and enjoying the exhibition.

 

The 138-year-old Exhibition Building a new venue for Stitches & Craft but a magnificent setting. Cate and I had last visited here when some of her work was shown at the quilting show.

The Exhibition Building feeds my love of history and depending which entrance used, I learn something new every time – like this snippet of history and the monument I’ve dubbed ‘the protest sculpture’.

I’m sure the debate of the day mirrored many we still have about imports being favoured over local products but how many of our current MPs would put their money where their mouth is like the Hon. John Woods?

 

When we rounded the corner, we were relaxed and comfortable – and surprised the entrance silent and deserted.

  • Where were the queues of excited participants?
  • Where were the clusters of crafters discussing techniques, products, and great bargains?

The beautifully carved doors shut tight and no huffing, puffing or pushing or whispering magic words like ‘open sesame‘ made a bit of difference.

We met a couple of young women who were also confused. At first, I thought they were just admiring the architecture but then discovered they were itching to stitch and craft…

doors to exhibition buildings

Cate, who is more computer savvy than me quickly Googled.

The venue correct – the date wrong. ‘It’s next weekend...’

The girls looked crushed. The surrounding water from fountain and lake a metaphor for tears.

mini lake carlton gardens 2

We just felt a little like ‘Dumber and Dumbest,’ but recovered instantly. After all, we were standing beside another fantastic venue and reading the advertising signs, the Victorian Museum offered several new exhibits, as well as the bonus cafe.

Within moments we had cloakroomed Cate’s bag, and clutching entry tickets we enjoyed a cuppa before wandering through what must be one of the most delightful, airy museums in Australia.

I appreciate the improvement more than most because in 1974  I was a research assistant attached to the library at the museum when it was housed in Russell Street.

The modern layout and approach to exhibits and the knowledge shared absolutely amazing compared to the archaic and ancient displays of the dark, drafty building where I used to work.

Weaving A Story

On the first floor as you walk along feast your eyes on The Federation Tapestry designed and made by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop to mark the centenary of Australia’s birth as a nation.

Murray Walker, the principal artist/designer, collaborated with more than 20 artists to develop the tapestry around the theme “One People, united in peace“.

There is a short video that tells the story of how 24 weavers worked an estimated 20,000 hours to create the 10 panels. It was woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne 2000-2001.

The tapestry presents some of the great themes of the Australian story: dispossession, settlement, adaptation, the land, celebration, hope.

There are household names to recognise – Patrick White, Henry Lawson, Mirka Mora, Bruce Petty…

The artists set out to trigger memories and inspire reflection about the future of our land and as a writing teacher, I know students could spend hours here using the various frames for inspiration.

My favourite has to be the drawings and words from indigenous children and their aspirations for the future:

  • People should care about each other.
  • I want Australia to be happy.
  • And I want my family to be happy.
  • I want the animals to be free.
  • I want us all to be happy all of our lives.
  • I want all the trees to grow happy.

children's tapestry.jpg

The talent and cleverness of the artists and weavers truly a wonder to behold.

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Women Of The Land

A collaboration between the Invisible Farmer Project and Her Place Women’s Museum Australia celebrates rural women who work, protect and heal the land.

We farm to feed those we love and our communities. Within my community, I have an amazing tribe of women that I surround myself with. They’re the ones that buoy me in times of need and celebrate with me. Women supporting one another is a primal and magical thing.

Amy Paul, Ruby Hills Organics, Walkerville.

The Invisible Farmer Project acknowledges and records the diverse, innovative and vital role of Australian women in agriculture. The project involves a national partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations.

Launched this year in March, several of the stories feature in a mini exhibition, along with artefacts like one participant’s hat, which embodies the important role she played in leading farming communities and rural organisations.

There is great detail about the first four women interviewed for the project and more information  can be found at invisiblefarmer.net.au

What an invaluable resource for any writer researching contemporary Australia’s female farmers! And the stories a wonderful learning tool for us all, whether we need to use the information or not because the project aims to:

  • Create new histories of rural Australia
  • Reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • Learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • Stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • Develop significant public collections that will enable far-reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy

A Gathering was held for women on farms and I snapped Cate appreciating the sewing and design of the squares making up a commemorative banner of those organisations that participated.

Her Place, Women’s Museum Australia

Her Place celebrates the social, civic, and entrepreneurial achievements of Australian women and their role in shaping our nation. Three exhibitions have been curated this year to tour regional and metropolitan Victoria.

Her Place is still working towards the creation of a permanent public space that will collect and preserve women’s records and archives so that the distinctive achievements and contributions of women can be acknowledged and written into history.

(As opposed to herstory being ignored for centuries!)

Four Victorian women strongly bound to the land are honoured. You can listen to them tell their story about living and being committed to the land and their communities, as well as enjoy a display of personal artefacts:

  • Aunty Fay Carter (Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Senior Elder)
  • Maisie Carr nee Fawcett (pioneering scientist)
  • Pat Bigham (farmer and firefighter)
  • Val Lang (farmer and agricultural mentor)

Lunchtime came and went and we could easily have spent all day appreciating what makes Melbourne marvellous in an exhibition that allows you to meander through replicas of arcades and streets of inner Melbourne of the past.

I have a little book somewhere bought from Cole’s Book Arcade and can remember being fascinated by the shop.

Well done to the researchers and writers for all the information made available to the general public and presented in such palatable chunks. Thanks too must go to the designers, tradies and staff who helped create delightful exhibits.

Cate and I decided to head down to the city but found ourselves trapped in the foyer waiting for a very heavy downpour of rain to subside.

The marine creature display apt – even to the look of surprise or is it excitement on the shark’s face? And yes, there were people getting soaked voluntarily so they could take photographs.

One little boy ignored the thunder and had a great time splashing in puddles!

Flash Storm Flushes and Flusters
Mairi Neil

Who will be the first to drown seemed the
challenge from the heavens as clouds exploded
and torrential rain cascaded down.
Not me,’ said everyone with umbrellas held high
Nor me,’ said others huddled inside, and dry.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Thunder roared and growled –
was that a lightning flash?
Braving the downpour, some people
made a dash – finding cover in bus shelters
snuggled close to strangers – while others
recklessly crossed streets ignoring dangers.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

‘Any port in a storm’ a cliche so true
as doorways and porches became home
for much more than a few.
Downpipes sagged and gushed
collapsed under watery weight –
surging water made rivers of roads and
too much rain meant every tram late!

I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Soaked, sodden, and shivering
commuters crowd tram, train and bus
meteorological or seasonal confusion –
‘It’s Melbourne and no surprise, to us.’

‘I truly don’t care,’ cries the inner child with glee
‘splashing in puddles looks really good to me!’

Despite the rain, we managed to get to Spencer Street and catch a train home.

‘I really enjoyed myself,’ said Cate.

‘Me too,’ I said and quoted Dad’s favourite poet Rabbie Burns, ‘The best-laid schemes … Gang aft a-gley…’ before adding, ‘ but our day was rainbow and never grey!’

 

Poetry In Motion Captures Daily Joy

 

Tinsel Aurora
 Aurora loves Christmas tree decoration time!

 

I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and have been enjoying sharing the poems from Dog Songs, published by Penguin in 2013 a gift from the USA from my daughter, Anne.

Fortunately, most of the students in my classes are pet lovers and on the last count, the dog lovers outnumbered cat lovers.

Regardless of preference, the keen observations of the talents and quirks of dogs and owners in Mary’s poems and prose, the detailing and expressions of love, the bonds created, and how dogs capture your heart can be appreciated by everyone.

Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?

page 119-120

In a lovely short short story, Ropes, about Sammy, an escape artist known for chewing through ropes and a dog Mary ‘inherited,’ there are a few tales about his wandering and the consequences. The reflection in the punch line a beauty: –

This is Sammy’s story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it’s what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.

Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.

page 45

spring bush purple.jpgEach day is a precious gift and like most writers, I carry a notebook to jot down observations, ideas and feelings. 

I’m lucky to have a job I love teaching in community houses and to be passionate about writing.  However, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always sing “Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go” as cheerfully as the seven dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White!

But I do try to be a glass half full person…

Here’s one of last week’s jottings, influenced of course from absorbing the lessons from The Gathering of Kindness

Feeling Joy – The Small Stuff Matters
Mairi Neil

Friday morning, on the way to work
I kept a lookout for some joy, and
it wasn’t long before I witnessed –
the love between a father and his boy.
Two peas in a pod’ they dressed alike –
matching smiles, strolling side by side.
The loving bond between the two
seemed as strong as a rhino’s hide.

The child’s face lit up at a noisy digger
munching and crunching on concrete,
and the audience of fluro-vested men
standing mesmerised by this feat.
But the toddler refused to be side-tracked
‘It’s the trains he’s after,’ said Dad.
They followed me to Mordi Station
where trundling trains made him glad.

Aboard the train approaching Parkdale,
a clump of ‘red hot pokers’ delight,
planted to greet weary commuters,
the orange sentinels glow in sun’s light.
The next stop was Cheltenham Station
how uplifting and joyous to see
beautiful art brighten graffiti-free wall –
possum, parrot, and magpie trilogy.

Highett Railway Station the next stop
along a track lined with grey-green trees
until a bottlebrush blooms blood red
and Noisy Minors serenade to please.
The tunnel into Moorabbin is next
a dullness failing to darken the day,
momentary shadows before sunshine
a courteous student a smiling ray.

Not long to reach Patterson Station
passing homes simple and grandiose
traditional backyards disappearing for
townhouses that house the most.
And right at the Station’s doorstep
from a third floor balcony, quite unaware
a sleepy man plumps blue pillows
we watch him inhale morning air.

Too soon, I’m at Bentleigh Station
and striding along busy Centre Road.
There are shoppers, school kids, workers
negotiating others in relaxation mode.
Old men gathering outside cafes to chat
over Turkish coffee and sweet cakes
weekly reminiscing, current politics too –
get-togethers a community makes.

Benn’s Bookshop appears on the horizon
and I turn into Godfrey Street
delicious aromas of chicken and coffee
at close quarters my regular greet.
An octogenarian shuffles her walker
a shopping bag ready for weekly refill,
guarding fiercely her independence
a faithful fox terrier follows at heel.

Turning into the Community House
prepared for the delightful writing class
spring flowers a brilliant scented rainbow
amidst freshly-trimmed green grass.
A young mum pushes an empty stroller
her daughter dancing fantasy behind
in a lurid pink tutu and glittering tiara
a more joyful princess you’ll never find!

fairy ring.jpg

Please share any daily moments of joy or note them down to savour for later.

The Gift of Story Creating Care And Compassion

quote about storytelling.jpg

The Narrative Initiative

On the last day of the Gathering of Kindness Week Dr Lorraine Dickey, Neonatologist from The Narrative Initiative outlined her journey to explain the importance of

Understanding the story – focusing on care and compassion through narrative.

Lorraine is the founder and CEO of The Narrative Initiative and an Advanced Narrative Facilitator as well as being a neonatologist with experience leading a large Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the USA.

She established The Narrative Kindness Project after she had a catastrophic ski accident and experienced the healthcare system as a patient. Her recovery was slow and arduous with three years of rehabilitation. After she was told she would never work as a physician again because of the traumatic brain injury she did an MBA in Health Care Management.

“She had the privilege of returning to the profession of medicine in 2004 though returning with a vastly different perspective… Armed with the new philosophy of Patient and Family- Centered Care she embarked on leading changes that truly matter to patients, their families, and healthcare staff.”

Health professionals don’t get special care when they’re sick – they have varied experiences like the general public. She changed direction and promoted self-care in the profession after getting burnt out with her new career and developing breast cancer.

She had to personally invest in the culture of self-care! Not necessarily just to be kinder to herself but to understand how it happens.

mordi sunset .jpeg

“Lorraine works to bring people in health care together to address staff-identified barriers to providing high-quality health care experiences for patients, their families, and healthcare staff using research-based, published, facilitated narrative techniques.”

Some topics include:

  • resiliency,
  • the wounded healer,
  • compassion fatigue,
  • professionalism,
  • dignity therapy
  • principles of Patient- and Family-Centered Care.

Enhancing listening and communication skills through the use of personal story

In 2013, Lorraine entered a second Fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine and now cares for babies and children with serious illness or life-limiting conditions, also their families, facilitating the alignment of parental goals of care and medical goals of care while also providing complex pain & symptom management.

“ It is critical to know what brings a person joy, both as a patient and as a parent. Family-centered care is honored when medical therapies match and enhance the goals a parent has for their child while helping them make decisions under the most difficult of circumstances. Physicians and other healthcare clinicians need to understand that providing therapies that match parental values and family culture IS providing good medical care. Practicing with this philosophy in mind supports what we as physicians got into this profession to do: Help someone do what they cannot do for themselves.”

Dr Lorraine Dickey

In 75 minutes we were given a taste of what is normally done at either a cafe workshop (12 participants) where people attend one or several sessions over a period of time or a half-day for larger groups with narratives focused around a topic of choice.

pond or river.jpg

The experience of care triggers a powerful biological response in the patient… and emotional memories of care last a lifetime.

Lorraine wanted the forum to address the barriers to kindness and develop ways to overcome them. She talked about communication as perceived by the listener and drew a pie chart showing  absorption was

  • 40% from the tone of voice
  • 55% from non-verbal actions (stance etc)
  • 5% verbal – the actual words spoken.

It is emotionally hard to fathom what is said if there is lack of tone and non-verbal indicators but to have people concentrate and remember what you are saying you must tone down actions and how you say it.

People are motivated to achieve certain needs and some needs take precedence over others.

 

Maslow hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. 

In a hospital situation, if you need the toilet, are hungry or traumatised, these needs will affect your listening skills. Plus ‘a difficult patient’ may not have coping skills.

The same will go for professional needs – often staff are tired, hungry and stressed.

  • Maslow shows emotion trumps logic every time.
  • People must learn to treat each other with respect.

In a hospital, it may be as simple as staff sitting down beside the patient or family member, not standing over and facing them. Staying calm and asking how the person is doing and remembering to use their name.

You cannot reach people’s logic if they are in pain.  When a patient is in pain, self-actualisation is their logic. Kindness lives in the love/belonging space.

Clinicians sometimes need to act to put patient welfare first even although they may be tired, worried and stressed themselves: 

‘I will smile’                  ‘I will be open-minded’

a smile from Anne.jpeg

People perceive acts of kindness differently.

You see someone in a wheelchair and you open the door for them, a natural instinctive courteous and kind act.

But what if the person in the wheelchair can open the door themselves or wants to exercise their independence? Instead, we should ask, ‘do you want me to open the door for you?’ or ‘would you like me to open the door?’

There are probably many kind acts of omission that are never recognised as such. For example, the doctor is ten minutes late and the patient doesn’t mention or complain about the lateness – and vice versa.

Efficient, effective communication happens when words and logic meet and both parties walk away understanding the same thing. We often don’t realise the collateral damage of our actions or our words.

The importance of writing

The act of writing makes us slow down. Writing gives form and shape to experiences that seem formless and shapeless, even chaotic. Writing helps us translate complex experiences into a form more easily grasped such as an obituary or eulogy.

While some participants are talented and accomplished writers it is important to note that these narrative sessions make use of informal writing.

  • Informal writing is not designed to be correct, artistic or accomplished in any special way.
    Informal writing is designed to capture the writer’s honest reaction to a significant experience.

The simple act of reading this type of informal writing aloud, word for word, to an interested and informed audience can itself be a powerfully validating experience.

Write Read Renew

We were given three minutes to write a personal experience of a kind act: spoken or physical gesture. It could be from a professional experience with a patient, their family member or a colleague or a kind act of omission.

This kind act that was either particularly difficult or challenging or alternatively uplifting or inspiring must then be read without changes to the person sitting beside us.

I shared my story with Angela, a Charge Nurse at the Austin Hospital.

My 3 Minute recollection of an Act of Kindness – written without editing:

When my Mother was dying, a nurse suggested we bring a quilt from home my sister had made to brighten the starkness of the bed sheets. I thought that a very kind suggestion amidst the grief of my very big family (six siblings plus partners and children) and friends crowding the room.

In the trauma of Mum dying in hospital, she realised we would have preferred to have her at home and went out of her way to encourage us to replicate some of that familiarity. She had previously arranged a bed for me to stay 24 hours with Mum.

Angela wrote about her daughter having an unplanned emergency causing Angela to leave work for some time. When she returned to work, staff had left flowers, chocolates and a welcome back card with kind words of support. She had no idea how they valued her up until then.

Angela and I discussed our feelings and the incidents we had written about in closer detail, which transformed us from being total strangers sitting at a table together to human beings with empathy for each other.

Empathy is about understanding each other’s needs and not just smiling sympathetically. It is emotional and thrives on good communication.

gathering of kindness forum

 

Several people shared what they had written with the whole room. Our excellent facilitator, Lorraine pointed out specific use of language and wording plus the images and tone of the narratives, as well as encouraging further exploration of the story.

The experience similar to what we do in my writing workshops and classes, especially Life Stories & Legacies

  • encouraging the getting it all down first,
  • the reading aloud,
  • close listening skills,
  • absorption of story
  • understanding of what the writer wants the reader to take away
  • what should be edited.
  • or added!

It can be painful writing about harrowing or life-changing experiences, particularly when it comes to illness and grief, but often these difficult stories are the important ones to share. You still feel the loss and pain, but it can be a therapeutic release and also help to enlighten others.

A story shared about a young woman’s brother who died of brain cancer was very moving. Her mother did not speak English and the doctor didn’t speak her language but despite a sad outcome, their empathetic relationship eased the pain. She talked of brain cancer ‘winning and an earthly miracle not realistic.’

Lorraine noted that winning is everything in medicine and society doesn’t like losers and often the language we use reflects this attitude.

Everyone appreciated how difficult that personal story was to tell and felt privileged and moved. The young woman’s tone of voice quiet and natural, the simplicity of words and detailed imagery mesmerising. We listened.

The stories made us feel connected to each other – and this is how I feel in my writing classes when people share stories of their life.

Lorraine then drew two columns and in a quick-fire room participation, people said what they thought were barriers to kindness and methods to overcome these barriers.

Perceived barriers:

  • not wanting to be kind, selfishness
  • overwork, overtired, and stress
  • ignorance and misunderstandings
  • lack of humility and bad manners
  • insecurity and task focused
  • burn out
  • vicarious trauma – disoriented
  • busyness and lack time
  • lack of training in how to respond
  • not connecting and/or fear of connection
  • inequity, and custom and practice
  • fear of how it will be perceived
  • pressure from being overwhelmed
  • arrogance
  • lack of a role model
  • friendship – wanting to belong and seeking saviour in silence
  • funding model – cut corners because of a shortage of time
  • not being able to forgive
  • the faker
  • cultural differences
  • not actively listening
  • lack insight
  • lack professional boundaries

Methods to overcome barriers:

  • modelling
  • be kind to staff
  • value and acknowledge kind acts
  • self-care
  • be a role model
  • celebrate the small stuff
  • accept feedback
  • value your people
  • reward kindness
  • pause and reflect
  • educate and model
  • value and celebrate difference
  • forgive and learn

gathering of kindness table deco

Lorraine pointed out there was a tiny origami crane among the flowers decorating each table and attendees could agree who takes it home – her act of kindness to us.

Angela asked if she could have it for her daughter and I said of course.

A small act of kindness at a critical point can have an unimaginable impact. Sometimes we need to be kind by breaking rules. Celebrate kind acts, not kind people, talk with, not to people.

What a wonderful day I had and I left with a challenge ringing in my ears:

Remeber to do something different – kindness to self and to the people around you. Bring joy and a giggle to life. 

Focus on what can be done, not what you can’t do.

What is Gathering of Kindness?

 Kindness matters.  There is a direct correlation between organisational negativity and staff wellbeing and effectiveness.  

 The Gathering of Kindness aims to redress this by building, nurturing and instilling a culture of kindness throughout the healthcare system.

 We bring together people from inside and outside the healthcare sector – actors, clinicians, artists, musicians and innovators – to imagine that kindness, trust and respect are the fundamental components of the healthcare system, and that bullying is unacceptable. We look for creative pathways to a more compassionate model of health care.

 This first public Gathering Of Kindness has encouraged the broadening of participation. I’ll pass on a challenge… Be kind and do random acts of kindness at home and at work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018, is World Kindness Day

  • Smile at strangers and do kind things for them.
  • Give up your seat on the bus/train to someone else.
  • Buy someone a coffee.
  • Volunteer your time at the local op shop or some other charity.
  • Leave a kind note for someone or send an uplifting message.
  • Kindness should not only be reserved for our fellow human beings. Be kind to the animals and to the environment as well.
  • If you have children in your life, teach them the virtue of kindness by practising it in your daily life.

It truly can be a wonderful world.docklands panoramic

A Day Spent Gathering Kindness

kindness wall prompt.jpg

It began with an email from the Health Issues Centre, where I’ve attended many workshops and forums as a consumer representative. The sender was Safer Care Victoria, an organisation I imagine few Victorians outside the health circle know much about unless they listen regularly to Radio National’s Life Matters.

You are invited to attend a day of kindness – bringing together a wide group of influences and change agents from across the health service sector, to focus on activating engagement at the local organisational level. The theme of the event is: “Continuing the Conversation” – kindness between everyone in healthcare.



Re-imagine a healthcare system that has kindness, trust and respect as core components. This is based on the evidence that there is a direct relationship between staff well-being and patient well-being.

An interactive day, featuring inspirational local and international experts such as:
• Dr Lorraine Dickey; Neonatologist The Narrative Initiative
• Dr Catherine Crock AM; Chair and Founder of The Hush Foundation
• Assoc. Professor Michael Greco; CEO Patient Opinion Australia talks
• Mike Farrar; former Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation
• HUSH Kindness Play “What Matters” facilitated by Dr Catherine Crock AM
• Internationally renowned performers, the Grigorian Brothers
• Dumbo Feather – a platform for storytelling

Friday marked day five of a successful Gathering of Kindness Week.  A day, full of thought-provoking conversations and activities, designed for a better way forward for healthcare.

I lost no time in registering because not surprisingly they had a waitlist of people who wished to attend this complimentary event which included catering, entertainment and thought-provoking conversation.

A bonus was the venue at the Docklands, a part of Melbourne I don’t visit very often. There was also the opportunity to catch up with health professionals and consumer reps I’ve met at other events.

Consumer Voices Important

In recent years, I’ve had more experience with the health system than I’d like, which motivated me to become involved and do what I can to improve the quality of care.

It is important to applaud what is working and the good outcomes achieved as well as criticise failures.

There was so much packed into the day at Docklands, it’s difficult to know where to start so I’ll share the highlights that appealed to both my hats – the writer as well as health consumer representative.

Time and again speakers emphasised the power of individual stories to change procedures, attitudes and perceptions. The forum was about patient experience and there is a variety of ways the stories can be told.

Being in hospital is like being in a play you haven’t read. There’s bewilderment, you’re on stage and don’t know the outcome.

John Clarke

The opening segment, a film of Clarke & Dawe used humour to start the conversation about the different perspectives of a hospital experience for staff, administrators and patients. The two satirists are renowned for their great play on words and they didn’t disappoint:

gown, discharge, night register, waterworks, running at low cost

Take a few moments to ponder the different interpretations and uses of these words…

A fitting introduction to begin a conversation about the perceptions of all the players in a health system and the need for empathy and kindness.

Everyone has a role to play: kindness starts within all of us.

One of the key people behind the Gathering of Kindness Week is Dr Catherine Crock AM, Founder of the Hush Foundation.  A medical pioneer, she is a longtime advocate for culture change in hospital care and has put into practice what she preaches!

I bought these CDs years ago when coping with caring for my dying husband – they work!

Working with patients, families and healthcare professionals, Hush transforms the culture of healthcare by harnessing the power of the Arts to educate, inspire and create change for better outcomes for everyone.

She developed a music collection to reduce stress and anxiety felt by both patients and their families in hospitals, transforming the environment through the use of carefully curated music from some of Australia’s foremost musicians and talents.

Working at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Dr Crock said repeated surveys showed parents valued kindness and care. The atmosphere improved when the creative arts (musicians, composers, actors) were harnessed to improve the well-being of families, patients and staff.

The Gathering of Kindness aimed to build, nurture and instil a culture of kindness throughout the health care system. The key theme being “The Power of Kindness”/”Continuing the Conversation” to better understand how to improve the healthcare environment for all stakeholders, including staff and consumers.

Three CEOs discussed and shared stories of why and how they initiated change in their organisations:

Dr Sue Mathews, The Royal Women’s Hospital, Frank Evans, Central Gippsland Health and Adj Professor David Plunkett, Eastern Health.

Women's Hospital sculpture

Remodelling is required to meet today’s patients’ needs

Dr Sue Mathews told a story that was a turning point for her to rethink her attitude to hospital administration and rules.

Like many working on hospital wards, she said, her favourite announcement was “all visitors go home” until one evening a man sitting by his wife’s bed explained they had just lost their baby after trying for seven years and spending $35,000 on IVF treatment.

I can’t grieve with her?” he asked.

Sue has introduced leadership walks around the hospital asking patients in real time how their experience is to learn how to design a toolkit to draw out information from patients and improve the system.

For example, she discovered that for one woman who works full-time when the hospital calls regarding appointments within working hours she will always be busy to take the calls or miss them, and vice versa if traditional business hours are adhered to as far as women contacting the hospital when they may be available to speak.

Health is a policy-driven sector and many policies are 25 years old or more – hospital culture had to change.

The Women’s Hospital employed a Chief Experience Officer who has guided more than 600 staff through a course that uses videos, workshops and discussions to remind them why they are in healthcare.

By watching or listening to patients about their experience the staff go through what they ask female patients to do. They then list what needs to change whether it be policies, visiting hours, outdated and stupid rules preventing good patient experience or rules that create staff problems.

They discuss what rules are broken or need to be.

The Women’s Hospital is bringing kindness into everyday practice and Dr Mathews works hard to be a good role model. For example, it is important to remember people’s names so people feel valued.

She uses the model way – show how kindness can be and help staff and patients to see and behave in a positive and kind manner to improve everyone’s wellbeing.

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”

Alan Alda

Unpack Your Assumptions

Over lunch, I experienced one of the exercises the Women’s Hospital has used to change their culture: Unpack Your Assumptions.

It was a working lunch – we had a few minutes to digest our food and then down to work!

We teamed with a partner and I was with Ruben, a young man from the Department of Health whom I’d never met.

Choices, Choices Choices.

The exercise designed to challenge our own beliefs and choices and the assumptions we make about others solely on appearance:

Are they like us? If different, how and why do we think so?

PART 1 – instructions to be read and carried out in silence

The situation: You are an expert camper. You love camping and have camped every summer for as long as you can remember. You are packing for a week solo camping trip at a site with no electricity. You will be able to park your car at the site so the weight of what you pack is not an issue however, you will not be allowed to use your car to go and get anything for the entire week. As you finish packing the car you realise that you have room for 5 more items.

The task: select 5 items from a list of ‘extras’ that you would choose to bring with you. (There was a list of 13 items including mobile phone, book, e-reader, alcohol, extra clothes and food, batteries, matches…)

PART 2 – The situation is the same but this time it is your partner who is going on the trip. You are not going together. They are also going alone.

The task: Maintaining the same assumptions you select 5 ‘extra’ items for your partner to take on their trip. (From the same list of 13 items)

PART 3 – without speaking to your partner, consider the following questions:

  1. Is what you chose to bring for yourself exactly the same as what you chose for your partner?           (a)  If yes, why?       (b) If no, why not?
  2. What was it like to make choices for your partner without consulting with them or knowing their story?
  3. How did it feel to consider yourself an expert?

PART 4 –

  1. Compare lists with your partner
  2. If there are differences between what they chose either for themselves or you – justify your choices to each other
  3. Discuss the questions in Part 3.

The facilitator, Sherri Huckstep, the Women’s Hospital Experience Officer, led an interesting discussion encouraging people to share their choices and reasons.

Ruben picked 3 out of 5 correct for me and I picked 4 out of 5 for him. (Maybe writing all those character profiles helps?)

  • We both agreed we did not pick the same items for the other person as we chose for ourselves because we considered gender and age differences. (He is younger so I chose more tech-based items, he said he considered my gender and age and added more warm clothes!)
  • We both found it difficult to choose extra items for the other person while not knowing anything about them. I felt unskilled and nervous.
  • We both felt uncomfortable setting ourselves up as experts and making decisions in the dark with limited knowledge.

Sherri then read aloud the poem The Cookie Thief, from Chicken Soup For The Soul, edited by Jack Canfield.

The Cookie Thief.jpg

Assumptions can be wrong and are the source of much of the conflict we experience in our lives. We may all have assumptions we need to question!

The lady in the poem attributed the cookie thief’s behaviour to rudeness never considering he may have had a good reason to take the cookies. She never gave him the benefit of the doubt or considered she may have been wrong. He never stopped her helping herself.

How they both reacted to the situation speaks volumes about attitude and how to deal with certain events and people.

It pays to keep an open mind! Do what you can to discover all the facts.

People want to be called patients, not clients.

The CEO of Eastern Health, Adj Prof David Plunkett said that time and time again patient surveys said courtesy and kindness was what really mattered. They focused on improving communication and customer service but still, patients said courtesy and kindness: “If I’d just been treated with kindness” a common response.

Eastern Health has 5 million pieces of data to say that kindness must be an organisational value – they don’t need any more surveys to measure!

Accountability and humility core values.

He asked the 10,500 staff and volunteers how they could support each other and how to create a safe working environment.

They got prompt cards “I will smile”.

When the staff discussed how they treated each other and made a commitment to kindness, respect and excellence, it led to kindness with patients.

All in it together!

Prof Plunkett suggests questioning the data – it’s qualitative information about what is going wrong but when you go past the data argument and use stories from patients’ experience and effect change, it works.

They collated 400 stories; they didn’t resonate with all staff but the good and bad feedback worked to motivate and accept kindness as an organisational value.

gathering of kindness tree
The Kindness Tree at the forum where you could write suggestions on how to show kindness

 

Leading with Care

Frank Evans from Sale explained that in 1997-1998 there was a conflict that divided the community, families and staff at the hospital. One afternoon there was a knock on his door. A man had a petition to get rid of the hospital CEO. He asked Frank to sign, completely unaware that Frank was the CEO.

Frank invited the man in for a cup of tea and they had an interesting chat. (I’d like to have been a fly on the wall!)

Another turning point for Frank was the sad, powerful, personal story of “Claire” who wrote a book Dying For A Chance. He bought a copy for all staff, and also had Claire address staff. His philosophy is to engage with people and try and understand them, accepting there are difficulties providing quality care.

They now have a new model for their integrated health service and are trying to build a culture of caring and kindness. There is more conflict this year with the push for change.

  • All staff are involved in writing a Communications Charter.
  • There is a new leadership framework – “Leading with Care” and they are preparing a leadership matrix.

never stop learning sign

Aas a consumer, it was heartening to hear from CEOs who are listening to the patients and their workforce before implementing changes and actively trying to alter the culture of decisions from being only financially or resource driven.

It was an ideal time to watch the Hush Kindness Play – What Matters, written by well-known writer and actor Alan Hopgood.

Alan and his team of actors aimed to make kindness matter to staff and patients and through this Hush Project after the play is performed, they have talked to 9000 people about the particular issues it raises.

There have been over 140 performances of health-oriented plays raising issues such as

  • the devastation of a medication error
  • different aspects and challenges of aged care
  • and this latest one – focusing on small acts of kindness that make a difference, or what happens when kindness and empathy is lacking

Ironically, the role I remember Alan Hopgood for was the small town doctor in Bellbird, an ABC 70s soapie my mother wouldn’t miss!

I recognised him straight away when he appeared on stage, especially his deep but softly reassuring voice.

He has wanted to make a difference in the area of men’s health with his writing and has written several plays and a book in 1996, Surviving Prostate Cancer – One Man’s Journey. He often gives talks using his wonderful sense of humour to tell his story and encourages others.

Alan and the players thanked the audience restating the strong message of What Matters that kindness is not elective, not a weakness but a choice we make.

And it doesn’t stop in the confines of a medical setting.

The value of and sharing stories of kindness often doesn’t rate because positive news stories don’t get traction.

Fiction writers know this too well – we are taught from day one that it is conflict that sells, and it doesn’t have to be resolved to make a book a best seller!

However, when you are ill, perhaps fighting for your life, perspectives can change. Or when you are a health professional burnt out or traumatised. (Read a transcript or listen to the podcast about compassion fatigue and mental health.)

Even the smallest act of kindness makes a difference.

A doctor stepping outside boundaries with “Mother Theresa” actions or advice should not be accused of ‘being too kind’ and ‘unprofessional’.

Patients taking the time to write a ‘thank you card’ or leave flowers or chocolates for staff: doctors, nurses, administrators, cleaners, volunteers – all the people who have a part in making our health system function – are sadly rare, but do make a difference.

The Power Of Story To Engender Kindness Within Organisations

The impact of kindness should never be underestimated and discovering how many people and organisations are promoting positive changes in behaviour, attitude, and workplace culture is an uplifting experience in itself.

Associate Professor Michael Greco who worked with Father Brosnan to bring kindness into Pentridge Prison interviewed two CEOs from the UK with experience of improving patient experience of the NHS.

He quoted the definition of civilisation as being a slow process of society learning to be kind.

Perhaps he offered the best quote of the day –

Kindfulness is fundamental to human growth.”

A more civil society is society being kind and unfortunately, we have too many examples in the wider community where our political leaders and the general population are not being kind or civil.

How we treat asylum seekers and refugees only one example that has been in the news recently!

quote about loss

Participants at the forum expressed again and again, through fantastic examples from their workplaces or life experience how powerful the gift of stories can be.

The importance of listening and recording stories whether positive or negative to learn from them.

These stories from staff or patients when aided by the creative arts  – whether by poetry, plays, film, memoir or short story – can hurry along the all-important change towards  ‘kindfulness’.

  • The Narrative Kindness Project my next blog!

Ten Pound Poms – Privilege At A Price!

Ten Pound Pom poster.jpg

There are advantages of being a senior in Victoria, especially in October each year during the Seniors Festival when so many free and fun events are scheduled.

This year was no exception, the delight magnified when I shared a day out with my sister, Rita.

We attended Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to enjoy a sneak preview of their latest exhibition: British Migrants: Instant Australians?

An exhibition close to our hearts because we were part of the assisted migration program when our family migrated from Scotland in 1962.

– yes, the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh were labelled ‘Poms’ too!

identity yours and mine.jpg

Migrant Myths and Memories

I love the Immigration Museum and have attended many special exhibitions, as well as frequent visits to the permanent reminders that more than nine million people have migrated to Australia since 1788. 

Immigration is about us all – those who were here and those who came.  Everyone has a story to tell – about ourselves, our families, friends and ancestors. It is in the telling of these stories that we can begin to understand Victoria’s rich histories.

The exhibition includes objects, historical film, images, and innovative multimedia experiences to explore the personal stories of British migrants and the contemporary perspectives of migrants and commentators.

(It)… incorporates a rich and diverse range of voices to explore narratives at both a national and personal level, focusing on questions of identity and impact on contemporary Australia.

There are plenty of well-known Aussies who were ‘Ten Pound Poms” or whose family were:

The Bee Gees (English), Hugh Jackman (English), Kylie Minogue (Welsh), Olivia Newton-John (English), Jimmy Barnes (Scotland), Bon Scott (Scotland), George Young (Scotland), Noni Hazelhurst (English), and cricketers Harold Larwood and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson…

And of course two ex-Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Not to mention a few other politicians caught in the recent Constitutional conundrum over dual citizenship and the right to sit in parliament.

immigration facts.jpg

Picture gloomy, weary post-World War II Britain — England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Imagine the prospect of distant, sunny, booming Australia. Where would you rather be?

… Australia that was predominantly white and British — it had worked hard to be so.

Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy.

But reality is never that simple.

What did the British actually experience?

What did this mass migration mean for Australia at the time?

What does all this mean for us today?

Dr M McFadzean, the Exhibition’s curator talked about the methodology, research and work that went into putting the exhibition together. Several people shared their stories and visitors can listen to or read firsthand accounts from British migrants who travelled to Australia as part of the scheme.

  • 300,000 paid their own way
  • 80% of the 1.5 million from the UK were English
  • British migrants were the preferred migrants and didn’t have to be citizens to vote. (This changed in the 1970s)
  • British migrants could vote after 6 months, become citizens after a year and obtain an Australian passport – non-British had to wait 5 years.
  • British migrants could receive social security – they were considered lucky
  • Yet 25% returned within the two year period required for the assistance scheme and had to repay their fares.
  • Of those who returned to the UK, 25% came back to Australia!

The Tribute Garden

… the Tribute Garden is a public artwork that pays tribute to 7000 people who have made the journey to Victoria. 

The Tribute Garden features the names of immigrants who came from over 90 countries, from the 1800s to the present day.

The region now known as Victoria is represented by the people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land and records the names of languages and dialects spoken by Aboriginal communities.

Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris designed the original artwork, which was launched in 1998. Gina Batsakis led the design for the following stages of the project. The project concluded in 2002

 

I donated to the original art project so that my parents’ journey could be acknowledged.

tribute wall.jpg
Our family recorded as coming across the sea: George T & Annie B McInnes and Family

Our family came under the auspices of the Personal Nomination Scheme because Dad’s sister Chrissie nominated us and guaranteed accommodation for the family, and to support us until Dad found a job.

Chrissie and her husband Bill arrived here 14th July 1952. He was an electrician and she was a tailoress. They came out to cousins whose family roots went back to the exodus from the Isle of Skye in the 1850s. We were lucky to have their support but childless Chrissie was so desperate to have immediate family join her she ‘gilded the lily’ and never foresaw the many adjustments our family of 8 would have to make.

origins.jpg

Many British migrants were accommodated in government hostels. These were usually a collection of corrugated iron Nissan huts left over from WW2, uncomfortable and unpleasant whatever the season, proving assumptions about the privileges of British migrants deceptive.

Breaking the Myths The Brits Got It Easy

Some migrants came out to jobs in the shipyards, railways or electricity commission, but most had to find their own employment. Even if eligible for Social Security many would not take it because of pride, others found the money inadequate and constantly struggled and worried about their poor prospects.

They often discovered their qualifications not accepted, their particular skill set not acknowledged, or required, or in my father’s case, he was considered “too old” at 40 to be an engine driver.

Vic Rail offered him a job as a cleaner, which he refused.

He had to abandon the idea of working on the railways and became a truck driver. In those days, more so than now, men were the breadwinners, their identity and self-esteem tied up with their employment.

For the first few months in Australia, my Father said he drove to work with tears in his eyes and sometimes streaming down his face as he adjusted to the sadness of no longer belonging to a railway community and doing a job he loved. He hated the ‘old house’ we rented with its ‘dry’ toilet down the back and a tacked on bathroom with no bath. He worried about the decision to migrate and our future.

He had worked for British Railways for 25 years, his father had been a railwayman. Both were proud to be train drivers – Dad competent with steam, diesel and electric. Like many migrants, the thought his skills would not be recognised or not needed never crossed his mind.

However, Dad said the Australian Government knew what it was doing when it insisted that assisted migrants remain at least two years or pay back their fares. Homesickness and culture shock genuine problems as many of the stories in the exhibition illustrate.

  • Some people took longer to adjust than others.
  • Some never adjusted.

sum of our parts

  • Family were left behind – loving grandparents, aunts and uncles
  • Established friendships abandoned or broken whether it be  at work, school, or neighbourhoods
  • The British thriving arts and culture scene – the Beatles, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street… was missed by many children and teenagers who had no choice but to follow their parents

A family arrived in Adelaide to be told by one of the ship’s crew, ‘Put your watch back 20 years…’

  • the city was ‘dead’ on a Sunday
  • no shops opened on a Saturday
  • pubs closed at 6.00pm

Two teenage migrant girls went to a dance dressed in latest gear from trendy Liverpool. The local hall full of girls with ’50s style frocks. You couldn’t dance unless a boy asked you.  The music outdated. The girls shunned for dressing weirdly.

They spent the night as ‘wallflowers’.

But Dad did adjust and although he had a series of blue collar jobs and ‘chased money’ to educate, house and clothe us all, he never had any desire to return to Scotland for a holiday and loved the weather and our home in Croydon.

The journey out to Australia by ship at least gave families a month to acclimatise. Many considered the trip a great holiday.  For some, it was the first holiday they’d been able to afford and they established new friends although many were parted at Australian docks depending on their destination.

  • Friendships made and lost
  • Exotic places visited
  • Teenagers sulked but most got ‘over it’ because of many onboard activities
  • Food and cabins either thrilled or disappointed
  • Marriages made, others destroyed.

Once here, migrants realised telephone calls were expensive, as was postage, especially packages.

The 12,000 miles distance from Europe made Australia seem isolated and ‘the end of the world’.

Even for British migrants the change and adjustments were huge. Christmas a shock – too hot – yet cards pictured snow and reindeer – absolutely no relationship to reality.

In Melbourne, they discovered winter is cold and some days the promised sunny Australia seemed a myth. The weatherboard houses referred to as bungalows by the migrants, not as substantial as the brick houses of the UK. There was no double glazing, insulation, or central heating – common attributes in post-war Britain.

Some migrants expected everything to be modern and new, or ‘bushy’. Established cities like Melbourne an initial surprise or disappointment.

I remember my Dad commenting when our ship pulled into Station Pier that Melbourne, “looked just like Glasgow!”

We’d left cold foggy London, travelled through the Suez Canal and stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived to an extremely hot summer.  Heat haze shimmered above melting bitumen, joined by a smoke haze above the ‘blue’ Dandenong Ranges ravaged by fire January and December 1962.

 

bum boats Port Said.jpg
A picture Dad took of the ‘bum boats’ that pulled alongside our ship at Port Said, Suez Canal. The Arab merchants spruiking their wares called every English woman “Mrs Simpson’ and every Scots or Irish “Mrs MacGregor”!

 

Life operated at a slow pace in our new home, semi-rural Croydon on Melbourne’s perimeter. Dress codes relaxed. Dad loved not having to wear a tie most days.

Aunt Chrissie walked to the mailbox in dressing-gown (housecoat) and slippers and no one seemed to mind. She even ran Uncle Bill to the railway station in their old Consol,  still in her nightie – and when she broke down one morning she was helped to start the car (crank handle in those days) by a passerby who didn’t seem surprised!

Mum couldn’t get over the meat trays in butcher shops, or the fruit shops with their plentiful melons, passionfruit, oranges and other fruit, but she sweltered in an old house cooking meals with a wood-devouring Raeburn stove.

Any money left over from Dad’s early pay packets used to buy an electric kettle, electric frypan and electric pot as a matter of urgency!

No matter when they arrived, all immigrants are linked by the common experience of a journey.

Over the past two centuries, the immigration journey to Australia has changed from a perilous sea voyage of up to 3 months to a routine flight lasting up to 24 hours. Changing transport has not only shortened the journey but made it more comfortable and affordable.

The journey remains one of the most memorable aspects of any immigration experience.

journals of a lifetime.jpg

Finding Ten Pound Poms in the National Archives & Public Record Office Victoria

The Immigration Museum invited two experts to explain how much easier it is to research your ancestry in the digital age and answer family history questions.

Terrie Page, National Archives of Australia demonstrated how to access the records of British immigrants. Personal and medical records available from the interviews conducted in the UK of those on the assisted passage scheme.

Go to the website naa.gov.au 

The first access point Terrie detailed was adverse publicity re Immigration scheme. There was plenty of criticism the publicity enticing migrants painted too rosy a picture and ‘facts’ were untrue. (For example, the offered wages were too high – stated in Australian pounds, not British pounds.)

This series is A445, Barcode: 247865 and you can read letters between the Australian and British Governments addressing complaints and articles in the press.

Series No. MP195/1, ( 1948-1958 basic information) MP210/2 (1952-1955) and MP250/2 (1958-1962) holds personal records of the interviews. Type in the name and year of your family and you may discover a copy of their acceptance letter (not every family has one).

Often there was only 2-3 weeks notice given to people. Not much time to pack up and sell goods and chattels and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.

In 1958, the Australian Government chartered the Fairsky for many voyages and although most people came by sea, the first aeroplane carrying assisted migrants arrived in 1959.

The Nominal Roll lets you type in the name of the ship and the date of departure and arrival and you can access Welfare Reports of the voyage, (A446 1962/67618) for example:

  • quality of food
  • entertainment provided
  • education provided
  • if there had been outbreaks of disease
  • if anyone had died

Searching for Melbourne Passenger Arrivals check if the ship came through Fremantle and put in the year of arrival. Items Series No. B4397

  • tick digital list box
  • enlarge to full screen
  • check multiple pages – look for the month (click pages, go up by 100)
  • hover over and find page number (Downloads are slow)
  • type into the box ‘jump to page’
  • remember the last page of every list has births and deaths
  • check passenger lists for a different class, boarding at different ports
  • the lists may not be alphabetical!

Stories Abound

Public servants were not as politically correct as today and many made handwritten notes on the official forms: “applicant obese but seems intelligent enough“, “five-year-old precocious and very bright”

There was a dock strike in Fremantle and migrants sent onto Melbourne by being off-loaded in Adelaide and put on the train. A young boy remembers waking up as the train trundled past Sunshine Station. The sun was rising and bathing the countryside in its glow, ‘What a lovely appropriate name,’ he murmured.

First impressions count.

PROV – Public Records Office Victoria

Charlie Farrugia, the Senior Collection Advisor explained that key records regarding immigration are Commonwealth therefore with the National Archives, but these are easily accessed from PROV State archives. (www.prov.vic.gov.au)

The State archives hold Department of Crown Land and Surveys information and records of statutory authorities such as the office of Valuer-General, School Councils and Courts etc.

  • What happened to peoples lives after migration and the great leap of faith to start afresh?
  • any activity involving State Government can be researched.
  • the key page is Family History
  • records are of a personal and private nature so not everything is kept
  • indexed by Family Name.

Exploration and Self – Discovery – Records May Have  a Key…

Charlie invited everyone to explore PROV’s collections and archives by topic: Wills & Probate (if there was a will required to be lodged for probate), Family History, Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Also inquests and other coronial matters. Land records, Census records (unfortunately rarely kept prior to 1973), some Cemeteries, pupil records from schools now closed (if the school still exists then they hold previous student records), and electoral and municipal voter rolls (in the past you had to own property to vote and not all councils have or kept voter rolls.).

British Migrants: Instant Australians?

Diary Date:

The exhibition opens on 25 November. There’ll be tea and traditional British fare and talks by historians and curators, as well as the personal stories of British migrants.

Rita and I are looking forward to the full exhibition and will be revisiting the museum. We looked through the current exhibitions and left with plenty of food for thought and itching to check out the available records for our family – the months ahead will be busy!

If you have a migration story – please share.

“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

Alan Rickman

 

Make ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose’ Reality – Please!

hard rubbish 1

Organising topics for my Life Stories and Legacies Class this term, I was inspired by the notion that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What makes some of us collectors or even extreme hoarders?  How does that contrast with the modern penchant for minimalism and a spate of books on decluttering?

There are popular television shows about collectors and hoarders, and government brochures with encouragement to downsize. Information about over-consumption and the need to recycle can be found in many places. And despite our ex-PM Tony Abbott’s delusions, I’ll go with expert scientists and agree climate change is affected by human pollution and behaviour.

We are at a tipping point and need to consider our carbon footprint.

Planet B Doesn’t Exist
Mairi Neil

There only is one planet Earth
and we need Plan A to save it
There is no Planet B for us to live –
no matter how eccentrics crave it!

Mountains of waste at danger level
a throwaway culture created mess
built-in obsolescence’; ‘shop ’til you drop
bad habits to abandon – let’s confess!

Less packaging to be disposed of
Less plastics that poison the sea
Less chemical interference with food
Less consumption from you and me!

More recycling goods stopped working
More repurposing products useful still
More local retail and farmers’ markets
More thoughtful behaviour, the general rule!

Think before buying or disposing
Do you really need to use a car?
Can you grow, compost, and share
homegrown food better than afar.

McMansions a blight on suburbia
and planned density now a necessity
but let’s replace lost backyards and trees
because green spaces, not a luxury!

Pollute and Perish,‘ more than a catch-cry
Climate Change promises an unpleasant fate
concerned effort and beneficial action
needed NOW  – tomorrow is really too late!

mordi p.s hens 2017.jpg

Close friends have died recently and that’s always confronting as well as heartbreaking. Friends not only die but some downsize and may move away. Nearing retirement age, I find talk is not of building, renovating or celebrating new homes, but of shedding the accumulation of years, moving into retirement villages, trying a sea or green change!

 ‘Collector’, ‘hoarder’, ‘minimalist’ transforming  abstract to reality.

What particular description or category suits me?  Hint – minimalism doesn’t get a look in, especially when it comes to books but I have been known to cull some!

Motivated by the annual hard rubbish collection, I’ve made another attempt at cleaning out the shed and other rooms in the house with the encouragement and help of my daughters.

The introspection and soul-searching traumatic as I examine everything rationally, discover long forgotten items,  unachieved dreams, good and bad experiences and try to emotionally and physically discard lots of memories with the mementoes.

old memorabalia.jpg

Memories stirred by old concert tickets, boxes of photographs, postcards, political leaflets, baggage tags and souvenirs.

It’s definitely easier to go through the wardrobe and face the fact that even if the youthful 10-12 figure returns, certain items will never be worn again.

Culture Change Needed To Face Climate Change

A report about clothes and landfill recently made me consider the habit of retail therapy, indulged in at various times.

After my mastectomy, a lot of favourite clothes were rendered useless because my cleavage disappeared, but hanging in the wardrobe are rarely worn clothes bought on impulse, or because they were a bargain.

These statistics from last year make sobering reading:

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill  – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World

There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears

Like many people, I grew up in the era where hand-me-downs were common, mending or altering clothes, darning socks and even fixing shoes, valuable skills many parents or grandparents possessed. At school, we learnt sewing by making practical items such as aprons and pyjamas before venturing to make embroidered placemats and doilies.

Maybe it is time to return to sewing on buttons, replacing broken zips, refashioning garments and thinking twice before grabbing that sale item!

I know many friends and a lot of young people who ‘op shop’ for clothes so that’s a step in the right direction but perhaps the biggest change will come when the people who make the clothes are paid decent wages and the price will inevitably rise. Nothing like ‘the hip pocket nerve’ to drive change or a social conscious.

no sweat shop tshirt

There’s History In Old Writing

I’ve uncovered lost writing notes, scribbled poems and stories, and hard copy from computers long dead and abandoned. The poem below, written after I experienced my first ever car boot sale at Mordialloc Primary School ties in with the theme of this blog.

Car Boot Sales a popular way of raising funds. They sometimes replace the traditional school fete, and for a tiny school like Mordialloc Primary, in an era where parental volunteers are shrinking because both parents work outside the home, inviting the wider community to pay $5 – $15.00 to sell items from their ‘car boot’ is less effort and less labour intensive than organising a fete.

car boot sale.jpg

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mairi Neil (1992)

For a glimpse of our consumer society
The values some people uphold
Visit the local school’s Car Boot Sale –
And observe what’s bought and sold.

The secondhand clothes and bed linen
Some charities used to receive
Preloved stuffed toys and old hats
Perhaps all harbour nasty disease…

“Spoil Yourself” a sign above decrepit shoes
Makes you wonder at the vendor’s sanity
But no trace of humour marks his face
As he stands proudly beside the inanity!

The dealers arrive when stalls are setting-up
They rummage and poke to find treasure
Greedily grasping valuable items they spy
With their experience of commercial measure.

Mums wander around, children in tow
Conscious of a near-empty purse
Offspring demand toys, or food to eat
Whingeing children every parent’s curse.

Crafty folk proudly arrange their goods
Aware their creativity is on display
But people are hunting for bargains
Not rewarding talented work today.

A spectre-like man haunts every stall
Mr Black Moustache with checkered shirt
Tussled curly hair frames his bald patch,
Trousers reveal shoes caked with dirt.

He fills a black bag with various loot
Purchased at haggled, rock-bottom prices
Videos, cutlery, BBQ tools, chipped Esky,
Jaded jacket; a contraption for making ices!
Disappearing like steam to offload booty
Perhaps to a nearby parked car…
Returning to fossick and buy a sun lamp,
Then quibble earnestly for a pottery jar.

Suddenly, it’s anything on wheels
That catches his discerning eye –
Collapsible cot, battered suitcase,
Ironing board, old heater dragged with a tie!

Mr Checked Shirt returns again and again
Flush with an endless supply of cash
No doubt he’ll sell his purchases
Transformed treasure out of trash.

Sizzling sausages tantalise customers,
And baked potatoes scent the air
Joining musty clothes, potting mix
Perfumed spices strange and rare.

The sun drifts behind spreading cloud
The breeze from sea promises a gale
Startled stall holders little time to pack –
The fickle fortunes of a Car Boot Sale!

discarded vacuum.jpg

Do you like collecting things? Are you ever surprised by the things people pick up, collect, keep?

The annual hard rubbish collection for our area of Kingston was picked up on Tuesday, the regular rubbish collection day.

People were asked not to put items on the nature strip until October 9th, however, unsightly piles of discarded stuff gathered for weeks.

The early piles rummaged through with people taking items deemed useful.

I came across a group of tradies excited over a bunch of toy guns they’d ‘rescued’, exclaiming what good condition the collection of twenty or more was in as they divided the booty up.

plastic gun

It was the day after the horrific Las Vegas rampage and they looked sheepish when I suggested maybe the household had a rethink of the appropriateness of giving children replicas of sub-machine guns, revolvers, rifles et al.

Unfortunately, some scavengers often scatter piles leaving nature strips to resemble the aftermath of the hurricanes in recent news broadcasts.

pile of rubbish chelsea

The comforts of modern society are many but there are drawbacks aplenty

How sparingly can we live?  True minimalism, a balancing act with everyone having a different idea of what are bare essentials. 

What possessions can we reduce that will not affect the basic functionality of our lives?

It never ceases to amaze me what people throw away – wooden furniture whose only crime is being unfashionable or needing a coat of varnish or paint.

Solid sofas that could be refurbished, ubiquitous plastic toys needing a soak in hot soapy water to make almost new, and lots of small items easily disposed of via the bins provided for weekly garbage collection.

A walk around the streets at this time shows we really are a society in love with consuming. Maybe we can lose that reluctance to reduce as well as adopting reuse, recycle and repurpose.

Some would rather buy new and buy more, sucked in by the constant bombardment of advertising, lured by the bargain, and the ‘must have’ latest gear, technology, clothes, design – whatever.

Yet a quick survey of my Life Story Class and the students 

  • have a worm farm on an apartment verandah
  • wear hand-me-downs or op shop bargains
  • grow own vegetables, compost and keep chooks
  • make and repair own clothes
  • refashion, repair and repurpose clothes and accessories
  • buy organic when possible,
  • bake bread and cakes,
  • bottle fruit and make jam
  • recycle furniture,
  • take own shopping bags
  • have already downsized
  • nurture trees and plants
  • have discovered secondhand bargains

 

We may be grey-haired but in our hearts we are green!

Apparently, there is a law (although I’ve yet to hear it has been enforced) carrying a fine for taking stuff from the nature strips because piles of ‘hard rubbish’ are council property.

Others suggest councils hope scavengers will collect as much as they can leaving less for contractors to do because the cost of discarding rubbish is high.

The Council sends out a leaflet with a list of items not to be dumped – old paint and chemicals should be taken to a special recycling depot. Old fencing and building rubble are also not allowed. Yet walk around the streets and it’s as if community literacy is non-existent.

Kingston Council even has a place for old computers, televisions and other bits and pieces of technology. A quick check online shows they are not alone  – many councils and other organisations want you to recycle.

I’m glad of the hard rubbish service, especially the opportunity to be rid of white goods and mattresses – and there are always plenty of those discarded.

The safety message of removing doors from fridges and freezers still stipulated to avoid tragedy, whereby a child locks themselves inside an abandoned fridge and the interior magnetic release is broken, or absent.

Although, not many children play in the streets nowadays or have the unfettered freedom I had in childhood.

In this world of readily available toys,  a mountain of abandoned stuff is not an opportunity to explore and play make-believe games – they leave that to adults!

Council Hard Rubbish Collection 2017
Mairi Neil

Utes circling like crows,
four wheel drives and cars with trailers
dedicated kerb-crawlers…
people out walking, slow to a stroll, stop.
A hungry flock pick over the carrion.
The annual hard rubbish collection
reveals scroungers and scavengers,
is anyone immune?
Under the guise of repurposing,
and reusing, even recycling
we rummage and speculate about
the lives of others – frugality, luxury, stupidity, serendipity…
Hoping in their discarded trash,
we find a treasure!

I found various writing prompts on the subject so be inspired:

  1. Sit down in your character’s office or bedroom. Glance in the wastebasket. What’s inside? A photograph? An orange rind? A half empty bottle of whiskey? What we throw away can reveal surprising things about us. Write flash fiction describing the contents of a character’s rubbish bin and why it’s important!
  2. Discuss and write about bargain-hunting.
  3. Did rampant consumerism receive a shot in the arm with the Internet (eBay, websites like Gumtree) or does it encourage more reusing and recycling? Do you remember the days of ads in the local paper, The Trading Post, garage sales, car boot sales and Swap Meets?
  4. Do you donate everything to the Salvos or give to needy friends and family? Have you noticed a change in attitude by charity organisations?
  5. Are you ‘green’? What steps have you taken to live a sustainable lifestyle or do you think the human contribution to climate change is tosh? sculpture in lake.jpg

 

 

 

Do More Than Pop In to The Pop-up Globe

the stage of pop up globe.jpg

On Saturday, I experienced a delightful day – a magical memory day to treasure.

A belated birthday treat from my daughters, Anne and MaryJane, planned months ago, came to fruition as we enjoyed a matinee performance of Othello, at the Pop-up Globe Theatre, an exciting addition to Melbourne’s thriving arts scene.

This full-scale working replica of Shakespeare’s Second Globe Theatre started to ‘pop up’ in July in the newly christened Shakespeare Gardens adjacent to the Sydney Myer Music Bowl.

A huge thank you to Victoria’s Andrews Government, a great supporter of art and culture for enticing this fantastic enterprise to Melbourne. It is an outstanding success. The season, which started on September 21 to finish November 12, has been extended to January 12, 2018.

This mirrors the success of its New Zealand origins, when it opened in Auckland in 2016 and celebrated attendances of 100,000, including 20,000 school students.

The second season in Auckland garnered 100,000 attendees too and public calls for it to be a permanent feature. Thank goodness they had already committed to coming to Melbourne!

program pop up theatre

 

The Pop-up Globe Theatre Company Making History

If you buy the program, you can read all about the history of the venture, the original Globe and The Second Globe Theatre, the research involved, the director’s interpretation of the four plays performed (Othello, As You Like It, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing), profiles of the actors, and details of the production team, including costuming and choreography.

My love affair with Shakespeare began at Croydon High School, where I was fortunate to be taught by Dr Saffin. How a public high school managed to retain a Doctor of Literature and respected writer is a mystery but under his influence, Shakespeare’s plays not only made sense but inspired me to want to write.

It doesn’t take much imagination for me to be back in the classroom in 1970, mesmerised as Dr Saffin acted out scenes from the plays we were studying at the time: Hamlet and The Tempest. He taught me English Expression as well as English literature so I had a double dose of Shakespeare in the classes with Macbeth studied too.

Dr Saffin had a bad stutter and warned students not to sit in the front desks or they’d get sprayed but miraculously when he was ‘in character’ his stutter disappeared.

He not only nurtured my love of Shakespeare but made me sit an exam run by the Melbourne Shakespeare Society at Melbourne University. I can’t remember the actual exam (blocked out no doubt because I always suffered horrible anxiety and exam nerves) but I do remember the announcement of the results and prize-giving.

Mum, who always had a profound faith in my academic ability insisted that the ‘only reason’ I came second was the judge was biased towards boys.

‘I don’t think so, Mum. What makes you say that?’

‘I just know the way the world works.’

My ever-loyal Mum, sounding like an embittered women’s liberationist yet she never read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch just published that year.

Dr Saffin told me I did well against the mainly private school and elite public school entries but somehow I felt I let both Mum and him down.

However, I loved the prize, a book I’d never have been able to afford and a resource that has proved invaluable over the years for writing and research and my love for Shakespeare has never diminished!

The Play’s The Thing – Shakespeare On Stage A Must

In 1970, I saw Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed at a Melbourne theatre with the cast dressed in black with minimum props and no scenery. We were to concentrate on the words and actions of the actors.

I’ve lost count of the number of versions of Hamlet I’ve seen.  The latest being the broadcast of the National Theatre with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. And of course, ‘that Scottish play’, Macbeth I’ve seen performed, and Much Ado About Nothing set in the 1920s.

When John was alive, we honoured our mutual love of Shakespeare by attending the Bell Shakespeare productions, his favourite being Henry V.

Bell Shakespeare set their version in the WW1 trenches where the St. Crispen’s Day Speech certainly kept its relevance.

Bell set Coriolanus in the time of the rise of Mussolini – again an ideal modern day choice to discuss Shakespeare’s recurring themes of war, power, loyalty and leadership.

The girls were very young when first exposed to Shakespeare but have never forgotten the spectacles and understood the storylines, if not the dialogue. I think that’s why they were so keen to experience the Pop-up Globe.

 

I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For Othello

I’ve seen or studied many of Shakespeare’s plays but Saturday was the first I’d seen Othello on stage and loved the amazing, energetic, and entertaining performance by an outstanding cast.

O beware, my Lord, of jealousy. / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.”

Witness Shakespeare’s ultimate psychological thriller in Pop-up Globe’s production of Othello. Take a journey into the diseased mind of the noble Moor as he’s consumed by ‘the green-eyed monster’; jealousy. The twists and turns in this powerful and dark production will have you on the edge of your seat.

An electric current of joy bound the girls and me as we sat enthralled. We laughed, sighed, held our breaths and teetered on the verge of tears to the thrilling performances and interpretation of a storyline showing the terrible consequences of jealousy and the despair malevolent envy fosters.

Director, Ben Naylor has incorporated the background of the original production and subsequent productions in colonial New Zealand to hint at ‘a darker side to the history of this play about otherness in a colonial context. ‘

Naylor explains that Othello was the first play to be written under King James’ patronage so Shakespeare recognised the King’s ‘interests in the manifestations of worldly evil and the operations of the Devil…’

And now: as nationalism and its attendant demons – racism and xenophobia – again insinuate themselves into mainstream political discourse worldwide, and as the choices of individuals and societies continue to be driven by envy and jealousy, the play asks us once more to confront the lies that sound like truth.

Oh, yes!

This is why I love Shakespeare and why he is still studied and always relevant. He writes about the human condition and explores our behaviour and relationships. His plays are timeless and can be transplanted into modern settings, appropriated, and adapted into novels and movies.

… one that loved not wisely but too well

The International Day of the Girl Child celebrated this week brings into focus issues raised by Shakespeare all those centuries ago. The two main female characters: Desdemona and Emilia are powerless against the physical, emotional and financial control their husbands exercise. The women are friends, even although one is the mistress, the other the servant, however, they live by different moral codes.

This production does not shy away from depicting domestic violence or the consequences of drunkenness and other violence. And society’s hypocrisy.

We witness how those in power enable the subjugation of women and the double standards of so many regarding ideas of ‘womanhood’.

 ‘Thou weigh’st thy words before thou givest them breath…’

All of Shakespeare’s plays you read or watch remind you of how much our language and culture owes to this playwright. Some of the words and ideas may not have been his original thought but because of the popularity of his plays the phrases are embedded in our language, adding to the nuances of English.

No wonder many ESL students have difficulty understanding some of our expressions.

I’ve already highlighted some of the quotes from Othello but list some more cultural references. These may have been altered over the centuries but nonetheless, have Shakespearean roots:

jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster,

…Jealousy is a monster that gives birth to itself.

… Heaven is my judge, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

my heart is turn’d to stone

Of one that loved not wisely but too well;

… T’is neither here nor there.

To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.

Men in rage strike those that wish them best.

Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners:

...he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed…

When devils do the worst sins, they first put on the pretence of goodness and innocence…

To be poor but content is actually to be quite rich. But you can have endless riches and still be as poor as anyone if you are always afraid of losing your riches.” 

Pop-up Globe Better Than Expected

In London recently, I missed going to The Globe – I did but see it passing by – from a ferry on the Thames, so attending the Pop-up Globe a dream come true. In fact, if the attendant manning the merchandise stall is to be believed the Pop-up Globe is more authentic than the one in London. (Read all about it in that valuable program guide I mentioned.)

on the Thames River.jpg

The Pop-up Globe is intimate with a variety of seating options and despite my failing hearing, I only missed a few words but none of the meaning or action.

No matter where you sit or stand in the Pop-up Globe theatre you will be no more than 15 metres from the stage. So wherever you choose you’ll be close to the action.

Pop-up Globe is based on staging of the second Globe theatre as much as possible. There are two large structural pillars situated on the stage and because the actors play in 360 degrees, it is likely that no matter where you sit or stand your view may be slightly restricted or you may miss a line or two!

The action on stage moves quickly so no matter where you are situated you might see and hear something completely different from someone on the other side of the stage.

Apparently, A, B, C Reserve tickets are comfortable backed seats. The girls’ budget bought D Reserve tickets, which are a combination of comfortable backed seats and backless wooden benches with cushions.

We had a good view but sat on wooden benches with cushions already showing signs of too many bums on seats, so if you need to sit super comfortably perhaps take your own cushion.

The cheapest tickets are Groundling tickets in a standing only area, where sitting is not permitted for safety reasons. Nor are any bags and these have to be checked into the cloakroom.

sign outside.jpg

The play goes for two and a half hours with a short interval.

This is around the same length of time that most performances took 400 years ago. We know this because in Romeo and Juliet, the Prologue mentions the ‘two hours traffic of our stage’.

If you decide to be a Groundling you will be close to the action and actors, which may not compensate for having to stand for a long time.

One young man in a blue denim shirt fascinated me as he pressed so close to the stage he could have been welded to it. Immobile, his nose level with the stage floor, he would have heard every intake of breath, felt the vibration of footsteps, and even seen the hairs in the actor’s nose!

However, he moved with lightning speed when Othello stabbed himself and the fake blood spurted skywards and outwards like lava from a volcano. Outside after the play, there were several people with telltale red spots in their hair, on their face and clothes. The price paid for being close to the action.

Groundlings on either side of the path and stairway to the stage experienced a similar spattering and in some cases drenching when Roderigo appeared ‘from the sea’ spluttering and spitting like a whale (a very funny scene).

Roderigo regurgitated the largest amount of water I’ve ever seen anyone hold in their mouth, albeit done with aplomb and excellent timing.

Fortunately, no one in the audience replicated disgruntled tomato throwers from Shakespeare’s time despite Pop-up Globe’s authenticity.

Groundlings are ‘the pits’ for the common folk but there are Royal Rooms on the Pop-up Globe stage. I could see the occupants of these clearly.

Each accommodates up to six guests. Seats can be booked individually, as a romantic room for two or as a private room for a larger group. “All sixteen seats can be booked as a perfect option for entertaining clients or friends.”

Perhaps some corporates will see this as a unique Christmas outing – if they have a large expense account!

Royal Room bookings include a complimentary premium hamper and a
season programme per person. But it’s not cheap to copy Elizabeth or James 1st, the two monarchs most closely associated with Shakespeare. ($304.67 per seat.)

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s greatest psychological thrillers. In a theatre of war, a great general is brought down by the power of his own love and the prejudice of others.

Othello forces us to confront a timeless fear: does the Devil move among us? Racism, jealousy and envy conspire in Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, in this full production inspired by the Jacobean period, performed by a specially-formed international ensemble in spectacular bespoke costumes.

The Pop-up Globe Queen’s Company is Pop-up Globe’s resident mixed company of male and female actors and musicians, working with world experts to bring you the shock of the old: the effect of Shakespeare’s plays performed in the space for which they were written.

 

The stagecraft of this production is magnificent, as are the costumes and the final scenes are awesome. The main character is Othello, but it is Iago, the villain, who if not present in every scene, makes his presence felt.

The themes of love, appearance and reality, jealousy, revenge, prejudice and despair, exposed and explored in the final dramatic scenes.

When Iago’s villainy is revealed and he is ‘strung up’ the whole theatre is shocked. There is a collective holding of breath and I felt the tension from Anne and Mary Jane, and I’m sure all of us prayed the workmanship and health and safety guidelines met expectations.

Iago was carefully pulled up towards a hole in the ceiling, his arms outstretched crucifixion style, not just symbolically, but to ensure the hoist went smoothly. Smoke allowed a mystic disappearance into ‘the heavens’ and when he was ‘resurrected’ in the final scene he was helped out of a trapdoor in the floor as if brought back from ‘hell’!

The wonderfully choreographed dance of all the cast at the end a triumphant celebratory ‘haka -like’ tribute. Regan Taylor is a great Othello incorporating his experience of innovative Maori theatre, Te Ao Maori in his performance.

The actors used all of the space and opportunities to engage the audience – even acknowledging those ‘in the gods’, the privileged Royal Boxes, as well as the groundlings.

scene 5

Shakespeare must be seen and heard to be appreciated. A play on stage, more than the screen, relies on dialogue and how the actors use the stage, props, their bodies and voices.

In Saturday’s performance, there were no weak links and even the ignominious cast members with titles ‘officer’ and ‘soldier’ contributed unforgettable performances as they immersed themselves in the roles.

The range of experience and talent of the actors helps make this production such a success and I can honestly say it’s the best Shakespearean experience I’ve had.

The season has been extended so perhaps if I hint loud enough I might manage a ticket to another play in this marvellous company’s repertoire.  Afterall, Christmas is on the horizon!

globe quote mug

A walk through the Queen Victoria Gardens, lunch at the National Gallery.

Then a fun and successful attempt to negotiate the maze at the House of Mirrors added to my birthday treat.  I would probably still be wandering but the girls got us out in 10 minutes.

On the way home to Anne’s flat for a cuppa and to pick up MaryJane’s car, we walked through the Alma Park.

As we delighted in spring buds, blooming flowers, lush greenery and numerous friendly dogs being walked by their owners, we reflected on the tragedy of gentle, spiritual Desdemona and anguished Othello.

We were glad of the durability of Shakespeare, but more importantly our strong loving bond.

What a perfect day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking the Neighbourhood – Friendship, Familiarity, Foolishness – Fun and Fitness a Bonus!

walking and happiness.jpg

I try and factor a routine walk every day, and feel lucky to have a walking buddy for the times when I’m not with one of my daughters and Aurora, our dog.

Walking helps keep me fit. I stay connected to what’s happening in the neighbourhood. As well as the comforting silence of companionship on our walks, there can be sharing of confidences, chat, and laughter.

Jillian is a writer too and puts up with my exclamations and snapping photos, also random commentary, and imaginative ramblings on everything from unusual-shaped trees,  abandoned furniture (it’s hard rubbish collection at the moment), unsightly redevelopment, gorgeous gardens (ain’t Spring wonderful), beautiful cloud formations, and politics (where do you start or finish?).

love is love sign albert street.jpg

Last year, I volunteered for a project at the Arts Centre, where ‘The Walking Neighbourhood’ brought adults and children together to look at the importance of walking to help understand your community and society through the eyes of children.

The world, beyond community and comfort zones, is often a sad place and it takes an effort not to absorb the doom and gloom, particularly enormous tragedies like the recent shootings in Las Vegas, the massive hurricanes, earthquakes and threatened volcano eruptions, and neverending wars.

The 24-hour news cycle and the portability and pervasiveness of social media constant reminders that make switching off difficult.

But for sanity’s sake, switch off we must, and walking the neighbourhood does it for me. It’s my equivalent of meditation, helps free the mind, and encourages staying connected to a place I love, even if I do see changes that I don’t like…

I appreciate the beauty, bump into friends and acquaintances and get ideas for writing.

  • Note to self, finish that mystery novel set on Mordi Creek!
  • Thank you, Ellie, my past student who ran towards me smiling and with open arms when I met her a couple of days ago.
  • How I love the cacophony of twittering birds each night settling to nest in the palm trees lining Main Street – a signature sound of Mordialloc!

modi creek - boat

The last few days we’ve walked down to the foreshore and along by Mordialloc Creek and experienced Melbourne’s famous ‘four seasons in a day’ – every day!

When I walk, I often automatically step over the cracks in the pavement, shortening or lengthening my stride, sometimes giving a little hop.

Why?

It’s a throwback to childhood and proof of how a combination of words, ideas and a catchy tune is effective and retained by reader, viewer or listener – ‘the audience’.

I remember following the leader or pretending to play hopscotch (called ‘beds’ in Scotland) and chanting, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Perhaps adding other rhymes like, “Step on a line, break your mother’s spine.”

(oh yes, definitely, gender stereotyping and/or misogyny at work in the 50s!) In fact, if you want to read an academic explanation of the rhyme, here is a link! 

However, it may still require you to think for yourself, do your own research and dig deeper! Maybe even question this interpretation. For many childhood rhymes, there is a host of meanings or historical reasons put forward, most still subject to debate.

The most logical for this one is that in the days of cobblestones and poorly made roads you’d get covered in mud or rubbish if you weren’t careful where you walked. This gave mothers extra washing. 

In the days of hand washing or communal laundry facilities, bending over a washing tub or river could certainly be back-breaking work. The rhyme a strong commonsense message for children not to trip and create extra dirty clothes for mothers.

Or maybe avoiding stepping on the cracks, was just another superstition like avoiding walking under a ladder. Superstition and Education, a book published in 1905 suggests stepping on a crack brings bad luck or missing out on a nice surprise at home – or even more disconcerting as superstitions go,  returning home to a nasty surprise.

After A.A. Milne published his poem “Lines and Squares,” kids decided you’d be chased by bears if you stepped on a crack, but like all childish chants, I doubt anyone in the UK ever took it seriously… 

… yet, some days I still avoid the cracks and find the rhyme from childhood is playing in a loop. Jillian admitted, she too has the occasional urge to play ‘don’t step on the cracks’ and feels a sense of achievement if she makes her destination unscathed!

albert street.jpg

Don’t Step On The Cracks
Mairi Neil

Don’t step on the cracks
when you walk along,
Don’t step on the cracks,
I hear my childhood song…

Bad luck will come and make you feel sad,
If you step on the cracks, the Devil’ll be glad!

He’ll steal your happiness
everything will go wrong,
Don’t step on the cracks
insists the childish song…

Not stepping on the cracks silly, I know
but my childhood memory still tells me so!

lines and squares.jpg

Some days there’s a lot happening – and not all of it is cause for celebration…!

This morning I woke to the whine of a chainsaw – again – and wondered which block was being cleared for redevelopment.

Which house liveable yesterday is now transformed into a building site? I didn’t have far to walk – just around the corner into Powlett Street.

This house, probably only 20 years old. It had a wonderful garden mixture of trees, shrubs and flowers, black wrought iron fence, tiled verandah, oak doors, a gem in the street …

… reduced to rubble; to be replaced by nondescript townhouses – as many as the developer can squeeze on the corner block.

Empty for some time, it was sad to see windows deliberately smashed, roof tiles heaved into shattered lumps and doors and garden trashed – to ensure I suppose that squatters didn’t move in, or perish the thought scavengers may try to salvage some of the tiles, bricks and wooden frames.

Apparently, nowadays it costs more to recycle and reuse – bash and trash the norm.

John and I renovated our old Edwardian house with recycled and secondhand materials because that was all we could afford. Our journey valuable (and fun), teaching us to be innovative, imaginative, and thrifty. We upskilled and adapted plans to save money, lived within our means, and all the time considered the character of our home and respected our neighbours.

renovating important

On another of my walks, I met a friend in nearby Eurythmic Street. After being retrenched from her job, she and her almost-retired husband decided to ‘cash in’ on the high city house prices and move to the country.

She was astounded when the buyer said he proposed to develop her weatherboard home and ‘average’ sized block and build 7 double-storey townhouses!

Melbourne is growing and the increasing population need somewhere to live, but some suburbs (including Mordialloc) are bearing the brunt of this growth because we live in an area controlled by a council too pro-development, or other councils are refusing to play their part in the State Government’s overall plan for Melbourne.

In my opinion, the City of Kingston, in the last few years has let the residents down as certain councillors cared for their own interests or political affiliations rather than the wellbeing of the residents.

For too many years we’ve had to fight for height restrictions, a limit on backyard density – even struggled to maintain the Green Wedge and some local parks.

When John and I arrived here in 1984, the first public meeting we attended was to stop the rezoning of our street to allow 4-storey development – conflicted visions about what residents and authorities want has been around a long time!

After that meeting, the Council was forced to accept a 2-storey limit, but with various changes of government at state and local level, the area is now earmarked for high-density development.

We are within what is classed as ‘an activity node’! And 3 or 4 storeys are probably not out of the question depending on the overall height.

As evidenced by some of the ugly new buildings, the loss of heritage ‘old Mordialloc’ and the craftsmanship and quality materials of bygone days, has led to streets crowded with traffic.

We could definitely do with a planning department with a better long-term vision regarding aesthetics and quality of life for residents.

 

The big changes occurring at the other end of Albert Street have taken many people by surprise. A string of 3-storey units being built alongside the railway line where a timber yard and other light industrial sites used to be is turning out to be a huge development.

This involves the construction of huge concrete baffle walls, but I doubt that will stop the noise or vibration from the goods trains that ply the line to Hastings. The concrete walls are monstrous and ugly and can be seen from the pier as you look up from Mordialloc Creek.

Spot the irony:

The developer’s sign reads A Celebration of Mordialloc ” a suburb rich in history“!

albert and bear street 1

Do we laugh or cry at the absurdity?

A lot of Mordialloc’s history is disappearing along with houses and traditional backyard with Hill’s Hoist. Our links to horse-breeding and racing reduced to a statue and occasional sign and many don’t know about the market gardens and our fast disappearing arable land.

images-1.jpg

Let’s hope the quality of life people expect when they move bayside doesn’t disappear too.

  • Where are all the cars going to park?
  • How long are people prepared to wait at intersections?
  • Are we ready to adjust to the increased noise levels?

I discovered this old poem I wrote when I first started Readings By The Bay on Sunday afternoons.

The Day Of The Trees (1995)
Mairi Neil

I read about trees today,
they made headlines in the newspaper.
Rainforest areas in South America
are being cleared at the rate of
a football field a minute.

I heard about trees today,
they made the news on the radio.
Greenies stopped loggers
destroying unique species of possum
in our native forest in Gippsland

I discussed trees today with a neighbour,
they made the nightly news on television.
The Premier ordered hundreds of trees
to be chopped and cleared to make way
for a Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Trees are even in the local news.
Council workers trim the trees
along the nature strips in nearby streets.
The electricity wires must be protected
No Bushfires for Victoria!

I hear the scream of dying trees,
as cruel chainsaw teeth bite deep.
I close my eyes, but can’t close my ears.
Persistent wailing and spluttering,
grumbling, howling and whining.

The sap seeps slowly at first,
oozes thicker, spurting and sticky
covering the wicked teeth
but failing to clog and stop
the cuts slicing deeper into flesh.

Trees made the news today,
but many people didn’t notice.
These givers of life, providers of shelter,
courageous ancient sentinels
abused, and destroyed once again.

Trees grow towards the sun
while roots remain firmly planted.
An example to us all –
reach for the sky but remain
grounded. Attached to this earth.

We ignore their example and
ultimately it will be our loss.
Taken for granted, more than a news item
trees should be appreciated and valued
We can reach for the sky together.

I wake up each morning and look across the road and can see and hear the magpies and noisy miners in conversation planning their day in the giant gum trees. Depending on the season, they might be joined by wattlebirds and lorikeets or a couple of vocal r avens.

In the evening possums hitch a ride on the electricity wires and visit me.

Imagine the shock when after workers for the Level Crossing Removal Authority trimmed the trees a few days ago, private tree loppers returned today and systematically removed the remainder of the majestic gums from the garden of the house adjacent to the railway line!

We need improved public transport and I’m glad level crossings are being removed. I have no objection to Sky Rail, but the price paid can still be upsetting. Our actions impact on others – sometimes people we don’t even know!

 

By the end of the afternoon, as I walked out to meet Jillian, the trees were gone.

trees gone

I hope most of the wonderful trees I see on my walk will remain to delight for years to come – not only for me, but for the birds, and other creatures that rely on them.

I intend to enjoy and respect their presence, and continue to record their changing shape and seasonal finery.

Thank goodness I have the foreshore and over the years, we have resisted two attempts from Windows by The Bay restaurant to expand.  It is sad that vigilance is necessary. The battle over sacrificing foreshore vegetation to widen Beach Road a running sore that polarised residents and no doubt there will be other conflicts as people’s visions differ of what makes a liveable and sustainable environment.

I hope to remain healthy enough to enjoy my walks and continue to be inspired and know despite changes, I am blessed to live here. This photograph, looking back from Parkdale towards Mordialloc taken ten years ago.

The sea a constant – wild and unpredictable, calming and healing – who knows what the next wave will bring ashore?

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‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Not to be Missed!

i am not your ego sign front

On Sunday, September 24, I was privileged to attend ACMI for a screening of Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro and the Q & A session afterwards, which featured former Kansas State Senator Donald Betts Jr and American history professor Michael Ondaatje.

A big thank you to my daughter MaryJane for buying the tickets online when the sessions were announced because tickets sold out very quickly!

The guests discussed race politics and resistance from the civil rights era to present day America and with questions from the audience, this included politics of race in Australia and our inglorious colonial past.

i am not your negro sign back

I’m not surprised the screenings were sold out at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, or the doco was nominated for an Academy Award – it has already won several gongs at various film festivals.

Director Raoul Peck took ten years to make this and his meticulous research, editing and execution are obvious and flawless – also gut-wrenching.

The raw footage of civil rights demonstrations, lynchings, and the aftermath of murders will have you shaking your head in horror, disgust, and disbelief – yet many in the theatre, including myself, lived through what we saw on screen.

I’ve seen other documentaries and movies, braced myself for scenes Selma showcased, and yet I wasn’t prepared for the naked violence, still felt emotionally drained and traumatised that racism and all its ugliness is so endemic – and then came the anger and despair about lack of progress, or progressing too slowly for me to see change in my lifetime.

Thank goodness that alongside the screenings, ACMI will present ‘a series of thought-provoking events discussing race relations, resistance and identity in modern Australia’.

As Baldwin said, “History is not past but present.”

In the light of debates over the date of Australia Day, acknowledging the truth of colonial settlement, the horrific recent deaths of Aboriginal people (Elijah Doughty and Ms Dhu recent atrocities), high-profile cases and deaths in custody of indigenous Australians, and the entrenched inequity of our justice system, this country has many conversations and corrections long overdue!

The Black Rights Matter Movement resonates here.

People hold up banners at a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney on July 16, 2016.Peter Parks / Getty Images         https://www.buzzfeed.com/susiearmitage/2016-was-the-year-black-lives-matter-went-global?utm_term=.bkdRGwN8KL#.eoY365ADMk

Connecting the 60s Civil Rights Movement to #BlackLivesMatter

I Am Not Your Negro brings to life Remember This House, the unfinished manuscript of American novelist and intellectual James Baldwin. He started to write the book to reflect on his belief the history of the American Negro is the history of America sharing his personal experience of racism as considered through the lens of civil rights leaders, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Prominent American leaders all murdered within a few years of each other.  Leaders who put their lives on the line in their 20s; leaders who didn’t live beyond 40 years of age!

Baldwin wrote 30 pages and yet, as this documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, shows, his insights into the history of racism in the United States is much-needed today and should act as a call to action against injustice in modern America and beyond.

White Supremacy is ugly and brutal, and an appalling indictment of humanity. Unfortunately, with the election of Donald Trump as President white supremacists and their supporters have crawled from under their rocks and become more visible and vocal than at any other time this century.

The controversy around sportspeople protesting the unlawful killing by police revealed by #blacklivesmatter and Trump’s labelling those kneeling or linking arms while the American National anthem plays, as unpatriotic, shows the profound and deeply rooted racism Baldwin confronted and challenged, is alive and well.

There is a growing black middle-class and increased wealthy African-American ‘elites,’ but despite some markers of progress, 30% of African-Americans still live in poverty. America grew from slavery, segregation, and subjugation of its citizens and still lock people of colour up in record numbers.

In fact, former Kansas State Senator Donald Betts Jr explained that although he managed to stop racial profiling in Kansas, it exists in many states and unfortunately much of the racism in the USA is also now directed at Latinos, stirred up of course, by Trump’s insistence for that Mexican wall!

Betts asked us to imagine being black in America today, driving your car and seeing the flashing lights of a police car ordering you to stop. What goes through your mind?

Have you your insurance documents, registration papers, your licence?

The police officer approaches your car, points a flashlight in your face, searches the car interior, orders to see your identification.

Do you wind the window down straight away? Do you reach for the glovebox…

US police have already killed more than 100 people this year and overwhelmingly they have been black or native Americans.

 “Never before has Baldwin’s voice been so needed, so powerful, so radical, so visionary”

Director Raoul Peck

james baldwin book covers

Baldwin returned to the United States and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement because he felt obligated to do more than writing from afar.  The three men depicted in the struggle for civil rights are very different and chose different methods to achieve their goals. Baldwin was close to them all and when he describes where he was and how he was told about each of their deaths his grief is palpable.

Several scenes from the documentary will be forever etched in my mind:

The Evil of Segregation

The 1957 footage of a howling white mob pursuing Elizabeth Eckford, as the fifteen-year-old walked into school. She was the first African American to enter a high school desegregated by court order. What courage, what stamina, what poise!

James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry were with a group of activists who had a meeting with Bobby Kennedy and begged him or his brother JFK to walk with Elizabeth or at least appoint someone of high-profile from the Federal Government to go with her that first day to show that they were committed to desegregation and also to protect the teenager.

Bobby Kennedy’s response?  He refused, didn’t think it necessary… what a terrible price black Americans pay for the spinelessness of those in authority.

The idea of white supremacy rests simply on the fact that white men are the creators of civilization… and are therefore civilization’s guardians and defenders. Thus it was impossible for Americans to accept the black man as one of themselves, for to do so was to jeopardize their status as white men…

Police Brutality and Rodney King

The footage of a group of LA police officers viciously beating and kicking Rodney King for a traffic violation shocked the world. I was a young mother in 1992 and remember the horror and revulsion at the news bulletin. Yet the four police officers caught and identified on camera were later acquitted – no wonder LA erupted with anger and people rioted.

Baldwin – A Colonial Writer Who Explored His Heritage

I first encountered African American writer James Baldwin, at Croydon High School in the 1960s. His novels, essays and short stories a profound influence when newspapers and television screens of Melbourne were dominated by news of the Civil Rights Movement in America and the Vietnam War.

Baldwin made the political personal and explored questions of identity.

James Baldwin quote.jpg

His essays probed the psychic history of the United States along with his inner self. What language would his ancestors speak? How could he ever know when slaves were stripped of their identity? Who would want to accept the identity given to him by white society – that of worthlessness and inferiority?

When your identity is taken you are psychologically crushed and fear stifles your growth.

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

Steve Biko

Baldwin explored spirituality (particularly organised religion and the Pentecostal church), and the complex social and psychological pressures of being black in a racist America – a country he left, to escape the inter-racial tension, homophobia and demands of his social situation.

‘I’ll tell you this, though, if you don’t feel at home at home, you never really feel at home… you don’t live where you’re happy or, for that matter, unhappy: you do your best to live where you can work.

He escaped the social tenor of the United States in 1948 by moving to Paris, using funds from a Rosenwald Foundation fellowship. This journey abroad was fundamental to Baldwin’s development as an author and self-realization, which included both an acceptance of his heritage and an admittance of his bisexuality.

“Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I could see where I came from very clearly, and I could see that I carried myself, which is my home, with me. You can never escape that. I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both.”

Go Tell It On The Mountain was published 1953, the year I was born; Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, published the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, and Baldwin’s acclaimed critical essays, Notes of a Native Son first published 1955.

These books opened my eyes to conflict (racial, gender, domestic, internal), pain (physical and emotional), anguish, poverty, injustice, and intolerance — mostly an alien world to me, yet Baldwin’s storytelling influenced my lifelong commitment to social justice and to give ordinary people a voice by writing about them and encouraging them to tell their stories.   

He also made me realise it is important we tell our own stories. 

The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy… I certainly would not consider living it again… One writes out of one thing only – one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give…being a Negro writer… I was, in effect, prohibited from examining my own experience too closely by the tremendous demands and the very real dangers of my social situation…I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright…

But it is part of the business of the writer – as I see it – to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source…

James Baldwin

Born in 1924 to parents who were part of the Diaspora of the descendants of freed slaves who moved north seeking work and a better life, Baldwin chronicles the Black American experience and much of his writing is autobiographical.

‘The nationality of any literature is, at least partly, determined by the language in which it is produced.

Baldwin was the first Black writer I read as opposed to reading novels about Black Americans. (A Patch of Blue and To Kill A Mockingbird two that spring to mind.)

One of the difficulties about being a Negro writer… is that the Negro problem is written about so widely… It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly… the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly…

Focusing on the personal and interior of black life, he accepted he was part of the Western literary canon:

Be it also remembered that America was a British colony, that I was born in the English language have a British name, and speak as the descendant of the slave of a subject.”

His novels embody startling realism bringing Harlem and the black experience vividly to life.  They touch the heart with emotion while stimulating the mind with a narrative style reminiscent of Dickens, symbolism, and excoriating vision of racism in America.

Moving through time from the rural  South to the northern ghetto, starkly contrasting the attitudes of two generations of an embattled family, Go Tell It On The Mountain is an unsurpassed portrayal of human beings caught up in a dramatic struggle and of a society confronting inevitable change.

However, Baldwin did not feel that his speeches and essays were producing social change. The assassinations of three of his associates, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, shattered his remaining hopes for racial reconciliation and his disillusionment is obvious in the documentary.

Don’t Let Them Divide And Conquer

During the Q and A, former Senator Donald Betts Jr talked about his lived experience of the change Baldwin foresaw.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, his political career began in his early 20s when he was elected president of the Multicultural Student Association becoming the first African-American student body president in the University’s history.

Inspired by Barack Obama, he ran for the Kansas State House of Representatives for the Democrats leading a grassroots campaign to better serve and address the needs of his community. Elected at the age of 24, Betts steered a number of successful campaigns to decrease community incarceration rates by setting up a rehabilitation program for first-time drug offenders.

In 2004, he was sworn in as a Kansas State Senator, the youngest Senator serving in the history of Kansas. There was only one other black senator – David Haley, the nephew of the author, Alex Haley, who wrote Roots and started a worldwide interest in genealogy. he told Donald they had to stick together, refuse to be separated by seating and although only two they were powerful.

Donald now lives in Melbourne and is a frequent guest commentator on the ABC, and other local Australian media outlets.

 

outside ACMI after film.jpg
Continuing the discussion after the screening

 

Australians can learn from this documentary; it will help to understand the current crises around race in the USA and help with perspective as well as context.

We need to confront our colonial past and the unfairness of the present. The silence of the white majority regarding indigenous rights, black deaths in custody, and government policies like the Northern Territory intervention, is appalling.

Why don’t we have a treaty? Why hasn’t there been Constitutional reform?

There is irrefutable evidence of institutional and culturally embedded racism. A recent report shows 1 in 5 Australians experienced racism and the rise of One Nation and increase of support for neo-nazi patriot groups should concern us all.

Much of racism is subtle – read this report in our local paper this week:

newspaper clipping Mordialloc robbery

An “African” is mentioned but not the nationality or ethnicity of the teenagers who robbed the shop earlier. Where’s the consistency? And unless a more detailed description, where’s the relevance?

We need to raise it up, we need to fight and to shout, but we also need to bring it down, to talk and to listen in order to make change”

Donald Betts Junior

A good first step is to read Australian indigenous writers – and we have many – from the past (personal favourites  Jack Davis and Oodgeroo Noonuccal ) and also the present.
James Baldwin said: Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Listening to and reading others imperative – and then
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A Magical Evening With Mem – A Real Gem!

Two books by Mem Fox.jpg

When an invitation from our local federal member, Mark Dreyfus QC appeared in a Facebook newsfeed, I didn’t hesitate and replied straight away. 

It was no ordinary invite from a politician. Not a party political event or publicising an election campaign, but a delightful opportunity to meet and greet and have a Q&A with Australian writer and children’s author, Mem Fox.

Wow! (Said with the expression of a groupie.)

Convenient because it was happening at Doyles Hotel, Mordialloc – and exciting – there are few families in Australia who haven’t heard of Possum Magican iconic picture storybook, which still sells today!

When I congratulated Mark on the event he gave all credit to his electorate officer,  Jacob Chacko who works in his Mordialloc office. Well done, Jacob who also did a great job as the emcee that evening.

 

Few Australian homes would not have one of Mem’s books on a shelf – she’s written over 40, and more than half are international bestsellers. 

For those wishing to write children’s books, the advice on Mem’s website, an excellent resource, but perhaps her best advice delivered that evening was for would-be writers to envisage the target audience sitting on the floor in front of them.

If the children fidget with their shoelaces, stare out the window or start being naughty your story needs editing and revising!

Remember you are writing for children today, not writing a book you read as a child, nor writing a book to be read by adults because they think that’s what children should read!

 

the crowd for Mem Fox
an eager crowd – mainly women but also some men

 

My daughters are 31 and 28 years old now and treasure many of the books from childhood, especially Mem’s. Like so many in the audience (almost 300) I cheerfully queued to have my daughters’ books signed and have a chat.

 

Mem is a writer I admire for her books, but also her views on social justice, evident in her latest picture storybook, I’m Australian Too. A book she wrote to celebrate Australia’s incredible multicultural heritage and which sold out in its first three months (March-May 2017) and has been reprinted.

I love the recommended readership for the book – for readers aged 0-95.

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Ambassador for Literacy

Mem is also ‘an educationalist specialising in literacy,’ and although retired, she was Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at Flinders University, South Australia, where she taught teachers for 24 years. 

She now spends most of her time writing presentations urging parents, teachers, and others to read aloud to children aged between 0-5, and she travels the world doing it. We were lucky to have in her Isaacs on her current tour travelling Australia promoting literacy and the importance of reading.

We should also thank Melinda Shelley of 123Read2Me who is currently collecting children’s books to give to those kids who don’t have them. I think she was the one who invited Mem to visit Victoria.

If you have quality children’s books in good condition please drop them off at The Lions Club Opportunity Shop in Mordialloc Main Street and Melinda will find them a good home.

Mark and Mem.jpg

In her talk and answers to questions from Mark and the audience, Mem was entertaining (she did study drama) along with giving good advice about writing and teaching literacy.

Although born in Melbourne, Mem grew up in Africa, attended drama school in England, and returned to Australia in 1970, aged 22. Along came marriage and motherhood and attending university as a mature age student in her early thirties.

She studied children’s literature at Flinders University and during that course, she wrote the first draft of her first book: Possum Magic, as an assignment. Mem said she was inspired to write a book about Australia for Australian children because at that time books were either from the USA or UK, or written like those books.

Possum Magic was rejected nine times over five years because it was ‘too Australian’!

It went on to become (and continues to be, to this day) the best-selling children’s book in Australia, with nearly 5 million copies sold. In 2004 its 21st birthday was celebrated with parties and events in thousands of schools and other places around Australia, and a new re-designed edition was launched. The colours of the original film of the illustrations were fading because it had been reprinted so many times. They now look gorgeous again.

Mem Fox

Mem explained the inspiration for some of her other books. There was one she wrote in her head, sitting daily beside her grandson’s incubator when he was born prematurely and struggled to survive. She focused on his perfect fingers and toes and ears. She read to him too and recounting this story she urged mothers to read to children in their womb – it is never too early to read to children.

We laughed when she said she was thrilled her grandson had perfect ears because she had one ear bigger than the other and it juts out.

I loved this anecdote because I have the same affliction. When we chatted afterwards I whispered to her that I shared the imperfection regarding ears and her passion for writing and teaching, just wish I had her talent! We laughed together – and she has a raucous laugh!

Mem confessed she preferred teaching because the writing was a nightmare!

And that I could empathise with too! As do many writers.

dr seuss quote

Her latest book begged to be written because travelling around Australia, she realised the majority of people living here are welcoming and fair-minded yet it is the strident minority of people like Pauline Hanson who seem to dictate the heartless and cruel policies of successive governments against asylum seekers and refugees.

The loud, shrill voices encouraged politicians in our major political parties to act in shameful, illegal ways.  Many people are shocked and say ‘not in our name’ yet because the major parties have similar policies, the human rights abuses continue.

She let Mark Dreyfus know that she was disappointed in the federal ALP policy and he diplomatically asked another question.

The Responsibility of Writers With a Social Conscience

 I happen to have a loud voice myself—I’ve just woken up to the fact—and am now determined to use it, to drown out the others if I can, on behalf of the rest of us.

Mem Fox

 I’m Australian Too, takes Mem back to where she started: her passion for Australia. She hopes it will spark spirited discussions about ‘Australian-ness’, create an awareness of Australian immigration over the centuries, and begin to calm what she says is the appalling rising racism in this country.

There have been amazing positive responses, especially from schools and community centres:

We were so excited to read your book to our wonderfully diverse community of children at the service, who in turn were delighted to finally see and hear their culture represented so beautifully in the book, including the refugees and families seeking asylum, which are often forgotten…

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Mem recounted how she had personal experience of feeling ‘the other’ when she lived in Africa (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) where the authorities pulled her out of a local school because she was white and forced her to attend a European school, where she was bullied and laughed at for ‘speaking like an African’.

Fast forward to February this year (2017)  when she attended a conference in America a few weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President and was challenged by Border Control Officers

I was interrogated as if I were some kind of prisoner, in a holding room, in full public view and hearing of everyone in the room—and was kept standing throughout, imagine because I was earning an honorarium from the conference. The Border Control patrol officer said I was ‘working’ and had come in on the wrong visa. He was wrong, as it turned out. I was right. I knew I was right. It was my 117th visit to the USA, after all.

I am ageing and white, innocent and educated, and I speak English fluently. Imagine what happened to the others in the room, including an old Iranian woman in a mauve cardigan, in her 80s, in a wheelchair. I heard and observed everything. We all did…

… the irony of my book being about welcoming immigrants …

… my story has snowballed to include the airing of stories of the many others who have suffered similarly disgraceful treatment by immigration officers makes me proud, even though my telling of the story was neither brave nor purposeful, simply an accident of timing. The focus is where it should be, but the question remains: if this can happen to me as an ageing, educated, articulate, white English speaker, what on earth happens to those who aren’t like me?

What indeed?

Writing For Children Involves Lots of Reading – Especially Other Writers!

students learning by the River Don, Inverurie, Aberdeen

Listening to Mem talk about her teaching, her understanding of children and the deep love and interaction she has with her daughter and grandson was delightful and insightful.

Write from the compost of your own life, feelings, experiences, hopes, joys, disappointments, and so on. If you do that, the reader will be able to connect with your story because it will be based on the authenticity of universal understandings.

She talked about her favourite writers and the importance of learning the craft of writing by appreciating the talent of other writers.

Currently, she was reading Elizabeth Harrower’s novels reprinted by Text Publishing. “Marvellous stories, wonderful writing … check her out…’

She reads a lot of books while travelling around Australia – real books, not digital. If going overseas for a length of time then she’ll have her Kindle because it is convenient and light, but always print books are the first preference.

As an educator, she begged young mums not to put a screen in front of young children or encourage reading on an iPad. The visceral experience of reading a print book with a young child can never be replicated by swiping a screen!

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All evening Mem stayed on message: read, read, read – widely and carefully – but don’t forget to support Australian writers and tell modern Australia’s stories. Read to learn as many different ways of using language as possible. (She praised Indian writers who in her opinion, wrote the most grammatically correct English today!)

Write, write, write but know your audience, if writing for children make sure you have the rhythm right, not necessarily to rhyme, but the perfect placement of syllables in a sentence or in verse.

And remember you are telling a story that children can identify with – a little boy who was born in Lebanon shouted for joy when he heard Mem mention “his” birth country in I’m Australian Too.

The free evening was billed as 6.30pm (for 7.00pm start) – 8.30pm. It was closer to 10.00pm when I walked home. I met up with several people I knew from being a school mum (primary and secondary school) and made new acquaintances standing in line waiting to talk with a sociable and chatty Mem who was more than generous with her time.

She signed books yet did not sell one, or have any to sell – this was not a marketing exercise or sales pitch, yet I’m sure she could have sold a box of books to the adoring crowd!

The vibrant atmosphere abuzz with joy, the sharing of stories of when we first read Possum Magic, what other books are favourites, and how thrilling to meet the author in person and have books rather than sport lauded as an Aussie success story.

I left Doyles clutching my signed treasures, satisfied and smiling and laughed aloud because someone had added sunglasses to the horse statue out the front decorated for the up and coming Spring Carnival…

horse outside Doyles

I wonder what stories he/she can tell.