Although it is difficult to make headlines or initiate a public discussion about anything other than the global pandemic or Trump and his supporters’ refusal to accept the results of the USA Election, Greta Thunberg who just turned 18, has reminded us global warming is still happening with devastating consequences.
For those who have never seen the movie Groundhog Day,perhaps take a few minutes to Google, or accept the explanation below…
Based on the movieGroundhog Daystarring Bill Murray. It is the idea that every action that one makes; the rewards and consequences of those actions are not followed through the next day. If someone were to make a big choice, commit a crime, offend someone, make a mistake, or meet someone throughout a period of a regular 24 hour day, those rewards and consequences for all of those actions are not carried through the next day. It is all forgotten. In other words, it’s like yesterday never happened. Therefore this pattern can keep on repeating for an unknown amount of time.
I’ve known about the dangers of the Greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change – call it what you will – all my adult life and yet each year the public discussion seems to be the same. I’m with Greta – why aren’t we woke yet?!
A Member of the Victorian Parliament Warned about Climate Change in 1990!
Before social media, many members of parliament made an effort to keep the electors informed via regular newsletters. Jean McLean was especially interested in the environment and social justice issues – climate change most certainly an environmental AND social justice concern.
(It was time-consuming to get the message out with the tools of typing, Gestetner printing or photocopying, hand stapling and enveloping, even before relying on Aussie Post or volunteers like me to distribute, but I am so glad Jean did! )
Environmentalists and conservationists have been warning about global warming since April 22,1970, when the first Earth Day was held in the USA and scientists coined the term Greenhouse Effect. They forecast the Earth’s future in doubt because air pollution was warming the planet – pollution primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
In the 80s the anti-uranium movement gained momentum against those seeking nuclear power because of the Chernobyl disaster, a place still contaminated 35 years later. It wasn’t the first but is perhaps the worst nuclear power station disaster, yet some people still suggest nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Since the 70s, environmental activists usually lumped in with ‘the Left’, disbelieved and vilified, shrugged off with contempt as ‘greenies’ and ‘tree huggers’. Although social media favours ‘snowflakes’ and ‘leftards’ and other generic insults to cover numerous issues, not just the perceived ‘hoax‘ of climate change!
Not surprisingly, many who disbelieve climate change also favour the conspiracies around COVID19, although ironically there are some who believe the science of climate change but not the science of epidemiology (and vice versa)!
Climate messengers have expanded, from both sides of the political divide and even in the corporate sector. They admit climate change is real and we are experiencing dire human and economic consequences by ignoring the science.
Natural disasters on the rise mean the tragedy of global warming can’t be ignored, but we shouldn’t forget many of our current political and corporate leaders have always KNOWN!
Access, to scientific reports and data like the World Oceanographic Commission and World Meteorological Organisation, mentioned above,
plus a variety of other national and international research bodies.
Ignorance and lack of action a choice we really can’t afford now:
Friends in the USA and Canada have shared the devastation of the 2020 fires in California that compounded the grief of coronavirus suffering.
Since the global pandemic struck, I have increased email correspondence to friends overseas or locals keeping social distance because of lockdown. Often the discussion is about the future and we recognise the existential threat of global warming. It may be off the front pages of newspapers but not forgotten by the people living with the memory of last summer’s fires in both hemispheres.
Shirly is 88, and a dear friend in England who is married to a cousin of my husband’s, and like many living in the UK, she copes with what she describes as a world ‘in a mess… it’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote the year we’re living. Dystopian.‘
On January 4th she wrote
Yesterday, quite accidentally, I turned the news channel on and your PM was extolling the joys of coal and the fact that this was Australia, not some little country dependant on Europe or America.
We can do what we like. We have coal and we’ll use coal.
He said it as though he was giving the people an enormously good piece of news. As though global warming had nothing to do with your country. I couldn’t believe my ears.
But there are so many non- believers, we shouldn’t be surprised…
How right she is and the many reports about climate change updated because of another year’s data prompted others in Australia to remind the population of PM Morrison’s pathetic position:
Easy actions many of us can take is to care and plant more trees, become a dendrophile. Also reduce, reuse and recycle, and start conversations with friends and neighbours to lobby local councillors and politicians about the importance of renewable energy and government policies that help create a sustainable environment.
Most importantly, we can use our voice and our vote. This year there will be a Federal election in Australia, we must make sure climate change is addressed.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
I haven’t posted since July 2020, but it is a new year and notwithstanding the recent outbreak of COVID19 in my local area, I am hoping 2021 will be better.
This is actually a reworking of a post from several years ago and if you read to the end, my choice of updating and reposting should make sense. (It’s not just laziness although it is an effort to overcome a lack of enthusiasm and feeling of irrelevance!)
The last six months have been the definition of hell for so many people despite some (including me) attempting to find the glass half full.
I’ve read of achievements, new hobbies, friendships, educational courses, diets and exercise regimes, technology, books, films, music, imaginative recipes and discovery of local environmental gems… there were also plenty of negative impacts from panic and fear, lockdowns, isolation, shortage of goods and services, lost jobs and homes, broken relationships and health issues.
A relieved thought (or unvoiced fear) was how lucky can one person be!
It wasn’t the immediate end of the world but I would be lying if I said thoughts of death didn’t loom large. I checked finances and discussed plans with my daughters for ‘no funeral, just a big party’; ensured my will, plus medical and financial power of attorney up-to-date.
In the last decade, many health scares, so déjà vu for the Neil household at this regular event!
However, the discovery of a brain tumour and the fear it was metastatic cancer shocked the GP who has cared for me for over 25 years. We both fought back tears, our trembling lips hidden by masks, social distancing forgotten as she squeezed my arm in sympathy and murmured about unfairness and not to lose hope because it could be a meningioma.
I’m 67 years old, ironically, the same age as my husband when he died in 2002, (John was 18 years older than me). Whether it is the Highland genes or just my Mother’s Irish superstition, this coincidence played on my mind and also worried my daughters.
Survival rates for cancer vary from person to person but the milestones of 5 and 10 years are always at the back of a patient’s mind when diagnosed. The longer you can go without a recurrence is something to celebrate.
However, survival rates for a tumour in the brain, poor and if an operation required the risk of stroke high.
I was disappointed when breast cancer returned after 9 years but my breast cancer surgeon inspires confidence and he acted quickly and decisively and this time it was a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.
The recovery from the melanoma and skin graft during severe lockdown, and in the middle of winter, took a little longer with travel permissions to worry about and more stringent rules for clinicians and patients. These restrictions lasted well into the next health surprise.
By the time I went through all the tests and consultations for the brain tumour, it took a lot of energy to even pretend to be positive about the future. I thought back to the deaths of family and friends I’d witnessed or been involved with in the last stages of their life – hence revisiting this post about my friend Margaret.
Will I be calm and accepting? Do I want to prolong the inevitable? What are my priorities and is there any point in a bucket list?
I almost forgot to breathe when the neurologist decided it was a meningioma and not metastatic cancer. In the words of my breast surgeon on my annual visit in December, ‘You dodged another bullet, Mairi!’
How long I can keep dodging is a mystery but I’ve decided to turn the page on 2020 and try ‘business as usual’ along with my mantra ‘this too will pass’.
I spent July to December posting photographs and haiku on Instagram after joining at the suggestion of a dear friend in Japan who posts about Bonsai.
We have stayed connected and she returned any perceived favour by inspiring me to learn a new digital platform (with daughter Mary Jane’s help), indulge my love of photography and the environment, and write haiku, a favourite poetry form!
Naoko’s Instagram is #bonsai_sana and mine is #mairineil
Walking the dog each day around Mordialloc, I focused on everyday sights, let my imagination and thoughts wander and in the evening, inspired and guided by the demands of the form, I wrote haiku.
The anxiety, fear and dark thoughts about health and death receded as once again my passion for writing became therapeutic and a distraction. It gave me a focus and a project.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
And for many, death comes too soon…
Farewell To A Friend
The telephone call came out of left field. Tragic news to wreck quality time with a dear friend, yet it is also a dear friend on the other end of the mobile. My eyes sting with welling tears, but remain focussed out of the window of the Malt cafe in Beaumaris.
I watch two young mums chat animatedly on the footpath. Relaxed and smiling they are probably enjoying the freedom of the first day of the school year; the little darlings who kept them busy all the summer holidays tucked into classrooms. Another couple on an outside table feed their Golden Retriever tidbits from their plates.
I’m surrounded by chatter; the cafe almost filled to capacity. The aroma of fresh muffins, fruit toast, and homemade jam mingles with my skinny latte and Lesley’s extra strong cappuccino. However, normality dissipates as I absorb the details of the call. Body trembling, I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach and as usual Tamoxifen blesses me with a hot flush as anxiety peaks and emotions rage.
The day takes its first lurch into the surreal.
I’m on my way to celebrate a friend’s retirement from decades of teaching. She’s treating several friends to lunch at Sierra Tango, Cheltenham instead of us paying and hosting the celebration for her! The generosity of the invitation indicative of her warm, supportive personality and the venue a tribute to her knowledge of gastronomy, appreciation of fine foods and wine, and a commitment to support local businesses.
Determined not to spoil Lisa’s day, I seal my tragic news into an emotional compartment to be dealt with later…
I remember a poster I had on my wall at Burgmann College in 1971, when I lived on campus at ANU; my first year away from home. A poster long since eaten by silver fish when it was consigned to the garden shed, but here’s graphics with the same message – a sightly more colourful way of describing “left field”:
The telephone call from Canberra, from a friend from those university days. She can’t keep shock and horror from her shaky voice. A mutual friend, someone I shared a flat with in the 70s, is dying. She was the first non-family member I lived, worked, and studied with – we even shared the double bed that came with the one-bedroom apartment – and thought nothing of it! She’s now on borrowed time.
How could this be?
A voice laced with tears explains that a late discovery of inoperable breast cancer, treated with letrozole, has metastasised to the groin and brain stem. The condition kept secret for two years, while Margaret spent time travelling overseas and going through her bucket list. Now, in palliative care, her lifespan numbered in weeks rather than months – or days, if she experiences a seizure or rapid deterioration of the brain.
She can’t be dying – and not of breast cancer. This news, too confronting and scary. I think back to the apartment we shared, and shiver. That old house divided into three and this news means all of the women living there, including me, have breast cancer: one double mastectomy, two single mastectomies and now Margaret with metastatic breast cancer! Bad luck? Coincidence? A cancer cluster?
A problem for another day…
Bad News Travels Fast
During Lisa’s celebration lunch I receive another phone call with news that a European friend who had stayed with me early January had to have an emergency eye operation in Sydney because of a detached retina. There’s a danger she’ll lose her sight.
This super fit friend, a world-renowned marathon swimmer, came ninth in the Pier to Pub swim at Lorne this year. She’s supposed to be leaving Sydney for her home in Italy with a stop in one of Thailand’s resorts, but is now delayed in Australia until doctors allow her to fly.
The day has taken its second lurch into the surreal.
On my way home, I have the Serenity Prayer playing in my head as I try to put the sad news into perspective and decide on a course of action.
The next day I’m in Canberra and over four days catch up with many old friends from university, make some new ones, and spend hours with Margaret as she adjusts to the effects of radiotherapy and the news of having limited time.
She copes well with the steady stream of people who want to help in some way, as well as saying goodbye. The adage ‘bad news travels fast‘ proving true.
The busyness reminds me of husband, John’s last days – the irony of our busy vibrant house, constant comings and goings, laughter and noise, feasts, and endless cups of tea and coffee surrounding someone dying.
We share meals with Margaret, laughs and stories. I spot photographs in an album – and snap copies with my camera.
Lake Burley Griffin 1974
‘Those indeed were the days my friend,’ I say, ‘we had a lot of fun!’
Margaret agrees. I listen as she describes the highlights of her overseas trips and of her intention to travel again.
Deep down we both know another trip will never happen.
Before I leave, I water the plants and pick flowers to brighten inside. Margaret manages to negotiate back steps with some help and watches me water the garden, pointing out several special plants that came from other people’s gardens, or were received as gifts.
‘This can’t be happening,’ she whispers and I know she isn’t talking about my watering efforts. She alludes to her parents’ longevity, father ‘Digger’, dying a few years ago aged 93, her mother living into her 80s.
Her head shakes slightly, ‘I thought I had 23 years before I had to worry about all these decisions … what to do with things … ‘ Her voice trails off as her eyes drink in the beauty of flowers flourishing from the effect of an unusually cool Canberra summer providing higher than average rainfall.
I help her back inside wondering if this will be the last time I will feel the weight of her arm. The last time I brush fallen hair from her shoulders as her scalp reacts to the radiotherapy.
Why is the sun still shining? The magpies trilling? Laughter drifting from nearby apartments…
I recall a speech from one of the many Aboriginal women in our friendship circle. She thanked Margaret for all the books she bought her children over the years, the encouragement to access education. ‘One son got his PhD last year, all my girls have tertiary qualifications – thank you from the bottom of my heart.’
Others repeat similar sentiments. ‘You may not have any children of your own, but what you have done for our children means they are yours too!’
The seeds we sow. A wonderful legacy indeed, but I wish Margaret had another 23 years to sort out her life…
I wanted the last few days with her to be surreal and someone to wake me up and say it was all a dream. But of course I faced the reality of saying goodbye and dealing with my grief.
Now, with the reality of declining health I’ll hopefully adjust with similar dignity as Margaret when the inevitable must be faced – with luck still in the distance.
Then again, 2021 may hold bigger surprises than 2020 and they could be good!
That (wo)man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men (and women) and the love of children; who has filled his(her) niche and accomplished his (her) task; who leaves the world better than he (she) found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he(she) had.
Various health organisations continue to work towards improving how health is delivered whether the topic is related to COVID-19 or not. I also presented (via an online platform) to a conference at Melbourne University, organised by medical students for their 2020 MD Student Conference (MDSC). (Details below)
Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives. It is about how they use that information to decide on treatment and lifestyle.
Over the years, I have been able to use my writing skills combined with personal experience of the health system to give input and feedback to help health professionals and various institutions and government bodies improve the health information provided.
From the Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Healthcare:
Individual health literacy is the skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.
Health literacy environment is the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.
Volunteering To be A Health Advocate May Help Others
My health advocate journey began in 2009 when I attended a focus group at Central Bayside to help them rewrite leaflets about Diabetes.
My father had been diabetic for many years (mature-age onset) and moved from tablets to insulin before his death. From firsthand observations, I knew there was room for improvement in the brochures publicly available.
At the time, I was enrolled in the Masters of Writing so my writing skill was, and still is, useful to share.
For me, the upsurge is not surprising because when the initial Lockdown was eased mid June many people behaved as if the pandemic was over despite Premier Daniel Andrews saying repeatedly, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brett Sutton reminding us continually, ‘this coronavirus is ten times more infectious than flu.’
Few, if any, of us enjoy forced isolation, but most people DID put the health of others before social considerations and obeyed the rules. Let’s hope we can do it again!
The message of the dangers of COVID-19 has made headlines since March – not just here but overseas. Any other topic has great difficulty gaining oxygen. Most people can access the Internet – there is no excuse for being ill-informed.
In the beginning, there were mixed messages, especially from the Federal Government, but by April all States had the same mantra about social distancing and washing hands. Debate continues about wearing masks, but many people have made that choice and it helps reinforce social distancing.
There is concern not enough effort was used in Victoria to ensure the message was inclusive of multi-cultural communities but frankly considering every country is touched by COVID-19 and we have multi-cultural television and radio stations with many communities having their own language newspapers, I don’t think that can be the only reason. There is also an excellent website with health translations in more than 100 languages. More likely it is the socio-economic make-up of those suburbs with people working the casual and low paid jobs of hospitality, retail and transport that have continued throughout the Lockdown period – plus the pressure on schools throughout Australia to reopen. The virus is highly infectious – it was never about elimination (a vaccine is a long way off and will ever only be 70% effective anyway) but aiming for suppression and control.
Debate still rages about schools going back too early and the opening up of businesses and venues but considering the world is coping with an unprecedented crisis this century our various levels of government are doing their best – it was always going to be a balance between health and economic survival. Again – personal behaviour is the key.
Sadly, some people CHOOSE to believe the seriousness of the pandemic and ignore regulations.
It is up to individuals to be aware, follow the rules, and take care.
Recording The Pandemic For Future Generations
In April, my friend Matilda Butler who runs the womensmemoirs.com site in the USA with Kendra Bonnett, asked women to write about COVID-19.
Now, with a sense of security rapidly diminishing if we continue to see larger numbers of infections, an update will be needed and it may well have a different tone!
There are writers all over the world recording this pandemic from a variety of perspectives and journalists and bloggers tapping daily. Next year and the years to follow, we’ll see a plethora of films, documentaries, plays, poems, novels and memoir…
A summary of the results of the City of Kingston’s May 2020 survey:
From the 202 responses collected between 13-21 May 2020, they identified the following insights:
A lot of people adapted to using technology to remain connected (89% of people)
Around half were worried about being infected, but most (97%) had access to facts and information on quarantining
41% were worried that they or their families wouldn’t recover if infected
Physical activity was cited as the main activity providing relief
The main concern people had about being isolated was the loss of connection with their social support network
You can access the full report and also see regular updates from the website.
The Use of Technology Has Zoomed During COVID-19
As mentioned before, I have been extra careful since January because of a recent breast cancer operation and so adapted easily to Lockdown, isolation and social distancing.
When the Cancer Council asked me to contribute to the medical student conference at Melbourne University, I accepted because it could be prerecorded. The session recorded in May, but broadcast on June 25th.
The organisers and presenters plus the film crew amazing. It was a positive and fascinating experience. A great learning curve in the use of technology!
Here are screenshots from the session: “Breaking Bad News”.
This session forms part of the Day 4 program theme “The Ultimate Equaliser”. We have chosen this theme to give medical students the opportunity to have in-depth discussions on mortality and the human condition. We are very fortunate to have a number of esteemed healthcare professionals presenting on Day 4. An integral aspect of medical education is learning from patients, as they are often our best teachers. We feel that it is essential to include personal stories in a session on breaking difficult news, so that we can keep patients at the centre of our education.
Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to share my story. Thank you, too, for those who will listen who are joining the medical profession – as we have seen during this pandemic, the pressure, expectations, danger and sacrifices for frontline workers has revealed how important, precious and valuable you are for a healthy functioning society.
Personally, I’m grateful to medical science for my life. The improvements in breast cancer detection and research plus treatment available in Australia meant my cancer diagnosis in 2010 disrupted my quality of life but was not a death sentence.
And that is what the mention of cancer means to most people – a terminal illness that once you are diagnosed and even go into remission, it is a coiled snake waiting to strike. That metaphor turned out to be true for me because of my breast cancer, albeit another type, returned in December 2019.
In the words of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr Peter Gregory – ‘nine years Mairi, you almost reached ten!’ His disappointment and disbelief matched mine because of course there are legendary milestones, whether true or not, of 5 years and 10 years – making those free of a recurrence is believed to extend the likelihood the cancer won’t return , or worst spread to other parts of the body.
And my thank you after everything went as planned!
To be cliched – the pleasure was all mine:)
Thank you again for giving me a platform for my story and I think you, Tansy and all the others have done an amazing job considering the circumstances in which you have had to operate.
Thank you for always being so courteous and ready to respond and adapt to my needs, even when it probably inconvenienced your own,
All of you can be immensely proud of what you are achieving but more importantly the place from where your efforts and the impetus has come – creating a first class health system that cares for everyone’s needs.
I was most impressed with – I think it was Lily who said it – ‘welcome, this is the way of the future…’ You and your co-workers are all very talented and I can see the benefits for a lot of digital expertise being applied in the future for conferences etc because who knows how long travel or large gatherings will be risky to organise. Also, what you have done over the last few weeks has been amazing in establishing a pathway for all sorts of voices to be included at conferences where usually only certain ones are invited.
I know the title consumer rep has been coined, especially by organisations fighting for equity in the two-tiered system we have (private V public health) and for a multitude of voices to be heard, but I personally never want to move away from the word patient when I am referred to treatment for my health because it implies being in the care of a doctor/medical clinician. Whereas consumer can so easily be applied to someone shopping or dining whose main interest is value for money rather than the esoteric outcomes of quality of life regarding health procedures!
We are all individuals and our bodies can respond in various ways and so care provided must always be personal and often tailored to suit the individual – not mass consumption – what works or is accepted by one may be inappropriate or not work on another.
A bit like in the 90s when suddenly those receiving education became clients rather than pupils or students.
Word choice matters because we all come with our own prejudices, perspectives and experiences but it would be nice if we could agree on a terminology that gets the balance and duty of care right – and in some areas of our society there has to be an authoritative balance some times.
I want to be empowered to have a say in the health system but I also want to acknowledge the expertise of the people looking after me and that their advice is coming from a place of knowledge and wanting to heal me and I am happy to accept they know more than me but I hope they are also prepared to listen and set aside some of their assumptions.
Good luck with all your other planning and remember to take some time out for relaxation and fun – you deserve it:)
All the best
We have a good health system in Victoria and there are people working all the time to make it better.
The health system had to take stock and organise to cope with the pandemic and remain functioning. It could have so easily become overwhelmed like other countries – especially Italy, Brazil and the USA.
In Victoria, the effort to keep everyone informed and to meet everyone’s expectations has been excellent.
The initial postponement of elective surgeries to ensure there were enough hospital beds and equipment if needed has been lifted, but if people don’t heed the warnings who knows what strain will be put on available resources?
The message I received and took on board is ‘don’t forget your health check-ups’ . An important message to act on.
I went for my regular skin cancer check and they discovered an invasive melanoma. Despite increased testing for COVID-19 the results of the biopsies came back quickly and an operation including skin graft is scheduled for next week.
But if the system becomes overwhelmed, others in the future may not be so lucky. We must stop the COVID-19 infection rate increasing!
I started off the post with a leaflet explaining the logic and simple steps to avoid spreading viral infections. These work for flu as well, and one welcome side effect of the isolation rules is that fewer people are contracting flu this season!
Here are just a few of the public notices around Mordialloc I see every day advising people about COVID-19:
I’m sure these informative signs are replicated in every suburb – authorities can only do so much – members of the public must cooperate.
Being in the high risk age group with underlying health issues, I sincerely hope people will make the effort to be informed and obey the rules so we can suppress the rapid spread of this coronavirus.
Support all those frontline health workers, plus the workers in other occupations who have remained or returned to work and must cope with new rules and the compliance necessary to combat COVID-19.
There has been a host of issues covered by a variety of media in the last week, as the important Black Lives Matter Movement continues to dominate headlines around the world and it is also Pride Month in the USA.
Australia was party to this Convention as David Marr explains in an interview recorded on the 2016 documentary Chasing Asylum.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights and Refugee Convention was a humane understanding, according to David and ‘the world’s apology to what was done to the Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust.’
When the doors are closed, people need protection and have a right to seek it! Australia signed up to this Convention and to letting refugees come in – and they come by the sea when other channels are closed!
When I revisited this documentary, I wept.
Even with COVID-19, when we are all encouraged to care for each other, we are detaining and treating asylum seekers as if they are criminals and of lesser value than ourselves. Fortunately, there are courageous advocates still speaking up and trying to get the Australian Government to honour the Conventions they signed.
I agree with David Marr, who ”defies anyone not to be moved and not feel ashamed.’
The film shows horrific footage (taken without the knowledge of those in authority) of inside the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands that Australian taxpayers fund and set up by the Federal Government. Repeated parliaments headed by BOTH main political parties have made excuses to maintain these offshore camps.
The cost of torturing innocent people who had a RIGHT to seek asylum – $500,000 per asylum seeker per year – that is $1.2 billion to maintain Nauru and Manus Islands.
A lot of money to torture people because mandatory and indefinite detention is definitely torturing!
There is testimony from employees with firsthand experience who observed the inhumanity and horrific conditions in the detention camps. No amount of posturing and excuses will hide the fact the premise of Australia’s policy is we have a right to put refugees through hell because they came by sea and others might die at sea following their example.
It is profoundly hypocritical to claim ‘stop the boats and turn back the boats’ policies are humanitarian because they stop deaths at sea – especially when we continually engage in wars and other practices creating refugees!
The most recent mass migration of people fleeing their Syrian homeland a case in point. Australian planes bombed Syria. Many of the refugees in this documentary are Iranian, Afghani and Iraqi – Australia was part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ who bombed these countries!
There are reasons for refugees fleeing their homeland – foremost is war – most people would prefer to stay in their own country. If more effort made to prevent the reasons, people put themselves at risk, we would not be facing a worldwide crisis of 60 million refugees.
The countries sheltering half a million to over a million refugees are:
Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.
Germany accepted one million Syrian refugees in 2016.
Meanwhile, in Australia, we’ve demonised refugees since 2001 and used them as a political football.
In 2016, Chasing Asylum challenged us as a nation to confront the flagrant abuse of human rights perpetrated in our name and as a nation we responded by repeatedly electing governments to continue this inhumanity.
Reduced to its basest element, Australian government policy is to begrudgingly treat those who legally sought its asylum – by one mode of transport, by boat – with axiomatic cruelty, in order to discourage others from paying people smugglers and hopping into leaky boats across south-east Asia. This policy saves lives, they say, because it deters others.
But it’s not this policy that’s stopping the boats from reaching Australian shores. Australia has spent billions of dollars putting an armada to sea in the waters to the country’s north and west.
Asylum boats continue to ply the waters of the region and attempt to reach Australia. They do so in much smaller numbers now because they are intercepted, boarded and their passengers and crew forcibly turned around. Protection assessments are conducted at sea – a policy considered illegal under international law by almost every expert opinion, including that of the United Nations.
The support workers, volunteers, social workers, doctors and security personnel who speak on camera in Chasing Asylum also demonised. Classed as malcontents and whistleblowers, there have been many attempts to discredit them by sections of the government and media.
Their evidence may be unpalatable but cannot be ignored.
Because of their courage, protests from many community groups, and the persistence from MPs with a conscience like Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the voiceless may have been ‘out of sight’ but were not ‘out of mind’!
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2006:
No one knows how many boat people have died, but thousands have been rescued at sea. In the reality of dangerous journeys undertaken to gain access to reluctant coastal states, the time-honoured maritime traditions of rescue at sea collide with the growing determination of states to prevent illegal entry to their territory.
However, to seek asylum as a refugee is not illegal!
We must face the reality of the deceit of the cruel and barbaric ‘stop the boats’ mantra and there is no time like the present!
The pair still peddle the myth that our refugee policy of mandatory offshore detention is humane!
Like many of the horrific scenes circulating on social media at the moment, this history of our offshore detention policy makes uncomfortable viewing!
By choosing to describe asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, economic migrants, or boat people, and classifying them as less deserving of help, it is easy for politicians to justify denying them basic human rights.
I’m glad that there are still activists protesting on behalf of asylum seekers. I will continue to donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, write letters and sign petitions – trying to keep the issue alive via conversations and the written word.
Refugees and asylum seekers
young and old
a new life…
They cross stormy waters
and a welcome
from Australian society
Amazing personal stories
Prisoners of conscience
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom ––
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
We sit in the cafe
indulging a desire
for coffee and cake
and a need
for each other…
we struggle to accept
that sitting, sipping coffee:
skinny latte, cappuccino, mochaccino
long or short black
and devouring slices
of gluten-free, fructose-free, fat-free,
carrot cake and a chocolate muffin –
is not conscience free…
Modern media mobility
screams of drought, bushfires
floods at home and
war, random shootings,
terrorist attacks, refugee crises…
Manus Island and Nauru…
We skip the sugar and cream
search mobile screen for a funny meme.
The opening scene of a crowded boat navigating a choppy sea has a male voice over explaining ‘I head for Australia because it is a safe, humane country… respects people… no war, calm, everything good…’
And then there is the reality as shaky footage from a concealed mobile phone camera reveals Australia has some of the harshest refugee and asylum seeker policies in the world.
We see conditions in Nauru Detention Centre – the footage filmed in secret because no journalists, filmmakers or camera crew allowed inside the Nauru camp.
Nauru a remote island, population 10,000, isolated and extremely hot, you can drive around it in 20 minutes. It is a ‘poor’ country with a failing economy.
Easy pickings for Australia to sweep responsibility to somewhere else and pass on our problem. And it is understandable why the Nauruan government accepted Australia’s offer of a cash splash and allowed a detention centre.
At the time the documentary was made there were 2,175 asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Manus Islands, including children.
A social worker speaks about the shock of arriving to work at the camp – meeting people already detained 400-500 days and so many security personnel giving the camp a militarised feel.
We hear faceless conversations. The views of camp, fences, tents and people from imperfect angles, but there is sufficient footage to capture the bleakness, sparse colourless surroundings, makeshift and temporary set-up. Cyclone fencing reminiscent of building sites.
Painted on the side of a tent in Nauru – Welcome To Coffin…
Sad drawings and paintings by children decorate walls, featuring tear-stained faces surrounded by flames, barbed wire and guns.
The camps really set up to make the refugees feel unwelcome and to send them home or hope they’d opt to return.
The social worker said in 6 weeks the detainees degrade mentally.
We hear a man say, ‘I am 28 years old – wasting my youth here… I lost dreams.’
A shocking concept, no program, no future. Criminals in a prison can count the days until the end of their sentence, but that can’t happen in a refugee camp.
No crime committed, the UN Convention ignored, people left to rot.
A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country… ”
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Tortured at home
Tortured in the detention camps
Separated from their families with no prospect of being reunited.
No hope for the future.
A protest organised by the incarcerated men and WE WANT JUSTICE written on t-shirts.
We see men with lips sewed together, a lot of self-harm. The nurse saw a man who cut his stomach open with glass, men with stitched lips and eyelids, another beat and stabbed himself with a fluorescent light tube. A lot of cutting. And swallowing of razor blades, washing powder, bleach.
People hang themselves.
Support workers describe how they answered an advert of Facebook from the Salvation Army. When they enquired what the job entailed, the interviewer ‘made it sound like a nice place, enjoy a two-week holiday, invite your friends to apply…’
Arriving on Nauru, the fresh recruits discover an eclectic group of fellow workers: a manager of a MacDonald’s, retirees, factory workers and university students.
The only thing they had in common was no one had experience working with asylum seekers or refugees!
The briefing they got on arrival was indeed brief!
A woman said, ‘Go and help the men, befriend them. Go in pairs, mingle, I’ll be back in two hours.’
They found dispirited refugees, lying listlessly on the bed and lethargic asking, ‘Why are you here? Why are we here? How long will we be here?’
Many couldn’t sleep, were on medication because of the rapid deterioration of their mental health, which usually started after 6 weeks.
The support workers realised intakes were confused, some didn’t know they were not in Australia, others couldn’t understand why they were treated like criminals.
A support worker questioned what she was doing there and regretted signing up, especially when she read a sign that said, ‘Make sure staff are trained to use a Hoffman’s Knife.’
She discovered a Hoffman’s Knife is used to cut people down when they hang themselves! She was in a place she’d never choose to visit and she shouldn’t have taken the job.
A social worker recalled a Tamil from Sri Lanka’s story. He was the same age as herself 24/25. He was living in an area controlled by Tamil Tigers. His father shot in front of him. He and his brother left for Colombo and arrested by authorities, imprisoned and tortured for a year. He had cigarette burns on his back and genitals. Highly distressed on Nauru, he displayed symptoms of severe trauma.
He wanted to die and kept repeating ‘My life, where is my life?’
The social worker broke down, ‘I can’t help them, I have nothing of comfort to say.’
People talk to themselves. Have psychotic episodes, walk around like zombies, most are medicated. Every day they have thoughts of suicide and self-harm. She can only tell them things will get better, but they know, and so does she, that it is a lie.
A support worker saw a severe beating of a refugee by two guards – a New Zealander and an Australian – but after pressure, she changed her statement. On reflection, she is ashamed but did so because she was scared. She was the only one prepared to be honest.
The guards are ex ADF, bouncers and prison officers and are always on edge. Hyper-vigilant, many are racists. Their aggressive attitude shows no empathy for asylum seekers.
Official Refugee Policy?
Although no politician offered an interview for the documentary there is enough recorded interviews and broadcasted soundbites included:
Prime Minister John Howard in 2001 – the Tampa Election – ‘we will decide who comes into this country and how…’
2009 Kevin Rudd – those coming by boat will be detained offshore
2012 Julia Gillard – ‘don’t risk a voyage at sea… don’t give money to people smugglers… you will be detained offshore’
2013 Tony Abbott– won the election with the promise to ‘stop the boats’
2013 – Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister – it is a national emergency and border security operation – ‘the boats must be stopped.’
July 19, 2013 – Australia’s policy: any asylum seeker arriving by boat will not be settled in Australia– mandatory offshore detention.
2015 – Turnbull – ‘only way to stop deaths at sea.’
In the documentary, Greg Lake, the public servant who ran the Detention Centre admits that he took on the job with a background of ‘upper-middle-class white guy from NSW, growing up in a place with few migrants and never meeting a refugee or asylum seeker.’
He saw the job as implementing government policy, but the policy issue changed from looking after people seeking asylum to, we will make your life worse than what you fled if you choose to stay here.
We don’t want you coming by boat and will make your life horrible so the message will get out and no one else gets on a boat. Greg Lake realised it was a deterrent strategy and people will be permanently damaged so he left – it was too hard a portfolio.
Go Back to Where You Came From Is Not An Option!
In 2011, SBS produced a reality show to tackle Australia’s refugee policy and reveal the human face behind the statistics by exposing six Australians with strong opinions about immigration to the journeys of some refugees.
Hopefully, it helped some members of the public to think more deeply and beyond three word slogans.
Ironically, one of every two Australians is an immigrant or the child of one. (I came to Australia as a child in 1962 with my parents and 5 siblings.)
Yet, despite our diverse population and culture, immigration continues to be a central political issue. Often the people who are the most vociferous and ill-informed are migrants or children of refugees who came here after WW2.
Sadly, social media has amplified bigotry and racism and spread misinformation like wildfire. Many in Australia applaud President Trump’s recent playbook by telling those in the public eye who are critical, especially women of colour like Greens MP, Mehreen Faruqi and Labor’s Anne Aly, to ‘go back where they came from’.
The “go back” insult is offensive because it is not about citizenship, said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s about your skin colour,” she said. “You are seen to be more loyal or disloyal depending on whether you look like the norm.”
quoted in New York Times, Letter to Australia
Does the Australian public realise the price paid to stop the boats and who pays??
Dr Peter Young reported measurable disorders observed in children.
Children watching parents getting sicker, young babies not feeding properly or gaining weight.
Children’s drawings reflect how disturbed they are watching self-harm and also many had been sexualised or seen things they shouldn’t have seen.
Mouldy damp tents with no privacy or space, erected upon white phosphate rock. Behavioural issues because there were no age-appropriate activities.
Children referred to each other with boat IDs instead of names. The practice rampant – they had forgotten their names and who they were.
The Forgotten Children – the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young collected toys and when they arrived the kids didn’t know what to do with them.
Heartbreaking for the support workers to witness!
A social worker will never forget a child’s reaction to receiving a soft toy after a year in the camp with no play activities.
David Marr talked about the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of women and children which resulted in The Moss Review in 2015
There were details of sexualised behaviour amongst children, cigarettes traded for sex, children under 5 exposed to sexual behaviour and other activities at an inappropriate age….
It took the Australian Government 17 months to investigate reports.
No results and no repercussions instead the government legislated on July 1, 2015, that whistleblowers will face prison!!
Michael Bachelard, an Australian journalist living in Indonesia believes the threat of asylum seekers blown out of proportion and hardline policies of successive governments may have stopped the boats by successfully attacking the people smugglers’ business model, but the human cost appalling when you see the lives of the 10,000 stranded in Indonesia and those detained on Nauru and Manus.
The refugees in Indonesia can’t work, children can’t go to school, everything costs money and they can’t earn any.(see my Staging Post Review)
Hazara refugees from Afghanistan share their stories – husbands, fathers, sons, mothers, widows… all fleeing persecution by the Taliban and seeking a better peaceful life.
Asylum seekers are now told there is no way you will make Australia home…
In 2013, Rudd declared a resettlement agreement with Papua New Guinea would stop the scourge of people smuggling. Some refugees who arrived on Christmas Island flown straight away to Manus Island. They were terrified, believing New Guinea still practised cannibalism. Escorted on the plane by two security guards holding their arms they were heavily guarded on the flight.
Arriving in Manus they noticed there were trees but few houses. They saw a fruit turned teeth red, and despite assurances feared the cannibalism they’d read about in books that happened 50 years ago still occurred.
A security guard turned whistleblower, explained it was a camp for single men. He had been a prison officer for 9 years with Victorian Corrections Service, but like others employed on Manus, had only experience dealing with those from the criminal world. The camp was not what he thought a detention camp would be. He assumed they would train expert staff.
A WW2 Nissan hut one of the buildings with a concrete floor housing 122 double bunks. In the tropical weather, the shed was stifling – odour disgusting as was the surrounds, an overcrowded gaol behind padlocked gates.
There were not enough clothes, shoes, toilets or drinking water. Faeces littered the ground. There were cases of malaria and other sicknesses. The men resembled broken men without a future, slouched shoulders and despair on their faces.
The contrast with staff quarters, stark – carpeted floor, air conditioning, matching sheets…
The Prison Officer, a whistleblower, he voiced his concerns and was threatened by a note left on his bed, then another verbal threat.
He stopped complaining and left. ‘I had principles, we need to talk and face the reality of what is happening about refugee policy.’
There is film of a demonstration by the detainees that became violent. 100 were arrested but no criminal convictions. Apparently, the bill was $60 million damage. (I’d question the figure because the facilities on Manus and Nauru are appalling and that was the reason for the protest!)
There is a lot of resentment from locals on Manus and Nauru who are not happy with the deal their governments have made with Australia.
Seven months after one protest, asylum seekers attacked by PNG police and locals – a riot ensues. Evidence shown of the fence pushed in by locals and shots fired into the camp.
Sixty refugees are injured, one throat slit, one lost an eye, one man killed.
Reza Berate, an Iranian, beaten and not helped when dying. We see the grief of his family in Iran and their bewilderment as to how it could have happened.
2015 – Condemnation from the UN
The UN investigates and confirms Australia breeched conventions and accuses those in the detention centres of torture.
Tony Abbott’s response – “We won’t be lectured to by the UN.“
We are 67th in the world for refugee intake. Abbott and Morrison cut our annual intake from 20,000 to 13,000 +
Minister Peter Dutton negotiated the Cambodian Settlement claiming that country free from persecution and a safe option. Australia made a $40 million down payment declaring refugees would be voluntarily sent there. Another $15 million was paid, but only 5 refugees went there. The average wage $100 a month.
We don’t want the offshore refugees here and so we will let the government spend as much money as they want to treat them any way they like.
The options – go to Cambodia or live in the community in Nauru where there are no jobs, low pay, and the cost of living outrageously high.$20 for 2 litre carton of milk.
The refugees have:
No travel documents
No hope of reunification with family
Live in demountable blocks and share rooms
Live behind high fences in a soulless compound
their accommodation will always need security because some locals threatened them
No guarantee of safety.
Refugee women have claimed 20 cases of rape and sexual assault, but no one charged!
Flashback to 1970s
70,000 Vietnamese came to Australia under Malcolm Fraser’s LNP Government.
On the documentary, Fraser states, ‘I believed we had an obligation because of our part in the Vietnam war… most of the refugees had been through processing in Malaysia and Australia co-operated – these refugees beneficial. Refugees add to our culture, our wealth, our diversity.’
A sign at his funeral attended by many Vietnamese – Farewell to our champion of humanity. You are forever in our hearts…
Chasing Asylumis in memory of Malcolm Fraser – 1930 – 2015
To those who fear the Other Look not only with your Eyes, but with Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart. Are people less human, more evil, if different? Nationality and ethnicity Culture, religion, identity Earth’s children all ache, bleed, cry, – desire belonging and love.
This year’s World Environment theme is time for nature:
The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature. It’s time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.
COVID-19 lockdowns restrict movement in neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countryside in countries throughout the world and have done so for several months, and most people now realise how important it is to breathe fresh air and to enjoy outside activities.
The easing of some restrictions in Victoria saw hundreds flock to national parks. Many places were overwhelmed and had to be closed because the recommended 1.5 metres of social-distancing couldn’t be enforced.
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has forced governments to act for the greater good of the public health, even closing international borders despite severe economic consequences.
Ironically, because of less air travel and movement of people, plus reductions in road traffic and industrial pollution, there has been an improvement in some natural areas such as cleaner waterways and a resurgence of wildlife.
However, the consequences of climate change are still severe and deadly and as many people have pointed out – if you believe and obey the science regarding the COVID-19 pandemic why are we not believing and acting urgently on the science about climate change!
As this picture doing the rounds of Facebook shows, the damage fossil fuels cause is not a new discovery – this newspaper date is 1912!
The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day. The scent of eucalyptus and pine compete with salty air and whiffs of abandoned seaweed.
The cyan sea a mirror for whipped cream clouds. Dainty dollops on a baby blue plate. Gulls sit or glide atop the glassy surface. Bathed in brilliant white sunlight, I imagine I too float and dream.
But in the distance, palm tree fronds tremble, casting lacy shadows on the warm sand. The clink of moorings and creak of masts drifts from the creek and a sudden gust of wind whips sand to sting legs and face. Airborne seagulls now screeching origami kites.
A dark veil unfurls from the horizon shattering the steel blue mirror swallowing the fluffy clouds.
Peaceful contemplation disappears, waves soap around my feet, slap at ankles, sunlight fades. I retreat to the shelter of groaning eucalypts and pine, the taste of salt bittersweet.
Celebrate parks and open spaces
how they let us breathe and play
they put smiles upon our faces
Nature provides wondrous places
adding beauty to the everyday
wildlife parks, wilderness spaces
Trainers recommend 10,000 paces
exercise and be healthy they say
and put smiles upon our faces
In childhood, egg and spoon races
kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
celebrated parks and open spaces
Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
whether skies are blue or grey
let’s put smiles upon our faces
Find joy in parks and open spaces
because they let us breathe and play
and they put smiles upon our faces
In the future, they’ll discover traces
of how we spent our lives each day
they’ll dig up parks and other spaces
and put names to forgotten faces.
The importance of trees to our wellbeing and the earth’s health is, at last, being recognised by local councils (including Kingston) and I hope many more will become dendrophiles.
We Have An Extinction Crisis In Australia
Today, I received an email from birdlife.org.au
This year hasn’t been what any of us expected.
Australia was already in the grip of the extinction crisis, which meant our birds were facing unprecedented threats… and then the devastating bushfires struck. Fighting the extinction crisis became even more urgent.
He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…
She swigs kombucha
for inner health
ignoring Mother Earth’s digestive tract
blocked by the plastic bottle and cap.
Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes.
Junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…
Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes
and even those who profess to care sucked in
and swallowed by consumerism
Landfill dumps grow garbage
litter refuse muck
There is no ‘away’ in throw!
Parks and Places to Play Important For Childhood Memories
Write about the wild or natural places you remember playing in as a child.
Where do you go today to breathe in and experience the natural world?
How important is your garden, and what pleasure does it give?
Describe your favourite walk?
What bird, tree, flower do you see from your window/s?
I spent my first nine years in Greenock, Scotland, an industrial town on the River Clyde that used to be famous for shipbuilding – the yards built the Queen Elizabeth and first Queen Mary, plus submarines for Australia.
I can’t remember much of the first three years living in a tenement in George Square, the centre of the town, but when we moved to Braeside where I started school, there is plenty of material for trips down memory lane.
Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no built parks for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with my dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van.
Cars rarely disturbed our play which included hopscotch chalked on pavements (we called it ‘beds’), skipping (often with rope leftover from the clothesline), football, rounders, and British Bulldog and similar games involving lots of chasing, hiding and rough and tumble.
However, we also roamed the hill towering over the houses opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of our road and a swathe of land separating upper and lower streets. The housing scheme stretched up a steep hill, Davaar Road being the topmost street and in the middle of that street, our house was number 35.
Across the road, behind a row of houses, there was a path we could climb to the top of the hill and see Gourock and the River Clyde. There were no tall trees but plenty of scrub, granite boulders and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgeling television industry: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco kid, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, and whatever adventure story Walt Disney promoted when he invited us to ‘wish upon a star’ on Sunday evenings.
Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under the chin. A memorable part of the long summer holidays was collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn to prepare for bonfire night in November.
We never forgot Guy Fawkes and to “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot!”
The hill also welcomed children roaming in hordes carrying buckets and jam jars to seek blackberries when in season. The incentive of Mum’s delicious bramble jam spurned us on. We even spread our hunt into the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the street where we weren’t supposed to go. We knew the resident bull to be a danger to life and limb – plus when the Tinkers (Gypsies/Travellers) came they camped in the fields and we were warned to respect their privacy.
Mum and Dad didn’t practice overt bigotry against Travellers like some people. Mum helped them whenever she could by paying them to do odd jobs and buying some goods they hawked, such as wooden ‘dolly’ clothes-pegs.
However, any place forbidden meant we incorporated them as a deliberate dare in games. There must be a guardian angel for stupid children!
Stranger danger not indoctrinated, and we were never overly fearful, although warned to be careful, not ‘ask for trouble’ and to obey the limitations placed on us. But I remember roaming even further afield and going to what we called ‘the secret lake’ along the Aileymill Road. This pleasant track linked the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny towns further down the coastline.
If she knew, Mum would never have sanctioned that sojourn, but we fished for tadpoles and hunted frogs and let loose our imagination and energy.
I revisited the secret lake in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes; the lake had shrunk to a large puddle rather than a lake. The farmer’s fields smaller too, and the bull nowhere in sight!
I checked out my old house in the 70s and again in 2017 – Davaar Road has not changed much although the houses modernised inside; sadly Aileymill is no longer bush to roam but another housing estate.
Walk the Neighbourhood Absorb the Beauty of Your Place
I acknowledge the Boon Wurrung as the traditional owners of Mordialloc and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Yesterday was Mabo Day, a significant day for First Nation Peoples, a day to honour the vision, commitment and legacy of Eddie Mabo, who paved the way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights and Native Title in Australia.
It is also the end of Reconciliation Week, which occurs from 27 May – 3 June every year.
The dates mark the May 27,1967 Referendum that amended the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census and ends with June 3 when in 1992, the historic Mabo judgement by the High Court of Australia recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land.
The Mabo decision acknowledged the First Nations longstanding and unique connection to the land for the last 65,000 to 80,000 years and declared Australia was not terra nullius – a claim used to justify the colonial invasion and acquisition of the land by Britain. In 1993, the Native Title Act passed in Federal Parliament and this has returned some sovereignty in some areas to First Nation peoples.
I wrote several posts in the last few days on other subjects, but each time stopped before posting because creative writing hints or other topics paled into insignificance with what is happening in the USA and other parts of the world after the recent murder of George Floyd.
Coupled with news of COVID-19, we have a perfect storm of misery.
George Floyd’s tragic murder captured on mobile video and replayed millions of times throughout the world has led to scenes reminiscent of the 1960s.
Scenes of civil unrest in the USA I remember watching as a teenager as they played nightly on the television news.
Sadly, many of the issues around systemic racism have still not been resolved and most politically aware people know this because what happened to George Floyd has happened to other African Americans, year in, year out!
Why do we remain silent? Why in Australia have we mostly ignored the 2015 death of David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who also struggled and said I Can’t Breathewhen pinned to a bed by several prison officers in Long Bay Gaol? (The video of that incident also circulating on social media and just as distressing as George Floyd’s murder.)
Social media has fuelled the current protests, but my newsfeed often filled with videos of appalling racist incidents, particularly since the election of Donald Trump.
I only hope the rage is maintained and results in a definite change.
Too many people are still reluctant to acknowledge systemic and institutionalized racism and white privilege exists or that people of colour are targeted by the police here in Australia and the USA.
Australia had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991) but there has been a lack of action on the recommendations and avoidable deaths are still occurring.
English has a list of words describing you
I checked the dictionary and thesaurus too
but really words will fail to record
your harmful legacy of bitter discord
How sad the office of American President
is sullied by you, the 45th resident
a narcissistic, dastardly, vainglorious fool
boastful, vacuous as you let ego rule
Pusillanimous, brutish, pompous, offensive
spouting ignorance when on the defensive
craven, fatuous, corrupt, and oafish
your addled tweets so often malicious.
A destructive numbskull you need to resign
the current civil unrest another warning sign
just go to Florida and there please stay
allow decent adult voices to have their say
Your election a nasty global surprise
a long three years have exposed your lies
let’s hope the tide will really turn blue
and in November we’ll be rid of you!
Civil Rights An Ongoing Struggle
I recall vividly hearing the news of JFK’s assassination in November 1963, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968, and of Bobbie Kennedy in June 1968. I’m sure many people my age remember where they were exactly when they heard the news of the killings.
When I went to university in Canberra in 1970 and took part in the protests supporting the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and Land Rights, I learnt firsthand the depth of Australia’s institutionalised racism and started on a journey to educate myself and to seek ways of being part of the answer and not part of the problem.
It is important not to remain silent – words in the form of poems, essays and stories are my way of working through the pain, anger and powerlessness I often feel when events like the murder of George Floyd or Aboriginal deaths in custody occur.
I also write letters to politicians and write blog posts and have conversations with people – encouraging others to be more aware and accept systemic racism exists.
When I look at the poems, I wrote in the 90s and in 2000; it seems there has been little progress, but I’ll keep writing because words are all I have and effective cultural change takes a lifetime.
When Mordialloc Writers Group hosted regular monthly Readings by The Bay, the poems and stories shared often sparked important conversations about racism. That forum no longer exists, but every community group can start conversations!
We watched with horror
as they beat you to the ground…
on the ground
into the ground
The gang of four wielding batons
grasped tightly to
beat your head
beat your body
beat your legs…
Pounding, pounding, pounding, pound.
A steady funeral dirge
burying the myth
of racial equality –
of equal rights
Middle-class liberals gasped
horrified at the naked truth
victims sighed with relief
the truth at last revealed
those with power to change
shrugged – what’s the fuss about?
Rodney King – who gave you that name?
A king in black skin – a hint of irony
– or is it okay if a surname?
Your destiny now entwined
with that other dreamer…
A picture is worth a thousand words
a video worth a thousand affidavits
television news worth a thousand protests
political decisions worth a thousand votes…
Time dimmed the anger and horror
even brutes are innocent until proven guilty
at the scheduled trial
will Nuremberg be revisited?
We waited for the sentence
believing we knew the judgement
but a jury without black faces
proves society controlled by red necks
and white lies let injustice triumph…
Los Angeles burns along with our shame
those with power remain unchanged
cosmetics mask the ugly face
waspish capitalists sting… again and again.
Australians are shocked. Horrified!
Yet reality reveals our guilt.
Our smugness shattered
when black deaths in custody
inspire jokes among police
our custodians of law
don’t need lessons in brutality
We watch L.A aflame
but closed minds switch off
like television sets.
Will Australia suffer the same fate?
I can only imagine the despair of many people of colour in the USA and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here but I stand in solidarity with their struggle for justice and will continue to promote events, books and articles to help others to stand in solidarity too.
It’s 20 years this week since theReconciliation Walkacross Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, a defining moment in the tortured history of Indigenous affairs in Australia.
We are hungry for our land!
The catch cry of the seventies
as angry black activists
reclaimed a slice of land…
They protested by establishing
an Aboriginal Tent Embassy
opposite Parliament House, Canberra
When the Embassy brutally dismantled
thousands of people
black and white together
linked arms to prevent
dispossession, yet again.
We celebrate Corroboree 2000
hundreds of thousands of people
black and white together
march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
but how far have we come when
Treaty is still a dream
Mandatory sentencing a reality
Black deaths in custody a shame
Government statistics used to deny
the devastating generational horror
of the Stolen Children!
Despite historical misinformation
and the cultural exclusiveness
of our education system
we cannot say we did not know!
We must be honest and admit
we didn’t care enough to seek the truth
confront the injustice
move out of our comfort zone…
It is a new century
we have a second chance
to right past wrongs
resolve to move forward
all contributions important – so
write a letter of protest
challenge a racist remark
invite Aboriginal speakers
to address schools and clubs
one nation honouring
the First People of this land
This our land.
It has been two weeks since my last post, but considering the hive of activity online with free courses, art-related and celebrity freebies, newspapers and journals unlocking paywalls, plus the constant news updates about the coronavirus, I doubt anyone has missed my jottings!
We also had Mother’s Day last weekend, which I enjoyed even if the movie and treats shared via ZOOM on the day because stage three lockdown still operated and Anne couldn’t visit.
The girls and I fangirls of the Victorian Premier who has shown impressive leadership through the COVID-19 crisis.
I have a feeling this will be a favourite number played in every pub/club in Melbourne when Victorians can truly ‘get on the beers‘ and socialise guilt-free!
(My preferred tipple is cider and here I am enjoying one after a day gardening…)
I know I’m not alone in receiving more parcel deliveries during the pandemic than in recent years. The service convenient, especially online grocery shopping, which I’ve found excellent.
If you can’t go out shopping safely, how wonderful to receive deliveries. I’ve loved receiving real mail in the mailbox other than bills, real estate ads and donation-seeking charity blurbs.
Good Things Come In Small & Big Packages
Students from past classes have posted lovely cards and letters asking after my welfare, and my incredible friend, Lisa, sent me a gorgeous box of super healthy fruit!
My sister knitted a Rabbie Burns doll (oh, if I could write like him!) and I’m enjoying the beautiful indoor plant and excellent read (a biography of NZ PM) from the girls and looking forward to next weekend when Anne visits and we’ll play a new board game.
Another dear friend, Lesley dropped off flowers to plant after her husband, Ian did some culling.
A day in the garden aroused Josie’s interest and jealousy. She spent the next three days digging up the cuttings one by one!
Lesley assures me there are more cuttings on the way…
I take every opportunity to laugh these days because, despite the worst-case scenarios not eventuating in Victoria and being a glass-half-full person, there have been days when anxiety about the present and the future has been almost overwhelming.
We will not forget the year 2020
Coronavirus stories will see to that
pandemic panic and widespread crying
no country free from the sick and dying
people forced to isolate and quarantine
practise social distancing
whether pauper or queen…
Wildlife too, adjusted behaviour
we will not forget the year 2020
many relationships shape-shifted
the Earth a pandemic was gifted…
Wildlife’s observations during isolation
would make any book they published
a headline grabber and selling sensation!
Life as I knew it will return in some form but until then…
A chat with Mary Jane, or a phone call or FaceTime with Anne or a friend always helps calm anxiety, but the best antidote is a lengthy daily walk with Josie, a companion like no other – her unconditional love brightens the day.
When the time suits, I’ll be out walking Josie without creating a schedule.
Whether the weather is the cliched ‘rain, hail or shine’, dressed appropriately I walk the dog – or rather Josie walks me!
Josie loves Mordialloc too, and when we are heading to friend Jillian’s house she breaks into a trot.
Walking and inhaling the beauty of our surrounds – neighbourhood gardens, Mordi streets, the parks, the Creek, the foreshore area… restores soul and energy – and we both know it.
The sea breeze rustles trees, birds sing from branches, insects hum and water ripples – nature’s beautiful chimes announce all is right with the world.
Walking is calming and observing details to write about helps me focus on anything but the troubles the world faces.
If confined to stay at home with no outside stimulation, I would retreat more often to the computer not doing anything productive. Crosswords and games online or scouring Internet articles interesting but not riveting or remotely relevant to current creative projects.
I’ve discovered I can spend the day doing absolutely nothing but going around in circles – literally hearing mum’s voice when she lamented, “I can’t get out of my own road.”
I often think of Mum’s little sayings and they make perfect sense!
I know other friends have shared this experience – truly a sign of these times we are living through. Crises take effort to adjust despite the many ads about the pandemic proclaiming; we are all in this together – it is a shared global experience.
Hopefully, witnessing the effect on other countries, everyone will be more aware of how precious and fragile life on Earth is and the urgent need to address the effects of climate change and inequity – pressing issues BEFORE the pandemic.
The latest news from the USA is not surprising, showing it is the poor who suffer the most in a pandemic. The article refers to New York, but it is a similar story throughout the world – we may all be going through the same storm but are definitely not in the same boat!
I hope when the worst of the pandemic is over there is more effort to ensure sustainability and a healthy world for all living creatures wherever their home may be.
‘How has your day been?‘
This is a daily question from Anne as she checks in on me.
If it wasn’t for the reflections and little ‘happenings’ from walking, I’m not sure our conversation would last long.
I don’t practice formal mindfulness, but when I walk with Josie, I find this is a time of peace and meditation. A time to focus on anything other than problems or worries.
Most days it is answering emails, sorting through old papers or photographs, cooking the dinner, trying out a cake or biscuit recipe, editing a short story or poem, weeding the garden, washing clothes… jumping from one task to another, no rhyme or reason…
Did I achieve or finish anything?
Does it matter?
There is pleasure in the hours of walking, observing, and greeting (from a distance) other dog walkers, friendly strangers, friends, and acquaintances not seen for a while!
People working from home or at home because they have lost their job walk for exercise and are more visible than when in their cars.
(A definite bonus of isolation is meeting people from the past. People I met when involved with Mordialloc Primary School, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and who attended writing workshops I’ve held.)
Like many people, during the first few weeks of COVID-19 crisis, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with the news – not only of how the pandemic was playing out in Australia but each gruesome detail of disastrous death tolls and the lockdowns in Asia, Europe, UK and USA.
I soon discovered the day much better if I limited the news source to one or two outlets, only once a day or even news-free days.
My daughters agree:
‘Think of your blood pressure Mum’
‘You’re dealing with cancer – one crisis at a time’
‘Let us worry about that – we’ll do the shopping’
… and true to their word, I don’t have to go anywhere except for medical visits and exercise – the latter entails gardening and walking the dog.
Safe and contactless living!
Friends and family I haven’t been able to connect with face to face have stayed connected over the Internet and by phone. The severe social consequences some have suffered because of isolation hasn’t happened to me.
The change in circumstances has made me think more deeply from the perspective of those with disabilities or illness who always have a limited connection with the outside world and must rely entirely on carers.
Let’s hope some creative ways ZOOM and similar programs have been used to provide services will remain and give access to a richer day to those permanently socially distanced!
My walks alternate between Mordialloc Creek and McDonald Street football oval and surrounds plus wandering around the suburban streets.
Joyful as this is, I know Josie will be beside herself when we return to the off-leash dog park and she catches up with other dogs en masse. Dogs are pack animals and not overly enamoured with social distancing.
Josie loves to chase and fetch. When off-leash, she’ll be able to exercise her full potential running after balls thrown from the special holder we have to turn the ball into a long-distance missile.
Seasons Don’t Recognise Pandemics
The change from summer to autumn in the gardens has been delightful to watch. Gardens seem to have been a riot of colour this year and people have worked hard transforming their gardens or homes with imagination.
A house where a couple created a beautiful Japanese-type garden is now up for lease – maybe it is their retirement income. Kudos to them both for putting so much effort into a garden for others to enjoy. Josie and I enjoyed our daily chats and seeing the shrubs, pavers and water feature being installed.
I’ve watched a house around the corner being built and Josie has loved the attention from the tradies.
It has been pleasant to have so few cars parked in the street because of fewer commuters and no U3A classes in the Allan McLean Hall at the end of the street.
Lockdown rules changed after Mother’s Day, allowing small gatherings, businesses and workplaces to open if they can manage the social distancing guidelines. People are visiting friends and family and larger groups play or exercise in the parks or practise sport.
People are resilient, small businesses often adapt – I spotted this van in Albert Street.
But people are hurting and the local Presbyterian church recognises this and has set up a community pantry.
However, not a lot has changed in my little bubble but then apart from the dramatic decrease in traffic and more people walking and chalked pavements from kids being schooled at home, not much seemed to change in Mordialloc at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.
We are a coastal suburb with plenty of open space and I have been steering clear of busy shopping centres since Christmas because of poor health. Other suburbs will have their unique experiences.
Now to writing:
Where do you go for serenity?
This is something to reflect on and write about – it might be helpful to first record where you goor what you usually do to ease anxiety.
If yoga class is something you do, or dancing or working out at the gym many of these now have classes online you may have joined.
You may favour a room, a church, a friend’s house, or a special tree in your garden.
Or perhaps you indulge in an activity like writing or walking… maybe sewing or cooking…
Your serenity place or activity may be difficult to substitute during the lockdown, or you might have found it easy to adapt.
Do you have a special place you visit only once or twice a year? A place that may hold a strong emotional attachment or memory? Writing about it may help capture the calmness and peacefulness the place represents.
Perhaps there is there an activity or place in your daily routine easily adapted to isolation rules.
Here are more writing suggestions:
Imagine yourself where you find serenity. Why are you there? Has something prompted the visit?
Describe your serenity setting.
Compare at least two visits to your serenity place.
What happens when this place disturbed, or no longer available, or your plans must change?
Do you have an alternative?
Write a poem inspired by the word serenity.
What is the opposite of serenity for you? Is there one particular time that stands out?
Write about how you unwind or handle anxiety – this may have changed over the years.
List the various ways you are meeting the challenge of isolation and practising social-distancing.
Did you ever consider ‘stress’ before it became a much talked about ‘modern’ disease?
(When I recorded the history of our local primary school in Mordialloc on its 125th anniversary, I interviewed many past students and staff. I’ve never forgotten a woman who attended the school during the depression years of the 1930s and coped through the war years commenting, ‘ No one had stress then – we just got on with life.’)
Reflect on the lives of your parents and grandparents. Do you think they suffered stress – even if they didn’t call it that?
Do you know how they dealt with the tough periods of their lives? Were the pace of life and the responsibilities they had really that different from nowadays? If so – how?
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
We advise athletes to perform warm-up routines before playing a sport, musicians and singers use warm-up exercises too, and in writing class, prompts and creative writing exercises loosen your imagination while honing your writing muscles.
Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
In Class, We Splurge!
The goal of the prompts is to encourage clear, lively writing. Encourage the use of specific images, well-chosen verbs and precise nouns, “showing rather than telling” and to avoid clichés.
To achieve this ideal takes practice, practice, practice!
The exercises are often more fun in a class, or with two or more people, but doing them alone and at home is fun too.
If, while writing, you’re at a loss how to continue writing consider the five senses (sight,sound, smell, touch, taste); or shift your perspective from high to low (what’s happening in the sky or the floor above or underground, under the sea, in a cellar…), from close to far away; or consider the journalist’s five questions—who, what, when, where, why.
Choose a prompt – and remember, you can take as little of the prompt as you want – one word or the memory or idea it evokes…
Weigh a few possibilities (brainstorm, mind map, outline, list)
Write without interruption for 12-15 minutes. (Use an oven timer or the stopwatch facility on your mobile)
Be surprised at what comes up and continue to write… and remember, you can always change your mind and choose a different prompt. At home, you are teacher, student, writer and reader.
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
Variety The Spice of Imagination
First lines, ideas for beginnings:
It was no ordinary date…
It was no ordinary house…
She was no ordinary babysitter…
‘Look, I didn’t want to be a refugee.’
‘Three things happened this morning but only one changed my life.’
‘Welcome aboard,’ said the captain, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes.’
Describe a first – why is it memorable?:
Your first kiss, first car, the first job
Your first pet (kitten/puppy/ rabbit/bird, lizard…)
Your first child, first grandchild, first sibling
Your first day of school, your first day of university
Your first night in a bed by yourself or away from home
Fibs, Excuses, Embellishments, Wishful Thinking …
The dog ate my homework.
She said, ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ but I knew she was lying.
The weekly horoscope said 5 and 8 were my lucky numbers.
I was here the whole time, you just didn’t see me.
The alarm didn’t go off.
He was in the supermarket too. It can’t be a coincidence.
Quotes To Inspire A Reflection, Prose or Poem… Write Your Truth, Your Experience, Your Pleasure, To Know More,
The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. ~ Neil Gaiman
Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come the most unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~ Francis Bacon
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. ~ Anais Nin
I write for myself things that I’ve gone through. ~ Dolly Parton
Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The keyword is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for. ~ Ray Bradbury
Usually, I walk and think about things. When I come across a thought that makes me laugh, I write it down. ~Demetri Martin
Writing a story… is simply an exploration of the nature of behaviour: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. ~ Lois Lowry
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. ~ Joan Didion
I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
Choose three prompts from the suggestions above or write whatever thoughts they triggered… look at the challenge as an exercise to warm-up the process, one for ‘homework’ and one to move out of your comfort zone and instil a passion for writing!
Here are three efforts from me triggered by prompts and written in class during a splurge:
Try the following exercise frequently to hone your writing skills:
Create a short story that is 26 sentences long, each sentence beginning with the letters of the alphabet starting with A and continuing to Z.
Add other, arbitrary conditions, such as a sentence should be only one word; there should be one question mark, one quotation, there has to be a definite beginning, middle and end – no loose anecdotes or ramblings. There must be a story, not just a stream of consciousness!
Rigid rules often produce fascinating results—such as with well-written sonnets, which have 14 lines and tight rhyme schemes, each line governed by a specific number of syllables and alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.
Apply some form and rigid rules to your stories and see if that makes writing – and finishing – easier.
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Make time in your schedule for writing.
When you sit down to write, don’t be afraid of how it will come out.
Take pleasure in exercising your imagination and writing.
Always celebrate the work you’ve done, no matter the result. Having shown up and done the work, kept to a plan or deadline is an accomplishment. Share here or email it to a friend or send it off to a competition – be brave:)
Trust that you’re making progress, a little at a time, day by day – and have fun!
It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.
For over a month now, every state in Australia has been in some form of lockdown and the measures taken by various levels of government appear to have worked. Unlike other parts of the world, we have successfully flattened the curve quickly and some states are looking at some relief from isolation by relaxing social distancing advice.
However, in Australia people have died and lives of many changed forever.
Each day there are still fresh cases of coronavirus reported, but nowhere near the numbers other countries are recording. Social distancing and quarantining appear to have worked because most of the population have respected the need for and obeyed the rules and the various public health messages.
In my little corner of Mordialloc, it has been strange–and very pleasant–to see less traffic and few parked cars. People are going on family walks, strolling in pairs or singly, entire families take the dog for a walk! Children play in the street, and chalk rainbows, love hearts, and well wishes.
All of this reminiscent of my childhood in the 50s (Scotland) and 60s (Australia).
Friends in other places have similar observations with a friend in Aberdeen who walks several miles a day through the lovely countryside of Inverurie, commenting when she rang me that the lack of cars has meant less pollution. She only washes her hair every few days rather than daily and no ‘black muck’ appears in the water!
A Time of Reflection
The last few weeks I’ve put up posts with ideas and prompts to help people who want to write or who have been writing but can’t go to classes or their usual groups because of COVID-19.
For some people writing will be a fill-in hobby, others may dream of a novel or collection of short stories sitting in a bookshop window.
There will be people writing life stories or a memoir which is a slice of their life, perhaps family history or researching for a school project or essay.
Feedback suggests the posts have been helpful but now as we near a ‘new normal’, perhaps it is time to record the experiences you’ve had over this period. You can incorporate them in a poem or short story or journal about them – but leaving some record for future generations is helpful – create a time capsule if you will…
People will look for historical records about the pandemic, just as we’ve seen plenty of articles about the 1918 Flu Epidemic, the Ebola and SARS outbreaks and even the Bubonic Plague.
“If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages.”
List what you have been doing to cope
How is it different from life before lockdown and social distancing
Make note of what you like and what you don’t like about isolation – I know some people have already made resolutions to value friendship and family more, live with less material things, value the environment more…
Ponder how your life has changed and whether any behaviours or activities will remain even once free of lockdown restrictions
This is a monumental period in history – global pandemics do not happen that often!
You may have experienced personal tragedy but also joy, or have knowledge of someone whose journey has differed from yours.
Have you made recent friends, lost established friends, or discovered qualities such as strengths or failings in people, whether family members or in the community?
What new skills have you learned?
What old skills have you revived?
Has your opinion of technology changed? Have you improved/increased your use of technology or do you regret your lack of knowledge?
How is homeschooling or working from home actually working out?
Have you received or sent parcels? What were the contents? How did the experience work out?
Are you a hoarder, panic buyer or did you manage to go without those items in much demand like toilet paper, flour, pasta and rice.
Did your use of social media increase, decrease, what you shared change?
Did you join any new online groups?
Have you ‘hit the wall’ yet – how are your anxiety levels?
Are You More Present in Your Life?
Rich sensory experiences surround us daily — IF we take the time to observe and as writers note them down.
Become a keen observer and recorder of the sensory intricacies of life. Make it a habit to jot down your observances in a journal or snap a photo to remind you of the weather, the season, the unusual occurrence… on my daily walks with Josie, I take at least one photograph of something interesting or new I notice – a cloud formation or blossoming flower.
Sometimes these changes are close to home – like this Yucca plant of mine that has flowered for the first time in nearly a decade! And the interesting fungi in the front garden – in fact fungi seems to mushroom all over Mordialloc – or maybe I’m just noticing it more.
Or these pigeons sitting in a bird bath – can you imagine the conversation? The one in my garden annoys the lorikeets but loves feeding on the seeds they spit out, and the ones on the deserted footy oval are excellent at social distancing.
What stories can you make up?
Have the parcel postman or couriers visited more than usual?
Contactless deliveries can bring surprises – write the story behind the parcels:
I haven’t seen my daughter, Anne, for weeks because of COVID-19 restrictions and miss her. I know she misses me and her sister but also misses Josie, our Kelpie/Staffy Cross who gives us so much pleasure. She has earned this certificate made by number two daughter, Mary Jane:
She got a special delivery from Anne to celebrate her first year with us. Josie was a rescue dogbut with the Pet Circle parcel became a lucky dog!
I received a parcel to learn pottery, a gift that gives twice because the arts and crafts have suffered from the economic shutdown and this helps to keep a small workshop viable.
One of my sisters sent me a knitted version of my favourite poet Rabbie Burns – knitting her forte but new projects helping her cope with being stuck more inside than usual and of showing she is thinking of family.
The picture of the praying mantis snapped by me after my daughter told me we had a visitor at the door!
Small delights happen every day and we mustn’t forget to notice and appreciate them and let our imagination roam.
Devote some time to dwell on daydreams. They are spontaneous messages from our subconscious. Not everyone has a daydream-friendly mind. In fact, some people have been taught to repress daydreams as mere distractions.
As writers, however, we should not only welcome daydreams but train ourselves to be aware of them. In fact, the core of most of my novels has come from daydreams. Daydreams are our primal storyteller at work, sending us scenes and topics that our imagination or subconscious wants us to investigate.
Each day, we should devote time (I usually do this before sleeping) to reviewing our daydreams and determining which of them insists on being turned into a story. Don’t push away those daydreams that make you uncomfortable: The more shocking the daydream, the more truthful about us it is. Embrace that truth.
Have Your Rituals Changed?
I’m retired from teaching at the moment – the return of breast cancer and arrival of coronavirus a perfect storm.
My morning ritual of observing the visiting lorikeets goes on for an extended period now and I never tire watching them come and go to feed at other times of the day or enjoying each other’s company in the bottlebrush outside my bedroom window.
Do you have a morning ritual? Has it changed recently like mine has?
Are you doing more cooking? Experimenting? There was a shortage of flour, eggs, sugar – in fact, lots of items disappeared from supermarket shelves in panic buying sprees. This made for some creative recipes being shared on social media.
This variation of Anzac biscuits is a healthier alternative to traditional Anzacs and results in a dark, slightly chewy variety of the biscuit. We understand some ingredients may be difficult to find in supermarkets at present. You could try your local health food shop, otherwise use the substitutes listed under ‘Ingredients’. You’ll still be getting the low-GI goodness of rolled oats.
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut or shredded coconut
¾ cup coconut sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Substitutions (which I used)
Swap the wholemeal spelt flour for plain or wholemeal flour
Swap the coconut sugar for white sugar
Swap the maple syrup for golden syrup
Method:Preheat oven to 160°C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, coconut and coconut sugar.
In a small saucepan, stir the butter and maple syrup over medium heat until butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Take off the heat. Stir the bicarbonate of soda with the water and add to butter and maple syrup.
Add to the oat mixture and stir well to combine.
Roll level tablespoons of the mixture into balls and flatten.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
Nutritional Info: Our knowledge of nutrition has progressed somewhat since World War II. We now know that we need to eat more whole-foods and less processed foods. While these biscuits are still a sweet treat, the maple syrup is far less processed than golden syrup traditionally used in Anzac biscuits. Coconut sugar is a lower GI alternative compared to white sugar and provides small amounts of nutrients not found in white sugar. The goodness of rolled oats, an excellent source of beta-glucan soluble fibre that helps to reduce cholesterol; combined with wholemeal spelt flour, provides healthy whole grains to balance out the sweetness.
Has technology been Your Friend or Foe?
I’m lucky because I’ve kept abreast of many of the changes in technology and my computer literacy and competency better than others in my age group. Both my daughters are highly skilled with technology so they fill any gaps exposed when dealing with this catastrophic virus.
I downloaded and have now used ZOOM several times. The first time there were minor glitches but subsequently, there have been no problems.
Courtesy of the Health Issues Centre, I’ve heard medical experts and local consumer health reps discuss the current crisis and offer opinions, ideas and suggestions to the government.
Courtesy of the Australia Institute, I’ve listened to economic experts and been able to ask questions of them, including the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers MP and hope to take part in other sessions with Media, Environmental and Arts representatives.
Courtesy of the trade union movement, I’ve taken part in sessions with the first woman ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus and the first woman General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow.
Many organisations are organising online discussions and hoping for feedback from as many ordinary Australians as possible. This is an unusual time and who knows how much more difficult life will become after the health crisis eases and we must face a devastating economic crisis.
Stay informed, raise your voice, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
My daughters have used ZOOM and other platforms to catch up with friends all over Australia and internationally, and many people rely on similar software while working from home.
We have had trivia and movie nights and I love hearing the laughter when a group of them get together but I know many people are not so fortunate.
What have been your experiences with technology? Do you have a disaster or comical story? Do you use Face Time on Messenger?
What type of social media helps you stay in touch with those you can’t visit? Or do you prefer a phonecall, text and email?
Here is a piece of flash fiction inspired by a sound (I mentioned incorporating sound in a previous post). The setting is in the 1930s when the world went through the Great Depression – yes; we have survived economic crises before too. Night Terror by Mairi Neil, flash fiction.
But to end on a funny note involving current times and technology, here is another Facebook meme doing the rounds.
Two days ago we experienced the coldest April day on record in Melbourne.
Today is definitely wintry – stay safe inside, stay well and stay strong – and scratch that pen or tap the keyboard. If all ideas fail, you can do what people normally do when they get together – but write don’t talk about the weather!
Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood – you will either write or you will not – and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.
In life, we use five senses and if a writer, we should also use them in our writing to allow the readers to experience poems and prose on all levels.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about other senses and today I’ll concentrate on the sounds in the real world and the world you create when writing.
We are farewelling autumn in Melbourne and because of the COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing, there were some traditional sounds missing from Melburnian lives – minimum playing in parks and on beaches, football and other sporting games cancelled and the annual ANZAC Day celebrations and accompanying parades didn’t happen – although we did light up the dawn…
Autumn Mairi Neil
Autumn… the clocks change
a time to enjoy
an extra hour
snuggled beneath the doona
Autumn… walks in the park
crunching leaves underfoot
a season with warm days
pretending summer still around
Autumn… vibrant flowers
a time of colourful
rainbows dropping from trees
playing peek-a-boo through fences
Autumn… a season to pause
contemplate winter’s chill
prepare body and soul
with warming soups and good books
Autumn… a time of contemplation
The Easter story and ANZAC
Love and Hope the best human qualities
Write about the sounds of your autumn – before coronavirus and what you have experienced recently. What daily sounds do you notice in isolation?
Extend your thoughts and think of a sound that isn’t around anymore: the click of typewriter keys, the tone that played during the test pattern on 1950s TVs, the brrrring of your portable alarm clock, the sound of the dial turning on a telephone, the theme of an old TV or radio program, the sound of a former pet’s paws on the hardwood floor, the sound of the doorbell of a house you used to live in, a steam train’s whistle, the clink of milk bottles…
… What memories do those sounds conjure up?What rooms, people, neighbourhoods and workplaces do you see in your imagination?
Remember the starting handles for cars? Remember, an overheated radiator often spoiled trips in the summer, or cars refusing to start in winter?
Did the roar of a neighbour’s motorbike wake you up, or did they have a Holden V8? What about church bells ringing, a grandfather clock striking? Someone practising a musical instrument (bagpipes/drums), off-key singing – an acoustic versus electric guitar? The tap of dance shoes or a walking stick, the squeak of a pram or wheelchair?
What sounds do you hear now?
does a tree mulcher or leaf blower shatter your peace?
perhaps a chainsaw cutting trees down
how noisy are the garbage men? Do you remember the days of chasing your bin lids down the street?
do neighbours have hens – a rooster? Or perhaps a pig?
what about someone learning a musical instrument?
did you ever stop and listen while someone played a street piano, a busker played their fiddle or guitar?
Sounds of Albert Street Mairi Neil
In the morning, at dawn break
in a dreamlike state
to sounds that jar
electric train whistle
whine of car, after car…
a distant noticeable rumble
the roar of the sea
as white caps tumble…
I picture huge waves crashing
spewing debris ashore
against pier and rocks splashing –
on the street, horses make
a constant clip-clop
as daily exercise take…
familiar daily tapping
announced in suburbia
by family dogs yapping.
a dawn chorus will sing
curlews, starlings, magpies
twittering, cawing, whistling
blackbirds, seagulls and crows
dewy feathers a-glistening
If you are writing a memoir or a historical story or novel, pay a visit to your local museum for research. If you’re lucky, there will be firsthand accounts and exhibits of household and workplace equipment and tools to remind you to include authentic descriptions and sounds.
Spend some time brainstorming a list of descriptive words that you can refer to when needing inspiration. Continually add to your list, expanding memories and categories as they evolve. Your list could look like this:
the soft sound of someone breathing or harsh gasp of breath
buzz of a chainsaw (or bees)
drone of an aircraft or car
bark, yap, yelp, howl of a dog – think of other animals noises
rumble of thunder, wheels on concrete – an empty stomach, that can also grumble
rustle of leaves, bushes, trees, pages of a book
gurgle of a drain, water in a hose, water down the plughole
the wail of a child, or laugh and giggle
quiet as midnight, the hush of morning, the silence of sadness….
Writing Exercise 1:
Choose any of these images, think of the sounds you will hear if you are also in the picture. Write a story or poem, or memory.
Writing Exercise 2:
Extend one or all of these sentences to make the situation real – pick any genre, add a character, theme and plot – or write a poem. (Team it up with one of the images on this post perhaps?)
The kitten MIAOWED when I left for work.
The puppy BARKED when I left for my jog/to go shopping.
The tree branches SWAYED in the wind.
The cursor MOVES across the computer screen.
The clock TICK-TOCKED in the kitchen.
Sounds for excitement or pizazz
In a piece of writing, a sentence including descriptions of noises creates a strong atmosphere. It rouses the reader’s excitement.
Sound unrelated to the action but characterise the place is perfect for creating atmosphere. You can combine several sounds in a single sentence:
An empty beer can clattered along the pavement
Keyboards clacked, papers rustled, and printers whirred
Upstairs a toilet flushed and water gurgled down the drainpipe
Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning flashed
Washing machines sloshed, driers rumbled and coins rattled into slots
Motors whined, and tyres screeched on the tarmac
Hooves clattered on the cobblestones below
The train sped up with a low growl that rose to a high whine within moments
Thunder roared, and raindrops hammered against the glass
The fire in the grate crackled and red gum logs hissed and popped
the engine throbbed as the waves slapped the side of the boat
ice clinked in the glass as Bond poured her a martini
Writing Background Noise
You can insert a sentence about background noises in any part of the scene where it makes sense. For example:
The point of view character is waiting (for a job interview, a medical appointment, a rescue, an execution, an exam…) what do they hear? Inside and/or outside noises?
A character pauses or delays replying. A sentence like this implies the pause and is more interesting than ‘he paused’ or ‘she hesitated’… what can fill the silence?
To emphasise an exciting moment. Is there a clap of thunder, applause, a balloon popping, laughter…?
To further raise the tension in a suspenseful situation, insert a sentence about background noise the moment the reader holds his/her breath.
When the setting is dark (at night, or in a cellar), sprinkle sounds throughout the scene to add to the mood suspense, to ground the reader.
Here are two different pieces of short fiction including background and action sounds:
The sounds mentioned above may inspire you; think about the examples shown and write a scene with background noises to create a realistic scene and draw the reader in.
Whenever characters do something – walk, work, fight or rest – their actions, even if in a small setting, will create a link between the action and the setting.
Emphasise this link, especially if you want the reader to become immersed in the story. The best way to do this is by describing the sounds arising from the characters’ interaction with the environment.
She ran out, banging the door behind her.
The door slammed shut behind her.
Here are some other examples:
The door screeched on its hinges
I sank into the armchair, and the cushion wheezed.
The seat squeaked under his weight.
Stairs creaked as she retired to bed.
Gravel crunched under their feet.
The wheeled suitcase rattled across cracked paving-slabs.
The light plane trundled over the patched tarmac.
The windshield wipers scraped the glass.
The grandfather clock chimed midnight.
The lift shook and grunted to a stop.
His breath rasped as he scraped the mud off his boots.
The car keys jangled in the air as he tempted her to go for a drive.
Writing Exercise 4:
Use some above examples to write a story or poem, or perhaps a memory, or let the following images inspire you:
When I visited London in 2017, Big Ben was under renovation, but it still worked.
International tourists cluster beneath Melbourne Central’s famous musical clock as it opens up to reveal Australia’s famous birds
Have you seen or heard any other famous clocks?
What about the clock at Melbourne’s National Art Gallery – what would it feel like to be trapped in a time warp, or trapped inside a clock?
There are famous bells like this ship’s bell in Shetland and the one aboard the Rainbow Warrior – exciting tales of shipwrecks and rescues make a great story with plenty of sounds of the sea and storms:
Sound – the waves crashed on the rocks, the gulls screaming above. Sight – the heavy, grey rocks look as if they will slide into the leaden sea. Touch -the wind lifts my hair and sudden gusts sting my face. Taste – the spray from the waves leave salt on my lips
Do you have a travel tale? A character who goes on a spiritual journey?
There are pictures of churches and temples and tourist attractions to inspire imagination or memory –
Home Delivery of Milk
Sometimes photos remind us of how sex-segregated occupations were in years past. When I was young, librarians were primarily female and milk was delivered by males. Many streets had a post where the horse-drawn milk delivery cart could be tied up.
When I migrated to Croydon in 1962 there was still a horse trough in the main street. And in Mordialloc in the 80s there was one outside Davis’ Laundry in Bear Street. (horse trough and laundry both gone)
The horse always knew where to stop on the route and wait until the milkman delivered the bottles. When I arrived in Australia as a nine-year-old, I thought it was wonderful to have a horse and cart bring the milk and often cadged a ride from the milkman.
Did you ever talk to the milkman or his horse? Feed it? Collect the manure for the garden? Describe a scene you remember including sounds, smells, taste.
Was milk delivered to your home when you were young? If so, did the milkman bring any other items? Can you remember a coalman, firewood being delivered, soft drink (Loys), the iceman? Did you have a refrigerator or an icebox?
Great grandparents may have kept the milk cool in a small stream that ran across their property, or in a bath of cold water. Write about your childhood memories of home deliveries of milk and possibly other groceries.
How often were the deliveries? Daily? Can you remember when deliveries stopped – how did you or your parents feel? Were you over-awed at the first supermarket visit? Were you friendly with the milk bar or corner shop owners?
Have you had home deliveries during the lockdown?How different was that experience from earlier days? Can you imagine home deliveries for a range of goods resuming by drone??
What things are better left in the past and what’s your ideal future?
In the mornings, when the light of day is breaking do you imagine you can still hear the sound of glass milk bottles in wire baskets heading to your front door?
Did you go to the local dairy and get milk and bottles of cream in glass jars?
Reflect on how the way you shop and what you shop for has changed – emphasising sound.
Here is a Facebook meme that made me smile because I still have one of these by my bedside!
Writers describe a sound when the situation draws attention to it – a door creaks, so your protagonist turns her head. They can also use a sound for effect – to get on the reader’s nerves, to alarm or relax them. The soothing babble of a little brook is comforting but the shrieking sound of nails scratching over a chalkboard, the exact opposite.
Has a sudden or particular sound frightened you? Acoustic shock effects are deeply ingrained in most readers. The sudden uproar of a roaring chainsaw is frightening enough, but if it is wielded by a madman bent on murder, you’ve got your shock value!
Nowadays, if writing sci-fi you’d be describing the noise of lightsabers!
Good writers use all the senses to give readers a multi-dimensional experience. Using the senses evokes feelings and responses in the reader.
Senses like sight, sound, and smell can also build tension.
When you’re writing, think about using all the senses to allow your readers to immerse themselves in the world and lives of the characters. Try to incorporate these into your writing.
The most engrossing books are the ones that draw us into their world and evoke many sensations and emotions.
The reader doesn’t just experience what the main character can see. Using sounds and smells can evoke pain and fear.
Great writers make our mouths water as we read about sumptuous feasts, gasp as the main character touches something that they’re not supposed to and grimace when they taste a bitter berry that could be poisonous.
Write a little every day, without hope and without despair.