A presenter at an education conference I attended last month asked this question of the room full of representatives from Neighbourhood Houses and community-based Learn Locals – the sector I have worked and volunteered in for over two decades.
‘WHY’ is such an important question to ask and often the hardest to answer – just ask any parent of a young child!
It is a basic part of human nature to be curious and young children are programmed to ask countless questions as they learn about the world, regardless of whether the answer is easy or esoteric.
Later, in adolescence, the ‘why’ or perhaps a ‘why not’ becomes more a challenge to authority than general inquisitiveness – and giving answers even harder!
The education conference was titled “TOWARDS SMART AND SUSTAINABLE ADULT & COMMUNITY EDUCATION” and organised by Adult and Community Education Victoria. (ACE Vic)
The Topics Explored
Looking at smarter ways to work that create flexible and viable options for not-for-profits.
How community education & training can continue to be a critical part of the Victorian educational environment.
The sharing of models with future ideas and practice in engaging and holding learners.
What it means to be a sustainable community organisation. This includes focusing on strategy, strategic business development, the learner-centric positioning of the organisation in a competitive marketplace
How you can expand your contacts and networks, capture ideas & opportunities, and improve your market intelligence.
I was one of the few teachers at the conference – most attendees were managers and administrative staff so I was out of my comfort zone – again.
We were challenged to articulate why we do what we do…
Sinek wrote the book “Start with Why” and his premise is not the “what” that motivates us to jump out of bed in the mornings, it is the “why.”
In 2009, Simon Sinek started a movement to help people become more inspired at work, and in turn, inspire their colleagues and customers. Since then, millions have been touched by the power of his ideas, including more than 28 million who’ve watched his TED Talk based on START WITH WHY — the third most popular TED video of all time. Sinek starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over? People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it. START WITH WHY shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.
Most people agreed that it is not the “what” that drives us to give great service and try and excel, but the “why.”
And losing sight of your “why” is destined to make you an average or poor performer, probably unhappy, and not where you want to be.
Each table in the room was asked to discuss
what we do,
how we do it, and more importantly
why we do it!
The presenter had Powerpoint and we had the ubiquitous large piece of paper and pens to record ideas.
I shared a table with representatives from Echuca, Ararat, Beaufort, Yarraville, Footscray, Bacchus Marsh, and Ballarat. Although the sector is female dominated, we had a few males and there was a range in age in the group too. Diversity important.
Firstly, we made sure we were clear on
What we do:
we provide a safe space to learn, grow and build
we build a community
we create community connectedness
Then we moved on to –
Why do we do it?
Because we love and value people and community
Because we want to educate the community
Because we believe everyone has a right to education to lead a better life
Because we believe everyone deserves a chance and we can help them to be happy if they join our family – we are about inclusion
To empower people – living our values – we want to share and let them enjoy our values
To provide an opportunity to people who often wouldn’t fit into any other educational system
To act and show our actions say to people ‘we love you and want to make you happy’
To provide a sense of direction and offer an opportunity to as many people as possible
To empower people to live a fuller life with access to education to suit their needs
For the community education sector this discussion and reflection on doing the valuable job we do
provides guiding principles as to what we do and how we do it
informs our clients of our reason for being.
determines our behaviour
reflects our values.
determines the sort of clients we will attract and deal with because they will share in our why
determines the sort of people who will work in the centres and continue to represent the sector
Understanding The Sector
We are not commercially based providers but community-based.
The sector is unique.
The sector is not a public provider like others, nor is it commercial. It is not for profit, but we can provide programs similar to TAFE.
The research has been done and the government will give support through quality partnerships so there can be no implication the standard at the community level is less than expected from the TAFE sector.
Adult community education provides
builds life skills, and
also gives people a second chance at education.
The community sector is a dynamic contribution to all of these reasons of why people enrol in courses or attend activities!
As a writing teacher, I know why I do what I do
Writers are continually told to remember the “W’s” – who, what, where, when and why…
If you want a story to be memorable and engaging getting the why right is a winner – a strong character needs motivation, reader’s demand a mystery or back story that explains the good and bad actions of the hero and villain as well as the current reasons for their actions and story conflict.
And so it is with a one-off workshop or a career teaching others to write –
We need to reflect and dig deep and answer honestly what inspires us and what motivates us so that we can not only give of our best but also be satisfied and happy ourselves.
Enthusiasm, passion and joy necessary to inspire others.
Understanding why we do what we do comes with deep reflection of self.
Awareness of what makes our heart beat.
What experiences/values in our lives lend an influence as to why we do the things we do.
Looking back I remember why I started to write and also teach writing.
( I always say I fell into the teaching career, but on reflection it was perhaps a natural progression from volunteering and establishing the Mordialloc Writers’ Group to teaching at Sandybeach Centre and then Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Godfrey Street Community House and Longbeach Place, Chelsea – a tiny ripple in a small pond.)
I was lucky to have the influence of some great teachers – one in particular Dr Norman Saffin (PhD in Literature). He taught me four HSC subjects in my last year at Croydon High School and instilled a love of history but also a confidence in my writing ability.
I had wonderful parents who nurtured a love of books and great writers. A book can change your life – never underestimate the power of story – you are never alone if you can read!
My father’s belief in socialism and my mother’s Christianity instilled a commitment to serving community and fighting for not only equality but equity. I can’t imagine a life that didn’t include being of service.
My Dad had a talent for creative writing and loved poetry – I can still hear his voice reciting Rabbie Burns. Dad always encouraged me to fulfil my dream of being a published writer – I suspect because if times were different that’s what he would have chosen to be.
Writing is as natural as breathing to me.
The joy I feel when I write keeps me alive – whether I share the words with others or not. I feel privileged to have been able to follow my heart – to see my words in print and to help others become published.
Next month the City of Kingston will be showcasing neighbourhood houses at the Arts Centre in Moorabbin, and people will have the opportunity to participate in a free writing creatively class as well as other activities.
Date& Venue: Monday 21 May at 1.30pm – 3.30pm Writing Creatively in Gallery 2.
Contact Rebekah Longbeach Place on 9776 1386
Come along and say hello to me – you never know you might discover that writing or another activity will decide or confirm why you get up in the morning!
Tuesday, a scarlet day, like a magnificent sunset
It’s a blushing woman, ‘Gone with the Wind’
It’s a juicy Victoria plum, dripping sweetness
It’s a burning bush, splashing golden sparks
It’s the last glass of claret, enriching palates
It’s a heated argument, getting out of hand
It’s a colicky baby, seeking comfort
We muse, we brainstorm, we mindmap
Writer’s block banished as we write.
This impressive quilt was just one of many on display at the Australasian Quilt Convention, held at the Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, April 5-8, 2018.
It is the largest dedicated quilt event in the southern hemisphere and again I used it as an opportunity to catch up with my “quilter” sister, Cate, who came down from interstate for the event, and our younger sister, Rita joined us.
The event is a wonderful celebration of creativity, craft, and community with international participation and recognition.
If you tell stories with a quilt (as many people do), express yourself through hand-crafted clothes and gifts, or adorn and decorate with embroidery, then the convention was the place to be. And, if the day we attended was anything to go by, the organisers will be thrilled with the numbers!
I’m writing this as President Trump and his allies, UK and France, are bombing Syria and so have chosen the above quilt to showcase first.
Each beautifully stitched panel expressing sentiments dear to my heart. If only quilters and writers had political power…
The quilt maker’s statement will resonate with others, I’m sure:
Every time I hear the news it is filled with atrocities and cruelty… it bruises my shadow. I want to tightly shut my eyes, like a young child wishing not to be seen, in the hope they do not exist… but they do. perhaps shining a light on it through the graffiti of tomorrow will prompt us to see… to discuss… to understand… and to bridge the chasm of disinterest and inaction. By adding one reasoned, empathetic voice to another we will steadily erode the borders between us and achieve what we seek and can earn… a Peaceful World.
What Do Borders & Bridges Mean To You?
This challenge was one of several given to quilters here and abroad and one Maria addressed.
Quilters from the USA also exhibited quilts responding to, and exploring, two fascinating opposites – Turmoil and Tranquility.
A group of South Australian textile artists explored the hashtag symbol. They interpreted the theme in textiles. “Originally, a typewriter key symbol for ‘number’, the hashtag is now widely used as a means of connecting targeted audiences on social media platforms.’ (Another ‘topical’ topic!)
The Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge, Dutch Gallery Tour, also came from the USA. The latest exhibit a predominantly blue swathe of exquisite quilts inspired by Vincent’s life, many of his artistic motifs, and even some fun play on titles and his name.
There was an exhibition Met In Melbourne, from eight Australian textile artists who had dinner at the AQC in 2016 and decided to create ‘pieces of/for 8’ – choosing to make quilt panels focusing on a concept of words ending in “ate” as their theme. (Grab your dictionary – concatenate, undulate, ameliorate, rotate, migrate, pomegranate, decorate and ornate.)
Like the variety of responses in writing class to prompts and triggers, the quilters didn’t disappoint. Their thought-provoking, inspirational, and brilliant interpretations, whether of word, theme, or concept absolutely delightful.
Another quilt maker asked, “Is this Paradise?”
I looked from the tour bus and saw them, Syrian refugees, huddled on a street in Athens, mattresses bundled under tarps. They all had a look of abject misery, here in a place barely able to support itself, let alone provide them with the future they had risked so much to find.
With this thought in my mind I scanned the Internet for more information about borders and bridges, there were so many stories of people crossing bridges and unmanned borders from war torn lands throughout all the world. Did any of them find their Paradise?
I liked quilt maker Jeannie Henry’s declaration that “Borders and bridges are artificial constructs created by man but ignored by nature.” Jeannie and a couple of other quilters used bridges bordering Victoria and NSW, or over the Murray River as subjects.
Linden Lancaster declares, ” I grew up in the border town of Echuca… spent many hours on the river – a scruffy, suntanned girl – swimming, fishing and riding my bike up and down the goofies with friends. Sometimes we would construct cubbies in the shadow of the bridge when the river was low. My first kiss was under that bridge, bridging childhood into adolescence. Forty years later, the painted graffiti of first crushes are still being proclaimed from the bridge pylons and framework.”
Shirley Drayton trips down memory lane too, ” The Echuca Moama Bridge… originally a road and rail bridge with the Fruit Fly Inspection a stone’s throw from the bridge, to stop the fruit from coming over the border from NSW, to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Mr Ron Hicks (my uncle) the fruit fly inspector… The cars had to stop and wait for the train to come across the bridge. Cattle were taken across for market day at approximately 6.00am, again cars had to wait until all stock and stockmen were completely across.”
How Writers can be Inspired
In my writing classes, particularly Life Stories at Godfrey Street, I’ve given Crossing Borders as a topic and ‘burning bridges’ – something most of us have done in our lives. However, many of the quilts focused on a sense of place, not just for the Borders & Bridges Challenge but even those addressing other themes.
“Place” (or setting) is a great writing topic to make a lesson around – not just for a memoir. A sense of, or focus on, a place can trigger all types of creative writing.
There were many fascinating interpretations of the Bridges & Borders topic. The quilts created were striking – geat for inspiring a writing class, especially poetry.
Topical issues, whimsy reflections, emotional reminiscing and gut-wrenching observations. Quilters love words too – some even incorporate them in quilts.
Marriage equality is the bridge across the heart of human love and understanding. Negative emotions and thoughts make up the sea of negativity that border this act of love.
Fear of or caused by sexual assault causes restrictions and confinements in lifestyle and thought. These borders are internalised, held within the model, stitched in text. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are exciting bridges, for the first time ever women are being heard and believed. The onus is starting to be on men to change – and not on women to curtail their lifestyle, to dress conservatively, to not provoke. Stitched into the background are words of empowerment and hope. This quilt can be hung either way up. the model in bridge pose or flying through the sky, free.
‘Bridge To Extinction’ highlights the conflict between humans and nature. Koalas create borders within their eucalypt habitat. Logging in Southeast Queensland forests shrinks these borders and threatens their survival. Using dyes, printed text, paint and stitch on fabric, I wanted to turn the dry words from the newspaper into imagery that couldn’t be ignored. As human ‘progress’ destroys its habitat, the koala escapes on a log bridge to wasteland. I reflect on the irony of providing koala bridge crossings whilst fragmenting the bushland that serves as their only food source and home.
…conceptually linked to the theme… by its very title. The borders are the empty husks of the gumnuts on the right, symbolising youth and as such empty of knowledge and the full, flowering gumnuts on the left, symbolise old age and being of wisdom and experience. The bridge is represented by the birds arching in full flight across the sky, connecting one side to the other and symbolising the flight of time between youth and old age. Leap from one side and trust that your own momentum shall carry you to the other side.
Kathryn Harmer Fox
P.T.S.D. is an insidious and debilitating disorder. Every part of your life is affected. Enduring workplace harassment and bullying led to devastating consequences for me. I was told to ‘build bridges and get over it’. Physically and mentally I was unable to cross the border from NSW to VIC for several years. My career was shattered. I learnt to mask emotions in order to function. Emotionally and creatively I felt dead for several years. the theme resonated immediately for me. The image flashed into my mind and stayed there. Creating it was cathartic. I am a survivor – speak up about bullying.
“Taken from a photograph of my daughter and granddaughter as they gaze out across the sand towardsthe open ocean. The sand is the border between land and sea. Mydaughter and granddaughter bridge the generations as they hold hands sharing the moment. They do this often in a silent communication of their shared love for the beach.”
A great display of heartfelt offerings with memorable and thoughtful designs produced by deft hands and artistic minds.
Van Gogh In Stitches
The Cherrywood Challenge was in Australia from the USA for the first time and the exhibit displayed textile art inspired by Van Gogh’s life and masterworks. It was an extensive tribute to the much-loved artist.
Participants from all over the world with 200 out of 450 entries selected. The quilts will travel throughout the world. Participants win fabric prizes, receive extensive exposure and have their work published in a book.
Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the Cherrywood Challenge and I think it is appealing to a younger audience than is usually associated with quilting. The next theme being Prince, the musician – cherrywoodfabricsbigcartel.com
Tradition Versus Technology
There were plenty of traditional quilts on display but I overheard a couple of older ladies lamenting the introduction of “too much technology” – for them hand stitching still the mark of a good quilter.
There may be some resistance to technology, a fear it is ‘overwhelming’ what many proudly boast as a craft were needlework and handmade were the keys to excellence.
Others were ecstatic about the new sewing machines, embroidery attachments, printers that process photographs and material, computerised design and stencil cutters and numerous other offerings from the stall holders, teachers and workshops at the convention.
The digital divide is everywhere – those that embrace and those that resist.
It may be a case of move over or adapt Baby Boomers if you don’t want the Millenials to needle you! Times change – and often for the better…
And in case you wonder where you fit in, here is a potted version of The Atlantic’s explanation – believe what you will:
Greatest Generation, 1930-1946 – they fought and many died in WW2 for ‘our freedom’.
Baby Boomers, 1946 – 1964 – freedom from fear because the war was over and relaxation of sexual mores means the name is self-explanatory.
Gen X, 1965 -1984 – because it fits a nice 20-year time span, spoiled, apparently they think they’re ‘cool’.
Gen Y, – mid-70s to mid-2000s – but considered a made-up generation, so really fake – skip to Millenials…
Millenials, 1982 -2004 – the digital natives who apparently want it all.
From a Baby Boomer With Millenial Daughters
I like traditional quilts and know how much time, effort, and expertise is involved – I’ve observed my sister and had many discussions with her and listened while she has explained in great depth the intricacies of various methods of applique, patchwork, dramatic designs, embroidery, paper-piercing and fussy cutting techniques.
However, she belongs to a quilting group that is open to new methods, technology and new ideas – caring, sharing and learning a great philosophy.
I have two creative daughters totally comfortable with new technology and pop culture.
Below is a minute selection of traditional quilts on display – there were even rows of the ‘Best in Australia” with award winners from every state.
I love the inclusion of non-traditional articles and adaptations. We met a young lass who loves cosplay. She was promoting sewing machines with attachments that did specific embroidery and lace effects.
Her anime costume a gorgeous pink layered dress with rabbit ears headgear. She wore the dress recently as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital at Easter and attends events and does other promotions when she has time.
The dress took several weeks to make and has over $400 worth of material. A marvellous example of dedication to popular culture using centuries-old crafts.
There were two other costumes on display – one a la Jane Austen and one from the Lord of The Rings.
While I was engrossed in reading the stories behind the quilts my sisters met up with a writer and academic who has just published a book Towns and Trailblazers.
Rita was particularly impressed with Jen Wulff ‘s research of local women from the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries, some renowned, others unknown.
‘Each trailblazer and her town have inspired a quilt block which combines to create an Australian inspired textile providing a tangible connection to places and the women remembered.’
The quilt blocks relate to the far North West coast, through to the Red Centre, across to the East Coast and down to Southern Tasmania. Short stories about the women, quilt templates and construction tips are included in the book, which Rita, bought.
Jen is a quilter too and ‘greatly values the lasting friendships made through local quilt groups and she hopes her recently published book increases awareness of both quilting and the role women had in shaping Australia.’
The Melbourne Exhibition ‘8’
“To link together, to unite in a series or chain.” Quilter Lee Vause drew inspiration from childhood games: Scrabble, Barrel of Monkeys, Snakes and Ladders and Twister.
Using thread and free motion stitching, quilter Raylene Richardson decorated face shapes emphasising different facial elements.
Showing wonderful use of texture and design and manipulation of materials, ‘Ornate’ is self-explanatory, but for ‘Migrate’ the quilter chose feathers and fish to represent the large migrations that occur in nature.
Our world is constantly turning, slowly spinning and rotating around the sun. Inspired by the marvels of the natural world Brenda Wood is fascinated by the way the sun peeks over our horizon in the east and we catch ‘the trails of its warmth and beauty, until each evening we rotate away from its heat and light…’
Sunlight travelling through our atmosphere scatters colours, stronger beams during the day than in the evening – depictions of the varying strength of colour in sunrises and sunsets represent the concept of rotating.
Instead of an adjective, quilter Sally Westcott chose a noun. The pomegranate is beautiful to eat, cook with, and to paint and draw. She enjoyed exploring its texture, shape and colour.
Internationally, award-winning, Melbourne based Neroli Henderson chose the word ‘ameliorate’ – the process of making something bad or unpleasant better. Her panels “focus on the vulnerability of the female form, and its power and ability. Creating personal, explorative works such as these helps to ameliorate the past. An artistic catharsis. These pieces seek to take memories of physical pain and loneliness and transform them into moments of beauty.”
I wonder how many people have heard of Neroli ( eiloren.com.au ), quilter, writer, editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (2014-16), a group owner of the popular Facebook Textile Arts group, and an artist ‘who combines art quilting techniques and materials with traditional media and digital approaches.’ She believes ‘in the use of textiles and stitch as a valid fine art medium and can often be found using this traditional “women’s work” to create feminist, political, and other social commentary based artworks.’
As my first image implies – I can’t imagine a world without art – in all its forms!
Kim Boland’s chosen word ‘undulate’ transformed into four colourful and charming panels. “Undulating, curvy, wave-like lines, found all around us, are peaceful and calming.”
Her depictions: blue ocean waves, rolling green hills, red desert dunes and yellow fields of canola. Specifically shaped pieces portray the movement of air and water across flowering fields, sandy dunes, grassy fields and ocean waves.
Carolyn Sullivan’s Retrospective
Mairi Neil (a found poem from AQC 2018)
Australia’s climate captured
cool and hot, clear and misty
searing heat, sleet, and storms
flat plateau country and
eucalypt and deciduous forest,
garden parks and deserts of
thousands of kilometres…
changing environment evoked
and expanded on cloth canvas
lovingly dyed with colours
of plants from Aussie desert and bush.
into earthy and warm
tree trunk tracks of insects,
lichen, leaf and fungi patterns,
depictions of diversity –
native animals, trees, birds,
and beautiful grasses…
hand stitched close, straight,
the vastness of the landscape
and love of country
honoured in every stitch.
There was another evocative reflection of the world by quilter Gillian Travis which if I was talented with a needle, on any level, I’d love to do! She has created quilts from her travels to exotic, and not so exotic, places like Uzbekistan, India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, South Africa, Europe, Israel and Jordan.
These quilts focus on people and place and beg for stories to be imagined and written!
Observation and attention to detail important for quilters, photographers and writers. At the convention, you could do a course on turning your favourite photograph into a quilt and intrepid traveller Gillian’s work offered walls of inspiration.
Journeys In Stitch
Turmoil And Tranquility
“Presented by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), this museum-quality exhibition features quilts created specifically as art pieces. Work brought from the USA explores two fascinating opposites…”
Again, what was fascinating was how each artist interpreted the words and I loved reading the stories behind the quilts. Just as we become comfortable or can relate to particular stories or genres in our taste of books, so too how the artists depicted the theme is influenced by our ideas of what the words could mean.
Sometimes what the artist was trying to do resonated more than the finished piece, and at other times little explanation was required.
Jill Kerttula from Virginia chose the turmoil of a woman’s first pregnancy: ‘physical, emotional, cultural, and mental changes and challenges, both internal and external.’ Jill used sketches from ancient medical texts, copies of cards her mother received and original images to portray turmoil and angst.
Jennifer Day from New Mexico chose Donald as her subject for Tranquility. He has ‘led a life full of twists and turns… his adulthood serving his country in the French Indonesian War in 1956 – almost 70 years ago. He later served in Korea, and in another war that he will not talk about. He has had cancer numerous times and is still fighting lung cancer.’
Jennifer took a photo of Donald as he sat in the window of an old barn in New Mexico. She captured the light of the setting sun gracing his face and “his expression leads us to believe that he is content. At age 86, I believe that he is satisfied with life and that his future holds promise.”
I was charmed by this quilt, by the subject matter and outlook of the artist and my photograph does not do it justice – each strand of hair is stitching – the artistry seamless connectivity in this work truly impressive.
Carol Capozzoli from Connecticut captured the insidious spread and effect of cancer. “From the first pathological cell division, turmoil begins… (it) spreads to surrounding tissues and possibly other body parts. With adiagnosis, the turmoil spreads to the person’s emotional and spiritual being, and to those close to the person.”
A CANCEROUS TURMOIL
Lots of the pieces celebrating nature or the seasons understandably focused on tranquillity. Judith Roderick from New Mexico chose the endangered Whooping Crane.
“There is something very compelling about a human-sized, ancient bird who has been on the planet since the dinosaurs. the Whooping Crane, one of the two North American Crane species, is the world’s most endangered crane with about 600 now in existence. This quilt was hand-drawn from some of my own photographs. It reflects my hope, intention, and prayer that they may continue to grace our skies and landscapes for ages to come.”
Illness is probably the most common disruption many of us experience and as our population ages, statistics reckon more of us will be living longer and coping with Alzheimer’s.
Diane Born from Oregon seemed to reflect from personal experience when she wrote, “That fine, immaculate woman is now mismatched and muddled. She withdraws from loved ones, snarls at children. plaque invades her brain, erupting in tangles, robbing her of memories. She mutters and mumbles, rarely smiles. paranoia stalks her, evident in mood swings, delusions, and apathy. Her sewing, hand or machine, fragments and disintegrates. Brain waves slow and falter, losing a rhythmic pattern. the lady vanishes into the disease.”
My father succumbed to dementia. It too was slow and insidious and painful to watch. Occasionally, flashes of the father we knew and loved appeared – the effect on the person and their family is indeed turmoil!
Another piece that resonated was by Michele Lea of Ohio. who admits to constantly searching for peace and tranquillity.
“Trying to find a place of light, rather than focusing on the cloud of darkness that looms over me, is a daily ritual. I suffer from chronic mental depression, which is a disease with no cure. More than 40 million people suffer from it and suicide is an ongoing threat for those of us who want to escape. The image of me floating, with butterflies draping over me as a blanket, is tranquillity. For me, it is an end to torment – a place of safety and peace; my original home where I could join my creator and become whole again.”
It is a reflection of the times and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle that the turmoil of the world refugee crisis is never far from our screens or minds. Sandy Gregg from Massachusetts observes:
“Since the beginning of time, people have left their homes to begin lives as refugees for a myriad of reasons, including war, discrimination, crop failure, and religion. This piece represents borders crossed, obstacles faced, and the turmoil that these brave people face during their travels.”
Another quilt that appealed to me used vintage postcards (collecting postcards a hobby of mine) and image transfer a technique I’d be tempted to use if a quilter.
Patricia Kennedy-Zafred from Pennsylvania is doing a series portraying women from all over the world with ‘strikingly varied concepts of beauty‘.
The images are of Japanese geisha who ‘despite the typical connotation, true geisha were highly trained in dance, music and various forms of art.‘ Their calm facial expressions ‘part of their allure, as their rigorous training was designed to create a presence of subtlety, strength, and grace.’
I have to feature Donna Deaver from Idaho who although we are living on separate continents, we have a similar way of relaxing and finding that elusive tranquillity.
“I have a deep love of the sea. It draws me in an unexplainable way, calling to me when I least expect it. Even though I no longer live by the ocean, I feel at home whenever I return. One of my favourite times of the day is early morning when the beach is empty. Listening to the infinite rhythm of the surf is a form of meditation.”
Believe it or not, the images featured are only a tiny selection of what was on offer at the AQC 2018. I’ve written about some that caught my eye, or touched my heart as a writer and haven’t done any justice at all to the array of fabrics, threads and techniques the artists applied.
Suffice to say the convention has lots to offer to those not expert or involved in the art of quilting, and from what I’ve observed the few times I’ve attended it is only going to expand and become more eclectic.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and seen in this post, I hope you attend one day, you won’t regret it.
Having firsthand knowledge of the quilting community via my older sister I know they have a sense of humour too and I love the self-deprecating quilts like this one – the three women are staring at the latest super duper sewing machine and asking “But does it make the coffee?”
After this marathon writing effort, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup… but will leave you with one of my personal favourites from the convention with a message for all those who struggle to achieve their dream…
Last month, I went to a Writers’ Victoria event, held at The Atheneum to hear Melbourne’s Toni Jordan in conversation with Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. She introduced McCall Smith by listing his writing accomplishments first:
60 adult novels published,
50 children’s novels
and the acclaimed 44 Scotland Street series
his work translated into 46 languages
Jordan concluded her introduction with “Alexander has been described as a literary phenomenon, a force of nature, and an endless source of joy around the world.”
Needless to say, the filled-to-capacity theatre burst into rapturous applause proving that his fans agreed – and he hadn’t yet uttered a word!
Once McCall Smith began speaking, the conversation became very one-sided – in the words of my late mother Alexander McCall Smith can ‘talk the hind legs off a donkey’and I’ll use her lovely Scottish word meant in the kindest of ways, he’s “a blether.”
Although McCall Smith does not talk for the sake of talking, his warm-hearted view of humanity, his intelligence, a keen sense of humour, and wide-ranging life experience ensure that he is a fabulous raconteur.
We hung on every deliciously entertaining word and later queued up outside for a few minutes with the man himself when he agreed to sign books and pose for photographs. (The publisher arranged for a young man to do the duty of dealing with numerous digital devices!)
Kindness and generosity two words that come easily to the lips regarding this prolific author dressed in an off-white suit, highly polished leather shoes and exuding genteel elegance as he relaxed comfortably in the spotlight.
He introduced himself to the audience by saying if people had come to the wrong place he didn’t mind if they left and then proceeded to tell the first of many anecdotes of the evening.
‘Turning up at the wrong venue is easy to do,’ he said. “A few months ago, a man came up to me at an author’s event in New York and said he’d enjoyed my lecture although he had booked to hear an author talk about the atom bomb!”
As the laughter subsided, Toni asked Alexander, when he began writing books and leaning back into his chair, he launched into a story he’d obviously told many times.
He sent his first manuscript off when eight years old. “ It was unpublishable, of course, and probably all of two pages long. A melodrama along the lines of ‘He’s gone’ and explaining who, why and where…”
He received a polite rejection letter from the publisher, “Carry on working.” McCall Smith laughed when he said, “at least in those days publishers answered every submission and gave encouragement along with rejection!”
This story led to another personal snippet revealing again his kindness and cheeky sense of humour. A seven-year-old boy knocked on his door one day holding a book he had written.
“Go and show Mr McCall Smith,’ said the boy’s mother from the background, “he’s a writer.”
The book was two sentences long, called The Great Toffee Theft.
‘Great title,’ he told the boy.
The story was ‘A man stole a toffee. The police came and arrested him.’ The End.
The Scottish author Ian Rankin, writer of novels about the detective Rebus, lives two doors up from McCall Smith in Edinburgh, so Alexander sent the boy up to Ian’s house advising, “Mr Rankin’s into crime, he’ll be better placed to give you feedback on your manuscript.”
This recollection was the perfect segue into stories about how he sometimes inserts real people into his novels ‘with their permission, of course.’
Like all writers, he draws on life experiences for plots, characters and setting, but you can tell he has fun with all this too. The first time he put Rankin into a novel was as a cameo when he bought a valuable stolen painting from a charity shop. When Ian realised it had been stolen he returned it to the original owner. Rankin’s comment was “I wouldn’t be so decent if it was that valuable!”
In another story, Alexander had one of the Queen’s Royal Archers, ‘a doddery bunch now’ fire an arrow that goes astray and hits Ian Rankin on the shoulder. He is helped by young Bertie, one of McCall Smith’s regular heroes who recognises Rankin as a famous author because ‘a lot of his books are in the window of the local secondhand bookshop for 50p.’
Ian’s feedback? “Not true, they’d be at least £1!”
McCall Smith asked Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, (2007-2014) if he could put him in a story. ” He seemed quite chuffed.” McCall Smith had the First Minister save young Bertie from a runaway truck when the young boy froze while crossing the road. The manuscript was sent to the First Minister’s office for approval and he got a reply back in 45 minutes, “very satisfactory”. (The fastest bureaucratic approval on record!)
However, he tries not to use real people he’s read about in his writing and said, “it is rude not to Google because it implies they’re not worth Googling.” He puts in a name plus what scandal they may be involved in just to check he won’t be offending a real live person … at this point he strayed into the murky waters of Australian politics by suggesting with mock outrage that ‘the bloke with the hat (Barnaby Joyce) has had some unkind words said about him.”
Toni managed to ask a question about McCall Smith’s writing, in particular about the serial novel and the much-loved 44 Scotland Street series.
Serial novels, a genre not that common nowadays but popular in the times of Charles Dickens, and also with Tolstoy, Trollope and Flaubert.
Dickens used it as a common way to earn a living, publishing a chapter a week in a newspaper or magazine, and generally ending with a cliffhanger. This was pre-television and so he was writing the soap operas of the day. Every chapter 12,000 words and often characters fell asleep at end of the chapter – “soporific writing” said McCall Smith, “because in synchronicity, the readers often fell asleep too!”
The books would be available in libraries and the cheeky public would correct any errors they found.
There is a writer in the United States from San Francisco who revived the serial novels for the newspaper San Francisco Chronicles. Alexander met him at a writers’ convention and was advised: “Don’t write serial novels”.
Advice McCall Smith chose to ignore and when he returned to Scotland he began writing chapters in the series 44 Scotland Street.
Producing a regular chapter can be a lot of pressure and he tries to ‘have a few up his sleeve’ but that doesn’t always mean meeting deadlines is easy.
Alexander was approached by Cunard shipping to sail around South America for free and be a ‘celebrity’ guest aboard the ship. “Now if they write to you,” he said, “always say, yes.”
He had committed himself to writing a serial book but the Internet dropped out around Cape Horn. He asked the audience if they had heard of the Bermuda Triangle. This experience was similar because there was “no cloud”. He was writing instalments of Scotland Street and luckily always had some in hand or he would have missed all of his instalments for that period.
He suggested people try writing a book this way each instalment building up – a chapter a day soon leads to a book!
We shall change all that… because it is possible to change the world, if one is determined enough, and if one sees with sufficient clarity just what has to be changed.”
The Kalahari Typing School for men, Alexander McCall Smith
Many people in the audience, discovered McCall Smith from his writing about Botswana, a country where he lived and one he has “a real affection for.” He still visits regularly.
His books about The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency introduced the African country to many readers, and many readers to author McCall Smith. Internationally, he became a household name.
It was the first of McCall Smith’s books I read and this year is the 20th anniversary of the first novel published in 1998 but “written and heartfelt in 1996”.
On his website, he exhorts us to ‘celebrate 20 years of Humanity. Kindness. Humour. Forgiveness. And sheer Joy.’ And I can remember how wonderful the first book was – how refreshing to read a positive book about an African country where the protagonist, Precious Ramotswe (wonderful name) was female, not precious but ordinary and down-to-earth, yet she had an extraordinary dream, which she persisted to make reality with intelligence and drive.
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series started life as a short story written for friends but took hold of its author and grew first to one novel and then, over the space of twenty years, to nineteen (the nineteenth book, The Colours of All the Cattle, to be published later this year). The characters have won the hearts of readers around the globe and together, the eighteen volumes published so far have become one of the world’s most successful series, with over 20 million copies sold in English and translations into 46 languages. Written as a long love-letter to a country and culture which he admires, Alexander has no plans to bring this series to an end anytime soon.
Precious Ramotswe, that kind and cheerful woman of traditional build, is the founder of Botswana’s first and only ladies’ detective agency. Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she’s got warmth, wit and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and Mma Makutsi her able assistant who never tires of telling people that she graduated with a mark of 97% from the Botswana Secretarial College.
Alexander explained how the first edition of the original book had a print run of 1500 but now has 25 to 30 million copies. He was a bit worried the publisher was being too optimistic about the book and promoting it, especially when they sent him to the USA.
Referring to the United States, he said when he visited to promote his books they were friendly but he discovered they love titles and in that country ‘everybody is a vice president – even if they just look after the coffee or the photocopying machine or publicity!’
He was invited to lunch with all the vice presidents and the meeting extended from 11 to 4 p.m. He knew then that the book would take off, so to celebrate he went out and bought new shoes “two of them” for $140.
He was staying at a club related to a membership he had in Scotland. His room was not too far from the bathroom but his American publicist was mortified “You are sharing a bathroom!?”
Now when he goes to America he has his own bathroom – his books have let him step up his comfort level. However, he considered sharing a bathroom an important stage to go through. It builds character, he noted with a smile and proceeded to reminisce about his student days.
(For many years Alexander was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the UK and abroad before turning his hand to writing fiction. He has written and contributed to more than 100 books including specialist academic titles.)
He has shared with “dirty people, experienced bathrooms with unidentified hairs(let’s not go there!) and fridges filled with ghastly food,” although flatmates have been great. He then added his humorous take, “Meet them later in life and they are transformed. But do you read about their convictions?”
McCall Smith’s generous writing and dry humor, his gentleness and humanity, and his ability to evoke a place and a set of characters without caricature or condescension have endeared his books to readers
New York Times
Toni managed to steer McCall Smith back onto writing and some of his other talents. He talked about being on a boat in Africa and passing the camp of two authors who were experts on baboons. He shouted across the water, “I have read Baboon Metaphysics.” This resulted in a very rare invitation to stay overnight at the campsite and learn more from the authors and their research.
The book explains how powerful female baboons are dominant. They are ambitious and for McCall Smith, not unlike Lady Macbeth so he wrote an opera about a troupe of baboons.
He collaborated to produce a chamber opera with music by Tom Cunningham to his libretto. Set in the Botswana Okavango Delta, it tells the story of the struggle for power among competing baboons in their matriarchal society—thus drawing parallels with the Macbeth story.
THE OKAVANGO MACBETH
Written for Botswana to appease his fascination with primatology, and an idea of baboon people.
In 2008, Alexander set up a small opera house in the bush just outside Gaborone, in Botswana. “It is really a garage converted with 60 seats,” but he hosted the Premiere of his opera which he said is “a really terrible opera for musically challenged people.” However, “they perform and travel with it so it can’t be all that bad until people find out what I say is true!”
The project was undertaken jointly with David Slater, a long-time resident of Botswana who had made a major contribution over the years to music in that country. The opera house was housed in an old converted transport garage discovered by Alexander when he was looking for places similar to the garage featured in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. It was converted into a modest auditorium with seating for sixty.
For four years, The No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House gave local singers a chance to perform in opera and in regular concerts. Botswana has a tradition of choral singing. “There are many wonderful singers there, and this gave them the opportunity to show and develop their talents. It also gave people in Gaborone the chance to see the occasional opera, something which until then, they did not have.”
The Opera House remained open until 2012. It is now closed.
He has had many collaborations, especially with composers and has worked in other branches of the arts for the last decade. For Scotland At Night he wrote the poems and Tom Cunningham wrote the music.
He loves music and created an orchestra from other people who love music ‘but are not very good.’ The conductor stopped them once because they were all playing different music! RTOM, he said – really terrible orchestral music!
Alexander and his wife Elizabeth were the founding members of the Really Terrible Orchestra, a hugely popular amateur orchestral ensemble based in Edinburgh city centre.
A bassoonist, sousaphonist and contrabassoonist, Alexander, inspired by the pleasure his own children seemed to get from orchestral playing, worked to get the ensemble going in 1995. At the time it had just 10 players and rehearsed music for the sheer fun and enjoyment of it.
The main ethos of the RTO is clear; it’s an ensemble for those who have been prevented from playing music, either through lack of talent or some other factor, to play in the company of players of a similarly terrible standard. The name was given, thankfully, to ensure that audiences would know that what they see is what they hear.
Now with 65 players and a terrible international reputation to uphold, the orchestra is more in demand than ever. Rehearsing fortnightly the ensemble is currently under the musical direction of ‘Sir’ Richard Neville-Towle.
Last year in Stockholm Sweden, he was literally astonished how many joined in the RTO. They always get a professional conductor – ‘one who’s doing the country a service.’ Socially, it is great – two trumpeters married; the viola and the double bass also met and married – the couples even produced babies!
The breadth of his body of work vividly evokes places and characters who are infused with humanity, decency, wit and humour
The National Arts Club citation
We were then treated to a performance of one of McCall Smith’s poems. He announced that it would be brief because “Often when you read a poem, even a brief one, it is a signal for people to leave.”
The poem was from his annual pamphlet that he circulates to friends. He makes 800 copies but “Actually I have only 14 friends.” The rest of the copies go to strangers.
He always puts a poem at the end of the Scotland Street books.
He was amused by a sign he saw from the taxi in LA that said, HYPNOTHERAPY NEXT RIGHT.
He loves signs and they often inspire a poem. He especially loves signs in other languages with the English translation – many of these don’t quite get the nuances of English or are more poetic than English. He uses this when he transposes them to include in his poem.
He remembered one that was in French hanging from a rickety fence above a cliff. In English it should read ‘do not lean against’ but the translated sign beneath the French read ‘do not lean again’. This much more intriguing and realistic considering the state and site of the fence!
Another sign about urinating was translated as “No Pissing” “How irrepressible and unrepentant” said McCall.
The poem he read was inspired by the sign in LA and was set on an aeroplane. He made fun of the choice of words pilots use – “at this time we commence our descent” instead of “now we are going to land.” The poem, telling the story of a flight and landing explored the idea of pilots speaking in poetic language instead of bland words. Like most of his poems, this one was humorous and brief, with a little satire.
After reading his poem, Alexander addressed the audience: ‘Any questions or complaints? You can complain.”
People queued to ask him questions, each one an adoring fan.
The first question was about his Safaris to Botswana. He’s done 4 or 5 and “They’re lots of fun.” The next one is in September for one week. They visit three towns and he loves meeting readers and loves Botswana.
He was asked about Arthur Upfield and his character Boney who was in a series of books. He remembered reading them but it was a long time ago and he didn’t know it had been turned into a television series.
He said crime fiction is about place, and he likes Keating’s books set in Bombay. “A place of eminence and a strong character are the two most important elements of crime fiction.” With a wry smile, he acknowledged the popularity of Scandinavian Noir yet, “I wasin Stockholm and didn’t see one murder!”
When he was asked what he thought of the TV series of his Number One Ladies Detective Agency rather than criticise he commented that there was also a full-length movie made. Unfortunately, the director died on the day of the film premiere. The TV series “did a good job but the film was very respectful to the book.”
He visited the film set and watched how they did some scenes 15 times to get it right. The funeral scene repeated again and again because everybody was so moved. Even the cameramen cried and they had to redo it. Anthony Magellan, the director of the film really captured the essence of the characters and story and he also got good actors for the film.
And the evening was over – a delightful “conversation” fittingly ended while talking about Precious Ramotswe and Botswana. They left the stage too soon but then delightful evenings are never long enough!
I was thrilled to have my few minutes with the author and to buy a couple more of his wonderful novels. In a world where we are bombarded daily with increasingly sad news escaping with a Mccall Smith novel soothes the spirit because it reaffirms the existence of a lot of wonderful, kind, gentle, and genteel folk and entertaining stories don’t have to be angst-ridden with mainly imperfect, unlikeable characters.
‘It was Ian Rankin who claimed that as global politics becomes more turbulent, the world will increasingly find itself in need of Alexander McCall Smith’s heart-warming novels, and he is right’
Inspired by Alexander’s reading of signs and creating poetry I decided to make an attempt to record the evening in verse and pics – after all, April is Poetry Month!
The Pursuit of Happiness
My dancing self visited Melbourne city
to listen to Alexander McCall Smith
an author known for his savoir-faire,
worldly and renowned teller of tales
that captivate. Colourful, uplifting
they counteract an oft bleak world…
I walk past the majestic Town Hall
hosting Hermès At Work
an exhibition about the birth
of the international luxury brand.
Displays of handmade objets incroyable.
Admission free to anyone who’ll listen
as clever artisans tell their stories
of commitment to craft
of style, beauty and excellence.
I doubt the homeless huddled
and begging from nearby doorways
will take up their offer…
Along the street, I stride
passing a profusion of flowers
of red, gold and orange blossoms
their subtle perfume and prettiness
a defence against the toxic traffic
and soulless concrete jungle
Utility bollards appropriated
by street artists and decorated
exhort passersby to celebrate
the timeless beauty and spirit
of Victoria’s Koori people
stalwarts of faith and courage
meaningful silhouettes and shadows
sun, moon, stars, crosses and hands
images of fertility and life cycles
unlike the ugly graffiti
meaningless tags from non-artists
seeking celebrity or notoriety.
I reach Melbourne’s Atheneum
An embodiment of Emperor Hadrian’s
seat of intellectual refinement.
A queue of literary patrons
wriggles around the block –
their joyous anticipation catching.
Years ago, for many children, the first reading experience was a comic – usually, a strip cartoon in the “Funnies” section of a magazine, newspaper or supplement and they were not sold separately.
The 1930s began the age of standalone comics with colourful front covers and the appearance of super characters/heroes like Superman and Batman who of course are still around today – albeit as part of the DC world and not the MARVEL Universe which has Ironman, Captain America and The Hulk et al…
(In the pop culture circle woe betides anyone mixing up the origin of these characters and their worlds!)
Wonderwoman got her own comic too, but it is fair to say that comics were seen as the domain of boys up until the 60s when various subjects were explored, plus different genres and comics appeared ‘aimed at girls’.
In the Scotland of my childhood (the 50s, early 60s), no superheroes for my sister Cate, or me – she got a weekly dose of Bunty and I read all about Judy’s adventures.
The first major comic book conventions began and gained popularity in the 60s and were primarily about promoting, buying, selling and swapping comics.
Today, San Diego and New York’s comic cons are huge events and are replicated in other countries, including Australia. Cosplay is also popular and I loved a comic-con I attended with my “geeky” daughter in Sydney four years ago.
Hollywood and the advances in moviemaking technology (CGI) have ensured comic cons are multimedia showcases with comics sidelined in favour of movies, video games, toys, cosplay, celebrity panels and special guests working in the pop culture industry.
An exhibition in Melbourne at the moment is a huge promotion for the next Marvel movie spectacular – Avengers: Infinity War – to be released this month too.
However, the love of characters created in comics extends through to adulthood and often becomes a family affair and true devotees still love reading comics and will decry Hollywood’s interference in changing storylines – much the same as classic text lovers hate their Dickens or Austen novels being altered for the screen.
WW2 produced Captain America but his adventures stopped in 1949 and he only became popular again when Marvel brought him back as a member of the Avengers in 1964 and it is the Avengers (specifically the movie ones) who are the focus of a new exhibition in Melbourne that has fans excited.
Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Birrarung Marr
A huge interactive exhibition for fans to enter and explore takes the comic characters and their storylines to another level. This Avengers Science, Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network is set up as if you are training to be an agent for SHIELD – there is plenty of real science and technology added to the movie magic.
Read about Dr Bruce Banner’s science lab and his transformation into Hulk. Measure yourself against his size and strength, stand nearby and quake as he shows off his power and anger.
Captain America’s 1940s personnel file, his shield, motorbike and lots of documents pertaining to his backstory is the first ‘security area’ you are given a pass to – and his intelligent first love Agent Carter has her moments of glory too.
Practice moves with Captain America’s shield, climb aboard his motorbike and let your imagination chase bad guys!
You can also try to lift Thor’s hammer, but since only the son of Odin can lift Mjolnir, I’d save your energy (they’ve made it immovable!) and just enjoy being in an Asgardian astral observatory, reading about NASA’s exoplanets program as well as Thor’s mischief-making brother Loki.
There are lots of special effects to titillate your senses, especially sight and sound.
Tony Stark’s engineering bay comes with costumes, Iron Man VR flight simulators, and information on good guys and bad guys.
Powerful Women Exist Too
The evening the girls and I attended, most of the “security personnel” guiding us through the exhibition were lab-coat wearing women, Maria Hill, Deputy Director of SHIELD appears on the screen to welcome and farewell her “new agents,” and the costumes of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are on display beside their stories.
A First For Melbourne
Melbourne is the first city to host the S.T.A.T.I.O.N’s newest exhibitions: Black Panther, The Wasp and Thanos. The replica movie props and costumes will certainly delight attendees but don’t stand still for too long as hundreds of clever scurrying ants are projected onto the floor in various formations.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest comic book superhero Black Panther is definitely a drawcard and you can read his story, see his mask, the powerful herb, and famous beads at close range. They embody the power and technological advancement of his particular African nation and you can learn about why.
The Importance of Black Panther the Movie
If you haven’t yet seen this amazing Marvel movie, please treat yourself.
It is powerful storytelling with a purpose, executed well, and for people of colour who have waited for generations to have a superhero they can be proud of and identify with I can only imagine how thrilling it must be as this article in Time explains.
If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you—executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Now, after a brief respite, you again have a President.
Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it.
This is one of the many reasons Black Panther is significant. What seems like just another entry in an endless parade of superhero movies is actually something much bigger.
So get your security ID and know your enemy – Thanos – and write yourself into a piece of fan fiction or just enjoy the fantasy world and have some fun immersing yourself in the Marvel Universe.
We went early evening to miss the crowds that accompany school holidays and despite ridiculous claims and criticisms of “unsafe” Melbourne by rightwing politicians the precinct of Federation Square, the banks of the Yarra and Birrarung Marr Artplay glowed in the dark like precious jewels.
Take the time to appreciate your surroundings – we live in one of the nicest and safest cities in the world – voted the most liveable many times – and deservedly so. Birrarung Marr, on the Yarra River’s north bank next to Federation Square, is Melbourne’s newest major park. Opened in 2002, it frequently hosts events and festivals.
The art centre and play area are designed and designated for children and the pathway links to events held at the MCG or Melbourne Park. Birrarung Marr is terraced so that from several vantage points, you have wonderful views of the city and nearby icons.
The Birrarung Wilam installation celebrates the diversity of Victoria’s indigenous culture by interpreting stories through public artworks. A winding pathway acknowledges the significance of the eel as a traditional food source and a semicircle of metal shields represents each of the five groups of the Kulin Nation.
Other features of Birrarung Marr include Deborah Halpern’s two-headed Angel sculpture and the Federation Bells, ringing out three times daily with different compositions. The park’s William Barak pedestrian bridge leads directly to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
I can testify to the usefulness of comics as a reading tool. When I worked as an au pair in Canada during the summer of 1976, I was employed by emigre Jewish doctors from Russia. They wanted me to teach their six-year-old son, Leon to read so that he could start school in Toronto.
Leon was precocious and clever, fluent in English, Russian and Yiddish but totally enamoured with television, cartoons and Superman. He refused to try and read the set English texts.
With his parent’s permission, I bought several comics and bargained with Leon – a comic story in the morning, and a school book in the afternoon. Progress also rewarded by a cartoon if he cooperated and tried.
The bribery worked and Leon discovered learning to read could be fun just like all the children through the ages who have been switched on to reading by newspaper cartoon strips and those earlier comics.
MARVEL has taken the stories, cartoon characters, myths and legends to a whole new level, it’s an evolving genre – visit the exhibition and enjoy!
This meme that did the rounds of Facebook recently reminded me of using a knitting project to calm my mind and complete a commitment I made to a newfound friend when we spent a weekend in Ballarat as volunteers for that city’s first ever Open House.
Susan and I shared a B & B overnight and I heard about her involvement in the 5000 Poppies Project. I first read about this project when I attended the Spirit of Anzac Exhibition at Jeff’s Shed several years ago. Susan reminded me of the mental note I made at the time to follow up the story. She inspired me to ‘pull my finger out’ and participate.
That was October and it wasn’t until December when life went a little pear-shaped that I recalled my promise to knit poppies. The thought of an excuse to sit and focus on craft more appealing than sitting at the computer!
Back to School For Knitting Lessons
I have many happy memories of craft, especially when my children attended the Steiner Stream at Moorabbin Heights Primary School in the 90s. I loved being immersed in creative projects with them. We made felt gnomes, knitted tiny mice and any other animal you could think of to sell as fundraisers for the school.
Reconnecting with knitting became a holistic exercise.
The pure wool bought, dyed, and wound into usable skeins in the class by the children.
Purchased dowels of various thickness from Bunnings hardware were cut to size and the kids sanded the needles smooth before massaging them with beeswax.
After collecting tiny gum nuts from the garden and glueing them to the end of the needles, they were ready to knit.
I can’t remember who taught me to knit. Certainly not my mother – she always decried her knitting ability by showing a half-finished sock still on the three needles that she started to knit for Dad in the early days of their marriage. It was even brought out to Australia when we migrated – why will remain a mystery!
Mum loved repeating proverbs and the one she used to explain that lack of knitting prowess was, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’
Maybe it was my Great Aunt Teen who first taught me to knit because she was constantly knitting or crocheting and up until she died in the mid-60s she made all of us a jumper or cardigan for our birthdays.
The last item she made me was a lovely pure wool jacket and I received it the night before we left for Australia. Nine-year-old me adored that jacket and it was so well-knitted and loved that I still have it.
My daughter, Anne, even wore it for a short while although it was slightly yellowed with age. It has dogs as a pattern and she loves dogs!
Perhaps I learned to knit at Brownies or Girl Guides – I vaguely remember knitting a scarf for a doll – I know my older sister, Cate would have helped because she is as talented at knitting and crocheting as Great Aunt Teen.
However, I learned the basic skills, I know the difference between knit and purl and as a volunteer mum at the Steiner school, I found myself sitting in a circle with a group of the children and teaching them to cast on and knit.
I recall the looks of intense concentration as 7 – 9-year-old girls and boys struggled to master the craft, row by laborious row.
‘Mairi, how many stitches should I have at the end of the row?’
‘I’ve got 23.’
‘I’ve got 30.’
‘I’ve got 29.’
And so around the circle… picking up lost stitches, separating some convoluted efforts, unravelling knots, losing excess stitches…
I still have the recorder and music bags my girls sewed, knitted and embroidered just like my mother kept the placemats I made with childish hands.
Bridget Whelan, the author of Back To Creative Writing School, wrote that ‘weaving stories in your head while you travel to work or sit daydreaming in a café is not writing.’
I agree, however, sometimes it pays to take a rest from trying to fill the blank page and turn attention to some other form of creativity and that’s what I did when I set myself the task of knitting poppies for the 5000 Poppies Project.
But like all those writing projects needing editing and polishing – I didn’t quite make the target. (Although between us we did, I’m sure!)
I can list the excuses (I’m a writer so very good at excuses):
a bout of ill-health, preparing for visitors from overseas, Christmas, an unbearably hot summer, clearing clutter and preparing for the New Year… etc etc…
I did manage to knit 30 poppies and post them off so don’t feel a complete failure and on reflection 100 was a big target but an absolutely minuscule amount when you think of the number of poppies completed in what has become a global challenge.
Here is a picture from a couple of years ago when a display was placed at Parliament House, Victoria. There have also been moving tributes at the Shrine of Remembrance, the Australian War Memorial, and in London and other places of significance – hundreds of thousands of knitted poppies.
“These days, we wear our poppies not only as a symbol of remembrance of the fallen but also as a symbol of our support for those who have chosen (or in the case of those who in the past have been conscripted) to serve their country…
… we have again created a most beautiful and moving tribute at Melbourne’s iconic Shrine of Remembrance. As beautiful as it is … this is only one of many many other tributes that have been created throughout the world … created from our hearts, with love, and honour and respect.
If you could reflect … and pass on our message to anyone you know who is currently serving, or has served, or has suffered from the ongoing effects of their own service or their loved ones’ service … it is why we are doing what we are doing … This tribute is our gift to you.
Our way of saying thank you, and a poignant reminder of the depth of feeling from a grateful nation. Your service will not be forgotten. LEST WE FORGET”
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The Inspiration for “In Flanders Fields”
It was early days in the Second Battle of Ypres when a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May 1915 when an exploding German artillery shell landed near him.
He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae. Being the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening.
It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. The sight of these delicate, vibrant red flowers growing on the shattered ground caught his attention. He noticed how they had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position.
In Dornie, Scotland last year I saw the McCrae memorial honouring their clansmen:
The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy
The origin of the red Flanders poppy as a modern-day symbol of remembrance was the inspiration of an American teacher, Miss Moina Belle Michael, also known as ‘The Poppy Lady.’
She and Frenchwoman Madame Anna Guérin, known as ‘The French Poppy Lady’, encouraged people to use the red Flanders poppy as a way of remembering those who had suffered in war.
The Flanders Poppy became the symbol of remembrance that we know so well today.
Two days before the Armistice was declared at 11 o’clock on 11th November 1918, Moina Belle Michael was on duty at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters in New York. She was working in the “Gemot” in Hamilton Hall. This was a reading room and a place where U.S. servicemen would often gather with friends and family to say their goodbyes before they went on overseas service.
On that day, Hamilton Hall was busy with people coming and going because the Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries was in progress. During the first part of the morning as a young soldier passed by Moina’s desk, he left a copy of the latest November edition of the Ladies HomeJournal .
When Moina found a few moments to herself, she browsed through the magazine and came across a page carrying a vivid colour illustration with the poem entitled We Shall Not Sleep.
This was an alternative name sometimes used for John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. Moina had come across the poem before, but reading it on this occasion she found herself transfixed by the last verse:
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae had died of pneumonia several months earlier on 28th January 1918.
In her autobiography, entitled The Miracle Flower, Moina describes this experience as ‘deeply spiritual’. She felt as though she was actually being called in person by the voices which had been silenced by death.
Three men attending the conference arrived at Moina’s desk and on behalf of the delegates asked her to accept a cheque for 10 dollars, in appreciation of the effort she had made to brighten up the place with flowers at her own expense.
She was touched by the gesture and replied that she would buy twenty-five red poppies with the money. She showed them the illustration for John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields together with her response to it We Shall Keep the Faith.
We Shall Keep the Faith by Moina Michael, November 1918
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
The delegates took both poems back into the Conference.
The red field poppy came to be known as an internationally recognised symbol of ‘Remembrance’. From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France, and Gallipoli, this vivid red flower has become synonymous with great loss of life in war.
Yet the scope of the poppy and its connection with the memory of those who have died in war has been expanded to help the living too. It was the inspiration and dedication of two women who promoted this same memorial flower as the means by which funds could be raised to support those in need of help, most especially servicemen and civilians suffering from physical and mental hardship as a result of a war.
Since the end of the First World War, there has been an armed conflict somewhere in the world every single day!
Out of the Great War came a lesson of ordinary people that were not ordinary. They did extraordinary things.
25000 dead in WW1 had no known grave
When I was in Scotland last year I also read about the Highland Scot who suggested the tomb of the unknown soldier.
Love and loss is the essence of our humanity. Returned men and women damaged beyond recognition examples of the extremities of loss and bereavement. They do not get over it, or move on, or get closure.
In Fromelles, France where 5000 Australians died in the most tragic night in the history of WW1 the poppies were a beautiful contrast to the tragic scene of desolation. And of course, those casualties not in uniform were rarely recorded in official history.
The book, What’s wrong with ANZAC?details the huge disparity between public remembrance ( solemn artefacts etc) often misused for militarism and nationalism compared with the ambivalent stories of sacrifice and experience of survivors and the generations of pain resulting from war.
For me, the poppy has always been about acknowledging the devastation and tragedy of lives shattered and lost, remembering, mourning and hoping it never happens again!
Patriotic music written in wartime has been used to express national pride, spread propaganda, encourage enlistment and motivate troops.
Perhaps that’s why Eric Bogle’s antiwar songs written at the time of the Vietnam War but set in WW1, were and still are definitive songs for peace, honouring those who made the greatest sacrifice and pointing out the senselessness of armed conflict, and tragic waste to humanity.
Green Fields of France by Eric Bogle
Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916
Well I hope you died quick
And I hope you died clean
Or Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene
Chorus Did they beat the drums slowly Did they play the fife lowly Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down Did the band play the last post and chorus Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined
And though you died back in 1916
To that loyal heart, you’re forever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame
The sun shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished long under the plough
No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard that’s still no man’s land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation was butchered and damned
And I can’t help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh, Willy McBride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again
Did they beat the drums slowly Did they play the fife lowly Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down Did the band play the last post and chorus Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest
Knitting the poppies gave me the gift of calmness and a warm glow that I was doing something useful and taking part in a worthwhile project.
It also helped me reflect and in moments of melancholy reflect on how hard it is to get those in authority to focus on PEACE.
I’m sure I’ll knit a few more poppies in the future too or find another use for the hands-on creativity that helps me rest from facing the blank screen and filling the blank page…
Thank goodness there are people prepared to put expertise, effort and resources into saving species. (Too late unfortunately for the white rhino...)
Environmental change can be rapid but also less obvious and often public policy plays catch up. It was 1972 before I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, an environmental science book published on 27 September 1962 when I was only nine years old.
The book had a profound effect on me because it documented the adverse effects on the environment of the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
In 1972, I was involved with the Aboriginal Embassy protest in Canberra and for the first time had deep and meaningful conversations with Indigenous Australians, learning about their country and how the importance for culture and survival depended on their (and ultimately our) relationship with the land.
Harmony Day is celebrated throughout Australia on 21 March. It has become a significant day of the year when Australians are encouraged to celebrate the cultural diversity of our country.
21 March is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
We even have a government agency dealing with cultural, racial and religious intolerance, by promoting respect, fairness and a sense of belonging for everyone.
Orange is the colour chosen to represent Harmony Day. Australians are encouraged to wear orange clothing and/or the distinctive orange ribbon to show their support for cultural diversity and an inclusive Australia.
I imagine our politicians have a drawerful of colourful ribbons and need advisors to remind them which one to wear!
However, considering our two major parties have shown a shocking disregard for the plight of refugees still stuck in offshore detention perhaps they should refrain from being hypocritical today and leave the orange ribbon in the drawer.
“I struggle with Australia’s record towards refugees. Australia is a nation of migrants and its culture accepts and tolerates difference. But Australia’s refugee record is quite poor internationally. This is a very bad position for a state because people judge states on their acceptance and tolerance of people who need help.
There is no excuse for any kind of policy which does not consider or protect very basic human rights.”
Refugees and asylum seekers
a new life
cross stormy waters
and a welcome
from Australian society ––
young and old.
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
The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
The winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.
A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflecting a sea of shimmering blue
But beyond the benign bay
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.
No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
Christian charity in short supply.
To seek asylum deemed illegal
It is Australia after all.
A World of Bubbles
Sometimes the weight of sadness
crushes and destroys,
a cement mixer churning wails and tears
of the downtrodden –
the enslaved, imprisoned, tortured,
refugees and homeless…
a tsunami of pain
a relentless darkness
a night without dawn.
‘I want to help, but what can I do?’
A plea from compassionate people
whose words may become actions –
the cliched ‘drop in the ocean’.
Causes close to home a priority –
employees need to work,
sick friends visited.
Joy sought in rituals
for normality’s sake.
Cocooned in bubbles we float
to survive turmoil we can’t control,
to escape the weight of crushing sadness.
Our bubbles must stay intact,
a prism of sunlight
not a prison of insensitivity.
Perhaps kiss other bubbles…
to share light and love,
to ease global sadness
resilient like a mother’s womb.
Earth is as diverse as the planets in the universe. For most of us, each day is not a new adventure but the ‘same old same old’ unless we make an effort to move out of our comfort zone.
Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
That comfort zone may involve embracing different cultures, envisaging a different Australia to the one we are used to, learning to accept, not just tolerate – welcome others to country as the Aborigines continually welcome people to country.
Haiku – Mairi Neil
Ningla a-Na! This our land
Indigenous and immigrant
Now sharing history
Acrostic – Mairi Neil
Healing words soothe A heartfelt hug or sincere smile Receptive, not racist Multicultural vibrancy Australia’s style Outsiders no more Not only tolerance but acceptance You are welcome – We are enriched
All of us are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives but like a gigantic sponge, writers absorb more than most.
The small details, the unusual objects, the striking character, the overheard conversation, the beautiful sunset, the changing leaves – the possibility of story everywhere –
like the pub dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street in the heart of Melbourne advertising St Patrick’s Day that I discovered on Friday!
Many writers worry they are regurgitating ideas seen or read somewhere, ideas that have been written up ad nauseam…
I remember when this was mentioned at a workshop I attended years ago, the presenter said, ‘Don’t worry there’s no copyright on ideas and whatever you write will be from your perspective, you’ll have your own take on it.”
Just as the owners of The Sherlock Holmes at 415 Collins Street have done – creating their version of the famous character’s story.
Do they worry about appropriating ideas from Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece? Worry about cashing in on the desire of the Irish (and on March 17th it seems a worldwide desire) to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?
Not at all.
I tell my students – even if the idea isn’t fresh, still write the story or poem because you can change everything (names, place, people or events) after you have let your creativity loose.
The finished work is yours – a unique perspective – an original manuscript!
Ideas are free and flexible.
Focus on writing your life experience, your dreams and fantasies, adding your research, your interpretation of what you’ve absorbed and your thoughts…
… and whatever results will be a new work of art.
The recipes listed in Mrs Hudson’s Pantry below are just a variation of well-loved British or Australian delicacies. There may be a pinch of a special spice or sauce that makes it ‘original’ like a story that is enhanced by wordplay, metaphor, flawed character, or exotic setting to vary one of the acclaimed seven basic plots authors keep writing!
Do you know the what, why, or when of St Patrick’s Day?
Brush up on your history of St. Patrick:
‘ before him, there were no farms, sheep, or deer, but there were saintly women who slew dragons and performed miracles’.
(This quote from an article St. Patrick’s Day Facts: Shamrocks, Snakes, and a Saint by John Roach in 2010, available from the National Geographic magazine online quoting St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.)
Can you write about St Patrick from a position of knowledge?
Do you know anyone called Patrick (are they saint or sinner?) that you can write about or make a character in a story Irish and called Patrick – or why not Patricia!
Write a story around the theme of immigration, or slavery (sadly, still two very much alive and contentious issues)
Or perhaps religious zealots, or cults – or maybe how important partying and having fun is to health!
There are many stories waiting to be written from a variety of angles… who would have thought Ireland, a staunchly Roman Catholic country would vote for marriage equality long before Australia got its act together?
What Colour is Tolerance?
Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of faerie rings.
Ireland the true Emerald Isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.
When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay was laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and ghastly gore.
Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; a hope of peace deemed futile.
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile ––
From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades –– green and pink
In May 2015, history indeed made!
10 Things You May Not Know About St Patrick
The apostle and patron saint of Ireland wasn’t even Irish! He was born in western Britain, probably West Glamorgan circa 389AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official and deacon.
As a boy, Patrick was captured in a Pictish raid and sold as a slave in Ireland. he escaped to Gaul, studied in a monastery and returned to Ireland to spread Christianity.
Although landing at Wicklow, Patrick travelled north and converted the people of Ulster first!
He died in 461AD and is buried in County Down, Northern Ireland.
There are many stories ascribing miraculous powers to Patrick, including one that credits him with ridding the island of vermin (snakes) Slowly, mythology grew up around Patrick until centuries later he was honoured as the patron saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans. (I can hear my Irish mother groaning and saying ‘typical Americans claiming everything!) However, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity and strength for persecuted Irish-American immigrants, and then a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage.
Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sometime in the 19th century as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the colour green became a show of commitment to Ireland.
Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green. Similarly, pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand are dyed and consumed. The party went global in 1995 when the Irish government began a large-scale campaign to market St. Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourism and showcasing Ireland’s many charms to the rest of the world.
So, if you are like me, with a partial or full Irish heritage, you can be forgiven for thinking all the fuss and ‘green’ everything around St Patrick’s Day, is a modern phenomenon because it is!
Today, March 17 is a day of international celebration, as millions of people around the globe put on their best green clothing to drink beer, watch parades and toast the luck of the Irish.
What’s your experience of St Patrick’s Day in Australia – after all, we have lots of Irish immigrants?
Writers, especially if they want to be journalists or write blog posts should have eclectic tastes and always seek to improve their general knowledge.
In this day and age of instant news and a proliferation of people competing online and in print to be writers, those who want to see their name in lights and/or earn a living from writing need to be up-to-date and in fact, with the 24-hour news cycle, they need to be up-to-the-minute!
If you are writing family history you may just have a touch of the Irish in you because Ireland is a country with a long history of exporting people.
Or perhaps you have an Irish Setter? This dog breed falls into the category of ‘love them or hate them’ and as an ex-owner of one of these lovely dogs, I challenge the stereotype that they are stupid. Our Orla was indeed the queen of dogs.
Did you learn or love Irish dancing, Irish music and songs?
My music collection ranges from wonderful tenors like Father Sydney McEwan to The Dubliners folk group and Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin (anglicised as Enya).
When you hear a particular song – When Irish Eyes Are Smiling or Its a Long Way to Tipperary – what memories are evoked? What about The Unicorn song or Lily The Pink by The Irish Rovers?
Have you visited Ireland or is it on your travel Bucket List?
To get more inspiration wear something green, or sit in the garden — perhaps the luck o’ the Irish will heighten the muse!
Grab a stout and join the craic at a celebration – visit The Sherlock Holmes, or even Ireland itself!
The Richness of Celtic Culture Can Be Mined For Stories
Before the introduction of Christianity, Ireland was largely pagan. However, with the arrival of early Christians, missionaries preached where people already worshipped and folded pagan places of pilgrimage, including holy wells, into a new faith. Saints replaced pagan deities and existing places of prayer were given a Christian flavour.
Despite Anglo-Norman attempts to replace veneration of Irish female saints with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and later efforts to suppress rituals and beliefs around wells, dedication to the saints persisted, and they remained regionally significant.
The endurance of particular saints became connected to the success of dynasties that were attached to certain territories and their endowment of land for churches and abbeys.
(Did you know that professions have patron saints? St Matthew for accountants and bankers, St Genesius for actors and for secretaries, St Jerome for librarians, and writers have two saints, St John the Evangelist and St Francis de Sales – is this because we may sin more than most or need more looking after?
What happens to those saints of professions no longer prolific or even existing? St Crispin (cobblers), St Sebastian (pin-makers), St Hubert (huntsmen) – do they get reassigned to the new professions created by technology?)
For many wells, their mysticism extends beyond their connection to a saint. Known for their healing capabilities, some wells were believed to specialise in treating diseases such as tuberculosis and whooping cough.
Today they are sought out more for maladies like sore throats, head, back, stomach, and toothaches, warts, and other skin-related problems, anxiety, and even cancer.
Researchers’ studies determined that some wells are rich in specific chemicals, for example –
waters associated with skin remedies are often high in sulphur, an effective ingredient in acne medication.
Wells connected with “strengthening weak children” are generally iron-rich.
The wells in County Kerry’s “Valley of the Mad” contain lithium and were effective in treating mental illness.
…a few hours into the dark of night, an intergenerational crowd encircles a large, smoky bonfire near the sites of two holy wells dedicated to St Brigid. Just over 100 participants have gathered outside Kildare town for an annual event celebrating both the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc (the beginning of spring) and St Brigid’s Day (February 1st). Led by sisters of the Brigidine Order, they bring lanterns and candles to welcome “the light of Brigid” and the end of an unusually cold winter.
Quite literally in spite of the cold, the crowd is sprinkled with water from St Brigid’s nearby healing well. A woman sits by the fire and begins weaving a large St Brigid’s cross of local rushes. As the crowd falls silent— her actions are explained as symbolic ritual labour; she weaves into the cross the dreams and worries of those present…”
This practice of observing a modern religion and a pagan precursor is known as ‘syncretism’. You can find it all over the world among former slaves and indigenous peoples who are nominally Catholic, but who identify their saints with pre-Christian gods.
In parts of Latin America, Indians in the more remote regions especially, observe rituals that are derived from both Latin Catholicism and their ancient animist traditions.
Write about a saint or someone who turns up at the well to be healed.
What story can be written about the failure to keep the sacred feminine well?
Do you have a ‘miracle’ cure story?
Did you Know These facts about The Shamrock?
Trifolium dubium, the wild-growing, three-leaf clover is what some botanists consider the official shamrock.
However, many refer to other three-leaf clovers, such as the perennials Trifolium repens and Medicago lupulina but according to the Irish these plants are “bogus shamrocks.”
The custom of wearing a shamrock dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is no evidence to say what plant people used, therefore, the argument over authenticity is purely academic.
Botanists say there’s nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks. Most species can be found throughout Europe so is this just another example of the Irish ‘gift of the gab’ and great marketing?
Spiders are supposed to be lucky too – so I guess my run-in with this greenery cocooned in webs in Northern Ireland was extremely lucky!
STORY IDEAS ABOUT IRELAND & ST PATRICK’S DAY
Think of words associated with Ireland and St Patrick’s Day – list them and see if a story or poem is triggered:
WORD LIST TO GET YOU STARTED:
Ireland, luck, leprechaun, a pot of gold at end of the rainbow, Guinness, stout and beer, blarney (kissing the Blarney Stone), brogues, dancing, bagpipes, the fiddle, Gaelic, Erse, potatoes bread, Irish Stew, scones, shamrock, shillelagh, limerick, poetry, jigs, faeries, banshee, pints, poteen, marching, clover, green, Irish, happy, St. Patrick’s Day, holiday, myths, legends, stove pipe hat, buckles, shoes, surprise, superstition, seventeen, Dublin, Belfast, magic, four-leaf clover, tradition, celebration, family, emigrants, Emerald Isle…
Pretend that you have found a four-leaf clover that will bring you extraordinary good luck for exactly one day. Write about that lucky day.
What does it mean to get a “lucky break?” Write about a time when you got one.
James Garfield (the 20th US president) said, “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” What do you think he meant? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Draw a mindmap in the shape of a large four-leaf clover. In the centre write: I am lucky because… Then, write a different way that you are lucky on each of the four leaves. Use the words to make a poem.
Do you have a good luck charm? Describe your lucky keepsake and how it brings you luck. Do you have a lucky number? An item of clothing that you wear that always seems to make you happy or good things happen when you wear it?
Writing About Leprechauns
Do you believe in leprechauns? Why or why not?
Write the Legend of the Leprechaun. Create a story about the lucky Leprechaun (or one who lost his magical powers).
What do leprechauns do all day? Make a daily schedule for a leprechaun – what will happen if one leprechaun tears up the timetable?
You have caught a leprechaun (how?).He/she gives you a pot of gold in exchange for freedom. What do you do with it? Or maybe you are granted 3 wishes… but there are rules/consequences
A mischievous leprechaun paid a visit to your garden during the night and caused all kinds of trouble. How do you cope/ fix it?
Make a list of the advantages or disadvantages of being as small as a leprechaun. Can you write a story?
You are a leprechaun who is tired of the old-fashioned hat, suit, and shoes and you’ve decided green is not your colour. You want a new, updated look for today’s modern leprechaun. Write a letter to the leprechaun fashion designer explaining why you think an update is a good idea and what the new leprechaun outfit should be. Or write the dialogue between a grandmother/mother and teenage leprechaun daughter or grandfather/father and teenage leprechaun son.
Describe a magical land “over the rainbow.” How do you get there? Do you stay? Is it really Nirvana/Paradise/Heaven?
Acrostic poems can be written about anything…
You can use one word for each letter, create a full sentence, have it rhyme, or just write random phrases. Acrostic poems are whatever you want them to be – I’ve used GREEN and LUCKY from the word list above.
Grass is always greener somewhere else Really you make your own luck Each of us can pay it forward End the myths about magic No leprechauns just as there were no snakes!
Leprechauns are too small to see Unlucky for some, but not for me Can a rainbow grant wishes, or promise gold? Kids love these stories and beg they be told You can see the ‘wee people’ if you’re bold!
Are you Green?
Today ‘Being Green’ has everything to do with the environment and recycling, or having a ‘green thumb’ in the garden.
But perhaps you were ‘green’ once upon a time when you were learning something new?
Or perhaps ‘green around the gills’ from a wave of nausea?
Mairi Neil’s attempt at St Patrick’s Day Limerick
Have you ever tried writing a blog
Through a St Paddy’s Day partying fog?
The brain is numb
Words don’t come
Until you sample ‘the hair of the dog!’
May your muse function better than mine – Happy Writing and feel free to share!
The other day, I received an email from a young man who wanted to write – not a book or novel but ‘perhaps for the screen‘. He believed his future was to write stories and present them in a way people understand just ‘not in paper format‘…
Unfortunately, Mordialloc Writers’ Group is no more but his desire to tell stories and write made him seek guidance from other writers.
His request rekindled memories of why I founded the local writers’ group in 1995 and maybe he and several others who have contacted me will be motivated to establish their own support group.
I remember that ache to be with people who understand the desire to write.
I remember wanting to not feel isolated or alone; needing to be with others who understand the fascination with words.
Sometimes I wonder where that eager, passionate writer has gone.
It’s Easy to Become Jaded
Over the years, through my involvement with the group and my teaching, I’ve managed to keep writing, but not always, writing what I want – and sometimes not from the heart. There have been periods of avoidance or dissatisfaction with whatever I’ve written. Periods of feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of others.
At times it took a conscious effort to remember and appreciate the sheer joy of stringing words together into a meaningful sentence, a memorable metaphor, a funny rhyme, an interesting character or setting…
When there are workshops to organise, deadlines to meet, lessons to plan, and editing of other people’s writing, the passion and pleasure, spark of imagination and fun are often smothered, spontaneity lost.
I’ve never had ‘making money’ as the main aim or motivation for writing – just as well because few writers ever become wealthy like JK Rowling.
My ego has never been so demanding that celebrity status or becoming famous kept me motivated to write.
And unlike George Orwell, I have never been so driven that I could neglect family responsibilities or my friends.
However, I do want to be able to respond proudly and without hesitation, to the questions, ‘What are you?‘ or ‘What do you do?’
I want to respond with, ‘I am a writer.’
I believe I am, and I do – even if not as successful as many others in the field.
I still want to record my own stories and help others record theirs. Let their voices be heard regardless of whether they have a university degree or dropped out of high school.
I want to meet anyone who enjoys playing around with and understanding the power of words, whether it be writing ditties, letters to ‘the editor’, romantic and creative cards, bookmarks, popular or literary short stories, healing personal stories, or the ‘one novel everyone has inside them’.
I have pages of imaginative, poignant, amusing and serious poems and prose from so many different writers.
What a privilege to share their stories, poems, plays, songs – even an opera – as they delighted in being with like-minded people with a passion for words.
Writing groups and classes bring together people from all walks of life writing what they want to write, but also valuing the techniques and tools of the craft.
Some write as part of a healing process, recovering from accident, illness or grief. Exercising their imagination not just therapy but a glorious release of ideas perhaps not revealed before.
Some write with the aim of helping others recover or learn from their journey, or impart knowledge and ideas they care about.
Some write because at long last they have the time or the courage to nurture their desire to write that novel, or book of poems, or rhymes for children, memoir, autobiography, family history or screenplay for Television, Holywood, or the Web!
Digital technology opening up choices not dreamt about when I first started writing creatively.
The young man who wants to tell stories by writing but not on paper an example of the digital revolution and the future. Maybe he’ll find an online group…
What Am I?
Mairi Neil 2004
I’m a writer.
A phrase with connotations galore –
author, biographer, journalist, poet,
columnist, editor, dramatist, copyist,
novelist, playwright, reporter,
essayist, wordsmith, hack ––
Need I name more?
Unless up against the dreaded block.
They author, communicate, compose, pen,
scratch, sign, autograph, indite,
correspond, create, draft, inscribe,
note, pencil, record, scrawl ––
Scribble frantically around the clock!
The literatiboast lucubration at escritoire,
manuscripts cause graphospasm,
and corpus oeuvre fill posterity’s chasm,
from palaeography to grammatology,
stenography preparing bibliography ––
Pseudonyms detected by graphology!
Whether freelance or fabulist using nom de plumes, ghostwriters or epistolary,
thank goodness people of letters
still continue orthography.
Scriveners scribble in scriptoriums
producing poetry and prose to fascinate,
enlighten, entertain and have their say!
Words that uplift, educate –– or challenge,
even offend –– to promote a cause célèbre!
5 Ways to Rediscover or Retain Writing Mojo & Spirit…
Write something for fun or like me vent your frustration. Form poetry is a good place to start – maybe a limerick or two.
Current Affairs But Who Cares?
Barnaby’s no longer Deputy PM
No longer the National’s gem
But tone-deaf Tony
And Bernardi the phoney
Both agree he’s not one of them!
Meanwhile, Malcolm’s losing the polls
Trying to dodge social media trolls
Tony keeps sniping
Ol’ Barnaby’s griping
Mal’s struggling to hold the controls.
Yet, who wants Bill as the boss?
Both the left and the right are cross
Bill tried to be canny
Lying about Adani
Now Labor may face electoral loss.
Aussie politics seems such a joke
Weekly stuff ups by bloke after bloke
Time for the choice
Of a strong female voice
The glass ceiling again must be broke.
Keep a journal or maybe a blog – experiment with poetry, flash fiction, citizen journalism…
Searching for Words and Meaning…
In writing class
we explore language
seek living words
sentencing each other
to work it out
or perhaps not
just listen, absorb and be
explore the language
search for words
taught in childhood
read in books
overheard on the train…
volume doesn’t matter
one sentence or two
from me or you
research for a living
search for meaning
out-search a life
writing in class…
Make the time to read a book or see a film, visit an art gallery or a museum – it may inspire you to write a review.
Haiku Book Review by Mairi Neil
Crime and Punishment
Be creative – sew, knit, garden, paint, take photographs – find pleasure and satisfaction in other projects and free your mind to return to writing.
Dance, listen to music, walk, meditate, enjoy the silence of nature. Nurture your inner self, the words will come when you are ready and your creative energy returns.
The City of Kingston again held a morning tea to celebrate International Women’s Day, and in 2018, the catchcry was #pressforprogress with the speakers focusing on gender equality.
The event, held at Kingston City Hall featured the CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria as the keynote speaker but also two young women from local secondary colleges, a student leader from Westall and a Year Nine student from Parkdale Secondary College.
Deputy Mayor Councillor Georgina Oxley opened the official proceedings to introduce Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, Chair of Vic health, and Co-Chair of the State Government’s Family Violence Committee. Kingston’s Mayor Steve Staikos was also present plus Councillor Rosemary West and several Council staff members.
She recalled several milestones in her life vindicating that young girls must aspire to whatever they want to be, whether it is a scientist, a CEO, a hairdresser or Prime Minister…
at 5 years she was told she couldn’t wear pants to school because she was a girl
at 9 years she couldn’t play basketball because that was a boy’s game
at 12 years insulted and jeered at for being ‘a feminist’ while riding her bicycle
at 15 years she was paid less than her male counterparts as a basketball referee
at 17 years she was told science, law, or politics no place for a woman and she should be a hairdresser
at 22 years she stood for Kingston Council to challenge a society still dictating to women about what they should do…
Now she wears pants if she wants, plays basketball, rides her bicycle to the shops, sees feminism as a term of endearment, campaigns for equal pay and is studying Law. She is involved in politics to make a difference. At 23 years she is involved with the working group to reduce family violence in Kingston.
Equality In The Workplace Two Hundred Years Away?
Women around the globe may have to wait more than two centuries to achieve equality in the workplace, according to new research.
The World Economic Forum, best known for its annual gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos, said it would take 217 years for disparities in the pay and employment opportunities of men and women to end.
The Guardian March 8, 2018
Domestic Violence Australia’s Shame
Fiona McCormack from Domestic Violence Victoria’s address was equally sobering, as she pointed out how important gender equality and pay equity is to stop family violence.
She acknowledged the power of words and language and commended the campaigns #me too, #heforshe: standing together and how the Victorian Government’sRoyal Commission into Family Violencewas a world first proving the political will to converse and make a change. (click on the link to read the recommendations.)
This IWD, Fiona called for everyone to challenge sexism, but more importantly for men to step up and act now for a significant change. Many male peer relationships emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
Male culture can be physical, emotional and economically abusive by threatening, coercive, and dominating behaviour.
Family violence predominantly affects women, 34% are in the age group 35-40:
in Australia, woman are murdered every week
1 in 3 women have suffered from intimate partner violence
1 in 5 have experienced sexual assault
more than half had children in their care witnessing this abuse
We must challenge rigid gender roles and stereotypes, the constructs of masculinity and feminity that encourages domination and control of decision-making within relationships and limits women’s independence.
Research has shown that family violence cannot be explained away by blaming drugs and alcohol. International evidence gathered by the World Bank, World Health Organisation and several other UN organisations reveal it is how social systems are constructed.
The Personal Is Political
Men who have strong views on their role as men, as the head of the family, treat women and children as their possessions; women are carers and/or sexual beings.
There are a lot of problems caused by definitions of masculinity – look no further than the One Punch incidents, gang violence and aggressive behaviour in nightclubs where young men feel the need to prove how tough they are over and over again. The necessity some men have to not only prove they are heterosexual but take part in homophobic attacks.
We have to challenge the norms of what is masculinity until we produce a healthier community for everyone.
Society, the courts, and police must not be ambivalent about acceptable behaviour.
We must address the imbalance of power between men and women regarding decision-making.
Sexist jokes, disrespect, and unequal relationships must be confronted and exposed.
There needs to be a cultural shift especially regarding unequal power and entrenched attitudes.
We can’t point the finger when we continue to discriminate and treat Aboriginal people the way we do. Sovereignty was never ceded and their economic disempowerment and the higher incidence of being caught in a poverty trap contributes to family violence in their communities. Authorities continue the discrimination and abuse leading to high incarceration rates and deaths in custody.
We must actively promote leadership positions for all women and pay equity not just allow conditions to flourish and hope that like the discredited ‘trickle down economics’ theory it will somehow work out in the end.
The United Nations (UN) convention on the rights of the child (CROC-article, 1990) states:
“It is recognised internationally that a child who is capable of forming their own view has the right to express those views.”
Two Young Women Speak Up
(Apologies if I misspelt the names of the young speakers – they were not listed on the invitation and my hearing is not 100%!)
Danielle is a proud Wurundjeri woman and welcomed us to her country in her own language. She acknowledged coming from a long line of working women including her mother, aunts and granny. She has always expected to work and therefore pay parity very important.
She understands that women with dependent children carry a heavy burden when underpaid. Today, young people must work harder to own things like a house and car, but young women not paid equally have to work harder than male counterparts.
She is grateful for the women who have trailblazed but pleaded for the door to be held open for the next generation to walk through and continue to achieve.
The gender pay gap can begin in the home if boys and girls are expected to do different chores and boys putting out the rubbish bins considered to deserve more money than girls drying the dishes! All children’s self-esteem must be built and children encouraged to forget past gender divisions.
Danielle was assured that “a door is well and truly open for you.”
Mulyat is a school leader from Westall Secondary College, who began her talk by describing a recent visit to her birth country Bangladesh. She noticed a huge difference between how girls were treated in the city compared to the countryside.
The inequalities she saw in the rural areas and in poor areas of the city were manifestations of poverty and lack of access to education. And although disheartening it also indicated that if some girls in the city can achieve their dreams then change is possible.
However, gender equality and empowerment should not just be for society’s elites!
When she was little her parents bought her kitchen tools and a doll’s house but she always wanted to be an engineer. She saw a different use for the spatula and wanted to experiment with changing the slope of the roof of the doll’s house.
As she grew up, she wondered why young girls stopped playing sports like rugby when they reached a certain age, why teachers always chose boys to carry furniture, why women in positions of power like our first female Prime Minister were called wicked witches and other curse words. She wondered if Hillary had broken the glass ceiling if women could rise…
The print media and other forms of media headlines pick poor word choices with negative connotations when it comes to women but we must never let anyone make us feel defeated!
We must consider who we are as a collective and don’t be forced to be on the sidelines. Role models are important but the change begins with us. There can be progress to change the future and the echo must go around the world – no barricades and no fences.
After the inspiring speeches, morning tea was a time to catch up with friends, make new ones, share stories, opinions and plans. I chatted with a woman wearing a lovely knitted Pussy Hat and we reminisced about how quickly women all over the world came together to object to Donald Trump’s obnoxious behaviour and attitude to women.
One of Kingston Council’s managers shared his experience of a professional development workshop when he was stunned to hear the fear many women live with daily and how they cope.
The women were asked how safe they felt walking the streets; their responses detailed how they protect themselves.
He remembered being shocked that women accepted the possibility of an attack as a fact of life and:
have their car our house keys in their hand or pocket with the largest key ready as a weapon
if walking with earbuds/earphones, or a wearing a beanie, one ear is always exposed so they can listen for footsteps
Let’s hope that cultural shift that is so necessary is happening and speeds up. Late in the afternoon, I marched through the city on the annual IWD March and again caught up with friends.
Evelyn is 86 years old. We are both longtime members of the Union of Australian Women and have lost count of the number of marches we have joined, the letters we’ve written and the petitions signed demanding gender equality and in particular equal pay.