Life Doesn’t Have to Be A Gamble

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I don’t consider myself a wowser but have to admit to disquiet about where we are heading as a nation regarding gambling after a recent report ranks Australia among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

In the past, I’ve smiled at the jokes about Australians having a public holiday for a horse race when the Melbourne Cup is discussed.

I’ve bet on the Cup, bought Tattslotto and raffle tickets, and once when visiting my sister in Albury, even put a complimentary $2.00 in 5cent coins through a machine at their local League Club in an attempt to ‘join in the fun’.

That evening I had to beg my sister to take over my machine because I got bored – each time I thought I’d finished feeding the coins I’d win just enough to keep going! I honestly can’t see the attraction of pokie machines, yet poker machines still account for more than half of all gambling losses in Australia.

Here is an article from our local paper this month:

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The trend is similar in other cities, where disadvantaged suburbs are delivering the biggest returns to the operators of pokies venues.

On a Monday morning, as we sit writing our stories in the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House there is a steady stream of punters going into gamble at the hotel across the Nepean Highway, now named Mordy HQ, although previously called the Kingston Club.

View from the Window

Mairi Neil

The grey monolith of the Kingston Club dominates the streetscape
Seen through the green curtain of trembling palms, the bleakness softens.
Green and yellow flapping fronds a distraction from concrete geometry.
The garden bed of emerald bushes comforts the dull red leaves of the coprosma
dying under the weight of winter. Tiny shoots peek from the tanbark,
promising spring. I imagine white lilies and yellow daffodils dancing.
Still secreted beneath the soil, other seeds prepare for Mother Nature’s show,
Trained to perfection they absorb today’s bright sunshine. 

A rainbow line of cars gleam, duco washed and polished by weekend rain.
Last night’s downpour, a cleansing river whisking dusty debris, and leaf litter
Into the drains, to be carried to the sea and discharged into the bay
Fired like a cannonball from the stormwater pipe at Mentone.
A woman walks by, head bowed, hands thrust in jacket pockets.
A mother wheels a stroller down the ramp, her smiling toddler eager to play.
Pens scratch as we listen to meditative music of winter sounds in the writing class
Outside sunshine and serenity belies drumrolls of thunder and crashing cymbals.

Beyond the window, I imagine the sea. A calm mirror today, wavelets daintily
Tripping to the foreshore. Dog walkers stroll, children shovel sand and laugh
Beachcombers search for abandoned treasure after hundreds of weekend visitors
Tourists, high-spirited revellers, and locals caught in metal detectors’ sweep.
The gamblers and lonely misfits in the grey monolith hope for luck too
Not by the blue sea, nor breathing fresh air, or soaking in the warmth of the sun.
Caught in the magnetic attraction of gaming machines they do not see
Dappled sunshine dancing on the window pane, or the palm trees tremble.

 

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Australia is ranked among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

Dr Piers Howe, a cognitive scientist at the University of Melbourne, believes Australians are among the heaviest punters on the planet on a per capita basis and are probably the biggest.

Our nation’s gambling addiction has deepened with average net losses borne by each adult member of the population climbing to $1242 in 2015.

New national data published by the Queensland government this month shows that total net losses rose 7.7 per cent to $22.73 billion in the 12 months to the end of June last year, driven by massive growth in online sports betting and casino gaming.

New South Wales is the country’s biggest consumer market for gambling, with average losses per head of population rising more than $100 to $1517.

Victoria was the second-highest gambling state with per capita losses rising by around $85 to $1250, although gamblers burnt cash at a slower rate than their NSW counterparts.

 

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The biggest beneficiaries from our national fixation are big ASX-listed gaming and casino operators and the state governments.

  • James Packer’s listed casino business, Crown Resorts, raked in a net profit of more than $400 million for the year to the end of June, on the back of solid returns from flagship casinos in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
  • Packer also owns the local operations of online sports gaming provider Betfair, which is benefitting from the digital gambling boom.
  • Woolworths is another big winner through its hotel joint venture with national pokies king, Bruce Mathieson.

“It’s easy to look at the release of these figures today as just statistics but let’s not forget that every dollar of ‘gambling expenditure’ comes from a real person and much of this from problem gamblers.”

Tasmanian independent MP Senator Andrew Wilkie

Crowning Glory
Mairi Neil

A glittering palace to mankind’s ingenuity
Or a concrete prison to addiction?
A private playground for the rich list,
Convenient bank for money launderers,
Or harmless escapism to chase Lady Luck?
The foyer a curiosity for snap-happy tourists,
Their wondrous delight as cameras flash
And children stare at magic ceilings
While colourful water fountains dance
To Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Verdi…

Beyond smooth marble surfaces,
Polished wood and gleaming brass,
The alluring world of gaming machines hums.
Amid baize Roulette and Black Jack tables
Serviced by smiling seductive croupiers,
Homes are lost, marriages disintegrate,
Unfettered,the leviathan shatters youthful dreams.
In private rooms high rollers
Win what they can afford to lose…

This is a place for saviours to seek sinners.
Priests have intoned ‘the poor are always with us’
As cries of ‘Bingo’ echo in church halls and
School fetes spin wheels to fund libraries.
Government coffers bulge and the
Community Benefit Tax manipulated ––
Everyone celebrates Cup Day and
Glue-stick legs and arms clamp onto the
2,500 metal machines hidden behind glitzy walls…

The cry of a child in the carpark
Bounces off Commodores and shiny Volvos;
Smothered between Land Rovers and limousines,
Jaded Mazdas, new Toyotas, ancient Fords.
Trembling hands swipe plastic cards ignoring
Mobile phone vibrations and merry ringtones
Self-control buried behind pale faces.
Glazed eyes focus with burning intensity
On spinning numbers and gaudy symbols;
Dry lips pray for luck
To a God abandoned long ago…

Security guards turf tipsy losers
Onto Southbank’s smooth walkways.
At the mercy of loutish thugs they
Stumble home to suburbia, seeking courage to
Face frantic family or exhaust-fumed garage  –
Perhaps Gamblers’ Anonymous?
The Yarra River reflects Melbourne’s progress
But at night this River Styx absorbs
The tears of the disadvantaged and
Washes away the writing on the wall.

Each night the news is full of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, jobless… and although maths has never been my forte you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how much better off society would be if we could get the nation’s addiction under control. If the casino and hotel owners thought of people before profits, and if social programs worked to entice people away from self-destructive behaviour.

A lot of ifs and buts in that dream…

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“As gambling becomes more popular it has less of a social stigma and it might be that social norms around gambling have made it more acceptable.”

I guess what we need to do is change behaviour and in some cases cultural norms. As usual, this must start in childhood – children learn what they live! Here is a modern nursery rhyme from my book of Nutty Nursery Rhymes:

Little Miss Honey
Lost all her money
Down at Crown Casino
She found being broke
Wasn’t a joke
Oh, how her tears did flow!

Little Miss Honey
Went to the bank
To ask for a housing loan
The bank manager said, ‘No,
To the Casino don’t go,
Gambling we won’t condone!’

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Olympic Memories Make a Moving Memoir

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After a few days of almost Spring weather, mercurial Melbourne reminded me it is still officially winter and inadvertently revealed a trace of the past. Above, is an outline which appeared on the kitchen window, of a butterfly sticker removed over two years ago!

The heat generated by the gas heater, plus steam from the pot of sweet potato and lentil soup I was cooking for a Union of Australian Women luncheon, revealed this outline despite the glass being cleaned umpteen times  since the sticker was removed.

I’ve never noticed this outline before (day or night) – a ghostlike skeleton from the past – a reminder of something no longer in existence.

A great metaphor for memoir and life story writing when we never know what memory will pop up or be triggered to write about…

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I love creative writing and the four classes I’m teaching this year at three neighbourhood houses (Mordialloc, Longbeach Place, and Godfrey Street) enables me to meet many passionate writers and hear their wonderful stories.

If I can encourage and facilitate these stories into print to be widely shared I feel a sense of accomplishment – especially if the stories are from life experiences. This is how we appreciate and learn from each other – and I’m forever amazed at what turns up!

The Olympic Games

School teachers love the Olympics and plan lessons in all subjects around the theme, but I don’t specifically do that in adult classes. However, what a delightful surprise when a student in the Wednesday Life Stories & Legacy class entertained us with her connection to the 1956 Olympic Games held in Melbourne.

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An unused postcard found in the Croydon house when we migrated here in 1962

Donna, not only wrote about the links she had with the 16th Olympiad but brought in a jar containing part of the famous field finishing line!

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This ‘show and tell’ was in response to previous lessons when we discussed nostalgia and memories. Sometimes in class, an item is mentioned and the whole group gives a collective laugh or sigh and says, “Oh, I remember that” or “I haven’t thought about that in years.”

Think carefully…

Have you an item/relic from days gone by, no longer useful apart from being an oddity? Have a look in drawers and cupboards and write about it before passing it on to the op shop!

Donna turned up with an old chutney jar from the back of her mother’s kitchen cupboard. This jar had a piece of the turf from the finishing line (white chalk barely discernible after more than half a century later), historic in more ways than one!

  • The 16th Olympiad was the first time the Games had been held in Australia, and classed as the ‘Friendly Games’
  • It was the beginning of the tradition whereby all athletes walk into the Closing Ceremony as one group, and not individual countries.

newspaper article 1956 Olympics

The above newspaper clipping featuring Donna’s mother, “Mrs. John Hellier” explains how she was in a position to souvenir such a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Heather Hellier was the private secretary to Sir William Bridgeford, the chief executive officer of the Olympic Committee. It was her job to put overseas visitors and other dignitaries at ease (notably the Duke of Edinburgh and Australia’s PM Sir Robert Menzies) as well as a host of officials and journalists from all participating countries.

A typical day for Heather included:

  • arranging press conferences with Sir William for Australian and visiting journalists
  • arranging plane tickets and hotel bookings for one of his interstate tours to publicise the Games
  • typing his many speeches
  • dealing with correspondence and telephone calls
  • receiving numerous guests, visitors, and queries
  • assisting planning for official banquets and receptions (before, during and after the Games) including those for Royal guests of honour
  • controlling the steady stream of people paying courtesy calls and business people seeking meetings with Sir William during the Games

 

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Donna reading her story while Annie reads a copy of the newspaper article

Donna recalled some of her mother’s conversation about that exciting time when she probably had one of the most prestigious and memorable secretarial positions available.

For my mother , it meant long hours, care for every detail, and constant polite communication, culminating in the Games themselves, which were a well-ordered whirlwind of inspirational efforts, patriotic pride, the honouring of Olympic ideals, as well as meetings with Prime Minister Menzies and even a chat about cycling with the Duke of Edinburgh…

It was frantic but went like clockwork due to all the careful planning.

There were winners and there were losers, heroics, and even bloodshed in the pool as the Cold War managed to enter the Melbourne Olympics, better known from that day to this as The Friendly Games…

… as their feet went over that white chalk line they were as one, no longer divided by country. There were many tears shed as the Olympic flag was taken down, the Olympic Flame extinguished and the athletes left the stadium… 

… my mother was horrified to see the Olympic track being unceremoniously dug up in order for the MCG to host a cricket match… this was almost sacrilegious. Always quick on her feet, she ran downstairs and grabbed two pieces of the chalked turf finishing line – one for herself, and one for  Sir William… 

… that piece of white chalk on Olympic turf had done its job, brought pride and achievement, rewarded hard work, stamina, and sheer guts. Its time in the spotlight under the glare of thousands of photographers’ flash bulbs over. Sad to be gone in physical terms but living on in the history of this country, in the minds and memories of all who saw it, and in film (early TV) and photography.

How lucky to see a tiny piece of that memorable event – even if stored in a chutney jar for 60 years!

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I tried to capture that faint white line.

After Donna read her story I remembered some memorabilia from previous Olympic Games that are probably quite rare in Australia.

The Moscow Olympics

In 1980, I worked for the Victorian Branch of the  Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union and one of the officials, Frank Brady was fundraising for a close friend going to the Olympic Games in Moscow.

However, Russia had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and the USA and other countries decided to boycott the Olympic Games. The country was divided about attending and the angst and controversy of the time a direct contrast to the cute bear who was the mascot of the Games.

Frank gifted me the bear and badge.

It holds precious memories of my time in the union office and of Frank who died a few years later. There were many debates and discussions around Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan (ironically the USA also took that path years later), the Olympic boycott, the decisions of individual athletes to go or stay, and the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies. These set a high competitive benchmark for every Olympiad since and the effort to go one better.

As Alexander McCall Smith said, ‘we don’t forget…’ and keepsakes and objects help spark the memories!

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Misha, also known as Mishka designed by children’s book illustrator Victor Chizhikov

The governments of the United Kingdom, France, and Australia supported the boycott but left any final decision over participation to individual athletes and respective NOCs.

The International Olympics Federations protested that the pressures by the US and other supporting countries for the boycott was an inappropriate means to achieve a political end, and the victims of this action would be the athletes.

Needless to say, there have been plenty of politics at every Olympics since and the controversy over Moscow resulted with only eighty participating countries, the lowest number since 1956.

Yet, the Moscow Games have the distinction that more world records were set than by the fuller contingent attending the previous summer games in Montreal, 1976.

The Sydney Olympics

I have several photographs commemorating the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney, Australia, starting with the Olympic Torch Relay. Lots of community members were chosen to take part in mini relays on the lead up to the great day and my friend from the Union of Australian Women,  Amy Duncan ran in Mordialloc.

When the Olympic Torch came to Melbourne, I kept the girls off school and with hundreds of others we cheered the runners at Mentone. We had some morning tea and then caught a tram to spend the afternoon at a special exhibition about Anne Frank at the Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick.

The tram had to stop to let the runners go past, we hopped off and joined the throng of well-wishers. The crowds were so huge, and traffic jammed that we met up with more torch relay runners. It was a slow run because I think the authorities underestimated the thousands who would take to the streets to cheer.

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The girls met several runners (former and current athletes) and they both got to hold an Olympic Torch. Perhaps in a writing class of the future, they’ll write their story of that day.

For most people, the highlight of the 2000 Games was Cathy Freeman and although I would never call myself a sporty person, Cathy, and those Games encouraged me to be a couch potato for a few weeks, and join John and the girls watching the Games!

The Beijing Olympics

The final Olympic story triggered by Donna’s magnificent Mother’s history was of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Prior to China hosting the Olympic Games, I was working for Melbourne University Student  Union, and we hosted a delegation of Chinese university students from the same Beijing university that led the protests in 1989 later known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The students were coming to Australia to learn about representative student unions, how to run student elections, and work with university administration.

We had many interesting discussions and I showed them photographs of my time in China in 1979 – long before any of them were born! We also talked about 1989 and what memories they or their parents had. They were optimistic for the democratization of their country’s institutions.

All of them had gifts to share and along with a lovely wall hanging and polished wooden coasters, they gave me an Olympic Games fan, and I requested their autographs.

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Please share whatever memories you have of Olympic Games – past or present!

 

 

Colours of Harmony Work Towards Peaceful Co-Existence​

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sunrise over Albert Street Mordialloc

 

This post about a wonderful event is late, because as my husband John, used to say, you can never budget for ill-health – it  strikes at any time.

He wasn’t just talking about finances, but also the time lost when yourself or a family member is sick. I’ve experienced both recently with the emergency hospitalisation of my youngest daughter and then becoming ill myself with labyrinthitis, a condition I’ve had before and often recurs because of stress.

To top the unfortunate week off, the family dog Aurora had to be taken to the vet and is now scheduled for an operation and treatment we hope will be beneficial for the eleven and half-year-old, who has been remarkably fit. She is lying beside me as I type, still sulking after the visit to the vet! 

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Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition

Therefore, apologies in advance if I don’t do justice to an inspiring local art exhibition I was lucky to be invited to attend as Kingston Citizen of the Year. The Mayor, Cr Tamsin Bearsley, spoke at the Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition sponsored by the City of Kingston Interfaith Network and held at St Nicholas Gallery, Mordialloc.

Interfaith Network in Kingston

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Despite heavy rain drumming on the pavements, and outside being the ubiquitous “dark and stormy night” the venue oozed light, love, and harmony.

The title of the art exhibition apt.  I walked through the door to the buzz of conversations and laughter contributing to a feeling of harmony and happiness. I spied a couple of faces from my past association with the church and years melted away.

There is a special aura around people comfortable in their faith, regardless of denomination or creed, as well as those without a religion but who believe in humanity’s goodness.

Kindness, compassion, and spirituality warm and encompassing, like the sunrise and sunset’s predictable beauty of benign light.

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It was the first time I had been inside the renovated church and ‘new’ gallery (renovations occurred 2011!), although many years ago, I attended services regularly, helped out with the children’s program (the J-Team), and Father Tony, the priest at the time, officiated at John’s funeral.

However, 2007 was the last time I attended as a parishioner when we took Mum to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a service I adored. It’s a memory the girls and I treasure for many reasons, particularly since Mum died in 2009.

For me, a  special ceremony in the calendar of any religion is a spiritual experience and celebrating the birth of Jesus at St Nicholas is always joyous. Even for those who don’t profess a deep faith, Christmas can be special.

The thousands who attend Carols by Candlelight events(or watch them on TV) throughout Melbourne, including events in Kingston, and most notably at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the city proper, often discover a sense of community and of peace.

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Renovations and Transformation…

I was impressed by the transformation of the inside of the church building and the addition of the gallery. The sanctity of the church building enhanced and inviting the public to come in and use the space. A link to the world outside and recognition that symbols and ritual have value because meaning will come from interaction and thoughtful contemplation.

St Nicholas will be celebrating 150 years soon and a member of the congregation  is researching and writing its history. I understand the commitment he has undertaken because I put together the history of St Aidan’s Anglican Church, Carrum for their centenary. What a wonderful addition to Mordialloc’s history Colin’s research and resultant book will make.

Little church on HIll
Published 2004

The beauty in the renovated church, especially of the restored brick archways, the polished wood and the lovely baptismal candle and wall hangings, illustrate the care of the congregation in retaining the essence of the original church.

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Given the multicultural nature of the Australian population sometimes the needs of faiths other than Christian are forgotten and so interfaith networks are important.  

I’ve been fortunate to have many life experiences meeting exceptional human beings in places such as:

  • a ceremony in Japan on the Buddha’s birthday,
  • in a Hindu Temple in Singapore,
  • at Harmony Day and Eid celebrations in Mordialloc
  • and countless workshops and events where people gather to advance equity and social justice without professing a particular faith.

It was good to hear the Chairman of the Interfaith Network thank two long term members taking retirement from active involvement in an organisation committed to tolerance and acceptance of other religions. He also encouraged some of the artists to come forward and share their practice and inspiration for the theme of Colours of Harmony.

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art teacher from Parkdale College

The enthusiastic art teacher from Parkdale College bursting with pride at the magnificent display of students’ efforts, admitted she could have filled all the walls of the gallery and it was difficult to choose just a few works to display such was the response to the topic.

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the wall of art from Parkdale College

The students found inspirational quotes or thoughts and went where their imagination and artistry led and produced a variety of responses to Colours of Harmony. Their efforts a comforting balance to the mainstream media’s ‘shock/horror/outrage’ news-bites designed to either keep us all in a constant state of fear and/or ignorant of any in-depth analysis of national and international affairs.

Sadly, the digital age and proliferation of social media contribute to a reduction in quality journalism and as I considered the thoughtful responses to this exhibition’s brief,  I pondered all the challenges the younger generation face. How lucky we are to have teachers like the young art teacher who embraced this opportunity to get her students involved and share their creative responses.

(Sadly, last year was the final year of a creative writing competition I judged involving Parkdale College and Kingston U3A, which initiated the project. Mordialloc Writers’ Group provided the Encouragement Award for the ten years of the project but alas all good things come to an end and Kingston U3A has decided not to continue.)

However, we are lucky to have teachers who embrace  opportunities to get students involved with community groups and share their creative responses. Parkdale College has a good track record of doing this.

we dont have to be ordinary
We don’t have to be ordinary
dont get harmony etc
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note
do not judge
Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on

 

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It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day, and I’m feeling good.

We live in troubled times and Australia is having many difficult conversations around tolerance and multiculturalism and a recent incident where a group of people calling themselves patriots dressed as Muslims and invaded the progressive Gosford Anglican Church last Sunday, indicates we have a long way to go to reach harmony. 

Congratulations to a local school with no problem embracing the topic and producing insightful artwork like the ones in the exhibition.

The Gallery and Exhibits

Artist/Photographer Suzanne Ashton spoke about seeing the tiny details of life in the ‘big picture’ of the natural and human world. The beauty and wonder others may miss.

Diana Muller’s art is eclectic and her card and crochet pieces depict the soul inspired by poems of Keiko Takahashi. Her message profound, it is in our hands – we can change the future. Her piece The Source reminds us :

We come from the Source, we go back to The Source, and we are The Source.

Felice Cortese in Moordi Walk uses Melaleuca broad-leaved paperbark with water base paint and pigments to create a spiritual piece on prayer and reflection.

Colour on an indigenous tree background inspired from my walks along Mordialloc Creek. Its spirituality and natural beauty.

Richard Newton captured Harmony of Buddha with oil, acrylic, bitumen, gold and silver leaf and layers of resin/mixed medium.

The Thai images of the Buddha are very spiritual and I have attempted to counterbalance the image with a harmonious abstraction… there is an unnatural harmony between the classic old image and the use of colour and line.

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Harmony is about coexistence, and interfaith harmony is a reality when people respect each other’s right to believe and worship their religion without discord and violence. This calls for cooperation and a level of understanding, which may require education and effort – moving out of our comfort zones, reaching out and looking within.

Exhibitions like the Colours of Harmony supported and encouraged by council and community help us grow towards what may seem elusive – an achievable world of mutual respect and appreciation of all cultural traditions so that interfaith and intrafaith dialogues are guided by love and tolerance.

 

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Mother Earth in Harmony by Charmaine Crisp

This ideal encapsulated by artist Charmaine Crisp, in her work depicting the Tree of Life and all its nuances. The ethereal glow and exceptional detail in her painting not done justice by my photograph!

“We wake under the one rising sun, which provides warmth and light for all. May love, hope, and charity be our guide in life.”

The Exhibition lasts until August 30 so I hope as many people as possible make the effort to enjoy the 41 pieces of work by talented artists.

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And for those interested in learning more about other faiths in Melbourne we have The Interfaith Centre, which organises World Interfaith Harmony Week. A Multifaith Calendar is available so that organisations can plan events and be mindful they don’t clash with or inadvertently exclude other faiths.

I studied at the ANU in Canberra in the 70s  and often return to visit friends.  I love this statute of Ethos by Tom Bass,  in Civic.  It embodies how I feel about humanity, the world and belonging to a place where people work for harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

Ethos sculpture canberraEthos speaksnew ethos sculpture ed 2

Acrostic by Mairi Neil

Healing words soothe
A heartfelt hug or sincere smile
Reason not racism
Multicultural vibrancy Australia’s style
Outsiders no more
Not only tolerance but acceptance
You are welcome – we are enriched

When Inspiration Strikes – Write

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I’ve often mentioned how lucky I am.  How blessed and privileged, to be working in community houses and teaching people who want to write, and who love words as passionately as I do.

Today, with mid-winter cold and rain creating a day where staying in bed, or hugging the fireplace seemed a good move unless a better option arose, I  cheerfully organised myself for work.

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As a teacher,  you are not supposed to have favourites, but my class on Wednesday morning is pure delight. Ages range from the early 30s to 87 years and each decade in-between.

Our cultural backgrounds and life experience encompass  Armenia, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Ireland, England and Australia.

Professions: nurse, teacher, event manager, administration, retail, hospitality, lollipop lady, cleaner, small business owner, musician, author, artist, police officer, disability speaker, estate agent, receptionist…

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Life experience: mother, wife, widow, divorcee, never married, single. Some siblings, some knew parents, some brought up by grandparents, some have been in care…

There are travellers, happy-at-home, armchair travellers, ex-military, and those with a bucket list of places to see – exotic and mundane.

We have Post-grads, those whose education was cut short or limited, a Bachelor of Theology, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, non-believers, secular Jews, Buddhists…

 

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Wednesday mornings rich with stories, good writing, fun, and laughter. And today was no exception with one of the students, Donna reading a wonderful piece, “Hatitude My Life in Hats” – an earlier version available online.

With Donna’s permission, I’ve started taking photographs because she brightens up the class with her style, stories, and indeed always a fashionable hat!

Her story today eliciting spontaneous applause!

When I opened my curtains this morning, I smiled, despite the rain dancing on the driveway and street, adding that extra swish as cars raced past.

I smiled because my beautiful bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)is healthy and blooming, I smiled because it is great to be alive.

And because like  most mornings, Mr or Mrs Magpie visited to sing an aria or two. However, recently the magpies have been upstaged by an extremely vocal Noisy Miner.

So vocal, that my lovely daughter MJ has considered avicide.

I am more forgiving – and Tuesday evening being bin night, my sleep was already disturbed  by the growling and clattering of the garbage truck at 6.00 am, so the off-beat duet didn’t cause me to frown.

Because we all share this small planet Earth, we have to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity.

Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader.

And by the time I arrived at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh, via foot, train, bus, and foot (Bentleigh Station not due to reopen until the end of the month) the rain had stopped and I could enjoy the short walk through the garden and appreciate the love and care enveloping the house.

 

Number Nine Godfrey Street

Mairi Neil 2016

The garden a delight from someone’s green fingers
A profusion of pastel colours glistening
While sunshine smiles and fickle autumn spits rain.
I watch visitors stream inside the nondescript house
Their footsteps echoing on shaded verandah.
Walkers scrape and stroller wheels squeak.
A magpie trills in dinner-suited elegance,
Preening glossy feathers and strutting the footpath
As if ushering passersby to enter stage right ––
The Isadora scarf or Hitchcock cigar missing.

A young woman, nursing a toddler on her hip,
Grins a welcome to the elderly gent who
Clutches his chessboard and secret moves.
Their families farewelled to independence,
Seniors care for themselves in exercise classes.
Small talk in craft sessions produces big results.
Delightful aromas drift from the kitchen ––
Homemade pumpkin soup, sweet chocolate cookies,
Spicy curries –– recipes shared with curiosity and love
Sauced with tales from distant lands.

Oil paintings and pastel drawings, the fruit
Of nurtured local artists decorate the walls
This house celebrates learning, laughter, and leisure …
Friendships bubble and overflow to the neighbourhood
No need to cruise the retail choices of Centre Road,
Sup lonely cafe lattes amid chattering conversations
Or sit mesmerised by mobile screens
A house in Godfrey Street plants seeds
And grows friendships; welcomes newcomers,
Encourages indigenous and immigrant to bloom.

In the house singsong voices of children tinkle
While mellow murmurings of writers’ words
Capture imagination, life experience, and wisdom.
Pens scratch notepads as the sewing group
Across the hall coax machines to whirr into life,
Garments appear patterned by creativity
Wordsmiths spin sentences for pleasure
Every room thrums and hums as
People connect, care and communicate
Their commitment to lifelong learning

I accept the magpie’s invitation
Submit to being ‘led up the garden path’
To follow a thirty-year trail and discover
Like the vibrant blossoms in the garden
Community and harmony flourishes
At Number Nine Godfrey Street.

mordi beach in winter

Open House At Abbotsford Convent

open house  sign

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On Sunday, for the sixth year, I volunteered for Open House Melbourne and spent the day at Abbotsford Convent sharing the welcoming duties with Shirley, another volunteer. It was a gorgeous, sunny day for winter and the sun had a sting for my Celtic pelt. Although still officially winter, I regretted not having a sun hat.

Shirley and me

It had been several years since I’d been to the complex and although I didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the inside of the buildings, the changes to the gardens, grounds, and renovated buildings was a pleasant surprise.

I just had to block from memory the chequered history of the institution and not dwell on the sadness when the convent was a home for “wayward girls”. Instead, I enjoyed the ambience of the grounds and chatted with the 1000 plus visitors I recorded during my 4-hour shift!

A stream of musicians and singers as people arrived to practice for concerts and the opera. Locals who walked their dogs;  met up with friends or attended regular classes in art, writing and other endeavours.

The tiny, grey-haired and softly spoken ‘sister’ in her mid-80s, now retired, but who had come to revisit the place where she worked with ‘so many happy memories’. My writer’s mind had difficulty not flying off at a tangent and recreating a different scenario!

An article in the Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 34 (2013), 70-90 can be read here: Abbotsford convent nuns treatment of girls with details of when it was still functioning in the Catholic network.

Established in 1863, the former Convent of the Good Shepherd was the most important Catholic institutional complex constructed in Victoria. Some outstanding features include the medieval French ecclesiastic architecture, the historical importance of the Industrial School and the Magdalen Asylum, the  grandeur of the Convent building and heritage gardens and the aesthetic qualities of the surrounding farmland and rural setting.

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at the entrance gate

 

In April of 2004, the Abbotsford Convent Coalition and the public finally won the fight to save the Convent. The State Government of Victoria gifted the site to the public; with $4 million to commence the restoration works and the City of Yarra contributed $1 million. With this, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation was born as the custodian of the site to own and manage it on behalf of the people, with a focus on arts, culture and learning. A strong team was built to implement the strategy and vision and the restoration works commenced. With many of the buildings left for years to become derelict and overgrown gardens beyond belief, the job ahead was monumental.

2014)… Ten years on, 60 per cent of the buildings have been restored, hundreds of tenants fill studio and office spaces, the venues are filled with performances, workshops, rehearsals, conferences and meetings, and there is an extensive program of events staged throughout the year. As a community hub and an accessible cultural platform and creative cluster, the Convent hosts a valuable confluence of connectivity, inspiration and ideas. With close to a million annual visitors, the Convent is now one of Australia’s most popular cultural icons.

WURUNDJERI PEOPLE AND CULTURE HONOURED

 

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First People acknowledged

 

Pre 1838 

The Abbotsford Convent is located on part of the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. The nearby junction of the Merri Creek and Yarra River at Dights Falls continues to be an important meeting place for the Central Victorian Tribes, who are also known as the Kulin Nation. The site is enclosed in a natural amphitheatre that for centuries provided the Wurundjeri people with a sheltered and resource-rich camping area. The river flats and deep fresh water also provided plentiful opportunities for hunting and fishing. The Wurundjeri have maintained their connection to the site, with their office located in the Convent’s Providence building.

Haiku by Mairi Neil

Ningla a-Na! This our land
Indigenous and immigrant
Now sharing history

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Memory Lane

Of course, further down the street, and visited by most of the people who came with children was the Collingwood Children’s Farm. This brought back happy memories of when the girls and I visited with their primary school and we actually milked a cow!

Not sure if they remember the experience with fondness but I know their Nana was thrilled to hear about the visit because it gave her an excuse (not that Mum ever needed that) to tell stories about her childhood years after her mother died, when she lived on her Uncle Arthur’s farm in Northern Ireland .

collingwood childrens farm

The Good Shepherd Chapel

I did manage to have a quick look inside the restored Good Shepherd Chapel. A testament to devotion and the talents of many skilled artisans. Built in 1871, it is the second oldest building at the Abbotsford Convent site and ‘has enormous cultural and historic significance for Victoria’. The original architect, Thomas Kelly, the great uncle of John Clarke, actor/comedian/writer of the ABC Clarke & Dawe duo!

(I always love the connections and six degrees of separation trivia!)

The Chapel is so much more than a church – it is a vibrant and versatile space for the community to gather, share, learn, laugh and reflect. 

Renovated in 2012, its remaining original features lovingly restored, it is now a popular venue for weddings, baptisms, and funerals. My co-volunteer, Shirley, told me her son had been married in The Chapel.

More an agnostic now than having any close relationship with my Protestant upbringing, I’ve been inside many Catholic churches all over the world and usually find the statues of the crucified Christ and much of the art confronting.  Sunday was no exception and the large sculpture in the foyer didn’t disappoint!

jesus crucified

The Crucifix at the end of the Chapel, in a space called the Avant Choir, was made by Max Kreitmayer who was one of the waxworks owners in Melbourne. He came from Germany where he studied anatomy. The house he lived in across, and down the road from the Chapel near the farm is now a cafe.

Terse Verse by Mairi Neil

Faith isn’t logical,
neither is love
delicate… fragile…
sometimes destructive

 

The stained glass windows include the beautiful Rose Window above the History Centre, and the Wheel Window, behind the altar, which breathes new life after being concealed internally during the 1960s and 70s. The two traciered windows next to the Wheel Window, representing the Good Shepherd and the Immaculate Conception on the left, and St joseph and St john the Baptist on the right.

 

 

The high Altar is still in its original form and was built by Moisseron & L Andre Sculpteures in France. The beautiful marble ordered by Sister Carmel Curtain, the revered sister interred beneath the Chapel nave.

The Apse (Dome) Painting is a set of 5 paintings depicting Mary and two archangels. A visiting artist, Signor Cavallaro, painted the mural in 1899.

Asylum Seekers & Refugees – TREE OF HOPE

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have always been outspoken on the issue of asylum seekers and many have been active and vocal demanding change in government policies. I wrote a message on a luggage tag and hung it on their Hope Tree –

I hope that all refugees and asylum seekers are released from detention and the Australian Government discovers the meaning of compassion.

 

 

Seeking Asylum by Mairi Neil

Despair and desperation in their eyes
they plan to seek a new life
as far away as possible from strife

Seeking a safe haven is the prize
perhaps leaving behind children and wife
despair and desperation in their eyes

For many, it may take several tries
this plan to seek a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes

Living on the edge of a knife
their only crime seeking a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes.

floor inscription

The Order was founded on activating the values of faith, hope, charity and compassion…

‘Charity and Zeal must be universal, that is, they should reach out and relate to everyone.’

St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

 

There is also a Bell Tower with bells cast in the 1880s. The bells still ring on special occasions although the original mechanism has been decommissioned. However, Anton Hassell, maker of the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr configured a drop hammer mechanism to allow the fickle instrument to resonate when needed, much to the delight of the Convent and neighbourhood.

Many of the buildings have been turned into artist and writer studios and I have to admit to envy – especially when the benign sun shone on Sunday, the first hints of spring budded on trees and there was a serene solidity and suspension of time as you walked on paths -whether earthen or concrete – trod by thousands of feet for thousands of years.


Inside the buildings, there may have been shadows of a dark and painful past but outside the gardens display nurturing care and love. A middle-aged man I spoke to yesterday worked as an apprentice gardener ‘many moons ago’ he said with a smile. He was returning to ‘have a look at the changes’.

I complimented him on all his hard work because the mature trees and plants are a credit to the years of care and somebody’s vision, magnificent shrubs and trees don’t just happen!

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Haiku by Mairi Neil

Sunlight dispels shadows
gardens nurtured with love
brighten everyone’s day.

Mother Nature’s arms
Always soothes and refreshes
Whispering sweet peace

tree skeleton

When it was time to go off duty, Shirley and I headed for the Bakery for a well-earned cup of coffee. So many people visit Abbotsford Convent every weekend for breakfast or lunch, the variety of eating places popular – especially Lentil As Anything. But there is also Kappaya Japanese Soul Food Cafe, Cam’s and the Convent Bakery.

The sound of children’s laughter, adult chatter and the clinking of wine glasses and coffee cups and the biggest variety of dogs I had ever seen in a public space that was not specifically a dog park, was a marvellous testimony to how lucky we are living in a place often voted the world’s most liveable city!

Haiku by Mairi Neil

Coffee for two, please
Friendship needs refills
And a regular fix

Mark your calendar now for next year – Open House Melbourne weekend is a wonderful opportunity to spend time and appreciate marvellous Melbourne.

You can experience buildings with historical, architectural and cultural significance and learn a little more of the development of the city while having fun.

 

Resisting The Fear of Terror, Trump and Tempestuous Times

present fro Trish

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In a world of instant news, we seem to be inundated with horror, and as the well-known dictum suggests: Bad news travels fast.

A couple of days ago, I received an email with news I hadn’t yet heard. It was from my dear friend Tanja, who now lives in Italy.

Last night a crazy guy shot many persons in Munich. My children are all well. They live in the center of Munich. I feel very sad for this crazy world.’

I sighed with relief  while feeling tremendous sorrow and heartbreak for those who had suffered!

Since then, the number of dead and injured in Kabul has risen, there have been more incidents in Iraq, ongoing carnage in Syria, and fearful repercussions of what may or may not have been a well-organised coup in Turkey while the people still recover from suicide bomber attacks. And more shootings involving police and African-Americans in the USA.

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I’ve mentioned before how privileged I feel to have the world of my writing and teaching to keep me sane and grounded in reality. A reality that there is only a small percentage of human beings committing these acts of terror and violence, but we must all work towards a solution to stop people feeling angry and disenfranchised, or forcing their view of the world on others.

Irresponsible political leaders and celebrities like American Donald Trump, Britain’s Nigel Farage and Australia’s Pauline Hanson peddling the politics of fear, ignorance, lies, and hate in the West and multiple groups and leaders fighting for power in the Middle East – the place we are led to believe is the origin of current acts of terror – can’t be allowed to define who we are.

Limericks Against Loose Language

There’s a presidential hopeful called Trump
From Australia, he looks quite a chump
He speaks in platitudes
With aggressive attitudes
Yet, his popularity is not in a slump!

So many seem to admire Donald Trump
Because ‘political correctness’ he’ll dump
But dissecting his words
Reveals policies absurd
If he wins ‘stop the world’ let me jump!

In Oz, we have a female version of Trump
Pauline Hanson is back with a thump
Fear she’ll expand
’All Muslims banned’
But ask for the logic, and she’s gazumped

Pauline’s no stranger to misinformation
Founding the ironically named ‘One Nation’
She nurtures division
With xenophobic precision
Be welcome as long as you’re not Asian!

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Study History and be Informed

If you have lived over six decades, like me,  you’ll remember the prolonged bombings, murders, and plane hijacks by nationalist groups such as the IRA, PLO, Spanish ETA, not to mention others with perhaps a broader agenda like the Red Brigade, Baader-Meinhof , American Weathermen, the Front de libération du Québec and too many guerrilla groups in South America and the African continent  to list. Who can forget Pol Pot, the Tiger Tamils, extremist groups in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Burma, the plethora of groups involved in the Vietnam War, China’s Cultural Revolution, the Sarin Gas Subway attack in Japan … and the list goes on

Google isn’t the only source of knowledge and shouldn’t be but it is a good start if you type in any of the above struggles, countries, or causes.

Turmoil and tempestuous times are not new but having instant access on our phone which we carry everywhere means we have difficulty escaping from whatever circulates on social media as well as mainstream news.

Bigger television sets with clearer satellite images and on the spot reporting beamed into our homes, every doctor, dentist or hospital waiting room, pub, shopping centre and anywhere else people gather, ensures 24-hour shock and horror with often limited context or facts. Creating and marketing fear second nature to some sections of the media.

May we… be part of the answer, and not part of the problem.

This quote, also from the Rev.  Peter Marshall  was on a plaque above our mantelpiece when I was growing up. My parents shared a lot of the values of Peter Marshall, which was not surprising because they were Scottish Presbyterians before coming to Australia and joining what became the Uniting Church.

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I was lucky to be brought up with what I consider good core values, particularly in regard to social justice and belief in equity and the priority of peace. My parents were Christians who acknowledged that others, as well as their own children, may not necessarily have the same views. They may not have celebrated our drift away from their religious practices, but they accepted it.

Dad spent his life studying and questioning the tenets of his Christian faith. He was a deep thinker and loved philosophical discussions.  I’ve inherited some of his books, including one about Comparative Religions, which he encouraged me to read when I was studying Eighteenth Century history in my final year of high school.

We listened to the Boyer Lectures on the ABC together and had great discussions on the wide-ranging  topics covered.  Dad read and listened to tapes by the Rev. William Barclay, who many considered preached heresy. He loved debating aspects of religion and church life and read and admired Paulo Freire. Sometimes discussions could be prolonged, passionate, even heated and sometimes ended with agreeing to disagree!

In today’s world, voices of religious fundamentalism of various persuasions and fanaticism want to dominate. We could do with more people like my father.  Dad enjoyed seeking and sharing knowledge, having a respectful debate, not only being tolerant but accepting different religious and spiritual beliefs.

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The world does seem crazy, so I focus on the wellbeing of family and friends, celebrate birthdays and achievements, share coffee catch-ups with past students and close friends, enjoy the seasonal changes of my garden.

I throw myself into the various volunteer events I enjoy. (Next weekend is Open House Melbourne.) I’m glad the discussions and laughter shared in writing classes are meaningful, life-affirming and a source of joy – and we all love the writing time.

peter marshall quote

 

My Five Memorable Experiences This Past Week To Keep Me Singing and Wondering:

  1. I receive a delightful and humbling thank you email plus a gorgeous gift from past student Trish when we meet for lunch. She had created the mini garden just for me and sent a lovely poem by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

present fro Trish

 

Journal Newsletter

2. I prepare a book for publication by a beautiful woman who has helped many people find peace in meditation and yoga. She wants to leave a legacy of her life’s journey, which is a triumph of survival against barriers, cancer, and other life events that would have defeated others. Julie Wentworth’s, A Life Shared will be as treasured as her first book, Love & Light.

3. I attend two consumer focus groups with people like myself determined to make our health system the best it can be.

(a) One to help the Cancer Council’s  Quit Campaign improve its approach and be more effective and advise on the language used on their website.

(b) One to improve quality and safety in our hospitals with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Quality and Safety Framework Consumer Focus Group at the Health Issues Centre.

4. I spend a Saturday afternoon with Karen Corbett one of the best theatre/drama teachers in the business learning to improve my play-writing skills to submit a monologue to Baggage Productions annual Madwomen’s Monologues. Shortlisted two years ago I will keep trying in the hope my work is performed.

5. Two long-standing writing buddies and dear friends help me workshop a novel started in 2008 (!), abandoned when I was diagnosed with cancer –  but now ready to be resurrected. I am so blessed having valued critics with amazing writing talent. When the three of us get together we have a lot of fun as well as work hard  workshopping our words.

Writing Class
Mairi Neil

A library of imagination
Pens fill blank pages
Words arranged and stacked
Released to the public
Knowledge laced with fantasy
A choice of genres
To receive a stamp of approval

I hope after reading this post people can count their blessings and perhaps create a list too! A great buffer against negativity.

 

Escapism Via Flash Fiction

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After class, today, chatting with one of my students who is a fairly new immigrant from Turkey, we shared how the sadness in the world saps our creativity.

Understandably, she is worried about her family and friends after the recent events in Turkey and with family and friends in the UK, USA, and Europe I too seem to be in a constant state of worry – as well as being concerned for my Turkish student and other Turkish friends!

It is too easy to tune into ABC24 and the plethora of social media news, too easy to become addicted or obsessed about hearing the latest updates, too easy to be stressed, too easy to focus on anything but writing!

I tend to be a worrier but also highly sensitive to other people’s woes – compassion a core family value, along with a sense of social responsibility and community.

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My writing can be therapy and escapism, as well as a way to try and make sense or understand the indefensible, irrational and the unfathomable aspects of human nature and behaviour. I don’t keep a journal but often scribble my feelings into notebooks or fashion a poem or short piece of prose.

Times of emotional trauma or physical upheaval make it difficult to concentrate and when local or global tragedies occur, focus on substantial creative projects wanes, or is lost completely.

Thank goodness for writing classes!

Regardless of how empty I feel, once I’m in the safe space of my writing classes with the lesson plan in hand I let my imagination loose for the 15-20 minutes of stream of consciousness writing that is the ‘splurge’.

Sitting beside my students, I can become a writer rather than the teacher.

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The skills of fiction and nonfiction are not mutually exclusive, and mastering or even flirting with one can have a transformative effect on the other.

Zachary Petit, Writer’s Digest

Today, we concentrated on the importance of opening lines. Not just because it is important to grab the reader’s attention but also as a way of jump-starting our imagination.

It never ceases to amaze me the variety and quality of the stories random splurges produce and today was no different.

A good opening line is a powerful thing: It can grab an editor’s attention, set the tone for the rest of the piece, and make sure readers stay through The End!

Jacob M. Appel

This is why it is called a HOOK – just like a fish at the end of the line, you want to keep your readers hanging in there!

Splurge – Try one of these story openings:

  • He’d always had the perfect golf grip. The one he used on the gun wasn’t bad, either.
  • Palm trees always reminded me of him/her. (You can substitute any other flora)
  • Parker was definitely not singing in the rain.
  • I think that after you lose your car keys three days in a row, you should just be able to stay home.
  • The devil always finds work for idle hands to do, according to Mr Smith our science teacher – and he should know.
  • My alter-ego came to life one summer in 1975. (Or another date!)
  • The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the flagged tile floor.
  • ‘Who is it, Madeleine?’
  • The crushed carcass of the car outside the corner garage revealed a truth Constable Thomson didn’t want to face.

 

Night Terror
Mairi Neil (flash fiction of 750 words)

The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the slate floor, but why is he in the kitchen now?

The clock in the hallway, ticked, whirred, and chimed the half-hour. Tim checked his Father’s fob watch on the bedside table: 3.30am.

How did Grandfather manage the stairs by himself – and why? Is Mum downstairs too? Tim held his breath, but no tell-tale cough announced his mother’s presence; no whistle of steam from the kettle on the range.

When Mum’s in the kitchen, there’s always the clink of china cups, although this is a strange hour for a tea party.

Another creak, low and sinister, followed by the scraping noise again.

Tim imagined the chair rocking back and forth in front of the wood-fired stove. The old man huddling forward, gnarled hands stretching towards the open oven door, willing the radiated heat to warm arthritic bones.

Mum must be there – who else stoked and lit the fire? Tim concentrated; listened for murmuring voices.

The morning ritual always the same; Grandfather and his crook legs and weak heart only make it downstairs by leaning on Mum’s arm and gripping the bannister.

Maybe they couldn’t sleep and Mum lit the fire to keep the old man company and now they’re absorbed in one of the story-telling sessions they seem to like so much. Always talking about the past. Tim often wished he had a time machine like the man in the book he borrowed from the library.

He burrowed deeper into warm bedclothes, his small face, a flat white stone in an inky river of shadows. His breath drifted in uneven puffs in the cold air and twitching his nose his eyes widened with remembering. If Grandfather is rocking in front of the fire he’d be smoking his pipe, a habit he said helped him count his blessings. But no pungent tobacco smoke wafted up the staircase to cloud the room.

An asthmatic cough from the room across the hall punctuated the night before fading into gentle snoring almost immediately.

And Mum is still asleep. Who is downstairs? A thief? Tim shuddered. Who could make an intruder leave?

So many homeless men living by the railway line. Men who cadged meals and money before stowing away on one of the frequent goods trains that crisscrossed the land. Desperate men with nothing to lose. Men fighting to survive bad economic times.

Has one broken in and settled by the fire? Tim’s eyelids flickered and he fought back tears. Troubled blue eyes stared at the dresser, found the photograph of his father, pale in the muted moonlight shining through threadbare curtains.

If only the mining accident hadn’t happened, Dad would make the intruder leave. Tim clenched his teeth.

He remembered the burly man at the door yesterday. His offer to chop wood for two shillings – the price of a flagon of sherry.

Mum confessed their poverty and offered a sandwich. The man’s hairy top lip twisted. ‘Only if there’s dessert,’ he said, menacing eyes staring too long at Mum’s chest before returning to her flushed face.

Tim sensed his Mum’s fear as she slammed the door, rammed the bolt across, pressed her shaking body against the entrance as if the oak panels needed help to keep the man out.

His ten-year-old hands fisted, but Grandfather’s restraining hand on his shoulder held him firm. He hated the old man for his whispered, ‘You’re too young, boy,’ but had a rush of pity when Grandfather added, ‘and I’m too old.’

Blood surged in Tim’s ears. He gripped the bedsheets, his racing heartbeat competing with the scraping and rumbling below. He must go downstairs and face the intruder, prove to Grandfather he was not too young, prove to Mum he could protect her.

The curtains billowed and a gust of even colder air swirled around the room. Tim froze. Perhaps it was a ghost downstairs. Dad or Grandmother visiting – they both had favoured the chair by the fire. The scraping noise accompanied by a rustling as if hands searched canisters.

An almighty crash followed the rattling of crockery. Tim cowered under the blankets until a shattering of glass and china was joined by grunting and snarling.

And his Mum spluttering, ‘Damn possums!’

Tim searched for his slippers and met his mother in the hallway as she recovered from a coughing fit.

They hurried downstairs. A tremulous smile playing on Tim’s lips as the stairs creaked and Grandfather’s chair scraped on the slate floor.

rocking chair

It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.

Lucille Ball

Writing makes me happy.

Why not choose a first line and write a story – escape from sadness and tragedy for a few moments with some flash fiction fun!

A Poet’s Passionate Plea For Her People

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(Warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that some of the links from this blog include images or names of people now deceased.)

OODGEROO NOONUCCAL (1920-1993)

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The book My People was published by Jacaranda Press in 1970 and was the first poetry book I bought with my own money! I attended university in Canberra in 1971 and I remember feeling overawed when I met Oodgeroo and Faith Bandler at a conference held at the Australian National University.

It is a book I treasure for content and memories!

Kath Walker is now better known by her Aboriginal name Oodgeroo Noonuccal and this was her third collection of poems and essays. I’ve chosen this book as another contribution to Lisa Hill’s celebration of Indigenous Literature for NAIDOC Week.

“In 1988, as a protest against continuing Aboriginal disadvantage during the Bicentennial Celebration of White Australia, Walker returned the MBE she had been awarded in 1970, and subsequently adopted the Noonuccal tribal name Oodgeroo (meaning paperbark).”

The book’s sub-title, A Kath Walker Collection apt because it is not just poems – there is what we would term flash fiction, and also speeches made by the author, a prominent political activist and fighter for social justice.

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 Judith Wright who was Jacaranda’s poetry reader in the 60s recommended the publication of  Oodgeroo’s first collection We Are Going, in 1964.

“The work was an immediate commercial success, selling more than ten thousand copies and making Walker the best selling Australian poet since CJ Dennis

The plain-speaking style of her poetry, and the strong element of protest in it, precluded literary acclaim for her work, but the role of a political ‘protest poet’ was one in which Walker would come to revel.

It was my passionate support for the rights of Aborigines  that led me to seek out Indigenous writers discovering Oodgeroo first, and then later many others.

I’ve already written about West Australian Jack Davis.

Like many white Australians who were immigrants and lived ‘in the suburbs down south’, initially knowledge of Aboriginal affairs came from school and mainstream media. At school, it was more colonial history and the less said about media coverage the better. (In the main, this still produces poor quality information!)

In the mid-60s, Harold Blair visited Croydon High School and was often in the news. My father who loved singing and had a wonderful tenor voice became very interested in everything Harold did or said. Around the dinner table, we often discussed politics including the plight of Aboriginal Australians.

Dad was genuinely shocked that the majority of Aborigines had only received voting rights in 1962 – a few months before we arrived in Australia.

On page 36-7 as well as a poem, Oodgeroo has written an historical document, prepared and presented to the 5th Annual General Meeting of the Federal Council Aboriginal Advancement, held at Adelaide, Easter 1962:

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“We want hope, not racialism, Brotherhood, not ostracism, Black advance,not white ascendance: Make us equals, not dependants…

Must we native Old Australians In our land rank as aliens? …”

Similar to Jack Davis,  her fellow writer/activist, Oodgeroo assumed a role of cultural guardian and educator for her people, establishing the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre at Moongalba, near Amity Point on Stradbroke, her island home. A rich legacy includes Indigenous studies being embedded in Queensland University’s curriculum.

The poems and essays  in My People focus on conveying the point of view and plight of Aboriginal Australia to non-Aboriginal readers. The words are not strident but the message is strong. As a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s, because it was the only political party against the White Australia Policy at the time, a universal philosophy of the  ‘brotherhood of man’ influenced Oodgeroo’s work.

 All One Race (page 1)

Black tribe, yellow tribe, red, white or brown,
From where the sun jumps up to where it goes down,
Herrs and pukka-sahibs, demoiselles and squaws,
All one family, so why make wars?…
… I’m international, never mind place;
I’m for humanity, all one race.

Let us Not be Bitter (page 20)

Away with bitterness, my own dark people
Come stand with me, look forward, not back,
For a new time has come for us.
Now we must change, my people. For so long
Time for us stood still; now we know
Life is change, life is progress,
Life is learning things, life is onward.
White men had to learn civilised ways,
Now it is our turn…

An Appeal (page 3)

Statesmen, who make the nation’s laws,
With power to force unfriendly doors,
Give leadership in this our cause
That leaders owe.

Writers, who have the nation’s ear,
Your pen a sword opponents fear,
Speak of our evils loud and clear
That all may know…

And the poet continues to plea to Unions, Churches, The Press and ultimately All white well-wishers.

However, by the end of the book, there is a change of tone and readers can detect impatience and frustration at not only the slow, if any, change to a system of endemic injustice, but anger at the lack of land rights and respect for her people and country.

I am Proud (page 86)

I am black of skin among whites,
And I am proud,
Proud of race and proud of skin.
I am broken and poor,
Dressed in rags from white man’s back,
But do not think I am ashamed.
Spears could not contend against guns and we were mastered,
But there are things they could not plunder and destroy.
We were conquered but never subservient,
We were compelled but never servile.
Do not think I cringe as white men cringe to whites.
I am proud,
Though humble and poor and without a home…
So was Christ.

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Recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty,  Oodgeroo assumed would be a given once white people were educated and understood everyone’s responsibility towards the land and the rights of Native Title.

She believed enlightenment, and compassion would also lead to a material change and improvement in living conditions for Aboriginal Australians.

Oodgeroo’s mastery of English and her command of poetic techniques, coupled with deep-felt honesty and her lived experience of Aboriginal Australia has produced memorable verses of varying styles and a powerful snapshot of Australia in the late 60s.

Namatjira (page 64)

… What did their loud acclaim avail
Who gave you honour, then gave you jail?
Namatjira, they boomed your art,
They called you genius, then broke your heart.

The Dispossessed (page 65)

For Uncle Willie McKenzie

… The white man claimed your hunting grounds and you could not remain,
They made you work as menials for greedy private gain;
Your tribes are broken vagrants now wherever whites abide,
And justice of the white man means justice to you denied…

 

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Dreamstime.com

There are also personal poems where we see glimpses of the writer, activist, teacher, woman and mother. Poems about tribal ways, historical incidents, totems, unmarried mothers, the dreams of young women, family past and present, and always the longing and belonging to country:

 

Artist Son (page 54)

… Paint joy, not pain,
Paint beauty and happiness for men,
Paint the rare insight glimpses that express
What tongue cannot or pen: …

Son of Mine (page 55)

(To Denis)

My son, your troubled eyes search mine,
Puzzled and hurt by colour line.
Your black skin soft as velvet shine;
What can I tell you, son of mine?…

My Love (page 50)

Possess me? No, I cannot give
The love that others know,
For I am wedded to a cause:
The rest I must forgo…

The social part, the personal
I have renounced of old;
Mine is a dedicated life,
No man’s to have and hold…

For there are ancient wrongs to right,
Men’s malice to endure;
A long road and a lonely road,
But oh, the goal is sure.

 

I want to end on a positive note because NAIDOC 2016 has been a celebration of Aboriginal culture under the theme Songlines: the living narrative of our nation

I recommend My People to readers because of the quality of the writing and the narrative of a time past laced with the present and future. The poems, a way of understanding the historical struggle of Aboriginal Australia and the richness of its culture and traditions.

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The writer’s voice perceptive, strong, precise in detail, encapsulating a love for humanity and a vision for a peaceful, fairer future. Something we should all wish for!

A Song of Hope (page 40)

Look up, my people,
The dawn is breaking,
The world is waking
To a new bright day,
When none defame us,
No restriction tame us,
Nor colour shame us,
Nor sneer dismay…

To our fathers’ fathers
The pain, the sorrow;
To our children’s children
The glad tomorrow.

 

 

Poetry – Personal, Political, Playful And Always A Sense Of Place

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(Warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that some of the links from this blog include images or names of people now deceased.)

 

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Friend, and mentor in all things literary, Lisa Hill of AnzLit fame hosts an Indigenous Literature Week in conjunction with NAIDOC and despite best intentions, I have never participated.

However, this year, I promised myself I’d participate!

I wouldn’t classify myself as a poet but I love poetry and I want to promote three Aboriginal writers whose poems, other writings and artistic endeavours have made a profound impression on me and on the creative and literary landscape of Australia: Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert and Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

The words of all of these writers are accessible to everyone, not just because their published works are held in libraries (much of it available online), but because their use of the English language, including the nuances that often trip writers, is impeccable.

Today, I focus on Jack Davis

“Jack always had a fascination with words and when he was 10 he preferred a dictionary to a story book…

He worked as  an itinerant labourer, windmill man, horse breaker, boundary rider, drover and stockman…

At 14, outraged and indignant at the treatment of Aboriginal people by white landowners, Jack began to write poetry as a means of expression. He was influenced by Worru… who came from the same area as Jack’s father, and Jack loved to listen to Worru’s stories and songs. He began to write Aboriginal words and learned the Bibbulmun language…

A humanitarian, Jack will always be remembered for his writing about Aboriginal history and culture and for his relentless fight for justice for his people…

He was of the Aboriginal Noongar people, and much of his work dealt with the Australian Aboriginal experience. He has been referred to as the 20th Century’s Aborignal poet laureate, and many of his plays are on Australian school syllabuses.”

http://www.PoemHunter.com

All three poets write poems that fit the title of the post: their deep attachment to country, their heritage, and culture, lived experience of heartbreaking poignancy, righteous anger, deadly and accurate observations of life expressed with humour when appropriate.

They have no need of obscure references or showing off academic knowledge, and apply a range of identifiable poetic techniques to satisfy lovers of verse.

I’ve taken the third book of poetry by Jack Davis (pictured above) published in 1988 by Dent Australia, to quote from and reference the themes of his work.

The blurb from the back of this edition explains:

Whether describing a bush creature with gentle irony and a twinkle in his pen, observing the mysteries of human behaviour, evoking with lyrical grace the Aboriginal love of land, or reaching out for mutual understanding across barriers of prejudice and ignorance, these poems speak simply and openly…

1988, a significant year because White Australia celebrated their bi-centenary while Black Australia held a mourning ceremony in commemoration of the Aboriginal tribes wiped out by the atrocities of early white settlers.

Aboriginal descendants conducted a silent protest on the opposite side of the continent to Jack’s birthplace of Western Australia. They stood by the Bay at La Perouse, displaying the names of dead tribes and casting wreaths into the water.

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From the SMH at the time -elders wore red headbands symbolising bloodshed and carried signs displaying the names of tribes wiped out.

Jack Davis had already written about the tragedy of invasion and the selective memory of invaders and ‘winners’ writing history with their own spin.

His poem, One Hundred And Fifty Years, written in protest at the non-inclusion of Aborigines in the celebration of 150 years of European settlement in Western Australia, 1829-1979, tells the story from an Aboriginal perspective:

One Hundred and Fifty Years

I walked slowly along the river.
Old iron, broken concrete, rusted cans
scattered stark along the shore,
plastic strewn by man and tide
littered loudly mute on sparse growth
struggling to survive.
A flock of gulls quarrelled over debris,
a lone shag looked hopefully down at turgid water
and juggernauts of steel and stone made jigsaw
patterns against the city sky.

So now that the banners have fluttered,
the eulogies ended and the tattoos have rendered
the rattle of spears,
look back and remember the end of December
and one hundred and fifty years.

Three boys crackled past on trailbikes
long blond hair waving in the wind,
speedboats erupted power
while lesser craft surged along behind.
The breeze rustled a patch of bull-oak
reminding me of swan, bittern, wild duck winging-
now all alien to the river.
Sir John Forrest stood tall in stone
in St. George`s Terrace,
gun across shoulder,
symbolic of what had removed
the river’s first children.

And that other river, the Murray,
where Western Australia`s
first mass murderer Captain Stirling,
trappings flashing, rode gaily
at the head of twenty-four men.
For an hour they fired
and bodies black, mutilated,
floated down the blood-stained stream.
So now that the banners have fluttered,
the eulogies ended and the tattoos have rendered,
the rattle of spears,
look back and remember the end of December
and one hundred and fifty years.

This year NAIDOC celebrates Songlines: The living narrative of our nation and at last there is some progress as government bodies facilitate not only the sharing but celebrating of the stories from Aboriginal Australia.

Kingston Council has the important message of INTEGRITY, LOYALTY, RESPECT projected onto their clock tower by Aboriginal artist, Josh Muir.

 

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I chose this book of poetry by Jack Davis deliberately because of the title and many of the issues raised in the poems – issues still unresolved. The book is ‘Dedicated to Maisie Pat, and to all mothers who have suffered similar loss.’

JOHN PAT

John Pat was a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy who died of head injuries alleged to have been caused in a disturbance between police and Aborigines in Roebourne, WA, in 1983. Four police were charged with manslaughter over the incident. They were acquitted.

Write of life
the pious said
forget the past
the past is dead.
But all I see
in front of me
is a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

Agh! tear out the page
forget his age
thin skull they cried
that’s why he died!
But I can’t forget
the silhouette
of a concrete floor
a cell door and John Pat

The end product
of Guddia law
is a viaduct
for fang and claw,
and a place to dwell
like Roebourne’s hell
of a concrete floor
a cell door
and John Pat

He’s there- where?
there in their minds now
deep within,
there to prance
a sidelong glance
a silly grin
to remind them all
of a Guddia wall
a cell door
and John Pat

Guddia: Kimberley term for white man

I didn’t realise how sadly it would resonate today as recent tragic events in the United States unfold. The Black Lives Matter Campaign in America covered by our media and the situation overseas probably well-known.

However, for generations, Aboriginal people have been dying in police custody in our own country. Where is the outrage in mainstream media to echo in our parliaments, and determination by Federal Ministers to oversee radical change?

Since the Royal Commission in 1991, indigenous incarceration and police custody rates have actually increased  and the rate of suicide among Aboriginal youth in remote Australia is also at an all-time high

Regrettably, the voices of poets and other creative people are not listened to more often and those with the power to act not energised to do so!

The foreword by Colin Johnson in John Pat And Other Poems states:

Jack Davis is one of the most important writers in Australia, and has helped to establish Aboriginal writing in English as a school within Australian literature. Prolific and energetic, he does not restrict his pen to any one genre, but has written poetry, drama, short stories and polemical pieces.

As an Aboriginal writer he is conscious that the writer has an important role to play within  his community and in the wider Australian society. He has not hesitated to use his pen in aid of a cause, stressing the need for greater understanding and a growth of tolerance. His writings are not restricted to his own community, but extend beyond into universal themes of compassion and a common humanity uniting all without regard to creed or colour.

Jack’s work is marked by his humanity, although his life has given cause enough for bitterness to find expression…

A number of strands have thus come together to produce Jack Davis the man and the writer. They are all equally important and are reflected in his work. As a dedicated writer, he has also been anxious that his craft be passed on. For five years he served as the editor of the now defunct Aboriginal periodical Identity, and successfully furthered the cause of Aboriginal writing in English by promoting such voices as that of the novelist and short-story writer Archie Weller.

Jack’s wisdom again:

THE ENDING OF POVERTY

If we were constantly to remind ourselves
of the unbelievable immensity
of the universe,
the intricate pattern of our being;
recognise the fragility of our intelligence;
listen to our own heart beat;
remember that crosses like our own
are being borne by others,
that the core of our very existence
is the birth of pain…
Then we will have
mastered the art of living
and begun to remove
poverty from its pedestal.

In the title of the post, I also promised playful and from someone who loved words as much as Jack he is at his playful best observing native animals:

EMU (p34)… the last thing I saw, you were rounding the hill  And as far as I know you are travelling still.

SWANS (p33)… Where are you going, majestic swan? I saw you and your flock fly over.

PELICAN (p36)…As she attempts to run for take-off she’s a total wipe-out when she takes her brake off.

KOOKABURRA (p28)… if we laughed away our anger, helped others in distress; then our path would be a smoother one, a walk to happiness.

CICADA (12)… Cicada, cicada, you sing the whole day long, and you have my memories within your summer song.

Another amusing verse within this collection that I loved was First Flight – a great ‘memoir’ poem. If you are working through a popular prompt topic ‘Write about your first experiences’ think of your first trip on an aeroplane.

I’m old enough to remember when flying was an expensive and rare way to travel, and children rushed outside to marvel as planes flew overhead.

FIRST FLIGHT

Yawning prodigiously I disconnected my lifeline.
While destiny voiced safety instructions
(- as we will be flying over water -)
I recollected clearly
the diving board at the old swimming pool.
Now at nine hundred and ninety k’s an hour
I counted heads in front of me,
blonds baldies brunettes blue rinses,
all targets of vulnerability.
A red eye winked
and spelt out terms for my survival,
so I re-strapped myself
into my last probable contact with synthetics.
I heard a dry choked-off scream,
not mine but
rubber protesting against bitumen,
a cool feminine voice
(- I hope you have enjoyed -)
and as we taxied in
I realised I was no longer a novice
but a calm suave veteran of the air.
Especially so
now that I was safe upon the ground.

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The last poem in the book emphasises not only Jack’s connection to the land but also a plea that those who came to rule try to understand the spiritual as well as the temporal importance of his country.

If more people read and listen to the stories and voices of Aboriginal people the future may give him his wish.

CURLEW

Weerlo, weerlo,
Some liken you to loneliness
And distances apart
But your dirge of spirit things
Twines around my heart.

You are my people crying
Bereft without their land.
Oh God!
Reach out and teach the white man
How to understand.

 

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Flex Writing Muscles With Flash Fiction Fun

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Mordialloc beach storm brewing

I can’t believe the term holidays are almost over and my  list of ‘things to do’ has morphed into ‘things I should have done’.

I hear my Mother’s voice ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions...’ Mum loved quotes: proverbs, Bible texts, aphorisms, lines from poems or classical literature and it’s amazing how many come to mind – imprinted on my brain like the times tables from school.

C’est la vie

At least, I’ve almost finished preparing my lessons for the four classes starting soon, and I’ve caught up with some friends, but the clearing of clutter to renovate the shed didn’t happen, nor clearing the boxes of papers from my study.

Maybe spring cleaning will work …

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While filing away old lessons and researching and planning new ones I came across pieces of writing I’d written in class or on the train to work. Such a welcome distraction. The inevitable editing and polishing began until in some cases the original words barely recognised.

I don’t need any excuse to play with words or write and often when I come across a poem or story I can’t remember what the prompt was or why I wrote it!

Like this poem from 2o12, which was buried among notes in a lesson about dialogue!

Sea Dance
Mairi Neil

Shattered nerves soothed
By waves in a slow waltz
One two three four
One two three four
Lapping at feet, teasing the sand
The glittering sun
A silver ball suspended
From an azure ceiling
The vast ocean
A mirrored dance floor
A crooning breeze snatches
Troubles away
To where white sails flutter
And dolphins dream
One two three four
One two three four
Waves in a slow waltz
Soothe shattered nerves.

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Of course, the recent Federal Election and the prospect of a hung parliament is an entertaining (and worrying) distraction. Listening to all the politicians putting their particular spin on an extraordinary turn of events will no doubt fuel many writers, albeit comedians.

However, what it will mean for Australia is anybody’s guess and it is certainly keeping journalists busy. They have no trouble filling the 24 hour news cycle. The rest of us get on with life and hope for the stability promised.

An Election Limerick

Malcolm Turnbull, the PM in Oz
Who decided to be the LNP boss
Well, he turned out a dud
Just like Kevin Rudd
Their poor judgement Australia’s loss

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I discovered a piece of flash fiction with a title that seemed to fit the election result so will share it to show what can come from a prompt I have used a few times over the years in classes. And like most fiction there is a lot of truth because here is a link to where I got my original idea.

Feel free to ‘have a go’ if the prompt triggers a story or poem:

The Writing Prompt

You were walking on the beach this morning and came across a bottle with a note in it.
Were you alone?
Why were you at the beach? Is that important?
Who put the message in the bottle?
Where did the bottle originate?
What does the note say?
How long was the bottle in the water?
Will you have to do something/take some action?
What are the consequences?

The story you write can be fantasy, adventure, horror, humorous, historical, mystery, romance…

Mixed Messages
Mairi Neil

Janet scuffed the sand oblivious to the cry of seagulls and crash of incoming tide. The dullness of leaden clouds grew darker by the minute. Hunched over with hands stuck deep inside her Duffel coat’s pockets, she struggled against the wind.

Straight from the Arctic – cold and frigid – the words Ben used to describe her last night.

She sidestepped a surge of white foam, stumbled over a green bottle vomited ashore with other debris. The jolt made her focus for a moment on something other than her own misery, then she noticed a scrap of paper inside the bottle.

She peered through the sand encrusted glass. The bottle, a peculiar shape with glass reminiscent of the bedside lamp inherited from her grandmother and supposedly from the 1800s.

Wary of touching anything the sea threw up, Janet used her booted foot to roll the bottle free of seaweed and entangled driftwood.

The sea harboured unpleasant creatures; animals that bite and sting.

Janet shuddered, remembering the stab from the stone fish she’d unwittingly stood on as a child. The pain of poisonous spines, the brush with death and disaster – a story her mother retold to anyone who’d listen. A story reinforcing Janet’s anxieties – not just of the sea, but fear of anything unknown.

Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! The chants of school bullies still hurt 30 years later.

‘You’re scared of your own shadow.’ Another taunt Ben threw at her last night when she offered reasons why she didn’t want to travel to Doha.

‘Not shadows, Ben! Bombs and terrorists – no place is safe over there.’

‘Do you realise how much money is on offer? The lifestyle we can live if we move there?’
It always came down to money with Ben.

Emotion almost choked her as she picked up the bottle before the angry sea reclaimed it. She strode to the bluestone wall separating sand and promenade and sat on the cold bricks. A nearby stick ideal to dig out the weathered cork.

A few shakes and canny manipulation meant the note fell into her hand. Faded paper and blurred ink. However, the scrawled letters clear: HELP!

Janet began to shake, her imagination haywire, heart thudding.

Was someone captive on a ship? Abandoned on an island? Robinson Crusoe sprang to mind – when was that written? Janet tried to remember.

How far away from Australia was the island? What about pirates? Treasure Island’s murderous crew not that far-fetched. Plenty of people imprisoned, tortured and abandoned on the high seas over the years.

Today, the media full of refugees fleeing horror, needing help. How many migrant ships lost at sea? People seeking a new life in another land, survivor or survivors struggling in a lifeboat, minimum supplies gone, burning sun blistering skin, salt water driving the occupants mad…

She breathed deeply, inhaling the freshening wind. Ben always accused her of indecision and procrastination. She straightened her shoulders and with bottle and note in hand, started towards the town.

I’ll call into the police station first. What if they think my ideas fanciful? Tell me they have too much important work to do regarding border security. They’ll dismiss the note as a prank. Maybe accuse me of mischief!

Better to go to the local museum. Double check if the bottle is old or a replica. Ease the fear that someone isn’t desperate for help.

A sixth sense made Janet turn to stare seawards. With the worry over Ben and distraction of her find, she hadn’t scanned the bay this morning for ships heading for the city or leaving for distant oceans.

She loved speculating about their journeys – a not-too distant ancestor had been a sea captain – ‘the sea’s in our blood’ her father always said.

A white speck on the horizon moved fast becoming bigger like an expanding balloon.
A speedboat?
Was that a hand waving – arm pointing?

Janet looked around. No one else on the beach this dreary winter’s day. Even the regular dog walkers avoided the icy weather.

She edged towards the sea like a child worried about seeing the store Santa. The boat bumped over breakers, mounted waves, stayed on course, heading her way. Two people visible – one waving, shouting and pointing. At the bottle?

Her bottle.
How did they know?

A minute later, the boat skidded and juddered onto the sand. A sleek motorboat equipped with the latest technological wizardry. One of the men had binoculars around his neck, the other an earpiece hooked into a radio.

‘The bottle please, madam,’ said the man with binoculars, reaching out a gloved hand.

‘We’re from the CSIRO,’ chimed his companion.

‘The bottle. CSIRO,’ Janet repeated their words. Confused and flustered, she felt an anxiety attack beginning, chest tightening, breathing difficult. Heat in her chest moved up to her neck burning her face. Her legs quivered.

‘How did?’ she began to speak, but gloved hands interrupted.

‘Inside the bottle, there’s a tracking device stuck to the bottom.’

Janet hesitated as if he spoke Swahili. She reluctantly held the bottle up for examination. A glimmer of sunlight managed to break through the bruised clump of clouds now suffocating the foreshore. She noticed a tiny pebble, shook the bottle, it refused to dislodge. A transmitter?

‘Oh,’ she whispered.

Her imagination flew to spies, espionage, invading armies, dredged up a story her grandfather told about the war; explosive devices masked as innocuous wrack washed ashore. Ordinary people blown up because of their curiosity.

She pushed the bottle into outstretched gloved hands. The driver of the boat began to speak.

‘We’re testing the power of waves and…’ his explanation cut short by gloved hands pressuring his shoulder.

Janet retreated a few metres before turning and running towards the promenade. She slowed to catch her breath and shove her shaking hands into pockets.

Wait ’til Ben hears about this, she thought. Will he believe me?

She spun around to get more details about the men, but the boat was already speeding out to sea.

What just happened? What if they were lying? Were they scientists or Defence personnel? Were they even Australian?

A gust of wind whisked her sigh seawards.

She wouldn’t tell Ben. Why invite another lecture of what she should have done? How the world had changed since 9/11 – Australia included.

Ben can go to Doha or anywhere else for that matter. On his own. Stay there for all she cared. Amass his millions at the expense of the poor.

The wind died down, and the dark clouds scudded out to sea as if being towed by the speedboat. Janet threw her head back and laughed, surprised at the sound.

She hadn’t heard herself laugh or felt so relaxed in a long time.

It was over between her and Ben. No indecision or procrastination now!

The winter sun a pale promise in the clearing sky as she strolled home.

 

Today you are you.

That is truer than true.

there is no one alive

who is truer than you!

Dr Seuss