Mondayitis or Monday ‘it’s us’


johns rose.jpg

Mondays, the start of the working week for most people and the school or university week for students. If you’ve been lucky to have an exciting or relaxing weekend, perhaps a glimpse of freedom from the shackles of timetables, it can be hard to get motivated to ‘rise and shine’ as my father used to sing.

Not only did Dad sing, but he’d put on a pipe band record at full blast, grab a mop or brush as his baton and transform into a  drum master leading his troops, albeit from bedrooms to breakfast table!

Along with my five siblings, I did rise ( not sure about the shine) and we’d follow him down the hallway tousled-haired and pyjama-clad into the kitchen to be greeted by the smell of toast and tea.

Mercifully, the massed pipes and drums of the Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Cameron Highlanders or any number of records from Dad’s collection would then be silenced.

Mondayitis never tolerated in our household – the ‘Protestant work ethic’ inculcated at an early age. Self-inflicted pain from youthful excess and late nights not an excuse for missing school or work.


Yet Mondayitis is real, like the blues, and if you have a boring or depressing job, or the weather is cold and wet and the bed is warm, or there are a thousand distractions and reasons for staying home – going to the park, meeting up with friends, lying on the beach, curling up with a book… just Life with a capital L – the odd bout of Mondayitis can rejuvenate a jaded spirit.

But it can become a habit.  One of my brother’s high school mates actually thought the teachers wouldn’t notice a pattern to his absenteeism!

However, If you are fortunate to be free of permanent work and study commitments, and have a choice as to how you spend your week,  joining a club, group or class and having an enjoyable activity to look forward to does help. It is even part of a suggested  plan to cure Mondayitis!

As mentioned in other posts, you know the activity I recommend is a creative writing class.

“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”

 Amy Tan

This term at Mordialloc Neighbourhood we’ve had some fun changing the format. Many of my students have been coming for years to the Writing for Pleasure & Publication classes, which keeps me on my toes. There can be no repeat lessons.

So borrowing  cards my daughter made for her Diploma of Art Therapy, we do some flash fiction to start the lesson. An extra writing task added to activate the brain cells.


Imagination, Ideas, Invention … I’m sounding a little like an Aussie politician at election time but three-word slogans aside – I try to make sure each class is as interesting and inspiring as possible.

I’m always looking for new ways to approach writing and encourage the pens to move.

There is a set lesson but choosing a random card and writing for ten minutes on whatever the picture triggers has produced entertaining and touching vignettes and the potential for some great

Dennis chose the Batman card and wrote a witty dialogue between Bruce Wayne aka Batman and a new franchisee in Australia, Dingo Man! Needless to say, there were roars of laughter as he read his piece.

We had emotional memories of family and personal trauma, imaginative mysteries, childhood dreams, poems and essays.  A popular card is Shakespeare’s observation that All The World’s A Stage. It prompts interesting reflections.

I chose a card with a short verse and what looks like Jack climbing a beanstalk – perhaps the picture was intended as a metaphor for the words:

After Zen, Pick Up A Pen
Mairi Neil

‘Into the woods to get my wish
I don’t care how the time is now…’

What is my wish? I ask my heart
A jet flies overhead, I want to depart.
I want to fly – or is it flee?
To be somewhere else, to be really me.

Perhaps live in a cottage, grow veggies galore
Crimson roses climb to frame the door
The sound of the sea a whisper away
Soft sand or pebble beach, to walk each day.

No Internet to distract, banish TV too
Windows to Mother Nature will do.
Imagination unfiltered, pen unfettered
Past, present, and future, stories checkered.

Flowing words and thoughts, false or true
My mojo needs a seismic shift to renew.
But is there a need for woods, or fleeing by air?
Perhaps wishes come true from … anywhere.

I’ll make the time now – seize the day
Harness the words and what I want to say.
If positive encouragement rings in my ears
Dreams can be enough to banish fears!

I’ll take a notepad and pencil, or pen
Seek other dreamers with a writing yen
To say with words what drives the heart
I’ll join a writing class, no need to depart!

The last verse I added at home -a bit of advertising or perhaps convincing myself yearning can be suppressed!  I was putting into words my desire to return to Scotland – a dream I’ve nurtured for a long time.

Another piece of writing to come out of Monday class was in response to events next door to the neighborhood house.

Construction sites a constant in Mordialloc as so many houses are pulled down to be replaced with apartments or townhouses – even when houses have been renovated, as was the case with this house.

Farewell No 459 Main Street, Mordialloc
Mairi Neil

Monday morning
First day of term
A scene of devastation,
Dust swirling in the air
The chomp of a front end loader
Crunching bricks
Smashing tiles
Splintering wood
Demolition next door…
The hum of machines
An unwelcome background noise
As the classroom shakes
With the vibration of diggers
In moments the building flattened
A home – gone
A dream – forgotten
Years of living, loving,
Arguing, playing,
Holidaying, working
Birthing, dying
Reduced to dust motes
Lost in the wind
Continuous clattering, splattering
Crunching, munching
Clanging, banging
Until dump trucks cart away
From the rubble
And mounds of soil
A family of mice
Scurry under the fence
Two ravens circle and swoop
To pick over the carcass
The silence deafening.


Sadly, development is not always in the best interests of the community. This one, in particular, may well lead to the end of my class because those with disabilities struggle to access the house.

Once multiple units are built the few parking spaces in front of the community house will be reduced and those with walkers and walking sticks will not be able to walk the extra distance required.

Already one of my students arrives an hour before class begins to get one of the few disabled parking spots. Now that’s dedication!

Parking always at a premium will be almost non-existent as building works progress, roads are partially blocked, tradesmen park nearby, and more people compete for limited spaces.

Mondayitis will be the least of our problems!

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Personal and Political – the Power of a Playwright

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The Channel in the corner of the Arts Centre


This time last week, I attended The Script Club at The Channel, a studio in the Victorian Arts Centre. We discussed Barungin, Smell The Wind, a play, written in 1988, by West Australian playwright, actor, and poet, Jack Davis, a proud Nyoongarah man.

Barungin Smell the Wind.jpg

This is the blurb from the 1989 Currency Press edition.

The traditional Aboriginal survival skills and the symbolic meaning, ‘to have a direction’ are embodied in the title of this final play in the trilogy which includes The Dreamers (1983) and No Sugar (1985). Jack Davis carries the history of his people into the 1980s as the Wallitch family confront land rights disputes, alcohol abuse and finally an innocent death in police custody.

Barungin, with its humour and close family loyalties, is the strongest statement yet from our foremost black playwright; and a powerful culmination of his dramatic history of Aboriginal life from the arrival of the white man two hundred years ago.

Barungin is a play in two acts, set in Perth, Western Australia during 1988 – the year remembered for the bi-centenary celebrations of the establishment of a settlement at Botany Bay and the start of Australia’s colonial history.


All of the characters, except one, are Aboriginal:

Granny Doll, her daughter Meena, Arnie, Meena’s husband, Peter Meena’s brother, Micky, Meena’s 14-year-old son, Little Doll, Meena’s 12-year-old daughter, Robert, Meena and Peter’s cousin, Peegun, a family friend (and Meena’s lover), Shane another cousin.

At the start of the play Arnie and Peter are in jail.

The non-Aboriginal is an evangelical preacher delivering a funeral sermon at the  beginning, which can be done as a voiceover. 


The facilitator of the discussion, John McCallum, chose several Australian plays considered classics. The Script Club discusses, deconstructs, and debates the merits of the plays and whether they could be meaningfully performed today.

  • We look at the form, the representation of the characters, the politics.
  • How or if it could be presented to keep the original essence and meaning intact.
  • What, if any, changes should or could be made to make the play relevant to modern audiences, especially considering the advancements in technology. 
  • Can technology be used to enrich the experience of the audience?

The play was not classified as an ‘Aboriginal form’ or even ‘Black theatre’ as we know it today, but domestic realism. (Aboriginal theatre is one of Australia’s most successful cultural exports, but it wasn’t always.)

At the time of first performance, the playwright, Jack Davis, drew criticism because of the portrayal of domestic violence, drunkenness, law-breaking and acceptance of infidelity as the Wallitch family struggle on the fringe of white society, dispossessed of their land and dislocated from mainstream society.

Some within the black community saw this frank representation of characters caught between two cultures as a betrayal, or unhelpful at a time of fighting for land rights and equity. Negative images adding to the ammunition of detractors and racists.

This is not a new argument. Historically, in the radical left movement, women were expected to wait until workers (who were predominantly male) achieved their rights and then ‘the women question’ would be solved. Within the Women’s Liberation Movement lesbians found themselves excluded from some discussions.  Voices for change always struggle to find common ground.

Jack Davis spawned a whole wave of black playwrights who like himself wanted a dialogue with the dominant white culture. Reconciliation, not revolution, although his honest portrayal of the problems ruffled feathers, he didn’t pull any punches in Barungin. The massacres and devastation wreaked by Europeans when they invaded and colonised Western Australia, as well as the rest of the continent, are listed with devastating effect.


John always asks The Script Club their initial thoughts and reactions to a play, reminding us to read it twice before judgement.

My initial reaction was overwhelming sadness and simmering anger. Not just because of the shameful past but because many of the issues in this play written 28 years ago are still unresolved.

If anything, with the rise of voices supporting far-right, xenophobic political parties like One Nation and Reclaim Australia, I despair we will ever get it right!

The most important theme of Barungin is black deaths in custody, or at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect and serve. In the 1980s, these tragedies were highlighted by the death of John Pat, which affected Jack Davis intensely.   It shocked many people.

Unfortunately, despite a Royal Commission, the number of black deaths in custody have increased. A shameful state of affairs – and now we have the Royal Commission into Youth Justice in the Northern Territory because of media exposure and public outcry.

How little has changed! Can anyone in authority really say they didn’t know this was happening?

There have been 53 separate reports in the NT alone on disadvantage, welfare, and treatment of Aboriginal Australians. Do we need any more?

So, a resounding, yes – Barungin needs to be revisited and performed.


There were ten of us discussing the play: John facilitating, Joshua from the Arts Centre who organised the club, and eight women – all white – that in itself is perhaps telling. Although even with the respectful and amenable confines of our gathering, if I were Aboriginal I could not read this play as a dispassionate discussion about history, meaning, or stagecraft. It is a narrative too many Indigenous people are living – and the story of too many dying.

Joelle, who recently migrated from America said the play resonated strongly with her in the context of the Black Lives Matter campaign in the USA.

 We have had echoes of the movement here too.

When the list of those who have died in custody are read out in the final act of the play it reads like a list of state-sanctioned executions – not by the scaffold or firing squad but consequences of inherent injustice and racism, neglect, humiliation, and brutal acts of genocide. (1883:  180 Aboriginal prisoners died on Rottnest Island from disease, many more hung – not one buried in a marked grave.)

Sandy, originally from  New Zealand, commented on the lack of knowledge or learning of Aboriginal languages and culture in Australia.  Maori language and culture respected and integrated into many facets of New Zealand society and institutions.

Why hasn’t Australia embraced Indigenous languages, taught a deeper understanding of culture and black history? Often the acknowledgement of traditional owners is perfunctory. Why such resistance to change Australia Day to a less offensive date

Iris Lovatt-Gardiner



Up until the 1970s, there was no specific black theatre. The cultural shows or stories performed were organised or appropriated by whites.

In 1972, the National Black Theatre emerged from Regent Street, Redfern, NSW, with an explosion of plays, dance, activist poetry, biting satire and street theatre. It gave a new voice to the struggles of the 1970s and the Redfern Aboriginal community.

During its 5 years of operation landmark playwrights such as Kevin Gilbert, Robert Merritt and Jack Davis worked at the theatre, as well as actors such as Bob Maza, Lillian Crombie and Justine Saunders, cultural activist Gary Foley and director Brian Syron

Creative Spirits

Critics may suggest there is a loss of authenticity in Barungin because as John, paraphrased Audre Lorde , the African-American feminist, poet, and essayist…

‘You can’t tear down the master’s house using the master’s tools.’

The two-act structure of Barungin an appropriation of ‘White’ form as were the many accepted playwriting tools and rules Davis used to craft his story. However, his story arcs, use of props, dialogue, and character development work well and are effective, also his integration of Aboriginal dance, music and “lingo.” He stamped his aboriginality on the script in many ways.

Scenes jump off the page and his use of humour dealing with such dark subject matter eases the tension for the audience. We believe these are real people, especially the tight family unit and the relationship of Granny Doll and Little Doll – the passing on of knowledge, the acceptance of new ways. 

“… survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110-114. 2007. Print.

Reading Audre Lorde’s quote in context, Barungin and the large body of work Jack Davis produced is all about encouraging an understanding of Aboriginal identity and belonging. Advocating a society based on mutual respect. 

He did bring about genuine change for his people.

Davis made a major contribution to intercultural relations in Australia, a contribution that was acknowledged through a range of awards: the British Empire Medal for Services to Literature and the Aboriginal people of WA, 1977; Member of the Order of Australia, 1985; WA Citizen of the Year, 1985; the Australia Medal 1986; Human Rights Award, 1987; BHP Award 1988. His literary awards include the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award, and Hon. D.Litt. from Murdoch and in 1986 No Sugar was co-winner of the Australian Writers Guild Award for the best stage play of the year.

The Academy, ACU library


Aboriginal Australia is the oldest continuous culture in the world, the latest estimate 60,000 + years. The idea of a single ‘Aboriginal nation’ a construct because when the country was colonised there were at least 250 languages spoken with 600 dialects.

Jack Davis emphasises how important language is to identity and culture, his characters speak Nyoongarah as well as English.  A glossary of Aboriginal terms – over 40 words – listed at the end of the play.

The use of Nyoongarah is a powerful statement. When the words are used, the audience is able to work out the meaning or the essence of what is said. It could have an exclusionary effect, particularly since the target audience would be non-Aboriginal, but I doubt it.

The theatre-going public, attend dramatic plays with the expectation of being confronted as well as entertained. Reminding them of the sovereignty of the Nyoongarah, including their language, imperative to the authenticity of the play.

Barungin holds a mirror to a white audience (we have many of the same issues with alcohol, domestic violence, stealing)  and challenges us to rethink our assumptions.  What do we ‘know’ of Australia’s history and the Indigenous  people.

Barungin is a play that will change what and how you feel.


We explored whether Barungin was a bridge or a failure toward confronting audiences with Aboriginal reality and the important social and cultural issues needing to be addressed:

  • deaths in custody
  • land rights and cultural dislocation
  • acceptance of Aboriginal sovereignty
  • acknowledgement of Aboriginal disadvantage
  • cohesion and importance of family ties

Lisa mentioned Aboriginal songlines (maps of the land) associated with landmarks and trade routes. Aboriginals explored this continent and marked out territories long before colonial explorers “discovered” mountains, rivers, and valleys!

It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.

Simone de Beauvoir

Racism is real in Australia. It was evident in 1988 and still is in 2016. 

We must reach down deep within our being and acknowledge any fear or loathing of “the other.” The justifications and excuses we make for the treatment of those who are different. Statements such as ‘it’s the past’ ‘I didn’t know’ ‘it wasn’t me’… are not good enough responses to stolen land, stolen children, stolen health, stolen life expectancy.

The personal and the political influence our choices and we find our voice to make change happen.

You cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.

Audre Lorde

Jack Davis certainly had fire, talent, integrity and heart and a strong belief in the merits of his culture and people’s contribution to country – Nyoongarah and beyond.

I’d like to believe the Treaty denied Aboriginal people (as well as Constitutional recognition) will happen in my lifetime and a national understanding of what was lost with invasion and colonisation will be acknowledged and true reconciliation will occur with the equity and respect still denied.

Plays matter and the power of a playwright such as Jack Davis shouldn’t be underestimated. Barungin still has a contribution to make towards understanding the historical and current pain of Indigenous dispossession. It reveals and at the same time shakes stereotypes.

Joshua’s comment on the last scene has stuck with me.

News of Peter’s death in custody is announced and the play ends with Meena reading a long list of names while the others lay wreaths…

Joshua asks did Davis write the play backward? That is did he write it as backstory to Peter’s death?

Are there one hundred plus other plays to be written?

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Vale Amelia Auckett – Artist, Writer, Film Maker



On Thursday, along with my friend Barbara Davies, I travelled to San Remo to attend Amelia’s funeral. The journey, by public transport, took 2 hours and 58 minutes: first a train to Frankston, a bus  to Cranbourne and then V-line coach to San Remo.

Others attended from further afield: Gippsland, Healesville, and Ballarat. A measure of the lives Amelia touched; her influence and legacy, and the high esteem in which she was held.

Although she has lived for over twenty years in Parkdale, Amelia was born in San Remo and has strong family connections there.  Her sons John and Paul, felt it fitting she be buried where she was born and grew up – her life a full circle!

The wake held at Amelia’s childhood home which is now occupied by a niece.


When Barbara and I stepped off the coach directly opposite the little wooden church of St Augustine, I gasped.  My eyes immediately drawn to the empty silver-grey hearse across the road. ‘Amelia must be already there,’ I whispered to Barbara.

Each grief reminds you of a previous one and flashes of other funerals and other hearses came to mind. Despite the warmth of a wonderful spring sun I felt chilled.

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The deep azure sky mirrored in the blue sea stretching to Phillip Islandpromised a day of brilliant sunshine. A day for enjoying the beach not attending a funeral.

As I watched the traffic speed by and cross the bridge I wondered how many gave even a second glance to the little church gleaming white in a new coat of paint, belying its 110 years of weathering the storms from the sea, and the countless upheavals of the hundreds of families in attendance over the century or more, of its service to the township.

Amelia was one of my writing students, first at Sandybeach Centre and latterly Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. For many years she attended Readings By The Bay, the public readings by Mordialloc Writers’ Group,  often referred to as ‘The Prom lady’ because Wilson’s Promontory, a place she loved, was the subject of so many of her poems and stories.

Asked to read some of her poetry at the service I, of course, included The Spirit of The Prom. I can recall the day she wrote it in class and the discussion we had about the Aboriginal spirit  Loo-Errn .

Spirit Of The Prom
Amelia Auckett 2004

I am the Prom
A sacred place
A place I love

Walking to Lilly Pilly Gully
On Christmas Day
Cicadas a symphony of sound
Piercing our ears

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos
Feasting on banksia seeds
Forest ravens dancing
Crimson rosellas a splash of colour

Mount Oberon, a guardian
Mount Bishop presiding over the Prom
Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and emus
Ranging free

Rocks singing
Wind bending the trees
Eleven rainbows viewed from Pillar Point
Within the space of an hour

I am the ocean
Its roaring sound
As breakers run up the beach
Then a soft sigh as they sink back to the sea
Oystercatchers scour the seashore

I am the silence
I am one with Loo-errn
The Spirit of the Prom

A kookaburra laughs


The Artist and the Nurse

Amelia was also a prolific artist and belonged to the Mentone-Mordialloc Art Group for several years and even mounted her own art exhibition. Her sons displayed many of her framed works at the church and invited everyone to take one or two pieces as mementoes.

A lovely gift to mourners who will now have a permanent keepsake – I chose a Prom painting but also one from Amelia’s time trekking in Nepal – another period of her life she shared with us in class.

When I went into the Tarkine wilderness, Amelia gave me the backpack she used when travelling ‘I won’t be needing it anymore,’ she said, ‘the Prom’s far enough for me to travel.’


A gift from Amelia when I was going through chemo


Amelia’s son, Paul gave the eulogy and his voice reflected the pride in his mother’s achievements which include nursing, writing, painting, music and filmmaking. Her nursing career took her to Central Australia and Canada, and for 25 years she was the Maternal and Child Health nurse at Frankston, Victoria.

Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

When people look at me they see a Miss Marple type. A woman with wisdom gained over the years and a person with knowledge, a love for, and understanding of people. They are not surprised I decided to be a nurse when ten years old. After all, my mother was the Matron of the Deniliquin Hospital in NSW before she married at thirty-two. My eldest sister Mary was two years into her nursing training at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Victoria. Nursing was in the family.

At the age of sixteen in June 1945, I started a twelve months Cadet Nursing course at the Eye and Ear Hospital, East Melbourne. It was an eventful year. The Americans dropped an Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th and a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th. The cities were flattened, thousands of people died.

On August 15th 1945 the war in the Pacific ended when the Japanese surrendered. A large group of nurses, from the Hospital, including me, joined thousands of people in Swanston and Collins streets outside the Town Hall that evening, in joyful celebration. We hugged strangers, and each other, We danced, laughed and cried, feeling a great sense of relief. Shouts of, ‘The war is over!’ ‘Peace at last!’ rang out.

We look at older people and what do we see? Who do we see? When they share their stories, or others share them at milestone celebrations or funerals, it is surprising what historical events they have witnessed, what skills they have learned, and their achievements.

When she left an unhappy marriage, Amelia worked hard as a single mother in a time when divorce and single parenting did not have the understanding or support from society like they have today.

Always breaking new ground, she published a book and DVD on Baby Massage. This has been translated into many languages and is a standard fixture in Maternal and Child Health centres throughout Australia. She also wrote music and produced songs as lullabies and for relaxation. Her sons are proud of their mother’s many talents, achievements and unique gifts.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Amelia came once a week and massaged my bald head and shoulders. She meditated with me – a peaceful interlude encouraging calm reflection and relaxation, and to focus on healing.


Claire from Ballarat told me how Amelia mentored her and other infant nurses. Claire helped update the baby massage book for Amelia when Infant Welfare clinics were rebranded. She said the baby massage book was revolutionary and innovative.

I remember using the technique with my daughters who were born in the 80s and how thrilled I was when Amelia joined my writing class in the 90s – although it took me a while to make the connection!

Amelia’s son, John has established a website for people to access Amelia’s work, including his mother reading two poems that he set to music. This recording was played during the service. No shuffling feet or rustling papers disturbed Amelia’s soft rhythmic tones as they filled the room.  The Prayer of Thanksgiving followed, accompanied by a whispering sea breeze through the open side door.

Staring at the pine coffin adorned with a gorgeous display of flowers in various shades of purple, Amelia’s favourite colour, it was difficult to comprehend I wouldn’t see her again.


On the way to the cemetery, Amelia’s nephew Sam pointed out various places Amelia mentioned in her poems and talked with affection about her affinity with the Prom and her love of the natural environment.

San Remo cemetery is high on a hill with magnificent views as it overlooks the township and the sea. Prime real estate – the pioneers who chose the spot, chose well!

Amelia is descended from the famous Andersons of San Remo and was very proud of her connection to Scotland. Their graves are nearby.


On the way to the wake, Sam stopped at Amelia’s favourite beach and as I stood and listened to the lapping of gentle waves I remembered the stories Amelia told of growing up when San Remo was a fishing village, and how calm waters could also be treacherous. The sea claimed the lives of two of her brothers, including her twin.


Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

The beach was our playground. In the summer, June, Sam and I swam in the warm water, then lay on our towels on the warm sand, sheltered from the southerly breeze behind clumps of marram grass, in the sand dunes. We floated on our backs in the waters of the fast flowing flood tide, on the beach side of the sandbar, starting from opposite our house, then floated down to the pier. We would then walk back to our starting point and float down to the pier again, again and again. It was pure magic, like floating on air in another world.

Many years later, when our mother died, June and I stayed in her home ‘The Haven’ for a few days clearing the house. During that time we swam at the beach and floated down to the pier, again and again, capturing magical moments from our childhood.

As children we played houses on the beach, creating large rooms divided by very small sand walls, leaving gaps for doors and windows We gathered green lettuce seaweed and shellfish for make-believe food. In the cool weather, we took long walks around the beach, collecting shells and seeing sea anemones and small fish in rock pools.

I loved the space, the freedom, the sun, the blue skies, the glistening clear blue sea, the stormy days and the fun.

The Haven, an appropriate name for Amelia’s family home and after a scrumptious afternoon tea provided by the ladies of the church I was grateful Claire offered to drop Barbara and me home saving us a long wait (the return coach left at 7pm!) and a circuitous trip to Mordialloc.

Amelia never returned to class in July because she fell and fractured her hip but up until then, despite failing health she came by taxi every Monday morning and always gave me a hug when she left, saying, ‘Thank you for a lovely class.’

Hugs were a signature of any encounter with Amelia – I’ll miss them!





Honouring A Life Shared



The Launch of Julie Wentworth: A Life Shared

On Saturday, I went to a book launch, in Ashburton,  with my close friend and writing buddy, author Dr Glenice Whitting. This time, the celebrity of the launch was Glenice’s cousin,  Julie Wentworth.

Glenice and Julie


In July, I mentioned about preparing Julie’s book for publication.

The book is filled with highlights from her life, especially the years teaching yoga and meditation.  Her friend Mark, a teacher and librarian helped capture this amazing journey by recording and typing interviews with Julie whose health has deteriorated in recent years.

Mark and Julie


Julie was given my name by a friend who published her first book.  She knew I had published the last few Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies to save the group money.

My passion for enabling people to tell their stories has led to editing and book publishing. Helping other writers like Julie meant  embracing digital technology – it’s been an interesting ride with plenty more hurdles I’m sure!

 I have to thank my daughter, Mary Jane for producing a cover to the exact specifications Julie wanted – simplicity itself!


However, to witness Julie’s joy and pride holding the finished product of her labour, and see a queue of devotees lining up for her signature, a wonderful reward.


To know each book sold provided money for Rainbow Cottage Children & Babies Home, South Africa, a fantastic bonus.

Lily did the honours – the pile of books dwindled rapidly.


The celebration of  Julie Wentworth: A Life Shared was held in the Baptist Church hall where Julie held her Yoga and Meditation classes.

One day, a Friday, in the Ashburton class, (they’re very special yogis, that group), they are strong women, each one so busy and leading full lives.

All of a sudden I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, I couldn’t even read my notes, what I’d written for this planned class. And there was silence, and the class waited for me. And I was waiting and I thought, Am I going to drop dead here or just sit here and die? A strange feeling, a strange moment.

Eventually I said, ‘Come on, four by four, use it work with it.’ Then I just said to the class, ‘I’m sorry I don’t know what happened there; let’s move on.’ Which I did.

Then, two students phoned me and they said, ‘Julie we’d like to pay for you to go to the Golden Door, in NSW, a health retreat. They have this special offer. Would you have enough money to pay for your own airfare to Newcastle and back?’
‘Yes, I would.’

I did that. So generous, these yogis of mine. I was in a beautiful room. Walked around, did a few sessions, just relaxed and was still. Came back renewed, refreshed. How generous. The stairs of this Golden Door, seemed to go up to heaven. You opened the golden door and all you saw were the stairs. It has a good name, good people, good food, good activities. They paid for it. What a gift!

Light streamed into the room through large glass windows and our eyes feasted on a lovely garden. The tranquility and beauty an apt setting for the author’s memories and story.

The room soon filled with Julie’s friends (many of whom were past students) with the love in the room palpable. The pile of books dwindled and I joked about writer’s cramp as Julie signed one dedication after another.


Julie’s previous book (written when 69 years old),  Love And Light: Yoga for cancer HIV/AIDS & Other Illnesses, a manual sharing her knowledge and teaching techniques, but this short autobiography reveals her amazing journey from gifted singer and music teacher to one of the most highly respected yoga teachers in Melbourne.

It includes personal details not shared before.


When called upon to launch the book, Glenice praised Julie’s courage and determination.

Her courage to compete and win singing awards.

Dame Joan Sutherland wrote, You have great courage and obviously a great talent.

  • Courage to teach music while struggling with deteriorating hearing. 
  • Courage to leave a toxic marriage
  • Courage to survive cancer
  • Courage as a single mother to reinvent herself and support her son

Julie changed her name for protection, travelled the world to study and eventually established her own Yoga school.

In their darkest hours, Julie worked with those afflicted by Cancer and Aids.

Michelle, a palliative care nurse,  spoke about Julie’s inspiration, guidance, and support.



After a move into assisted living accommodation, Julie now faces her own health challenges with her signature courage and delightful sense of humour.

Mark spoke of the life’s lessons he’d learned from Julie, of visiting many of the sacred places overseas she mentions in the book. How she has taught him to appreciate silence.

He shared one of his favourite passages from the book:

It is one of the great losses, that people have forgotten how to just let the silence be, they tend to talk to fill that space.

It’s to do with feeling the vibration. Being aware of the good vibration or the bad vibration. You are more present. It’s the peace.

At the end of the day, when I pull out my hearing aids, I give thanks for the silence, the peace at that time of the day.


It was a privilege to play a small part in bringing this wonderful book into ‘the light’.

All books were sold on Saturday and Julie hasn’t decided if she will have more printed.

What better recommendation can an author have than to know your book is in demand!

Julie often finishes her own meditation with a Metta from Jack Kornfield:

May I be filled with loving kindness

May I be well,

May I be peaceful and at ease,

May I be happy.

A wonderful prayer for us all!

Courageous Catalyst For Change



Yours truly with Yordy


The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Throughout my life, I’ve been involved in movements for social justice, and privileged to meet, see, or read people who leave an indelible mark on my psyche, challenge my opinions, confront me with new knowledge, inspire me – and usually leave me feeling glad there are such amazing, vibrant spirits around working to touch the life of others in a positive way.

The Power of Storytelling And Art

Attending the preview of the film about the making of the stage play, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe at the Nova Cinema and meeting theatre director and filmmaker, Ros Horin and one of the “African Ladies”, Yordanos left me humbled and richer for the experience.

The after-screening discussion a privilege because we heard responses from refugees and asylum seekers, teachers and writers, radio broadcasters and actors. The raw honesty of so many people working to promote a strong message that violence against women is wrong, and there must be cultural shifts throughout the world – whether first or third world countries, institutions or the home.

Below is a snapshot from an extensive gallery online:

From the stage production of the play

A Film and A Play

The only time I feel jealous of Sydney is when there is an art exhibition, festival, play or other performance that doesn’t venture south of the border. Melbourne may be the world’s most liveable city and we have memorable art venues and events here, but we missed out on a groundbreaking stage production.

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe stage play never came to Melbourne although it did tour overseas. A great hit at the WOW  (Women Of the World)  festival in London.

I first heard it mentioned on Q and A by Tony Burke MP who supported the project. (In the film he has a cameo appearance when the then Governor-General Quentin Bryce  and other supporters like Tony, go backstage to congratulate the cast). On Q and A, Tony mentioned how powerful the play is regarding exposing the effects not only of violence against women in war but within families and communities.

Watching the film of how these four inspirational African women came together to not only tell their harrowing stories but work with Ros Horin to celebrate their survival by telling it on stage is the next best thing to actually seeing the play.

Yordy and Ros at the Nova


As an extension of the work of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe theatre production, this film seeks to share the powerful stories of these four women and their traumatic experiences of civil war, rape, sexual abuse and violence to a much larger Australian and international audience.

The film reveals their extraordinary journeys of struggle, empowerment, and healing through the arts, as the four African women, former refugees, play themselves in a moving story based on their own terrifying experiences.

A Thought-Provoking Film

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, that reveals the transformative power of storytelling through the arts.

I Came By Boat Project

I was invited to see the film preview because I donated to the crowdfunding for the I Came By Boat Campaign another project using the power of storytelling to challenge people’s assumptions and change attitudes.

I guarantee your emotions will be engaged when you hear the stories of the “African Ladies” but also uplifted when you see the empowerment of the women and pride of families, especially their children.


The aim of this unique and exceptional project is to be a catalyst for open dialogue about violence within communities all over the world. It needs to reach as many people as possible including schools, government bodies, and social impact groups.


Check out their website for screening dates, and if you can, please support the distribution of this film to the wider audience it so richly deserves.

It was such a privilege to witness the honesty and openness by Ros, Aminata, Rosemary, Yarrie and Yordy.  They not only shared the stories for the play but so much more about their personal journeys about acting for the first time – performing as the cold observer on their own story.

There are glimpses in the film about playwriting and acting and it was fascinating to hear all the contingency plans Ros had in place to protect the women from the emotional trauma of retelling their stories.

Yordy had a breakdown and withdrew from the project. Being the cold observer impossible but we see her recover and rejoin the troupe. There is a lot of joy in this film.

I hope The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe has the viewing and success it so richly deserves.


Writing Wellness Into Habits To Improve Health



Last week, I attended an annual ‘exclusive briefing’ by the Commonwealth Bank for Ongoing Service customers. This is the fourth or fifth I’ve managed to make and I always choose the Grand Hyatt venue because it is the closest someone on my income will ever be to the luxurious surroundings and lovely lunch they put on – a glimpse into the world of the bank’s overpaid top executives!

the grand hyatt collins street.jpg

The idea of a free lunch  – especially from a bank – appeals to me.  Although I know it’s not really free – they have my superannuation!

The event always showcases inspirational speakers and if truth be known that is why I make the effort, and I’ve never been disappointed. In the past, I’ve heard Ita Buttrose on her research into nutrition to improve her ageing father’s macular degeneration and blindness, and Robert de Castella on his work with indigenous communities using marathon running to improve their health and self-esteem.

This year it was Dr Caroline West who enriched my knowledge about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how to achieve it.

Dr Caroline West

On graduating, Dr Caroline West, MBBS  was awarded the prize for most outstanding achievement in community medicine and has spent her life focusing on community wellness.  

Still a practising GP, Media Doctor, Lecturer Lifestyle Medicine (University Southern Cross) and Past President of the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association, she is much sought-after as a speaker.

Needless to say, as a writer and teacher/presenter, I took copious notes but I also wore my hat as a consumer health representative.

A brush with celebrity -Caroline and me.jpg
Brush with celebrity – me with Dr Caroline West

In fact, Dr Caroline West is a dynamo. A director of her medical practice for over 25 years, she’s mother to three teenage children, and her CV includes an extensive media career as a TV presenter and producer:

Beyond Tomorrow ( enjoyed by a global audience of 50 million through the discovery channel ) Good Medicine, Beyond 2000, 60 minutes , Sex/Life, Living Longer, Everybody , George Negus Tonight , The Midday Show, Tonight Live, Guide to the Good Life. Rural health channel (Foxtel) and Mornings with Sonia Kruger and David Campbell. She is a regular Wellness Blogger ,is the GP expert for Ninemsn and has written regularly for the Sun Herald and Australian Doctor.


I was sitting in the front row listening to the introduction for the keynote speaker. Distracted by a movement beside me, I felt Caroline sit down. When I turned, she gave  such a friendly, moonbeam smile I thought she knew me!

Oozing beauty and energy, she proved to be a consummate speaker and performer.  Bouncing up to her signature tune and slideshow,  strutting the stage with another wide smile to include everyone in the room.

For the next 45 minutes, the audience of retirees and bank employees remained enthralled. Afterwards, she listened patiently as impressed guest after guest, queued to chat and ask questions (free consultations?) and ensured her lunch delayed.

Yet, her lovely smile and enthusiasm never waned.

An Interesting Intro

Dr West bought her first practice at 25 years old. It was above a King’s Cross bottleshop. Arriving at work she’d find a body on the doorstep, people overdosing in the toilets and having seizures in the waiting room.

One of her patients who turned his life around couldn’t appear in an advert for her program because he was wanted in three states!

King’s Cross in the 1980s was, and some people say still is, the epicentre of drugs, alcohol, and violence in Sydney. However, like Melbourne’s St Kilda (pics below) there has been a transformation.

Families and retirees have moved in. A gentrification and softening resulting in the biggest change in Caroline’s 25 years. New housing developments and apartments and the changing nature of work the reasons for the transformation.

It is still a diverse community and her practice, which has grown (now employing 40 people) continues to be fascinating.

What hasn’t changed is that 70% of the health issues on her patients’ lists are directly linked to lifestyle – drugs and alcohol certainly, but also bad diet, lack of sleep and not exercising.

Caroline’s mantra:

The three major factors that affect wellness are exercise, nutrition and your mindset.

Caroline’s simple philosophy: A healthy lifestyle anchors wellness, boosts energy, longevity and peak performance.

She practices what she preaches with surfboard riding, cycling to work, walking the dog and kayaking. Her outdoor activities balanced by her love of art and music and a passion for the ukelele!


Caroline told us to shake and do a little dance. The importance of this evident as her presentation proceeded.

We had been sitting listening to the Bank’s financial keynote speaker and would be sitting listening to her. Her demonstration of swivelling hip and hand moves proved motivational dance should be added to her CV!


Caroline’s areas of expertise include nutrition, healthy lifestyle behavioural changes, weight management ,shared care for pregnancy, sleep, exercise, mental health, sexual health, hypnosis and preventative medicine.

She is an S100 prescriber for HIV and remains committed to the latest developments in lifestyle medicine: prevention is the key for better health. A leader in this field she communicates the latest in medical advances not only to patients but also a broader audience through her media work as health broadcaster, corporate speaker and consultant.

Universal Themes For Good Health

  • something to do
  • someone to love
  • something to look forward to

Although her speech was aimed at the audience of retirees, her advice made sense for everyone and spoke to me as a writer – especially as a middle-aged writer!

Not just examining her word choice, and how she presented, but her advice on setting goals, persistence, specific detail, planning and many other points I often talk about in writing classes.

A thought flitted through my mind – ‘physician heal thyself’ – when was I going to take my own advice?

Inspiring People To Live Well

Healthy lifestyle changes are possible. Little changes sustained day after day make a difference.

Unlock the secrets and be inspired to make those changes. Too many of us spend time thinking rather than doing

a goal without a plan is just a wish

We Took A Lifestyle Health Quiz

Q: Who gets less that 7 hours sleep a night?

  • A goodnight’s sleep important because it affects your mood.
  • Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and diabetes.

People who sleep less, eat more. This is because of decreased levels of the hormone ‘leptin’, which regulates the appetite and helps well-rested people control their cravings for food.

  • Levels of light play a big part in establishing sleeping rhythms  
  • darkness encourages the body to fall asleep and light encourages the body to wake up.

The light emitted from devices like your TV, computer (guilty as charged), phone or even alarm clock will trigger a drop in the levels of a brain chemical that promotes sleep.

Blind people often have trouble with their sleeping rhythms because of their inability to perceive light.


Q: Who volunteers in the community?

Volunteer participation is proven to improve your quality of life and well-being.


Men are concerned about loneliness, they lose friendship groups when they retire, don’t handle the transition from work well – the Men’s Shed Movement a powerful tool to combat depression.

For women the major worry is health. Go to pilates, yoga, a new strain of Tai chi, dance classes – whatever.

Writing classes are also great (personal plug here!) for learning a new skill, therapy, staving off dementia and keeping connected to a community, making friends, as well as maybe starting a new career writing or completing a family history.


Giving back to the community is proven to extend and improve the quality of life – volunteers live longer.

A study of grandparents health revealed those who helped out at local schools encouraging reluctant readers and helping in the library program.

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased brain function
  • Reignited pathways in brain
  • Removed cobwebs and improved ability


Q: Who exercises regularly?

  • What is good for the heart is good for the brain.

Don’t underestimate the transforming power of exercise. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45% !

Therefore, exercise 3 times a week for the elixir of youth because 3 times a week for an hour improves your mood, your looks, and your memory.

  • Fitness makes you feel energetic, positive and confident.

Walk more. Look for movement at every opportunity – innovate – take stairs, walk or dance when doing housework – 30 minutes a day is all it takes.

  • Make it specific and get started.

Caroline illustrated that good health does not happen by chance – you need a plan. (Just like good writing needs to be planned and worked at!)

Creating Rituals To Anchor Our Health

Caroline shared her daily ritual – as the sun rises she walks the dog – he seeks his sustenance by sniffing and snuffling, connecting with other dogs, she ends the walk with a coffee in a favourite cafe after chatting with other regular dog walkers.

Early Morning
Mairi Neil (1992)

I love walking in the early morning
That time when the moon and sun
Don’t quite agree whose turn it is
To light the world.

The air smells fresh and clean
The grass soft and moist with dew
The birds have deep, throaty chirps
Proclaiming the new day.

There is a quietness in the streets
Households awaken behind closed doors
Lights glow through drawn curtains
Water burbles in drains.

Cats return home from a night of prowling
Padding softly along pavements
Up driveways, or lie curled in doorways
Awaiting breakfast.

Dogs eager for morning walks
Sit expectantly behind locked gates
Imprisoned and impatient
They growl or bark.

A jogger runs past sweating
Although stripped to the waist
Determination and single-mindedness
Etched on his face

The whistle of a train triggers
The level crossing bells
Signalling rumbling on the rails
Peak hour has begun.

Time to return to rouse sleepy children
Prepare for a new school day
Crumbs on the table
A welcome sign of family life.

sunset USA

Whether you go to the sea and discover what kind of day it will be, or to the park and meet other dog walkers who talk to each other, it is a positive way to start the day.

Walking a dog brings many important lifestyle features together – encouraging you to walk, connect with nature and people, explore paths and nature walks, learning something new.

Walk after work, or in the early evening to relieve stress.


If no dog, maybe sign up for dance lessons, Tai Chi, volunteering – humans need to be connected to improve our health and wellness.

Walking In The Evening
Mairi Neil (1992)

Walking the dog each evening
Should reduce any excess fat
Because Goldie really walks me
Pulling this-a-way and that!

We trot briskly up MacDonald Street
To the footie oval and surrounds
Goldie snuffles, runs, lopes and sniffs
Her restless energy knows no bounds.

Following this endless exuberance
I allow my thoughts to roam free
Aware of damp grass, the rustling trees
Clouds altering above a distant sea.

One night clouds are mashed potatoes
Bursting amidst a jaded dinner plate
Another night perhaps creamed cheese
Ricotta – the type you never  grate!

Other times clouds could be steam
Escaping bubbling cauldron or pot
Perhaps a mist rising on stage
In some tricky theatrical plot.

The sky may have rainbow streaks
Stretched yawns of a retiring sun
Mauves, golds, apricots and pinks
Vibrant colours every brilliant one.

But most evenings the clouds meander
To drift lazily across the wondrous sky
During the day they may have raced,
Crashing together and spinning by.

Like Goldie, they barely pause before
Merging to fade and move away
Darkness falls, Goldie pulls at her lead
We head homewards at the close of day.

Little Steps Rather Than A Grand Gesture

Q. Why do New Year Resolutions fail?

The number one  new near resolution is to lose weight, especially after the indulgences and over-eating at Christmas.

However, Caroline suggests a resolution like this is too big and won’t succeed. Whereas small changes make a profound difference to your health.

If implemented, small changes can be highly effective. They have a knock-on effect for self and others.

Writers know the value of learning the  craft, writing consistently – maybe only 100 words a day and building up to thousands. Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird an excellent example of this.

Emotional eaters often pile on extra kilos so make a decision to be more active –

  • perhaps as few as 600 – 1000 extra steps a day.
  • Choose smaller dinners (but make sure half your plate is always fruit and vegetables)
  • avoid alcohol at night (no ‘self-medication’, going straight home from work, skipping the gym because you’re too tired, but walking in the door and having a big glass or two of wine.)
  • aim for more sleep.(Anyone who has been sleep-deprived with a young child will know how that in itself can lead to a low mood and grumpiness!)

Studies asking what people want as they age revealed:

  • a safe place to live,
  • financial security,
  • to prevent cancer,
  • have no aches or pains
  • enjoy time with grandchildren.



Steve 65 was overweight, an ex-heavy smoker, and diabetic at 50.

When he was 62 he was walking down the street and experienced intense indigestion, went clammy and felt severely ill.

  • He was having a heart attack.
  • He realised he had a lot to live for – his grandkids keep him buoyant.
  • He turned his life around because his health is about energy to cope with grandkids –and he wants a girlfriend.

Waiting for a crisis like Steve is a high-risk strategy.

Imagine where you want to be in 5 years time.

Money and security are important but health and capacity to enjoy life more important.

Caroline showed a picture of her grandfather in Royal Navy garb looking healthy on the deck of a ship.

He was born in 1903, a period where one in seven children died.

A time of no antibiotics and lots of viruses. The average lifespan for men was 47 years old, women 49 – (the audience including me shuddered).

The biggest killers were diseases such as gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and flu. Spanish flu devastated that generation.

In 1918, 42% of the planet was affected. 50 million people died – three times the number killed in WW1.

Flu Vaccination is important today. Remember that Spanish flu took out young healthy adults.

Today we live longer because of:

  • antibiotics,
  • vaccinations,
  • surgery,
  • transplants
  • better knowledge of benefits of nutrition

There has been an incredible change in medicine and medical practice.

Technology has changed too – the first mobile phone referred to as a brick. Today a mobile can do everything and fit into your pocket.

In the western world, we are a complicated highly connected society.

However, not all inventions have been good for our health. Caroline picked on the elastic waistband as one because it ensures we don’t know if we are gaining weight – makes our clothes too comfortable! (Oops – guilty as charged!)

  • We are supersize now – food and everything else.
  • We are living longer but living with chronic conditions.
  • Almost everyone 50 plus is managing a form of arthritis.

We’re living longer, but with more years of poor health


  • Smoking rate has reduced
  • Heart attack rate reduced
  • Lifespans improved.


Chronic disease is affected by lifestyle factors:

  • cancers 71%

  • stroke 70%

  • heart attack 87%

  • diabetes 91%


Lifestyle equals medicine. Daily walking, even slowly, helps.

Think of 3Fs:

  • feet,
  • fork,
  • foregoing

Cut down on what you put on the fork,  eat and drink less of the unhealthy foods, and use your feet to walk/run/dance – move.

 If you start your morning with a breakfast muffin and a coffee, you are essentially having the same amount of calories as a Big Mac and a small Coke – that’s 530 calories!

Improved lifestyle helps with the big health issues older people face:

  • prevention of dementia
  • prevention of heart disease
  • prevention of diabetes

Caroline’s father died of dementia at 75. (My father died of dementia at 83)

When you’ve witnessed a parent struggling, deteriorating and ultimately dying of dementia you live with the fear that one day it may be you.

Pharmaceutical companies are going gangbusters to find a cure for Alzheimer’s – the next big drug breakthrough for them.

But Caroline’s presentation wasn’t about drugs, rather it was about personal effort and control of your own health by improving lifestyle.

Activity trackers

It is usually safe to get your heart rate up (check with your doctor if you are concerned), because exercise is protective,and aerobic fitness important.

Think of exercise as an opportunity, not an inconvenience

Exercise must be specific to get started on the journey to better health choices.

  • Most people agree there is a 50% gap between recall (memory) and reality.
  • Use it as a motivational tool to walk anywhere between 600 – 1000, 6,000 – 12,000 steps daily (the higher number facilitates weight loss)
  • Start low, go slow, build up
  • Strength training builds muscles – do resistance training once a week.

Better to get your progress monitored if you can’t focus at home so join a club, gym, or class.



In England they did an experiment with workers:

They monitored driver and conductor’s health on the double decker buses.
Drivers had a much higher rate of heart attacks.


You need to move – every 30 minutes – important more than ever in sedentary jobs and for those (like writers!) sitting in front of computers.

  • Sit for 20, stand for 8 and move for 2. Put music on and wiggle, walk around the office or the house.
  • Exercise and movement part of treatment for chronic pain.
  • If you get up to move around at regular intervals it will increase concentration, mood and the ability to remember information.

Sitting is the new smoking

Remember! Make exercise specific – write a note and put it somewhere prominent (writers should be good at this!):

I will this week do (activity)  At this (time) and (place)  With (my friend/dog/alone)

Technology provides lots of Apps now to improve the performance of activity trackers (even on your mobile phone) and to help with lifestyle – Caroline smiled when she gave the example of one called Spreadsheets – a tracker for sex – the ins and outs, the sounds – sex is a great exercise! (Let’s hope Steve has some luck looking for a girlfriend.)



Healthy zones have been studied in countries like Japan and Greece to discover why some populations are more healthy.

  • They eat well – mostly plants and small portions of fish.
  • They move – they integrate activities in their daily life
  • They connect – friends and family come first – this proves to be an incredibly powerful tool for health, fostering resilience and improving mental health.

Caroline finished with a gardening metaphor – focus on getting the lawnmower out regularly, then do the weeding.

Develop a clear vision – and then take the first step. And remember medicine is not just about medication and surgery!

As a writer/teacher,  Caroline’s keynote address was a reminder to look after my own health, curb bad habits like sitting too long without moving but also apply her motivation advice to writing practice:

  • tackle writing projects in little steps,
  • be consistent and write every day
  • keep the final goal in mind and have a plan!
  • And value our health above all else


No dark fate determines the future – we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.



Holiday Games Banishing Stress With a Toolbox of Fun


john and anne 1986 1.jpeg

I love this picture of husband, John with daughter, Anne. In 1986, he may have been the Secretary of one of the largest and most powerful trade unions in Australia but he was also a new father, albeit second time round.

And the second time round he had his priorities right. Whenever he came home, or if I met him after work, he switched off, and lived in the moment – moments of love and joy, concentrating on family and where and how we fitted into the big picture of Life.

This week is the anniversary of John’s death and as usual reflection and memories of our time together are more intense but I’m always grateful for the many gifts John left me. The most important of course being our two beautiful daughters, but also his wisdom about taking the time to value what is really important in life:

  • the respect and love of those you hold dear,
  • the difference you make in their lives,
  • and the legacy you leave for them.

Begone Stress!

“I find it makes life a lot easier if you just forget a lot of stuff you’re supposed to be doing.”

JK Rowling

Me an ET Sydney 2014.jpg

We never took advantage of the perk of having our home telephone paid even although many times calls were work-related. We chose to have a silent number, more expensive but unlisted in the telephone directory. This helped to separate home and work, especially random calls from the media, plus abusive calls and death threats – although unfortunately some of the latter got through.

It wasn’t a perfect system but a thousand times better than today’s mobile world where everyone is urged to be contactable regardless of where they are – the flexibility to work marketed as a plus, feeding the idea that we are indispensable and therefore don’t switch off. Add the 24-hour news cycle and social media platforms like FB and Twitter and in some cases, it is a perfect storm for anxiety and overwork.  

I dread to think how different some of the tough periods we experienced could have been in today’s world. It is a brave person who puts their hand up for a job requiring time in the public eye.

A child pretending to talk into a phone has become children as young as pre-schoolers actually having a proliferation of digital tools for entertainment, including computers, game consoles, phones, and iPads. 

Childhood a different experience than when my daughters were young. I’m not sure if many modern children learn how to switch off or disconnect. This may be a contributing factor to the high rates of anxiety and depression we hear about.


I must factor in a proper break – I know a failure to do this has consequences – my body tells me that in no uncertain terms. In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced the extreme effects of a bout of labyrinthitis – not the ideal way to slow down but the illness leave you no option.

Holiday Games

In my healthy world, there are lots of books to read and word and writing games to help me slow down and relax, as well as a variety of craft which I enjoy.

I have a Scrabble buddy, Helen, and the girls and I enjoy board games like Cluedo (we have various boutique variations) but my all-time favourite is Sequence ( a combination of cards and poker chips). I also love crossword puzzles and now use these as a preferred way of switching my mind off to drift into sleep.

By the time term ends, I figure everyone is looking to wind down and have some fun so I step out of the normal lesson structure and encourage free-fall writing and see what eventuates.

America has produced innovative writing teachers along with amazing writers. We may bemoan the changes they have made to English spelling and grammar but there is no denying they have also enriched the English language and culture. The best writing games I have come from the USA.


I have several games I’ve bought online but also a couple that I’ve discovered in Melbourne shops. Serendipitous finds that I share with my writing group or classes.

Memories of Mordialloc Writer’s Group’s traditional Christmas get-together before the summer break still makes me chuckle as I recall the weird, whacky and wonderful stories produced.

In many of my end of term classes, it is the same.

Outrageous first lines, off-the-planet characters, ridiculous plots, absurd settings – a toss of the dice or a random choice that forces you out of your comfort zone. Pushes you in directions not attempted before.

Permission to be fanciful, funny, and free of being politically correct, or following accepted structures and expectations.


Amazingly, a gem may be produced, an idea salvaged to be usable or a memorable entertaining story to remind us how wonderful manipulating words can be.

We’ve been told often enough there are only seven basic plots, seven archetypal themes recurring through every kind of storytelling whether ancient myths, folk tales, plays, short stories, novels, movies or TV soap operas:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

We also know the hero has a thousand faces and we must always be at war against cliché!

However, for a few minutes, in my last classes for the term, we race against time, let all the rules and tools of crafting fiction we’ve absorbed loose, and have some fun – stereotypes and clichés abound or may disappear.

Mid 19th century: French, past participle (used as a noun) of clichér ‘to stereotype’.

They are very similar. A stereotype is a generalization, it’s usually considered negative, and is oversimplified. Oxford uses “the woman as the carer” as their example of a stereotype. Not all women are “carers” so it is a stereotype. A cliché is any word, phrase, situation, or idea that has become so popular it is tired and overused. It can be a stereotype, but it can also be a fact. Popular phrases can be cliché, a stereotype can be a cliché or even common things in poetry can become a cliché, like the very overused “babbling brook” “pouring rain” or “everlasting love.”


The Writer’s Toolbox

This term, we used The Writer’s Toolbox, a game I picked up in Readings, St Kilda, for a mere $14.95 last September. A bargain I’m still crowing about.


A box of fun guaranteed to banish stress and clear writer’s block – and to paraphrase Star Trek – your imagination travels where you’ve never been before!

We didn’t have time to use the game to its full extent because lessons are finite but I cherry-picked parts so we had the opportunity to share everyone’s delightful masterpieces.

We also bent the rules – some managed to use every prompt they were given, others used some and others altered their lines or words to suit their story. That’s what is wonderful about writing games – the only rules are imagination and that moving pen!


I’ve listed my prompts and the bizarre flash fiction result follows.

First sentence: (To start with a surprise) My brother did this weird thing with turtles…

NonSequitur: (a surprising transition) … that weekend in Duluth

The Last Straw: (to create a dramatic arc) … “We were drinking champagne and losing our shirts.”

Three Sixth-Sense cards: (reminders to include the senses)  fresh floor wax; the toenails of the yoga girl; the smell of Susie’s leftovers


Fijian Fantasy by Mairi Neil (590 words)

My brother did this weird thing with turtles when he was drinking. I’m not talking tea or coffee, of course, but the hard stuff. Straight whisky – shots Jack called them.

After a few shots, he’d balance the turtle on his head, sway forwards so the turtle slid down his neck, disappeared into his ghastly, fluorescent shirt, and I don’t know how, because they’re the slowest creatures I know, but the darn thing popped out the front of his shirt the minute he straightened up – much to the surprise and applause of the audience.

Jack wasn’t on a stage, of course, but in a bar. Any bar, makeshift or otherwise. One of many found in the Fijian Islands where he’s lived for the past eighteen years. Needless to say, his audiences all mad or as drunk as him. It wasn’t the life our conservative parents envisaged and they clung to a belief Jack would, as father often said, ‘grow up and get a real job.’

But tropical sunsets and island life suits Jack and he can sing too. He’s made a precarious living entertaining the tourists with his weird turtle act and Frank Sinatra voice – until that weekend in Duluth.

Duluth, outback Australia, the most boring place on earth, but where my parents decided to retire and request brother Jack and I turn up for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

When Jack received the invitation, he said it was more of a royal command and spoiled the promise of the best relationship of his life. ‘We’re drinking champagne and losing our shirts,’ he boasted. ‘Susie’s teaching me yoga and my body’s discovering positions I never knew possible.’

‘Too much information, Jack!’ I said, ‘And you have to be here. Now get on a plane with shirt, minus turtle and be in Duluth by Tuesday.’

He never showed.

The oldies were devastated and I was despatched to Fiji to check Jack was okay. He’d fallen off the radar since our last conversation.

I arrived at his house, well shack really. (The smell of Susie’s leftovers still cling to my nostrils.) Jack told me she had a penchant for kippers and hash browns. Neither were clean freaks because the place looked like the aftermath of a hand grenade explosion. I doubt if Jack could find a shirt for turtle act or anything else among the piles of gaudy floral clothes. By the smell, they may even have taken root.

I discovered toenails of the yoga girl strewn like red confetti on the bathroom floor. I assume they were hers unless Jack kept more secrets from the oldies. My blood pressure rose along with my temper but as I turned to leave, I spied a scrap of rainbow-coloured paper fluttering on the fridge door.
When you’re ready to leave turtles and shots meet me at Hotel Marau

On arrival, at the swankiest hotel on the island, you’re assaulted by fresh floor wax, sparkling mirrors, polished mahogany tables, and an ambiance of soft piano music, tinkling water fountains and slippered feet gliding on parquet tiles.

Jack’s dirty shambles existed on a different planet so I almost fainted to see him on stage, his dinner-suited elegance crooning a la Frank Sinatra.

A glamorous woman, oozing chiffon and bling, sat at the front table enthralled, red fingernails tapping a martini glass. Susie, the yoga girl?

A wedding ring glittered on her finger matching the one on Jack’s hand clutching the mic.
Duluth may not be amused but at least no turtles or shots in sight.


Here are a few examples of some of the First Line prompts. Find a quiet spot and see what your imagination produces.

Your Mother lied to you, that’s the truth!

I have this system for getting exactly what I want out of people.

Dad gave me a wink like we were pals or something…

I loved the way she said ‘balloon’…

He swore on his mother’s grave but then he swore on just about everything.

There I was just standing there…

My only defence was to write down every word they said…


Happy Holidays!



Perspective, Prejudice, and Positivity



Marie Lightman, an accomplished writer/poet/performer based in Newcastle, England was so incensed at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees she asked for poets throughout the world to contribute towards an anthology Writers for Calais Refugees

Reception conditions for the refugees in Calais are worsening and there is an increasing death toll of refugees attempting to cross the channel from Calais to Dover. People are getting together all over the UK to send basic aid, that is not being provided in the holding camp in Calais. Writers are in the unique position to be able to express their concerns about the situation that the state does not seem to share.

Writers for Calais Refugees is an anthology in support of people seeking refuge.

After one of my poems was chosen, Marie and I have kept in touch,  through emails and Facebook. In the last few weeks, she called again for writers to raise their voices, particularly after the shocking death of  Jo Cox MP and the divisive BREXIT Campaign but also many incidents across Europe and throughout the world, where bigotry and prejudice flourish.

A new website was born:


As I write this, an alarming number of cases of intolerance are being reported in the press. We as writers are in the unique position to express our concerns over people being discriminated against because of their race, faith, sexuality, or for any other reasons. Everyone should be appreciated for who they are, without fear or judgement.

Prejudice (noun) unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2.any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable.
3.unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
4.such attitudes considered collectively: The war against prejudice is never-ending.

Prejudice is Everywhere

As a society, we have to be aware of prejudice, and consistently challenge each other about assumptions and word choice, even if that means being uncomfortable and starting controversial and difficult conversations .


Writers, in particular, must be aware – after all, stereotypes (we use them all the time in our writing, especially on screen), are assumptions and tropes about certain people (characters)  whether it is the picture postcard Scot who is mean or drunk, the stiff-upper-lip or foppish Englishman, the stupid Irishman, the dumb blonde, the nagging mother-in-law, the larrikin Aussie  etc.

Prejudice is often masked as jokes, perpetuated by media by sensational reporting, and stirred up by irresponsible politicians.

However, we can make a conscious effort to not be prejudiced. Choose to speak out for tolerance and harmony like Marie and countless others do. The power of storytelling and words encourages creative thinking as well as writing. Conversations can change relationships and attitudes.

Perspective -A Cautionary Tale

This week, my family experienced the perfect example of prejudice.

My youngest daughter was coming home late (10pm) Tuesday night after dropping her sister off in Elwood. She stopped the car at traffic lights at Glenhuntly Road and a man appeared from a nearby park and tried to get into her car.

She only got a glimpse of a hooded figure and a gloved hand at the window as he yanked at the door because she screamed and automatically hit the central locking switch, planting her foot to drive away as fast as she could.

Twenty minutes later, she was with me in Mordialloc, ashen-faced, shaken and relating what happened. I insisted on phoning St Kilda Police to report the incident. If the attacker is hiding in the parkland, the next female on her own may not have such a lucky escape!

The telephone call went like this:

I dialled the number for St Kilda Police – the nearest station to the incident. A robotic woman’s voice told me if it was urgent to hang up immediately and dial 000. If not urgent, I had a press-button selection to work through:

Press 1 to speak to a uniform officer…

I didn’t wait for the other options and pressed 1.

After what seemed an interminable delay Constable A answered. I explained briefly why I was ringing and handed the phone to my daughter.

I listened to her story again as told to the officer and she said the word caucasian a few times. She explained the man wore a hoodie or a beanie, it was dark, the encounter was scary and brief, but yes he was caucasian.

Apparently, the police officer’s first question after her explanation of events, happened to be, ‘Was  he black or…’

His questioned trailed off into an uneasy silence as if he was searching for another word to describe people. This was why my daughter said ‘caucasian’ and why she had to repeat it because he asked her if she was sure.

Prejudice by the police against people of colour is well-documented and often in the news. But it isn’t until it affects you personally, or you witness the prejudice like my daughter did that you can fully comprehend the extent and consequences of such bias.

The officer should have asked: ‘Can you describe the person who tried to get into your car?‘ Not immediately lead with, ‘Was he black?’

There are a lot of homeless in the St Kilda area and some will sleep in the parks, and a percentage of those are Aboriginal and also migrants, but the preconceived idea and prejudgement that people of colour are more likely to car jack or attack lone drivers just perpetuate prejudice and intolerance. It also can’t be assumed that the man who tried to get into my daughter’s car was homeless or mentally ill – two other groups of people often targetted.

In daylight, there is an obvious scratch near the door handle of the car – the likelihood of the man being armed with a knife a probability.

We haven’t heard any more from the police – no follow-up phone call. We don’t even know if they bothered to go and check out the park or intersection. Perhaps my lack of confidence that they took the complaint seriously shows my prejudice!

Positive Action Required

In these troubled times,  we all need to make more of an effort to encourage harmony and tolerance. To be careful of our choice of words, aware of our own cultural biases, the labelling and placing of people in pigeonholes.

If we make an effort to smile more, be welcoming and open to new friendships, barriers can be broken, prejudice lessened. You can make a difference to someone’s life.

Mairi Neil

To those who fear the
Look not only with
Eyes, but with
Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart.
Are people less human, more evil, if different?
Nationality and ethnicity
Culture, religion, identity
Each of us, ache, bleed, cry, desire – all children of Mother Earth.

Harmonious Haiku
Mairi Neil

To have Harmony
Set aside your prejudice
Give everyone a chance

And to End With a Bit of Positivity


Sunflower Happiness
Mairi Neil

Sunflowers in bloom
Symbols of sunshine
Petals flutter as bees buzz
And butterflies flitter
Interconnected, dependant
Beautiful sunflowers are
Tough and easy to grow
These tall bright blossoms
Enormous examples of
Resilience and adaptability.
Vacant blocks transformed
Into gardens of yellow
Ugliness dispelled
Blandness abandoned
Stunning visual feasts
Sunflowers in bloom
Instant smiles installed!

Promenade with Penguins – the Promise of a Perfect Day!


Paradise indeed..jpg

On Sunday morning, I looked out the bedroom window to the promise of a beautiful spring day. The Bird of Paradise bush glorious as usual and not a cloud in the sky. A great to be alive day despite the fact it was September and Father’s Day!

Special celebrations like Father’s Day are hard if you are missing a father you loved. My Dad died in 2005, and John, the girls’ dad, died in 2002. The two men I adored no longer around.

We three, remaining Neils have coped with the hype of Father’s Day for a few years now, the weeks leading up to the day where the media and shops are full of reminders, and stories that scream what could have been…

The loss never lessens but there are many people who are in the same boat and deliberately organising the day to focus elsewhere and make a conscious decision to live in the now and not in the past, does help numb rather than exacerbate, the persistent pain.

An Outing To See The St Kilda Penguins

group for blog.jpg

My friend, Kristine who retired to the other side of the city, belongs to the Altona Adventurers, pictured above with yours truly bottom left. They are an amazing community group, exploring local walks and sites as well as going further afield. On Sunday, Kristine had arranged a trip to see the penguins at St Kilda Pier.

How privileged was I to be included in their outing – they are certainly a friendly, hospitable bunch!

The trip to see the penguins at St Kilda Pier included a special talk and tour by Bronwyn from the Port Phillip Eco-centre. Before we met Bronwyn at the pier, we strolled through the beautiful St Kilda Botanical Gardens land bordered by Dickens Street, Tennyson Street, and Blessington Street. An easy walk from Balaclava Station.

First Stop St Kilda Botanical Gardens


The gardens were formally established in 1859 when a boundary fence was erected. By 1907 significant donations of money and plant material had led to the establishment of a rosary, extensive flower beds, and a nursery. Exotic forest trees were planted during the 1870s and Australian species were included in 1932.

Registered with Heritage Victoria, the gardens contain 810 mature tree specimens eight of which are on the significant tree register. In the 1950s the Alister Clarke Rose Garden was established and a Sub-Tropical Rainforest conservatory added in the early 1990’s. Seasonal displays and local indigenous plants provide a valuable collection to study or sit alongside enjoying a picnic.

Built features in the gardens include a giant chess board, ornamental pond with Rain Man fountain, children’s play space, gazebo, glasshouses and the Eco-centre which facilitate lessons on sustainable living practice.













The gorgeous spring weather helped everyone’s mood but I can imagine the well-kept gardens is an oasis of serenity in any weather. How lucky we are to live in Melbourne – one of the world’s most liveable cities – a title won several times!

The gardens boast an ornamental lake and a lovely sculpture by artists Corey Thomas and Ken Arnold. RAINMAN is a solar powered water feature in harmony with the environment, utilising the sun’s energy, the variations in light are reflected by the flow of water.

On a sunny day, rain will fall onto the figure from under the umbrella, the figure’s hand stretched to feel the day beyond. A cloud passes over, it starts to rain, the solar power ceases, a dry Rainman reaches from beneath the umbrella to feel the rain.

(The solar panels and pump integral to the project were donated.)


I was delighted when I came across a garden bed with ‘desert’ plants because it triggered a memory of San Antonio when Mary Jane and I visited The Alamo Mission. San Antonio must be one of the most beautiful cities in the USA and one I’d love to revisit.

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Living Fossils
Mairi Neil

Celebrate parks and open spaces
How they let us breathe and play
They put smiles upon our faces

Nature provides wondrous places
Adding beauty to the everyday
Wildlife parks, wilderness spaces

Trainers recommend 10,000 paces
Exercise and be healthy they say
Remember smiles upon our faces

In childhood egg and spoon races
Kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
Celebrates parks and open spaces

Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
And whether skies are blue or grey
We must put smiles upon our faces

In the future, they’ll look for traces
Of how we spent our lives each day
They’ll dig up parks and other spaces
Perhaps put names to long gone faces…

Celebrate parks and open spaces
Breathe deeply and enjoy your play
And remember put a smile upon your face!

Second Stop the delights of Acland and Carlisle Streets

From the Botanical Gardens, we walked to Acland Street for an early tea before heading to the pier for dusk. For some of the Altona Wanderers, the delights and oddities of Acland were a joy to behold and will no doubt entertain many a future coffee break chat.

One of the group had extra special memories – she had been married in the Botanical Gardens and the surrounding streets triggered lots of stories too.

Many Melburnians consider St Kilda synonymous with live music venues like The Espy, but heritage buildings are being redeveloped at an alarming rate.  There is also the fabulous and wonderful Luna Park. Who hasn’t got a story about the Great Scenic Railway (rollercoaster) and other vomit-inducing rides? How many teenage love stories can those rides tell?

Walking towards the pier I saw Edgewater Towers where I’d volunteered last year for Open House Melbourne. A fabulous day spent in a fascinating place with a great history. What serendipity I could take a picture from a different angle this year and see the building from a different perspective.

You really do notice so much more when you walk!


A Promenade Towards The Pier


We walked past the partly completed Stokehouse Restaurant tragically destroyed by fire but now being rebuilt to the highest of “green” environmentally friendly standards.

There was the famous Donovans, catering for up-market clients and also four-legged friends. It was just wonderful to enjoy expanses of sand and ocean and stroll with happy singles and families as we prepared for the aim of the evening – our date with the penguins!


Despite the sizeable group and people ‘doing their own exploring’ we all managed to make it to the pier.

Bronwyn gave excellent hints, information, and advice about the Port Phillip Environment and future foreshore sustainability in general. The dangers of microbeads to ocean life one of the biggest challenges we face. She searched in the sand to show us some microbeads, and Neil, the other ranger from the Eco-centre explained how natural the pink tide was when we were all imagining something sinister!

We had never seen the pink frill before and thought it may have to do with the dredging of the bay or pollution, but it seems it is a natural and healthy occurrence!

On the way back from observing the penguins nest for the night, Bronwyn threw a stone in the water to show an explosion of the blue phosphorescence underneath the pink. Truly amazing! It certainly kept me and nearby tourists amused.

Watch amazing shades of orange, yellow, pink and blue reflect off Port Phillip Bay’s calm waters. The view from St Kilda Pier is simply mesmerizing. Hang your legs over the pier, feel the cool breeze and gaze at the horizon as the day’s light slowly fades away.

The friends of Port Phillip’s Eco-centre and volunteers looking after the penguins are also helping refurbish the breakwater and extension to the pier that holds the rockery where the Little Blue Penguins nest and breed.

We helped carry buckets of sand to spread alongside the rocks to prevent erosion. Groundcover (Disphyma crassifolium, Rounded Noon Flower) similar to pigface is planted along with saltbush.

We owe much to the dedication of volunteers in environmental groups. They contribute enthusiastic caring for the places that make Melbourne such an attractive city!

Bronwyn encouraged us to have some bush tucker and I tasted saltbush for the first time. I will now learn more about what food and medicine can be found in plants we take for granted.

In fact, the evening was a salutary lesson about how wonderful the world around us can be – the little penguins have returned in greater numbers because people continue to work hard to maintain their habitat and protect them. I’ve heard estimates their numbers to be anywhere from 700 – 1200.

We were asked not to use flash photography, to keep our distance, and respect the Little Penguins. To stay on the viewing platforms or path, and to cover any torch with red paper to limit the shock to the penguins.

It is appalling that many of the public disregard such simple requests and vandals have  hurt and killed the Little Penguins this year. On Sunday night, I was surprised that even with volunteers politely requesting better behaviour, onlookers flashed cameras, blocked the path of a Little Penguin trying to cross, and made loud noises and startling movements that would distress them.

If we want close encounters with wildlife lets respect the animals and not treat them as pure entertainment.

If you go down to the pier, perhaps offer to carry a bucket of sand and help the volunteers trying to stop erosion and improve the habitat so future generations will enjoy the penguins too.

The Little Penguins are not the only attraction on St Kilda Pier. One of my favourite birds was there – a pelican. Perched atop a lamp post some of our group thought it was a sculpture!

There are photo opportunities to capture other seabirds and to witness the swift moving penguins come ashore. They zip through the water like torpedoes.

A walk along the pier at St Kilda at dusk reveals another aspect or perspective of the city. The skyline is an imposing backdrop, yet the busyness and noise of traffic remarkably absent once you get to the far end of the pier.

In fact, the noise of the penguins mating (it is breeding season) rose to a crescendo several times on Sunday evening and it was hard to believe you were anywhere near urbanisation!

The hundreds of boats at the marina gleamed in the fading light and once street and traffic lights came on, plus the lights of the city buildings, the reflections on the water were truly enchanting. A veritable watery fairyland.

It was with some reluctance that we made our way back to ‘civilization’ to catch the light rail into the city and the train home.

A perfect day indeed!

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Welcoming Spring – a Planting, Paintings, and Poetry

box cottage

box cottage with haiku.jpeg

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Golden Wattle Sunday Springfest at Box Cottage Museum, home of the City of Moorabbin Historical Society. The event organised by the Box Cottage Museum Team.

box cottage agenda.jpeg

Several months ago, Fran Bader, writer, historian, Box Cottage Team member and close friend, invited me to pen some limericks and haiku for the day focusing on the wattle, Australia’s floral emblem associated with spring and Box Cottage situated in Joyce Park, Jasper Road, Ormond.

I accepted the challenge for terse verse and emailed some limericks to Fran for approval. An invitation arrived to write more poetry and also read alongside representatives from the Henry Lawson Society, Australian Natives Association, and the  Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group – a privilege indeed.

wattle poem 1.jpg

In July, as Kingston Citizen of the Year 2016, I attended the opening of the NAIDOC Week exhibition and learnt about the wattle tree from an indigenous perspective. When I shared a poem that came from that experience, Fran asked if I would read it at the Springfest. From having fun as a wordsmith, I became a presenter of a poem, which I hope will encourage people to think more deeply about our national floral emblem and our national identity.

The Golden Wattle
by Mairi Neil, 2016

Five small petals peep from long stamens,
a cluster of yellow welcoming Spring.
The Golden Wattle
a Gondwanian wonder.

I ponder NAIDOC Week
watching smoke drift from
the smouldering leaves
of the Blackwood Wattle.
Welcomed to Country
like those colonisers long ago
who repaid the First People
by stealing their land
to build wattle and daub huts.

Frontiers became bathed in blood
but indigenous spears and clubs
fashioned from the Mulga Wattle
succumbed to muskets and cannon.

Two hundred years and more pass
Still a wattle tree flowers each day
across this continent.
Accepted as a symbol of unity,
the hardy plant
withstands drought, winds, and bushfires.
Resilient, like the spirit of the First People.

I hope the wattle’s therapeutic qualities
work their healing on a nation
coming to terms with a tumultuous past
and often intolerant present.

Leaves, bark, and seeds
medicine to mind, body, and soul.
When you don a sprig of yellow
reflect on Australia’s birth,
remember to mourn the fallen,
but, like the strong shrub,
survive. Banish winter blues,
flourish, and welcome Spring!

magazine 1940s.jpeg
Cover of a magazine at end of WW2

Before I read my poem, I thanked Fran and her committee for inviting me – not as Kingston Citizen of the Year, but as a writer:

Fran and I share a love of history, and poetry, and since it has been a long time between visits to Box Cottage, I’m enjoying the tour today. 

I teach a Life Story class at Godfrey Street Community House in Bentleigh and several of my students have written their memories of Wattle Day – a regular commemoration before my family’s arrival in Australia.

However, I know how attached we can become to a tree – my birthplace is Greenock, Scotland, named because of a green oak. One of the songs Greenockians sing in exile is ‘I’m proud to be a branch of the green oak tree…’

So, here is my tribute to another tree precious to those in my adopted country…

wattle poem 2.jpg

The day was a great success, due to the hard work of the Box Cottage Museum Team. Blessed with a glorious blue sky, the warm sunshine definitely more spring than the tail-end of winter!

A relaxed and friendly group sat outside listening to several poetry recitals, including mine, plus short speeches and an even shorter tree planting ceremony from local State MP, Nick Staikos. Nick expressed surprise that the hole had been dug and all the hard work completed – he just had to pop the sapling in and pat the soil.

However, he did have to give a speech and present some awards – we don’t let our politicians off too lightly!

Nick mentioned, that although only 30 years old, he’d seen massive changes to the area where he’d lived all his life. He thanked the Historical Society members for their hard work and enthusiasm in preserving important aspects and artefacts of historical significance for future generations.

The Historical Society initiated an art exhibition involving Ormond Primary School’s Grades 4,5, and 6. Valma Sharp, President of the Historical Society,  announced the winners of the Most Creative Artwork Awards, and Nick presented the prizes.

The walls of the  verandah and outside the cottage, plus inside the shed, were festooned with the children’s efforts to capture the essence of the wattle in a creative way. Several times throughout the afternoon as visitors appreciated the display, I heard how difficult it had been for the  judges to choose the winners.

Well done to the children and art teachers of Ormond Primary School!

I felt at home at the Springfest because I knew many of the people attending the day. There were several ex-students from my writing classes in neighbourhood houses and a couple of current ones. Also, several regulars who read or attend Mordialloc Writers’ Group Readings By the Bay.

The writing community in bayside suburbs participates in cross-pollination just like the native bees humming in the various flowering bushes at this time of year.

For those who may wonder who Adam Lindsay Gordon is, perhaps the following verse from one of his poems, recited by John Adams of the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group, may strike a chord – I know my mother quoted the last four lines of this verse often:

“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.”

Rosemary Kelleher, Secretary of the ANA Fraternal Organisation, recited the following poem:

Waratah and Wattle
by Henry Lawson

Though poor and in trouble I wander alone,
With a rebel cockade in my hat;
Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown,
My country will never do that!
You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, and Rose,
Or the three in a bunch if you will;
But I know of a country that gathered all those,
And I love the great land where the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.

Australia! Australia! so fair to behold,
While the blue sky is arching above;
The stranger should never have need to be told,
That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold,
And the Waratah red bloom of love.

Australia! Australia! most beautiful name,
Most kindly and bountiful land;
I would die every death that might save her from shame,
If a black cloud should rise on the strand;
But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes,
Let them come! Let them come when they will!
Though the struggle be grim, ’tis Australia that knows,
That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.

wattle in sink
Jan and Tony, seasoned performers from The Henry Lawson Society, read poems written in the bush poetry style favoured by Lawson and Patterson.

wattle collage 2

It wouldn’t be an Aussie celebration without a delightful afternoon tea and the Box Cottage Museum Team put on a great spread with fruit cake, lemon slice, and other tasty treats. There were old newspapers (accompanied by the appropriate cotton gloves) to look through – here is a page from the year 1959, dated August 12 (my birthday).

The tour of the Museum’s collection inside the cottage and in the sheds is worthy of several visits – and although it is open to the public on the last Sunday of the month, the historical society generously makes the place available by appointment. (

garden figuresgarden bower

When I left Box Cottage I mentioned to Fran’s husband, Holger, who manned the entrance all afternoon welcoming visitors, that Fran and the organising committee will ‘sleep well tonight’.

There is a lot of work ensuring a day like yesterday, is a success. Effort volunteers do cheerfully every weekend in many communities, not just at Box Cottage. But creating an inaugural event such as the Springfest is always a gamble – will people respond and support something new?

final wattle poem

Reflecting on yesterday – the tree planting, the magnificent display of artwork, the appreciation of poetry – the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Sharpen your pens for next year and start penning those limericks, haiku, and other verse!