Melbourne in Autumn – a Writer’s Delight – Especially for Poets!

‘A poem is never about one thing… you want it to be as complicated as your feelings’

 Terrance Hayes at NYT

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We farewell summer to greet autumn and I’m grateful Melbourne has distinct seasons. I’d hate to live somewhere without a changing climate for inspiration to write. (Not to be confused with climate change!) It is cliched I know, but the seasons are metaphors for our journey through life.

In Melbourne, known for having four seasons in the one day, autumn days usually begin with worrying about something as fundamental as what to wear!

Autumn
Mairi Neil

Autumn is…
a time of falling leaves,
the days often have
a cooler breeze.
Morning and night are chilly
yet Melbourne days can be hot –
you have to dress silly…

at breakfast you don
warm jumper or jacket,
by lunchtime layers removed
like unwrapping a packet.
But, dinner time requires
warm clothes once again…

unpredictable autumn weather
can be quite a pain.

This morning, as I look out the window, the house over the railway line is barely distinguishable from the filmy grey wash of sky. Faint bruises of clouds drift from the sea,  promising a dullness to the day as a breeze carries the chilly air from the foreshore to swish through open windows.  Hopefully, by lunch time the sun will remove the blanket of autumn haze, and blue sky will triumph. It is Melbourne after all.

A Glimpse of Mordy Foreshore from The Bus
Mairi Neil

The sea, shades of grey, blue and green
has a line of white sails parallel to the pier
boats happy to leave the confines of the creek.
Tables and chairs outside cafes fill with families
soaking up the autumnal sun.
A  kaleidoscope of  colour dots the beach
as groups and singles lay claim to a patch of sand.
In the distance swimmers brave the chilly sea
their wet suits mimicking  dolphins
often seen offshore on warmer days.
Seagulls circle above gannets poised on rocks
myriad hungry eyes ever-watchful for a feed.

No butterflies are flitting gaily in the garden. Instead, the agapanthus droops and die, their brilliant purple flower head replaced by a crinkled fawn and faded green petals nursing tiny brown seeds, ready to drop and hide until spring. The wind is not strong enough to whip fallen leaves and other debris to skitter along the street like children let loose in a playground.

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Autumn Acrostic

Mairi Neil

Leaves die and fall in autumn
Each work of art farewelled
And as the trees become bare and
Very sad through winter days
Early buds herald the onset of
Spring and promise new life!

An  Indian Myna sighs and whistles in triumph from among the Banksia enticing mates to land. A juvenile Magpie declares to the world, in happy squeals, that he now hunts and fends for himself.   While his parents perch proudly on the overhead wires chortling and singing his praises, he makes considered stabs at the earth in a steady sweep of the nature strip.

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A single Blue Moon rose brightens my verandah, and I focus on its delicate beauty,  ignoring the scabbing paint that needs renewing and the couch grass to be removed before it chokes the flowerbeds. At least the geraniums splash a red, white and pink welcome to the constant stream of passersby on their way to the station or shops.

Autumn Chores
Mairi Neil
A surprising spring-like day in autumn Melbourne
Finds me on my knees, apologising to weeds
Pulled from their cosy beds.
Recalcitrant couch grass trembles at my curses
Muscles ache at each tug as trailing tentacles,
Loosen their choking grip on tender plant roots.
Perspiration weeps and eyes sting, but
I acknowledge passersby who pause to
Compliment the beauty of freed flora,
Inhale the wafting perfume of rosemary
And admire white daisies guarding the mailbox.
A baby wattlebird swoops onto the
Orange grevillea victoriae for its daily feed
Joyful satisfaction declared with distinctive bark
This rewarding distraction reminds me
To ease aching knees, massage throbbing back
And return indoors for yet another cuppa!

The leaves of the wattle tree in the right spirit of autumn, are beginning to turn yellow and drop, reminding me of a children’s poem I wrote to explain to my daughters about “Fall”:

Autumn Leaves

Mairi Neil

Colourful autumn leaves are falling
they carpet my lawn so green
the fairies have been at play again
silent and unseen.
They’ve climbed or flown into the trees
and selected a leaf for transport,
on their magic carpets they’ve race around
until too exhausted to cavort.
When gentle moonlight politely gives way
to the brightness of dawning sun
the leafy vehicles will be discarded…
until darkness permits more fun.

Despite the formidable reputation of Scotland’s weather, my early childhood, is filled with memories of playing outside, especially during the long summer school holidays in July-August, but even at other times during the year. Autumn days in the northern hemisphere, as I’ve mentioned before, were taken up practising for Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night. I’ve written about Guising and Galoshens, published here and about collecting  ‘pennies for the guy’.

I recall more time spent playing hopscotch, skipping, tramping over the fields and hills among the heather (corny as that sounds) than anything else. We also played British Bulldog and the robust Relievers – boisterous games, which certainly kept us fit as well as warm. We performed impromptu plays for each other, along with the regular games of Cowboys and Indians and Robin Hood and his merry men, which reflected the influence of the fledgling British television industry in the 50s and 60s.

The yet to be developed, and newly established backyards and front gardens of the houses in the new Braeside development took on many personas.  Indian badlands, seas populated by Captain Pugwash and his inept pirates, Sherwood Forest, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Colditz prisoner of war camp, and many other land or seascapes from island to a desert. Locations and scenarios limited only by our fertile and stimulated imaginations fed on books, comics, television and radio.

The first couple of years in Australia we transplanted many of these games, revelling in the fact the weather was so much kinder. We could play outside for most of the year – no need to hibernate from winter snow. All those childhood hours, playing outside in different continents, provide wonderful memories.

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Marthe Troly-Curtin

We are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives and many in each generation experience similar things, therefore it’s natural there’s often a familiarity about stories. However, as I’ve discovered in my classes, most people will have stories from childhood or another period of life that can be shared in an original way, if written from a personal perspective including details and their reflections. 

AUTUMN
Mairi Neil

Autumn… a time to enjoy
Clocks altered to give
An extra hour snuggled beneath the doona

Autumn… a still warm season
Days pretending summer still lives
Walks in the park crunch leaves underfoot

Autumn… a time of colour
Rainbows drop from trees
Vibrant flowers play peek-a-boo through fences

Autumn… a season to pause
Contemplate winter’s chill
Prepare body and soul with warming soups

Autumn… a time of contemplation
Remembering Easter sacrifice and ANZAC
Courage and Faith, admirable human qualities.

Autumn in Melbourne is a time of reflection for many people. It coincides with Easter, the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy. I was brought up in a Christian household and have many happy memories participating in rituals that gave meaning to our beliefs and practices.

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I never knew about the Easter Bunny until we came to Australia, nor did I consider the giving of chocolate eggs as the most important part of the celebration.  I no longer attend church, but still value and respect the rituals and beliefs inherited from my parents.  I try to avoid the rampant consumerism around Easter that appears to have become the norm just as I avoid the over-the-top materialism that has transformed Christmas.

In Scotland, and for many years here in Australia, we painted boiled eggs and rolled them down a hillside, the winner being the family member whose egg survived with the least cracks. This ritual (I think!) based on the stone rolled away from the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed. However, the most important part of the tradition being family get-togethers, sharing a meal and enjoying hot cross buns and each other’s company. There was also Pancake (Shrove)Tuesday, which was a treat.  All genuinely happy times.

As children, we received a chocolate egg or a selection box of chocolate bars to enjoy on the school break that coincided with Easter, and when my children were young, this tradition continued. Many family traditions, including those at Easter, have altered or been abandoned after the loss of my parents, and changing family dynamics over the years with siblings growing older and the lives of our children diversifying.  Such is life.

Perhaps future grandchildren may revive old traditions (with Fair Trade chocolate and Free Range eggs of course!), or create new ones. As the truism suggests – the one thing constant in life, is change!

Sister Cate's quilt block

Autumn hosts Australia’s commemoration of WWI on ANZAC Day. A special celebration this year because it is 100 years since the landing on the Turkish beaches of Gallipoli. ANZAC Day a ritual we only discovered when we migrated here in 1962. There is a family link because one of Dad’s Australian ancestors enlisted and went to Gallipoli.  George Alexander McInnes, only 19 years old when he died of enteric fever, six months after joining the Australian Imperial Force, raised in Williamstown. He is buried in Chatby Military Cemetery, Alexandria, Egypt.

My sister Cate (Catriona), a talented quilter, created the “lest we forget” block pictured above. It was chosen as one of the 100 finalists for the particular display at the Australasian Quilt Convention this April in Melbourne. The entries, along with their 100-word stories will tour Australia.

Postcards from Gallipoli
Mairi Neil

He survived the assault on Gallipoli
to die an unheroic death
from ‘enteric fever’ in Alexandria.
Weak, miserable, hungry and alone,
the tent hospital overcrowded,
too few nurses overwhelmed.
Our family’s Aussie digger
buried in foreign fields.
His working class parents too poor
to visit his grave
and the body count too high
to return him home.
A nineteen year old larrikin
eldest son farewelled,
a rabbit skin vest, Holy Bible,
and pipe welcomed home.
His war brief,
like his life.
Postcards ‘from the trenches’
sent love to family and friends
missing home and wishing for peace.
Passed down through generations,
the neatly pencilled sentences
hint at the man he could have been.
A great uncle I never knew.
Each ANZAC Day I think of
George Alexander McInnes
and the thousands like him,
acknowledge the debt owed
to previous generations
for sacrifice, trauma, and loss.
But, in the remembering there is
no forgetting the madness
and futility that is war.

To end on a happier note – form poetry is fun to try and with traditional Japanese haiku indicating the season is an expected feature. However, like everything else tradition does not always win and expectations not always achievable.

Autumn Haiku

Mairi Neil

The sea melds with sky
Dark shore dreams of light caress
And whimsy clouds flee

Holidays at last!
Slippery stairs to the sea
Leads to splashing fun

The artist’s eye rare
Vincent’s Starry Starry Night
A gift to the world

What differences do you see when the seasons change? Do you have rituals you follow? Have you written about them? Why not start now!

5 thoughts on “Melbourne in Autumn – a Writer’s Delight – Especially for Poets!

  1. Five things Mairi: Sitting here researching men who went to war from the Bingi area and stopping to refresh my mind by reading your blog, I note one of your ancestors as being a McInnes serving from Australia – and the man I am currently researching is a McInnes from here! Not the same one but close!!
    Second thing – I beg to differ – ”tiny BLACK seeds” – sorry I am obviously a nit-picker and a perfectionist (who often gets things rong! 😉 )
    Third, does the plaque ‘neath the tree have a special significance? Saved and blew the photo up but still can’t read it (told you I was a perfectionist and a nit-picker but forgot to say I’m a sticly-beak as well, hehe 🙂
    Fourth thing is do you still have the Grevillea victoriae? If so, on one one my now-rare visits to Melb I’d love to call in for a cuppa and maybe get a few cuttings of that most lovely plant. Had one but it died
    and would love the idea if replacing it with a cutting from you.
    Last and fively, would you do me the honour of allowing me to use your ‘Postcards from Gallipoli’ piece (minus your relative’s name) in a small display – as part of a larger outdoor commemoration – I am making in our local hall for the Anzac Centenary for the local Binginwarri people?
    Did I also tell you I am a liar too? There are SIX things so number five was not the last – nothing wrong with most of your poetry Mairi, I find it to be great to read, and your writings even greater. So there! 🙂

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    1. Okay Kaye:) First of all you can use my poem or any of my writing just as long as you acknowledge me. I’m very humbled you think it’s good enough to use.
      It wouldn’t surprise me if the McInnes’s are related, even distantly, especially if the families originated in Skye – where my father’s family is from – McInnes is the second or third most common name there after Macleod and MacDonald. George was born here in Williamstown, but his father Angus moved there from Warrnambool area and prior to that was a seaman from Skye. He fell from the mast of a sailing ship and was offloaded in Melbourne to die, but being a stubborn Highlander he lived:) was collected from the hospital by cousins and taken to Warrnambool where apparently a lot of land was owned by the McInnes’s.
      The plaque beneath the tree is just a joke – it says ‘don’t wake up Grumpy’. I took it when out walking in Chelsea Heights one morning. the tree was on the nature strip and there was a rolled up newspaper a couple of feet away – and it tickled my fancy – the scattered leaves let’s you know it’s autumn.
      And yes I have that wonderful grevillea – the wattlebirds love it. It’s in the front yard and even if I’m not home please feel free to take your cutting. I came by most of my plants that way, or as gifts – some were even bought at Bradshaw Park fundraisers, probably nurtured by your tender hands!
      And thank you for always being so positive about my posts and being kind about my poetry.
      PS: The seeds look black to me – I’ll take a pic and message you.

      Like

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