A Writer’s Best Friend Is Another Writer

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Yesterday was the last Readings By The Bay for 2016. It was also the last Readings for me as coordinator of the Mordialloc Writers Group – after 21 years, I’m spreading my wings like a fledgeling duck and wobbling off for new adventures – in particular, my love of travel.

I’m spending term two next year away from teaching and will be travelling to more places on my bucket list. Definitely  moving from my comfort zone by going to Mongolia and Russia and hoping the talent of so many Russian writers I admire will inspire me as I indulge in another love – history.

images-1.pngIt was great yesterday to not only have a guest author, Jennifer Scouller, to share her writing journey to publication but to reflect on other guest writers this year: Maria Katsonis and Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit.

We also had Mordy Writer, Glenice Whitting attend to share her good news about her latest novel, Something Missing, to be launched soon. (Read all about this on Glenice’s blog!)

On Saturday, at Mentone Public Library, Glenice was the guest local author and I was asked to introduce her:

 

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Glenice with poster of her book in background

 

Introducing Glenice Whitting

It is a privilege to introduce my dear friend Glenice Whitting to you today, although looking around the room no introduction is necessary for so many here, who are already aware of Glenice’s writing ability and talent.

Glenice has been a valued member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group since 1999, and we were lucky to workshop her writing, and later publish early excerpts from both her novels in our anthologies:

Pickle to Pie first delighted us in the story Grossmutter And Me published in 2000 in the anthology Casting a Line and we gleaned the first hint of Glenice’s latest novel, Something Missing, in 2004, with the story What Time is it There? in the anthology Eleven O Four.

Over the last two decades nurturing and teaching local writers, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard: ‘I’m writing a novel’ ‘I could write a book’ ‘I want to write a novel.

Sadly, few follow through with the task or achieve their goal. They may give up by choice or circumstance, or they don’t put the work into the manuscript to realise publication, the traditional or even non-traditional way.

Having a published book in your hand is no mean feat – the journey is not for the faint-hearted. You need dedication to the craft, incredible determination and effort, as well as talent. Networking and luck such as serendipity can play a part, but overwhelmingly it is sheer hard work and a belief in self that finishes the book. And if you are looking for success you need to write a story others want to read.

Glenice ticks all the boxes: she has created recognisable characters and interesting worlds we can identify with – both novels are mainly set in Australia and span historical periods many will recognise. However, they also cover universal themes of family relationships, love and grief, desire, disappointment – real life! Her storytelling style sweeps the reader along and we turn the pages!

Glenice has worked tirelessly at being the best writer she can be, her personal learning curve an inspiration. She went back to school as a mature age student, onto university studies that culminated in a PhD in creative writing.

She has drawn on her own life experiences for her novels, which makes them resonate but has added that infinitesimal quality that good writers possess – imagination!

Enjoy her presentation.

And we did!!

 

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Glenice in the centre of her fans:)

 

2016 Guest Authors at Readings By The Bay

I want to thank Kristina Rowell for arranging these author presentations – each one so different. I also thank the writers’ for their generosity in sharing their journey and experience. The three presentations worthwhile, inspiring, and the detailed talks gave new insight into the publishing world today, and the various paths writers must take to achieve their dream.

We had a unique opportunity for an intimate discussion with author, senior public servant and mental health advocate Maria Katsonis as she talked us through the publication of her novel: The Good Greek Girl.

This life-changing, heartfelt memoir about her mental breakdown after graduating from Harvard, the ramifications on her family life and high-level job in the public service and the long road to recovery and acceptance of living with a diagnosed mental illness is riveting reading.

Maria’s story also covers being part of the LGBTQIA community and what that meant to someone within the Australian Greek community. Her honest presentation to our group kept everyone spellbound and I wasn’t surprised all the books she brought to the session sold!

In Australia, like many countries, mental health and gay rights are two very hot topics! Throw in the multicultural nuance and this is a book you want to read, and a book that adds value to what it means to be human.

The personal financial commitment Maria made, taking writing courses, getting a mentor from Victorian Writers’ Centre, going on a writers’ retreat, paying for editing and publicity – all before finding a publisher – was important information for writers to hear.

Her acceptance of critique, changing the title and now promoting her work all part and parcel of a modern writer’s life.

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Maria reading from her novel

 

Earlier in the year the two young author/artists Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit, delighted us with their presentation creating  the crafty, innovative and unique children’s books Owl Know How and Too Much for Turtle.

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Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit

 

These two young writers/textile designers/artists/animators shared their journey of being asked to turn their visual art exhibition and soft toys into children books.

Tech savvy and brimming with ideas, they also have a strong social justice conscience. Their books bring up difficult issues like homelessness, refugees and global warming but are delivered in a sensitive child-friendly way.

As you can tell, I have a preference for books that deal with real life issues, contribute to peace and tolerance and help us understand that universal theme “the human condition”.

My Last Readings

I only met Jennifer Scoullar yesterday, but recommend everyone check out her website. A wonderful short story there kept me engrossed, as well as a lot of other information she generously shares with her readers, as I researched for my intro speech!

Jennifer is another writer I admire because she cares deeply about the environment and it shows. In fact, as she stated yesterday, the environment is always a character in her books. She is a proud rural Aussie writer and her love of ‘the bush’ evident in her work.

 

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Jennifer Scouller

 

Jennifer is a best-selling author of rural fiction with her genre advertised as eco-romance.

I searched for a snippet from her website to introduce her and the first paragraph on her ‘About’ page revealed why it would have been difficult for her not to be a writer or a committed environmentalist (I said I’d let her fill in the romance obsession… )

“Writing is in my blood.  My grandfather was editor of the newspaper at Wood’s Point in its heyday. My mother, Alice, was a great story teller.  My great aunt, Mary Fullerton, was a novelist and poet, and a friend to Miles Franklin. But a greater influence was my father, Doug Scoullar, who had been a jackeroo in Queensland. Later on he began a nursery specialising in native plants, long before it was fashionable to do so. Dad was a man ahead of his time. He passed on to me a lifelong love of horses and the bush…”

Jennifer has a love affair with the wild …. again check out her website and blog where there are many examples of beautiful writing… 

“When I was a child I lived in suburban Melbourne. Our house backed onto a railway line, and I could tell the time by the trains. Our back gate opened onto a broad, shady laneway and wild paddocks lay between it and the tracks. A canal, where I wasn’t supposed to play, flowed past the end of the lane.

That was decades ago now, and the overgrown paddocks and canal are long gone…

The heartfelt connection I formed with the natural world has lasted me a lifetime. It caused me to seek out wild places, and for the last thirty years I’ve lived on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Bunyip State forest.

As a keen amateur naturalist, I’m fascinated by the notion of rewilding – restoring flora and fauna to their historical range. The theory has gained popularity after conservation success stories such as bringing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park and the large-scale return of Europe’s apex predators like lynx, bears and wolverines.”

As I mentioned her genre is Eco-romance and her first novel was published in 2008, others followed in 2012,2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 (Another almost ready to be released with the manuscript at the publishers!)

What a pattern and what amazing output …  we sat spellbound and indeed did learn many useful tips!

Like the other writers mentioned, she worked hard to be the best writer she could be –

  • She reads in her own genre and moves out of her comfort zone and reads other genres – she does what I tell my students: read write read write read write…
  • She established a blog and engages with her readers.
  • She writes 1000 words a day
  • She finishes the first draft before editing – but rewrites and rewrites!!
  • She does her research – not just Google, but visiting settings, always including the senses
  • She checked the acknowledgement pages of other books to learn where to seek help when she was looking to publish (libraries and bookstores your best friends)
  • She joined her local writers’ centre (the Victorian Writers’ Centre)
  • She bought the Australian ‘bible’ for writers – the Australian Writers’ Marketplace an invaluable resource to help find agents and publishers
  • She blitzed both agents and publishers
  • She got used to rejection (6 publishers, 6 knock backs)
  • She learned to pitch at a writers’ conference – and 3 minutes with a Penguin representative produced interest and an eventual deal
  • When she was rejected she resubmitted after rewriting but never abandoned her integrity or forgot the aim of the story
  • She deals with the major issue of mankind’s damage to the environment, the fragility of the earth and the animals are her themes, but she always has optimistic endings!

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For those who attended Readings By The Bay in 2016, it’s been a year of exposure to successful writers but also regular listening to each other – the reason I started the writers’ group and the public readings.

All writers need nurturing and encouragement and someone to listen to finished stories and poems and say well done!

Thank you to everyone who has joined me for 21 years of reading and writing – good luck for the future!

Left Wing Ladies Still Flying High

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In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly declared November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the White Ribbon has become the symbol for the day.

The White Ribbon Campaign in Australia is led by more than 1000 White Ribbon Ambassadors. These men are leaders in their careers, sporting code or communities and actively support the White Ribbon Campaign, and encourage other men and boys to become aware and engage in the campaign.

Women also support and expand the campaign through their networks, workplaces and community organisations as White Ribbon Champions, but not all women are happy with the high profile and amount of money channelled into this foundation.

Respect For White Ribbon Day’s Aims, But…

In the Herald Sun online, journalist Nina Funnell gave  “10 reasons why I will ignore White Ribbon day” and although I don’t usually read the Herald Sun, her article came up when I Googled ‘White Ribbon.’ One of her points resonated:

” Since its inception White Ribbon has happily leant on the work done by decades of women’s organisations and in private it still attempts to foster positive relationships with feminist organisations.

But in public, it’s a different story. As Clementine Ford writes the White Ribbon Foundation has done this “in order to align itself with a more corporate, mainstream agenda that ignores the hard work done by underfunded women’s health services across the country”.

Look White Ribbon, I get it. You’re trying to impress your corporate dude-bros. All that corporate slick and polish is important to you and feminist organisations don’t really meld with that image you’re going for.

But just don’t expect us damsels to passively sit by and cop this crap.”

We All Stand On The Shoulders of Those Who Came Before…

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Left-Wing Ladies
The Union of Australian Women in Victoria, 1950 – 2012 (2nd edition)
2nd Edition Published 2012 by UAW  Ross House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

This book sheds light on the policies and practices of Australian governments, political parties, trade unions, security and intelligence organisations, the Churches and the women’s movement. It has relevance for anyone interested in the politics of the Left, women’s issues and feminism, the peace movement – and how to organise at a grassroots level.

 

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Anna Burke MP and Anne Sgro 2014

 

Last year, the Union of Australian Women was 65 years old.  President Anne Sgro visited the Southern Branch in Mordialloc, to revisit UAW history by referencing the above book and reminding us why it is important we remain resolute in the fight for social justice.

To paraphrase Paul Keating, we continue to be ordinary women achieving extraordinary things!

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Anne reminded us  we need to celebrate and acknowledge our aims of peace, social justice, gender equity and a fair go for women. Aims still as relevant today, if not more so, than when the foundation members began the organisation.

The fight to redress and reduce family violence very much a case in point!

 

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In 1950, communities were recovering from WW2. Women needed equal pay and better housing. Change needed – and women knew what they wanted.

Those women would be amazed we still only earn 82% of the male wage!

The equal pay campaign – equal pay for work of equal value still to be won. Some occupations like teachers better placed than others, but areas considered traditionally women’s work still lacks value. A car park attendant can earn more than a childcare worker. Pay equity still a necessity, despite huge advances basic demands still to be achieved.

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Zelda Soprano

 

The founding women were from the Communist Party, the ALP and Christians from churches working for peace and social justice. The first UAW President, Aileen Dickie, a devout Christian, courageous and tenacious working for change.

Ordinary women with progressive values looking at ways to make change happen. They organised and attended international conferences, forums and community meetings. They challenged a conservative Australia with those in power pushing the message women must go back to the kitchen, housework and home. John Howard’s white picket fence.

Many of the women who initiated radical change came from the southern area – the south-eastern suburbs: Betty Olle, Molly Hadfield, Dot Young, Nola Barber, Eileen Cappocci…

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Molly Hadfield and Edith Morgan featured in the SMH during the 1998 waterfront dispute

 

Over 15-20 years these women trail blazed, fundraised, and lobbied – councils, state and federal governments, corporations and individuals. They understood practicalities and can take the credit for establishing 13 kindergartens, several libraries, countless bus routes, and the election of female councillors and mayors.

Zelda Soprano chained herself to railings, Yvonne Smith and Betty Olle also – drawing attention to UAW demands and ideals. Yvonne Smith achieved remarkable advances in the health field by setting up the DES Society for women affected by the morning sickness pill (Diethylstilbestrol), which led to their children being born ill.

The Nothing on A Plate exhibition illustrates what some in sensible shoes, hats and sturdy constitution can do!  The well-known tram ride, where the activists paid 75% of the fare garnered great publicity, getting the population onside for the push for equal pay.

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The campaigns to expose how drinking in Women’s Lounges in hotels cost more and for women to be allowed to drink where they wanted saw a lot of women chaining themselves to bar stools. It was about the principle of equal access and cost.

The equal pay campaign usually carried out at demonstrations with placards, hiccupped during the Vietnam  War years because of a ban on placards. However,  innovative UAW activists put slogans on aprons and walked single file or in pairs on the pavement – just not in bunches!

The Kennett years saw an expansion of these crocodile marches – making a fuss in small groups: single file, aprons plus a megaphone, stopping in a key area so that 20 activists looked and sounded more like 100!

The Grandmothers Against Detention have adopted similar tactics to ensure they take over the footpath. Aprons in the 60s, placards in the 90s, and direct action still today as UAW activists use their voices to make a difference.

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The UAW wrote submissions for the Arbitration Commission on behalf of women workers in the sweatshop industry, lobbied for affordable, decent, public housing in the post-war era.

It seems like déjà vu with a lot of these issues, but passion hasn’t lessened. Methods of action and of organising have changed. The UAW has kept up with digital technology and social media, recognising young women activists operate differently today.

However, the UAW are effective at putting in submissions and had their say at the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The UAW has always opposed family violence even although in the 50s and 60s no one talked about it.

They established friendships and relationships with Women’s Liberation in Victoria and supported the movement setting up Women’s Refuges in the 70s. Anne Summers piece in the book, Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence edited by Samantha Trenoweth explains the setting up of Elsie, the first women’s refuge in Sydney and is a sobering read.

The UAW is proud of the long-standing campaign to free Heather Osland, who spent 14 and 1/2 years in gaol for the murder of her violent husband when it was her son who actually committed the killing.

Anne reflected on how Dot Young spoke at a UAW forum and said, ‘when I was 19 and had a small baby, I shot my father.’  Dot’s father had been a violent abusive drunk and she was protecting her mother, herself and her baby.  

Family violence does not only affect women but the majority of perpetrators are male. Women suffer at the hands of abusive men with on average 2 women a week killed in Australia! 

 

 

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We could do with a sign like this here! 

 

The opportunity presented by the Royal Commission must not be wasted. If these deaths were attributed to terrorism there’d be a public outcry for action; it would be classified as urgent. Ex-police commissioners, Christine Nixon and Simon Overland introduced some good initiatives and Ken Lay has continued their work but so much more needs to be done.

What is wrong with our society that this violence against women and children continues? Not only men must soul search and change.

We need gender equity, society must value women and the work they do, their nurturing and caring roles as well as other contributions. Men are still seen as the breadwinner, blokes considered more important therefore disparity continues.

Men wouldn’t punch their workmates and get away with it, yet they are violent at home.

When Germaine Greer wrote the groundbreaking Female Eunuch in 1970 she said, we don’t want what blokes want, for us the gender equity recognition is about something different.

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Maybe we need to try different approaches to deal with violent men. In Glasgow, they are immediately taken into custody for 24 hours, and there are programs in schools to change attitudes and behaviour. Maybe we should look at making men responsible with compulsory stints in prison.

We have to continue to look at the feminist dream of the 70s and work to create a fairer and more just society.

Wear a white ribbon on November 25, but instead of buying merchandise donate the money instead to an organisation on the front line of family violence because they definitely need it! Here are just a few…

Domestic Violence Victoria

WESNET The Women’s Services Network

Safe Steps (formerly Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria)

Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum

Women’s Health in the South East

WAYSS Ltd

No To Violence 

 

A Fortnight, Fear, And The Future

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The months of media speculation finally over and the world now waits with bated breath to see what kind of president Donald Trump will be.

I’m not going to pretend that his win and some of the views of his supporters not only depress and sadden me but also leave a huge question mark over whether the world as we know it will get better or worse.

I feel like I’m in a Monty Python skit and agreeing with John Cleese’s view on life,  ‘what is the bloody point!’

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However, we have survived upheavals and bad leaders before, and now is the time for writers, poets and songwriters to speak up, and letter writers to get busy –

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For several days, I hoped Trump’s election was a bad dream. But as we see protocols and conventions corrupted and ignored,  an array of extreme right-wing, racist, and rabid people placed in powerful positions, we have to accept this is the reality for four years – maybe longer.

A bleak future but we can prove the pen is mightier than the sword and an effective weapon as Trump’s success  unleashes a new push from the ‘loony’ right (climate-change deniers et al) that will make any progress incredibly hard to achieve. The environment an area where we will have to work hard to convince those in authority and the doubting public, we can’t afford to dither or go backwards.

No More Divisive Slogans

The slogan ‘make America great again’ a frightening premonition of what could come and the people who will be excluded, exiled, ejected, expelled, perhaps even eliminated if the KKK have their way!

The implication being America was great before the inclusion of immigrants, empowered women, LBGTIQ and civil rights for African Americans, that ideas and voices of modern America don’t matter, and as Trump’s corporate America tramples over the rights of the Sioux in Dakota, neither do Native Americans. 

I hope many of those who voted for change rather than Trump’s extreme positions will now work to make  change happen decently and fairly and will speak up against divisive policies.

There are plenty of Americans who will challenge outrageous decisions and prove the campaign rhetoric wrong, just as many activists here rally regularly when they feel the government needs reminding to govern for all communities.

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Our community defines us as much as we define our community!

I believe in people power, the power of community, the importance of belonging and inclusion – of welcoming difference rather than embracing fear.

Working in community houses, starting and belonging to community groups, I’ve learned that people have more in common than what divides them – most people want a peaceful world where they can go about their business, bring up their kids, and be happy and healthy.

I love the message from Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly’s song From Little Things, Big Things Grow  – the Gurindji stayed resolute for over 8 years in their fight for land rights and pay equity – an inspiration and example of not giving up.

Recent experiences of the wonderful work being done in our diverse community have kept me sane while the media feeds on a frenzy of bad news.

To stop being smothered by the cloud of despair, I have to be pro-active seeking out people with similar values, people who not only care but do something to make it a better world.

Marriot Support Services AGM

“Specialising in the areas of day services, transition programs and employment for adults with intellectual disabilities, Marriott Support Services is a not-for-profit organisation. It is our aim to achieve greater inclusion in the wider community for people with disability. Let us stand beside you while you reach your goals.  “

I discovered Marriott when Jen, one of the program managers came to my Professional Writing & Editing Class held Monday evenings at Godfrey Street Community House, Bentleigh in 2012 -13.

Marriot offers people with disabilities choices and opportunities for the whole of their adult life in the areas of:

  • Employment
  • Day Services
  • Transition

The organisation, established in the 70s, relies heavily on volunteers as well as government grants. It is also pro-active in generating their own income in various enterprises.

Marriott Industries operates in a modern, fully equipped 3,600 square metre factory offering a suite of services including Pick’n’Pack, Light Assembly, Collating, Sorting, Re Work, Promotional Packs, Shrink Wrapping, Container Unloads and a complete Fulfilment Service.

 Marriott Enviro Services specialises in medium to large commercial horticultural and landcare management.  A qualified management team has decades of horticultural experience between them. Managers and supervisors work alongside a team of 60 employees, in crews of three to five.

Our fleet of modern, well-maintained vehicles and machinery allows us to complete jobs on time and within budget in the areas of:
  • Landcare Management
  • Landscaping
  • Mowing/Commercial
  • Garden Maintenance

 

At the AGM, the auditor reported a healthy bank balance, guest speaker Tim Wilson MP and Virginia Rogers, Chair of Marriott’s Board presented numerous awards for years of service and achievement – the volunteer input ranging from one  to thirty years!

In the room, the enthusiasm, pride and commitment from clients, parents and staff abounded! None more so than the enthusiastic choir (the Marriott Musos) who invited Tim and Virginia to join them in a unique rendition of ‘We Still Call Australia Home’.

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Jen met my daughter, Mary Jane and after learning about her skills in media arts invited Mary Jane to get involved with Marriott.

Mary Jane volunteered and then worked on a digital story project, about people building the social fabric through volunteering. This was funded by a grant from Glen Eira Council.

Networking and six degrees of separation at work…

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Jen and Mary Jane

The project was launched at the AGM and several stories were presented. These can be accessed from Marriott’s website, some are on Youtube:

Jessie’s story

Chris’s story

Jeffrey’s story

Stephanie’s Story

Andrew’s Story

I was a proud mother at the AGM seeing Mary Jane’s digital stories presented – stories celebrating difference and inclusion – stories empowering the participants, stories that may make people think differently about disability.

Mentone Public Library – A Community Asset for 91 Years

I attended another AGM as a participant, not an observer. Mentone Public Library is probably the last subscription library still operating in Victoria and enthusiastically run by a volunteer committee of two now: Julia Reichstein and Tony Brooker.

The AGM revealed a volunteer drought in the City of Kingston, yet the need for the wonderful work Julia and Tony do in promoting local authors, many of whom may not be promoted elsewhere, is obvious.

It is an uphill battle for little known or first-time authors  to be read or afford publicity – Julia’s monthly author events have allowed the public to meet, listen and get up close and personal (yes, the space is small!) with many writers, including Mordialloc Writers’ Group who read selections from Kingston My City for Seniors’ Week celebrations after Amanda Apthorpe read from her latest novel.

A serious looking me with Amanda after her detailed talk about the Greek mythology underpinning her novels. And below, three long-term  members of Mordialloc Writers’ Group: Jillian Bailey, Maureen Hanna and Glenice Whitting.

Next Saturday ( November 26) Glenice Whitting will be the guest author promoting her latest novel, Something Missing.

Two current Kingston councillors and two past councillors were present at the AGM, plus the retiring volunteer Treasurer Lorna (who wants to write her family history and memoir!), the Secretary of the local history society, and a recent volunteer Paul who has retired from the public service and wants to get involved in a community group. (Paul coincidentally used to attend Mordialloc Writers many years ago – yes, it is a small world!)

Two local writers were at the meeting – me and Yvette from Blue Chair Poets. It was a pity more writers who have benefitted from the author events didn’t accept the invitation to attend because Julia and Tony welcomed ideas about how to maintain the library and keep hosting author events for the community. The discussion would have been enriched by more stakeholders contributing their voices.

Although Julia was happy sending me this email:

Thank-you all so much for your attendance, support and input today. You brought much food for thought and instilled in the library team much confidence and hope for the future. We look forward to working with you and hosting you again at the library for future events and meetings.

Writing Class and End Of Year Anthologies

Another event that kept me from sinking into the black hole is the organising of end-of -year anthologies for the classes I teach in neighbourhood houses.

When reading the wonderful stories, poems, anecdotes, memoir and short stories everyone has produced, I relive the amazing discussions we have in class.

I hear the voices, the tears, the laughter and joy. I am in awe of the imaginative use of words, the profound reflections on life,  and the untold stories from history.

The collections bear witness to the hard work writers put in polishing their words. The pride and sense of achievement when they hold printed copies in their hands and can’t believe how much they have written over the term.

I’m still editing and collating but gradually getting there – what would writers be without deadlines! What would I be without writing to focus on!

Learning from ABI

And finally for this post, another group in the community that keeps me grounded and appreciative of family, friends and good health.

These last few months, I’ve been facilitating  Chat ‘N Chuckle,  a social get-together Friday fortnights of people with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) either by accidents (overwhelmingly in motor vehicles) or through strokes.

The group organised by Belinda Jordan, Community Development Officer of Glen Eira City Council, but initiated by one of my students, Anat Bigos who had a traumatic car accident 11 years ago. Anat is a fantastic example of no matter what hand life deals, play it to the best of your ability.

Anat lives with short-term memory loss as well as reduced physical agility, as do many who have ABI. The patience and understanding the group have with each other and the sense of humour about the vagaries of changed minds and bodies is humbling and inspirational.

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There are 16 participants in the group, with numbers fluctuating each fortnight according to people’s availability, but on average 8 or 9 turn up to share stories and have a chuckle! The expertise and life experience in the group range from young people in their early 20s to older retired people.

Often carers will sit in too and share their interesting lives.

Opportunities for research projects and tips to improve mobility and memory are swapped with many of the group presenting regularly to schools.

Last Friday Phillip, who had a stroke that ended his accountancy career, showed us a short film he uses when he talks to school children about APHASIA The Treasure Hunt an award winning animation.

Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to injury to the brain-most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals. But brain injuries resulting in aphasia may also arise from head trauma, from brain tumors, or from infections.

Aphasia can be so severe as to make communication with the patient almost impossible, or it can be very mild. It may affect mainly a single aspect of language use, such as the ability to retrieve the names of objects, or the ability to put words together into sentences, or the ability to read. More commonly, however, multiple aspects of communication are impaired, while some channels remain accessible for a limited exchange of information.

As a writer, I can’t imagine what it would be like not recognising words, losing words from my vocabulary, or being confused and mixing up words.

This group of ‘chatty chucklers,’show such dedication to getting on with life to the best of their ability.  They are examples of  how a community builds relationships with a sense of purpose and mutual respect. An example of surviving against the odds.

So despite the doom and gloom elsewhere, I do appreciate and feel blessed that in my tiny corner of the world there are many people working to make life better for others. There is no magic wand just magical people!

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Mingary, The Quiet Place, May Save Your Sanity

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Like many others, I’m waiting (and dreading) the outcome of the American Presidential Campaign.
Like many others, I fear a Trump triumph.
Like many others, I have reservations about Hillary Clinton.
Like many others, I struggle to find a politician here or abroad to admire, or who gives hope for the future of a peaceful world.
Like many others, I despair at the suffering of wars and natural disasters, the world refugee crisis, global warming… so much to overwhelm, destabilise, destroy any sense of wellbeing or being in control.

So to chill out, I remember a wonderful find, a haven to be accessed physically, or if unable to transport to Melbourne, accessed virtually via the web.

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I stumbled on Mingary, the quiet place when I Googled ‘serenity’ for another blog post. Up popped a link to Mingary, ‘a quiet place’, a haven on the west side of St Michael’s Church, corner of Collins and Russell Street, Melbourne.

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I’ve received a lot of strength from my upbringing but classify myself as an agnostic and bookmarked Mingary as a place to visit. The idea of a calm oasis in the busyness of the city appealed to me. Somewhere to go, rest, recoup energy, reflect on life.

The website has photographs and explanations but if you visit physically (a must!) pick up the booklet prepared by Dr Francis Macnab, which includes his poetry.

In addition to his duties as a minister, Dr Macnab founded and is Executive Director of the Cairnmillar Institute which has been at the forefront of counselling, psychotherapy and trauma therapy for more than 50 years.

His commitment to psychological health is rich as he also runs The Big Tent Project which provides therapy for kindergarten children as well as his S.A.G.E project aimed at people 55 – 105 years of age.

Dr Macnab frequently puts pen to paper and has published more than 25 books and is an internationally renowned public speaker, having spoken at several international conferences.

He is the former president of the International Council of Psychologists and a one-time research fellow at Aberdeen University.

**Mingary is of the Gaelic language, which is regarded as the second oldest language in Europe. With origins in the Middle East, the Celts brought it along the Northern Mediterranean, through Western Europe to Ireland and finally to Scotland.

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This place is FREE in every sense of the word, non-denominational, spiritual, not religious, no sales traps or conversion techniques. You take what you want from the visit and can go into the foyer of the church, where there are explanatory brochures and booklets, notices of lunchtime concerts and lectures.

Mingary, The Quiet Place
Dr Francis Macnab

The gates are open.
You stand in the doorway, your foot on the Welcome Stone.
The walls reach out and enfold you with the softening lights.
The large table rock is held in position by two upright rocks – the need for more than one support.
The table rock itself has a deep crevice depicting life’s deep traumas.
Water flows down the rock and falls into the bowl of peace and quietness.

In the bowl are two small rocks –
The red rock is the gift of descendants of the Aboriginal tribe, the Wurundjeri, who once knew this place as theirs;
The green marble rock is from the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland.

Arising from the table rock is the wind of the dove, the ancient symbol of new life and hope. It is turning towards the east wall where a glow of light signifies the beginning of a new day – the hope of all who are going through times of stress or sadness.

As you leave, notice the granite rock at the doorway.
Water run gently over it as a symbol of the flow of life by which we are constantly renewed.

Let there be silence in this place.
In the silence there is strength. And there is healing.

Come in silence – leave in silence.

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**Iona means dove. It is the place of the dove. For many years thousands of people have travelled to Iona for reflection, learning and inspiration.


While I was growing up in a Christian household, I often heard the name Dr Francis Macnab. My Father was an elder in the Church of Scotland, and later when we came to Australia became an elder in the Presbyterian, later Uniting Church, at Croydon.

Mum and Dad were involved in the church in many capacities: Mum in the Ladies Fellowship, later the Women’s Guild (the name change could be the other way around!), and she also bottled honey and raised funds for the Ecumenical Migration Centre for more than two decades.

Mum’s faith was unquestioning but Dad struggled and sometimes lapsed in attendance, hence his interest in the work of Dr Francis Macnab who was unafraid to explore and challenge the traditional church regarding teachings, rules of behaviour, social justice issues, peace, dying with dignity, gender roles and the position of women.

Not surprisingly, Macnab a trained psychologist specialises in helping people cope with the pressures and stress of life, but also seeking to guide us towards a more equitable and peaceful society.

My father was often deeply troubled and struggled with inner demons and I wish Mingary had been available for him to visit, perhaps it would have helped him to sit in silence and reflect, absorb the serenity, contemplate.

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The Mingary Prayer
Dr Francis Macnab

Restore in us
A peaceful mind.
A strengthened spirit.

Restore to us
A new pathway –
a new hope, and a new purpose.

Restore for us
The courage to let go of what is past.
The readiness and strength to walk,
towards the future.

Restore in us
A union with the energy
of this sacred place
and a union with the
soul of the universe.

As we touch the Rock
help us draw strength from the stone.

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Needless to say, ‘the road to heaven is paved with good intentions’ and months passed, rushed trips in and out of the city.  Mingary forgotten – until the anniversary of John’s death in September.

I had to attend a seminar at the Hyatt Hotel, which happens to be opposite St Michael’s Church, host to Mingary. September 21 always emotionally challenging and despite fourteen years having passed, a switch inside clicked and nerve ends tingled: I felt on edge, teary, couldn’t concentrate…  sadness and grief weighed on my heart, a flat, cold stone.

I floated out of the Hyatt adrift on a sea of sadness, looked across the road and remembered Mingary.

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In the foyer of St Michael’s I heard wonderful orchestral music and joyous voices accompanied by the strains of a magnificent organ. A crowd of happy, engaged faces filed from the lunchtime concert expressing their good fortune at hearing one of Melbourne’s finest musicians.

An elderly man busied himself, and I interrupted his tidying and checking pews.

“How do I get to Mingary?”

Kindly eyes smiled. ‘Normally, you can go through that door,’ he pointed to a door blocked off ‘For Renovations’. Apologetic, he asked me to follow and pointed outside, ‘You go down the stairs, turn right at the bottom, walk a short distance and up the stairs round the corner.’

‘Thank you, ‘ I said and fled, suddenly embarrassed. I’d picked up a brochure about Mingary including details of counselling services. Was everyone seeking solace depressed? Would he think me mad? What did he see when he looked at me? Were my indecision, worry, and fragile emotional state obvious?

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Within moments I sat in the serene space of Mingary. I was not alone.

A young man sat in the corner shopping bags on the floor beside his chair. His eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer.

I too closed my eyes.

I concentrated on the trickling water as sounds of the city: footsteps, voices, trams, cars – all faded. Conscious of movement, I opened my eyes.

The young man stood up, stretched, walked back and forth with deliberate steps, moved his arms into practised shapes –  Yoga, Tai Chi poses? He then sat down and returned to prayer.

I examined the sculpture in the centre of the room, watched light dance with shadows, thought of the stone connecting the place with the First People and the stone from my birth country.

St Ninian came from Iona and the church we attended in Scotland bore his name. Memories of childhood and adulthood. Of being John’s friend, lover, wife, of the birth of my children, the death of my parents, and John, my ill-health, cancer, fears for the present and future – nano thoughts, nano seconds…

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He Restoreth My Soul

 

Breathe
Dr Francis Macnab

Breathe out the airs of grief and sorrow.
Breathe in the airs of healing and consolation.

Breathe out the airs of guilt and unforgiveness.
Breathe in the airs of freedom and release.

Breathe out the airs of uncertainty and anxiety.
Breathe in the airs of hope and courage.

Breathe out the airs of solitude and loneliness.
Breathe in the airs of self-soothing and restoring strength.

Breathe out the airs of being here.
Breathe in the airs that bring solace
and strength to the way you will live.

The young man left. I walked around the sculpture, touched the sacred stone, marvelled at the artist’s vision and talent.

I sat and contemplated some more.  I listened to the quietness and took the time to refocus.

Contemplation of birth, life, and death.
Counting blessings not depressings
Calmness about the future
Courage to accept the past
Celebration of the moment
A joy and gladness and thankfulness
for the vision of people like Dr Francis Macnab
Gratitude for my Father’s questioning, seeking and
acceptance of my freedom of thought
my Mother’s unconditional Love and acceptance
Love for John, his gift to me of Anne and Mary Jane.

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Restored. Renewed. Reasonable. Replenished. Refreshed. Refurbished. Revitalised. Relaxed.

Time can heal. 

I remembered an old writing task:

5 things that make me happy:

**Yes writing is on my happy list because I love words with a passion.

  1. Nature: Birdsong and watching birds cavort in the garden – especially the wattlebirds feeding on the grevillea and the magpies searching the ground for worms or carolling to each other from the electric wires.Birds with attitude.
  2. Clean sheets:- I love getting into bed between clean sheets, the smooth feel and fresh smell.
  3. Family: I’m happy when my daughters are – Mary Jane’s witticisms her infectious laugh; Anne’s smile lighting up her deep blue eyes and when she shares stories of her travels.
  4. Writing: I’m happy when the words come and I can finish a writing project.
  5. Friendship: I’m happy when I get a phone call from friends to chat, catch up over a coffee, drop-in for a visit, or walk along the foreshore.

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In these tumultuous times, it takes increasing effort to remain positive, even more, effort to remain serene.  In Life Stories & Legacies we did a writing exercise and discussed comfort and comfort zones. How much wellbeing is linked to what makes you happy:

What or who brings you comfort?  Why? In what way? How often?

  • A hug, (from whom? or who do you give a hug to?)
  • the low vibration of a purring cat,
  • the warmth of a dog
  • the chirping of birds
  • the smell of fresh flowers
  • fuzzy slippers and a favourite housecoat/dressing gown,
  • special socks
  • a favourite cardigan/jumper
  • a special rug/pillow
  • ice cream,
  • money in the bank,
  • Johnny Walker or perhaps a Vodka and Orange?
  • A cup of tea
  • A latte/expresso/flat white/long black
  • Horlicks/Ovaltine/Milo
  • Chocolate
  • a special song on the radio/record player/CD player
  • a special prayer
  • quiet time in a special place – a church, a temple
  • writing
  • reading
  • walking
  • a special friend
  • children
  • grandchildren
  • parents
  • grandparents
  • siblings

Why do certain things make you feel comforted?

  • Have you any advice for people who are stressed or may need comfort from sadness, grief, loneliness, or separation?
  • Can you recite a prayer, a poem, an extract from a book, a proverb – some useful mantra?
  • Have you always been able to find some comfort or was there a time when serenity was too difficult?
  • What colour represents comfort to you? What sound? What taste? What place or thing?

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Sometimes We Need To Pause

juvenile-butcherbird

A Juvenile Grey Butcherbird Belts Out a Rollicking Song.

Mairi Neil

‘Listen to me, it’s a beautiful day,’
The butcherbird repertoire seemed to say.

Perched high on the electric wire
A songbird above the Frankston line
Announcing a timetable triumph,
Singing, “Hurrah! The trains on time!”
Or could he spy Mordialloc beach,
Colourful sails embroidering the Bay
“Take a walk, breathe in fresh air,
Celebrate this beautiful day!”

Shoulders lifted, weary steps lighter
I played peek-a-boo with my shadow
Dark thoughts like clouds vanished
I felt an inner wellness grow…

A wattlebird hangs upside down
Sipping bottlebrush deepest red
A magpie stalks a juicy worm
Until his desire and hunger fed.
Lorikeets flash red and green feathers
High-pitched chattering over lunch
Wonderful a Cappella entertainment
On flowering eucalypts they munch.

Bees hum in rosemary blossoms
I pause to enjoy the scented bloom
Caress the soft-petalled geraniums
Where butterflies hover and zoom
The Blue Moon rose smiles a greeting
Pink camellia buds nod their care
Birdsong and burgeoning beauty –
I breathe contentment in home’s air.

Writing The Senses

To encourage my students to remember to include the senses when writing we’ll do specific exercises  – here is one: what does morning smell like?

It can be one particular morning, any morning from your past or present, it can be regular mornings, it can be your character’s morning…

The Smell of Morning

Depending on the season my mornings smell different. Not only nature’s seasons but the season of my life.  I now reflect from mature years – the third age as U3A reminds me every morning, while eager students search for parking in Albert Street. U3A’s meeting place only a few yards from my house.

I sleep with the window open and the noise of passing traffic drifts in – whether it’s cars or people – because I live close to the railway station. Occasionally, the unpleasant smell of stale greasy chicken, hamburger, or chips snacked by late night revellers still evident, if discarded leftovers chucked into my garden.

(One of the disadvantages of having no solid fence and living just the right distance from Main Street restaurants and pubs and late night trains – takeaways become throwaways.)

The revving of parked cars and others coming and going has exhaust fumes permeating the air at regular intervals. Not the life-threatening lead strains from years ago, thank goodness.

When John and I lived in Prahran in the 80s, the inner city council released a report revealing the children in the local school had high quantities of lead in their bloodstream – a wake-up call for authorities. Society does advance albeit slowly!

Another industrial smell occurs if the trains brake too early or need maintenance. Pungent diesel oil reminds me of their presence when their noise does not –  you become so used to the railways regular trundling and rumbling you forget their existence.

A more pleasant persistent smell comes when my roses bloom and the geraniums flower. The slightest breeze wafts their perfume into the bedroom. Up until this year, several lavender bushes perfumed too, but after twelve years the woody bush closest to the window needed replacing. 

How blessed we are in Melbourne with the plants we can grow. The demise of the lavender allowed me to add variety to the shrubs I’ve mostly grown from cuttings or received as gifts from friends or bought from school fetes – wonderful local events that provide all sorts of delights.

Arriving in Mordialloc in 1984, the smell (and sound) of horses, always evident. Barkly Street behind and parallel to Albert Street housed several stables, and the patch of grass still frilling the railway line ideal for horses to exercise and nibble on. Weekends and late evening resounded to the clip clop of horses. They also left reminders of their visit.

In Life Stories classes people remember ‘the olden days’ when horsepower was the transport and their parents, or child selves rushed out and scooped up the manure as fertiliser for flower gardens and veggie patches. I’m not that devoted a gardener – I choose hardy plants that survive with the minimum of fuss and effort on my part but several others in the street ‘followed the horses’!  The large blocks and stables have mushroomed into units and town houses, however, it’s good to remember Mordialloc has a proud ‘horsey’ past. 

The same strip of grass renamed ‘shit alley’ as numerous pet owners walk their dogs, but refuse to do poop parade. They escape council officers wrath I expect because during the day the ground is an ad hoc carpark – no one appears to care for the parcel of land except for how it can be used – or abused.

In my fantasies, I’ve dreamt of a community garden… I wouldn’t mind the smell of fresh celery, onions, garlic, carrots, lettuce et al…

 I’ve always had pets so doggy smells linger in and outside the house. Aurora reminds me every morning of her presence, somehow finding her way onto the bed in the middle of the night.

Since John died I no longer wake to his masculine smell or snuggle under the doona where the smell of our sex lingered. If someone had told 30-year-old me when I moved to Mordialloc that I’d be arguing with a dog in the future about my share of the queen-sized bed, I’d have laughed – especially one as big and clumsy as Aurora!

Times change and we change – life would be boring otherwise – and there are many times I’m grateful for the comfort and companionship Aurora provides.

The kitchen smells of the morning are radically different too since John has gone and I no longer control what the girls eat (or not) when they stay here.

John’s passion for Sunday brunch fry-up: bacon, eggs, fried bread, mushrooms, onions – a greasy delight leaving its scent clinging to walls for hours is never cooked because neither the girls or I eat elaborate cooked breakfasts. My porridge and their cereal and toast odourless or an unremarkable breakfast smell unless I cook Anne a spinach omelette or the latest ‘smashed’ avocado on toast. MJ, not a morning person – ‘breakfast’ absent from her lexicon!

In winter, the smell of dewed grass much stronger and when I remove the junk mail from the mailbox, the air is heavy with the aroma from the rosemary bush and salty scents drifting from the seashore.

In Mordialloc, fish, salt, and seaweed strong aromas after heavy rain or on windy days no matter the season.

Now, it’s spring and heading into summer. We’ve had more rain than other years, and everywhere the flowering plants and trees flourish with a depth of colour not seen for some time.

Melbourne being Melbourne we’ve had warm to hot days this week and this morning it’s almost back to winter – the air fresh, indeed even chilly.

On warm days, you can smell the heat. Birdsong is subdued as if they are conserving their energy and I close the window early before the temperature rises.

If it turns out a stinker I’m happy for the fan to circulate the smell of ink, paper, and print as my morning is filled with reading or writing smells…

What does your morning smell like? Has it changed over the years?

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