I could count on my one hand the creative events and exhibitions I’ve been to in the last two years and I know I’m not alone.
There was attendance at talks, videos and workshops online, but that’s not the same as the sensations experienced walking around, sometimes touching, smelling, hearing and seeing and most importantly feeling the buzz from emotional connections.
Attending events and exhibitions in person triggers memories and ideas and occasionally controversies. If you have someone to share the experience: to reminisce, laugh, cry, debate merits, discuss the impact and celebrate the success, it is a bonus.
Until last Thursday, the “live” events I’ve managed to experience have been with family – and all this year (the least said about 2020 the better!):
a Hannah Gadsby Concert at Sydney Myer Music Bowl with daughter Anne enabling great exercise of laughter muscles (February)
a fascinating Open House Melbourne discussion on The Great Birrarung Parkland by boat with Indigenous guides sharing their knowledge (March)
a tour of the National Trust’s Labassa and the history of the garden with Anne where we managed to dodge showers (May)
a wonderful weekend away with my two sisters, to see the Mary Quant Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery which happened between lockdowns so didn’t have to be rescheduled (June)
a visit to Como for the display of Miniatures and Doll Houses with both Mary Jane and Anne that had been rescheduled (November)
Cat Rabbit: The Soft Library
My good friend Lisa Hill is a prolific book reviewer and alert to events in libraries, writing festivals, bookshops – in fact all things bookish. A few weeks ago she asked if I would like to go with her to The Soft Library , an exhibition by artist Cat Rabbit at the Bayside Gallery, Brighton Town Hall and we booked a date for early December.
“Cat Rabbit is a textile-based artist living in Naarm/Melbourne. Using felt, recycled and vintage fabrics, Cat hand stitches plush sculptural works of her imagined characters and the worlds they might live in. Her work translates to many formats – from children’s books to large-scale felt installations – always with aim of bringing softness and warmth to the viewer.”
How could anyone resist an invitation to an exhibition promising softness and warmth – not only after surviving what we hope is the worst of a global pandemic but anytime!
Lisa is a friend who always goes above and beyond – not only did she offer to drive me but also negotiated with the curators to allow us to visit the exhibition before official opening time so we wouldn’t clash with any school or kinder visit because she worried about my severely compromised immune system when most children are still unvaccinated. The Omicron variant in the headlines revealing the Covid pandemic is stubbornly persistent. Athough no lockdowns and eased restrictions, the adage better to be safe than sorry always applies!
“The soft library is an extraordinary new project by Melbourne-based textile artist Cat Rabbit. The artist has transformed the Bayside Gallery into a fantastical library run by bears, or ‘libearians’, many of who are famous literary characters. Lovingly made by the artist in felt and fabric, the library houses books and animations and a special giant ‘storytime’ bear who invites visitors to sit and enjoy an audio story. This whimsical and delightful exhibition celebrates the freedom found in play and pays tribute to the library as a place of learning and wonder – a home for the endless possibilities of the imagination.”
An ideal place for an art exhibition on the theme of books
Brighton Town Hall is an imposing building with a history dating back to 1885 when the memorial stone was laid by The Hon Thomas Bent MLA, for the District of Brighton and Mayor of the Borough. (Whenever politician Thomas Bent is mentioned someone always adds ‘Bent by name and bent by nature’ and Lisa beat me to that observation! Mr Bent gained quite a reputation when he ‘served’ the people of Victoria and made himself wealthy.)
Above the memorial stone is a plaque dated 1978 when the restored town hall incorporating the central library was opened. Above that yet another plaque dated 1998, when the building became The Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre – Brighton Town Hall.
The design of the exhibition simulates an art gallery display – there are ‘paintings’ on the wall (all made of felt), there is the obligatory marble-look sculpture of a figurehead (made of felt), and the larger than life Libearian and the professional paraphernalia (cards, date stamp, pad etc) laid out on the desk are all felt. A story-teller sits with stories quietly playing on a loop and a circle of soft cushions await eager listeners.
Lisa and I spent a pleasant hour appreciating the imagination, talent and sense of humour of the artist. It is a display ready-made for children’s activities but paved with richness of detail to delight adults. We recognised authors, exclaiming over the craftsmanship and attention to detail and I thought of the various discussions initiated with the children lucky enough to attend.
There are shelves ‘laden’ with felt tomes – the titles wittily clever. Children are given an activity sheet The Great Detective designed to engage them with the exhibits but also to encourage close observation and attention to detail. They are asked: If you could write a bear themed book, what would it be about? What would the title be? (More than children can have fun with this activity and I mentioned to our hosts there could be fun with homophones as well as homonyms!)
I eventually solved a mystery that had been bugging me – I was sure I had heard of Cat Rabbit, even met her somewhere. When I saw the book Too Much For Turtle on the storytime stand I remembered Cat and the illustrator Isobel Knowles had been a guest author and illustrator for The Mordialloc Writers’ Group several years ago when I was coordinator.
Local primary children have participated in workshops with the artist and there is a trolley and shelf with felt books made by Hampton Primary.
There are also gorgeous individual postcards with a QRcode that will take you to digital details of authors and books and the creativity of the artist. QRcodes throughout the exhibition allow further exploration of authors and books. Technology enhances exhibitions by adding or extending interactive elements.
Brighton Libearian Karyn Siegmann pens a lovely intro to The Soft Library confessing her love of books:
“And where is the one place you could get all the books you wanted to read, and for free? The local library of course. That magical place full of stories and ideas and places to curl up and imagine and think…
Libraries have seen so many changes over the years, but they will always be a place of comfort containing infinite stories, both real and imagined. Libraries house characters you can revisit again and again and stories you can learn different things from no matter how many times you read them. It’s a shared place, but at the same time it’s all yours!”
Most of the authors in the exhibition I’d read or heard of but some of the newer children’s authors I didn’t know. However, the exhibits triggered memories of a time in my life I loved when I regularly dabbled in felt craft. From firsthand experience, I appreciate Cat Rabbit’s amazing talent and the effort and hard work to produce such a showcase. I believe craft as an activity and as works of art gained popularity during lockdowns and I expect to see more exhibitions and also more work at open air markets.
My daughters attended a Steiner stream at primary school and craft and creativity interwoven with all subjects. We made tiny gnomes to help gather gum nuts for maths, wove recorder bags to house music sheets and made various animals for the story cloth when the children sat in a circle to read or listen to stories. Along with other Steiner mums I spent months knitting and sewing to prepare a stall at the annual school fair.
I still do some craft for particular projects and each Christmas I place a Nativity at the foot of the tree – my tableau made in felt over 20 years ago needs a make-over but will outlast me!
The Soft Library will be open until mid-January.
The festive season has a way of becoming too busy and after a lull of activities for two years Melbourne has a lot on offer, but I hope people make the time to visit the Bayside Gallery which has other exhibitions running as well – you won’t be disappointed.
And if the warm and thoughtful treatment Lisa and I received from the staff is replicated you’ll join their mailing list too!
In January 2013, I attended a wonderful exhibition at the Burrinja Cultural Centre in Upwey, presented by Eastern Regional Libraries Corporation and the Centre, to celebrate the National Year of Reading.
The exhibtion promised ‘travels through time and fiction of the periods, drawing together the threads of character, period, fashion and finery.’
The costumes on display accompanied by a novel of the period. I recognised many of the books, either read in school or turned into television or cinema classics. The costumes spanned 170 years of fashion history and were overwhelmingly for females. Women’s clothing underwent many radical changes of style, and until recently, despite ‘clothes maketh the man‘, the mention of fashion usually conjures images of predominantly female models on catwalks and shining in events like the Melbourne Cup’s Fashion on the Field.
I’m writing this blog as the postmortem on the recent United States Presidential Inauguration Ceremony is being mulled over with comments on the clothes of the participants – Bernie Sanders’ mittens, leading ladies purple outfits, Lady Gaga’s stunning appearance – and of course everyone wearing face masks and sending a powerful message about COVID19 and the mutant viruses.
Including costumery for characters important for writers and can improve a story on many levels, with detail valuable, whether you write fact or fiction.
The exhibition I attended, provided a mine of information for writing historical fiction. There were rare items such as a delicate crinoline dress dated 1860, bustle dresses from the late 19th century, suits from the Second World War era, 1950s ball gowns and 20th-century cocktail dresses and pant suits.
Accessories featured too: hats, gloves, shoes and handbags, jewellery … a feast of fashion for designers and researchers; especially wonderful for writers looking for colourful authenticity.
Most characters for a short story or novel require relevant research, and if you are delving into a particular period of history, the knowledge and inclusion of fashion, social mores, and specific idioms or jargon help the reader enter the world you have created.
If you make a mistake, believe me, there will be a critic somewhere who will notice!
Your blunder may not be as obvious as Brad Pitt wearing his 20th Century wristwatch in a fight scene in the 2004 Hollywood version of ancient Greece’s Troy, but may encourage the reader to question other details in your story.
I speak from experience.
A friend picked up a mistake in a Facebook post I made when I mentioned the first bicycle I owned in Australia bought secondhand at a high school fete in 1963. I said it was 50 cents when I should have said 5 shillings because Australia didn’t introduce decimal currency until 1966.
Details matter. When it comes to fashion it might alter the storyline, the timeline you decide to use and the location – even the need for minor characters. Consider the time it took a female to dress when layers fashionable: underwear (vest, knickers, corset, bloomers, stockings, underskirt, bustle and hoop), dress/skirt and outerwear of shawl/cape/coat/jacket, hat, gloves, shoes.
Depending on their wealth and station in life, they may have a dresser or maid, butler, hairdresser, even someone to apply make-up and choose jewellery. Or they may be so poor, they have one outfit, whatever the season that is altered and repaired!
When I spent a Christmas period in Toronto Canada that coincided with their worst winter blizzards in 50 years, I learnt to allow 10-15 minutes to take off or put on, the boots, coats, woollen hats and scarves. Each time you moved from outside to indoors visiting or shopping became a repetitive exercise.
Museums, art galleries and libraries often have permanent displays, plus special exhibitions, which provide a wealth of visual reminders about life in other eras and may contain hidden gems of information or give ideas useful for your writing. Events are sometimes free or available at a minimum cost.
The Fashion Meets Fiction exhibition in 2012- 13 was created from a collection that grew from one woman’s passion for vintage clothes and accessories. Doris Darnell, a Quaker from Pennsylvania collected for over 70 years. The social history behind the items donated and gifted from around the world was ‘as important as the items themselves and preserving them and their stories for future generations became an important part of her passion.’
Letters, photographs and stories accompanied the gifts linking them to their original owners or donors, often detailing the occasion/s they were worn. The Australian goddaughter of Doris, inherited the collection in 2004. Charlotte Smith has grown the collection to 7,500 pieces, representing 23 different countries, to become the largest private international vintage clothing couture in Australasia.
Often the focus is on women’s clothing – and usually the glamorous items – however, clothing for men and children are represented. There are wedding dresses and sportswear, plus many reference library books, journals and exhibition catalogues.
The Darnell Collection provides fashion history education and is a design resource. Charlotte, the current custodian promotes the collection’s mission ‘to preserve, develop and enhance the collection’s ability to educate, interpret and inspire existing and new audiences for the better understanding and appreciation of the art of fashion.’
At the Burrinja Cultural Centre, the focus was on the style of memorable characters from popular novels: Scarlett O’Hara, Holly Golightly, Phryne Fisher, Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Woodruff and others. The backstory of the clothes and accessories explained too.
This ball gown of rayon, cotton thread and sequins, by Margeaux Couture is c1950s America. The ornate handbag of silk, velvet, gold and glass beads from Hong Kong, same era. They were chosen to represent the world of David Dodge’s novel, To Catch A Thief, where the main character, a daring cat burglar thieves from hotels and villas on the French Riviera. I remember watching the film on black and white television. I can imagine Grace Kelly in this stunning red gown.
Since the 1950s, formal attire has evolved from private events to public ones – from debutante balls and gala evenings in sumptuous venues to red carpet entrances. As written in Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950, “Carefully chosen for special occasions, a ballgown should not only flatter the wearer and demonstrate her sense of style but also illustrate an understanding of the event to which it is worn.”
Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence, is set in the 1870s. The two-piece dress chosen for the exhibition is American c1880 of silk faille, silk velvet and gilt metal to suit her upper-class characters.
Silk faille a popular fabric during the Victorian era with its strongly defined, ribbed texture and dramatic draping qualities. It is weighty and has to be cut carefully to ensure the ribbing of the two connecting pieces match to avoid uneven patterns. The material came back into vogue with Christian Dior’s New Look and is popular today with wedding dress designers.
Whenever I see these voluminous dresses with complicated layers, frills and beading, I think of the seamstresses because even with the invention of machines much of the sewing would be by hand.
The first functional sewing machine was invented by the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1830. Thimonnier’s machine used only one thread and a hooked needle that made the same chain stitch used with embroidery. The inventor was almost killed by an enraged group of French tailors who burnt down his garment factory because they feared unemployment as a result of his sewing machine invention.https://www.thoughtco.com/stitches-the-history-of-sewing-machines
My Aunt Chrissie, a tailoress, served her apprenticeship prior to WW2, and opened her own sewing school when she emigrated to Melbourne from Scotland in the 1950s. My older sister Cate, inherited her talent but my sewing skills are average.
However, sewing and fashion touches everyone’s life in some way. My generation experienced compulsory needlework classes at school, homemade clothes the norm for many working class people. Hundreds of stories and characters can be created around the subject.
The dress chosen for Daisy Miller, in Henry James’ novel Daisy Miller also c1880s, and made by Mrs C Tracey of New York. This silk faille Bustle Dress with silk taffeta lining and lace, has metallic thread, metal sequins and glass beads.
Bustles were semi-rigid structures of wire half circles held in place by cotton tape and secured around the women’s waist, sitting over her bottom thus creating an unnatural protrusion in silhouette. Less cumbersome than the crinoline, it still required a restrictive corset to achieve the tiny waist fashionable in the Victorian and early Edwardian eras.
This desire for a tiny waist had shocking consequences. A family story about my paternal Grandmother who married in 1900 mentions how she fainted twice donning her wedding dress because the corset strings had to be pulled tight to ensure the obligatory 18 inch waist!
The crinoline dress chosen for Eleanor Bold in Anthony Trollope’s, Barchester Towers, published in 1857 is from that era and also American. It is silk taffeta with silk thread and wooden buttons and the shape has been altered from the enormous dome usually found in crinolines to early bustle shape.
The mannequins used to display many of the Collection’s Victorian dresses are the equivalent to the average modern 12 year old! Most Victorian women were tiny, including Queen Victoria who was only 150cm tall. (That’s under five feet for those still dealing in feet and inches!) Mum was 150cm and was resigned to taking hems up on bought skirts and dresses.
The Day dress, c1860 America of roller printed cotton with natural dyes, chosen for Lucinda Leplastrier in Peter Carey’s novel of colonial Australia, Oscar & Lucinda. It has a wire hoop petticoat to create a domed or bell shape. An ungainly and dangerous style blamed for women swaying too close to an open fire and being trapped in smouldering garments. Hoop petticoats provided fodder for cartoonists to lampoon female social gatherings depicting the cumbersome dresses in small Victorian parlours.
I can vouch for the accuracy of the difficulty negotiating movement with a hoop in the hem of your dress. For my 60th birthday, I held a party inviting friends to dress as their favourite literary character. I went as Jo March from Little Women, after she sold her hair! A plastic hula hoop bought from a Two Dollar Shop provided the shape.
If your fictional heroine is wearing one of these dresses don’t add to her clumsy misery by having her drink a lot of tea or other beverages requiring visits to the bathroom!
Another Bustle Dress c1880s America was chosen for The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. It is one of the most individual Victorian dresses in the Collection; an apt choice for Sarah Woodruff. Wool with Mother of Pearl buttons it has unusual paisley panels, which suggests the dress was made by a small town dressmaker or to be worn by the maker because apart from the bustle, it does not follow other Victorian fashion trends.
I remember reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman for HSC English Lit in 1970 and can imagine Sarah wearing this dress. Even with a dark cloak and hood, she looked striking and attracted attention ensuring her walks along the cliff top and by the sea did not go unnoticed.
Two of the displays triggered more memories of Mum. A wool suit with silk crepe lining by Paul Horla for Fritzels, Milwaukee c the early 1940s is a wonderful example of fashion during World War Two. It was chosen to represent Dominique Francon, a character in Ayn Rand’s, The Fountainhead, first published 1943. It reminded me of Mum’s wedding suit but of course, in 1948, Scotland still had rationing and her suit was not as upmarket as pure wool and silk crepe. However, the style is similar.
When material was rationed, wool fabric allocated to uniforms and war related outfits was still difficult to obtain and dressmakers and tailors ‘took extraordinary steps’ to ensure no scrap of fabric wasted. Skirts became pencil shaped, requiring minimum metres and jackets tailored for a snug fit.
“The clever details of this suit, which makes it look truly decadent in a time of austerity, are the collar, pockets and cuffs are fake… actually layers of leftover fabric cut and sewn individually… the ‘pockets’ are scraps of fabric stitched to the bodice and not usable.”
My Mother loved reading and had a penchant for genre novels – mysteries and romances her favourites. She introduced me to Agatha Christie and when I lived with a friend, in a Canberra flat while attending ANU, I discovered Margaret loved Agatha Christie too and worked my way through her bookshelf.
No surprises that Mum liked to read Maigret novels, Georges Simenon’s French detective and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series, like The Case of The Lonely Heiress. Perry Mason being a Californian lawyer and both of these characters subjects for popular television series and films. I can remember watching them in the 1960s and 70s and Maigret has been revived recently with new adaptations.
Perry Mason had a devoted secretary, Della Street, who helped him solve cases and the Ball Gown with Shawl by Lucy Sector captures the evening glamour c1950s. This outfit of silk brocade and silk satin was made in Melbourne. The Governor’s secretary wore the gown when she attended a ball at Government House, Sydney 1954.
Lucy Sector’s fashion career began in Melbourne in 1930s and her respected label became fashionable and exclusive with dresses sold throughout Australia, including her own shop in Northbridge WA. The black handbag of glass beads and silk brocade lining was from France c1950s.
The Swinging Sixties & Groovy Seventies
The 60s and 70s heralded big changes in acceptable attire for women with dresses becoming shorter and more revealing and pantsuits designed for afternoon and evening wear. Candice Bushnell’s, Sex and the City, a popular bestseller in 1997 as a collection of essays on the lifestyles of her social circle. Later a movie was made and television series. The silk faille cocktail dress by Christian Dior chosen for the character Carrie Bradshaw has glass beads, sequins and silk lining c late 1990s.
In 1997, John Galliano replaced Gianfranco Ferre as Dior’s head designer. He combined his love of theatrics with inspiration from the Dior archives and the fitted, elegant and feminine dress is reminiscent of the 1950s.
The leather shoes are more recent c2009 by Manolo Blahnik and come with a fascinating backstory, inspired by a similar pair of shoes Blahnik produced for designer Ossie Clark in the 1970s. Blahnik was producing men’s shoes in his shop in Chelsea, London when Clark asked him to create shoes for his next couture collection. Making women’s shoes filled a creative void for Blahnik and his outrageous and flamboyant designs became the fashion must-have. Bushnell’s novel republished in 2008 and the 2009 television series of Sex and the City gave Blahnik shoes cult status.
In Octopussy, Ian Fleming’s final James Bond book, a collection of short stories and published posthumously in 1966, the main character is Octavia Charlotte Smyther (aka Octopussy). Attractive, smart and athletic women a feature of Bond novels and movies so the pant suit by La Gaye Parisienne, Sydney of lurex and lame fabric perfect. A pant suit fits the 1960s setting but vamped to look trendier and sexier than the ordinary.
London 1956, saw the first couture collections using metallic yarn. By the 1960s, silver and gold lame fabrics (as well as pastel colours) replaced black as the favoured colour for the popular cocktail scene.
Love Story by Erich Segal, set in the 1970s and first published in the USA 1972 to popular acclaim, capturing the mood of the era of breaking down barriers and shifting boundaries. One of the main characters Jenny Cavilleri is studying music in Massachusetts and is matched to a machine-made lace and silk pant suit by Ann Pakradooni, a well-known dressmaker in Philadelphia in the 1960s and 70s.
“Two years ago, this suit was part of a small display at the Philadelphia Art Institute. An 80 year old visitor asked if she could take a closer look at the inside of the jacket. Upon inspection of the stitching of the hooks and eyes, she realised she had made the suit when she worked for Mme Pakradooni in the early 1970s. She recognised her stitch work and explained each seamstress had a unique signature stitch, their secret signature for every garment they made.“
The straw Hat with cotton flowers and satin ribbon is Australian c1970s, and the leather Handbag, French by Pierre Cardin c1970s.
Agatha Christie’s, Death On The Nile, a Poirot Story was first published in 1937 and set in that era. The silk organdie Day Dress c1930s an example of the softer more feminine look to replace the boyish 1920s. Soft, transparent fabrics like silk organdie were popular with colourful and complicated designs printed on silk, rayon and crinkle crepe. Daywear became less decorative and more practical, reflecting women’s busier roles in society. The brown straw Hat has cotton and plastic flowers on velvet ribbon.
The Great Gatsby, by S Scott Fitzgerald is out of copyright this year so prepare for a slew of adaptations and interpretations. It was first published in 1925 and featured the memorable Daisy Buchanan and the Roaring 20s United States. The blue silk chiffon and satin Dance Dress has paste diamantes and the silk shawl c1920 from China is stitched with silk thread.
The Evening Bag by Whiting & Davis is c1920 America and is woven metal mesh with hand screened-printed pattern and gilt metal frame. Whiting & Davis was one of the biggest and best known mesh handbag manufacturers and still manufacture today. Screen printing allowed for a myriad of patterns and colours.
The shoes by YuYee c1920s China with the maker’s stamp reading ’embroider shoes made in China’ and comprise of cotton, silk thread and leather soles. China’s export industry ensured wealthy expats could purchase garments and accessories with a ‘westernized’ Chinese look. in the 1920s, popular fashion included the wallpaper effect of Japanese decoration and rich embroidered patterns of flowers from China.
Georgy Girl, by Margaret Forster embraced the Swinging Sixties, and is another popular novel that made it to the big screen. It also inspired The Seekers hit song Georgy Girl used for the movie. The Cocktail Dress by Guy Meliet is silk faille from Caracas, South America, and the hat is synthetic mesh with faux pearls, c1990s, England. Although made in the 1990s the hat is 60s inspired and pairs well with the straight A-shape of the dress and suits the personality of the novel’s swinging Meredith.
Guy Meliet trained in Paris before moving to Caracas. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, many designers and milliners trained in Paris alongside a well-known couturier before launching their their own salons in countries demanding expensive, French inspired clothes. Meliet is credited with dressing some of the most beautiful socialites in Venezuela, including Chesley Larson, the owner of this dress. A world that was anathema to Forster, a lifelong feminist and socialist.
Although published in 1963, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre, characterises the late 50s and early 60s, known as the Cold War era when spies and double agents were in the news. The chosen dress is Italian c1960, woollen and by Spinelli.
Elena and Sante Spinelli immigrated to Australia from Italy in 1958. In 1960 their luxury knitwear label, Spinelli began in Adelaide, South Australia. Their international influences and flair spiced Australian fashion, evidenced by this ‘mod’ 1960s dress. Combining fine Australian merino wool and the skill of Italian craftsmanship produced a unique Australian fashion statement. The wool Hat by Mr M c1960s America and the Australian crocodile Handbag with leather lining finishes the elegant outfit.
What would any fashion or life story be without the ubiquitous wedding dress. Nicholas Sparks 2003 novel The Wedding, focuses on a couple celebrating 30 years of marriage and while planning their daughter’s wedding, the husband is ‘re-courting’ his wife. It is set in the 70s and the Wedding Dress by the House of Henry Josef, Sydney, is machine-made lace, silk satin, net and polyester.
There were many other novels and outfits to satisfy a variety of historical periods and a writer’s curiosity. I’m sure many exhibitions are available online, especially with the disruption of 2020 and the continued adjustments to life trying to be Covid-normal.
Explore, research, read – then write!
To end with a smile (and we certainly need more of them!) here is a poem I wrote last Christmas for one of my daughters who loves cosplay and comes up with wonderful ideas for costumes, which we make on a low budget.
Although it is difficult to make headlines or initiate a public discussion about anything other than the global pandemic or Trump and his supporters’ refusal to accept the results of the USA Election, Greta Thunberg who just turned 18, has reminded us global warming is still happening with devastating consequences.
For those who have never seen the movie Groundhog Day,perhaps take a few minutes to Google, or accept the explanation below…
Based on the movieGroundhog Daystarring Bill Murray. It is the idea that every action that one makes; the rewards and consequences of those actions are not followed through the next day. If someone were to make a big choice, commit a crime, offend someone, make a mistake, or meet someone throughout a period of a regular 24 hour day, those rewards and consequences for all of those actions are not carried through the next day. It is all forgotten. In other words, it’s like yesterday never happened. Therefore this pattern can keep on repeating for an unknown amount of time.
I’ve known about the dangers of the Greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change – call it what you will – all my adult life and yet each year the public discussion seems to be the same. I’m with Greta – why aren’t we woke yet?!
A Member of the Victorian Parliament Warned about Climate Change in 1990!
Before social media, many members of parliament made an effort to keep the electors informed via regular newsletters. Jean McLean was especially interested in the environment and social justice issues – climate change most certainly an environmental AND social justice concern.
(It was time-consuming to get the message out with the tools of typing, Gestetner printing or photocopying, hand stapling and enveloping, even before relying on Aussie Post or volunteers like me to distribute, but I am so glad Jean did! )
Environmentalists and conservationists have been warning about global warming since April 22,1970, when the first Earth Day was held in the USA and scientists coined the term Greenhouse Effect. They forecast the Earth’s future in doubt because air pollution was warming the planet – pollution primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
In the 80s the anti-uranium movement gained momentum against those seeking nuclear power because of the Chernobyl disaster, a place still contaminated 35 years later. It wasn’t the first but is perhaps the worst nuclear power station disaster, yet some people still suggest nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Since the 70s, environmental activists usually lumped in with ‘the Left’, disbelieved and vilified, shrugged off with contempt as ‘greenies’ and ‘tree huggers’. Although social media favours ‘snowflakes’ and ‘leftards’ and other generic insults to cover numerous issues, not just the perceived ‘hoax‘ of climate change!
Not surprisingly, many who disbelieve climate change also favour the conspiracies around COVID19, although ironically there are some who believe the science of climate change but not the science of epidemiology (and vice versa)!
Climate messengers have expanded, from both sides of the political divide and even in the corporate sector. They admit climate change is real and we are experiencing dire human and economic consequences by ignoring the science.
Natural disasters on the rise mean the tragedy of global warming can’t be ignored, but we shouldn’t forget many of our current political and corporate leaders have always KNOWN!
Access, to scientific reports and data like the World Oceanographic Commission and World Meteorological Organisation, mentioned above,
plus a variety of other national and international research bodies.
Ignorance and lack of action a choice we really can’t afford now:
Friends in the USA and Canada have shared the devastation of the 2020 fires in California that compounded the grief of coronavirus suffering.
Since the global pandemic struck, I have increased email correspondence to friends overseas or locals keeping social distance because of lockdown. Often the discussion is about the future and we recognise the existential threat of global warming. It may be off the front pages of newspapers but not forgotten by the people living with the memory of last summer’s fires in both hemispheres.
Shirly is 88, and a dear friend in England who is married to a cousin of my husband’s, and like many living in the UK, she copes with what she describes as a world ‘in a mess… it’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote the year we’re living. Dystopian.‘
On January 4th she wrote
Yesterday, quite accidentally, I turned the news channel on and your PM was extolling the joys of coal and the fact that this was Australia, not some little country dependant on Europe or America.
We can do what we like. We have coal and we’ll use coal.
He said it as though he was giving the people an enormously good piece of news. As though global warming had nothing to do with your country. I couldn’t believe my ears.
But there are so many non- believers, we shouldn’t be surprised…
How right she is and the many reports about climate change updated because of another year’s data prompted others in Australia to remind the population of PM Morrison’s pathetic position:
Easy actions many of us can take is to care and plant more trees, become a dendrophile. Also reduce, reuse and recycle, and start conversations with friends and neighbours to lobby local councillors and politicians about the importance of renewable energy and government policies that help create a sustainable environment.
Most importantly, we can use our voice and our vote. This year there will be a Federal election in Australia, we must make sure climate change is addressed.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
I haven’t posted since July 2020, but it is a new year and notwithstanding the recent outbreak of COVID19 in my local area, I am hoping 2021 will be better.
This is actually a reworking of a post from several years ago and if you read to the end, my choice of updating and reposting should make sense. (It’s not just laziness although it is an effort to overcome a lack of enthusiasm and feeling of irrelevance!)
The last six months have been the definition of hell for so many people despite some (including me) attempting to find the glass half full.
I’ve read of achievements, new hobbies, friendships, educational courses, diets and exercise regimes, technology, books, films, music, imaginative recipes and discovery of local environmental gems… there were also plenty of negative impacts from panic and fear, lockdowns, isolation, shortage of goods and services, lost jobs and homes, broken relationships and health issues.
A relieved thought (or unvoiced fear) was how lucky can one person be!
It wasn’t the immediate end of the world but I would be lying if I said thoughts of death didn’t loom large. I checked finances and discussed plans with my daughters for ‘no funeral, just a big party’; ensured my will, plus medical and financial power of attorney up-to-date.
In the last decade, many health scares, so déjà vu for the Neil household at this regular event!
However, the discovery of a brain tumour and the fear it was metastatic cancer shocked the GP who has cared for me for over 25 years. We both fought back tears, our trembling lips hidden by masks, social distancing forgotten as she squeezed my arm in sympathy and murmured about unfairness and not to lose hope because it could be a meningioma.
I’m 67 years old, ironically, the same age as my husband when he died in 2002, (John was 18 years older than me). Whether it is the Highland genes or just my Mother’s Irish superstition, this coincidence played on my mind and also worried my daughters.
Survival rates for cancer vary from person to person but the milestones of 5 and 10 years are always at the back of a patient’s mind when diagnosed. The longer you can go without a recurrence is something to celebrate.
However, survival rates for a tumour in the brain, poor and if an operation required the risk of stroke high.
I was disappointed when breast cancer returned after 9 years but my breast cancer surgeon inspires confidence and he acted quickly and decisively and this time it was a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.
The recovery from the melanoma and skin graft during severe lockdown, and in the middle of winter, took a little longer with travel permissions to worry about and more stringent rules for clinicians and patients. These restrictions lasted well into the next health surprise.
By the time I went through all the tests and consultations for the brain tumour, it took a lot of energy to even pretend to be positive about the future. I thought back to the deaths of family and friends I’d witnessed or been involved with in the last stages of their life – hence revisiting this post about my friend Margaret.
Will I be calm and accepting? Do I want to prolong the inevitable? What are my priorities and is there any point in a bucket list?
I almost forgot to breathe when the neurologist decided it was a meningioma and not metastatic cancer. In the words of my breast surgeon on my annual visit in December, ‘You dodged another bullet, Mairi!’
How long I can keep dodging is a mystery but I’ve decided to turn the page on 2020 and try ‘business as usual’ along with my mantra ‘this too will pass’.
I spent July to December posting photographs and haiku on Instagram after joining at the suggestion of a dear friend in Japan who posts about Bonsai.
We have stayed connected and she returned any perceived favour by inspiring me to learn a new digital platform (with daughter Mary Jane’s help), indulge my love of photography and the environment, and write haiku, a favourite poetry form!
Naoko’s Instagram is #bonsai_sana and mine is #mairineil
Walking the dog each day around Mordialloc, I focused on everyday sights, let my imagination and thoughts wander and in the evening, inspired and guided by the demands of the form, I wrote haiku.
The anxiety, fear and dark thoughts about health and death receded as once again my passion for writing became therapeutic and a distraction. It gave me a focus and a project.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
And for many, death comes too soon…
Farewell To A Friend
The telephone call came out of left field. Tragic news to wreck quality time with a dear friend, yet it is also a dear friend on the other end of the mobile. My eyes sting with welling tears, but remain focussed out of the window of the Malt cafe in Beaumaris.
I watch two young mums chat animatedly on the footpath. Relaxed and smiling they are probably enjoying the freedom of the first day of the school year; the little darlings who kept them busy all the summer holidays tucked into classrooms. Another couple on an outside table feed their Golden Retriever tidbits from their plates.
I’m surrounded by chatter; the cafe almost filled to capacity. The aroma of fresh muffins, fruit toast, and homemade jam mingles with my skinny latte and Lesley’s extra strong cappuccino. However, normality dissipates as I absorb the details of the call. Body trembling, I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach and as usual Tamoxifen blesses me with a hot flush as anxiety peaks and emotions rage.
The day takes its first lurch into the surreal.
I’m on my way to celebrate a friend’s retirement from decades of teaching. She’s treating several friends to lunch at Sierra Tango, Cheltenham instead of us paying and hosting the celebration for her! The generosity of the invitation indicative of her warm, supportive personality and the venue a tribute to her knowledge of gastronomy, appreciation of fine foods and wine, and a commitment to support local businesses.
Determined not to spoil Lisa’s day, I seal my tragic news into an emotional compartment to be dealt with later…
I remember a poster I had on my wall at Burgmann College in 1971, when I lived on campus at ANU; my first year away from home. A poster long since eaten by silver fish when it was consigned to the garden shed, but here’s graphics with the same message – a sightly more colourful way of describing “left field”:
The telephone call from Canberra, from a friend from those university days. She can’t keep shock and horror from her shaky voice. A mutual friend, someone I shared a flat with in the 70s, is dying. She was the first non-family member I lived, worked, and studied with – we even shared the double bed that came with the one-bedroom apartment – and thought nothing of it! She’s now on borrowed time.
How could this be?
A voice laced with tears explains that a late discovery of inoperable breast cancer, treated with letrozole, has metastasised to the groin and brain stem. The condition kept secret for two years, while Margaret spent time travelling overseas and going through her bucket list. Now, in palliative care, her lifespan numbered in weeks rather than months – or days, if she experiences a seizure or rapid deterioration of the brain.
She can’t be dying – and not of breast cancer. This news, too confronting and scary. I think back to the apartment we shared, and shiver. That old house divided into three and this news means all of the women living there, including me, have breast cancer: one double mastectomy, two single mastectomies and now Margaret with metastatic breast cancer! Bad luck? Coincidence? A cancer cluster?
A problem for another day…
Bad News Travels Fast
During Lisa’s celebration lunch I receive another phone call with news that a European friend who had stayed with me early January had to have an emergency eye operation in Sydney because of a detached retina. There’s a danger she’ll lose her sight.
This super fit friend, a world-renowned marathon swimmer, came ninth in the Pier to Pub swim at Lorne this year. She’s supposed to be leaving Sydney for her home in Italy with a stop in one of Thailand’s resorts, but is now delayed in Australia until doctors allow her to fly.
The day has taken its second lurch into the surreal.
On my way home, I have the Serenity Prayer playing in my head as I try to put the sad news into perspective and decide on a course of action.
The next day I’m in Canberra and over four days catch up with many old friends from university, make some new ones, and spend hours with Margaret as she adjusts to the effects of radiotherapy and the news of having limited time.
She copes well with the steady stream of people who want to help in some way, as well as saying goodbye. The adage ‘bad news travels fast‘ proving true.
The busyness reminds me of husband, John’s last days – the irony of our busy vibrant house, constant comings and goings, laughter and noise, feasts, and endless cups of tea and coffee surrounding someone dying.
We share meals with Margaret, laughs and stories. I spot photographs in an album – and snap copies with my camera.
Lake Burley Griffin 1974
‘Those indeed were the days my friend,’ I say, ‘we had a lot of fun!’
Margaret agrees. I listen as she describes the highlights of her overseas trips and of her intention to travel again.
Deep down we both know another trip will never happen.
Before I leave, I water the plants and pick flowers to brighten inside. Margaret manages to negotiate back steps with some help and watches me water the garden, pointing out several special plants that came from other people’s gardens, or were received as gifts.
‘This can’t be happening,’ she whispers and I know she isn’t talking about my watering efforts. She alludes to her parents’ longevity, father ‘Digger’, dying a few years ago aged 93, her mother living into her 80s.
Her head shakes slightly, ‘I thought I had 23 years before I had to worry about all these decisions … what to do with things … ‘ Her voice trails off as her eyes drink in the beauty of flowers flourishing from the effect of an unusually cool Canberra summer providing higher than average rainfall.
I help her back inside wondering if this will be the last time I will feel the weight of her arm. The last time I brush fallen hair from her shoulders as her scalp reacts to the radiotherapy.
Why is the sun still shining? The magpies trilling? Laughter drifting from nearby apartments…
I recall a speech from one of the many Aboriginal women in our friendship circle. She thanked Margaret for all the books she bought her children over the years, the encouragement to access education. ‘One son got his PhD last year, all my girls have tertiary qualifications – thank you from the bottom of my heart.’
Others repeat similar sentiments. ‘You may not have any children of your own, but what you have done for our children means they are yours too!’
The seeds we sow. A wonderful legacy indeed, but I wish Margaret had another 23 years to sort out her life…
I wanted the last few days with her to be surreal and someone to wake me up and say it was all a dream. But of course I faced the reality of saying goodbye and dealing with my grief.
Now, with the reality of declining health I’ll hopefully adjust with similar dignity as Margaret when the inevitable must be faced – with luck still in the distance.
Then again, 2021 may hold bigger surprises than 2020 and they could be good!
That (wo)man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men (and women) and the love of children; who has filled his(her) niche and accomplished his (her) task; who leaves the world better than he (she) found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he(she) had.
Various health organisations continue to work towards improving how health is delivered whether the topic is related to COVID-19 or not. I also presented (via an online platform) to a conference at Melbourne University, organised by medical students for their 2020 MD Student Conference (MDSC). (Details below)
Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives. It is about how they use that information to decide on treatment and lifestyle.
Over the years, I have been able to use my writing skills combined with personal experience of the health system to give input and feedback to help health professionals and various institutions and government bodies improve the health information provided.
From the Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Healthcare:
Individual health literacy is the skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.
Health literacy environment is the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.
Volunteering To be A Health Advocate May Help Others
My health advocate journey began in 2009 when I attended a focus group at Central Bayside to help them rewrite leaflets about Diabetes.
My father had been diabetic for many years (mature-age onset) and moved from tablets to insulin before his death. From firsthand observations, I knew there was room for improvement in the brochures publicly available.
At the time, I was enrolled in the Masters of Writing so my writing skill was, and still is, useful to share.
For me, the upsurge is not surprising because when the initial Lockdown was eased mid June many people behaved as if the pandemic was over despite Premier Daniel Andrews saying repeatedly, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brett Sutton reminding us continually, ‘this coronavirus is ten times more infectious than flu.’
Few, if any, of us enjoy forced isolation, but most people DID put the health of others before social considerations and obeyed the rules. Let’s hope we can do it again!
The message of the dangers of COVID-19 has made headlines since March – not just here but overseas. Any other topic has great difficulty gaining oxygen. Most people can access the Internet – there is no excuse for being ill-informed.
In the beginning, there were mixed messages, especially from the Federal Government, but by April all States had the same mantra about social distancing and washing hands. Debate continues about wearing masks, but many people have made that choice and it helps reinforce social distancing.
There is concern not enough effort was used in Victoria to ensure the message was inclusive of multi-cultural communities but frankly considering every country is touched by COVID-19 and we have multi-cultural television and radio stations with many communities having their own language newspapers, I don’t think that can be the only reason. There is also an excellent website with health translations in more than 100 languages. More likely it is the socio-economic make-up of those suburbs with people working the casual and low paid jobs of hospitality, retail and transport that have continued throughout the Lockdown period – plus the pressure on schools throughout Australia to reopen. The virus is highly infectious – it was never about elimination (a vaccine is a long way off and will ever only be 70% effective anyway) but aiming for suppression and control.
Debate still rages about schools going back too early and the opening up of businesses and venues but considering the world is coping with an unprecedented crisis this century our various levels of government are doing their best – it was always going to be a balance between health and economic survival. Again – personal behaviour is the key.
Sadly, some people CHOOSE to believe the seriousness of the pandemic and ignore regulations.
It is up to individuals to be aware, follow the rules, and take care.
Recording The Pandemic For Future Generations
In April, my friend Matilda Butler who runs the womensmemoirs.com site in the USA with Kendra Bonnett, asked women to write about COVID-19.
Now, with a sense of security rapidly diminishing if we continue to see larger numbers of infections, an update will be needed and it may well have a different tone!
There are writers all over the world recording this pandemic from a variety of perspectives and journalists and bloggers tapping daily. Next year and the years to follow, we’ll see a plethora of films, documentaries, plays, poems, novels and memoir…
A summary of the results of the City of Kingston’s May 2020 survey:
From the 202 responses collected between 13-21 May 2020, they identified the following insights:
A lot of people adapted to using technology to remain connected (89% of people)
Around half were worried about being infected, but most (97%) had access to facts and information on quarantining
41% were worried that they or their families wouldn’t recover if infected
Physical activity was cited as the main activity providing relief
The main concern people had about being isolated was the loss of connection with their social support network
You can access the full report and also see regular updates from the website.
The Use of Technology Has Zoomed During COVID-19
As mentioned before, I have been extra careful since January because of a recent breast cancer operation and so adapted easily to Lockdown, isolation and social distancing.
When the Cancer Council asked me to contribute to the medical student conference at Melbourne University, I accepted because it could be prerecorded. The session recorded in May, but broadcast on June 25th.
The organisers and presenters plus the film crew amazing. It was a positive and fascinating experience. A great learning curve in the use of technology!
Here are screenshots from the session: “Breaking Bad News”.
This session forms part of the Day 4 program theme “The Ultimate Equaliser”. We have chosen this theme to give medical students the opportunity to have in-depth discussions on mortality and the human condition. We are very fortunate to have a number of esteemed healthcare professionals presenting on Day 4. An integral aspect of medical education is learning from patients, as they are often our best teachers. We feel that it is essential to include personal stories in a session on breaking difficult news, so that we can keep patients at the centre of our education.
Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to share my story. Thank you, too, for those who will listen who are joining the medical profession – as we have seen during this pandemic, the pressure, expectations, danger and sacrifices for frontline workers has revealed how important, precious and valuable you are for a healthy functioning society.
Personally, I’m grateful to medical science for my life. The improvements in breast cancer detection and research plus treatment available in Australia meant my cancer diagnosis in 2010 disrupted my quality of life but was not a death sentence.
And that is what the mention of cancer means to most people – a terminal illness that once you are diagnosed and even go into remission, it is a coiled snake waiting to strike. That metaphor turned out to be true for me because of my breast cancer, albeit another type, returned in December 2019.
In the words of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr Peter Gregory – ‘nine years Mairi, you almost reached ten!’ His disappointment and disbelief matched mine because of course there are legendary milestones, whether true or not, of 5 years and 10 years – making those free of a recurrence is believed to extend the likelihood the cancer won’t return , or worst spread to other parts of the body.
And my thank you after everything went as planned!
To be cliched – the pleasure was all mine:)
Thank you again for giving me a platform for my story and I think you, Tansy and all the others have done an amazing job considering the circumstances in which you have had to operate.
Thank you for always being so courteous and ready to respond and adapt to my needs, even when it probably inconvenienced your own,
All of you can be immensely proud of what you are achieving but more importantly the place from where your efforts and the impetus has come – creating a first class health system that cares for everyone’s needs.
I was most impressed with – I think it was Lily who said it – ‘welcome, this is the way of the future…’ You and your co-workers are all very talented and I can see the benefits for a lot of digital expertise being applied in the future for conferences etc because who knows how long travel or large gatherings will be risky to organise. Also, what you have done over the last few weeks has been amazing in establishing a pathway for all sorts of voices to be included at conferences where usually only certain ones are invited.
I know the title consumer rep has been coined, especially by organisations fighting for equity in the two-tiered system we have (private V public health) and for a multitude of voices to be heard, but I personally never want to move away from the word patient when I am referred to treatment for my health because it implies being in the care of a doctor/medical clinician. Whereas consumer can so easily be applied to someone shopping or dining whose main interest is value for money rather than the esoteric outcomes of quality of life regarding health procedures!
We are all individuals and our bodies can respond in various ways and so care provided must always be personal and often tailored to suit the individual – not mass consumption – what works or is accepted by one may be inappropriate or not work on another.
A bit like in the 90s when suddenly those receiving education became clients rather than pupils or students.
Word choice matters because we all come with our own prejudices, perspectives and experiences but it would be nice if we could agree on a terminology that gets the balance and duty of care right – and in some areas of our society there has to be an authoritative balance some times.
I want to be empowered to have a say in the health system but I also want to acknowledge the expertise of the people looking after me and that their advice is coming from a place of knowledge and wanting to heal me and I am happy to accept they know more than me but I hope they are also prepared to listen and set aside some of their assumptions.
Good luck with all your other planning and remember to take some time out for relaxation and fun – you deserve it:)
All the best
We have a good health system in Victoria and there are people working all the time to make it better.
The health system had to take stock and organise to cope with the pandemic and remain functioning. It could have so easily become overwhelmed like other countries – especially Italy, Brazil and the USA.
In Victoria, the effort to keep everyone informed and to meet everyone’s expectations has been excellent.
The initial postponement of elective surgeries to ensure there were enough hospital beds and equipment if needed has been lifted, but if people don’t heed the warnings who knows what strain will be put on available resources?
The message I received and took on board is ‘don’t forget your health check-ups’ . An important message to act on.
I went for my regular skin cancer check and they discovered an invasive melanoma. Despite increased testing for COVID-19 the results of the biopsies came back quickly and an operation including skin graft is scheduled for next week.
But if the system becomes overwhelmed, others in the future may not be so lucky. We must stop the COVID-19 infection rate increasing!
I started off the post with a leaflet explaining the logic and simple steps to avoid spreading viral infections. These work for flu as well, and one welcome side effect of the isolation rules is that fewer people are contracting flu this season!
Here are just a few of the public notices around Mordialloc I see every day advising people about COVID-19:
I’m sure these informative signs are replicated in every suburb – authorities can only do so much – members of the public must cooperate.
Being in the high risk age group with underlying health issues, I sincerely hope people will make the effort to be informed and obey the rules so we can suppress the rapid spread of this coronavirus.
Support all those frontline health workers, plus the workers in other occupations who have remained or returned to work and must cope with new rules and the compliance necessary to combat COVID-19.
There has been a host of issues covered by a variety of media in the last week, as the important Black Lives Matter Movement continues to dominate headlines around the world and it is also Pride Month in the USA.
Australia was party to this Convention as David Marr explains in an interview recorded on the 2016 documentary Chasing Asylum.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights and Refugee Convention was a humane understanding, according to David and ‘the world’s apology to what was done to the Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust.’
When the doors are closed, people need protection and have a right to seek it! Australia signed up to this Convention and to letting refugees come in – and they come by the sea when other channels are closed!
When I revisited this documentary, I wept.
Even with COVID-19, when we are all encouraged to care for each other, we are detaining and treating asylum seekers as if they are criminals and of lesser value than ourselves. Fortunately, there are courageous advocates still speaking up and trying to get the Australian Government to honour the Conventions they signed.
I agree with David Marr, who ”defies anyone not to be moved and not feel ashamed.’
The film shows horrific footage (taken without the knowledge of those in authority) of inside the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands that Australian taxpayers fund and set up by the Federal Government. Repeated parliaments headed by BOTH main political parties have made excuses to maintain these offshore camps.
The cost of torturing innocent people who had a RIGHT to seek asylum – $500,000 per asylum seeker per year – that is $1.2 billion to maintain Nauru and Manus Islands.
A lot of money to torture people because mandatory and indefinite detention is definitely torturing!
There is testimony from employees with firsthand experience who observed the inhumanity and horrific conditions in the detention camps. No amount of posturing and excuses will hide the fact the premise of Australia’s policy is we have a right to put refugees through hell because they came by sea and others might die at sea following their example.
It is profoundly hypocritical to claim ‘stop the boats and turn back the boats’ policies are humanitarian because they stop deaths at sea – especially when we continually engage in wars and other practices creating refugees!
The most recent mass migration of people fleeing their Syrian homeland a case in point. Australian planes bombed Syria. Many of the refugees in this documentary are Iranian, Afghani and Iraqi – Australia was part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ who bombed these countries!
There are reasons for refugees fleeing their homeland – foremost is war – most people would prefer to stay in their own country. If more effort made to prevent the reasons, people put themselves at risk, we would not be facing a worldwide crisis of 60 million refugees.
The countries sheltering half a million to over a million refugees are:
Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.
Germany accepted one million Syrian refugees in 2016.
Meanwhile, in Australia, we’ve demonised refugees since 2001 and used them as a political football.
In 2016, Chasing Asylum challenged us as a nation to confront the flagrant abuse of human rights perpetrated in our name and as a nation we responded by repeatedly electing governments to continue this inhumanity.
Reduced to its basest element, Australian government policy is to begrudgingly treat those who legally sought its asylum – by one mode of transport, by boat – with axiomatic cruelty, in order to discourage others from paying people smugglers and hopping into leaky boats across south-east Asia. This policy saves lives, they say, because it deters others.
But it’s not this policy that’s stopping the boats from reaching Australian shores. Australia has spent billions of dollars putting an armada to sea in the waters to the country’s north and west.
Asylum boats continue to ply the waters of the region and attempt to reach Australia. They do so in much smaller numbers now because they are intercepted, boarded and their passengers and crew forcibly turned around. Protection assessments are conducted at sea – a policy considered illegal under international law by almost every expert opinion, including that of the United Nations.
The support workers, volunteers, social workers, doctors and security personnel who speak on camera in Chasing Asylum also demonised. Classed as malcontents and whistleblowers, there have been many attempts to discredit them by sections of the government and media.
Their evidence may be unpalatable but cannot be ignored.
Because of their courage, protests from many community groups, and the persistence from MPs with a conscience like Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the voiceless may have been ‘out of sight’ but were not ‘out of mind’!
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2006:
No one knows how many boat people have died, but thousands have been rescued at sea. In the reality of dangerous journeys undertaken to gain access to reluctant coastal states, the time-honoured maritime traditions of rescue at sea collide with the growing determination of states to prevent illegal entry to their territory.
However, to seek asylum as a refugee is not illegal!
We must face the reality of the deceit of the cruel and barbaric ‘stop the boats’ mantra and there is no time like the present!
The pair still peddle the myth that our refugee policy of mandatory offshore detention is humane!
Like many of the horrific scenes circulating on social media at the moment, this history of our offshore detention policy makes uncomfortable viewing!
By choosing to describe asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, economic migrants, or boat people, and classifying them as less deserving of help, it is easy for politicians to justify denying them basic human rights.
I’m glad that there are still activists protesting on behalf of asylum seekers. I will continue to donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, write letters and sign petitions – trying to keep the issue alive via conversations and the written word.
Refugees and asylum seekers
young and old
a new life…
They cross stormy waters
and a welcome
from Australian society
Amazing personal stories
Prisoners of conscience
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom ––
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
We sit in the cafe
indulging a desire
for coffee and cake
and a need
for each other…
we struggle to accept
that sitting, sipping coffee:
skinny latte, cappuccino, mochaccino
long or short black
and devouring slices
of gluten-free, fructose-free, fat-free,
carrot cake and a chocolate muffin –
is not conscience free…
Modern media mobility
screams of drought, bushfires
floods at home and
war, random shootings,
terrorist attacks, refugee crises…
Manus Island and Nauru…
We skip the sugar and cream
search mobile screen for a funny meme.
The opening scene of a crowded boat navigating a choppy sea has a male voice over explaining ‘I head for Australia because it is a safe, humane country… respects people… no war, calm, everything good…’
And then there is the reality as shaky footage from a concealed mobile phone camera reveals Australia has some of the harshest refugee and asylum seeker policies in the world.
We see conditions in Nauru Detention Centre – the footage filmed in secret because no journalists, filmmakers or camera crew allowed inside the Nauru camp.
Nauru a remote island, population 10,000, isolated and extremely hot, you can drive around it in 20 minutes. It is a ‘poor’ country with a failing economy.
Easy pickings for Australia to sweep responsibility to somewhere else and pass on our problem. And it is understandable why the Nauruan government accepted Australia’s offer of a cash splash and allowed a detention centre.
At the time the documentary was made there were 2,175 asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Manus Islands, including children.
A social worker speaks about the shock of arriving to work at the camp – meeting people already detained 400-500 days and so many security personnel giving the camp a militarised feel.
We hear faceless conversations. The views of camp, fences, tents and people from imperfect angles, but there is sufficient footage to capture the bleakness, sparse colourless surroundings, makeshift and temporary set-up. Cyclone fencing reminiscent of building sites.
Painted on the side of a tent in Nauru – Welcome To Coffin…
Sad drawings and paintings by children decorate walls, featuring tear-stained faces surrounded by flames, barbed wire and guns.
The camps really set up to make the refugees feel unwelcome and to send them home or hope they’d opt to return.
The social worker said in 6 weeks the detainees degrade mentally.
We hear a man say, ‘I am 28 years old – wasting my youth here… I lost dreams.’
A shocking concept, no program, no future. Criminals in a prison can count the days until the end of their sentence, but that can’t happen in a refugee camp.
No crime committed, the UN Convention ignored, people left to rot.
A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country… ”
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Tortured at home
Tortured in the detention camps
Separated from their families with no prospect of being reunited.
No hope for the future.
A protest organised by the incarcerated men and WE WANT JUSTICE written on t-shirts.
We see men with lips sewed together, a lot of self-harm. The nurse saw a man who cut his stomach open with glass, men with stitched lips and eyelids, another beat and stabbed himself with a fluorescent light tube. A lot of cutting. And swallowing of razor blades, washing powder, bleach.
People hang themselves.
Support workers describe how they answered an advert of Facebook from the Salvation Army. When they enquired what the job entailed, the interviewer ‘made it sound like a nice place, enjoy a two-week holiday, invite your friends to apply…’
Arriving on Nauru, the fresh recruits discover an eclectic group of fellow workers: a manager of a MacDonald’s, retirees, factory workers and university students.
The only thing they had in common was no one had experience working with asylum seekers or refugees!
The briefing they got on arrival was indeed brief!
A woman said, ‘Go and help the men, befriend them. Go in pairs, mingle, I’ll be back in two hours.’
They found dispirited refugees, lying listlessly on the bed and lethargic asking, ‘Why are you here? Why are we here? How long will we be here?’
Many couldn’t sleep, were on medication because of the rapid deterioration of their mental health, which usually started after 6 weeks.
The support workers realised intakes were confused, some didn’t know they were not in Australia, others couldn’t understand why they were treated like criminals.
A support worker questioned what she was doing there and regretted signing up, especially when she read a sign that said, ‘Make sure staff are trained to use a Hoffman’s Knife.’
She discovered a Hoffman’s Knife is used to cut people down when they hang themselves! She was in a place she’d never choose to visit and she shouldn’t have taken the job.
A social worker recalled a Tamil from Sri Lanka’s story. He was the same age as herself 24/25. He was living in an area controlled by Tamil Tigers. His father shot in front of him. He and his brother left for Colombo and arrested by authorities, imprisoned and tortured for a year. He had cigarette burns on his back and genitals. Highly distressed on Nauru, he displayed symptoms of severe trauma.
He wanted to die and kept repeating ‘My life, where is my life?’
The social worker broke down, ‘I can’t help them, I have nothing of comfort to say.’
People talk to themselves. Have psychotic episodes, walk around like zombies, most are medicated. Every day they have thoughts of suicide and self-harm. She can only tell them things will get better, but they know, and so does she, that it is a lie.
A support worker saw a severe beating of a refugee by two guards – a New Zealander and an Australian – but after pressure, she changed her statement. On reflection, she is ashamed but did so because she was scared. She was the only one prepared to be honest.
The guards are ex ADF, bouncers and prison officers and are always on edge. Hyper-vigilant, many are racists. Their aggressive attitude shows no empathy for asylum seekers.
Official Refugee Policy?
Although no politician offered an interview for the documentary there is enough recorded interviews and broadcasted soundbites included:
Prime Minister John Howard in 2001 – the Tampa Election – ‘we will decide who comes into this country and how…’
2009 Kevin Rudd – those coming by boat will be detained offshore
2012 Julia Gillard – ‘don’t risk a voyage at sea… don’t give money to people smugglers… you will be detained offshore’
2013 Tony Abbott– won the election with the promise to ‘stop the boats’
2013 – Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister – it is a national emergency and border security operation – ‘the boats must be stopped.’
July 19, 2013 – Australia’s policy: any asylum seeker arriving by boat will not be settled in Australia– mandatory offshore detention.
2015 – Turnbull – ‘only way to stop deaths at sea.’
In the documentary, Greg Lake, the public servant who ran the Detention Centre admits that he took on the job with a background of ‘upper-middle-class white guy from NSW, growing up in a place with few migrants and never meeting a refugee or asylum seeker.’
He saw the job as implementing government policy, but the policy issue changed from looking after people seeking asylum to, we will make your life worse than what you fled if you choose to stay here.
We don’t want you coming by boat and will make your life horrible so the message will get out and no one else gets on a boat. Greg Lake realised it was a deterrent strategy and people will be permanently damaged so he left – it was too hard a portfolio.
Go Back to Where You Came From Is Not An Option!
In 2011, SBS produced a reality show to tackle Australia’s refugee policy and reveal the human face behind the statistics by exposing six Australians with strong opinions about immigration to the journeys of some refugees.
Hopefully, it helped some members of the public to think more deeply and beyond three word slogans.
Ironically, one of every two Australians is an immigrant or the child of one. (I came to Australia as a child in 1962 with my parents and 5 siblings.)
Yet, despite our diverse population and culture, immigration continues to be a central political issue. Often the people who are the most vociferous and ill-informed are migrants or children of refugees who came here after WW2.
Sadly, social media has amplified bigotry and racism and spread misinformation like wildfire. Many in Australia applaud President Trump’s recent playbook by telling those in the public eye who are critical, especially women of colour like Greens MP, Mehreen Faruqi and Labor’s Anne Aly, to ‘go back where they came from’.
The “go back” insult is offensive because it is not about citizenship, said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s about your skin colour,” she said. “You are seen to be more loyal or disloyal depending on whether you look like the norm.”
quoted in New York Times, Letter to Australia
Does the Australian public realise the price paid to stop the boats and who pays??
Dr Peter Young reported measurable disorders observed in children.
Children watching parents getting sicker, young babies not feeding properly or gaining weight.
Children’s drawings reflect how disturbed they are watching self-harm and also many had been sexualised or seen things they shouldn’t have seen.
Mouldy damp tents with no privacy or space, erected upon white phosphate rock. Behavioural issues because there were no age-appropriate activities.
Children referred to each other with boat IDs instead of names. The practice rampant – they had forgotten their names and who they were.
The Forgotten Children – the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young collected toys and when they arrived the kids didn’t know what to do with them.
Heartbreaking for the support workers to witness!
A social worker will never forget a child’s reaction to receiving a soft toy after a year in the camp with no play activities.
David Marr talked about the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of women and children which resulted in The Moss Review in 2015
There were details of sexualised behaviour amongst children, cigarettes traded for sex, children under 5 exposed to sexual behaviour and other activities at an inappropriate age….
It took the Australian Government 17 months to investigate reports.
No results and no repercussions instead the government legislated on July 1, 2015, that whistleblowers will face prison!!
Michael Bachelard, an Australian journalist living in Indonesia believes the threat of asylum seekers blown out of proportion and hardline policies of successive governments may have stopped the boats by successfully attacking the people smugglers’ business model, but the human cost appalling when you see the lives of the 10,000 stranded in Indonesia and those detained on Nauru and Manus.
The refugees in Indonesia can’t work, children can’t go to school, everything costs money and they can’t earn any.(see my Staging Post Review)
Hazara refugees from Afghanistan share their stories – husbands, fathers, sons, mothers, widows… all fleeing persecution by the Taliban and seeking a better peaceful life.
Asylum seekers are now told there is no way you will make Australia home…
In 2013, Rudd declared a resettlement agreement with Papua New Guinea would stop the scourge of people smuggling. Some refugees who arrived on Christmas Island flown straight away to Manus Island. They were terrified, believing New Guinea still practised cannibalism. Escorted on the plane by two security guards holding their arms they were heavily guarded on the flight.
Arriving in Manus they noticed there were trees but few houses. They saw a fruit turned teeth red, and despite assurances feared the cannibalism they’d read about in books that happened 50 years ago still occurred.
A security guard turned whistleblower, explained it was a camp for single men. He had been a prison officer for 9 years with Victorian Corrections Service, but like others employed on Manus, had only experience dealing with those from the criminal world. The camp was not what he thought a detention camp would be. He assumed they would train expert staff.
A WW2 Nissan hut one of the buildings with a concrete floor housing 122 double bunks. In the tropical weather, the shed was stifling – odour disgusting as was the surrounds, an overcrowded gaol behind padlocked gates.
There were not enough clothes, shoes, toilets or drinking water. Faeces littered the ground. There were cases of malaria and other sicknesses. The men resembled broken men without a future, slouched shoulders and despair on their faces.
The contrast with staff quarters, stark – carpeted floor, air conditioning, matching sheets…
The Prison Officer, a whistleblower, he voiced his concerns and was threatened by a note left on his bed, then another verbal threat.
He stopped complaining and left. ‘I had principles, we need to talk and face the reality of what is happening about refugee policy.’
There is film of a demonstration by the detainees that became violent. 100 were arrested but no criminal convictions. Apparently, the bill was $60 million damage. (I’d question the figure because the facilities on Manus and Nauru are appalling and that was the reason for the protest!)
There is a lot of resentment from locals on Manus and Nauru who are not happy with the deal their governments have made with Australia.
Seven months after one protest, asylum seekers attacked by PNG police and locals – a riot ensues. Evidence shown of the fence pushed in by locals and shots fired into the camp.
Sixty refugees are injured, one throat slit, one lost an eye, one man killed.
Reza Berate, an Iranian, beaten and not helped when dying. We see the grief of his family in Iran and their bewilderment as to how it could have happened.
2015 – Condemnation from the UN
The UN investigates and confirms Australia breeched conventions and accuses those in the detention centres of torture.
Tony Abbott’s response – “We won’t be lectured to by the UN.“
We are 67th in the world for refugee intake. Abbott and Morrison cut our annual intake from 20,000 to 13,000 +
Minister Peter Dutton negotiated the Cambodian Settlement claiming that country free from persecution and a safe option. Australia made a $40 million down payment declaring refugees would be voluntarily sent there. Another $15 million was paid, but only 5 refugees went there. The average wage $100 a month.
We don’t want the offshore refugees here and so we will let the government spend as much money as they want to treat them any way they like.
The options – go to Cambodia or live in the community in Nauru where there are no jobs, low pay, and the cost of living outrageously high.$20 for 2 litre carton of milk.
The refugees have:
No travel documents
No hope of reunification with family
Live in demountable blocks and share rooms
Live behind high fences in a soulless compound
their accommodation will always need security because some locals threatened them
No guarantee of safety.
Refugee women have claimed 20 cases of rape and sexual assault, but no one charged!
Flashback to 1970s
70,000 Vietnamese came to Australia under Malcolm Fraser’s LNP Government.
On the documentary, Fraser states, ‘I believed we had an obligation because of our part in the Vietnam war… most of the refugees had been through processing in Malaysia and Australia co-operated – these refugees beneficial. Refugees add to our culture, our wealth, our diversity.’
A sign at his funeral attended by many Vietnamese – Farewell to our champion of humanity. You are forever in our hearts…
Chasing Asylumis in memory of Malcolm Fraser – 1930 – 2015
To those who fear the Other Look not only with your 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 Earth’s children all ache, bleed, cry, – desire belonging and love.
This year’s World Environment theme is time for nature:
The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature. It’s time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.
COVID-19 lockdowns restrict movement in neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countryside in countries throughout the world and have done so for several months, and most people now realise how important it is to breathe fresh air and to enjoy outside activities.
The easing of some restrictions in Victoria saw hundreds flock to national parks. Many places were overwhelmed and had to be closed because the recommended 1.5 metres of social-distancing couldn’t be enforced.
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has forced governments to act for the greater good of the public health, even closing international borders despite severe economic consequences.
Ironically, because of less air travel and movement of people, plus reductions in road traffic and industrial pollution, there has been an improvement in some natural areas such as cleaner waterways and a resurgence of wildlife.
However, the consequences of climate change are still severe and deadly and as many people have pointed out – if you believe and obey the science regarding the COVID-19 pandemic why are we not believing and acting urgently on the science about climate change!
As this picture doing the rounds of Facebook shows, the damage fossil fuels cause is not a new discovery – this newspaper date is 1912!
The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day. The scent of eucalyptus and pine compete with salty air and whiffs of abandoned seaweed.
The cyan sea a mirror for whipped cream clouds. Dainty dollops on a baby blue plate. Gulls sit or glide atop the glassy surface. Bathed in brilliant white sunlight, I imagine I too float and dream.
But in the distance, palm tree fronds tremble, casting lacy shadows on the warm sand. The clink of moorings and creak of masts drifts from the creek and a sudden gust of wind whips sand to sting legs and face. Airborne seagulls now screeching origami kites.
A dark veil unfurls from the horizon shattering the steel blue mirror swallowing the fluffy clouds.
Peaceful contemplation disappears, waves soap around my feet, slap at ankles, sunlight fades. I retreat to the shelter of groaning eucalypts and pine, the taste of salt bittersweet.
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
and put smiles upon our faces
In childhood, egg and spoon races
kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
celebrated parks and open spaces
Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
whether skies are blue or grey
let’s put smiles upon our faces
Find joy in parks and open spaces
because they let us breathe and play
and they put smiles upon our faces
In the future, they’ll discover traces
of how we spent our lives each day
they’ll dig up parks and other spaces
and put names to forgotten faces.
The importance of trees to our wellbeing and the earth’s health is, at last, being recognised by local councils (including Kingston) and I hope many more will become dendrophiles.
We Have An Extinction Crisis In Australia
Today, I received an email from birdlife.org.au
This year hasn’t been what any of us expected.
Australia was already in the grip of the extinction crisis, which meant our birds were facing unprecedented threats… and then the devastating bushfires struck. Fighting the extinction crisis became even more urgent.
He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…
She swigs kombucha
for inner health
ignoring Mother Earth’s digestive tract
blocked by the plastic bottle and cap.
Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes.
Junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…
Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes
and even those who profess to care sucked in
and swallowed by consumerism
Landfill dumps grow garbage
litter refuse muck
There is no ‘away’ in throw!
Parks and Places to Play Important For Childhood Memories
Write about the wild or natural places you remember playing in as a child.
Where do you go today to breathe in and experience the natural world?
How important is your garden, and what pleasure does it give?
Describe your favourite walk?
What bird, tree, flower do you see from your window/s?
I spent my first nine years in Greenock, Scotland, an industrial town on the River Clyde that used to be famous for shipbuilding – the yards built the Queen Elizabeth and first Queen Mary, plus submarines for Australia.
I can’t remember much of the first three years living in a tenement in George Square, the centre of the town, but when we moved to Braeside where I started school, there is plenty of material for trips down memory lane.
Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no built parks for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with my dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van.
Cars rarely disturbed our play which included hopscotch chalked on pavements (we called it ‘beds’), skipping (often with rope leftover from the clothesline), football, rounders, and British Bulldog and similar games involving lots of chasing, hiding and rough and tumble.
However, we also roamed the hill towering over the houses opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of our road and a swathe of land separating upper and lower streets. The housing scheme stretched up a steep hill, Davaar Road being the topmost street and in the middle of that street, our house was number 35.
Across the road, behind a row of houses, there was a path we could climb to the top of the hill and see Gourock and the River Clyde. There were no tall trees but plenty of scrub, granite boulders and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgeling television industry: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco kid, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, and whatever adventure story Walt Disney promoted when he invited us to ‘wish upon a star’ on Sunday evenings.
Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under the chin. A memorable part of the long summer holidays was collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn to prepare for bonfire night in November.
We never forgot Guy Fawkes and to “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot!”
The hill also welcomed children roaming in hordes carrying buckets and jam jars to seek blackberries when in season. The incentive of Mum’s delicious bramble jam spurned us on. We even spread our hunt into the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the street where we weren’t supposed to go. We knew the resident bull to be a danger to life and limb – plus when the Tinkers (Gypsies/Travellers) came they camped in the fields and we were warned to respect their privacy.
Mum and Dad didn’t practice overt bigotry against Travellers like some people. Mum helped them whenever she could by paying them to do odd jobs and buying some goods they hawked, such as wooden ‘dolly’ clothes-pegs.
However, any place forbidden meant we incorporated them as a deliberate dare in games. There must be a guardian angel for stupid children!
Stranger danger not indoctrinated, and we were never overly fearful, although warned to be careful, not ‘ask for trouble’ and to obey the limitations placed on us. But I remember roaming even further afield and going to what we called ‘the secret lake’ along the Aileymill Road. This pleasant track linked the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny towns further down the coastline.
If she knew, Mum would never have sanctioned that sojourn, but we fished for tadpoles and hunted frogs and let loose our imagination and energy.
I revisited the secret lake in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes; the lake had shrunk to a large puddle rather than a lake. The farmer’s fields smaller too, and the bull nowhere in sight!
I checked out my old house in the 70s and again in 2017 – Davaar Road has not changed much although the houses modernised inside; sadly Aileymill is no longer bush to roam but another housing estate.
Walk the Neighbourhood Absorb the Beauty of Your Place
I acknowledge the Boon Wurrung as the traditional owners of Mordialloc and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Yesterday was Mabo Day, a significant day for First Nation Peoples, a day to honour the vision, commitment and legacy of Eddie Mabo, who paved the way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights and Native Title in Australia.
It is also the end of Reconciliation Week, which occurs from 27 May – 3 June every year.
The dates mark the May 27,1967 Referendum that amended the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census and ends with June 3 when in 1992, the historic Mabo judgement by the High Court of Australia recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land.
The Mabo decision acknowledged the First Nations longstanding and unique connection to the land for the last 65,000 to 80,000 years and declared Australia was not terra nullius – a claim used to justify the colonial invasion and acquisition of the land by Britain. In 1993, the Native Title Act passed in Federal Parliament and this has returned some sovereignty in some areas to First Nation peoples.
I wrote several posts in the last few days on other subjects, but each time stopped before posting because creative writing hints or other topics paled into insignificance with what is happening in the USA and other parts of the world after the recent murder of George Floyd.
Coupled with news of COVID-19, we have a perfect storm of misery.
George Floyd’s tragic murder captured on mobile video and replayed millions of times throughout the world has led to scenes reminiscent of the 1960s.
Scenes of civil unrest in the USA I remember watching as a teenager as they played nightly on the television news.
Sadly, many of the issues around systemic racism have still not been resolved and most politically aware people know this because what happened to George Floyd has happened to other African Americans, year in, year out!
Why do we remain silent? Why in Australia have we mostly ignored the 2015 death of David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who also struggled and said I Can’t Breathewhen pinned to a bed by several prison officers in Long Bay Gaol? (The video of that incident also circulating on social media and just as distressing as George Floyd’s murder.)
Social media has fuelled the current protests, but my newsfeed often filled with videos of appalling racist incidents, particularly since the election of Donald Trump.
I only hope the rage is maintained and results in a definite change.
Too many people are still reluctant to acknowledge systemic and institutionalized racism and white privilege exists or that people of colour are targeted by the police here in Australia and the USA.
Australia had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991) but there has been a lack of action on the recommendations and avoidable deaths are still occurring.
English has a list of words describing you
I checked the dictionary and thesaurus too
but really words will fail to record
your harmful legacy of bitter discord
How sad the office of American President
is sullied by you, the 45th resident
a narcissistic, dastardly, vainglorious fool
boastful, vacuous as you let ego rule
Pusillanimous, brutish, pompous, offensive
spouting ignorance when on the defensive
craven, fatuous, corrupt, and oafish
your addled tweets so often malicious.
A destructive numbskull you need to resign
the current civil unrest another warning sign
just go to Florida and there please stay
allow decent adult voices to have their say
Your election a nasty global surprise
a long three years have exposed your lies
let’s hope the tide will really turn blue
and in November we’ll be rid of you!
Civil Rights An Ongoing Struggle
I recall vividly hearing the news of JFK’s assassination in November 1963, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968, and of Bobbie Kennedy in June 1968. I’m sure many people my age remember where they were exactly when they heard the news of the killings.
When I went to university in Canberra in 1970 and took part in the protests supporting the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and Land Rights, I learnt firsthand the depth of Australia’s institutionalised racism and started on a journey to educate myself and to seek ways of being part of the answer and not part of the problem.
It is important not to remain silent – words in the form of poems, essays and stories are my way of working through the pain, anger and powerlessness I often feel when events like the murder of George Floyd or Aboriginal deaths in custody occur.
I also write letters to politicians and write blog posts and have conversations with people – encouraging others to be more aware and accept systemic racism exists.
When I look at the poems, I wrote in the 90s and in 2000; it seems there has been little progress, but I’ll keep writing because words are all I have and effective cultural change takes a lifetime.
When Mordialloc Writers Group hosted regular monthly Readings by The Bay, the poems and stories shared often sparked important conversations about racism. That forum no longer exists, but every community group can start conversations!
We watched with horror
as they beat you to the ground…
on the ground
into the ground
The gang of four wielding batons
grasped tightly to
beat your head
beat your body
beat your legs…
Pounding, pounding, pounding, pound.
A steady funeral dirge
burying the myth
of racial equality –
of equal rights
Middle-class liberals gasped
horrified at the naked truth
victims sighed with relief
the truth at last revealed
those with power to change
shrugged – what’s the fuss about?
Rodney King – who gave you that name?
A king in black skin – a hint of irony
– or is it okay if a surname?
Your destiny now entwined
with that other dreamer…
A picture is worth a thousand words
a video worth a thousand affidavits
television news worth a thousand protests
political decisions worth a thousand votes…
Time dimmed the anger and horror
even brutes are innocent until proven guilty
at the scheduled trial
will Nuremberg be revisited?
We waited for the sentence
believing we knew the judgement
but a jury without black faces
proves society controlled by red necks
and white lies let injustice triumph…
Los Angeles burns along with our shame
those with power remain unchanged
cosmetics mask the ugly face
waspish capitalists sting… again and again.
Australians are shocked. Horrified!
Yet reality reveals our guilt.
Our smugness shattered
when black deaths in custody
inspire jokes among police
our custodians of law
don’t need lessons in brutality
We watch L.A aflame
but closed minds switch off
like television sets.
Will Australia suffer the same fate?
I can only imagine the despair of many people of colour in the USA and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here but I stand in solidarity with their struggle for justice and will continue to promote events, books and articles to help others to stand in solidarity too.
It’s 20 years this week since theReconciliation Walkacross Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, a defining moment in the tortured history of Indigenous affairs in Australia.
We are hungry for our land!
The catch cry of the seventies
as angry black activists
reclaimed a slice of land…
They protested by establishing
an Aboriginal Tent Embassy
opposite Parliament House, Canberra
When the Embassy brutally dismantled
thousands of people
black and white together
linked arms to prevent
dispossession, yet again.
We celebrate Corroboree 2000
hundreds of thousands of people
black and white together
march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
but how far have we come when
Treaty is still a dream
Mandatory sentencing a reality
Black deaths in custody a shame
Government statistics used to deny
the devastating generational horror
of the Stolen Children!
Despite historical misinformation
and the cultural exclusiveness
of our education system
we cannot say we did not know!
We must be honest and admit
we didn’t care enough to seek the truth
confront the injustice
move out of our comfort zone…
It is a new century
we have a second chance
to right past wrongs
resolve to move forward
all contributions important – so
write a letter of protest
challenge a racist remark
invite Aboriginal speakers
to address schools and clubs
one nation honouring
the First People of this land
This our land.
It has been two weeks since my last post, but considering the hive of activity online with free courses, art-related and celebrity freebies, newspapers and journals unlocking paywalls, plus the constant news updates about the coronavirus, I doubt anyone has missed my jottings!
We also had Mother’s Day last weekend, which I enjoyed even if the movie and treats shared via ZOOM on the day because stage three lockdown still operated and Anne couldn’t visit.
The girls and I fangirls of the Victorian Premier who has shown impressive leadership through the COVID-19 crisis.
I have a feeling this will be a favourite number played in every pub/club in Melbourne when Victorians can truly ‘get on the beers‘ and socialise guilt-free!
(My preferred tipple is cider and here I am enjoying one after a day gardening…)
I know I’m not alone in receiving more parcel deliveries during the pandemic than in recent years. The service convenient, especially online grocery shopping, which I’ve found excellent.
If you can’t go out shopping safely, how wonderful to receive deliveries. I’ve loved receiving real mail in the mailbox other than bills, real estate ads and donation-seeking charity blurbs.
Good Things Come In Small & Big Packages
Students from past classes have posted lovely cards and letters asking after my welfare, and my incredible friend, Lisa, sent me a gorgeous box of super healthy fruit!
My sister knitted a Rabbie Burns doll (oh, if I could write like him!) and I’m enjoying the beautiful indoor plant and excellent read (a biography of NZ PM) from the girls and looking forward to next weekend when Anne visits and we’ll play a new board game.
Another dear friend, Lesley dropped off flowers to plant after her husband, Ian did some culling.
A day in the garden aroused Josie’s interest and jealousy. She spent the next three days digging up the cuttings one by one!
Lesley assures me there are more cuttings on the way…
I take every opportunity to laugh these days because, despite the worst-case scenarios not eventuating in Victoria and being a glass-half-full person, there have been days when anxiety about the present and the future has been almost overwhelming.
We will not forget the year 2020
Coronavirus stories will see to that
pandemic panic and widespread crying
no country free from the sick and dying
people forced to isolate and quarantine
practise social distancing
whether pauper or queen…
Wildlife too, adjusted behaviour
we will not forget the year 2020
many relationships shape-shifted
the Earth a pandemic was gifted…
Wildlife’s observations during isolation
would make any book they published
a headline grabber and selling sensation!
Life as I knew it will return in some form but until then…
A chat with Mary Jane, or a phone call or FaceTime with Anne or a friend always helps calm anxiety, but the best antidote is a lengthy daily walk with Josie, a companion like no other – her unconditional love brightens the day.
When the time suits, I’ll be out walking Josie without creating a schedule.
Whether the weather is the cliched ‘rain, hail or shine’, dressed appropriately I walk the dog – or rather Josie walks me!
Josie loves Mordialloc too, and when we are heading to friend Jillian’s house she breaks into a trot.
Walking and inhaling the beauty of our surrounds – neighbourhood gardens, Mordi streets, the parks, the Creek, the foreshore area… restores soul and energy – and we both know it.
The sea breeze rustles trees, birds sing from branches, insects hum and water ripples – nature’s beautiful chimes announce all is right with the world.
Walking is calming and observing details to write about helps me focus on anything but the troubles the world faces.
If confined to stay at home with no outside stimulation, I would retreat more often to the computer not doing anything productive. Crosswords and games online or scouring Internet articles interesting but not riveting or remotely relevant to current creative projects.
I’ve discovered I can spend the day doing absolutely nothing but going around in circles – literally hearing mum’s voice when she lamented, “I can’t get out of my own road.”
I often think of Mum’s little sayings and they make perfect sense!
I know other friends have shared this experience – truly a sign of these times we are living through. Crises take effort to adjust despite the many ads about the pandemic proclaiming; we are all in this together – it is a shared global experience.
Hopefully, witnessing the effect on other countries, everyone will be more aware of how precious and fragile life on Earth is and the urgent need to address the effects of climate change and inequity – pressing issues BEFORE the pandemic.
The latest news from the USA is not surprising, showing it is the poor who suffer the most in a pandemic. The article refers to New York, but it is a similar story throughout the world – we may all be going through the same storm but are definitely not in the same boat!
I hope when the worst of the pandemic is over there is more effort to ensure sustainability and a healthy world for all living creatures wherever their home may be.
‘How has your day been?‘
This is a daily question from Anne as she checks in on me.
If it wasn’t for the reflections and little ‘happenings’ from walking, I’m not sure our conversation would last long.
I don’t practice formal mindfulness, but when I walk with Josie, I find this is a time of peace and meditation. A time to focus on anything other than problems or worries.
Most days it is answering emails, sorting through old papers or photographs, cooking the dinner, trying out a cake or biscuit recipe, editing a short story or poem, weeding the garden, washing clothes… jumping from one task to another, no rhyme or reason…
Did I achieve or finish anything?
Does it matter?
There is pleasure in the hours of walking, observing, and greeting (from a distance) other dog walkers, friendly strangers, friends, and acquaintances not seen for a while!
People working from home or at home because they have lost their job walk for exercise and are more visible than when in their cars.
(A definite bonus of isolation is meeting people from the past. People I met when involved with Mordialloc Primary School, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and who attended writing workshops I’ve held.)
Like many people, during the first few weeks of COVID-19 crisis, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with the news – not only of how the pandemic was playing out in Australia but each gruesome detail of disastrous death tolls and the lockdowns in Asia, Europe, UK and USA.
I soon discovered the day much better if I limited the news source to one or two outlets, only once a day or even news-free days.
My daughters agree:
‘Think of your blood pressure Mum’
‘You’re dealing with cancer – one crisis at a time’
‘Let us worry about that – we’ll do the shopping’
… and true to their word, I don’t have to go anywhere except for medical visits and exercise – the latter entails gardening and walking the dog.
Safe and contactless living!
Friends and family I haven’t been able to connect with face to face have stayed connected over the Internet and by phone. The severe social consequences some have suffered because of isolation hasn’t happened to me.
The change in circumstances has made me think more deeply from the perspective of those with disabilities or illness who always have a limited connection with the outside world and must rely entirely on carers.
Let’s hope some creative ways ZOOM and similar programs have been used to provide services will remain and give access to a richer day to those permanently socially distanced!
My walks alternate between Mordialloc Creek and McDonald Street football oval and surrounds plus wandering around the suburban streets.
Joyful as this is, I know Josie will be beside herself when we return to the off-leash dog park and she catches up with other dogs en masse. Dogs are pack animals and not overly enamoured with social distancing.
Josie loves to chase and fetch. When off-leash, she’ll be able to exercise her full potential running after balls thrown from the special holder we have to turn the ball into a long-distance missile.
Seasons Don’t Recognise Pandemics
The change from summer to autumn in the gardens has been delightful to watch. Gardens seem to have been a riot of colour this year and people have worked hard transforming their gardens or homes with imagination.
A house where a couple created a beautiful Japanese-type garden is now up for lease – maybe it is their retirement income. Kudos to them both for putting so much effort into a garden for others to enjoy. Josie and I enjoyed our daily chats and seeing the shrubs, pavers and water feature being installed.
I’ve watched a house around the corner being built and Josie has loved the attention from the tradies.
It has been pleasant to have so few cars parked in the street because of fewer commuters and no U3A classes in the Allan McLean Hall at the end of the street.
Lockdown rules changed after Mother’s Day, allowing small gatherings, businesses and workplaces to open if they can manage the social distancing guidelines. People are visiting friends and family and larger groups play or exercise in the parks or practise sport.
People are resilient, small businesses often adapt – I spotted this van in Albert Street.
But people are hurting and the local Presbyterian church recognises this and has set up a community pantry.
However, not a lot has changed in my little bubble but then apart from the dramatic decrease in traffic and more people walking and chalked pavements from kids being schooled at home, not much seemed to change in Mordialloc at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.
We are a coastal suburb with plenty of open space and I have been steering clear of busy shopping centres since Christmas because of poor health. Other suburbs will have their unique experiences.
Now to writing:
Where do you go for serenity?
This is something to reflect on and write about – it might be helpful to first record where you goor what you usually do to ease anxiety.
If yoga class is something you do, or dancing or working out at the gym many of these now have classes online you may have joined.
You may favour a room, a church, a friend’s house, or a special tree in your garden.
Or perhaps you indulge in an activity like writing or walking… maybe sewing or cooking…
Your serenity place or activity may be difficult to substitute during the lockdown, or you might have found it easy to adapt.
Do you have a special place you visit only once or twice a year? A place that may hold a strong emotional attachment or memory? Writing about it may help capture the calmness and peacefulness the place represents.
Perhaps there is there an activity or place in your daily routine easily adapted to isolation rules.
Here are more writing suggestions:
Imagine yourself where you find serenity. Why are you there? Has something prompted the visit?
Describe your serenity setting.
Compare at least two visits to your serenity place.
What happens when this place disturbed, or no longer available, or your plans must change?
Do you have an alternative?
Write a poem inspired by the word serenity.
What is the opposite of serenity for you? Is there one particular time that stands out?
Write about how you unwind or handle anxiety – this may have changed over the years.
List the various ways you are meeting the challenge of isolation and practising social-distancing.
Did you ever consider ‘stress’ before it became a much talked about ‘modern’ disease?
(When I recorded the history of our local primary school in Mordialloc on its 125th anniversary, I interviewed many past students and staff. I’ve never forgotten a woman who attended the school during the depression years of the 1930s and coped through the war years commenting, ‘ No one had stress then – we just got on with life.’)
Reflect on the lives of your parents and grandparents. Do you think they suffered stress – even if they didn’t call it that?
Do you know how they dealt with the tough periods of their lives? Were the pace of life and the responsibilities they had really that different from nowadays? If so – how?
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
We advise athletes to perform warm-up routines before playing a sport, musicians and singers use warm-up exercises too, and in writing class, prompts and creative writing exercises loosen your imagination while honing your writing muscles.
Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
In Class, We Splurge!
The goal of the prompts is to encourage clear, lively writing. Encourage the use of specific images, well-chosen verbs and precise nouns, “showing rather than telling” and to avoid clichés.
To achieve this ideal takes practice, practice, practice!
The exercises are often more fun in a class, or with two or more people, but doing them alone and at home is fun too.
If, while writing, you’re at a loss how to continue writing consider the five senses (sight,sound, smell, touch, taste); or shift your perspective from high to low (what’s happening in the sky or the floor above or underground, under the sea, in a cellar…), from close to far away; or consider the journalist’s five questions—who, what, when, where, why.
Choose a prompt – and remember, you can take as little of the prompt as you want – one word or the memory or idea it evokes…
Weigh a few possibilities (brainstorm, mind map, outline, list)
Write without interruption for 12-15 minutes. (Use an oven timer or the stopwatch facility on your mobile)
Be surprised at what comes up and continue to write… and remember, you can always change your mind and choose a different prompt. At home, you are teacher, student, writer and reader.
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
Variety The Spice of Imagination
First lines, ideas for beginnings:
It was no ordinary date…
It was no ordinary house…
She was no ordinary babysitter…
‘Look, I didn’t want to be a refugee.’
‘Three things happened this morning but only one changed my life.’
‘Welcome aboard,’ said the captain, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes.’
Describe a first – why is it memorable?:
Your first kiss, first car, the first job
Your first pet (kitten/puppy/ rabbit/bird, lizard…)
Your first child, first grandchild, first sibling
Your first day of school, your first day of university
Your first night in a bed by yourself or away from home
Fibs, Excuses, Embellishments, Wishful Thinking …
The dog ate my homework.
She said, ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ but I knew she was lying.
The weekly horoscope said 5 and 8 were my lucky numbers.
I was here the whole time, you just didn’t see me.
The alarm didn’t go off.
He was in the supermarket too. It can’t be a coincidence.
Quotes To Inspire A Reflection, Prose or Poem… Write Your Truth, Your Experience, Your Pleasure, To Know More,
The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. ~ Neil Gaiman
Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come the most unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~ Francis Bacon
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. ~ Anais Nin
I write for myself things that I’ve gone through. ~ Dolly Parton
Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The keyword is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for. ~ Ray Bradbury
Usually, I walk and think about things. When I come across a thought that makes me laugh, I write it down. ~Demetri Martin
Writing a story… is simply an exploration of the nature of behaviour: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. ~ Lois Lowry
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. ~ Joan Didion
I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
Choose three prompts from the suggestions above or write whatever thoughts they triggered… look at the challenge as an exercise to warm-up the process, one for ‘homework’ and one to move out of your comfort zone and instil a passion for writing!
Here are three efforts from me triggered by prompts and written in class during a splurge:
Try the following exercise frequently to hone your writing skills:
Create a short story that is 26 sentences long, each sentence beginning with the letters of the alphabet starting with A and continuing to Z.
Add other, arbitrary conditions, such as a sentence should be only one word; there should be one question mark, one quotation, there has to be a definite beginning, middle and end – no loose anecdotes or ramblings. There must be a story, not just a stream of consciousness!
Rigid rules often produce fascinating results—such as with well-written sonnets, which have 14 lines and tight rhyme schemes, each line governed by a specific number of syllables and alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.
Apply some form and rigid rules to your stories and see if that makes writing – and finishing – easier.
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Make time in your schedule for writing.
When you sit down to write, don’t be afraid of how it will come out.
Take pleasure in exercising your imagination and writing.
Always celebrate the work you’ve done, no matter the result. Having shown up and done the work, kept to a plan or deadline is an accomplishment. Share here or email it to a friend or send it off to a competition – be brave:)
Trust that you’re making progress, a little at a time, day by day – and have fun!
It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.