Stories Are Everywhere But Being Original Is Another Story!

Skye.jpg

Day Three & Another Post From Me!

Images as Writing Prompts

I often use pictures, photographs, paintings and even postcards to stimulate the imagination of students and give them a visual experience to prompt a story or poem.

It may be a cliche but a picture can be worth (or stimulate) a thousand words. The best photographers not only show people, other subjects, and environments that are fresh and unfamiliar, but they reveal the familiar from a new point of view depending on where the camera is focused.

So too with painters, an artist’s eye trained and sensitive like the photographer’s. Unusual angles, specific details, particular highlights… the visual prompt sets off trains of thought and feelings and can be a powerful starting point for all forms of writing.

The example is a tool to use and sometimes it’s helpful to go round the table and discuss initial impressions and responses, sometimes I suggest a particular genre, and may even give the choice of a first or last line.

There are always a variety of ways of creating a context to encourage writing.

Below is one of my favourite images because I love mysteries.

(I’m also a self-confessed devotee of British crime drama and in 2017 was thrilled to stand outside the house of Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez in Shetland!)

image
I first used this prompt a decade ago, I think it came from the Writers Digest – apologies if I’m mistaken.

Look at the picture and think of possible ideas for a story.

Look beyond the obvious – this could be the beginning or the end of a tale/adventure.

  • It could be a woman or a man’s feet.
  • The car may be hired or stolen – it may not even be involved.
  • Is this death/injury by accident or design?
  • Is the car stopping to help or is it the weapon?
  • Is/are the documents stolen and/or valuable?
  • Could the paper be lecture notes, a will, a shopping list, a contract, top-secret plans?
  • Perhaps the papers belong to a bystander.  Are they important or unimportant?
  • Where is the story set – will you make it a period piece, modern-day, pick a particular country?
  • Will you take the idea and not too much detail and apply it to a personal experience?

Your Interpretation and Your Story – Have fun

Your voice is how you write, the way you handle language, your style—if you have one. Do I? I write like I think. I like spontaneity. I push and pull, change speed and rhythm, balance short and long sentences. I compare it to jazz riffs and drum rolls. I’m economical with words, but I won’t interrupt a nice solo. I never have to think about this. It’s me… I’ve known excellent writers who don’t have a recognizable voice but have earned awards and attracted readers through their work. Your voice, ultimately, will be what comes out of you. And you’re entitled to it. But how you use it will also depend upon the audience at which it’s aimed and/or the market to which it’s sold.”

Art Spikol

If you can’t get too enthused about this image you might like to practise your sentence structures and powers of observation by:

  • writing a simple description of the scene, making sure you include the important details
  • writing your opinion of what you see and your feelings about the scene
  • writing a poem describing the feelings of onlookers or the person lying on the road
  • writing what an imaginary visitor might think or how they’d act coming across the scene
  • writing a list of how many other characters could be in a story about this scene

I guarantee if you do all of the above, you will be hooked and a story – maybe even a novel – will be in the making!

All these different approaches should result in an interesting piece of writing but start by looking carefully at the image and using sharp observation skills with a hefty dose of imagination.

Here is my effort – I called it Tripped Up  short story 581 words

I love double meanings, writing in layers and short stories with a twist.  I was aiming for under 600 words and after writing the story in class along with my students, I edited at home following my mantra:

  • Revisit and polish what you wrote in class – did you pick up ideas/phrases/different viewpoint from listening to other’s read their work? What can you add to your piece?

If you are uninspired or disinterested in this photo prompt just go to Google images and type in a subject or event you care about and go through a similar process until an idea for a story or poem bubbles to the surface.

Happy Writing

Please share your work – we all learn from each other!

Could You Use a Key to Unlock Creativity?

heather with key

Writing Post Two For Isolated You

Often the hardest thing about creative writing is getting started.

The advice to just pick up a pen or fire up the computer and make a start doesn’t necessarily motivate everyone. If you have ideas swirling inside your head – that one book everybody apparently has in them – perhaps you can just pour thousands of words out, but many people struggle to get that first sentence written.

For those wondering what to write, or needing some direction/inspiration/trigger writing prompts do work, particularly if the prompt isn’t too specific and it triggers an idea or a memory of a person, place, event or an opinion.

Whether the words flow without prompting or you need a nudge, you will always need to go back and redraft, refine and rewrite. However, having a substantial amount of words to edit is always easier and once you have begun, you might even finish!

In the accompanying notes to every lesson, I always added: Polish the work you have written in class and be inspired to write more.

keys

An Object Can Be A Great Writing Prompt

One of the most successful lessons I’ve taught over the years involves asking the students to close their eyes and hold out their hand.

I place a key in each person’s hand and ask them to close their hand, sit quietly with their eyes still closed and concentrate on the key.

  • What does it feel like? (cold, metallic, hard, light, shaped, ridged, small, big….?)
  • Can they discern the shape and size? (what might it fit – a car, a door, a cash box, a locker…?)
  • Have they ever held a similar key? (think about when you use a key and what for?)

After they’ve had a couple of minutes of ruminating, I say, ‘Open your eyes and start writing.’

Key:

A small metal instrument specially cut to fit into a lock and move its bolt. (car key, door key, gate key, locker key, letterbox key, suitcase key, money box key, padlock and any of various devices resembling or functioning as a key: eg the key of a clock.

The stories and poems that unfold are completely different – some personal life experiences, others concerning a character or characters.

  • Lost and found keys
  • forgetting keys or being locked out
  • getting a driving licence,
  • the customary key to the door (21st or 18th),
  • renting or buying a first home,
  • getting keys cut
  • latch-key kids,
  • robbing cash boxes,
  • hiding documents,
  • clockwork toys,
  • hotel stays,
  • first or the last worker in a factory or business…
  • magic keys

judy with key

There are stories about the ubiquitous Allen Key, especially in relation to assembling furniture, not mentioning any brand name but Ikea comes to mind:)

Then there are the new keys in use – plastic cards to swipe – no longer turning a key in a keyhole.

In my travels, I’ve encountered plastic card keys in hotels and cabins on ferries. To say they are prone to glitches an understatement!

Writing Exercises If Home Alone

Exercise 1:

Round up the keys in your house – you may be surprised how many you have – and the variety. (Hint – check out the junk drawer, we all have one!)

Put the keys on the table or in a bowl and close your eyes before choosing one of those keys.

Be inspired and write.

patricia with key

Exercise 2:

English is a fascinating language. It invites wordplay, puns, ambiguity, hidden meanings, interpretations and misinterpretations. There are similes and antonyms.

A word like KEY can be a noun, a verb and an adjective.

It is a word that works well with other words: keyboard, keyhole, keynote, keypunch, keystroke, keypad, keystone, key card, key signature, key grip, key money, keyhole surgery…

Choose one of these words and write: eg. –

  • have you or your character ever had keyhole surgery
  • have you or your character ever been a keynote speaker
  • have you or character been a key grip on a film set
  • have you or character lost your key card?
  • do you or your character play a musical keyboard, work in computers…

They say all good stories need CONFLICT – it can be internal or external – make sure you include some.

toula with key

Exercise 3:

A key can be a metaphor or representing an abstract concept. Think and write about what can go wrong or how you can work these ideas into a story:

  • something that affords a means of access:  the key to happiness, the key to spiritual authority
  • something that secures or controls entrance to a place: Gibraltar is the key to the Mediterranean.
  • something that affords a means of clarifying a problem: the computer code the key to the puzzle
  • a book, pamphlet, or other text containing the solutions or translations of material given elsewhere, as testing exercises.
  • a systematic explanation of abbreviations, symbols used in a dictionary, map –pronunciation key, the table or legend of a map
  • the system, method, pattern used to decode or decipher a cryptogram, as a codebook,  machine setting, or keyword.
  • a manually operated lever for opening and closing an electric circuit used to produce signals in telegraphy.
  • the keynote or tonic of a scale, tone or pitch, as of voice: to speak in a high key.
  • mood or characteristic style, as of expression or thought – He writes in a melancholy key.
  •  a keystone. in a Masonry project
  • Painting – the tonal value and intensity of a colour or range of colours
  • a pin, bolt, wedge, or other piece inserted in a hole or space to lock or hold parts of a  mechanism or structure together; a cotter.
  • a small piece of steel fitting into matching slots of a hub of a wheel or the like and the shaft on which the wheel is mounted so that torque is transmitted from one to the other.

Practice Is Key

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes
  • Choose a topic and write
  • Share what you have written for feedback or at least read it aloud to yourself
  • edit and rewrite
  • look for a home – there are lots of online and traditional magazines looking for short creative pieces

When I thought about a key, I considered the ritual of winding the grandfather clock in the hallway:

Marking Time
Mairi Neil

He stands in the hallway
as time ticks away
but he’ll never age,
grow wrinkles or grey

He’s witness to life
his hands carefully mark
the passing of time
the light and the dark.

His voice is a comfort
seductive pendulums sway
A soothing commentary
whether work, sleep or play.

His facial expression
unchanging and bland
just like his demeanour ––
as in hallway he stands.

He’s a constant reminder
Time won’t standstill
even for those who boast
of having time to kill.

My grandfather clock
marks each day’s stage
A comforting fixture
in this Digital Age.

© 2014

grandfather clock in hallway

And this meme did the rounds of FB today – there are benefits to isolation or alone time!

FB_meme

Happy Writing!

 

Ease the Anxiety and Boredom of Isolation or Insulation with Creative Writing

writing games

The world is going through a health crisis that is forcing a change in work patterns and community behaviour. There may be lockdowns, extended unemployment or underemployment and a lack of usual social activities.

In creative writing parlance – we are living through a tragedy.

However, if word association makes you think of Shakespeare – the master of tragedies – remember he also wrote comedies and had a great sense of the absurd. (Today we have Facebook memes and the ridiculous toilet paper wars as inspiration for some of those stories!)

Plus, he wrote romance and those stories are what so many songs suggest ‘As old as time‘…  because human beings need and indeed thrive on love. (Ironically, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was their romance!)

Stories Can And Do Connect Us

For the next few weeks, I’m going to try and do a daily post and share some of the twenty- plus years of lessons and ideas I’ve used in my writing classes and workshops.

Hopefully, they’ll be useful for the many people turning to the Web to relieve their anxiety or boredom from either forced or self-isolation.

I have self-isolated because living with recently diagnosed breast cancer second time round and creeping perilously close to 70, I’m in the high-risk category!

I hope people have decided to use the gift of ‘free’ time to pursue creativity and writing as a hobby or beginning a project they’ve always wanted to do is certainly in that category.

This first post will be focused on having fun. To introduce those not accustomed to writing to an alternative to watching TV or endless hours of Netflix or if you want to add to the important pastime of reading a good book!

Writing is good therapy

  • You don’t have to have a desire to write a novel or record a memoir
  • You don’t have to create an alternative income or be driven to monetize (a word I hate hearing but seems to be all the go)
  • You may not want to share what you have written
  • You may just enjoy playing with words and wiling away a few hours with pen and paper, or keyboard and screen.
  • You may have children/teenagers/flatmates who need cheering up

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

Anne Lamott

Writing can be fun!

There are games to be bought online but this blog is all about gifting, passing on, transferring knowledge and pointing people in a direction for further study/research/information so here’s a bit of pirating from a game I enjoy…

Often at the end of term, before I’d expanded my pile of games, I’d take this into class. We’d have fun writing poems and stories, even advertising jingles from unusual prompts. There would be specific time limits or word counts and sometimes stories written in pairs or passed around for everyone to add a line or paragraph.

  • We let our imagination loose
  • We gave ourselves permission to be absurd
  • We broke grammatical rules
  • We made up words
  • We moved out of our comfort zone
  • We tried to entertain
  • Sometimes we produced gems and surprised ourselves
  • Always we laughed because the aim was to have fun!

writersports

Writersports

I bought this board game in 1997 and have lost count of how many times we played it as a family and with friends.  I also used its ideas at the Mordialloc Writers’ Group end of year break-ups and in writing classes.

According to the blurb ‘It was created to encourage, promote and inspire the art of literacy. the modern decathlon of the mind…

It comes with board and dice, plus an egg timer that gives you 3 minutes to write. The time restriction important – please remember that when judging my imperfect and crazy examples:) 

Although I defy anyone not to have a crazy example when you see what is on offer!

The few examples here are a taste of the combinations available with the throw of the dice but the game boasts the possibility of 6000 games about writing:

  • letters
  • stories
  • phonetics
  • poems
  • Ads
  • Genres

The character game – you are given three bits of information – a name (invariably absurd), appearance (even more absurd), and occupation (the more unusual the better).

The letter game – you must write to your mother and you are given the name of a character, a city and an age (this is a description with a number eg. an active 85)

The poesy game – you must write a poem, any style, but you must use the words you are given twice. You are given a colour (forget the most obvious ones), an adverb (only some end in ly!) and an adjective (I guarantee you rarely use these ones!).

The slogan game – think of our PM – Scotty-from-Marketing. You must write an advertising jingle or a promo. You are given a brand name (this will make your jaw drop), product (some are saleable) and target audience. This exercise along with the letter starting ‘Dear Mother’ stretches the imagination…

The accent game – you are given a topic, you are given a letter from the alphabet, and you are given an accent. Now write a speech showcasing the particular characteristics/traits of the speech of your designated nationality using as many words beginning with the alphabetical letter or including that letter. This exercise brings out the ham actor in us all and improves after a glass of wine or two.

The genre game – you are given appearance, occupation and setting and you must write about a character of your choice in the particular genre you are given.

Everything listed can be altered – please write creatively – suggestions welcome in the comments!! And there are other games commercially available – shop around.

 Adapt, Adopt and Add

Two decades have passed since I bought this game, the digital world has given access to many cultures and created new careers/jobs and sent people travelling to places they may not have known existed. My examples are years old.

Remember this is not about perfection but fun. Who knows what other ideas or talents will be unlocked. Or, as often happens, a ‘bee in your bonnet’ is sent buzzing away, or frustration and anger appeased.

I’ve lost count of how many times in class I’ve heard students say, ‘goodness don’t know where that came from’, or ‘I haven’t thought about that in years’, or ‘fancy, me remembering that?’

Characters:

Ms Ponosh White, Miss Emma Parade, The Blue Guru, Max Moniless, Mrs Catastro, Jimmy James, Mr Tomorrow, King Whoops, Princess Silly, The Rock Girl

Age:

a lazy 40, an old 26, a dreaming 8, a young 59, a busy 3, an active 85, a dying 99, a shining 30, a feisty 21, an overdeveloped 15

City:

Melbourne, New York, Rio, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Bombay, Cape Town, Beijing

Remember the three basic rules from Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones:

  1. Keep your pen moving
  2. Capture first thoughts
  3. Let yourself write junk

In place of having access to the board game and dice (and even people to play with), write the various names, places, words etc on strips of paper (or your own ideas). Put them in empty jars, or bowls and dip in for inspiration for the writing exercises.

No cheating – what you pick is what you work with:) And feel free to skip my offerings – you won’t get those few minutes back – but then this post is about filling in all that time you discover in quarantine or self-isolation.

Five Writing Exercises to Entertain

 Exercise 1:

A letter to Dear Mother

You should come to Beijing, the city of bicycle bells. Your love of music will be sated as you tune into the constant jingle jangle. This city never sleeps and neither does my companion. Felicity is an overdeveloped 15 and I have to constantly watch her with the tour guide. Why did I agree to be her chaperone? My wild days as The Rock Girl with the R & B band may be over but I fear Felicity’s is just beginning. I’ll need another holiday after this trip.

Cape Town is cloaked in snow now. Climate Change has definitely arrived and eccentric visitors with it. Princess Silly turned up on a morning television show. She arrived in South Africa with an entourage of half-naked escorts, barefoot and hairless – the escorts, not her. How silly is that? Royalty not the same anymore since Britain became a republic. Mind you she defended her title as any feisty 21 year old would – ‘I have more claim to be treated like royalty than that Kim Kardashian you fawn over,’ she said. Mother, global warming’s gone to everybody’s head here and fried their brains. I’ll be home soon.

Here I am in romantic Rome or Roma as the Italians call it. And it is so romantic. I met a marvellous man last night called Max Moniless. He is a young 59 and we danced all night at a masked ball. However, Moniless by name and moneyless by nature. He confessed to being absolutely broke and obviously uses his gift of the gab to woo likely suiters or gullible girls like me. However, I don’t mind as he truly is a Don Juan and last night fun! Caio

You don’t need any more twee examples to write a letter to your mother.

Exercise 2:

You’re a Poet & Didn’t Know It

Use these words wisely and at least twice in a poem of any length or style. This is the part of the game I love because I find doggerel a lot of fun.

The colours (feel free to think up others): Lily, Raven, Livid, Tan. Rust, Verdure, Saffron, Plum, Azure, Ochre

The Adverbs (usually a no-no according to the gurus): Really, Equally, Instantly, About, Probably, Neither, Cheerily, Legally, Somehow, Habitually

The adjectives (these are such fun to say never mind use): Deranged, foreign, Sudden, Projectile, resonant, Secure, Sloppy, Obtuse, Sociable, Plausible

A Melting Moment

He was foreign with raven hair
She equally strange with a crosseyed stare
They met at the Tower of London
on a wet and windy day
He was shy and unused to talking
but said, please do stay
Stay the night in this foreign city?
She looked at his raven hair
and immediately took pity
Equally lost, shy and looking for trust
needing out of the rain for fear of rust
They were waxen models
fallen off the back of a truck
heading for Madame Tussaud’s
before their wheels got stuck!

Beginner’s Luck

Sadie was obtuse
She thought the prize a ruse
Legally a winner
although a raw beginner
She picked the plum prize
only looking at its size
I said she was obtuse
and thought the prize a ruse
tho’ legally a winner
this lady a raw beginner
won Crown Casino’s plum prize
took home the biggest size
of diamond ring, she’d seen
not on the hand of a queen!

What a Tosser

Tommy had a projectile
he fired about the house
it hit his brother’s pet
a teeny, tiny tan mouse

His mum removed the projectile
and threw it in the bin
with the teeny, tiny tan mouse
Tommy left with stinging skin!

The moral of this tale
be careful about the house
and don’t be cruel
to your brother’s pet mouse.

Unplanned Connections

Jane loved to be sociable
and wanted to dance
her flimsy azure dress
drew many looks askance.
Somehow Jake managed
to monopolise Jane
he too loved being sociable
And when that azure dress
caught his lustful eye
somehow he knew
with Jane, he’d fly
Soon midnight came
the dance it was done
Jake and Jane left
to welcome the sun
– or maybe a son?

Be Prepared

Some say I am deranged
and really off my trolley
because I always carry
a lovely luminous lily brolly

But then Melbourne’s weather
inevitably decides to change
proving I’m not the one deranged
and my luminous lily brolly
really protects my shopping trolley

Exercise 3:

Slogans to Put Aussie Scomo in the Shade

You’ve heard of the saying selling ice cream to Eskimos? Be as bizarre as you like with this exercise – goes well with a glass of wine to forget about being PC.

Choose a brand name: perplexed, Smarty, missy, fat, Pssst, Tuboff, Dooby Wacker, Sole Gate, nutritious, Tush.

Choose a product: Ant Poison, Bad breath purifier, Dial-a-figure mirror, Anti-aging nightwear, Flying car, Gossip Magazine, House paint, Bedtime drink, A fax company, Relaxing music

Choose a Target Audience: psychiatrist, armed forces, athletes, shy people, caddies, sun-lovers, pregnant women, studs, singer, families

Attention all you athletes out there in the real world. Forget gruelling training, the impossible to keep diets just turn to Missy for the body of your dreams. The dial-a-figure mirror for smart athletes.

Attention all athletes whether your sport is in the bedroom, the boardroom or track and field – let Missy into your life, the dial-a-figure mirror that prepares you for games inside and out!

Hey, all you studs, when you need a rest at night (you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) drink Sole Gate, the bedtime drink that allows studs to have some downtime!

Exercise 4:

Accentuated Topics

The accent game: write a speech and deliver it in ‘character’ – this is where your knowledge of stereotypes and tropes can be unleashed! Again an exercise that improves if you have a glass of wine and forget inhibitions… and can use as many words starting with or containing the chosen letter…

Topic: Women, Cooking, Weather, Sport, Love, politics, Walking, Death, Man, public Transport

Letter: C, S, M, P, F, L, N, R, T, D

Accent: Irish, Greek, Australian, Japanese, American, English, Italian, Jewish, French, African.

Politics in English, the letter L

Good Evening ladies and gentlemen and distinguished members of the League of Long Lost Loyalists. Tonight I will layout the long and short of the politics of voting.
Legally, you must line up to vote in Australia. Ladies this should excite all of you. Last century many ladies died fighting for the right to vote. Let’s liken voting to ensuring the powers-that-be learn who is largely in charge. Ah, I thought that would elicit a laugh.

Love, in American, the letter F

Welcome, y’all, – friends from France, Finland and other faraway places. Tonight I want to talk about love – not frivolous love but a deep meaningful love for deep-fried chicken that is finger-lickin’ good. Yeah, folks, I’m a fat Kentucky Fried food girl and find life is only fruitfully good when I get my fill of my funny Uncle Festa’s deep-fried finger-lickin’ chicken.

Women in Irish, letter C

Top of the morning to you all. My name is Cecelia and I represent Celtic women, that is the Celtic women who call themselves completely liberated. I have considered how this creates considerable consternation among our Celtic brothers. It is a challenge for Celtic women to campaign to change Celtic men’s perception of women. Can the 21st century see that change? Celtic women must collectively support each other to cultivate cultural change and consider that this new century is the century for Celtic women.

Exercise 5:

Write a story in a particular genre after being given the setting.  Use the character appearance and occupation and any other items you like and let rip.

Setting: Street Cafe, Trapeze High Wire, Cinema, Under Water, Appollo 11, Nullarbor Train, Kremlin Kitchen, Daintree Forest, Big Australian Home, the Year 2000.

Genre: Horror, Crime, Romance, minimalist, Sci-Fi, Erotica, Maximalist, Adventure, Magic realism, Dirty Realism.

Character appearance: Always has a drink in hand, Tattoo on head, Webbed feet, Black tie, Never sits still, Buck teeth, 3 legs, Green frizzy hair, Half black half white, Naked

Occupation: Plumber, pop Star, Groovy and Gorgeous, Law Enforcer, Ghost, Cosmonaut, Philanthropist, Inventor, Fisherman, Dentist.

This is flash fiction on speed…

Dirty Realism

Dennis turned over the calendar and breathed a sigh of relief. The millennium scare had passed and it was now the Year 2000. The world hadn’t ended. He drank his coffee, climbed into his sports car and drove to work.

The streets were littered with the bodies of numerous suicides by people who believed the claptrap about the end of the world, and others still in a drunken stupor. Stupid sods. He manoeuvred his car through the lines of emergency vehicles cleaning up the bodies and survivors, grateful he was a dentist and not a doctor. He managed to reach his surgery before the receptionist and grinned. He unlocked the door to his office and stripped off his clothes.

A loud click and door closure announced Julie’s arrival. Had she remembered their bet? If they survived the prophesied meltdown they’d make wild passionate love in his dental chair. Dennis flexed his muscles and took a long look at his tanned naked body in preparation to surprise Julie.  He threw open the door but wasn’t prepared for the scream from the middle-aged temp sent to replace Julie who decided to resign.

The Spirit of Adventure

When King Whoops stepped off the plane from Bombay he appreciated the weather in Brisbane was a shining 30 degrees. He revelled in the cool breeze. What a relief from the humidity and heat of India.

His destination was the Daintree Forest and he lost no time in setting out for the rented log cabin where he hoped to search for a special tree holding a secret cure for cancer.
On the way, the hired car crashed but King Whoops was pulled free and unhurt except for a dent in his crown and injury to his pride in what had been an unblemished driving record.

The police confiscated his car and he continued the journey on foot, miraculously discovering the tree a few feet from the cabin. His exhilarating ‘whoop’ could be heard in Bombay!

A Minimalist View – tell it tight

Max Moniless donned the diver’s suit bought in Rome. He slid off the gondola like an eel and within seconds was underwater in the deepest, murkiest part of the main canal in Venice.

The search for Mussolini’s hidden treasure nearly over. Max tugged the line and slowly swam to the surface to triumphantly hand over the best-kept secret of WW2 – Mussolini’s toupee.

A Maximalist View – be expansive

In the Kremlin Kitchen, President Gorbachov’s cook prepared supper for the guest who had just arrived from London. Mr Tomorrow was apparently in Russia to find his mother, a dying 99-year-old who had been sent to Siberia by Stalin and not heard of until recently.

Perestroika softened Soviet attitude to foreigners. The supper served was an English muffin topped with cheese, a snack President Gorbachov’s cook was sure Mr Tomorrow would appreciate.

He was right and as the President and guest munched on the muffins they planned the first step of the journey to Siberia to find Mr Tomorrow’s mother and thaw the very long, bitter Cold War.

Random Short Short Stories Using Occupation  and Appearance

Ghost & ‘never sits still’

‘Jimmy ‘never sits still.’ His doting mother’s smile is apologetic. ‘Just has excess energy.’ 
Whenever their car pulls into the drive I watch Jimmy emerge and emit a tortured groan wishing I was invisible like a ghost and could pretend to be out. However, family courtesy dictates politeness.

I let Cousin Mary in and cope with the hyperactive, obnoxious Jimmy.  Unchecked, he rifles cupboards, teases the dog, breaks several stereo knobs, gobbles all the chocolate biscuits and flushes a mysterious something down the loo requiring the inevitable expensive visit from a plumber.

I move next week, no forwarding address.

Tattoo on head & Pop Star

Maud ached to marry a pop star. She haunted concert halls watching members of various bands going in and out. A year passed and almost giving up hope of finding the man of her dreams, she watched a large man get out of a truck. When near the stage door he tripped and fell. His beanie flew off his head revealing a bald pate with an amazing tattoo of an ‘M’.

Maud was smitten. It was a sign. He must be the one.

She smiled as she helped him up and nearby church bells chimed.

Black Tie & Law Enforcer

Daniel was the Law Enforcer in Tucson, Arizona when rustlers attacked the Kruger’s cattle ranch. A clue, the rustler left behind was a black tie slung over the open gate. Daniel examined the silk material carefully and deduced it was an imported speciality item from Japan.

There was only one person in Tucson that fitted the profile and Daniel arrested a protesting Mr Chu refusing to listen that the longterm resident was from China.

Geography never Daniel’s strongpoint.

These exercises encompass important elements of creative writing:

  • a starting point for ideas
  • characters to think about that are not stereotypical
  • unusual settings and situations
  • thoughts about genre
  • introducing adjectives, adverbs and colours sometimes ignored
  • flexing writing muscles first

 Happy Writing!

Allow yourself to write nonsense and in the coming days maybe knuckle down to learn more about the craft and techniques with more serious lessons. Although there are a few more writing games that will be ‘just a bit of fun‘ –  the regular comeback of the tabloid journalist character Shaun Micallef lampoons each week on his show.

Baraka Challenges Us to Change Our Priorities

moon over Mordi

On February 29, I attended a screening of the 1992 film BARAKA to raise funds for Wildlife Victoria after the devastating bushfire season.

The date is special because it is a leap year and according to Google, this is a lucky year with a spirituality website suggesting, a year “when energies are higher and filled with enthusiasm, optimism, love and compassion. It is a great year to search for spiritual wisdom.”

And considering Australians are facing a climate catastrophe, a coronavirus outbreak, the aftermath of a horrific bushfire season, ongoing drought, and poor economic outlook, luck is much-needed and wisdom always worth seeking – spiritual or otherwise!

It would be nice to have a competent government that fostered optimism and enthusiasm for the future but achieving that needs work and an early election! Meanwhile, if you are not a climate denialist and you believe in social justice like me, please keep raising your voice in whatever way you can.

I saw Baraka a long time ago, but the advertised conversation scheduled after the film captured my attention because it was about “designing the future with hope and humanity” – two principles omitted from many concrete jungles we call cities and media full of gloom and doom.

The film, like a good book, needs to be absorbed and savoured in stillness. It’s like an epic novel or saga with layers of meaning to be digested and reflected upon.

Deep concentration – not a quick glance or speed read – the MC asked us to relax, be drawn into the music and visuals, be still, absorb, listen and watch … be in touch with emotions and senses, enjoy a transformational experience.’

The lights dimmed, the film rolled, I became completely immersed in the visuals and incredible soundtrack. The atmosphere calm and comfortable in the recently renovated Capitol until ironically, someone turned the air conditioner up or forgot to adjust it to the vagaries of Melbourne’s recalcitrant summer.

Luckily, the film was almost over and it was panel time so the discomfort wasn’t too much of a distraction.  

It was then the turn of the two presenters to provide the promised hope and information. To represent the current generation’s ideas for tackling the climate emergency.

To offer man-made solutions to man-made problems.

baraka panel 2.jpg
Design Hub Gallery curator Fleur Watson with climate change and resilience researcher Lauren Rickards and speculative designer Ollie Cotsaftis

BARAKA – Ron Fricke’s Guided Meditation On Humanity

A breathtaking journey across 25 countries on six continents, Baraka is a sublime reflection on the beauty and the chaos of the world. The film brings together spectacular imagery with no plot, actors, script or narrative, transcending nationality, identity, place and time. The result is a meditative panorama of our natural and human landscapes ­– a visual survey made all the more urgent and affecting given today’s climate emergency.

As much a technical masterpiece as it is a conceptual one, Baraka was shot entirely on 70mm with a custom-built computerized 65mm camera. Taking 30 months to complete, with over 14 months on location, the making of the film was a feat within itself.

Baraka quickly became a cult classic for its unique non-linear, non-narrative approach to documentary and its astonishing footage that jumps from the elating to the disturbing. The awe, harmony, destruction and rebirth of nature merge in cycles. Ultimately we are looking at humanity’s interconnectedness and our relationship to the environment.

Promotional blurb

Ger camp Mongolia

When writing, the importance of techniques such as metaphor and simile are important to improve poetry and prose, and so it is with a film. A picture replaces a thousand words especially if revealing a powerful metaphor, and there were many in Baraka.

Music to evoke mood and soundtrack using percussion to great effect are important aspects of cinema and in Baraka, it kept pace with the sweeping and varied scenes of the natural world and cities. Percussion and natural ‘noise’, especially when industrial scenes of production lines, manufacturing and mining activities filled the screen segued seamlessly from panoramic or close-ups of mountains, oceans, deserts and green plains.

Superb cinematography and editing drew us into each scene. Memorable close-ups of the faces of animals and humans, the zooming into the natural and human world’s rhythms.

Time-lapse photography provided scenes of people commuting on foot, by train and car before switching to herds of animals, marching insect lines…back to the expressions on the faces of train travellers in Tokyo … reminding me of writing poetry on peak hour trains to and from the city…

the grey army poem
Published  reflecting on Melbourne, Poetica Christi Press

Have We Forgotten the Value of Stillness?

Baraka is full of juxtapositions – we see Japanese men in a pool following a bathing ritual, crowds of men and women bathing in the Ganges – close-ups of people relaxing, luxuriating in the relaxation and purification of water, not much different to a family of baboons in a hot spring high in the mountains, ice on the baboon’s fur melting crystals as he closes his eyes… his stillness mesmerising.

A Shinto priest surrounded by fast-paced traffic and busy shoppers in Tokyo walks one foot in front of the other, heel touching toe,  as if on a tightrope or narrow ledge, snail-paced, a bell in his hand chiming with each slow, deliberate, step,  no deviation from the path or the rhythm.

I remember Donne’s poem, ‘For whom the bell tolls… ‘ It tolls for thee…

No drones in 1992, yet the visuals are stunning, probably from a helicopter or aircraft but each vein, artery, vivid colour stands out:  of mountains, rocks, snow,-laden fields, trees, shrubbery and humans…

There are painted faces, tattooed bodies, jewellery made from natural items adorning naked or semi-naked bodies dancing and performing rituals indoors and outdoors, in continents across the globe.

The camera visits temples, mosques, synagogues, churches – and most of those performing the rituals or leading the service are male (has the power balance changed?).

In a Buddhist temple, the maroon-robed, adolescent lamas chant as old women sweep the courtyards and surrounding streets and old men slowly sprinkle oil.  I remember visiting Mongolia... 

In an orthodox Christian church, an old woman garbed in traditional black sits beside a table of candles, as if in servitude,  while the priest walks ceremoniously towards an altar agleam with ornate gold and silver. He stops to pray

… and the camera focuses on another priest in another country, walking through cloisters to kneel and pray by an unadorned tomb …

There are scenes of the Hajj where hundreds of thousands of Islamic devotees make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey connected to the time of Abraham and requiring certain rituals, including walking counter-clockwise seven times around the holy Kaaba.

In Cambodia, we see rows of men in an arc following the lead of a chief/guru with a painted face. He chants and moves his hands and arms in various poses. The men emulate his loud laughs, chants, alternately sitting and standing. Their behaviour is reminiscent of a Maori haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge with vigorous movement, stamping feet, rhythmic shouting and specific facial expressions.

Australian Aboriginal dancers around a campfire sing and act a story after being painted by women who then stand and sway in the background. Females playing a supporting role or performing their own rituals in the shadows mirrored in Kenya and Nigeria…

The film spans 25 countries with a focus on first nation peoples and their connection to the natural world and the rituals that have grown or been created.

The lifestyles of first nation people have been disrupted by industrial development, yet many retain cultural rituals. (Or they did in 1992!)

In South America, tribal children peep from the jungle, behind trees thousands of years old, and wide-eyed watch as a gigantic saw screams and fells trees.  We are still destroying the Amazon rainforest at a horrendous rate.

In cities, descendants of those tribes peep through bars in pigeon-coop-sized apartments huddled in ramshackle confusion, on the side of city hills. Children peep through barred windows on the slum buildings protecting them from falling to their death. Families being contained, exploited … still… the cost of the Rio Olympics to Brazil’s poor in 2016...

native american proverb -FB

“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil, set off a tornado in Texas?”

The Butterfly Effect

Cities – each building bigger than the last…

From caged people to caged birds, automated conveyor belts as thousands of hens lay eggs. From the cruelty of egg farming to chickens, checked, painted, beaks seared, thrown into chutes one by one and suddenly, there are lines of workers, clocking on and clocking off, jammed tightly on production lines…

Like the tobacco factory in Indonesia, women and girls, making cigarettes, one by one, rolling and clipping the tobacco, shaping the cigarette for a well-dressed, suited businessman to smoke as he joins the line of commuters crossing a Jakarta street…

While in India, at Hindu funerals on the Ganges we see funeral pyres, some can afford a decorated raft, others a homemade stretcher on the banks of the river. As the camera zooms in on a smouldering corpse, I steal a glance at the young lad sitting next to me. He’s ten, perhaps eleven and with his dad and is completely absorbed. I watch those grieving on the screen, the charred remains of their loved one and close my eyes for a few moments as tears sting – being a voyeur uncomfortable and sad.

But what of the crowds of women and children trawling through gigantic rubbish heaps salvaging anything that can be used, eaten, sold, repurposed. They don’t have a choice in lifestyle or of avoiding unpleasant death scenes.

Ragged and dishevelled, the scavengers move amongst bulldozers, smouldering fires and industrial shovels. The scene somewhere in India but it could be the Philippines, Nigeria, rural China… places where reports of populations exploited in this way fill the news cycle.

First Nations sovereignty – the film revealed that the people most affected are often those least responsible for the damage to the earth. A combination of approaches will equal climate justice.

We have a climate emergency as Greta and others warn our house is on fire!

quote from Black Elk.jpg

Learning to Live on the Anthropocene

Anthropocene – the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

We have created an extinction crisis and must act now.  We must accept and appreciate the human impact and population on the natural world and change our behaviour.

Lauren Rickards is a human geographer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University Melbourne, where she co-leads the Climate Change Transformations research program of the Centre for Urban Research. Lauren’s research examines the social, cultural and political dimensions of the human-environment relationship, focused on climate change, disasters and the broader Anthropocene condition. A Rhodes Scholar, Lauren is a Lead Author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report and a Senior Fellow with the Earth Systems Governance network.

Lauren studies how the earth functions and is now starting to dysfunction.

For Australia, this summer of bushfires a stark wake-up call. Fears, scientists thought we had decades to deal with, are here, and we must deal with the crisis.

Here are links to recent articles about the magnitude of Australia’s bushfire crisis:

Lauren said, Baraka, made the familiar strange and makes us face up to what we regard as normal. We must start to think differently. We must not accept the view of politicians like our Prime Minister who talk of ‘the new normal‘!

drought.jpg

 

For example, bushfires are now strange and more threatening to generations brought up reciting Dorothea Mackellar’s poem about an Australia ‘of drought and flooding rains’.

‘You live in the bush. You live by the rules of the bush, and that’s it.’  These were the reflective words of Mrs Dunlop upon seeing the blackened rubble of her home, which made headline news the morning after the first, and most destructive, fire front tore through the Blue Mountains in New South Wales on 17 October 2013 (Partridge and Levy, 2013).

While seemingly a simple statement, it goes right to the heart of heated public and political debates – past and present – over who belongs where and why in the fire-prone landscapes that surround Australia’s cities. Bushfire is a constant and ongoing part of Australian history, ecology and culture. The love of a sunburnt country, the beauty and terror of fire, and the filmy veil of post-fire greenness described in the century-old poem ‘Core of My Heart’ (Mackellar, 1908) are still apt depictions of Australian identity today.

Yet longer fire seasons and an increase in extreme fire weather days with climate change add both uncertainty and urgency to Australia’s ability to coexist with fire in the future (Head et al., 2013).

Geographical fire research in Australia: Review and prospects Abstract

Download the pdf: Geographical fire research in Australia_ Review and prospects

catastrophic fire slide.jpg

Man has an obsession with fire – in the film we see various religious rituals involving lighting candles, lanterns, bonfires. Purification and burial rituals. There are shots of the sun, moon, stars juxtaposed with the fires out of control on the oil fields of Kuwait, and the explosions caused by bombs.

The foundries, crematoriums, mining and other industrial sites, and cities lit up… but also the horror of the Holocaust gas chambers, mass burials, destructive bombings.

We are able to control combustion, we have electricity because of coal but fossil fuels now need to be made strange.

Our relationship to the military-industrial complex where atomic weapons and stockpiling nuclear weapons are seen as normal must be challenged.

The film depicts soldiers on the Chinese and Russian borders protecting piles of weapons, then pans to row after row of USA military planes…

As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. It is, perhaps, the most well-known line from the Bhagavad-Gita, but also the most misunderstood.

UK Article August 9,2017

The general notions about human understanding . . . which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture, they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom.’

Oppenheimer, quoted from F. Capra, The Tao of Physics.

  • chemicals
  • atmospheric aerosol loading
  • ozone depletion
  • ocean acidification
  • the equivalent of an atom bomb a week in our oceans
  • planetary boundaries transform our approach to growth
  • biodiversity loss
  • great acceleration of climate change and mother earth becomes deeply unfamiliar
  • the threat is here and people already suffering

UN scientists warn that roughly 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction due to human activity. It would be the first mass extinction since humans started walking the earth and has dire implications for the survival of our own species. Already, humans are losing key ecosystem services that nature provides, including crop pollination, storm mitigation, and clean air and water.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The IPBES’ 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services comes at a critical time for the planet and all its peoples. The report’s findings – and the years of diligent work by the many scientists who contributed – will offer a comprehensive view of the current conditions of global biodiversity. May 6, 2019

Climate Anxiety Exists Now

Lauren suggests we must:

Stop.breathe.think.connect.act

In Baraka you see people following this path, people meditating, pushing back against some of the technology and damaging changes.

We too must question technology of the future – it may be shiny and bright but not normal – Lauren refers to the common symbol we see of a pair of hands holding up the earth. She challenges that image: Let us remember –

the planet holds us up not us holding up the planet.

We need to pierce the politics of denial. Do not accept climate change as the new normal!!

We must move from the idea of a shareholder to stakeholder, not capitalism but a system where the environment is the shareholder.

I think of the endless debates people have about whether climate change is real and wonder how anyone can still be a climate denialist. Then remember a meme doing the rounds of social media and sigh:

recognized experts meme

Bio Cities Living Architecture – Beyond Green Design

The next presenter was Dr Ollie Cotsaftis, a post-disciplinary and speculative designer whose practice sits at the intersection of the human evolution, the built environment and the realm of creative biotechnologies.

His research addresses climate resilience and social innovation in speculative urban futures. Ollie is also the founder and creative director of future ensemble studio, the co-founder of Melbourne Speculative Futures—the Melbourne Chapter of The Design Futures Initiative—experiments with new ideas through his visual art practice, and most recently started a column on speculative and critical design for the This is HCD network.

Ollie wants to answer the question – How do we build our cities and stop the concrete working against us and reconnect with nature?

  • Bio Cities, Living Architecture – Beyond Green design
  • Architecture that is organic
  • Architecture that is sustainable
  • Architecture that is alive

He referred to information from the Bureau of Meteorology that shows temperatures will increase and have been increasing over the last 110 years. The slide courtesy of the CSIRO, July 2019.

temperature slide.jpg

 Ollie suggested we Google action architecture climate change for a wealth of information from people who agree the climate is changing therefore so must architecture.

Carbon dioxide causes global warming. Buildings emit almost half of the carbon dioxide in the USA and that has to stop!

One of the most well-known architects of our time, Bjarke Ingels said: “If we can Change the Climate of the World by Accident, Imagine What we can Achieve by Trying”

Bjarke has become one of the most sought-after architects. In 2019 alone, he and his team completed as many as 13 projects, including large-scale undertakings such as Copenhill, a zero-emission waste-to-energy plant. The innovative solution is the first of its kind in the world: utopia turned reality.

90% of Melbourne’s energy is still based on oil, gas and coal. The CBD is very expensive to live regarding energy use. Ollie has been involved in an experimental project to convert a high-rise corporate building into a sustainable residential alternative.

385 Bourke Street – Hope For The Future

385_Bourke_Street_2017

385 Bourke Street (also known as the State Bank Centre) is a high-rise office building located in Melbourne, Australia. It is the former head office of the State Bank of Victoria and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It is located on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets.

The lower levels of the building are the Galleria shopping centre. Major tenants in the building are Energy Australia and Industry Superannuation fund UniSuper.

Photo and this info from Wikipedia

Built in 1983 it had poor energy efficiency. The owners have spent $2.5m for an energy retrofit to transform it into a residential building. The side exposed to the sun had solar panels fitted to capture that energy.

  • Panels have been put on the outside of the building’s upper floors facing the sun and are red because that is the colour that captures the most energy from the sun.
  • There are plants on window sills, in walkways, on ledges.

Researchers are working all the time to improve battery storage options and rechargeable batteries.

There is a micro bacterial rechargeable battery (MRB) not commercially available yet but in 5 years (just like the development of the OPVs) these could be available and embedded in buildings.

385 Bourke Street has been transformed from a carbon positive corporate tower to a carbon-negative residential tower.

The experiment has proven it is possible to transform energy inefficient city buildings into sustainable alternatives –

  • Extrusion
  • Extension of OPVs
  • Cross-section MRBs
  • Affordability is an issue and more information will be available during Melbourne Design Week march 12-22, 2020 and on April 24, where there will be a full presentation at the NGV.

Ollie wants us to think of different perceptions.  A level of awakening needed and the ability to question how we do things differently. to have –

  • Speculative ideas and consider their future
  • Speculative visions of the future

How do we move from object and service (a building) the individual to a collective way of shaping the city?

Shareholders should be the community of the city.  Even change shareholder to stakeholder, not viewing through a capitalism lens but a system where the environment is the shareholder.

A combination of approaches will equal climate justice

First Nations sovereignty important to recognise – Baraka revealed that the people most affected are often those least responsible for the damage to the earth. 

  • Inequities revealed in 1992 and still happening today
  • Environmental and economic problems caused by historical violence inflicted on first nations people – their lifestyle did not cause these events.

  • We have to face the enormous depths of problems created by history and recognise it is getting harder to predict the future and impact of technology because change happens so fast

Who moved the earth into this state of catastrophe?

It is a slow emergency on a geological timescale but for us now there is a sense of urgency. Baraka shows the disintegration of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the reclaiming of the ruins by nature – through a variety of lens and focus you can lose track of hours and time but you get a sense there is a trajectory we are heading on…

Let’s learn from those who have lived with the earth, let them lead us to repair, restore and be on a better path. In Australia, we must listen to our Indigenous rangers about land management.

An emerging crisis implies a window of opportunity.

Organisations like Wildlife Victoria are helping creatures get through on the short term but also building bridges to an eco future and looking longterm to be positive towards a sustainable future for our wildlife.

In urban settings, we have architects and designers transforming buildings from one function to another. Considering adaptive reuse.

baraka panel 1.jpg

When a bushfire season like the one we have just experienced is so catastrophic, we can be blinded by the vastness of scale which is on the level of global plastic pollution and recycling and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.  It’s easy to miss a lot of slow violence to the earth not necessarily making headline news:

  • Soil degradation
  • land theft from First Nations peoples
  • Poisoning of water and land
  • Species extinction

Ollie explained the city of Jakarta is sinking – water is being drained from tabletops and the city is drowning and must be relocated.  What about the buildings left – will they just rot or will they be reused and repurposed? This is a project to consider under the banner of a speculative future.

  • Can we program a building to degrade itself after a certain lifespan?
  • Can we adapt buildings to our needs?

Principles and ideas shared globally, not just western canon and ethics which has been a problem when everything is Eurocentric or Western-centric.

When tackling projects, cooperation needed around the world between countries and cultures with shared questions.

  • Is this anticipatory?
  • What can go wrong?
  • What are the different scenarios?
  • Have we included everyone and everything to be affected?
  • Are we doing it for the right purpose?
  • Is it the right thing to do?
  • part of the world’s problem is too many design groups are white-centric – we must share principles rather than some grand narrative of design

Greed has led to the Climate Change Catastrophe

How do we go about overtaking and replacing greed and accumulation of wealth as a motivation of the people in power?

  • Law must come into it – positive changes can be imposed by regulations and consequences
  • Often environmental laws are inadequate but even those must be enforced
  • We can funnel channels of greed – eg. You’ll lose money in fossil fuels but make money in renewables
  • We must question fundamental ideas – the shareholder model our society uses feeds inequity
  • We can slow down economic activity – bigger and faster and more luxurious is not necessarily better
  • Change the architecture of our streets to encourage more walking, more sedentary use, more shade, more trees, more places to sit and contemplate, communicate, converse…
life is in acho
a Facebook meme with a great message

Imagine a future when breast cancer is treated with antibiotics!

overcoming cancer sign

On Thursday evening, I heard this amazing thought voiced when I attended a FREE public lecture, exploring the history, current practice and future of breast cancer treatment hosted jointly by the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Care Centre (VCCC) and Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).

Held at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (VCCC), the CEO of BCNA, Kirsten Pilatti, introduced Dr Eric Winer, the keynote speaker and one of the world’s foremost and highly regarded breast cancer specialists from the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in the United States.

It is not the first time Dr Winer has visited Australia to share the knowledge he’s gained from clinical trials he has designed and conducted, the results of which paved the way toward the more personalised treatment of breast cancer patients and move away from the ‘one-size fit all’ approach of previous years.

Kirsten praised Dr Winer’s commitment to ‘treating the patient not the disease’, an approach shaped by his own cancer journey, which enabled him to draw on empathy as well as expertise.

Improving Breast Cancer Outcomes: Past, Present and Future

When Dr Winer, diminutive, grey hair and glasses took over the podium, he apologised if he fell asleep or stumbled during his presentation because he had only arrived in Melbourne that morning after a long flight from Boston.

However, his well-researched presentation delivered efficiently and with aplomb, showed no sign of fatigue and he held the audience spellbound.

cancer centre 1
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

The Past – 1990

1990 was the beginning of Dr Winer’s career concentrating solely on breast cancer, or as he explained ‘that year was the last time I treated a patient without breast cancer.’

His reflections and observations:

  • in the USA there were 150,000 cases recorded and 44,300 deaths

  • it was a monolithic disease – doctors could only determine the stages, not the type

  • most cases presented as a lump or mass

  • treatment was extensive and debilitating surgery

  • psychological and physical distress for the patient

  • chemotherapy and other adjuvant treatments, not an option

  • women were scared, uninformed and felt victims – some felt shameful

  • breast cancer advocacy was in its infancy and sadly, even today, some women still feel or are made to feel ashamed

  • lymphedema was common whereas although it can be a problem today it is not as severe as in the past

  • metastatic treatment was limited, toxic, barbaric and ineffective

  • hormonal therapy limited and it too barbaric compared to nowadays

  • there was poor pain control and patients spent lots of time in hospital

  • breast implants and reconstruction experimental

  • wards were run like ‘concentration camps’

 

peter mac history timeline

TODAY

Today it is totally different.

  • there’s a recognition that one woman’s breast cancer not the same as another
  • a better understanding of biologics heterogeneity (2001 study – genetic differences across tumour types)
  • a better understanding of cancer biology and differences within subtypes
  • a growing appreciation of the tumour micromanagement
  • massive drug development – many new ones on the market with real improvement and better outcomes
  • a better understanding of hormone receptive tumours, they grow slowly and survival rate is high if therapy used

Studies divided tumours into high grade and low grade, and negative and positive to various hormones 

Clinical trials and researchers looked at:

the microenvironment, macroenvironment (the host), diet and exercise

In the last 30 Years

  • Less extensive surgery and more breast preservation
  • Far fewer lymph node dissections
  • Use of several adjuvant therapies to decrease surgery
  • Reduction in early and late toxicity using modern techniques
  • More convenient fractionation schedules
  • Improvements in reconstruction
  • Individualised therapy based on patient preferences
  • Radiation more accurate with better protection of the heart and lungs
  • ⅔ of women eligible to have lumpectomies choose this in the USA
  • Small number choose bilateral mastectomies
  • Advances in chemotherapy and supportive care
  • Widespread use of drugs for cancer deemed hormone therapy receptive with a substantial decline in mortality

The magnitude of late (6-20years) recurrence after an initial diagnosis of ER+ breast cancer disease has shown the value of extended hormone therapy but he is aware of the side effects of this therapy.

Adjuvant treatment is additional therapy after primary surgery to kill or inhibit micro-metastases. Primary surgery for breast cancer is accomplished by lumpectomy followed by whole-breast irradiation or by mastectomy.

In patients at increased risk, chemo, immune or hormonal therapy, kills hidden cancer cells – adjuvant therapy has proven effective in various cancers especially if lymph nodes are involved.

TAILORX Trial

He designed this USA study of 2006-2010.

It was one of the first large scale trials to examine a methodology for personalising cancer treatment.

“Any woman with early-stage breast cancer age 75 or younger should have the 21-gene expression test and discuss the results with her doctor to guide her decision to the right therapy.”

Dr Sparano MD, associate director for clinical research, Albert Einstein Cancer centre New York

The role of chemotherapy for some tumours is still unclear but the data “… confirm that using a 21-gene expression test to assess the risk of cancer recurrence can spare women unnecessary treatment if the test indicates that chemotherapy is not likely to provide benefit.”

The findings of the trial significant:

Most women with early breast cancer do not benefit from chemotherapy – that is 70% of women with the most common type of breast cancer

Women with hormone receptor (HR) – positive, HER2-negative, axillary lymph node-negative breast cancer, the discovery that treatment with chemotherapy and hormone therapy after surgery is not more beneficial than treatment with hormone therapy alone.

There is now greater attention to the quality of life and symptom management of those diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • There are a plethora of anti-HER2 drugs, these new drugs combat the adverse drug reaction patients experience
  • Targeted approaches that augment hormonal agents – an array of hormonal and chemotherapy approaches
  • Advances in radiotherapy

Immunotherapy Trials for triple-negative breast cancer

  • Immunotherapy is more used for the treatment of melanoma and lung cancers
  • It may be useful for metastatic breast cancer

Mortality rates from breast cancer have dropped 38% in the USA

During the trial, the combination of adjuvant therapy and screening compared and the findings show screening is important but can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Some cancers may never bother you in life but are picked up by screening

USA Figures

  • 276,480 cases of invasive disease
  • 48,539 new cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ – the earliest form of breast cancer which is non-invasive)
  • 50,000 deaths

Important findings

  • Therapeutic resistance exists – this a major cause of death in developing countries where there is limited access to screening and drugs
  • Brain metastasis is a major problem for 50% of patients with HER2+
  • Need for better treatment for some cancers and reduction of chemotherapy
  • Overtreatment is an issue – causes substantial morbidity, not death

sign about cancer centre

HEALTH EQUITY

For anyone following USA politics, health equity is a big issue. Dr Winer let it be known he couldn’t imagine anyone in the room liking or supporting President Trump, or his acceptance of the current health inequalities in the USA where there is inadequate and unequal access to healthcare

Dr Winer certainly didn’t support Trump, he was ‘from Boston and no one supports Trump there!’

Health equity is a fundamental social problem and screams discrimination.

Race, poverty, limited education, lack of health insurance and health literacy all contribute to inequity.

Whether it is because of poverty, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or being considered overweight – statistics show if you are a 30-year-old lesbian or a woman over 80, if diagnosed there is a high risk of dying from breast cancer!

Racial disparity in breast cancer persists with people of colour suffering higher rates of death.

In her introduction, Kirsten mentioned the problem in Australia regarding Aboriginal women’s access to health services. In the USA, Dr Winer said it is the African-American population who suffer, and ironically the worst equity is in Washington!

Less than optimal care can cause death from almost anything that makes a person have less access to healthcare available.

Health inequity may cause up to 30% unnecessary deaths

Regarding clinical trials – there is a low participation rate and Dr Winer wants more engagement with clinicians and better communication so there is meaningful interaction between patients and clinicians about the importance of clinical trials.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Possum Skin Cloak – Peter MacCallum Centre acknowledges and pays respect to the Wurundjeri People, the traditional owners of the land on which the hospital stands.

Possum skin cloaks are one of the many expressions of traditional south-eastern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Cloaks aid healing and wellbeing by connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to their culture and identity and spiritual healing.

We thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women Survivors of Breast Cancer and other cancers that created this beautiful healing cloak, intended for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families while at Peter Mac.

In creating this healing cloak, we acknowledge the Peter Mac Foundation and our partnership with Breast Cancer Network Australia.

DRUG COST 2017

These are the amounts drug companies estimate it costs for production of various drugs used in breast cancer treatment (a year’s supply):

  • $20,000
  • $132,000
  • $120,000
  • $102,000
  • $118,000
  • $76,000
  • Dr Winer said the drug development costs 2-5 times more in the USA than anywhere else, therefore the profit margin is not reasonable.
  • The government prohibits negotiating around the cost of drugs, Dr Winer believes there should be control and regulation for the sake of health equity.

Dr Winer looked at the future and made some predictions:

Next 10 Years

  • More detailed understanding of the disease
  • Real improvements in survival and quality of life
  • Less surgery,
  • Advances and better-targeted radiation
  • Decline in deaths
  • Increase in those considered “cured”
  • Health equity may improve in the next decade
  • 25-40% reduction in deaths
  • No movement in prevention

Next 25-30 Years

  • We’ll be treating breast cancer with antibiotics
  • Death will be rare – a 50-80% reduction
  • Prevention treatment may be possible

Questions from the audience

 

  1. A man in the audience suggested dragon boat racing, which many women take up after surgery, is effective in reducing the risk of recurrence because it is good exercise and helps with weight loss and improved strength. He had attended another talk where a doctor had said that 10,000 breast screens only saved one life and wanted to know if that statistic was true.

Answer: Dr Winer said that breast screening was a less useful tool than people assumed. People have to consider their general health and quality of life and detect cancer early and choose the best treatment available.

Screening mammograms can often find invasive breast cancer and DCIS that need to be treated, but possibly some of those cancers would never grow or spread.

Dr Winer is aware that many of the hormonal therapies have horrible side effects and more work needs to be done in deciding who will benefit from it and in reducing side effects.

  1. How Do You Prevent Breast Cancer?

Dr Winer admitted his reply was the ‘impossible dream’ and with a slightly facetious smile rattled off the following:

  • Have first child before the age of 18
  • Avoid weight gain if post-menopausal
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake
  • If the disease is in your family have regular check-ups
  • Take Tamoxifen (however, this has side effects some people find distressing!)

PERSPECTIVE

The forum was on the 7th floor of the cancer centre – an amazing view of the city you don’t often see.

I chatted with two women while waiting for the forum to start.

One had a mastectomy plus lymph bodes removed 28 years ago. She was on a trial and her chemotherapy resulted in many weeks in the hospital. Cancer, returned 11 years later but it is now 17 years since the recurrence. The other survivor had a bilateral mastectomy 27 years ago. Now in her 80s, she has decided to resign from the committee of the VCCC. She fundraised and campaigned to have the centre established.

As Dr Winer said, clinical trials and learning from the vast amount of data over the years is very important. Both these women have given so much to help clinicians understand and treat breast cancer and improve survival rates.

We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

Just as I saw the city in a different light that evening, I also saw the effectiveness of breast screening in a different light. Apparently, only 30% of breast cancers are picked up by screening and unless interpreted correctly can lead to unnecessary interference, overtreatment and a lot of angst.

Both my cancers were first detected by a routine mammogram – how lucky was I?

I left the VCCC more enlightened but with plenty to mull over on the train trip home while acknowledging my privilege.

The Peter MacCallum Centre is world-class, and the treatment I have had for breast cancer (both times) at Cabrini has been excellent and Peter Gregory, my breast surgeon, is a caring specialist who communicates well with his patients.

A big thank you to Melbourne University and the Breast Cancer Network – both organisations promoted the forum to me.

Walking down Elizabeth Street to Melbourne Central I counted my blessings, enjoying the balmy evening in our very livable city!

It is good to know my daughters and others in the future will benefit from the dedicated clinicians and researchers working towards that amazing goal of an antibiotic for breast cancer!

 

 

 

A Twitter Feed That’s Addictive And Uplifting

morning feed lorikeets

I’ve always found refuge and comfort in words whether writing, reading, talking or listening…

However, perhaps it is ageing and adjusting to retirement or the weariness of coping with this latest cancer diagnosis, but the urge and even the passion for creative writing is difficult to muster.

Snatches of poems and stories still swirl in head and heart, but that’s where they usually stay – no ‘writer’s block’ just disinterest or lack of energy to go the next step.

Maybe I need to remove self-imposed pressure and unrealistic goals.

I haven’t fallen out of love with the art of writing, just facing the use-by date of some goals and dreams I thought important or achievable. 

Conversations with self and the in-depth reflections that often accompany a cancer diagnosis, especially when it strikes again, have led me to a new passion and much-needed relaxation.

Or rather, it has encouraged an expansion of an existing fascination and another project.

I’m talking about protecting birdlife – especially the ‘backyard birds’ I see every day – and creating a garden for man, beast, bird, bee and butterfly to enjoy.

sunflower 2

It is addictive watching the interaction when birds visit the front garden, listening to their chitter-chatter – delightful twittering.

And like the paparazzi, I try to capture the perfect photo!

They inspire me to write – not for anyone else but myself and for fun – two elements missing in the years of planning lessons, teaching technique, and inspiring others to write and publish.

I don’t have to feel guilty about writing for pleasure, or that the pleasure is mine!

pretty polly 2

Words Have Power

Words are a powerful form of communication.  I love the nuances and capabilities of the English language, although the multiple meanings and grammatical rules are complicated and confusing when you are trying to master it.

Choose wisely, check the dictionary, listen to the tone, think of interpretation…

The influence of poems, stories, and novels can stay with you for life, also excerpts of dialogue from a dramatic script or film. Favourite song lyrics may move you to tears and can take you back to an important moment in time when you hear the song.

Putting it in writing’ and sending letters or emails, recording a journal or updating a diary, even keeping a blog are all valuable forms of expression to share ideas, feelings, and creativity and wonderful when it is not a chore, venting about injustice, or keeping a friendship alive.

I hope to return to feeling elation when my words work.

Word Choice Matters

The pen can be mightier than the sword but that depends on the opponent and circumstance – wars are fought and won with military hardware and signed contracts of peace don’t seem to wield the same power.

The belief ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is patently untrue.

The toxicity of social media attacks and resultant damage, plus the terrible toll of suicides after bullying (virtual and physical), proof that name-calling, insults, false accusations and misinformation hurt and destroy. (The pen is as mighty as the sword?)

We have, as an example, President Trump, one of the most powerful leaders in the world, and his use of Twitter. He is certainly someone who has brought the medium into disrepute more than others, but there are many other examples of what reporters call ‘Twitter fights” – and suddenly someone has their account cancelled or removes themselves voluntarily.

In the digital age, the reputation of journalism has also taken a hit, especially when clicks are more important than content. The lack of digital literacy in the community is a worry.

There are many recorded instances of two-quick Twitter reactions/responses, and the toxic comments of trolls and others who comment with online anonymity creating more articles so that often the important news or original topic is ignored.

Poison-pen letters and nasty critiques existed long before the popularity of social media, but the digital age and the speed and distance words travel makes me content to have a twitter account of the feathered variety!

And once sent out a word takes wing beyond recall.

Horace 65-8 BC: Epistles

Not that you can ignore ‘progress’ or technological change. I did introduce my students to Twitter and we had fun writing poetry and flash fiction – a totally different use than what it was designed for – although President Trump’s tweets could fall under the category of fiction but not poetry!

these legs were made for wlaking

For the past year, walking by Mordialloc Creek and the foreshore, exercising Josie around suburban streets, exploring local parks and those further afield, provides comfort and delight but contentment is revelling in the joys of my garden’s flora and fauna.

The pleasure deepens sharing these activities with my daughters and friends.

Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.

The Wit and Wisdom of Adlai Stevenson (1965)

white heron and silhouette

dusky moorhen

The real world often disturbs these idyllic routines of the natural world.  Politics, protests, the climate emergency and mundane household maintenance intrude, along with a persistent inner voice that I should be ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’ – getting the hang of this retirement gig is difficult!

Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.

Lillian Carter

A Comforting Stillness
Mairi Neil

In the stillness of the evening
a hush
birds nestle in the trees
until daybreak

In the stillness of the evening
a rustling
nocturnal animals forage
until daybreak

In the stillness of the evening
a hush

Above the stars twinkle
clouds veil the moon
the Milky Way cascades in flashing lights
a reminder each day a star is born
in the endless universe
yet, no sound reaches Earth

In the stillness of the evening
a hush
a rustling
a silence
my heart beats a sweet rhythm
thinking of you.

An Urgent Plea Received

Dear Mairi,

The bushfires have been worse than any of us could have imagined. If you (or anyone you know) has been affected, our hearts go out to you.    

BirdLife Australia is coordinating the response for threatened birds nationally and our fire mapping has identified the species most impacted by the inferno. Now is the time for us all to take urgent action.  

We believe millions of birds were incinerated in the blaze. Millions more have lost habitat and face starvation right now. I fear many birds, like the Rufous Scrub-bird, will soon join the list of threatened species. Their future is in our hands…

We have the plans and the people in place, but we know it will take at least $2 million to begin priority actions to save the most threatened of the birds impacted by the fires.

With your urgent help today, we can:

  • Get survey teams into fire zones as soon as possible to find threatened birds
  • Help birds recover by protecting them from predators and supporting habitat recovery
  • Rebuild populations over the long term, through actions like captive breeding programs

http://www.birdlife.org.au/

magpie in shade

Birds live in a range of habitats, making them useful indicators of what is happening in the world. Across the globe and throughout Australia, birds take exciting journeys to search for food, to follow the rain and look for breeding sites. Learning about birds helps you connect with the natural world and helps us understand more about the environment we live in.

While we enjoy a position at the forefront of bird conservation, our work is far from done. With 238 Australian birds already extinct, threatened with extinction or near threatened, we need to ensure that we don’t lose more of them.

glass owl paperweight

I’ve written recently about the extent of the devastation from bushfires, drought and climate change, but also how the threat of extinction for many of our birds has hung like the Sword of Damocles for years.

We are running out of time to address the climate emergency, but we can all contribute to protecting and improving the aspects of our local environment necessary for native wildlife, especially the birds.

Bird species have incurred huge losses, not just because of climate change, but habitats have succumbed to development, domestic cats, and a recent study of millions of birds killed by flying into the glass windows of highrise buildings is a sad read.

We can make buildings safer for birds. Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning…

New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.

The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows…

A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.

sunset at beach

Create a bird-friendly garden

Birds need a home to breed and bring up their families. Their natural habitat normally provides food, shelter, water and nesting sites, but in urban areas they need help.

BirdLife.org advise how to create a suitable habitat in backyards, parks, bush reserves and even wider communities. Here are four of their fact sheets:

magpie atop hills hoist

lorikeets enjoying the new seed block

Mordialloc Meditation
Mairi Neil

On Main Street, Mordialloc
the lull of evening signalled
by oh, so familiar sounds…
birds jostle and joust
for palm tree frond, gum-leafed house.
Dusk descends into twilight glow
the tweets and squeals
a deafening crescendo –
a cacophony of conversation:
Time for bed.
Nestle down!’
That’s my branch…’
Move over magpies!’
All must know their station
in life. There’s a sense of place,
chatter, bargain, even squabble
but eventually sharing space.

Stop skylarking about!
You lorikeet lout!’
Squeeze over sparrows.’
How precious are parrots?
Pigeons! The rooftops are home for you
go mutter your usual “coo-coo”…’
And in the gloaming, shadows
of building construction loom,
mounds of dirt in lonely gloom.
A treeless landscape, evictions rife
Mordi’s birds may face a new life.
I remember a bloody chainsaw day
shake my head and turn away…
Continue to walk by Mordi Creek
watch the ducks silently glide,
a cormorant rest in contemplation
this beautiful tranquillity
a sanctuary from conurbation.

How lovely the shimmering ripples
of boats tethered for the night,
feathered friends dive and feed
in the fast-fading light.
A familiar outline against the sky
silhouettes of ancient trees
reminding us of when this creek
hosted Bunurong corroborees.
The path peopled by dog walkers,
and school children hurrying home
joggers and health fanatics
grateful for the space to roam.
In the eucalyptus evening hush
this precious part of the day,
Mordialloc Meditative Therapy
chases my doldrums away.

australian raven 2

Hitchcock’s Crime Against Birds

I’ve always had a fascination for our feathered friends, but nursed a fear of close contact after seeing Hitchcock’s The Birds!

Nothing equals The Birds for sheer terror when Alfred Hitchcock unleashes his foul friends in one of his most shocking and memorable masterpieces… beautiful blonde Melanie Daniels rolls into Bodega Bay in pursuit of eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner. She is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. Suddenly thousands of birds are flocking into town, preying on school-children and residents in a terrifying series of attacks. Soon Mitch and Melanie are fighting for their lives against a deadly force that can’t be explained and can’t be stopped in one of Hollywood’s most horrific films of nature gone berserk.

Released in 1963, I must have seen The Birds on television in 1968 or soon after – I would have been 15 – but it could have been yesterday because it is one of those movies you never forget.

Hitchcock was a master at creating fear and who would have thought a movie with such an innocuous title could be terrifying?

It took me years to look at birds with admiration, not suspicion. And it is amazing how many people I have met over the years who were affected by that film!

For years, I preferred to keep a distance from birds, disliked seeing them caged and envied their ability to fly, but still held an irrational fear they’d try and peck at my eyes.

If you read the trivia notes on IMDb, they reveal the treatment meted out to the birds on the set of the film – behaviour not tolerated today – we should feel sorry for them not the humans.

bird feeding frenzy

Ten Birds Regularly Visit My Garden

Google Backyard Birds, to discover a host of information on birds found in Australian backyards; each state gets a mention.

Depending on what suburb you live in, the following birds will probably be common visitors.

Noisy Miner

baby noisy miner
Noisy Miner

Common Myna

common myna
Common Myna

Australian Raven

australian raven in garden
Australian Raven

Grey Butcherbird

butcher birds visiting
Butcherbirds

Magpie

magnificent magpie
Magpie

Magpie-lark

magpie-lark 3
Magpie-lark

Lorikeet

lorikeet in vivd colour
lorikeet

Red Wattlebird

wattlebird
young wattlebird

Spotted Dove

spotted dove
spotted dove

Sparrow

a very tiny sparrow
tiny sparrow

I admire and respect the tenacity and survival instincts of the bird population; their cleverness and beauty, their strength despite such fragile frames. For years, a blackbird family built their nests in the Photinia trees that line our back fence and watching the birds fly back and forth with twigs, discarded pieces of plastic and other debris hanging from tiny beaks proved how adaptable and innovative they can be.

Little Blackbird
Mairi Neil

Oh, little blackbird
with your puffed-out chest
to some your song is sweet.
Others, they despise you
native birds must compete.
You build a nest
to lay your eggs —
eat up all the food
the native birds fly away
a situation far from good
Some say we should leave
Mother Nature well alone
birds are free to travel
they often widely roam.
Perhaps accusations are absurd
because the sky is limitless
and belongs to ALL the birds!
©1997 mn

Last year, I filmed a magpie ripping threads from a coir mat and flying off to build a nest.

Drought and urban development shifts bird populations. Mordialloc now echoes to the screeching and chittering of flocks of rainbow lorikeets, especially in the evening when they roost in the iconic date palms lining Main Street, the prolific sparrows and thrushes of earlier years forced elsewhere.

Marauding Mimics
Mairi Neil

They appear on the lawn
like four pirates of old
strutting and aggressive
noisy and bold.

Fixing beady eyes
on a treasure trove
they bully incessantly —
taking what they love

They’ve come to this land
from across the sea
in an ideal climate
they thrive with glee

They raid and steal
do what pirates do best
the Common Myna
has become quite a pest
© 1996 mn

The cockatoos and galahs are still around but prefer the open area down by Mordialloc Creek.

galahs at the park
galahs feeding

Melodic butcherbirds and bullying wattlebirds have made their home in grevillea and banksias, ensuring the smaller birds rarely visit. The sky often patterned by flocks of migrating birds from the nearby Edithvale Wetlands.

Sometimes one or two rare birds choose my garden for a rest or snack instead of ‘eating on the wing’, the experience a delight, but Murphy’s Law dictates my camera is never ready to capture the moment!

Wandering in the garden with my morning cuppa, I’ve recorded quite a few of the bird calls because they are so beautiful. Identifying the singer often leaves me intrigued. Most birds are gifted with plumage to match their preferred habitat, they blend into tree foliage, the bushes, reeds or grasslands with ideal camouflage.

two lorikeets whispering
two lorikeets have the perfect cover

Shadows
Mairi Neil

The plaintive song echoes
in the university grounds
as students hurry home
past skeletal branches
of winter trees
hosting the bird’s lament

a mournful echo
of dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels
tapping footsteps
ringtones
mobile conversations
iPod seclusion

a wistful whistle announces dusk
until full-throated celebration
a melodious call to rest
lights douse
classroom doors close
shadows deepen
the campus empties

crowded trams trundle by
bathed in artificial sunlight
tall grey buildings reach
for a star embroidered sky
this call of birded tongue
conjures ghosts
of long-forgotten species.

The Kookaburra Laughs In The Old Gum Tree…

When my family first arrived in Australia, in 1962, magpies proliferated in bushy Croydon, so did kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos and galahs. Most of those birds absent from Mordialloc when John and I started our family here in the 1980s.

The last kookaburras sighted in nearby Bradshaw Park long before I joined the Friends group and worked to save the remnants of indigenous flora and fauna from encroaching suburbia. Bradshaw Park is the only native bushland reserve in Mordialloc and is home to 136 native species – some of which occur nowhere else in Mordialloc.

Rangers have sighted 33 native bird species, but introduced birds thrive too.

Tuneful blackbirds, thrushes and common mynas gobbled the crumbs I scattered each morning (a politically incorrect habit learned from Mum and Dad that I’ve now ceased!).

As I learned from others in the Friends group and planted indigenous trees and flowers, after many years, some native birds now call the trees and shrubbery I’ve nurtured, home.

Recently, a dear friend of 50 years visited from London. Nobuko stayed with other friends in Olinda before me and brought me a teatowel made locally as a gift. It reminded me of childhood trips to visit Sherbrooke Forest.

teatowel from nobuko

These rosellas are often seen up in the Dandenongs but there is another bird I have only been lucky to spot a couple of times in my life – very special memories.

Lyre Bird’s Lair
Mairi Neil

A forgotten memory surfaces strong
feeds a yearning now the days are long
an image of childish eyes entranced
the memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his unusual repertoire of sound
the lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
tail feathers splayed shimmering white
hiding his head from onlookers’ sight
without colourful peacock arrogance
he began his shy seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
until the lyrebird’s energy spent
and he disappeared amongst the trees
ephemeral as the morning breeze.

Walking the paths of Sherbrooke Forest,
enthused by dreams of aeons past
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance.
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
replicates man-made sounds at will –
chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
he’s perfected them all as part of his charm.
The picnic area leads to the nature track
warmth of dappled sunlight upon my back.
Cloaked by primeval ferns dripping dew
I abandon pungent asphalt; exhaust fumes too
farewell gravel crunch, and human chatter
leaving creek where mosquitoes scatter.

Winding upwards to the whistling wagtail
I try to spot him but to no avail
a flurry of wings, camera shy rosella revealed
the foliage of Sherbrooke a perfect shield
As ancient eucalypts climb towards the sky
an eastern whipbird’s distinctive ‘crack’ nearby
spongy deep green moss cushions city feet
ornamental fungi from undergrowth peeps.
Vegetation hugs the path and sprouts native grass
exposed skin tickled as I stride past.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
the towering Mountain Ash cast their spell
fragile maidenhair ferns decorate the trail
flighty butterflies appreciating their veil.

Panting with the exertion of the climb
each pause filled with birdsong sublime
my misty breaths join whispering trees
a nearby rustling makes me freeze.
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
a sight I never expected to see
constructed with meticulous precision
a female lyrebird’s nesting vision.
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
the perfect home developed through years.
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
what an amazing bird unique to this nation
but alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
the enigmatic lyrebird and chick long gone.

© 2013

 

 

More than Irish Eyes Are Smiling

A WRITER IS A WRITER quote.jpg

Last year, the frustration of failed words, struggling motivation and dashed hopes seemed to be my lot, although I enjoyed limited success with a poem published in the Australian Senior, July 2019 and a play shortlisted in ARKfest 2020.

Maybe I can still claim the title writer…

Satisfaction came by helping students achieve their writing dreams, which in Mary Robinson’s case (the Irish eyes of this post’s title) was a book she had been working on for several years before coming to the Life Stories & Legacies class at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh, ‘to finally, transform nostalgic reflections into a book to hold.

The class finished in 2018 but I promised Mary to help publish One Last Goodbye, a labour of love and a wonderful legacy for her daughter Catherine, and granddaughter Ilsa.

In the Introduction, Mary expresses why so many ‘pick up a pen’ or attend a writing class…

There are deeply personal reasons to finish writing my memoir. I am, I suppose, like most people who have reached the 80-year mark, conscious of time passing and wishing to reveal information to family members I may not have previously spoken of. I am also keenly aware of my daughter, Catherine, raising her child at a time of tumultuous change in Australia and the world.
I possess that innate human need to link the past with the future so that all our loved ones who came before us are honoured and their stories not lost. I want the generations who will follow to remember how hard their ancestors worked to give us all a better and slightly easier life, and the real sacrifices the Morans made to reach these goals. I want my darling little granddaughter, Ilsa to get a sense of where her kith and kin have come from so that no matter how far is travelled, both in terms of time and geography, she will feel the tug of her Irish roots and be inspired by their great efforts to meet the challenges in her own life as she grows up.

 

mary at home with book.jpg

A fellow student, Edna Gaffney, published her memoir in July, to celebrate her 90th birthday, giving Mary a fresh burst of energy to persist. Determination needed to see the project through because a series of health crises, including a bad fall led to an extended hospital stay to heal several broken bones in her hand and other damage.

(Murphy’s Law meant it was the writing hand!)

We set the deadline for November so copies of the book could be Christmas gifts to family overseas and just made it when the happy author held a copy on November 25th!

OneLastGoodbye - cover.jpg
The painting Crossroads, Bleaskill, Achill Sound, by Thomas Moran, Mary’s brother, adapted to good effect by my daughter, Mary Jane who has helped me with the ten books I’ve published in recent years.

The title of the book, a phrase Mary’s mother said each time her daughter left after a visit.  Echoed in the last line, it is a fitting end to the book, when on a visit ‘home’ in 2002, was indeed the last goodbye.

We had many discussions about the format (A4), titles and placements of chapters, what photographs to include, the cover design and blurb – a process of close collaboration to ensure the book encapsulates Mary’s love of her birthplace, Achill isle and her family. It was important to tell the story in a natural voice, including Gaelic words and local vernacular.

There is Irish history, information about traditional customs, and immense pride in the Irish diaspora’s contribution  – Mary’s family, the Morans – a clan scattered across several continents, like many others from Erin’s isle.

Before coming to Australia and continuing a long nursing career, Mary was a nun in the USA for 15 years.  This time in her life merits a stand-alone book if she felt inclined, however, it does not define her life of caring for others. Mary’s nursing career took her from London to Chicago, Perth, Port Hedland, Darwin, New Guinea and Melbourne, including an active part in the memorable 1986 Victorian Nurses Strike!

Modest and unassuming, Mary Robinson is typical of many ‘ordinary’ people who have lived extraordinary lives.

I always feel privileged to hear the journeys and help the women record their stories.  Society must not lose valuable contributions to the tapestry of herstory and history.

Image result for herstory quotes

Celebrating Each Other’s Success

Another student from the Bentleigh class offered to host a celebration and mini-launch of Mary’s book but organising a date to suit everyone over the Christmas period is not an easy task.

On Friday, December 27, most past students met for a delicious lunch and just ‘like old times’ we all read a piece of writing, listened to each other’s stories and congratulated Mary on her achievement.

Edna read a small piece from her book, Chibby From Brandy Creek reminding us of life in rural Australia during the 1930s Depression. She shared the wonderful news that her daughter was arranging for the printing of more books.

edna reading

A thoroughly modern Jan read a poem she confessed to ‘dashing off’ on her mobile phone while on the train. We sat enthralled at the funny rhyming verse about Christmas and the discovery of decorations like the ‘hairy fairy’.

An impressive, polished poem produced in ‘ten minutes’ – wow – and a demonstration that age is not a barrier to mastering technology!

jan reading her poem

Nora shared a delightful ‘Ode To The Pantry’ and reflected on her life as an Armenian immigrant integrating culinary and cultural practices, especially at a time like Christmas with traditional rituals.

She cleaned out the pantry to prepare for cooking expected treats and pondered the outcome if spices, seeds, sauces and legumes commonly found in Armenian recipes were forgotten or the wrong quantities used.

Special occasions need the added spice…

And we all agreed, we like added spice!

Nora reading her poem story

Janet read her poem The Mirror of ANZAC, written when she attended a ceremony at Gallipoli in 2000.

When she stood at the grave of a man from Mentone buried at Lone Pine, she reflected on the universal story of soldiers everywhere who fight and die far from home.

janet explaing her poem

Annie read a thoughtful essay with observations about various plants in her garden and having conversations with her flowers and trees when she is weeding, fertilising,  pruning and planting.

An ex-teacher, her essays always delve below the surface and like Nora’s stories; they are philosophical reflections on the human condition and human behaviour.

The gardening piece morphed into memories of her first teaching position, a tough gig. Assigned a class of Grade Threes comprising 36 pupils deemed ‘troublemakers’ and unwanted by the other teachers, it made her question her career choice.

Annie reading her story

Annie said to be a good gardener and teacher you have to stay alert and adapt, and like the needs of plants, we must nurture some children more than others.

Mary read a lovely poem about a rose presented to her by the Henry Lawson Society for her 80th birthday.

mary reading her poem

The care and development of the rose and the joy experienced when it blossomed an apt metaphor for the time and effort Mary put into writing her book and how she felt when she held a copy in her hands.

It was a lovely memory day, allowing me to bask and learn from the writing prowess of others.

I’ll finish the post with a memory Mary shares in her book that has remained from the moment she shared it in class:

We had many farm animals and so had to cut and dry a large supply of hay to feed them through the colder months when snow covered the fields and hills. The children helped with this process, gathering in the fields and helping to rake the hay into rows. Haymaking and wet weather made for bad work companions similar to the peat preparations. We always prayed for the rain to stay away. A day in the fields cutting and collecting hay both hard work and happiness. We all looked forward to 3:00pm when Mother came around. We watched eagerly as she passed around cups of tea and slices of home-baked soda bread. This picnic atmosphere made the hard work more bearable.
The next labour-intensive work was hoeing the potatoes out of the ground and piling them in hessian sacks. Father also cut, bundled and stacked the hay for the animals in the barn to last through winter. Farm life harsh with work never-ending. While growing up, I didn’t fully realise how extremely hard my father worked because he suffered in silence, never complaining or being negative. Life was what people did and they just got on with it.
Recently, by sheer accident, my brother, Michael spotted a photograph of Father in one of the many books that are published about our region. The book titled: I Remember It Well: Memories of Yesteryear, 120th Anniversary of Western People, published in 2003 by The Western People newspaper. They had not identified him by name but it was Father all right, just as I remember him, face concentrating on his work, yet managing to convey an air of cheerfulness. Whenever I read the caption: ‘Back-breaking work – an old man carries a creel of turf in Achill, 1967’ tears well and my heart constricts. Father was only in his sixties but looked eighty. All the decades of hard work aged him before his time and sadly, he died of a massive heart attack a few months after this picture was taken.

p9, One Last Goodbye, Mary Robinson

For many years, the regular exodus of Irish families to mainland Britain working skilled or semi-skilled jobs was vital to the British economy, especially the rebuilding necessary after the war. These workers returned home to work farms to provide for their families during the winter months and sent money home at other times. Some never returned home and hence statistics like 60% of the population of cities like Glasgow and Liverpool have Irish ancestry!

Many countries and many economies owe a debt of gratitude to the hard work of Irish immigrants and books like Mary Robinson’s, add faces, names and background details to enrich the stark statistics.

mary robinson and book

 

Australian Creatures Great and Small Need Respect and Restored Habitat but Right Now Rescue Remedies are Priority!

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At our local vet, a baby possum held by a qualified wildlife rescuer

Experts suggest more than a billion animals have died in the bushfires engulfing eastern Australia and animal rights groups have asked the Victorian Government to replicate the action of the NSW Government and drop thousands of kilograms of carrots and sweet potatoes into bushfire-affected areas to save starving wildlife.

Although feeding wildlife and making them dependent on people for food can create problems too. However, Lyn White, of Animals Australia has said:

This is an unprecedented situation which requires unique and innovative solutions.

It is indeed!

And Guardian Australia revealed two days ago that already 80% of the Blue Mountains and 50% of Gondwana rainforests have burned – and the bushfire crisis is ongoing.

As a conservationist and longtime supporter of animal organisations, even proudly earning the title ‘Champion’ from WWF Australia,  never in my worst nightmare did I think the devastation we are experiencing would happen, but the signs have been there for a long time regarding habitat destruction as this 1999 article states:

birds already facing extinction

raven and dead tree 4
Some mythology has the crow as a portent of death…

The terrible losses suffered must motivate all levels of government and all communities to think about development, urban creep, logging, mining, land clearing and overall treatment of our rivers, parks and nature reserves.

Do we want a world with less diversity, a world without birdsong, a world where TV documentaries or zoos are the only available access to certain species?

The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper.

Robert Brault

listen to the scientists january 202.jpg

What have we done & What can we do?

The statistics of a billion animals dead and millions of acres destroyed, and figures skyrocketing daily are too massive for me to comprehend. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words and heart-breaking images saturating social media and the traditional press show the urgency of this climate catastrophe.

There are also heartwarming stories and pictures of animals being rescued and treated for burns, other injuries, plus starvation or thirst because their homes no longer exist.

Communities not affected by the fires have responded in amazing ways. One of the most popular and most needed at the beginning of the bushfire disaster was the plea for pouches for injured and orphaned baby koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums and bats.

wildlife pouch tutorial 2.jpg

Late November, I attended a special sewing workshop to make these pouches at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House.

Bushfires had been burning for weeks in Queensland and NSW but increased as summer drew near and temperatures got hotter. Much of the news taken up with debates about climate change, fire resources and apportioning blame and it took some time for the public to understand the impact on our wildlife.

I was aware because of membership of WWF but wanted to do something practical. I can still hear my parents saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’ and I always feel I’ve achieved something if I can see a practical outcome.

the needs of wildlife rescuers.jpg

However, it felt strange attending a workshop as a participant, not the facilitator!  I hadn’t visited the House for two years although I’d taught writing there for over twenty and it was the ‘home’ of Mordialloc Writers Group.

There was a new manager, and I didn’t know anyone in the sewing group – in fact, I was the only ring-in who had answered the call advertised on Facebook.

the sewing b at Mordi house

Made welcome immediately and offered a brief tutorial,  I joined the production line, to cut out pouches and listen to expert advice and tips. I took a baker’s dozen pouches home to sew and posted them to Sydney the following week, receiving a lovely email of appreciation.

The patterns are freely available from the Animal Rescue Freecycle Craft Guild and many other places found on Google. You can mix and match material – injured wildlife care about comfort (cotton or other soft materials for liners) not fashion.

Knitters and those able to crochet can make items too and Facebook groups have sprung up advertising community gatherings and mass knitting and crochet events.

I had an attempt at knitting an outer pouch over Christmas but the pile of pouches I sent to Gippsland were mainly liners from cutting up a flannelette sheet.

Not sure if it was because I was recovering from surgery, misread the pattern, or I’m a slow knitter, but the one outer pouch I knitted took ages and turned out a different size than I expected. And here was me thinking the pattern would be easier to follow than the Poppy Project I did!

Support From All Over Australia and Internationally

Just like the firefighting and fundraising efforts, people from all over the world have rallied to send money and craft items for a variety of wildlife organisations. I’ve heard reports the response has overwhelmed some centres with koala mittens and bat wraps, while others desperately need large pouches for kangaroos.

I hope this fabulous outpouring of support will continue but we must put pressure on those in power to accept the realities of climate change, accept the consequences of lost or degraded habitat and instigate policies to turn this tragic situation around.

Life's gamble

Think Global and Act Local

Our CSIRO scientists warned us about the effects of climate change as has Greta Thunberg and the ‘A-list’ of conservationists headed by Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.

As I write, giant hailstones pelt Parliament House, Canberra – I’m sad for the damage to vegetation, homes and birds but oh, how I wish they could knock some sense into the politicians ignoring all the best advice from public servants, emergency service personnel and scientists.

youth climate strike poster.jpg

Meanwhile,  we can all look after the native vegetation and wildlife in our own communities – and for most of us living in suburbia that could include possums, wombats, lizards, ducks and birds. Although experts do not recommend feeding because of increased development and unusual weather patterns, looking out for the health of native wildlife will ensure their survival.

Download Fact Sheets about feeding here: https://www.healthywildlife.com.au/documents-to-download/#/

Ringtail and Brushtail possums in Melbourne have suffered because of increased development, domestic cats, and the periods of intense summer heat becoming longer. Some councils have guidelines to help positive interaction between human and possum.

possum info 2012

On hot days I leave a bit of food and water in the garden for our resident possums. Some friends do the same for their furry friends.

Although nocturnal animals, our little possums come down to sleep in the camellia tree during the day when it is boiling – a behaviour I’ve never seen until recently.

Sadly, when out walking I’ve come across dead possums more often.  They may have died because of the heat, starvation, a cat or dog attack and even electrocution when they’ve got too close to power lines.

Native birds dislocated because of dense development, the drought, changing climate, introduced species and lost habitat can also do with some proactive love if you still want to wake up to birdsong.

It is preferable to plant trees and flowers that provide natural food but that isn’t always possible in an urban environment.

I love it when the magpies, butcher birds, wattlebirds, rainbow lorikeets and even the vocal noisy minors visit me. Several bottlebrushes provide a feast for various birds but I supplement their diet with some wild bird seed and fill the water dish on hot days.

Google information on plants that attract butterflies and bees and trees that nurture the birds – but also the fact sheets on what not to feed them!

But most of all, listen to the scientists and take climate change seriously we do not want this horrific summer with all its tragic losses to be the new norm.

thomas moore quote.jpg

When Life Throws a Curveball, Love, Friendship and Kindness Nurtures Resilience

 

bc package.jpg
message on My Journey Kit

Last month breast cancer loomed large in my life again when an annual mammogram and ultrasound detected a small tumour.

If the worry about bushfires and climate change wasn’t enough to shatter equilibrium, here was a personal crisis requiring me to face pain, grief, loss and other assaults on happiness.

Supposedly, the season of goodwill, quality family time and holidays –  I had a list to complete:

  • putting up a tree and decorations so the glorious smell of pine resonated throughout the house confirming Christmas
  • celebrating the successes of the year – my daughter and I published four books for people wanting to leave a record of their life or a legacy for family
  • publishing a class anthology – an annual event to crown a year or semester of writing for my students
  • shopping for presents for loved ones and friends and writing cards or emails for those annual catch-ups
  • planning outings for visitors from overseas and looking forward to returning a little of the hospitality I received when I travelled to Europe and UK 2017
  • cleaning and decluttering and other rituals associated with Hogmanay – the traditional Scottish New Year, which since childhood signals clean sweeps of cupboards and wardrobes
  • writing a final blog post for the year to share my poems published and play shortlisted in 2019 enabling me to lay claim to the title ‘creative writer’ …

good luck flowers from girls.jpg

The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley

Rabbie Burns

Diary of An Unwelcome Diagnosis

Monday, December 2     Mammogram and ultrasound at Mentone. The radiologist said nothing but her body language; the time spent on the ultrasound, the check of x-rays just completed …  a tiny fear formed in my stomach …

‘When are you seeing the breast specialist?’

‘Thursday.’

‘Good. He’ll get the results and report.’

Thursday, December 5  the annual check-up with breast surgeon Peter – nine years since my mastectomy.  I could tell by his body language this visit was not going to end with Happy Christmas…

‘Not great news… something there, probably a cyst… how do you feel?’

‘I’ve had pain, on and off … thought it was coming from my neck …  too many hours at the computer…’

Ever solicitous and kind, Peter asked if he could examine me,

‘Where is the pain… Good, not about the pain but I can’t feel any lump, can you?’

‘No.’

He showed me the mammogram report and the ‘cyst’ causing concern…

Conclusion: New right breast 8 o’clock lesion 50mm from the nipple. This can represent complex cyst or fibroadenoma, ultrasound guided biopsy will be helpful.

‘I’ve arranged for you to have a biopsy tomorrow at Mentone – a fine needle aspiration, and, if necessary, a needle core biopsy.’

‘Needle core biopsy? Oh, that hurts… I remember…’

‘Probably won’t be necessary and I’ve requested Dr Ron Sher do it – the top man!’

Friday, December 6   I spent the night convincing myself and the girls it was a cyst. Routine follow-up biopsy. Peter being cautious. Rather than have my daughters miss work, I caught the train to Mentone and arranged to text my dear friend Lesley when finished.

I’ve had several needle aspirations and knew it would be uncomfortable but did not realise how rough that day would be.

The small room filled quickly with ultrasound equipment, two radiologists and a nurse who with Florence Nightingale compassion held my hand and stroked my arm as a fine needle aspiration became 5 core biopsies.

I received some local anaesthetic permissible for the procedure and remember stilted snatches of conversation as I fought back tears to survive the torture. Everyone was thoroughly professional and empathetic, apologising for the pain being inflicted and allowing me to catch my breath between ‘shots.’

With a collective sigh of relief almost an hour later, I took my bruised breast and instructions for care – and left.

‘You’ll get the results Wednesday at the latest.’

Again, a reading of the body language started foreboding… Lesley took one look at my flushed face and asked if I wanted to go straight home rather than have the coffee and chat we planned.

‘No, if I go home, I’ll curl into a ball and cry – let’s go to Truly Scrumptious and overindulge. I’ll buy you lunch and promise not to cry in public!

truly scrumptious.jpg

Truly Scrumptious lives up to its name; the ambience, food and service always great. And Lesley, my oldest and dearest friend in Mordialloc, was the most understanding and ideal companion for the start or was it the continuation, of my breast cancer journey.

‘Can’t believe it’s nine years,’ we said in unison as we sat down facing each other.

Later with a heightened sense that life is finite, I admired how window boxes outside softened bricks and mortar, beautifying ugliness.

Lesley shared her knowledge of plants, explaining the popularity and usefulness of Star Jasmine. (She bought this plant for me a couple of days later. Bless her!)

I’m greeted at home with a ‘pamper pack’ from my daughters: Vera and Shetland DVDs, massage oil, Bio-oil, a crossword book, chocolate, butter menthols, Rescue Remedy, calming Lavender oil – no pretence, memories of years before, a fear voiced and unvoiced – suppression of mild panic?

Lots of spontaneous hugs and expressions of love.

 Monday, December 9   Sitting at the computer, completing the final edit of a class anthology, Peter rang to say the pathology arrived.

‘I need to see you tomorrow and you’ll be in the hospital next week.’

It was after 8.30pm. A little voice inside commended his diligence for checking the pathology results and letting me know straight away but I blurted,

‘I can’t come tomorrow, I’m working. It’s the last class for the year… I can’t miss it…’

‘Well, come to my rooms as soon as you can after finishing work. I’ll tell my secretary to expect you when you can make it.’

Concentration weakened and no ‘good’ night’s sleep ahead!

I made stupid mistakes editing the class anthology – thankfully, my work (always the last included) and not a student’s.

The copy since corrected – bless the digital world! But the news of cancer returning was the beginning of a month of inner turmoil and ‘putting on a brave front’, the shrivelling of any desire to write or have confidence in what to write.

Read the anthology here – some fine writing from the students and always interesting to see the varied reactions to same or similar prompts: Longbeach place anthology December 2019

Tuesday, December 10   while preparing for the final class of the year radiologist Ingrid from Mentone rings, ‘How are you feeling? How is your breast?’

I’ve never had a follow-up phone call before and thank her while explaining I’d be seeing Peter that afternoon. I got through the class with a tight knot in my stomach and tears burning the back of eyelids.

After sharing the disconcerting news and showered with love and concern for what lay ahead, we played some fun writing games.

Would this be the last class I teach?

 

class anthology completed 2.jpg
Some writers in the anthology: standing – Susan O’Shea, Ann Hammann, Cynthia Tuvel and sitting: yours truly, Tricia Wasson and Judy Keller.

Late afternoon, daughter Mary Jane came in with me to hear Peter explain the result of the biopsies. He showed me the report – a paragraph of scientific gobbledegook swimming before my eyes but the last line, in capitals and underlined:

 

RIGHT BREAST 8.00 5CM FROM NIPPLE CORE BIOPSY – FEATURES CONSISTENT WITH ADENOID CYSTIC CARCINOMA.

‘This is a rare cancer, but we’ve caught it early. You may need some radiotherapy but no chemo…’

I glanced at Mary Jane who was taking notes (always have someone you trust with a notebook!) in case I mishear or forget the conversation.

Tears glisten and she struggles to keep it together while I surprise myself at feeling so calm. I joke to break the tension,

‘Of course, it’s a rare cancer, I’m a rare person!’

Amid the laughter, Peter explains I’d have a blood test before I leave and his receptionist will explain the arrangements for a sentinel node biopsy and hospital booking.

In a room down the corridor, Jack draws blood – an unusually pain-free experience. Well done Jack!

Many people struggle to get blood from my veins – and it’s not because I’m Scots and we give nothing away!

While Jack worked, we discussed taste in movies – he was young but didn’t like Sci-Fi or Marvel movies, preferring Realism.

Then he expressed his annoyance with computer technology – a new program recently installed by IT made his life more difficult not easier.  Ah, a familiar story – just hope whatever details of mine fed into the machine arrive where they’re supposed to!

In the evening, daughter Anne stays the night – there are tears, cuddles, cider, a favourite funny DVD that has us laughing…

We’ll get through whatever lies ahead – we’ve done it before. There’ll be disrupted sleep patterns ahead, inappropriate food choices (who said chocolate is bad for you?) and a rollercoaster of emotional energy including outbursts, tears, withdrawal and fear.

We cancel our holiday to Port Campbell booked months ago. We were to leave on Boxing Day but with the operation scheduled for Tuesday 17th, I probably won’t feel in holiday mode, nursing a sore boob. Nor will I be able to walk the dog and the attraction of Port Campbell was the dog-friendly cabin.

Wednesday, December 11  I receive a call from Brightways, a breast care nurse cancer service. They want me to come to Cabrini on Friday morning and talk about the operation, what to expect and how they can support me.

Beautiful flowers arrive from Tash, a dear friend who claims to be daughter number 3:

flowers from Tash.jpg

Joy and Fun lighten the mood…

At 10.00am my friend Jillian picks me up and we attend an end-of-year concert by Silver Blades, the Olympic Ice Skating Group of Oakleigh.

Jillian’s friend Rosey one of the group that is a mix of ages. However, the majority retired and/or aged pensioners. Seniors skating on (thin?) ice – haha!

To the strains of Abba’s Mamma Mia and other upbeat tunes, the Silver Maids (and a token male) glide around a skating rink I hadn’t visited for 40 years.

The solo displays of skill, fun, themed, team displays, glossy and glittery costumes, and a grand parade delightful and impressive.

Suddenly, it’s home time. Thank you, Jillian, for a bright spot in a so so week!

On the drive home I reminisce about teenage years in the late 60s.

A carload of excited adolescents looking for romance and excitement or just freedom from the mundane travelled from Croydon to Oakleigh on Friday or Saturday nights.

We spent most of the evening clinging to the barrier, bumping into each other or on our bottoms before returning home sitting on towels to protect the car upholstery.

I remember a lot of laughter, cold numbness of hands and feet and the discomfort of wet jeans!

Jillian is my walking buddy, a good friend, and an inspiration. A patient of Peter’s who survived breast cancer – twice, she shared that her second cancer different too and occurred thirteen years after the first!

I imagine Jillian has experienced the tangle of thoughts coursing through my mind.  A FB post makes me think Google is listening not just to my spoken words but thoughts!

happiness poster.jpg

Wednesday, December 11   News is spreading to dear friends and family. A close friend and writing colleague, Lisa turns up with a beautifully worded card, a box of sunshine, plus empathy and support.

I can unpack the contents one by one or all at once – I do it gradually but here are pics of the wonderful, thoughtful, organic products – what a box of loving sunshine!

Another friend Glenice pops in with ‘fun’ presents for under the tree and words of love and encouragement. Her husband’s health is frail yet she’s taken time out to visit me and I know she is supporting others through health crises.

Emails from friends and relatives in the UK and those living here also cards form ex-students. The cliches ‘no news is good news’ and ‘bad news travels fast’ spring to mind.

Maureen calls and continues to do so regularly, also sends texts and emails. She visits with chocolates, DVDs and buckets of love.

Barbara calls and later visits with a gorgeous orchid.

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All the support and love is humbling… and a sharing of the collective strength of resilient women memorable.

‘I bounce – we bounce!’

Thursday, December 12  Longbeach Place staff break-up lunch at Chelsea RSL. A nice meal and we cover various topics while not dwelling too long on stories about breast or any other cancer!

I learn that the State Government funding body has decided not to fund writing classes in neighbourhood houses – not enough employability outcomes for the demographic attracted to the classes. Not surprising since many of the students have retired that’s why they have the time to study non-Accredited courses in community houses. But surely improving skills and education access doesn’t stop – whatever happened to a commitment to lifelong learning?

I’m disappointed we seem to have moved far away from the initial concept of why community houses developed and that wellbeing and social capital don’t get a look in nowadays.

Yet, so many studies and reports talk about the challenge of our ageing population, combatting loneliness and depression, cultivating belonging, easing the tragedy of mental illness, the need for ESL students to learn the nuances of English, the importance of recording personal histories.

Ah, well, interesting timing…

quote about being

Friday, December 13   Superstitious people say the day is unlucky but I have already compromised my luck! Anyway, Dad always said 13 can be lucky – he was thirteenth in his family, was born on 13th March and had thirteen letters in his name. He always chose 13 as his lucky number.

Bronwyn, the smiling face on the Brightways brochure meets us at Cabrini. She explains the role of breast care nurses and gives me a lovely floral pillow to use post-op.

There is not an available bra in my size but she promises they will post a free Berlei bra to me. I’m advised to register for My Journey Kit from Breast Cancer Network Australia. The kit available online.

‘Thank goodness – I remember when the hard copy arrived by express post last time.’

‘Yes, the size of a couple of house bricks,’ Bronwyn said with a smile.

‘Overwhelming too – at least online I can choose what to read, download or skip.’

Thank you Berlei – funding My Care Kit is an altruistic, much appreciated financial commitment.

Estimated number of new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2019
19,535 =   164 males +  19,371 females

Estimated number of deaths from breast cancer in 2019
3,090 =   32 males +   3,058 females

Chance of surviving at least 5 years (2011–2015)  91%

People living with breast cancer at the end of 2014 (diagnosed in the 5 year period 2010 to 2014)              71,943

Data source: (https://ncci.canceraustralia.gov.au/diagnosis/cancer-incidence/cancer-incidence)

I’m not special – just one of many living with a breast cancer diagnosis – I acknowledge how entitled and fortunate I am to be in Australia with a network of professionals and access to excellent medical care…

At Cabrini, there were reminders of Christmas and the spirit of giving:

On the way home, we discuss the information about the operation – a lumpectomy this time – and the logistics of getting to and from the hospital.

We’re aiming for upbeat.

I notice a car parked by the side of the road and we giggle about alternative business names after Anne googles the company…

The girls drop me home and pick up a Christmas tree. We spend a lovely couple of hours decorating the tree, discussing arrangements for Christmas Day and leaving all Christmas shopping to them.

I almost feel normal!

christmas tree.jpg

Monday, December 16   On this date, 57 years ago, nine-year-old me arrived in Australia with my family. This bit of sentimental trivia sprung to mind as I prepared to go to I-MED Radiology Moorabbin for a Sentinel Node Injection before surgery.

They sent me a video to watch to prepare – this is not a pain-free procedure you’d volunteer for!

Jess, the young lass who injected small amounts of radioactive dye around my nipple apologised for the pain and said I was very brave – often people cry or baulk at the procedure.

After the injections, I had to massage the breast to make sure the fluid distributes evenly. ‘Positively erotic,’ I joke, ‘if it wasn’t so painful!’

Jess and Mary Jane laugh.

The next step, a scan and gamma-ray photo to show the radiation has highlighted the tumour and lymph nodes. Apart from a dull ache in the breast and the beginning of a tension headache, I feel fine. Alas, no turning into the Hulk with super strength!

blue moon rose.jpg

Tuesday, December 17   The Blue Moon rose growing outside my window, vibrant and beautiful as I got into the car to head to Cabrini for 10.30am. Both girls were with me and in true grief/loss reaction, I feel guilty they are going through this trauma a second time.

We don’t voice our fear – will things go pear-shaped like last time? (A lumpectomy, haematoma, more cancer discovered, mastectomy, mistaken chemo dose and pneumonia… ) Please no ‘Oops.’

Flashbacks to John’s death and feeling his absence keenly. None of us slept well – me least of all – it was after 1.00am when I drifted off, before waking at 2.00am.  John’s sister, Janet rang from England, sending love and wishing me luck.

How lovely to hear her voice, know her genuine concern but she’d forgotten how many hours difference between zones so I was the dopey – and then couldn’t sleep much afterwards because many memories stirred.

And then one of those inexplicable experiences occurred – did I imagine, dream, hope? There’s a shadow in the doorway of positive, loving energy – John, Mum… the little girl whose spirit lives in the house?

Will I get through this latest health hiccup? Is this a primary or secondary cancer? What is death like? What is life about? What have I achieved? Does it matter? What is my legacy? Will the girls be okay?

Wide awake I didn’t need the alarm to go at 6.30am so I could have a light breakfast before fasting at 7.00am!

The operation was super successful (a huge thank you Peter!) and although Christmas cards were late; I sent them out with this ditty:

An Excuse of Sorts
Please pardon this generic computer note to explain
how plans derailed when breast cancer struck again.
Mammograms, scans, doctor visits, biopsies,
hospital trips, lumpectomy and opinions galore…
this whirlwind treatment left my only boob sore!
But the surgeon triumphed, ‘I got all the tumour -‘
I smiled thanks from my drug-induced stupor,
Therefore, if he’s that happy, why not me?
I’ll also revel in being again cancer-free!
Now this health hiccup came at an awkward time
so please, accept my apologies in this twee rhyme.
I’ve been otherwise busy to muster the usual cheer
but rallying like a true Scot, ’Here’s to a guid New Year!’
                                                                          Mairi Neil 2019

quote about life changing

Another Facebook meme doing the rounds seems appropriate.

I’ll get back to writing about important happenings not centred around me in the next few posts. Finish the ‘to do’ and partially written list!

Meanwhile, to all those who read my blog. Belated best wishes for a productive, prosperous and most of all peaceful 2020

 

 

 

 

Bendigo Hospital Promotes Connectivity, Kindness, Community, plus World-Class Health Care

entrance to hospital
Entrance area with volunteers for Open House at a table on the right.

The award-winning Bendigo Hospital showcased last year for the inaugural Open House Bendigo and again this year. The result of the Victorian State Government’s $630 million-dollar project, the largest regional hospital in Victoria is well worth a visit, even though hospitals aren’t usually on the tourist circuit.

Over the last few months, I’ve had more interaction with the Victorian health system than I’d like because friends and close family members have needed serious surgery or other procedures. As a consumer health representative, I’m always interested in the ‘where, when and how‘ healthcare is delivered as well as any outcomes so I was determined to see Bendigo Hospital this year during Open House Bendigo.

The Bendigo Hospital Project’s much-lauded design includes therapeutic gardens and harnesses the healing power of inclusiveness and nature to deliver world-class healthcare facilities in a welcoming, holistic, and positive environment.

 I can assure you ‘seeing is believing’…

The project a Private Public Partnership between Exemplar Health and the Victorian Government and involved collaboration and consultation. The contract hands the hospital back to the government in 25 years.

Is this a pathway for the future of providing public hospital care?

Medical technology and expertise can detect and treat disease earlier, replace or heal damaged body parts, and extend life expectancy – but it all comes at a ‘dollar’ cost.

Students of history know the difficulties experienced when Medicare was introduced and the ongoing battle to retain it. To fund or even establish a universal healthcare system opens the proverbial ‘can of worms’ in Australia. Maintaining public health systems is costly financially and in political terms, because there are those ideologically opposed to the idea of government completely funding anything.   

And ‘bean-counters’ must be satisfied.

Australia’s two-tiered health system of public and private services already stretches government dollars and there is an underlying reluctance or suspicion of change from most people – especially radical change – private-public partnerships may be the compromise we need to have.

The design, organisation, and management of hospital buildings evolve at a slower pace than medicine and treatments because bricks and mortar and technological equipment require huge investment and often relocation. Expanding existing facilities may not be possible and any new site can meet community opposition or the shortcomings of political expediency.

The Bendigo Project united three existing sites. From the beginning, the architects, design team, and landscape architects OCULUS collaborated and consulted to join the various precincts through a series of connecting paths and diverse landscaped gardens, where staff, patients, and visitors could move or sit in communal and private spaces.

The scale, colours, and proportion of the built form of the hospital reference Bendigo’s distinguished heritage buildings, while establishing a strong sculpturally, formed civic element creating a more friendly and human scale.

Dja Dja Wurrung & Chinese Gardens

There is a designated area for the Dja Dja Wurrung respectful of their needs and Chinese gardens reflect the cultural diversity of the region since colonial times. The green infrastructure ensures trees and plants are inside the building as well as in gardens outside. 

Mainly indigenous plants are used but also non-indigenous to mirror the history of gardens in the Bendigo area – special plants that may have been introduced or cultivated by colonial settlers.

scar tree

Tree bark was an important resource for the Dja Dja Wurrung People and was used for the manufacture of a number of different articles such as canoes, shields and coolamons (bowls). Trees like this one, bearing the scars from bark removal can still be seen in many parts of the Country and are an important reminder of the Dja Dja Wurrung presence in the landscape.

When you enter Bendigo Hospital there is a sign that reads ‘ We are proud to acknowledge Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of this Country’ and at the entrance to the Aboriginal Support centre/gathering place, there is a framed Possum Skin Cloak by the artist Jida Gulpilil with the following explanation:

The creation of a Djaroon – Possum Skin Cloak to Dja Dja Wurrung people is a direct link to our past and connection to our physical and spiritual world today – it continues our healing, forever telling the stories, customs, beliefs and culture of our people. The Djaroon creates warmth and is shared with others for healing, health and wellbeing.

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The Mootchung (wattle seed pod design) represented reflects the practice of seasonal food cycle collection and movement. It is high in protein and can be cooked or eaten raw like green peas. The wood of the tree is used to make the implements for hunting and gathering other bush-foods and medicinal plants that build strength and connection to country.

Our belief, which has been passed down over 2000 generations is that our spirits and physical presence were created to encourage and support all peoples health and wellbeing, through health support, education, mutual respect and understanding: we should never disconnect from that objective as a universal community.

Jida Gulpilil 2016

 

The privacy of the Aboriginal Support area, the secluded garden with a fire circle for smoking ceremonies and meetings were designed with consultations to meet the needs and cultural sensitivities of those who use the services.

The impression of tranquillity and quietness is strong, also the smell of eucalyptus leaves. The furniture and building features made with natural materials blend into the landscape to create an inclusive and beautiful space.

The Chinese Garden with its central Pomelo tree surrounded by seats for rest and contemplation is also distinctive and beautiful.

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The plaque in English and Chinese reads:

88 

Number 88: Representing abundance, prosperity, good health and family unity.

Pomelo trees are an important symbol in Chinese culture. To the Bendigo Chinese, this is a ‘tree of life’, and pomelo tree leaves are made as an offering to the decorative Chinese dragon at many special ceremonies. This tree was propagated by Russell Jack AM, from trees grown from seed by his mother, Gladys Ah Dore in Elmore during the early 1900s. A donation from the Golden Dragon Museum of Bendigo this tree is a living reminder of the growing contribution the Bendigo Chinese community has made to Bendigo Health for more than 100 years.

Nature Invited Inside

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Our guides waiting patiently to start the tour

This recently finished hospital impressive in many ways and it was a joy to be shown around the place by one of the Oculus architects and a representative from Exemplar Health. Both women were exceptionally generous in the details they provided,  answering every question, no matter how repetitive. 

Yesterday, I received a list of all the plants and trees used in the incredibly stunning gardens because many of us requested it.

This list for the precinct is nine pages and as Joan from Exemplar Health stated in the email ‘a live document, changing over time as we work with our horticultural staff to maintain the gardens and see what is thriving (or not!) in each area.’

When I walked through the gardens and entered the hospital, first impressions were unlike any hospital I’ve ever visited. I say this as a positive, not a negative. Inside the building was even more stunning than the magnificent garden area outside where you’d expect to see rows of parked cars.

The entrance, airy and light with abstract paintings and sculptures by internationally renowned, Daylesford based artist Esther Stewart contributing to the positive ambience.

 

Stewart explores repetition and composition through colour and line. the intricate hand-painted wall painting references decorative arts, crafts and flowers from the Bendigo region. Inspired by the symmetry and formal geometry of Bendigo’s famous gold-rush era architecture.

The wall-painting features architectural elements drawn from German-born, Bendigo architect William Vahland’s ornate structures, as well as from the historic Victorian threshold tiling found in domestic and civic buildings in the Bendigo region.

Bendigo’s native flowers, Shrubby Dampiera, Sweet Bursaria and Rosy Heath have been incorporated into a repeated pattern through the piece. These decorative elements contrast with solid blocks of joyous colour, the palette of which has been inspired by the work of artists Agnes Goodsir and Emma Minnie Boyd, who were amongst the Bendigo ArtGallery’s first female acquisitions.

The elaborate wall work is a complementary counterpoint to the feathered natural light and earthy materials of Bendigo Hospital’s internal street space, providing a human warmth and local familiarity to the important new civic space.

You notice the trees growing inside the building and can’t resist checking if they are real or artificial.

Everywhere you look there is shrubbery and this green infrastructure has a remarkable, immediate, beneficial effect. The restorative power of gardens is documented here in an article written in 2015  for Frontiers in Psychology, after a study about the benefits of formal or informal gardens.

At Bendigo, there are three full-time gardeners over the three sites, plus contractors at particular times when seasonal changes may demand extra maintenance.

Our guides told us that the design of the ceiling in the entrance area was influenced by the way light filtered through the tree branches. The architects altered their original design and materials accordingly. This openness and flexibility apparent throughout the project and staff and patient input were given high priority.

We walked through the ground floor of the hospital and learned about the landscaping, soil depth, microbes, plant needs, tree needs, light and sunshine available, the reason for rainforest trees. 

When choosing plants they had to consider allergies, if plants were poisonous and could be ingested, if plants, seeds, branches, stones in rockeries could be weaponised. The mental health and dementia area have their own closed-in and safe garden.

Each floor has its own garden/rainforest – wherever you are receiving treatment there is a view to the outside world and access to plants and fresh air closeby. On the lower floors, canopy trees offer privacy from upper storeys and balconies.

We walked through the Cancer Centre and several other departments, each decorated in a specific colour scheme with artistic backdrops reflecting the seven shires that make up Bendigo. An aerial photo of some aspect of the shire enlarged behind the reception desk while chairs and other furniture complement the main colour.

When looking at the Cancer centre, one of the volunteers told me her husband was treated at the hospital and died in the hospice. I appreciated her volunteering because her grief would still be raw. 

The Treatment and Chemotherapy Rooms look out onto gardens, which help you relax and take your mind off what is happening but for some procedures ‘staff and patients have to remember to shut the blinds,’ she said with a smile. Patients can see out but people sitting outside can also see in!

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the chemo room

I told her that when I was going through chemo at Cabrini Brighton, they had scenic landscapes hanging on the wall and I used to stare at one of a beach, close my eyes and pretend I was in Samoa! My daughters waited in a nearby cafe until I was ready to go home but at Bendigo, support friends could sit and relax in one of the lovely courtyards.

An Interesting Segue

Last year the Cancer Council of Victoria chose Bendigo to launch a national campaign tackling obesity and cancer – a campaign claimed to be a world first.

  • Targeting ‘toxic fat’ around internal organs, the campaign revealed sugary drinks contribute to obesity and being above a healthy weight is a preventable cause of 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer.
  • Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, sports drinks, sugar-added juices and milk are the single biggest source of sugar in our diets.
  • 98% of Australians are aware obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease but as few as 40% know about its link to cancer.

Bendigo Health BANNED all sugary drinks being sold within its precinct – a great initiative for the sustainability of our health resources!

We want people to realise that they could be drinking their way towards weight gain, obesity and toxic fat, including their risk of many types of cancer.

Dr Sam Harris, consultant medical oncologist

It can’t be overstated how important a relationship with the outside world is when recovering in hospital. To be able to access natural beauty with its promise of new buds, leaves, and flowers contributes a promise of healing.

Central to the landscape architectural approach was the idea of connections and kindness… delivering high-quality public spaces, streets and edges inviting use and respite.

Key Outcomes & Sustainability Pluses

  • Design using evidence-based & biophilic design approaches
  • nearly 50 green roofs, roof decks, balconies & courtyards (some accessible), nearly 20 mental health courtyards and an Aboriginal Services Garden (part of closing the gap initiative).
  • the largest green roof in a hospital project in Australia
  • the hospital’s green roofs reduce glare and heat island effect, improving acoustics and thermal performance.
  • a 770panel 200-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel array generates clean energy power
  • annual reduction in greenhouse gases of approximately 300,000 kilograms of CO2
  • the hospital roof can harvest and store more than 300kL of potable and no-potable rainwater in this drought-prone region
  • recycled water systems supply landscape irrigation, toilet flushing and heat rejection systems.
  • green infrastructure has been incorporated combining water sensitive urban design and structural soils and increased biological diversity.

Not surprisingly Exemplar and Oculus have won a string of awards for Bendigo Hospital, the latest only recently: the Prize for the Civic Landscape by the International Federation of Landscape Architects.

Other awards include:

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  • Premiers Sustainability Awards, winner Regional Recognition Prize
  • PCA Victorian Development of the Year
  • Good Design Awards, winner Architectural Design
  • AILA Sir Zelman Cowen Award Public Architecture
  • AILA National prize Civic Landscape

Robots In Use

While listening to our guides some hardworking robots glided along a designated corridor on a walkway above us.

The robots looked like large silver boxes to me.

The robots made in Germany (Siemens) operate on a small platform/trolley that can be raised. They deliver food and linen after being loaded by humans. The robots operate in a special corridor and lift reserved for their use, taking the items to the wards to be distributed by nurses or other staff.

The robots take themselves into a storage area to be recharged and when you consider all the repetitive movements and effort required to lift clean or dirty dishes and linen, having a machine to do it makes sense.

Further Improvements Transform Bendigo Health

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The transformation of Bendigo Health is amazing considering in 2012, some buildings were deemed non-compliant after failing to meet fire-safety standards.

The Victorian Government promised $60million last year to fit out the old hospital building, demolish towers at the Anne Caudle Centre, and complete the redevelopment of Bendigo’s hospital precinct.

Stage three of the hospital’s redevelopment brings together allied health services, including physiotherapy, social work, speech therapy, prosthetics and orthotics, clinical psychology and neuropsychology.

People recovering from illnesses and injuries will have good rehabilitation services and support close at hand when the new rehabilitation centre is complete by 2023. Work will start in 2021, this enables current services to move with minimum disruption before towers are demolished.

This stage is not part of the private-public partnership that delivered the first two stages so it will be interesting to see if the greening continues!

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