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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last month breast cancer loomed large in my life again when an annualmammogram 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’ …
The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley
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?’
‘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?’
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 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.
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?
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:
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!
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.
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?
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…
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
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The plaque in English and Chinese reads:
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
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.
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!
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:
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
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!
It’s uplifting to spend a few hours with others interested in the environment and always a challenge to learn something new. These workshops the council organise aim to engage and educate but also to foster friendships and community spirit. A bonus is experiencing parts of the city you may rarely visit.
When I walked up Thames Promenade from Chelsea Railway Station and spied the garden from the road and horses in the fields opposite, I thought how rural it seemed compared to the rapid development of townhouses and apartments across Kingston.
You cross where the Long Beach Trail comes from Mordialloc and continues through Centennial Park – I’ve cycled and walked this trail with my children and later with walking buddies.
The community garden has been operating for ten years and welcomes new members. I can remember attending a meeting at Chelsea Heights Community Centre when it was first established but further visits have been rare. The established garden beds and host of activities offered now are impressive.
Members can have individual garden plots but more than half the beds are communal with work and harvests shared.
An excellent choice of venue to meet others in the community and gain knowledge about sustainability. Many of the plants were in bloom and the variety was inspiring. We were given a complimentary booklet (available from the Council) crammed with useful information about growing vegetables and herbs, including planning, maintenance, garden health, preparing for harvest and recipes too.
The First Step Towards A Very Edible Garden
The workshop was a Wicking Bed Demonstration – Growing Plants that Thrive with Less Water, presented by Jeremy from Very Edible Garden.
A wicking bed is an agricultural irrigation system used in arid countries where water is scarce. It can be used both in fields as in containers. Besides use in fields/containers outdoors, it can also be used indoors.
If you Google Wicking Beds, the first post from Very Edible Gardens is 2015 but they have a whole new site dedicated to this increasingly popular way of creating sustainable garden beds here https://www.wickingbeds.com.au/and they offer ‘foolproof wicking bed conversion kits and instructional materials to the public‘.
It was a perfect day for being outside and Jeremy reminded us this was an interactive workshop. We’d build a wicking bed together. Before he began his presentation he asked for a volunteer to hold a glass jar while he put a small amount of water in the bottom and inserted a rolled-up piece of paper into the jar.
This was a timer – and Jeremy promised his presentation would be over by the time the paper had absorbed the water.
Capillarity (capillary action) will occur. The phenomenon, in which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid – the tube of paper – is raised or lowered depending on the relative attraction of the molecules of the liquid for each other and for those of the solid.
This piece of showmanship a great introduction to a basic physics lesson and explanation as to how a wicking bed works – water is drawn up through layers from the bottom by the roots of the plants and is a more efficient way of conserving water and feeding.
Science was not my best subject at school but Jeremy was a good presenter and kept my attention better than Mr Menzies all those years ago at Croydon High.
I understood the explanation of osmosis, how plants absorb water and the cycle of evaporation into the air, but if you are interested the science is explained here.
The inventor of the wicking bed, an Australian Colin Austin has his own website, and his ongoing research into soil and improved wicking beds can be read here.
Most people present had never used a wicking bed. Some, like me, had never heard of the concept until invited to the workshop.
Jeremy noted the list of questions people wanted answers to and proceeded to answer them:
what is a wicking bed?
can you convert an existing raised bed?
what is the cost?
what soil is needed and are there different materials to choose from?
how small can the bed be?
how do you manage size?
can you build on concrete?
troubleshooting an existing bed.
can it be made to water automatically?
The last point was from a couple who were tired of returning from holiday to find many plants in their garden dying or dead.
Jeremy admitted the wicking system allowed you to water less frequently and a garden may survive a week in summer without adding water but it is not designed to be fully automatic.
He added that less water is used if you stay engaged with the garden bed and it is healthier too. The wicking bed is fixed irrigation, a different type of watering system and doesn’t replace the attention and care you give to the plants apart from ensuring they have water.
Your container can be any waterproof receptacle – a bucket, the colour bond garden beds commercially available, or one similar to the wooden beds of the community garden. Jeremy converted two wine barrels because he lives in an apartment and has a small patio.
A base is not necessary, but a flat surface is – a wicking bed can be built on the lawn, concrete or paving – anywhere strong enough to handle the weight, and any shape that can have a plastic liner inserted if needed because it must be waterproofed.
Jeremy advised choosing the plastic carefully – it has to be thick and lasting. Some cheap commercial products may disintegrate or puncture easily. His company imports a Canadian product from Adelaide.
Measuring and placing the liner a great example of organisation and cooperation – the size needed cut from a roll and folded before being placed in the bed – the sides then pulled up and clamped in place.
When folding the corners attention must be paid to ensure it is as evenly upright as possible and water can’t be trapped between folds.
Water is fed into a layer of gravel underneath the soil and moves up through layers so that the plant has access to water all the time. The roots suck up the water when needed.
There is a layer or barrier between the soil and base to ensure the soil is not wet all the time and air is circulating through the soil. This reservoir is important.
A pipe outlet is needed – one pipe/hose is used to feed in the water but there needs to be an outlet in case there is a lot of rain that fills the bed and to ensure no overwatering. The pipe must be between the soil and the barrier layer.
The various bits of hose and pipe can be bought from a hardware store or a kit online. Generally, the proportions for the bed are 2/3 soil and 1/3 gravel in the reservoir.
35-38cm soil depth should remain moist when the reservoir is full and the pipe outlet can be lower down at the base of the bed, or just beneath the soil layer. 40cm is a good ballpark figure to use for placement of the outlet.
It was an interactive workshop and each stage of explanation or work, Jeremy called for volunteers. People offered to cut an access point, to seal the washers, to attach the outlet pipe – we were a cooperative crowd!
All the work is upfront – it takes time to build and prepare but once that is completed, choose what you want to plant. A timely reminder to choose plants carefully before placing the bed in either the sun or shade – whatever is appropriate for the climate and situation.
Some plants do better than others in a wicking bed but plants often surprise us by adapting to an environment. According to Jeremy, ‘plants do life differently to us and are a lot more chill.’
The advantage of a wicking bed is that you can go on holiday and not come back to dead plants providing you are not gone for several weeks! You don’t have to water daily and you can judge and monitor how much water is used.
The Plumbing in place, now the Layers
The hard work began filling the bed with gravel, soil and mulch. Teamwork meant some people wheelbarrowed, others shovelled, and others watered. (We took it in turns and also watered ourselves with the tea and coffee provided!)
The pipe and hose in place before the gravel put in and water added to ensure a reservoir soaked before adding soil. Care must be taken at all times not to tear or puncture the plastic.
A layer of textured material placed on top of the gravel before soil added – this is to provide the all-important ‘air-obics’, plus measurements to make sure the 40cm drainage outlet.
The Soil Ready to Be Added
Every gardener knows the importance of good quality soil and compost. We wheelbarrowed and shovelled the soil as everyone shared tips and stories about where to get the best quality … Jeremy revealed the soil came from the Zoo… there were jokes about who knew elephant poo was good fertiliser.
I remembered how a random pumpkin vine appeared in my garden when I had a neighbour who kept Lucy, the pig who loved recycling vegetable waste and rubbing herself against the fence. Nature’s recycling indeed wonderful!
After the soil came the mulch. Jeremy emphasised that the mulch should be dampened during the process. All this preparation is done before seedlings or plants added. This was the time too for trimming and stapling the plastic liner.
The Finished Wicking Bed
Jeremy reminded us:
You look after the plants and soil in the top of the bed as you would normally – this is a different type of irrigation that’s all.
Do not add fertiliser to the water pipe because it may build up and won’t all be flushed away.
Remember, it is a heavy set up and once it is in place it is hard to pull apart and move.
It is a fixed irrigation system and less water is used by staying engaged and enjoying looking after your plants. Some plants like garlic that like drier soil may be harder to grow.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Please share if you discover resources or information that may improve the system or benefit others
After the workshop, I noticed the other beds had similar water systems installed, where the main water outlet was and the community garden’s huge water tanks.
The Grand Tour
Vicky, one of the stalwart Earthcarers gave me a grand tour and I felt honoured as she generously shared her knowledge and commitment to the garden and community.
Vicky is ‘the bee lady’ and I saw the hives. She shared her concern about the tragic loss of human and animal wildlife because of the bushfires but said that many people won’t realise the impact on an already worrying ‘bee situation’ worldwide.
Many Australian beekeepers place their hives in the National Parks and forest reserves believing they’d be more secure and the honey purer. In these catastrophic fires, habitats, houses, and everything else have been destroyed.
She showed me the composting area, where members could deposit stuff for composting and mulching and the healthy soil produced.
There are hens to recycle much of the by-products of gardening. Tables groaned under the weight of plants and herbs for sale.
Seeing the Community Garden through Vicky’s eyes was wonderful – the area where young mothers come with their babies and toddlers (one little boy loves to play ‘au natural’) and the children learn to love and nurture the environment and feel happy in a safe place.
Hopefully, nurturing the environment and gardening will be second nature to them.
Walking around the garden, you notice innovative repurposing of receptacles like baths and barbecues. Reused plant pots – even children’s toys!
There are beds devoted to flowers, to herbs, to companion plants, to fruit… community beds and those cared for by individual members.
I know clubs and schools have their own gardens and I can see the benefit of wicking beds for these places.
The world is faced with climate change and Australia is coping with catastrophic bushfires, drought and floods but it is heartening to know that there are communities and individuals, caring for the environment, nurturing gardens, sharing knowledge and contributing to sustainable living.
A good way to learn about the region’s First People is to take a vintage tram ride on the Dja Dja Wurrung Tram – a moving celebration of their cultural heritage that navigates the past and present of the changing environment since colonisation.
For the second year, the City of Greater Bendigo opened its doors and partnered with Open House Melbourne to host Open House Bendigo on the last weekend in October. Supporting partners were Creative Victoria, DELWP, Heritage Council of Victoria and the La Trobe Art Institute.
I was thrilled to volunteer again because Bendigo is a place you can easily fall in love with and being part of a volunteer crew hosting a building for Open House, I indulge my love of history and heritage and chat with a host of interesting people sharing a similar love or just satisfying their curiosity about buildings they pass every day or had a connection to in the past …
Whatever the reason, the air comes alive with stories, characters and settings and for a writer – to paraphrase our PM – How good is an Open House weekend!?
In a thank-you email received yesterday (and the wonderful crew who run Open House nurture and always thank the volunteers!) the statistics have been collated:
over 10,000 visits across 27 buildings and 9 special events
a clear demonstration of continuing public interest and engagement in the city’s architecture and heritage.
as expected the Beehive was the most popular building with over 2,123 people taking advantage of walking through the door
The cooperation and enthusiasm of building managers, owners and architects also make the program possible and local volunteers from a variety of community or educational organisations keen to showcase on this extremely busy weekend for Bendigo.
There is an annual Cycling Classic plus a Sustainable Living festival and lots of cross-pollination between events. I even paused to enjoy the excitement of one of the cycling heats:
Bendigo is only 90 minutes by train from Melbourne and although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as last year visitors were not deterred and not only the Beehive Complex saw increased numbers.
People queued patiently outside and inside the building to be allowed a walkthrough of half an hour – 15 minutes downstairs and 15 minutes upstairs and volunteers kept the numbers moving by ensuring the time limit strictly adhered to.
My teaching voice came in handy as I herded those on the upper floor, as did the timer on my mobile phone and the response from a good-natured crowd.
Why was the Beehive so busy?
The Beehive Building is a Bendigo landmark and dates back to 1872 when it was the Bendigo Mining Exchange. The building has been through many manifestations since then and therefore holds a variety of memories for the people of Bendigo.
Last year, Open House Bendigo allowed access to the construction site and the interest generated resulted in queues wending around the streets with waiting times of more than two hours – hence the timed viewing and entry this year!
The exclusive ‘sneak peek’ of ‘never-before-seen restorative works’ and the opportunity to hear from the Developer, Craig Lightfoot, a golden opportunity few locals wanted to miss.
I’ll own up to being critical of many building developers, especially those who seem to want to get rich quick and bulldoze and build rather than restore and redeem but after meeting Craig and seeing the efforts to beautifully restore the Beehive to its former glory I could become a fangirl!
His enthusiasm and passion for retaining heritage aspects obvious. Parts of the restoration will show the history of the building to spark interest and discussion but also as a reminder of the various tradesmen who applied their skills over the 147-year history of the Beehive. Where it is safe to do so, the history of the building and restoration work will be exposed.
In many of the rooms, you will see traces of past occupiers – paintwork, wallpaper patterns, ornamental plaster, brickwork, fireplaces…
Similar in style to Melbourne’s Royal Arcade and by the same designer, Charles Webb, the building’s original uses include a hotel, a mining exchange, a restaurant, offices and function space. The current development uncovers the rich layers of use by removing most of, if not all of the 1920s’ and 1950s’ changes, revealing key features of the original building. Visitors had access to the ground level construction site during the 2018 Open House Bendigo program, and this year visitors will access the newly completed arcade including the second story, revealing the intricate beauty of the glass ceiling not seen for decades.
Behind a still-to-be renovated staircase there will be a quirky memento. Workers have written their name and date they worked on the building, the earliest entry legible is 1939.
Craig assured me he’ll be adding his signature to the wall and that piece of plaster will be made stable and remain as is!
He laughed when I said his commitment to retaining so many historical details reminded me of Kevin Mc Cloud closing many of the episodes of Grand Designs with praise for the builders who retained the ‘autobiographical details’ of a building!
The Beehive Project has been several years in the making and started five years ago. After four years of planning, lots of compliance hoops had to be jumped: Heritage Victoria, CFA building regulations and health and safety issues as well as local building regulations. Times and expectations have changed since 1870.
To ensure disability access, a lift will be installed, modern toilet and plumbing, and most voids had to be removed because of health and safety requirements. Craig managed to keep the centrepiece that gives those downstairs a view to the floor above and the magnificent glass ceiling by widening the walkway on either side.
To remind people the voids were once there he reversed the fill-in floorboards and although the centrepiece had to be narrowed, the cast-iron railings remain, albeit they are replicas. Craig said the original railings were removed and sold off or are languishing somewhere in Bendigo.
Craig duly noted the suggestion and added it to a list of snippets he’d gleaned since opening the building for the public to view. Never underestimate the value of local knowledge!
The building has had many reincarnations – Craig’s plans are for the food and beverage industry. A function centre, with retail and pub or cafe downstairs and intimate and cosy private dining rooms and two larger reception areas upstairs, ideal for weddings and other celebrations like corporate functions.
Coincidentally, both weekends I stayed in Bendigo for Open House, I witnessed a traditional wedding party posing for photos – this year the group was on the steps of the Art Gallery.
I hope Craig gets plenty of bookings and if the response from locals is an indication the building will get plenty of use, people love it and regard it as a Bendigo icon, pleased that it will once again be a place to visit.
A young man dressed intypical tradie gear came through with his mum, grandad and other assorted family members. His first reaction was to retie a striped plastic ribbon cordoning off one of the no-go areas, ‘I’ll get into trouble if this isn’t tied tightly and people go in…’
‘If anyone cops criticism it should be me,’ I said, ‘ part of my job is to ensure people stay to designated areas and don’t go into rooms closed for safety reasons or because equipment and tools are stored.’
He took a bit of convincing from his mother and me that it was okay, it was not his responsibility and it was his day off!
I later saw him explaining to his family in great detail, how he stripped the old paint off, what he’d been instructed to leave, how he scraped, sanded and carefully applied new coats…
Careful, painstaking work, but often rewarded by treasures hidden beneath.
I’m sure he is learning a lot about past painting practices and the type of paint used. Most paints were lead-based and not the healthiest of products so I’m glad he is taking health and safety seriously!
A Cat Through The Roof!
As mentioned, Craig was noting a lot of the stories people told him about how they interacted with the Beehive Buildings. He intends to have a ‘Story Wall’ or some kind of archive where people visiting can learn about the building’s past.
The builders have uncovered ‘historic gems’ and some of these discoveries were on display for Open House – artefacts as well as building features like previously boxed-in metal columns, hidden plaster arches and a steel strongroom door thought to have once blocked the public from gold stored on the premises.
Last year, people got access to the ground floor, but this year they could venture upstairs and one story stands out – in fact, both Craig and I agreed we’d probably dream about it!
There was a staircase leading to ‘offices’ upstairs – the staircase where the tradies had left their marks. People were curious:\ ‘what is up there?’, ‘what will it be?’
A lady said her Uncle Bob and Aunt Win Woods owned the Dad and Dave Cafe and ‘lived up those stairs.’
She became quite teary talking about them and remembering childhood visits when she was around 7 or 9 years old. She recalled Uncle Bob built a clothesline for his wife and placed an extended wooden walkway above the glass ceiling so she could walk out and hang her clothes.
One day, the Siamese cat that used to follow Aunt Win fell through the glass! How narrow and dangerous was that homemade path to the clothesline?
Craig and I both agreed we couldn’t get the image of a falling cat out of our mind and I kept having surreptitious peaks upwards until the end of my shift.
Perhaps the story influenced my reaction when a young mum carrying a baby leant over the cast-iron railings to stare below. Stomach lurching, I moved closer as the much-criticised scene of Michal Jackson dangling his son from the balcony flashed through my mind.
Thankfully, an anxious friend accompanying her spoke up and the young mum moved away. I didn’t have to declare my nervousness or fear of heights.
Another lady told the story of coming up the back stairs and into a shop to get her wedding dress made. The tailoress specialised in wedding dresses and discreet fittings. Craig has chosen to leave the etchings of past occupants on two of the upstairs columns and restore the various staircases.
I hope Craig meets his deadline for March 2020 and that Bendigo will be host to Open House again because I know where I’ll be going to have a cup of coffee or ice cream or just a wander through the restored arcade because as I’ve discovered curiosity does not kill the cat!
I’ve taken a long time framing this post because of recent events and the adversarial way many parts of the media cover topics such as religion, refugees, and immigration and the resultant ire, ignorance and irritation that inevitably results, particularly on social media.
Ignorance is a keyword here – if more people moved out of their comfort zone and made the effort to learn, mix, communicate and appreciate each other’s contributions to the tapestry of society a lot of angst and misinformation could be avoided.
We are lucky living in Melbourne because there are myriad opportunities to access and enjoy what a multicultural community offers. We can live together in peace and mutual respect aware of each other’s contributions.
I’ve attended two enriching events recently, provided by the Kingston Interfaith Network to appreciate the diversity of our community.
It’s heartening to know there are people actively working to breakdown barriers and challenge bigotry and I’d recommend the annual bus trip the Network organises to visit various places of worship.
Religion & Politics Can be Discussed With Civility
Along with many baby boomers, I grew up with family traditions of attending Sunday School and church but it never translated as ‘blind faith’.
Both parents were immersed in church life in Scotland; they continued this involvement in Croydon when we migrated. I drifted away from organised religion in my teens and only returned to be part of a community as a young mother, to eventually drift away again.
None of us chooses the country, culture or community we are born into and the idea that there is a ‘true’ religion or ‘master’ race seems ludicrous and irrational.
I’m grateful for access to education and several fine teachers at high school and university, to have continued that education by travelling, accessing wonderful books, films, and essays and appreciating the contribution of others to a pool of general knowledge more easily available now through the worldwide web.
I know I’m not alone among my peers questioning human existence, our relationship to the natural world and seeking meaning to life – a journey that will end one day and that day is getting closer –
I recall the pithy words of a good friend, ‘We all die and one day we’ll discover whether there is a God or life after death!‘
In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the journey, learning something new every day, look for the joy because focusing on social injustice and world conflicts convinces me we are stuck in Groundhog Day! (“a situation in which events are or appear to be continually repeated” )
John Lennon’s Imagine is often played to a compilation of visuals – technology leaves nothing hidden! We see the horrific death toll of the two world wars, the partition of India and Pakistan, the euphemistic ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the Biafran/Nigerian War, the Middle East, Idi Amin’s Uganda … oh, how Lennon’s lines resonate with generation after generation …
Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, Above us only sky… Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…
There is never a shortage of up-to-the-minute footage of conflicts – the world seems to produce tragedies at an alarming rate. For many people, their religious beliefs and being part of a community helps to make sense or at least alleviate some of the fear and pain.
A meme doing the rounds of Facebook also strikes a chord –
Many Beliefs One Community
The Kingston Interfaith Network ‘celebrates the commonality and diversity of our spiritual communities’.
encourage understanding and respect between people of all faiths and cultures
affirm spiritual and religious freedom
work towards peace, compassion and equality within our local community
In my writing classes, we have some wonderful discussions while sharing knowledge regarding human needs, the importance of belief systems and what form these may take whether philosophical or religious.
Discussion, reflection and sharing information and experiences important for writers to understand and create characters regardless of the genre but also for citizens when we have the current Australian Parliament discussing the introduction of religious freedom legislation.
Since 9/11, the constant stirring of fear and misinformation about Islam looms large.
The Royal Commission into Abuse of Children in religious and other institutions with many still quibbling about compensation to victims has shattered the trust and appeal of several churches, especially the Catholic Church.
Stories about cults or gurus ripping off or abusing vulnerable people are rarely out of the news.
The Israel Folau controversy started a debate about freedom of speech in the context of workplace contracts and religious beliefs.
Any Interfaith Network has its work cut out!
In Kingston, the Network engages with the community by being involved in:
Learning and Education
Community consultations and representation
I worked for the Uniting Church, Hotham Parish until daughter, Anne was born in 1986 and was fortunate to work with Rev. John Rickard who was a strong believer in ecumenicalism and social justice. A pharmacist before ‘getting the call’, he was a great boss – understanding, compassionate and down-to-earth.
I saw the church from a different perspective. Working closely with Hanover Welfare, the church raised money and provided services to people in need in the community, they also owned houses in Curzon Street and ran a kindergarten. ‘The church’ can be a landlord, employer, business entrepreneur, owner of private hospitals and schools. Practicalities to be dealt with that many don’t associate with theologians.
Another learning curve occurred in 2004 when I was commissioned to write the history of St Aidan’s Church and subsequently published The Little Church On The Hill for their Centenary.
The Chelsea/Carrum Anglican community influential in developing and providing youth services, fellowship groups for women, raising money for much needed social services and encouraging the arts but there were internal conflicts, debates about policies and implementation, and adapting to a world where Sunday was no longer sacrosanct.
Talking about the Christian faith my comfort zone but I still treasure a necklace made from a leather strip with the tooth of a moose blessed by an elderly Iroquois Indian when I visited their village in Montreal, Canada 1976. She wanted me to be safe on my travels.
World Book Day 2019
Kingston’s World Book Day was hosted in conjunction with Kingston Council’s Interfaith Committee, established by Council to provide a conduit between Kingston Council and the faith communities within local areas to encourage open communication, interfaith dialogue and partnerships and to address the needs of the local communities.
World Book Day theme for 2019 was Interfaith in the Libraries. Kingston’s Interfaith Committee chose to deliver a book donations event to Kingston Libraries to further support an interfaith dialogue within the community.
Invited to write religious affiliation, I wrote Humanitarian. Nobody baulked at the label, with some attendees commenting they wished they had written that rather than nominating a religion or leaving it blank.
A warm welcome epitomised the evening with many groups taking the opportunity to display the books attached to their Faith and donate them to the library. The buzz of conversations filled the room, people browsed the books and I met acquaintances from past involvement with community groups and Mordialloc Writers’.
There were printed sheets from a variety of religious groups within the Network summarising their core beliefs, sacred texts and laws, places of worship, branches, practices and festivals, origin story, morals and ethics… in no particular order here are the sheets I picked up:
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) (aka the Hare Krishna Movement)
Catholic Church (Christian)
ECKANKAR (This means Co-worker with God -founded 1965, main temple Minnesota USA
Sufi works and practices: The Whirling Dervishes, the poetry of Rumi, the works of Ib Arabi…
Zee Cheng Khor Moral uplifting Society Inc (known as DEJIAO in Chinese)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
My knowledge of some of these groups minimal – and to know they worshipped in Kingston and felt welcome at the event is a testament to the religious freedom we already enjoy. (Note to Federal Government don’t fix what’s not broken!)
Fast forward to the annual bus tour I joined recently…
A Journey of Discovery
Kingston Interfaith Committee runs a bus tour once a year to places of worship to provide an opportunity for the public to learn about different faiths. Tour participants see different places of worship and ask questions in a respectful and supportive small group environment. There is no cost and a light lunch is offered by the Council.
I have been wanting to go on this tour for many years but work or other commitments meant I missed out. I was thrilled to join the 23 other participants (some followed the community bus in their own cars) on August 7, leaving from the Council Offices at Mentone.
Guided by Elisabetta Robecchi, Community Development Officer, Social Development, we visited four places of worship. There were people from Glen Eira and Casey communities. The only person with an outward sign of religious affiliation was a Sikh gentleman from Monash who told me most councils have these tours with some providing several a year. He had been on a few tours and generously shared his knowledge.
The places visited change each time so it wasn’t surprising to find some people had toured before, but most were first-timers like me – and what an eclectic group we were!
Elisabetta shared the two group photos taken at a mosque and Orthodox church.
We set off a bit late because of the difficulties of participants finding all-day parking – so for future reference:
use public transport like me, or plan ahead as to where you will park in Mentone and prepare for a walk to the meeting point!
Also, wear comfortable and easily divested footwear – most places you visit require removal of shoes.
Plus slip in a headscarf or make sure your jacket/coat has a hood for the places requiring women to cover their head.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre, Clayton South
Lunch at Westall Hub
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple
Hinduism is one of the oldest surviving religions in the world, with an unbroken succession of seers and teachers. It is practised by millions of people living in the vast subcontinent of India and in many other places where Indian migrants have settled, including Australia.
And although it is an ancient religion it continues to evolve and form new branches. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) represents modern India and is a religious personality who was loved throughout the world. He preached truth and non-violence and his attempts to reform India’s religious-social tradition of caste legendary as is his fight for India’s independence from colonial rule.
You don’t need to travel to India to immerse yourself in Indian culture and learn about Hinduism.
First impressions of the Hindu temple and grounds is one of spaciousness, then lushness – the garden flowering and emerald green grass plentiful. Driving in from the road you see the Cultural Centre first, and around the corner, you release an audible gasp at the magnificence of the temple barely glimpsed from the road.
Inside, after removing our shoes, the first thing you notice is incense thickened air. A sign requested no photos but apparently, our temple guide (a deacon) gave approval and Elisabetta shared this one she took.
Priests were attending to devotees so I chose to switch my phone off and instead purchased a very informative book about the history of the temple and details about Hinduism, including festivals and beliefs. An incredible bargain at $5.00.
The huge area seems cavernous but there are different sections with mini enclosures holding statues of various deities. The air heavy with incense and burning charcoal and within moments I felt my eyes sting. It was obvious couples and families were worshipping with the three out of the six priests on duty.
A young couple prayed with a priest by a fertility deity (?). The priest ladled into our cupped hands, the concoction made from fruit and flowers and signalled us to drink. The nectar tasteless to me, stirring memory of drinking kava at a ceremony in Fiji. There was a small open fire like a mini BBQ but generating plenty of smoke. The fire alarm constantly beeped because of its copious smoke and from a couple of similar fires.
I had a fleeting thought of what could happen if there were sprinklers!
Our guide explained there are gods (deities) for Education, Fertility, and Birth etc. Planets match your birth sign and some gods look after you. He explained about puja or pooja, a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to one or more deities in devotional worship.
Prayers can also be offered to host and honour a guest or to spiritually celebrate an event. It may honour or celebrate the presence of a special guest, or their memories after they die. A table with baskets of fruit (oranges, apples and bananas) for $15 and a well-stocked kiosk is just inside the entrance. the deities require offerings.
A temple is a busy place with chanting in Sanskrit and the buzz of conversations plus people moving across the polished floorboards and around the perimeter where cabinets or shrines hold statues of the gods. The black, grey, or gold figures often draped with pure silk gowns and scarves.
We walked past a cabinet that appeared to have a Nazi sign scrolled on glass doors – and a member of the group asked the significance of this, which remains an important symbol in Hinduism.
The swastika represented something entirely different for thousands of years before its appropriation by the Nazi Party, and for many, it is a sacred symbol.
Versions of the design have been found in prehistoric mammoth ivory carvings, Neolithic Chinese pottery, Bronze Age stone decorations, Egyptian textiles from the Coptic Period and amid the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Troy.
Its most enduring and spiritually significant use, however, can be seen in India, where the swastika remains an important symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Despite the explanation, one of our group whispered, ‘Try going down Carlisle Street with that on your car!’ A reminder that in a multicultural society we have to be even more diligent learning about other religions and beliefs and be perceptive to differentiate when a symbol should provoke instant repulsion and condemnation and when it is used in context of worship.
The etymology of the word “swastika” can be traced to three Sanskrit roots: ‘su’ (good), ‘asti’ (exists, there is, to be) and ‘ka’ (make). That the collective meaning of these roots is effectively ‘making of goodness’ or ‘marker of goodness’ shows just how far the Nazis dragged the swastika away from its Hindu association with wellbeing, prosperity and dharmic auspiciousness.
The symbol, normally with its arms bent towards the left, is also known in Hinduism as the sathio or sauvastika. Hindus mark swastikas on thresholds, doors and the opening pages of account books – anywhere where its power to ward off misfortune might come in handy.
… it was Indian religion and culture that was the original source from which the National Socialists derived the swastika.
In Buddhism, the swastika is thought to represent the footprints of the Buddha. It takes on a liturgical function in Jainism, and in Hinduism, the clockwise symbol (the swastika as we know it, with the arms pointing right) and the counterclockwise symbol, the sauvistika, pair up to portray opposites such as light and darkness.
The scent of flower petals mingled with fruit and incense and oils. I missed a lot of the explanations because naturally our guide spoke without amplification and my hearing is not as good as it used to be. Fortunately, the book I bought, published to celebrate a special Consecration Ceremony in April this year, is full of detail about Hinduism, the temple, the hard work and cohesion of the Indian community.
The Hindu Society of Victoria (HSV) was founded on Saraswathy pooja day in 1982 at the initiative of some Hindu migrants from Sri Lanka. Hindu migrants from India, Malaysia and other countries enthusiastically joined the Society. The topmost priority for this new gathering was to probe ways and means of realising a traditional Hindu temple. Prayer meetings were held on the last Saturday of each month at the Migrant Centre in Prahran. Poojas were performed to the pictures of deities by Sri Raman Iyer on these occasions. On 21 June 1984, this society was officially incorporated and referred to as the Hindu society of Victoria (Aust) Inc.
The HSV decided to buy a plot of land and build a temple… bought a block of land of 14.35 acres in Carrum Downs on 14 April 1985… made up of a bank loan, interest-free loans from devotees and donations. Bhoomi Poojah was performed at the site to invoke the blessings of the Almighty. Since then Thai Pongal Festival was celebrated at the site but prayer meetings continued at the Prahran Migrant Centre.
… there was a prolonged debate about the choice of deities to be installed in the temple. Eventually, the Management Committee decided to build a Shiva Vishnu temple facilitating devotees from all sects of Hinduism….
Building works started in October 1990 and Nagarajan Sthabathy and a team of 8 artisans arrived in November 1992… The Granite and Panchalokha Vigrahas and other artefacts required were crafted by well-known artisans in India. The Granite Vigrahas were sanctified by a special pooja at Kanchi Mutt.
Additional six artisans were brought from India in Jan 1994 to accelerate the temple construction… completed, with the erection of the raja Gopurams and consecration on 25 may 1997. This temple has become an inseparable part in the spiritualemancipation of the Hindus of Victoria. It has also become a must-see icon to all Hindus and non-Hindus in Australia…
Traditional Hindu temples are not just places of worship. They function as a place of learning, foster the arts and encourage social interaction. The Cultural and Heritage Centre opened on 5 May 2012, includes a wedding hall, restaurant with industrial-scale kitchen, library, Hinduism classrooms, museum and conference hall that can accommodate 200 people.
The Hinduism classes for children also offer Bhajan, Yoga and meditation for all ages. The centre hosts ceremonies on auspicious days, Hindu weddings, and a cafe open to the public, which operates six days a week.
A children’s park with playground equipment and an enclosure with peafowls and chicks as well as surrounding gardens with attractive flowers, trees, and lush foliage ensures a relaxing family-friendly environment.
The sign in the garden reads: Nature is Gods vesture. The universe is the ‘university’ for man. Do not pluck flowers treat nature with reverence.
We put on our shoes and joined the ever-patient bus driver after thanking our hosts for their welcome and farewelled the first place of worship for the day.
Shri Shiva Vishnu temple is one of the iconic Hindu temples outside the Indian subcontinent providing a spiritual and cultural legacy for future generations.
Whether you practice Hinduism or not, a visit will add to your knowledge and understanding, and appreciation of the wealth of talent immigrants bring to Australia.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre
We travelled to Westall for our next visit to learn about Islam, a religion that has suffered the most backlash and bigotry in recent years despite Afghan cameleers being present in Australia since the early nineteenth century.
The first camel drivers arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, June 1860, when eight Muslims and Hindus arrived with the camels for the Burke and Wills expedition.
The word islam means ‘surrender’ and specifically implies ‘surrender to God’. A ‘muslim’ is therefore simply ‘one who surrenders’.
In the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an, the story of Islam shares a common tradition with Judaism and a common Biblical origin when God (Allah) created the world. Chosen prophets spread the essential message of surrender to the One (Allah).
Muslims recognise all prophets including Moses and Jesus, Rama, Krishna and Buddha but the Prophet Muhammad is the vehicle whereby the Qur’an, the final protected Word of God was revealed.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers. They make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. We mainly hear about conflict in the Middle East but devotees extend all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China although the birthplace of this compelling faith was Arabia when it was a semi-nomadic and semi-urban civilization.
Islam is the most adhered to religion in Indonesia and in a 2010 estimate, 87.2% of the Indonesian population (225 million) identified as Muslim making Indonesia the largest Muslim population in the world.
At the Masjid Westall, we were greeted by two deacons who were generous with their knowledge and time. From the outside, the building is not imposing and doesn’t look like a mosque but once we removed our shoes and went inside the calmness and decor confirmed it was not ostentatious but a place of worship.
According to the 2016 Australian Census, the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 604,200 people, or 2.6% of the total Australian population, an increase over its previous population share of 2.2% reported in the previous census 5 years…
… there are now 604,000 people who identify as Muslim in Australia. In addition, the Census reports that 1,140 of the Muslims in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
After a welcome prayer and blessing, the deacons let us wander freely and ask questions rather than give a formal guided tour. There are 3 Indonesian mosques in Victoria, and they do keep in touch with each other and share Imams, some are students from Saudi Arabia. The mosque is Sunni, the major and orthodox branch of Islam.
Islam hasn’t escaped the fate common to other religions: sectarian divisions. There are sub-sects, but the two main branches of Islam are Sunni and the Shi’ite. They spilt over the question of the line of succession from the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims pray 5 times a day and a digital clock has the prayer times. During the day up to 5 people will come and pray because most are working – perhaps a taxi or truck driver if nearby, maybe students and teachers from Westall Secondary next door, or others ‘just passing’.
Sundown prayers and Fridays attract the largest number with up to 50 regulars. After Christchurch, many non-Muslims visited to offer condolences and support and prayed in solidarity. The mosque provided hijabs for them but because we were only visiting and not participating we did not need to cover our head.
We all commented on how luxurious the carpet felt beneath our feet and the room was spacious even with a section for the women and children curtained off. There is a library, also a study corner and out the back a kitchen and communal area where crafts and toys are stored on shelves.
Our two gentlemen guides had set up a table with nibbles and tea and coffee – most hospitable and welcome. One deacon tried but failed to get his pictures up on his phone to show me the crowd of well-wishers who came to the mosque after the horrific events in Christchurch.
No question went unanswered and cameras worked overtime. Several people stood with the Imam’s arch in the background, others were fascinated by the displayed prayer times and mentioned seeing taxi drivers pull over to pray.
I remembered a tale of two young men…
In 2013, flying to Italy via Borneo and London, I sat between the pair. One was returning to Egypt for a holiday after being in Australia most of his life, the other, a student returning home after finishing studies at Queensland University.
The young Egyptian/Australian struggled out of his window seat to diligently adhere to the prayer times – there was a prayer mat aft, available for passengers – and throughout the flight, he read the Qur’an.
He confided in me that he had become more devout because of prejudice at work and all the things said about Muslims in the media. He felt he had to learn more about his faith (his parents and sister weren’t devout) and his origins – hence the trip “home”. He seemed unworried about the fall-out from the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ongoing sporadic violence.
The young student, returning home to his family and Muslim country didn’t bother praying and read a popular sci-fi novel in between discussing general topics ranging from history to politics and poetry. He confessed he’d love to return and work in Australia because he loved the freedom to choose his lifestyle and the climate.
I’ve often wondered what happened to these two young men – did their future turn out the way they wanted?
A little more enlightened about Masjid Westall and seeing Westall Secondary College and surrounds for the first time we set off for our lunch stop at Westall Hub – a place I’d never visited before the intergenerational project last year and one I’ve visited twice in the last four months!
I thought about the fuss in Bendigo about the building of the mosque and cultural centre and reflected on how many people would have driven or walked past Masjid Westall with no idea there is a welcome within if ever their curiosity needs satisfied.
Breaking Bread often Breaks The Ice!
Kingston Council hosted a lovely lunch at the Westall Hub providing a chance to sit and make conversation, get to know each other and share observations.
‘That was a while ago,’ I replied, ‘You have a good memory.’
We shared our interest and curiosity about the tour. Ann, a practising Catholic was born in Lithuania; her mother could speak seven languages and because of this Ann understood Russian. Four of the people on the bus were chatting. ‘They’re speaking Russian and probably don’t realise I understand what they were saying,’ she said with a smile.
At lunch, a lady sat down beside me, ‘Do you remember me, Mairi?’
‘When I saw you, I thought you looked familiar, but I can’t place you.’
‘I’m Honey, you came to my library and ran a couple of wonderful writing workshops.’
‘Honey! Of course, that was a long time ago – how are you?’
A small world, indeed. The phrase ‘six degrees of separation’ springs to mind. Almost two decades have passed since I ran workshops at Springvale Library. I cherish the letter of appreciation from Honey and the opportunity she gave me to improve workshop skills.
I was not a ‘big name’ author yet she gave me a chance and a paid gig!
There was only one young person under 30 travelling on the bus but a Samoan family followed in their car a father with his son and daughter who could be teens or twentysomethings.
Chatting at lunch, he was pleased I’d been to Samoa. He new Aniva’s Place where I stayed. I told him about climbing Mt Vaea and paying homage to R L Stevenson’s tomb and we discussed the contribution RLS had made to Samoa, which explained why he was so revered.
He said, ‘His greatest achievement was uniting the chiefs and teaching them to negotiate and achieve independence.’
I mentioned how much new history I’d learned when in Samoa. I had forgotten they had been a German colony and about the peaceful surrender to the British during the war.
‘My great grandfather could speak German and he was an interpreter for the German/British negotiations,‘ he said and confided his Scots ancestry – family names being Crichton and Williams!
We talked a little more about Samoa and how surprised I was at the number and variety of churches in such a small place as Apia. Religion is important to Samoans and there are many rituals, including traditional Sunday feasting.
(A later discussion with his daughter and son ranged from the problem of feral dogs to their relief Folau was Tongan, not Samoan!)
Our conversation ended with a quiz – he asked, ‘What one word did Samoa give to the English language?’
The answer, ‘Tattoo.’
My final lunchtime chat was with Dr Dinesh Sood who said, ‘I used to be a practising Hindu but now I’m a scientist,’ and a lady who used to be Russian Orthodox professed to ‘being an atheist and humanitarian‘…
I said we were an eclectic bunch.
However, what I remember most about the lunch stop happened outside when I went for a walk after spying two galahs on the power lines cuddling up to each other. They looked like a heart and I thought, what a great photo opportunity.
I walked to the edge of the car park and as I aimed my camera, I heard a distressed chirrup. I looked down and a seagull sat on the nature strip with an obvious broken wing, begging for help.
What to do?
I returned to the Hub and asked at reception for help and a wonderful young woman responded immediately, ‘I’ll get a cardboard box and rescue it.’
True to her word, she sprang into action. I watched from the bus in trepidation when her initial effort to pick up the bird caused it to scurry lopsided across the busy road. Wielding her jacket, she persisted and as trucks and cars roared past, I fretted for her safety.
‘Please be careful,’ I murmured … miraculously, the bird and rescuer made it the other side, escaping further injury. She scooped the seagull into her jacket and returned to safety when the road was clear.
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
The third visit for the day introduced a completely new church to me and again the obligatory removal of shoes.
We were met by the priest and a warm welcoming committee. There was a powerpoint presentation, also two short talks on the history and origins of what devotees regard as the first church where the name ‘Christian’ applied.
It began in Antioch, with St Peter, after the death of Christ and surviving persecution the faithful travelled to India.
The first family practising this branch of Christianity arrive in Melbourne in 2006. Since then the number of families has reached 200 and within a decade they have raised the money to build their church and also donate thousands to charity.
(They gave $20,000 to the Kerala flood victims among other causes. A generous effort for a small congregation!)
A group of dancers performed a traditional dance of celebration about a reluctant bride being convinced the wedding is a good idea!
The costumes, music and performers a delightful treat and afterwards many took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and join in discussions. I was fascinated by the striking curtains and altars – the furthest away can only be entered by the priest and designated elders, the smaller one is open to all.
Having St George and Jacobite in the name intrigued me – as a Scot, Jacobite referred to supporters of King James II of England or of the Stuarts claim to the throne. I know many Christian churches use different versions of the King James Bible as their sacred text but never realised one incorporated Jacobite in their name.
The mythology of St George predates Christianity and any stories I learnt as a child about his Christianity – light conquering darkness – were set in the 10th or 11th century, hence him becoming the patron saint of England. The origin story of this church interesting and proves religion is full of surprises.
Later, delicious and sumptuous afternoon tea made some of us reluctant to get back on the bus. We were farewelled with an unexpected gift and will certainly remember our visit!
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Our final visit for the day was another mosque and one I’d seen from the highway many times. The imposing building flying the Australian flag and one with the symbol of Islam – the star and crescent moon.
Outside, we were warmly welcomed by a teacher from an Islamic school and several students with an open invitation to ask questions and let the students be our guides.
After removing our shoes and covering heads, we sat and listened to a welcome speech by the Imam and a young female student. The Imam’s mobile phone rang, ‘Excuse me, could be Jesus calling,‘ he said.
I love his sense of humour! In fact, laughter and smiles a significant part of the day in all the places we visited.
After the phone call, he continued with his explanation of the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah (Creed), Salat (Prayer), Zakay (Almsgiving), Fasting and Pilgrimage (Hajj) and a brief history of the mosque and fielded questions before inviting us on a tour.
The art and woodwork stunning inside the mosque. Most of the artisanship done locally, some imports from Turkey. The ceiling magnificent, the chandelier adorned with a Qur’anic verse in Muhammed’s favourite colour, green.
Oh, I didn’t know he was Irish,’ I quipped and my young guide laughed. She pointed out the balcony upstairs where women worship and explained the delicacy of the stencilling on the ceiling and how time-consuming the job was for the artist.
The colours, designs, placement of artefacts, windows, doors, balcony – all hold symbolic meaning. There are three places where the imam can preach depending on the number of devotees. There is a beautiful raised staircase with detailed carving and inlays.
One of the young students sang a prayer and it reminded me of being in R L Stevenson’s house in Samoa and the young guide singing a verse of his favourite hymn. Another memorable experience was being alone in the church at Hermannsburg Mission, Central Australia and Jan Cornell, the leader of the group I was with sang to test the acoustics.
The unaccompanied human voice raised in a song of praise can be truly beautiful.
Our visit coincided with one of the regular prayer times and the Imam excused himself to attend to several men waiting to pray. We sat up the back in silent contemplation.
I don’t know what the others were thinking but as I watched the prayer ritual it struck me how vulnerable these men were and how trusting. They didn’t know any of us but believed they were in a safe space just like those worshippers in Christchurch and many other places where people have been attacked.
Their trust, vulnerability, and devotion humbling.
We trooped outside for the last few photographs and the bus journey home. If there are different places on the list, I look forward to joining another tour.
No one tried to convert me and I had no epiphany, just interesting conversations and experiences to mull over and deposit in my memory bank.
The older my children become, and as I age, the intensity of love for them deepens. I think of them every day, confirming the feelings and wisdom my own mother shared with me in the months before her death in 2009, aged eighty-nine.
She talked about her fears for my brother, George who was undergoing treatment for Leukaemia and said,
‘Loving and mothering is a lifetime responsibility – your children should never die before you. It’s not right.’
I have close friends who have lost adult children. They confirm the truth of Mum’s observation and I know each day for those friends getting up and coping with daily life is a struggle and testament to their resilience to ‘continue and carry on with life’ the way their loved ones would wish. The lead-up and actual celebration of days like today must be particularly difficult and my heart goes out to them.
‘She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.’
Margaret Culkin Banning
When I decided to have a baby I was thirty-two and didn’t truly understand how profound becoming a parent would be personally or the effect on relationships with family, friends – and even strangers.
Born in the 1950s and part of Women’s Liberation in the late 60s and 70s, I was still expected to follow the ‘normal’ path of marrying and having children. It wasn’t my sole aim in life and I didn’t actively plan it but I went with the flow after meeting John and neither of us challenged the system, except I eschewed a white wedding and expensive reception and chose to marry in the garden of the house we bought together and party afterwards with many of the guests ‘bringing a plate’!
On reflection, I can say becoming a mother was the most exhaustive (and exhausting) change in my life – and continues to be – as long as my daughters and I remain intertwined.
I could write a lot about the picture of me in the early days of my daughter Anne’s homecoming – the congratulatory cards still visible, the dessert and glass of wine husband John prepared sitting untouched, me in an exhausted sleep all new mothers know well…
I salute my own mother for her guidance, values, and many examples of mothering. How she coped with six of us I will never know! I remember ringing her up and asking her once, after a particularly trying day with a baby plus toddler, ‘How are you still sane?“
I know that the deep love and bond I had with her is one of the reasons a loving bond with my daughters came easily.
There are similarities and huge differences regarding how Mum and I parented but not in attitude and determination to be loving and loyal whenever needed. We were both extremely lucky to be with partners we loved (Mum had Dad and I had John).
Partners who wanted children and were supportive, partners unafraid to share the household chores and unglamorous aspects of parenting and in my case, I know, a partner who cherished me and never stopped showing it.
John had been married before and so to a certain extent ‘knew the ropes’ regarding parenting so I was lucky. Although being present at the birth of both our girls, a totally new experience for him just as having me, a feminist as a partner, also a new experience!
In this picture, we are pregnant and ecstatic.
‘Say, what is the spell, when her fledgelings are cheeping, That lures the bird home to her nest? Or wakes the tired mother whose infant is weeping, To cuddle and croon it to rest? For I’m sure it is nothing but Love!’
Cheryl, now my ex-sister-in-law was a friend as well as part of the extended family in 1986. She produced the first of the next generation for our branch of the McInnes Clan in Australia in 1979 and the only ‘modern mum’ I’d observed firsthand.
She visited me in Jessie McPherson Hospital, Lonsdale Street, shortly after Anne’s birth. Into my ear, she whispered, ‘Welcome to the club.’
Her brown and my hazel eyes met as she squeezed my arm gently and with the still vivid memory of that miraculous moment when I held Anne to my breast for the first time, I knew exactly what she meant – becoming a mother, accepting the responsibility for another human being is transformational and understood by other mothers.
My first little ray of sunshine born after an emergency dash to Jessie Mac’s in Lonsdale Street at 3.00am, May 24, 1986.
John tailgated a taxi breaking the speed limit ( ‘they know the fastest route and where all the coppers and cameras are’ ). We hit no red lights and made the city in record time.
Three hours later Anne Courtney Neil arrived, three weeks earlier than expected but wide-eyed and ready to take on the world!
When I took Anne home from the hospital little did I know she had a hole in the heart – not discovered for almost twelve months, and then only by the extra diligence of a young doctor on work experience at the local clinic!
I still have cold sweats in the middle of the night when I think of the operation she had for ‘sticky-eye’ and a blocked tear duct when she was barely two months old, the eye specialist and the anaesthetist completely unaware of her heart condition.
There were the usual childhood accidents and illnesses too. The catastrophes that send mothers into a spin, fearful for the child’s wellbeing and welfare – Anne had no broken bones (Mary Jane delivered that excitement) but one day she bit hard and severed her tongue when she collided with a large wooden rocking horse.
I rushed to the local GP at the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets, in my slippers, wheeling five-year-old Anne in her sister’s pusher and carrying a protesting Mary Jane under my arm.
I’d stuffed a wet face-washer in Anne’s mouth to hold the tongue together and stem the bleeding (‘excellent response’ according to the doctor).
The trail of blood in the house and garden that greeted John when he rushed home after receiving a garbled message from his receptionist made him imagine a severed limb and he almost fainted. (The tongue does bleed profusely!)
However, he too praised my quick action racing to the surgery rather than ringing an ambulance or panicking. (That and delayed shock came later!)
Sometimes we amaze ourselves how we react and cope as parents.
Mary Jane’s birth in 1989, a more traumatic and dramatic story.
She arrived more than a week early and I barely got to Mordialloc Hospital in time for delivery sending the nursing staff into a flap. To this day she is known as ‘the baby born during the tea break’ arriving less than fifteen minutes after I walked through the front door.
John and Dr Ferguson arrived at the hospital just in time for delivery and I’m sure if there had been more traffic police on duty in those days, both would have been booked for speeding – perhaps even reckless driving.
Adding to the drama, Mary Jane breathed the meconium and amniotic fluid mixture into her lungs while in the womb and was born with the umbilical cord around her neck prompting a nurse to say, ‘Oh, she’s dead.’
The baby rushed to an incubator and the nurse reprimanded while everyone in the room paused for a moment taking stock of a miracle birth indeed! I went into shock and apparently kept asking John if I’d had a baby until they brought Mary Jane to me to be cuddled and fed!
Later, Mary Jane broke her arm in a ‘monkey bar’ accident at primary school but the seriousness of the fracture ignored by teachers who left her in Sick Bay while they tried to contact me or John and ‘ask what to do’ instead of taking her to a doctor or ringing an ambulance.
Our membership in the ambulance service and private health insurance on record and you can imagine the tongue lashing the administration of the school received from me.
Fortunately, a friend volunteering for reading duty noticed Mary Jane’s distress and demanded action; unfortunately, the delay and subsequent treatment at Sandringham public hospital during the upheaval of the Kennett years meant the arm was badly set and needed to be re-broken weeks later – this was done by a specialist at Como Hospital in Parkdale.
Sadly, Sandringham botched another operation when MJ was in her 20s, damaging her bowel when they discovered endometriosis during a routine operation to remove an ovarian cyst. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice??
Often at night, I close my eyes and recall the horror of seeing my daughter with multiple tubes hanging from her young body. Flushed, in pain despite high doses of morphine, and unaware of the emergency operation, she murmured through an oxygen mask, ‘What happened?’
The déjà vu of the multiple traumas she has suffered weighs heavily on my heart. I have often wished for a magic wand to reverse the hurts or give my daughters the happiness and pain-free world of fairytales.
Motherhood exposes your deepest fears and inadequacies but it also helps you gain courage and grow – as Sophocles said, ‘Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.’
Whenever my girls have been ill, in pain, troubled or suffering, I’ve wanted a magic wand to remove their misfortune or possess the ability to swap places and take away their discomfort. Instead, reality over fantasy, I’ve ‘gone into bat’ for them and fought school and government authorities, bullies, and anyone else who needed to be held accountable.
Like a lioness, I will fiercely fight to protect and defend. These skills and determination I learnt from own mother – she may have been barely five foot tall but her love and commitment to all six of her children taught me to be courageous and resilient regarding caring and coping as a parent.
‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.’
Motherhood indeed the most emotional and enlightened transformation for me. Everything I’ve read, shared, learnt and absorbed about other women’s experiences reveals none of our journeys is exactly the same or can be predicted.
There are similarities, but it is a unique life-changing event filled with joys and sorrows, calm and turbulent seas, problems and solutions, holding tight and letting go, embarrassing moments and moments of pride and satisfaction.
‘The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.’
Honore de Balzac
Around the world, mothers worry about their inadequacies, feel overwhelmed and many like me who became a single parent because our partner died carry guilt about not coping or spending enough time as the ‘default’ parent.
(John died when Anne was sixteen and Mary Jane thirteen – I think most will agree parenting adolescents is tough with two concerned parents, with one, I can assure you, it is challenging and at times very lonely!)
Frustration, financial stress, fear of failure or making mistakes – subjects often discussed between friends, family and in some cases counsellors.
Nurturing has never stopped from their early childhood…
From miraculous beginnings to challenging responsibilities, navigating hopes and dreams, disasters and near misses, parenting has been rewarding, scary, comical, confronting, but most of all fulfilling.
My life has had a purpose and I’ve experienced and continue to experience a wonderful mutual love.
I am so lucky my girls as young women still want to visit and ‘hang out’ with me, travel together, see movies, play board games, walk the dog, shop, discuss and debate, laugh and even party with me.
They are friends as well as daughters, and often the nurturing role has been reversed – especially when I had breast cancer and now as I age and have lost some confidence about decision-making for the future.
At the beginning of my writing career, at the launch of my first poetry book, I said children were the inspiration and reason I wrote and also the reason I didn’t write because motherhood is time-consuming.
Over the years, especially caring for John, I can substitute family instead of mothering but I wouldn’t really have life any other way. Loving and knowing John and our daughters have enriched me and made me the person I am today.
I hope I’ve helped add two more productive, caring citizens to the community. I’m grateful that feminism has wrought changes in society and many of the preconceptions about women and their destiny are no longer peddled – my girls have choices their grandmothers didn’t.
My Mum won a scholarship to college in Northern Ireland but her stepmother wouldn’t let her continue with study and ordered her out to work, then came WW2, the ATS and then nursing. Her stymied educational opportunities were what motivated Mum to encourage all six of her own children to study and seek suitable qualifications for what we wanted to be.
I was the first in my family to go to university and I only wish mum could have witnessed me returning to study at 57 years old and gaining a Masters degree in Writing and her two granddaughters earn Bachelor degrees.
Always my wish has been happiness and good health for both girls – to be whatever they want to be and find contentment and fulfilment in their choices.
We are so fortunate to live in Australia and have the privileges we do and I’m glad both daughters are aware they stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, that there are still hurdles to leap, and they will always strive to ‘go higher’ and seek equity for themselves and for so many others not as fortunate.
I am happy they will follow their mother as I followed my mother in fighting for social justice.
‘Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’ s secret hope outlives them all.’
The benefits of having a pet are well documented, and if that pet is a dog, one of the benefits is fun. Love and loyalty can be added to the laughter!
I wrote earlier this year about having to farewell Aurora, our beloved dog for almost 14 years and since that sad day, we have missed her companionship, affection and unconditional love.
However, we needed space and time for deep grief and because I wanted to carry out some much-needed maintenance on the house, I set a tentative date for welcoming a new member of the household as the end of May. I didn’t want any new member of our family subjected to a lot of noise and having a daily dose of strangers/strangeness.
Of course, as Rabbie Burns told us all those centuries ago ‘the best-laid plans gang aft agley’.
Centrelink ‘lost’ my pension application and worried about dwindling savings, I put major renovations on hold, plus my daughters never missed a moment in reminding me how empty the house was without Aurora – not that I needed much reminding.
I can’t remember too many periods in my life where I have lived without a dog and even wrote a special postas a writing teacher reminding people to include stories about their pets when writing a memoir or life stories.
SADS Saves Lives and Stands for NO KILL
Since 1985 SADS has saved thousands of dogs and cats from being euthanised — and from day 1 worked towards change from a culture of killing companion animals to a culture of saving them
SADS is an established leader of the no-kill movement — and successfully operate a Melbourne-based regional animal pound on a no-kill basis, demonstrating that a no-kill policy IS possible
SADS provides veterinary care for animals that are sick or injured — including palliative care for animals that still enjoy a good quality of life
In 2015, they saved 98.6% of dogs and 96.3% of cats. Many of these animals would not have been saved by other shelters.
The Yarrambat shelter is set on 33 acres of environmentally protected land with an existing permit for the holding of 190 dogs and 50 cats. It is fully owned by SADS and has enabled many more animals to be saved, cared for and rehabilitated whilst awaiting permanent adoption. However, the infrastructure is old and badly in need of redevelopment to provide better care for our animals and to comply with the code of practice for animal shelters. This property ensures that even the most traumatised and very large active dogs can be saved due to adequate resources.
In accordance with the philosophy and operation of Save-A-Dog Scheme as a “no kill” animal welfare organisation SADS honours its charter and saves all animals, both companion and otherwise, which come into its care, with the unavoidable exception of a very small percentage of animals which are deemed dangerous and therefore cannot be returned to the community. This small percentage is accepted internationally as integral when using the term “no kill”.
This save rate leaves SADS with some dogs and cats which are homeable but which do have characteristics which makes them unsuitable for some homes and therefore they do stay with SADS for a long time waiting for that appropriate person/situation to come along.
We decided to visit SADS with a list of possible adoptees from the website profiles – a list I immediately, ignored once we started looking at the dogs – and they looked at us – every set of eyes pleading to be taken home!
I fell in love with Norbet and Dala – who wouldn’t?
Norbet, a two-year-old, German Wirehaired Pointer X with ” a lovely personality”.
… true to his breed has boundless energy. He is searching for a home where his new human companion can channel that energy in the right direction with training and stimulation. He will not be a dog to leave at home alone all day and may live with another energetic medium size female. Norbet will be great fun and will certainly keep you well exercised! We are currently taking expressions of interest…
Dala, a two-year-old, Foxhound X Beagle “has the typical behaviour of a foxhound”.
… she loves being with people but once a scent comes her way that becomes her main focus! She has a very dominant personality and will need AN ADULT HOME WHERE HER HUMAN COMPANION HAS EXPERIENCE WITH CANINE DOMINANCE. She cannot be left alone during the day as she will become bored and possibly destructive.
It just so happened they were the two most unsuitable pets for me. Physically, I couldn’t control Norbet, a part wolfhound and Dala’s ‘destructive tendencies’ when left alone were a worry.
The shelter is an amazing environment full of caring staff and volunteers and I know Norbet and Dala will be well-cared for by the staff even if the right home isn’t found but I still felt awful that I couldn’t take them.
We visited Stonnington on Thursday of last week and if we could, would have brought home a truckload of homeless dogs!
Unfortunately (or fortunately!), Margaret, the manager was delayed and we couldn’t do anything that day except observe the dogs in their kennels and chat to the volunteer staff who were most helpful.
The Stonnington Shelter received the Citizen of the Year Award for a Community Group – when you see the volunteers in action you can see why – bless each and every one of them!
There was a puppy we were interested in – Xena, plus a young male dog, Russell who apparently was super friendly to all dogs and had adopted Xena when she arrived.
However, when we returned on Sunday, Xena had already been adopted and removed that morning so Russell was in a cage by himself.
The Shelter is situated in an ideal position for dogs – right next to a dog-friendly park. Prospective owners take the dog for a walk supervised by a volunteer and then in an enclosed yard you can play with the dog off-leash.
The last ‘test’ is when volunteers bring out another dog and you can observe how your chosen dog reacts and socialises.
The aim is to ensure you know what dog you are taking home and the Shelter is as sure as they can be of canine and person compatibility.
When we returned to the Shelter on Sunday after a chat with the Manager we ‘park-tested’ several dogs.
The redesigned Tooronga Park was re-opened in 1992 after the construction of the South Eastern Arterial Road and Freeway. A plaque records that ‘redevelopment of the park was made possible by the invaluable contribution of a committee of local residents who assisted in the planning and council staff who implemented their ideas.’
Well done residents and well done Stonnington Council for listening and following through on their promise.
The play areas for toddlers and older children well-maintained and fenced so that dogs on or off leash will not be a problem.
There is shade, a basketball ring, a cricket practice cage and concrete paths and grassy areas.
There are rubbish bins to recycle and free bags for dog poo
The first dog we ‘road-trialled’ was Molly, a four-year-old Labrador with that “wonderful labrador nature.”
… but she becomes very overexcited with very little stimulation! She is need of a lot of training and will not suit a home with small children as she is too boisterous. Her new human companion will need to be physically strong. Molly does not want to be left at home alone all day
Molly was adorable but very strong and although she would settle down after some training, I decided I couldn’t risk walking her on my own because of her strength and determination to reach another dog, even if it was on the horizon.
Friendly Russell (pictured above) was just that and he showed his love of sticks by picking one up and dropping it every few feet. But he was very attached to the lovely volunteer who was our guide – or perhaps it was knowing she kept treats in the bumbag around her waist!
We were taken with Russell, the three-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier X a “happy dog who enjoys the company of both people and other dogs.” His reference said,
He would probably like to live with an easy going female canine who likes to play. As with most of his breed, he will not settle in a situation where he is left alone all day.
After walking Russell, Mary Jane confided she had fallen in love with a puppy, Josie so we asked to take her for a walk too.
Josie a five-month-old (they think) Kelpie X Staffordshire Bull Terrier. She came to Stonnington via another pound and little was known about her history.
Josie was like Aurora reincarnated.
I remembered Anne had said, ‘Mum, a dog will choose us.’
How true that prediction because from the minute we walked Josie, and while sitting with her in the Reception Area until the Manager was free to discuss her adoption, we were enraptured!
Josie snuggled up to each of us – the girls left to get a lead from the car and prepare the back seat, I dealt with the paperwork.
We weren’t the only happy family to adopt.
In the Shelter, there are several older dogs – ten years old, maybe older. I don’t know all their stories but often older dogs have to be adopted because their owner has become infirm or moved into care and they can’t keep their pet.
I felt sorry for the older dogs, many probably grieving a longterm owner but after losing Aurora, I didn’t want take on a dog in its twilight years – some of the dogs may only have two or three years left in their life cycle.
How wonderful then, to see the perfect match for gorgeous little ten-year-old Maxwell, a wirehaired Jack Russell X who had recently arrived at the shelter and was still be assessed.
An elderly couple came in looking for a dog. The lady needed a walker and her aged husband walked slowly too. While we were walking Molly, we observed Maxwell strolling sedately, beside his prospective parents. Such a perfect match!
When we returned from the park with Josie, the elderly couple were leaving, the man’s smile like a sunburst.
‘You taking the little dog?’ I asked.
They both nodded. ‘He’s old like us,’ said the man, ‘not sure how long he has but then we’re not going to be around too much longer either!’
‘I could see you’re made for each other,’ I said.
‘Yep, we’ll be back when he’s been given the okay by the vet.’
Harley, a four-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier X Border Collie was ‘bursting with youthful energy, enthusiasm and the desire to be in the middle of the action all the time!’
He tries very hard to please but finds it difficult to sit still for more than a couple of minutes! Harley would very much like to live with another active youthful medium size friend to keep him busy. He will need a more adult home.
A young couple came in with their Staffy to walk and play with Harley with the aim to adopt a companion for their dog – from what we observed Harley was a perfect match but because they lived in an apartment, I’m not sure the Manager of the shelter will approve.
They may be disappointed but I’m glad the shelter is strict about adoptions and put the needs of the animals first.
When we were given the okay, we were told that if for any reason it doesn’t work out, we must bring the dog back to them.
Our Perfect Match
The trip home with Josie in the car, incident free, even although we were warned that she came via another pound and they had no idea how she travelled in a car. ‘Prepare for her to be sick because she was fed recently…’
They also just removed her stitches from desexing.
However, she was the perfect, uncomplaining angel. No scrabbling about, no whining – she snuggled into Anne in the back seat, occasionally stretching her head to peer out the window or respond to clucky and lovey-dovey noises made by Mary Jane and me when the car stopped at traffic lights.
Josie was walked around the immediate neighbourhood after letting her investigate every corner of the backyard and ‘nook and cranny’ inside the house.
Almost immediately, she claimed our house as her home.
We have adopted again and are gloriously happy – thank you SADS – a song from childhood springs to mind:
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
If you’re happy and you know it, then you really ought to show it;
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
You then include other actions like stamp your feet… nod your head… turning around…
We did the lot!!
Josie, our new canine companion the best therapy anyone could wish for and here’s to daily ‘happy dances’ as we grow older together!
Today, April 23, is Lover’s Day
A day to celebrate your significant other and let them know how much they mean to you. While the origin of Lover’s Day is a mystery, some sources believe that the unofficial holiday is based on St. George’s Day, a religious holiday celebrated in many parts of Europe.
It doesn’t actually say that ‘your significant other’ must be human.
I’m sure for many people, their pet gives and receives love and is the relationship valued as being the most meaningful.
Josie is now a ‘significant’ partner in my life and considering the horrific news from recent tragedies – whether it be Sri Lanka or Mozambique – I am deliriously happy to have her comforting and loving body sprawled beside me on the couch or walking beside me along the street.
The world would be a more loving and accepting place if we were like our pets – they don’t see our imperfections and their devotion awesome!
What happened in Christchurch last Friday was so horrific, it is difficult to express in words. Sorrow, a lump of marble pressing on my heart.
I can sympathise and empathise but any personal response to such a violent, hateful act seems totally inadequate.
Paralysis almost instantaneous – horror seems to happen a lot, news of violence and terror of varying scales, reported on every media platform but this time because it was multiple deaths close to home, it seemed to hurt more.
I’ve known grief but can’t imagine the immense suffering of the dead and injured in the shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, and the effect on the wider Islamic community.
The process of writing and friends in the writing community, along with close family, have always been a solace – being able to write a way of working through trauma towards healing.
However, in the last few days, an inner voice and feeling of fatigue told me writing is pointless in the face of so much hate, violence and ignorance because the people who hold such angry and irrational views won’t read or care what I write.
Perhaps expressing how I feel will not be helpful.
However, in recent days, along with expressions of shared grief and love, there has been acknowledgement and reflection that hatred and extremism do not operate in a vacuum.
There have been thousands of words spoken and written by others expressing the belief that in private and public conversations we can, and indeed must, do better, unless we want to see a repeat and even an escalation of atrocities.
The more of us who publicly support those who need it and condemn the aggressors and hate-mongers, the better.
We can watch our words – think before we speak because the childhood rhyme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will neverhurtme”although well-meaning is patently untrue for the many people who suffer abuse and vilification every day because of their colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, religious faith, country of origin or socioeconomic status.
Society seems too ready to marginalise groups of people and too slow at being inclusive and kind.
We can modify behaviour – our own definitely, but also encourage others to be kinder and more welcoming – and many people do. Participating in Harmony Day celebrations is a good start but there are many organisations and events available throughout Australia.
The terrorist filmed his ranting rampage
to maximise hatred and fear
stunned we recoiled in horror
but amid the shock
recognition and reflection…
Who made the bullets he fired?
Who marginalised and vilified
the targets of this cowardly attack?
Who formed, repeated and spread
words of hate seeking to fracture
and divide humanity?
Thoughts and prayers are not enough
The Scales of Justice seesaw
Responsibility Guilt Shame
Tolerance Acceptance Love
Belonging must be felt
and welcoming arms outstretched.
World history and experience proves the power of words. That’s why manifestos are issued by demigods, tyrants, megalomaniacs and political parties of every persuasion.
Words of philosophy and faith with the aim of spreading tolerance and peace can be uplifting and healing but words can be dangerous if used to deceive by spreading misinformation, bigotry and reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
Writers must take responsibility and consider who will read our words even although we can’t control how a reader interprets what we write.
Some may argue that rules and responsibility are for those writing about and reporting facts –
researchers must cast their net wide and gather as much information as possible to appear balanced,
journalists must differentiate between report and opinion,
academic language and style should not be emotive, biased or inflammatory.
I believe creative writers have a responsibility too. I may not always get it right but I try to be balanced when writing characters and situations, try to avoid creating or perpetuating harmful stereotypes whether sexist, racist, or ageist.
Will you explore or consider alternative ideas to the mainstream?
How do you portray people of different races?
Are you reinforcing or undermining racial stereotypes?
What roles are you assigning to male and female characters?
Are you reinforcing or undermining gender stereotypes?
Will you write about or relate to contemporary issues?
If representing certain beliefs about people and the world are you doing it honestly?
I’ve posted before about the power of books to move me from my comfort zone. Novels have enlightened and influenced me. Stories can reveal inequity and injustice and counter hatred and ignorance. They can nurture empathy and transform tolerance into acceptance.
Reading books from other cultures and about other cultures should be encouraged from a young age.
This post has been difficult to write and the images and detail of what happened in Christchurch will not be forgotten. They will be compartmentalised like other horrific examples of ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’.
Conversations have started at the highest levels of government to ACT and stop the demonisation of particular religious and ethnic groups and to recognise the harm done under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’.
I’m glad world leaders have promised to do something about limiting the reach or forcing corporations to take responsibility for the social media tools accessed and used to spread messages of hate, division and violence.
And if there is anyone who does not think Islamophobia is not harmful I can relate three examples close to my home and family:
On Friday night, two women who work with one of my daughters caught the tram home. This was a few hours after the shootings in the Christchurch mosques. They were women of colour and a white male sitting across from them shaped his hand into a gun, pointed, and pretended to fire twice.
Shocking as this may seem, this is one of many incidents they have had to deal with over the years. Most of their life they have lived under the hysteria and abuse ‘justified’ by 9/11 and the War on Terror. Rarely do passersby intervene, help or support the victims.
My daughter’s friends stopped reporting incidents to the police because, despite the probability of camera footage and even witnesses, the police are not interested or put any follow up in the too hard basket.
My other daughter stays in touch with a university friend who happens to wear a hijab. The friend’s Facebook posts heart-rending when she notes, ‘It was a good day today, I was only spat on once.’
If this is happening in Melbourne, the world’s most liveable city, and Australia, the lucky country, believe it when public figures tell you they knew it was only a matter of time before there was a massacre like the Christchurch shootings.
On Saturday evening, my daughter was having dinner in a restaurant in Balaclava. When she looked out of the window, she saw a man abuse and grab a Jewish passerby, shove him against the wall and try and grab his Kippah from his head. She jumped up and ran outside but an employee stopped her at the door and said, ‘I’ll go.’ A woman from a nearby shop also went to the victim’s aid. No other diner moved to help and people in the street stared or scurried by.
The rise of anti-semitism is well documented and in the East St Kilda neighbourhood where my daughter lives Swastikas have been daubed on synagogues, schools, shops and fences.
We have said sorry to our First People but there is still not a widespread acknowledgement that this land was invaded and founded on genocide. The Uluru Statement from the Heart was rejected by Prime Minister Turnbull and the current Prime Minister has not changed policy.
Aboriginal Australians know all about abuse, vilification, stereotyping, and marginalisation and yet they have often been the first ones to welcome refugees and migrants into the community.
Whatever actions authorities and all of us take, I hope it is not too little too late.
We dropped a couple of boxes of chocolates and a thank you card into the Kingston Veterinary Hospital when we were shopping at Thrift Park the other day because the staff at the clinic always go ‘the extra mile’.
Over my lifetime, I’ve had many pets – usually dogs – and count myself lucky most have lived long lives because it is never easy saying farewell. Dogs bring such joy and unconditional love and warmth into your life, no wonder they’re the ideal therapy pet.
But how heartbreaking when you have to say goodbye like we did last week, to our Aurora, and so many friends on Facebook were kind in their comments acknowledging how important she was in our life.
Saying goodbye to a pet you’ve had for 14 years a wrench, and no matter how you rationalise these decisions, grief is profound. Compassionate vets, animal attendants, and understanding friends help ease the pain.
The young women we have been dealing with at Kingston Veterinary Hospital were not only loving and considerate with Aurora but cared about our welfare too. They even sent a handwritten sympathy card with a laminated imprint of Aurora’s paw – one for each of us.
The Life Stories & Legacies writing teacher in me has to remind those who read my blog that they should not forget to record the stories of their pets because usually those stories reveal a lot about yourself and family life.
Dogs are my favourite pets and I can’t remember the family home every being without one – in fact, often two dogs.
They can be fun stories to write, dramatic, and of course sad but because family pets are like children (some people even prefer them to children) – they can be naughty, mischievous, loving – destructive (even if unintentional) – each one having their own personality and therefore great characters for you to write about.
Here is a piece I wrote in response to an exercise I gave to my class asking them to write a snapshot of their morning and to include at least one of the senses: sound, sight, smell, touch without forgetting that all-important emotional engagement for the reader.
The 5.24am rumbles past, and on cue, Aurora begins nudging my back.
‘Too early,’ I croak and snuggle under the doona for a couple more hours sleep.
‘Yuk, your breath stinks. These early morning kisses have to stop.’
In what seems moments, a glimmer of daylight dances on the wall, then a steady rhythm of click and tap from footsteps hurrying to the railway station, after slamming car doors.
It is useless to try and sleep. Aurora, also exhausted from her alarm clock routine, lifts her head and large brown eyes to plead with me.
‘Okay, okay, I’m getting up. Now please move off my slippers and give me some space.’
She scrambles to her feet as fast as arthritic bones can and my aged body does the same.
‘Happy now?’ I grumble.
The flushing of the toilet Aurora’s signal to almost trip me up in her eagerness to be first at the backdoor where Smackos sleep in a drawer waiting to be gobbled. She snatches the treat from my hand and dribbles as the chicken flavoured snack crumbles before disappearing into her expanding tummy.
‘That’s it,’ I say, ‘the vet’s orders!’
We shuffle back to the kitchen together to start another day.
I put the kettle on to sing, and dangle a teabag into a favourite mug souvenir from sunny California before checking the view from the kitchen window. Jasmine trembles along the fence and I wonder if the sea breeze promises a sunny day in Mordialloc.
Aurora coughs and totters into the lounge room to claim her favourite armchair and wait for me to bring my steaming cup of tea to join her.
We watch ABC24 together and discover the good and bad news before she demands a play with the ball or walks along the street – most days, like a spoilt toddler she’ll get both.
Writing about pets:
Do you think that animals feel love?
Do you think a dog can feel love? A cat?
These are ‘conventional pets’ what about less loveable animals?
What about a cow, a snake, or a spider?
What makes you think so?
Have you ever cared for or loved an unusual pet?
While we sat with the vets who shared Aurora’s dying, I asked them what was the most unusual pet they’d looked after.
Jane, a tall stunning blonde with a delightful smile, surprised me when she said she had a pet snake, ‘Great pets, easy to look after and I only have to feed it every couple of months.’
Now that is an unusual pet, I thought and remembered a neighbour who used to live next door. She had pet pythons too and one escaped – it was three weeks before she confided in me, and only because when I was walking the dog past her gate, I saw what I thought was a snake’s head pop up from a pile of rubble from their renovations.
I took the dog home and nipped next door to say, ‘I may be imagining things but I thought I saw a snake in your front yard.’
‘Oh, so that’s where he got to – I’ve been looking for him for three weeks.’
Pets generate lots of stories! …
Aurora – the Roman Goddess who liked to chew
We brought Aurora home when she was a puppy, and like all puppies, she was teething. However, despite numerous toys bought specifically for her, she found so many other things much more to her taste…
She joined our household a few months before Christmas, the timing right for her large teeth to grow perhaps because she kept us on our toes when we decorated the Christmas tree.
The coloured baubles on the tree, she either didn’t like or liked too much. Each morning when I came through to the lounge room there’d be a trail of pine needles and outside in the back garden tell-tale bright ‘flowers’ in the grass where she had taken the balls and they’d shattered.
When we moved all the decorations up to the top half of the tree hoping she’d find one of her toys more interesting, it was the electric lead of the fairy lights that gained her attention – maybe she didn’t like the carols that played along with the twinkling lights (I have to admit, I found them repetitive and annoying too) …
However, the coup de gras for our tree that Christmas was Aurora becoming entangled in the lights and tinsel and in response to my outrage running across the room and up the hallway with our tree in tow.
Needless to say, the Christmas decorations were packed away early that year – maybe if we had told our aptly named Roman Goddess it was Saturnalia she would have accepted the tree as a temporary fixture and left it alone.
Along with the tree and decorations, Aurora did enjoy a good chew of shoes – specifically not one, but two brand new pair of leather sandals I bought, on a ‘buy one pair, get the other 50% off’ deal.
For some reason, she only preferred the left shoe! That summer I made my old sandals last another season.
Aurora always took her loot and hid behind the couch or under a bed like a saboteur waiting for the explosion – and she certainly got that when she reappeared – although probably not the satisfaction she desired.
All parents will empathise and understand the situation – who hasn’t experienced that feeling of dread when your toddler is just too quiet or has disappeared from view.
They’re discovered in another room, under the table, in the backyard … and you just know you’re going to find they’ve scribbled on the wall, ate something they shouldn’t or have something they shouldn’t play with…
However, it’s what Aurora chewed after the sandals that make her the only dog I’ve owned, to be included by a well-known author when he autographed his book to me.
I can tell the story now and see the funny side, but at the time it was one of those moments when I definitely needed more than Minties. And the event triggered a reaction in me I can’t quite explain – perhaps it was the build-up of grief or just a period in my life when I’d made many life-changing adjustments too quickly… but I had what modern lingo would call ‘a meltdown’.
Aurora replaced Goldie who we had for fourteen years but she also came into my life only a few months after I lost my Dad who I loved dearly. I was still adjusting to a new job at the Melbourne University Student Union – a full-time job entailing travel into the city after years of working part-time locally.
At the Student Union, I was the receptionist/administrative clerk for the elected student office bearers. The job was full-on because we were in the midst of a campaign to stop the introduction of VSU (Voluntary Student Unionism), a policy that would literally destroy many student activities and collective strength, particularly at small campuses. The employment future of many people at risk – including mine even although I’d literally just started working there.
In 2006, Shadowboxing, a collection of short stories by Melbourne author, Tony Birch was released but as a widow who recently returned to full-time work to put my daughters through high school and university, I lived on a tight budget with no money to spare on non-essentials – and that meant I had to curtail my love of buying books.
Fortunately, one of the Women’s Officers lent me her brand new copy, ‘Read it on the train and give it to me tomorrow. I know you value books and will look after it.’
She trusted me with her signed copy.
You will have worked out where the story is heading…
Long story short – Aurora stole the book from my handbag, which I foolishly left on the floor in my bedroom. When I discovered the chewed remnants the next morning, the air became decidedly blue – and chilly! My daughters ready in double-quick time to leave for their respective classes.
I slammed the front door with a cursory ‘see you tonight’ through gritted teeth. I’m sure the stumps shook.
All the way to work on the train, blame, shame, and curses seesawed – ad nauseam: Aurora, the girls, myself…
Every stupid or careless thing I’d ever done in my life whirled inside my head, I was sitting down but felt weak-kneed and fought off being sick.
How will the owner forgive me – it was a personally signed copy!
Why didn’t I take more care?
What made Aurora go through my handbag?
Why didn’t the girls take more responsibility for the puppy they wanted?
How am I going to get a replacement book?
And from where?
How early do bookshops open?
What will the other office bearers think of my carelessness?
Pride is one of the deadly sins – was that my problem – deeply wounded and worrying about myself and how others will see me? I felt the destroyed book was a betrayal of trust someone had shown in me.
I didn’t deserve the high opinion the Women’s Officer had of me and had let her down – I dreaded the confrontation ahead.
I was a child again… waiting to be strapped by an overbearing teacher, angry because I’d played in the ‘boys’ playground (yes segregated playgrounds were a thing in the early 60s in Scotland) …
I was twelve years old and explaining to my older sister I’d lost her silver signet ring in the ocean – the ring she’d let me borrow …
By the time I walked into work, I must have looked as distressed as I felt because the one office bearer who was there, came out of his office with a worried look,
‘Mairi, are you okay?’
I burst into tears. If he hadn’t put his arms around me, my trembling legs would have collapsed.
He was the Indigenous Officer and when he heard my tale of woe his reaction immediate, ‘He’s a mate. I’ll give Tony a ring, he lives nearby.’
I couldn’t believe it! Please let him be home and willing to help!
Within a short space of time, Tony Birch arrived at the Student Union with two copies of his book – and the special pen he kept for book launches! He found the story of Aurora’s appetite for literature amusing and was only too happy to rescue me from further embarrassment.
Tony knew the Women’s Officer and replicated the message in the replacement book before signing a book for me – including Aurora’s name – ‘since she’s such a fan’.
I’ll never forget the kindness of that day. They helped me through the ordeal with a minimum of fuss, maximum efficiency and a sense of humour.
The book returned with the owner none the wiser, keeping the episode secret justified with ‘no harm done’ but knowing what a hotbed of gossip university circles can be, I’m sure ‘the secret’ has been one of those anecdotal tales laughed at over a few beers or after-dinner coffee.
A forgotten memory recounted as I’m doing now and as long as that book sits on my bookshelf, Aurora and her most memorable escapade, never forgotten!
It so happens that my dearest friend, Lesley, had to make a similar decision about one of her dogs the day after we farewelled Aurora.
Lesley is my dearest friend in Melbourne. We have known each other since our children were babies. We have literally been through all the big life changes together – birth, deaths, and marriages.
Whether it’s 11am or 11pm we have coffee and unburden ourselves to each other, drawing strength from our shared love and respect and being able to vent about parents, children, the economy, politics, health, neighbours – you name it we discuss it, laugh and cry, forever grateful we have each other.
And so we scheduled a long chat over coffee and a walk.
Our catch-ups and walks around the neighbourhood of whatever cafe we patronise, always a balm to the soul.
This time, we chose Alba’s in Warren Road – a place that is friendly and serves good coffee and tea. We often visit Alba’s because it is close to home and although popular, we always manage to find a table.
On our walk of the surrounding streets, we noted how many of the gardens and parks are suffering because of the recent 40 plus degree heat.
Others bloomed, thank goodness.
We were saddened to see what had obviously been a wonderful garden, neglected and dying. A mini orchard in fact with heavily-laden nectarine and pomegranate trees.
Perhaps the original owner has died and new owners wait to sell or build and the large block will go the way of so many others in the suburbs – townhouse or apartment development.
I just hope someone enjoys the benefit of such luscious fruit before the trees are cut down if that’s their fate.
At least the area still had some green space in the form of a lovely little park we walked through to return to Warren Road and Lesley’s car, and a young woman walking her dog was grateful for the shady trees.
The lush foliage made the path a welcome and cool respite from the concrete pavements.
We were grateful many of the streets have retained nature strip trees, probably planted 20-30 years ago because they offered great shade as well as adding beauty to the street. Trees and their shade make a huge difference to comfort as our summers grow warmer.