I could count on my one hand the creative events and exhibitions I’ve been to in the last two years and I know I’m not alone.
There was attendance at talks, videos and workshops online, but that’s not the same as the sensations experienced walking around, sometimes touching, smelling, hearing and seeing and most importantly feeling the buzz from emotional connections.
Attending events and exhibitions in person triggers memories and ideas and occasionally controversies. If you have someone to share the experience: to reminisce, laugh, cry, debate merits, discuss the impact and celebrate the success, it is a bonus.
Until last Thursday, the “live” events I’ve managed to experience have been with family – and all this year (the least said about 2020 the better!):
a Hannah Gadsby Concert at Sydney Myer Music Bowl with daughter Anne enabling great exercise of laughter muscles (February)
a fascinating Open House Melbourne discussion on The Great Birrarung Parkland by boat with Indigenous guides sharing their knowledge (March)
a tour of the National Trust’s Labassa and the history of the garden with Anne where we managed to dodge showers (May)
a wonderful weekend away with my two sisters, to see the Mary Quant Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery which happened between lockdowns so didn’t have to be rescheduled (June)
a visit to Como for the display of Miniatures and Doll Houses with both Mary Jane and Anne that had been rescheduled (November)
Cat Rabbit: The Soft Library
My good friend Lisa Hill is a prolific book reviewer and alert to events in libraries, writing festivals, bookshops – in fact all things bookish. A few weeks ago she asked if I would like to go with her to The Soft Library , an exhibition by artist Cat Rabbit at the Bayside Gallery, Brighton Town Hall and we booked a date for early December.
“Cat Rabbit is a textile-based artist living in Naarm/Melbourne. Using felt, recycled and vintage fabrics, Cat hand stitches plush sculptural works of her imagined characters and the worlds they might live in. Her work translates to many formats – from children’s books to large-scale felt installations – always with aim of bringing softness and warmth to the viewer.”
How could anyone resist an invitation to an exhibition promising softness and warmth – not only after surviving what we hope is the worst of a global pandemic but anytime!
Lisa is a friend who always goes above and beyond – not only did she offer to drive me but also negotiated with the curators to allow us to visit the exhibition before official opening time so we wouldn’t clash with any school or kinder visit because she worried about my severely compromised immune system when most children are still unvaccinated. The Omicron variant in the headlines revealing the Covid pandemic is stubbornly persistent. Athough no lockdowns and eased restrictions, the adage better to be safe than sorry always applies!
“The soft library is an extraordinary new project by Melbourne-based textile artist Cat Rabbit. The artist has transformed the Bayside Gallery into a fantastical library run by bears, or ‘libearians’, many of who are famous literary characters. Lovingly made by the artist in felt and fabric, the library houses books and animations and a special giant ‘storytime’ bear who invites visitors to sit and enjoy an audio story. This whimsical and delightful exhibition celebrates the freedom found in play and pays tribute to the library as a place of learning and wonder – a home for the endless possibilities of the imagination.”
An ideal place for an art exhibition on the theme of books
Brighton Town Hall is an imposing building with a history dating back to 1885 when the memorial stone was laid by The Hon Thomas Bent MLA, for the District of Brighton and Mayor of the Borough. (Whenever politician Thomas Bent is mentioned someone always adds ‘Bent by name and bent by nature’ and Lisa beat me to that observation! Mr Bent gained quite a reputation when he ‘served’ the people of Victoria and made himself wealthy.)
Above the memorial stone is a plaque dated 1978 when the restored town hall incorporating the central library was opened. Above that yet another plaque dated 1998, when the building became The Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre – Brighton Town Hall.
The design of the exhibition simulates an art gallery display – there are ‘paintings’ on the wall (all made of felt), there is the obligatory marble-look sculpture of a figurehead (made of felt), and the larger than life Libearian and the professional paraphernalia (cards, date stamp, pad etc) laid out on the desk are all felt. A story-teller sits with stories quietly playing on a loop and a circle of soft cushions await eager listeners.
Lisa and I spent a pleasant hour appreciating the imagination, talent and sense of humour of the artist. It is a display ready-made for children’s activities but paved with richness of detail to delight adults. We recognised authors, exclaiming over the craftsmanship and attention to detail and I thought of the various discussions initiated with the children lucky enough to attend.
There are shelves ‘laden’ with felt tomes – the titles wittily clever. Children are given an activity sheet The Great Detective designed to engage them with the exhibits but also to encourage close observation and attention to detail. They are asked: If you could write a bear themed book, what would it be about? What would the title be? (More than children can have fun with this activity and I mentioned to our hosts there could be fun with homophones as well as homonyms!)
I eventually solved a mystery that had been bugging me – I was sure I had heard of Cat Rabbit, even met her somewhere. When I saw the book Too Much For Turtle on the storytime stand I remembered Cat and the illustrator Isobel Knowles had been a guest author and illustrator for The Mordialloc Writers’ Group several years ago when I was coordinator.
Local primary children have participated in workshops with the artist and there is a trolley and shelf with felt books made by Hampton Primary.
There are also gorgeous individual postcards with a QRcode that will take you to digital details of authors and books and the creativity of the artist. QRcodes throughout the exhibition allow further exploration of authors and books. Technology enhances exhibitions by adding or extending interactive elements.
Brighton Libearian Karyn Siegmann pens a lovely intro to The Soft Library confessing her love of books:
“And where is the one place you could get all the books you wanted to read, and for free? The local library of course. That magical place full of stories and ideas and places to curl up and imagine and think…
Libraries have seen so many changes over the years, but they will always be a place of comfort containing infinite stories, both real and imagined. Libraries house characters you can revisit again and again and stories you can learn different things from no matter how many times you read them. It’s a shared place, but at the same time it’s all yours!”
Most of the authors in the exhibition I’d read or heard of but some of the newer children’s authors I didn’t know. However, the exhibits triggered memories of a time in my life I loved when I regularly dabbled in felt craft. From firsthand experience, I appreciate Cat Rabbit’s amazing talent and the effort and hard work to produce such a showcase. I believe craft as an activity and as works of art gained popularity during lockdowns and I expect to see more exhibitions and also more work at open air markets.
My daughters attended a Steiner stream at primary school and craft and creativity interwoven with all subjects. We made tiny gnomes to help gather gum nuts for maths, wove recorder bags to house music sheets and made various animals for the story cloth when the children sat in a circle to read or listen to stories. Along with other Steiner mums I spent months knitting and sewing to prepare a stall at the annual school fair.
I still do some craft for particular projects and each Christmas I place a Nativity at the foot of the tree – my tableau made in felt over 20 years ago needs a make-over but will outlast me!
The Soft Library will be open until mid-January.
The festive season has a way of becoming too busy and after a lull of activities for two years Melbourne has a lot on offer, but I hope people make the time to visit the Bayside Gallery which has other exhibitions running as well – you won’t be disappointed.
And if the warm and thoughtful treatment Lisa and I received from the staff is replicated you’ll join their mailing list too!
Four days ago, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. Celtic feyness or a sixth sense made me pick up, instead of my usual practice of letting the call go to Voicemail.
‘I’m Sylvie, a friend of Kay Watson’s,’ a voice said, ‘and I’m ringing to let you know Kay passed away yesterday morning.’
I’ve reached an age where news of illness and death more frequent than I’d like and in recent times coming too often! Kay was one of my oldest students; first attending writing class at 80 years of age and publishing her memoir at 89. She only left when a move to a distant nursing home in her mid 90s made travelling and attendance difficult.
Sylvie informed me that Kay had celebrated her 100th birthday at the beginning of the year and was thrilled to receive the obligatory greetings from the Queen. This snapshot of a grinning Kay in February speaks volumes!
We live in Covid times. The death of a family member, friend, or acquaintance presents difficulties when lockdown dictates funeral rules and visits to homes, especially to those in the aged care sector. So this will be a digital trip down Memory Lane to celebrate and farewell the life of one of the wonderful students I’ve been fortunate to meet during my time as a writing tutor.
Kay was remarkable and touched my life in many ways. The desire to honour her legacy has motivated me to shake off a torpor that’s had me avoid blogs and blogging for several months.
Many of those who follow Up The Creek With a Pen are ex-students or members of writing groups and will have met Kay in class or at the regular Sunday readings held by Mordialloc Writers’ Group until I retired in 2017. When writing, Kay preferred to be called by her Welsh name of Ceinwen, a language she still spoke fluently. Ceinwen was one of the few Welsh speakers in Melbourne, who could also read and write in Welsh, skills she often used on behalf of St David’s Welsh Church when they wanted to welcome visiting Welsh celebrities like the Welsh Choir or celebrate St David’s Day, the Welsh National Day in March.
Ceinwen means lovely, blessed, and fair – well-chosen descriptions of the Kay Watson I knew!
My association with Ceinwen, inextricably, linked with Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, where we met because of common interests in writing and social justice. Between first volunteering, then being employed as a creative writing tutor, plus running the Mordialloc Writers’ Group and Readings By The Bay, my association with MNH lasted 21 years. Ceinwen attended Monday morning writing class for 13 of those years, also the Sunday Readings and meetings of the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, which I coordinated. Her memoir launched on the 15th anniversary of the writers’ group, epitomised what local community writing classes and groups encourage and celebrate.
The Launch of Ceinwen’s Journey, 2010
Good Afternoon – my name is Mairi Neil and I coordinate the Mordialloc Writers Group. Before I begin…
I acknowledge the people and elders, past and present of the Boon Wurrung Clans and the Kulin Nation. I acknowledge and uphold their unique relationship to this land and surrounding sea, a relationship of over 40,000 years. The Mordialloc Writers’ Group believes reconciliation is about recognition and healing with Australia’s Indigenous people. Together, we are Australian, let us bridge cultures and create a just society.
Croeso – a Welsh welcome for those who have specifically come for the launch of Ceinwen’s Journey, Shining in Reflection, a memoir by local writer, Kay Watson. Kay attends my writing for pleasure class here on a Monday; is a fellow member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, but above all she is a friend, so I am honoured to be able to launch Ceinwen’s Journey, which is a super read.
Kay is here today with her son Clive and daughter-in-law Sheila. We are also honoured to have publisher Hassanah Briedis, and I’d like to acknowledge our local member Janice Munt and convey the apologies of Federal member Mark Dreyfus and Senator Mitch Fifield both in Canberra this weekend. Several regular members of our writers’ group who couldn’t attend send congratulations too. Just as well not everyone could attend because we have already run out of chairs!
Before I extol the virtues of Kay’s memoir, I’d like to remind you of the group’s record of achievement – seven anthologies that have enabled 55 local writers to be published – many for the first time. Anthology number eight to be released at the end of this year will ensure our stories, poems, memoir, and novel extracts continue to represent this community’s culture. Local anthologies are valuable historical documents. We are the keeper of your stories as we write our own.
A word or sentence, an object or photograph, a line of poetry, a colour or a memory, and many other triggers besides, inspire writers and the breadth of Kay’s writing provides examples of all of these starting points.
Kay Watson does not suffer from writer’s block! When she first attended writing class a decade ago I acknowledged her wonderful ability to tell stories, and to tell them well. She is blessed with an amazing memory and the stories she wrote in class (and still does) are rich in detail and prompt fabulous discussions, tears and laughter, plus wonderful history lessons when we share lived experiences!
What Kay can’t remember is compensated by her vivid imagination! (Although no made up stories in this memoir!)
Her words flow effortlessly, in class every story seems true and once the excitement of this launch is over, she could produce an anthology of her short stories and poetry. But judging by her look of horror perhaps not – it is stressful putting a book together…
Kay’s memorable contribution is a story of a life spanning 89 years, written with modesty and understatement, yet she lived through the hardships of the Great Depression, the hungry uncertain years of the Great Slump, and the rationing and devastation of the Second World War when she was separated from Arthur, the love of her life. Then came children, several sojourns to Europe and the trials and tribulations of family life in the United Kingdom and retirement in Australia.
Kay triumphs over the adjustments of resettlement, not only from England to Australia at a time of life when many would be reluctant to move from their comfort zone, but an earlier move to England from Wales. This childhood upheaval perhaps the greater challenge because she had to forgo her beloved Welsh language for the scouse accent of Liverpool. (It could have been worse she may have relocated to Glasgow!)
Mind you adapting to ‘Strine’ has not been without dramas – like many new migrants she turned up to gatherings here in Australia with ‘a plate’ because she was told to, never realising it was supposed to have food on it!
Kay begins her story in 1921, a time of oil lamps, and tin baths used once a week before being hung in the yard. A time when wash day did indeed take all day, and children amused themselves with homemade toys, and their imagination, while mothers lit boilers, hand-washed everything, and if lucky, had a mangle to wring out the clothes to be dried in the back garden on a line of rope between wooden poles. The art of washing clothes no mean feat in the miserable weather of the UK.
At home, Kay spoke Welsh, at school English, and often home was a house of women because her Merchant Navy father spent time away at sea. These are memories of a time when the pace of life seemed slower, a time when not everyone had a car, a time when you made your own entertainment. Definitive childhood experiences leave their mark but it is amazing what memories are triggered in writing class.
First Love by Kay Watson
Keith Taylor was 15 years old and sat in the desk in front of me at school He had acne and hair sticking up like a chimney sweep’s brush dipped in oil. Not very tall, he was always straightening his spectacles with a forefinger and constantly sniffing instead of giving his nose a good blow.
I fell madly in love with Keith.
He lived in the next street and we walked to school together. Considered ‘grammar school material’, he helped me with my homework. We went to the cinema on Saturdays, and I watched him shine at football at the local recreation grounds. He was always there for me, saying, ‘You make me so happy you’re my girlfriend,’ and ‘I love your dark shining eyes.’
I gave him a photograph of myself and he kept it in his desk at school. ‘Why do you keep it there?’ I asked
‘To look at you often,’ he said, ‘because I’ll get into trouble turning around in class to look at you.’
No wonder I overlooked that he didn’t have film star features!
Love permeates this book: love of God and church, love of family, love of community, love of travel and love of having a good time. As all of you who know Kay, laughter is never far from her lips.
It has been Kay’s Faith and a keen sense of humour that has helped her through the sad times – of which there have been a few – especially the tragic loss of her beloved daughter, Dawn when only 21 years of age, and the recent loss of her husband and soul mate, Arthur.
You don’t reach 89 without having the rough as well as the smooth and yet this is not a sad book, it is indeed a celebration of a life well-lived.
Writing your life story is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage. When we write we reveal ourselves, expose ourselves to public scrutiny. We revisit good and bad times and often learn things about ourselves – each sentence can be as much a surprise to self as it is to the reader. It may be cathartic or be a shock but it is a wonderful gift to be able to use our very flexible and beautiful language to connect with others. And it is magic when we get it right – as Kay has done.
Sounds and Smells of War by Kay Watson
The war. Air-raid sirens screech, enemy aircraft drone overhead. Wham Wham! Anti-aircraft batteries and crump ofexploding bombs. We heard these sounds and more sitting on cold slatted wood seats in dank, brick, air raid shelters surrounded by dampness and fear of death. Our five senses overloaded every night.
Glass splintered and smashed, dancing on the cobblestones as windows hit by shrapnel. The suction and compression from huge blasts, pushed us together. We grabbed each other, held tight for comfort because there were no doors on the shelter and we could see the angry red sky blackened at the edges.
City docks aflame. The acrid smell of exploding paint drums and melting rubber in the air billowing smoke and flames from the burning sugar factory, which formed a fiery sheet on the surface of the water. 4.00am. After nine hours, the all clear siren sounded. We emerged from the shelter to the scent of burning wood. Smelly black dust hung in the air. We faced our homes, many destroyed, front doors blown off, shattered windows, rubble strewngardens. Bewilderment. We hugged our blankets and pillows, and small babies in smelly nappies long overdue for changing.
Our kitchen relatively unscathed meant I had a cold wash. How I enjoyed the aroma of Lifebuoy Soap, the luxury of feeling clean and refreshed. We gathered the broken crockery from the red tile floor. An intense smell of soot from the kitchen range permeated upstairs, even inside chests of drawers. The force of the blast had scattered clothes from cupboards. They smelt musty and wet from the fire brigade’s efforts to save the house. Mum stood motionless and stared at the mattress, pockmarked like cinders on a hot face, by the incendiary bombs. Friends invited us to stay until we found a place outside the city, wreathing our faces in smiles. We smelled their coffee. Even burnt toast, delicious in those days.
The bitter days now behind us but the way to the new is in the shadow of the old. I enjoy more pleasant smells, especially seasonal ones, each flower bringing its own smell to my garden. Also the sea and seaweed clinging to rocks, the salt tangy ocean, the red earth of the desert and most of all sounds of birds like a choir of chirping minstrels.
There are interesting photographs in this book too – examine them closely because they all hold stories.
Please enjoy this magnificent achievement, a memoir to treasure and join with me in congratulating and welcoming author Kay Watson.
That day was probably one of the highlights of Kay’s long life and made more memorable by the support she received from fellow students in the class. One of the students, Helen, arranged for her partner to make a magnificent (and delicious) cake, in the shape of a traditional Welsh hat and many people followed the Aussie tradition of bringing a plate (food included, of course).
Another longterm student of Monday classes was Amelia, in a similar age group as Kay, they shared a close friendship. Both lived in Parkdale and loved writing poetry about the environment, especially the sea. Sadly, Amelia predeceased Kay. I read some of Amelia’s poetry at her funeral.
I can’t attend Kay’s funeral but will finish this blog with some of her lovely poems that featured in the annual class anthologies where she favoured writing about her memories of the UK countryside. There are a few photographs too, of Kay’s classmates, several who have now passed away. There is also a picture I treasure of Kay with my mother, who was born in April 1921. The pair met a few times at Mordialloc Writers’ events and got on well but sadly, Mum died in 2009, a few months after this picture was taken.
It is not overstating, to say everyone loved Kay and her stories never disappointed. During WW2 she was in the WAAF’s Entertainment Unit blessed with a wonderful Welsh singing voice and the actors and entertainers she met in the concerts to entertain the troops filled a list of celebrity who’s who, but I loved her travelogues. She’d bring in pictures of her and husband Arthur’s holidays to Spain and France and write about fascinating adventures.
One travel story sticks in my mind because she had the class in stitches and there were no accompanying snaps. A group of friends had hired a yacht to sail the Mediterranean islands. When the weather turned nasty, they headed for a nearby isle to drop anchor. On going ashore they discovered it was a nudist colony and to use any of the facilities, they had to, in Kay’s word ‘conform’.
I miss teaching writing in community houses, miss the many students who enriched my life with their stories and imagination. I learnt so much and will always smile when remembering the friendship, laughter, entertaining and emotional stories, and the sharing of scrumptious morning tea that were all part of Writing for Pleasure on Monday mornings.
Childhood Homeby Kay Watson
I long to see the old place again, just once on a winter’s day
frost makes white the lonely fields, and skies are silver grey.
I think of our cottage and winter walks down the lane
snowdrops nod their heads, their stems stiff like cane.
Those long dark nights, and cold short days,
the low angle of the sun casting shadow haze
adding form to the landscape and drifting snow,
patterned frozen puddles where summer sunflowers grow.
I shall return in summer and breathe the rustic air,
pause at the stream to rest and reflect on things there –
remember my childhood of long ago – and I’ll sing
of the joy and peace Mother Nature always brings.
Meadowlandby Kay Watson
Warm sun thaws and meadows tenderly lie
beneath the paintbox of sunrise,
the bridle of earth and sky.
Cowslips join waves of ripening corn
to float and dance, spellbound entranced
warming my heart like a cloth of gold.
Ever changing breeze sighs through my hair
like a joyless eye,
it is eventide when sun sinks in the west
and drowsy butterfly folds his wings,
birds fly to their nests no more to sing.
Flower petals close, the daisy asleep
is that primrose buried in slumber deep?
Thoughts scatter in fancy’s flight
sweet dreams close eyelids, till dawning light.
The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.
Thank you Kay (Ceinwen) Watson for sharing your journey!
I haven’t posted since July 2020, but it is a new year and notwithstanding the recent outbreak of COVID19 in my local area, I am hoping 2021 will be better.
This is actually a reworking of a post from several years ago and if you read to the end, my choice of updating and reposting should make sense. (It’s not just laziness although it is an effort to overcome a lack of enthusiasm and feeling of irrelevance!)
The last six months have been the definition of hell for so many people despite some (including me) attempting to find the glass half full.
I’ve read of achievements, new hobbies, friendships, educational courses, diets and exercise regimes, technology, books, films, music, imaginative recipes and discovery of local environmental gems… there were also plenty of negative impacts from panic and fear, lockdowns, isolation, shortage of goods and services, lost jobs and homes, broken relationships and health issues.
A relieved thought (or unvoiced fear) was how lucky can one person be!
It wasn’t the immediate end of the world but I would be lying if I said thoughts of death didn’t loom large. I checked finances and discussed plans with my daughters for ‘no funeral, just a big party’; ensured my will, plus medical and financial power of attorney up-to-date.
In the last decade, many health scares, so déjà vu for the Neil household at this regular event!
However, the discovery of a brain tumour and the fear it was metastatic cancer shocked the GP who has cared for me for over 25 years. We both fought back tears, our trembling lips hidden by masks, social distancing forgotten as she squeezed my arm in sympathy and murmured about unfairness and not to lose hope because it could be a meningioma.
I’m 67 years old, ironically, the same age as my husband when he died in 2002, (John was 18 years older than me). Whether it is the Highland genes or just my Mother’s Irish superstition, this coincidence played on my mind and also worried my daughters.
Survival rates for cancer vary from person to person but the milestones of 5 and 10 years are always at the back of a patient’s mind when diagnosed. The longer you can go without a recurrence is something to celebrate.
However, survival rates for a tumour in the brain, poor and if an operation required the risk of stroke high.
I was disappointed when breast cancer returned after 9 years but my breast cancer surgeon inspires confidence and he acted quickly and decisively and this time it was a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.
The recovery from the melanoma and skin graft during severe lockdown, and in the middle of winter, took a little longer with travel permissions to worry about and more stringent rules for clinicians and patients. These restrictions lasted well into the next health surprise.
By the time I went through all the tests and consultations for the brain tumour, it took a lot of energy to even pretend to be positive about the future. I thought back to the deaths of family and friends I’d witnessed or been involved with in the last stages of their life – hence revisiting this post about my friend Margaret.
Will I be calm and accepting? Do I want to prolong the inevitable? What are my priorities and is there any point in a bucket list?
I almost forgot to breathe when the neurologist decided it was a meningioma and not metastatic cancer. In the words of my breast surgeon on my annual visit in December, ‘You dodged another bullet, Mairi!’
How long I can keep dodging is a mystery but I’ve decided to turn the page on 2020 and try ‘business as usual’ along with my mantra ‘this too will pass’.
I spent July to December posting photographs and haiku on Instagram after joining at the suggestion of a dear friend in Japan who posts about Bonsai.
We have stayed connected and she returned any perceived favour by inspiring me to learn a new digital platform (with daughter Mary Jane’s help), indulge my love of photography and the environment, and write haiku, a favourite poetry form!
Naoko’s Instagram is #bonsai_sana and mine is #mairineil
Walking the dog each day around Mordialloc, I focused on everyday sights, let my imagination and thoughts wander and in the evening, inspired and guided by the demands of the form, I wrote haiku.
The anxiety, fear and dark thoughts about health and death receded as once again my passion for writing became therapeutic and a distraction. It gave me a focus and a project.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
And for many, death comes too soon…
Farewell To A Friend
The telephone call came out of left field. Tragic news to wreck quality time with a dear friend, yet it is also a dear friend on the other end of the mobile. My eyes sting with welling tears, but remain focussed out of the window of the Malt cafe in Beaumaris.
I watch two young mums chat animatedly on the footpath. Relaxed and smiling they are probably enjoying the freedom of the first day of the school year; the little darlings who kept them busy all the summer holidays tucked into classrooms. Another couple on an outside table feed their Golden Retriever tidbits from their plates.
I’m surrounded by chatter; the cafe almost filled to capacity. The aroma of fresh muffins, fruit toast, and homemade jam mingles with my skinny latte and Lesley’s extra strong cappuccino. However, normality dissipates as I absorb the details of the call. Body trembling, I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach and as usual Tamoxifen blesses me with a hot flush as anxiety peaks and emotions rage.
The day takes its first lurch into the surreal.
I’m on my way to celebrate a friend’s retirement from decades of teaching. She’s treating several friends to lunch at Sierra Tango, Cheltenham instead of us paying and hosting the celebration for her! The generosity of the invitation indicative of her warm, supportive personality and the venue a tribute to her knowledge of gastronomy, appreciation of fine foods and wine, and a commitment to support local businesses.
Determined not to spoil Lisa’s day, I seal my tragic news into an emotional compartment to be dealt with later…
I remember a poster I had on my wall at Burgmann College in 1971, when I lived on campus at ANU; my first year away from home. A poster long since eaten by silver fish when it was consigned to the garden shed, but here’s graphics with the same message – a sightly more colourful way of describing “left field”:
The telephone call from Canberra, from a friend from those university days. She can’t keep shock and horror from her shaky voice. A mutual friend, someone I shared a flat with in the 70s, is dying. She was the first non-family member I lived, worked, and studied with – we even shared the double bed that came with the one-bedroom apartment – and thought nothing of it! She’s now on borrowed time.
How could this be?
A voice laced with tears explains that a late discovery of inoperable breast cancer, treated with letrozole, has metastasised to the groin and brain stem. The condition kept secret for two years, while Margaret spent time travelling overseas and going through her bucket list. Now, in palliative care, her lifespan numbered in weeks rather than months – or days, if she experiences a seizure or rapid deterioration of the brain.
She can’t be dying – and not of breast cancer. This news, too confronting and scary. I think back to the apartment we shared, and shiver. That old house divided into three and this news means all of the women living there, including me, have breast cancer: one double mastectomy, two single mastectomies and now Margaret with metastatic breast cancer! Bad luck? Coincidence? A cancer cluster?
A problem for another day…
Bad News Travels Fast
During Lisa’s celebration lunch I receive another phone call with news that a European friend who had stayed with me early January had to have an emergency eye operation in Sydney because of a detached retina. There’s a danger she’ll lose her sight.
This super fit friend, a world-renowned marathon swimmer, came ninth in the Pier to Pub swim at Lorne this year. She’s supposed to be leaving Sydney for her home in Italy with a stop in one of Thailand’s resorts, but is now delayed in Australia until doctors allow her to fly.
The day has taken its second lurch into the surreal.
On my way home, I have the Serenity Prayer playing in my head as I try to put the sad news into perspective and decide on a course of action.
The next day I’m in Canberra and over four days catch up with many old friends from university, make some new ones, and spend hours with Margaret as she adjusts to the effects of radiotherapy and the news of having limited time.
She copes well with the steady stream of people who want to help in some way, as well as saying goodbye. The adage ‘bad news travels fast‘ proving true.
The busyness reminds me of husband, John’s last days – the irony of our busy vibrant house, constant comings and goings, laughter and noise, feasts, and endless cups of tea and coffee surrounding someone dying.
We share meals with Margaret, laughs and stories. I spot photographs in an album – and snap copies with my camera.
Lake Burley Griffin 1974
‘Those indeed were the days my friend,’ I say, ‘we had a lot of fun!’
Margaret agrees. I listen as she describes the highlights of her overseas trips and of her intention to travel again.
Deep down we both know another trip will never happen.
Before I leave, I water the plants and pick flowers to brighten inside. Margaret manages to negotiate back steps with some help and watches me water the garden, pointing out several special plants that came from other people’s gardens, or were received as gifts.
‘This can’t be happening,’ she whispers and I know she isn’t talking about my watering efforts. She alludes to her parents’ longevity, father ‘Digger’, dying a few years ago aged 93, her mother living into her 80s.
Her head shakes slightly, ‘I thought I had 23 years before I had to worry about all these decisions … what to do with things … ‘ Her voice trails off as her eyes drink in the beauty of flowers flourishing from the effect of an unusually cool Canberra summer providing higher than average rainfall.
I help her back inside wondering if this will be the last time I will feel the weight of her arm. The last time I brush fallen hair from her shoulders as her scalp reacts to the radiotherapy.
Why is the sun still shining? The magpies trilling? Laughter drifting from nearby apartments…
I recall a speech from one of the many Aboriginal women in our friendship circle. She thanked Margaret for all the books she bought her children over the years, the encouragement to access education. ‘One son got his PhD last year, all my girls have tertiary qualifications – thank you from the bottom of my heart.’
Others repeat similar sentiments. ‘You may not have any children of your own, but what you have done for our children means they are yours too!’
The seeds we sow. A wonderful legacy indeed, but I wish Margaret had another 23 years to sort out her life…
I wanted the last few days with her to be surreal and someone to wake me up and say it was all a dream. But of course I faced the reality of saying goodbye and dealing with my grief.
Now, with the reality of declining health I’ll hopefully adjust with similar dignity as Margaret when the inevitable must be faced – with luck still in the distance.
Then again, 2021 may hold bigger surprises than 2020 and they could be good!
That (wo)man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men (and women) and the love of children; who has filled his(her) niche and accomplished his (her) task; who leaves the world better than he (she) found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he(she) had.
Various health organisations continue to work towards improving how health is delivered whether the topic is related to COVID-19 or not. I also presented (via an online platform) to a conference at Melbourne University, organised by medical students for their 2020 MD Student Conference (MDSC). (Details below)
Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives. It is about how they use that information to decide on treatment and lifestyle.
Over the years, I have been able to use my writing skills combined with personal experience of the health system to give input and feedback to help health professionals and various institutions and government bodies improve the health information provided.
From the Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Healthcare:
Individual health literacy is the skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.
Health literacy environment is the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.
Volunteering To be A Health Advocate May Help Others
My health advocate journey began in 2009 when I attended a focus group at Central Bayside to help them rewrite leaflets about Diabetes.
My father had been diabetic for many years (mature-age onset) and moved from tablets to insulin before his death. From firsthand observations, I knew there was room for improvement in the brochures publicly available.
At the time, I was enrolled in the Masters of Writing so my writing skill was, and still is, useful to share.
For me, the upsurge is not surprising because when the initial Lockdown was eased mid June many people behaved as if the pandemic was over despite Premier Daniel Andrews saying repeatedly, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brett Sutton reminding us continually, ‘this coronavirus is ten times more infectious than flu.’
Few, if any, of us enjoy forced isolation, but most people DID put the health of others before social considerations and obeyed the rules. Let’s hope we can do it again!
The message of the dangers of COVID-19 has made headlines since March – not just here but overseas. Any other topic has great difficulty gaining oxygen. Most people can access the Internet – there is no excuse for being ill-informed.
In the beginning, there were mixed messages, especially from the Federal Government, but by April all States had the same mantra about social distancing and washing hands. Debate continues about wearing masks, but many people have made that choice and it helps reinforce social distancing.
There is concern not enough effort was used in Victoria to ensure the message was inclusive of multi-cultural communities but frankly considering every country is touched by COVID-19 and we have multi-cultural television and radio stations with many communities having their own language newspapers, I don’t think that can be the only reason. There is also an excellent website with health translations in more than 100 languages. More likely it is the socio-economic make-up of those suburbs with people working the casual and low paid jobs of hospitality, retail and transport that have continued throughout the Lockdown period – plus the pressure on schools throughout Australia to reopen. The virus is highly infectious – it was never about elimination (a vaccine is a long way off and will ever only be 70% effective anyway) but aiming for suppression and control.
Debate still rages about schools going back too early and the opening up of businesses and venues but considering the world is coping with an unprecedented crisis this century our various levels of government are doing their best – it was always going to be a balance between health and economic survival. Again – personal behaviour is the key.
Sadly, some people CHOOSE to believe the seriousness of the pandemic and ignore regulations.
It is up to individuals to be aware, follow the rules, and take care.
Recording The Pandemic For Future Generations
In April, my friend Matilda Butler who runs the womensmemoirs.com site in the USA with Kendra Bonnett, asked women to write about COVID-19.
Now, with a sense of security rapidly diminishing if we continue to see larger numbers of infections, an update will be needed and it may well have a different tone!
There are writers all over the world recording this pandemic from a variety of perspectives and journalists and bloggers tapping daily. Next year and the years to follow, we’ll see a plethora of films, documentaries, plays, poems, novels and memoir…
A summary of the results of the City of Kingston’s May 2020 survey:
From the 202 responses collected between 13-21 May 2020, they identified the following insights:
A lot of people adapted to using technology to remain connected (89% of people)
Around half were worried about being infected, but most (97%) had access to facts and information on quarantining
41% were worried that they or their families wouldn’t recover if infected
Physical activity was cited as the main activity providing relief
The main concern people had about being isolated was the loss of connection with their social support network
You can access the full report and also see regular updates from the website.
The Use of Technology Has Zoomed During COVID-19
As mentioned before, I have been extra careful since January because of a recent breast cancer operation and so adapted easily to Lockdown, isolation and social distancing.
When the Cancer Council asked me to contribute to the medical student conference at Melbourne University, I accepted because it could be prerecorded. The session recorded in May, but broadcast on June 25th.
The organisers and presenters plus the film crew amazing. It was a positive and fascinating experience. A great learning curve in the use of technology!
Here are screenshots from the session: “Breaking Bad News”.
This session forms part of the Day 4 program theme “The Ultimate Equaliser”. We have chosen this theme to give medical students the opportunity to have in-depth discussions on mortality and the human condition. We are very fortunate to have a number of esteemed healthcare professionals presenting on Day 4. An integral aspect of medical education is learning from patients, as they are often our best teachers. We feel that it is essential to include personal stories in a session on breaking difficult news, so that we can keep patients at the centre of our education.
Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to share my story. Thank you, too, for those who will listen who are joining the medical profession – as we have seen during this pandemic, the pressure, expectations, danger and sacrifices for frontline workers has revealed how important, precious and valuable you are for a healthy functioning society.
Personally, I’m grateful to medical science for my life. The improvements in breast cancer detection and research plus treatment available in Australia meant my cancer diagnosis in 2010 disrupted my quality of life but was not a death sentence.
And that is what the mention of cancer means to most people – a terminal illness that once you are diagnosed and even go into remission, it is a coiled snake waiting to strike. That metaphor turned out to be true for me because of my breast cancer, albeit another type, returned in December 2019.
In the words of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr Peter Gregory – ‘nine years Mairi, you almost reached ten!’ His disappointment and disbelief matched mine because of course there are legendary milestones, whether true or not, of 5 years and 10 years – making those free of a recurrence is believed to extend the likelihood the cancer won’t return , or worst spread to other parts of the body.
And my thank you after everything went as planned!
To be cliched – the pleasure was all mine:)
Thank you again for giving me a platform for my story and I think you, Tansy and all the others have done an amazing job considering the circumstances in which you have had to operate.
Thank you for always being so courteous and ready to respond and adapt to my needs, even when it probably inconvenienced your own,
All of you can be immensely proud of what you are achieving but more importantly the place from where your efforts and the impetus has come – creating a first class health system that cares for everyone’s needs.
I was most impressed with – I think it was Lily who said it – ‘welcome, this is the way of the future…’ You and your co-workers are all very talented and I can see the benefits for a lot of digital expertise being applied in the future for conferences etc because who knows how long travel or large gatherings will be risky to organise. Also, what you have done over the last few weeks has been amazing in establishing a pathway for all sorts of voices to be included at conferences where usually only certain ones are invited.
I know the title consumer rep has been coined, especially by organisations fighting for equity in the two-tiered system we have (private V public health) and for a multitude of voices to be heard, but I personally never want to move away from the word patient when I am referred to treatment for my health because it implies being in the care of a doctor/medical clinician. Whereas consumer can so easily be applied to someone shopping or dining whose main interest is value for money rather than the esoteric outcomes of quality of life regarding health procedures!
We are all individuals and our bodies can respond in various ways and so care provided must always be personal and often tailored to suit the individual – not mass consumption – what works or is accepted by one may be inappropriate or not work on another.
A bit like in the 90s when suddenly those receiving education became clients rather than pupils or students.
Word choice matters because we all come with our own prejudices, perspectives and experiences but it would be nice if we could agree on a terminology that gets the balance and duty of care right – and in some areas of our society there has to be an authoritative balance some times.
I want to be empowered to have a say in the health system but I also want to acknowledge the expertise of the people looking after me and that their advice is coming from a place of knowledge and wanting to heal me and I am happy to accept they know more than me but I hope they are also prepared to listen and set aside some of their assumptions.
Good luck with all your other planning and remember to take some time out for relaxation and fun – you deserve it:)
All the best
We have a good health system in Victoria and there are people working all the time to make it better.
The health system had to take stock and organise to cope with the pandemic and remain functioning. It could have so easily become overwhelmed like other countries – especially Italy, Brazil and the USA.
In Victoria, the effort to keep everyone informed and to meet everyone’s expectations has been excellent.
The initial postponement of elective surgeries to ensure there were enough hospital beds and equipment if needed has been lifted, but if people don’t heed the warnings who knows what strain will be put on available resources?
The message I received and took on board is ‘don’t forget your health check-ups’ . An important message to act on.
I went for my regular skin cancer check and they discovered an invasive melanoma. Despite increased testing for COVID-19 the results of the biopsies came back quickly and an operation including skin graft is scheduled for next week.
But if the system becomes overwhelmed, others in the future may not be so lucky. We must stop the COVID-19 infection rate increasing!
I started off the post with a leaflet explaining the logic and simple steps to avoid spreading viral infections. These work for flu as well, and one welcome side effect of the isolation rules is that fewer people are contracting flu this season!
Here are just a few of the public notices around Mordialloc I see every day advising people about COVID-19:
I’m sure these informative signs are replicated in every suburb – authorities can only do so much – members of the public must cooperate.
Being in the high risk age group with underlying health issues, I sincerely hope people will make the effort to be informed and obey the rules so we can suppress the rapid spread of this coronavirus.
Support all those frontline health workers, plus the workers in other occupations who have remained or returned to work and must cope with new rules and the compliance necessary to combat COVID-19.
There has been a host of issues covered by a variety of media in the last week, as the important Black Lives Matter Movement continues to dominate headlines around the world and it is also Pride Month in the USA.
Australia was party to this Convention as David Marr explains in an interview recorded on the 2016 documentary Chasing Asylum.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights and Refugee Convention was a humane understanding, according to David and ‘the world’s apology to what was done to the Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust.’
When the doors are closed, people need protection and have a right to seek it! Australia signed up to this Convention and to letting refugees come in – and they come by the sea when other channels are closed!
When I revisited this documentary, I wept.
Even with COVID-19, when we are all encouraged to care for each other, we are detaining and treating asylum seekers as if they are criminals and of lesser value than ourselves. Fortunately, there are courageous advocates still speaking up and trying to get the Australian Government to honour the Conventions they signed.
I agree with David Marr, who ”defies anyone not to be moved and not feel ashamed.’
The film shows horrific footage (taken without the knowledge of those in authority) of inside the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands that Australian taxpayers fund and set up by the Federal Government. Repeated parliaments headed by BOTH main political parties have made excuses to maintain these offshore camps.
The cost of torturing innocent people who had a RIGHT to seek asylum – $500,000 per asylum seeker per year – that is $1.2 billion to maintain Nauru and Manus Islands.
A lot of money to torture people because mandatory and indefinite detention is definitely torturing!
There is testimony from employees with firsthand experience who observed the inhumanity and horrific conditions in the detention camps. No amount of posturing and excuses will hide the fact the premise of Australia’s policy is we have a right to put refugees through hell because they came by sea and others might die at sea following their example.
It is profoundly hypocritical to claim ‘stop the boats and turn back the boats’ policies are humanitarian because they stop deaths at sea – especially when we continually engage in wars and other practices creating refugees!
The most recent mass migration of people fleeing their Syrian homeland a case in point. Australian planes bombed Syria. Many of the refugees in this documentary are Iranian, Afghani and Iraqi – Australia was part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ who bombed these countries!
There are reasons for refugees fleeing their homeland – foremost is war – most people would prefer to stay in their own country. If more effort made to prevent the reasons, people put themselves at risk, we would not be facing a worldwide crisis of 60 million refugees.
The countries sheltering half a million to over a million refugees are:
Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.
Germany accepted one million Syrian refugees in 2016.
Meanwhile, in Australia, we’ve demonised refugees since 2001 and used them as a political football.
In 2016, Chasing Asylum challenged us as a nation to confront the flagrant abuse of human rights perpetrated in our name and as a nation we responded by repeatedly electing governments to continue this inhumanity.
Reduced to its basest element, Australian government policy is to begrudgingly treat those who legally sought its asylum – by one mode of transport, by boat – with axiomatic cruelty, in order to discourage others from paying people smugglers and hopping into leaky boats across south-east Asia. This policy saves lives, they say, because it deters others.
But it’s not this policy that’s stopping the boats from reaching Australian shores. Australia has spent billions of dollars putting an armada to sea in the waters to the country’s north and west.
Asylum boats continue to ply the waters of the region and attempt to reach Australia. They do so in much smaller numbers now because they are intercepted, boarded and their passengers and crew forcibly turned around. Protection assessments are conducted at sea – a policy considered illegal under international law by almost every expert opinion, including that of the United Nations.
The support workers, volunteers, social workers, doctors and security personnel who speak on camera in Chasing Asylum also demonised. Classed as malcontents and whistleblowers, there have been many attempts to discredit them by sections of the government and media.
Their evidence may be unpalatable but cannot be ignored.
Because of their courage, protests from many community groups, and the persistence from MPs with a conscience like Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the voiceless may have been ‘out of sight’ but were not ‘out of mind’!
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2006:
No one knows how many boat people have died, but thousands have been rescued at sea. In the reality of dangerous journeys undertaken to gain access to reluctant coastal states, the time-honoured maritime traditions of rescue at sea collide with the growing determination of states to prevent illegal entry to their territory.
However, to seek asylum as a refugee is not illegal!
We must face the reality of the deceit of the cruel and barbaric ‘stop the boats’ mantra and there is no time like the present!
The pair still peddle the myth that our refugee policy of mandatory offshore detention is humane!
Like many of the horrific scenes circulating on social media at the moment, this history of our offshore detention policy makes uncomfortable viewing!
By choosing to describe asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, economic migrants, or boat people, and classifying them as less deserving of help, it is easy for politicians to justify denying them basic human rights.
I’m glad that there are still activists protesting on behalf of asylum seekers. I will continue to donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, write letters and sign petitions – trying to keep the issue alive via conversations and the written word.
Refugees and asylum seekers
young and old
a new life…
They cross stormy waters
and a welcome
from Australian society
Amazing personal stories
Prisoners of conscience
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom ––
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
We sit in the cafe
indulging a desire
for coffee and cake
and a need
for each other…
we struggle to accept
that sitting, sipping coffee:
skinny latte, cappuccino, mochaccino
long or short black
and devouring slices
of gluten-free, fructose-free, fat-free,
carrot cake and a chocolate muffin –
is not conscience free…
Modern media mobility
screams of drought, bushfires
floods at home and
war, random shootings,
terrorist attacks, refugee crises…
Manus Island and Nauru…
We skip the sugar and cream
search mobile screen for a funny meme.
The opening scene of a crowded boat navigating a choppy sea has a male voice over explaining ‘I head for Australia because it is a safe, humane country… respects people… no war, calm, everything good…’
And then there is the reality as shaky footage from a concealed mobile phone camera reveals Australia has some of the harshest refugee and asylum seeker policies in the world.
We see conditions in Nauru Detention Centre – the footage filmed in secret because no journalists, filmmakers or camera crew allowed inside the Nauru camp.
Nauru a remote island, population 10,000, isolated and extremely hot, you can drive around it in 20 minutes. It is a ‘poor’ country with a failing economy.
Easy pickings for Australia to sweep responsibility to somewhere else and pass on our problem. And it is understandable why the Nauruan government accepted Australia’s offer of a cash splash and allowed a detention centre.
At the time the documentary was made there were 2,175 asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Manus Islands, including children.
A social worker speaks about the shock of arriving to work at the camp – meeting people already detained 400-500 days and so many security personnel giving the camp a militarised feel.
We hear faceless conversations. The views of camp, fences, tents and people from imperfect angles, but there is sufficient footage to capture the bleakness, sparse colourless surroundings, makeshift and temporary set-up. Cyclone fencing reminiscent of building sites.
Painted on the side of a tent in Nauru – Welcome To Coffin…
Sad drawings and paintings by children decorate walls, featuring tear-stained faces surrounded by flames, barbed wire and guns.
The camps really set up to make the refugees feel unwelcome and to send them home or hope they’d opt to return.
The social worker said in 6 weeks the detainees degrade mentally.
We hear a man say, ‘I am 28 years old – wasting my youth here… I lost dreams.’
A shocking concept, no program, no future. Criminals in a prison can count the days until the end of their sentence, but that can’t happen in a refugee camp.
No crime committed, the UN Convention ignored, people left to rot.
A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country… ”
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Tortured at home
Tortured in the detention camps
Separated from their families with no prospect of being reunited.
No hope for the future.
A protest organised by the incarcerated men and WE WANT JUSTICE written on t-shirts.
We see men with lips sewed together, a lot of self-harm. The nurse saw a man who cut his stomach open with glass, men with stitched lips and eyelids, another beat and stabbed himself with a fluorescent light tube. A lot of cutting. And swallowing of razor blades, washing powder, bleach.
People hang themselves.
Support workers describe how they answered an advert of Facebook from the Salvation Army. When they enquired what the job entailed, the interviewer ‘made it sound like a nice place, enjoy a two-week holiday, invite your friends to apply…’
Arriving on Nauru, the fresh recruits discover an eclectic group of fellow workers: a manager of a MacDonald’s, retirees, factory workers and university students.
The only thing they had in common was no one had experience working with asylum seekers or refugees!
The briefing they got on arrival was indeed brief!
A woman said, ‘Go and help the men, befriend them. Go in pairs, mingle, I’ll be back in two hours.’
They found dispirited refugees, lying listlessly on the bed and lethargic asking, ‘Why are you here? Why are we here? How long will we be here?’
Many couldn’t sleep, were on medication because of the rapid deterioration of their mental health, which usually started after 6 weeks.
The support workers realised intakes were confused, some didn’t know they were not in Australia, others couldn’t understand why they were treated like criminals.
A support worker questioned what she was doing there and regretted signing up, especially when she read a sign that said, ‘Make sure staff are trained to use a Hoffman’s Knife.’
She discovered a Hoffman’s Knife is used to cut people down when they hang themselves! She was in a place she’d never choose to visit and she shouldn’t have taken the job.
A social worker recalled a Tamil from Sri Lanka’s story. He was the same age as herself 24/25. He was living in an area controlled by Tamil Tigers. His father shot in front of him. He and his brother left for Colombo and arrested by authorities, imprisoned and tortured for a year. He had cigarette burns on his back and genitals. Highly distressed on Nauru, he displayed symptoms of severe trauma.
He wanted to die and kept repeating ‘My life, where is my life?’
The social worker broke down, ‘I can’t help them, I have nothing of comfort to say.’
People talk to themselves. Have psychotic episodes, walk around like zombies, most are medicated. Every day they have thoughts of suicide and self-harm. She can only tell them things will get better, but they know, and so does she, that it is a lie.
A support worker saw a severe beating of a refugee by two guards – a New Zealander and an Australian – but after pressure, she changed her statement. On reflection, she is ashamed but did so because she was scared. She was the only one prepared to be honest.
The guards are ex ADF, bouncers and prison officers and are always on edge. Hyper-vigilant, many are racists. Their aggressive attitude shows no empathy for asylum seekers.
Official Refugee Policy?
Although no politician offered an interview for the documentary there is enough recorded interviews and broadcasted soundbites included:
Prime Minister John Howard in 2001 – the Tampa Election – ‘we will decide who comes into this country and how…’
2009 Kevin Rudd – those coming by boat will be detained offshore
2012 Julia Gillard – ‘don’t risk a voyage at sea… don’t give money to people smugglers… you will be detained offshore’
2013 Tony Abbott– won the election with the promise to ‘stop the boats’
2013 – Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister – it is a national emergency and border security operation – ‘the boats must be stopped.’
July 19, 2013 – Australia’s policy: any asylum seeker arriving by boat will not be settled in Australia– mandatory offshore detention.
2015 – Turnbull – ‘only way to stop deaths at sea.’
In the documentary, Greg Lake, the public servant who ran the Detention Centre admits that he took on the job with a background of ‘upper-middle-class white guy from NSW, growing up in a place with few migrants and never meeting a refugee or asylum seeker.’
He saw the job as implementing government policy, but the policy issue changed from looking after people seeking asylum to, we will make your life worse than what you fled if you choose to stay here.
We don’t want you coming by boat and will make your life horrible so the message will get out and no one else gets on a boat. Greg Lake realised it was a deterrent strategy and people will be permanently damaged so he left – it was too hard a portfolio.
Go Back to Where You Came From Is Not An Option!
In 2011, SBS produced a reality show to tackle Australia’s refugee policy and reveal the human face behind the statistics by exposing six Australians with strong opinions about immigration to the journeys of some refugees.
Hopefully, it helped some members of the public to think more deeply and beyond three word slogans.
Ironically, one of every two Australians is an immigrant or the child of one. (I came to Australia as a child in 1962 with my parents and 5 siblings.)
Yet, despite our diverse population and culture, immigration continues to be a central political issue. Often the people who are the most vociferous and ill-informed are migrants or children of refugees who came here after WW2.
Sadly, social media has amplified bigotry and racism and spread misinformation like wildfire. Many in Australia applaud President Trump’s recent playbook by telling those in the public eye who are critical, especially women of colour like Greens MP, Mehreen Faruqi and Labor’s Anne Aly, to ‘go back where they came from’.
The “go back” insult is offensive because it is not about citizenship, said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s about your skin colour,” she said. “You are seen to be more loyal or disloyal depending on whether you look like the norm.”
quoted in New York Times, Letter to Australia
Does the Australian public realise the price paid to stop the boats and who pays??
Dr Peter Young reported measurable disorders observed in children.
Children watching parents getting sicker, young babies not feeding properly or gaining weight.
Children’s drawings reflect how disturbed they are watching self-harm and also many had been sexualised or seen things they shouldn’t have seen.
Mouldy damp tents with no privacy or space, erected upon white phosphate rock. Behavioural issues because there were no age-appropriate activities.
Children referred to each other with boat IDs instead of names. The practice rampant – they had forgotten their names and who they were.
The Forgotten Children – the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young collected toys and when they arrived the kids didn’t know what to do with them.
Heartbreaking for the support workers to witness!
A social worker will never forget a child’s reaction to receiving a soft toy after a year in the camp with no play activities.
David Marr talked about the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of women and children which resulted in The Moss Review in 2015
There were details of sexualised behaviour amongst children, cigarettes traded for sex, children under 5 exposed to sexual behaviour and other activities at an inappropriate age….
It took the Australian Government 17 months to investigate reports.
No results and no repercussions instead the government legislated on July 1, 2015, that whistleblowers will face prison!!
Michael Bachelard, an Australian journalist living in Indonesia believes the threat of asylum seekers blown out of proportion and hardline policies of successive governments may have stopped the boats by successfully attacking the people smugglers’ business model, but the human cost appalling when you see the lives of the 10,000 stranded in Indonesia and those detained on Nauru and Manus.
The refugees in Indonesia can’t work, children can’t go to school, everything costs money and they can’t earn any.(see my Staging Post Review)
Hazara refugees from Afghanistan share their stories – husbands, fathers, sons, mothers, widows… all fleeing persecution by the Taliban and seeking a better peaceful life.
Asylum seekers are now told there is no way you will make Australia home…
In 2013, Rudd declared a resettlement agreement with Papua New Guinea would stop the scourge of people smuggling. Some refugees who arrived on Christmas Island flown straight away to Manus Island. They were terrified, believing New Guinea still practised cannibalism. Escorted on the plane by two security guards holding their arms they were heavily guarded on the flight.
Arriving in Manus they noticed there were trees but few houses. They saw a fruit turned teeth red, and despite assurances feared the cannibalism they’d read about in books that happened 50 years ago still occurred.
A security guard turned whistleblower, explained it was a camp for single men. He had been a prison officer for 9 years with Victorian Corrections Service, but like others employed on Manus, had only experience dealing with those from the criminal world. The camp was not what he thought a detention camp would be. He assumed they would train expert staff.
A WW2 Nissan hut one of the buildings with a concrete floor housing 122 double bunks. In the tropical weather, the shed was stifling – odour disgusting as was the surrounds, an overcrowded gaol behind padlocked gates.
There were not enough clothes, shoes, toilets or drinking water. Faeces littered the ground. There were cases of malaria and other sicknesses. The men resembled broken men without a future, slouched shoulders and despair on their faces.
The contrast with staff quarters, stark – carpeted floor, air conditioning, matching sheets…
The Prison Officer, a whistleblower, he voiced his concerns and was threatened by a note left on his bed, then another verbal threat.
He stopped complaining and left. ‘I had principles, we need to talk and face the reality of what is happening about refugee policy.’
There is film of a demonstration by the detainees that became violent. 100 were arrested but no criminal convictions. Apparently, the bill was $60 million damage. (I’d question the figure because the facilities on Manus and Nauru are appalling and that was the reason for the protest!)
There is a lot of resentment from locals on Manus and Nauru who are not happy with the deal their governments have made with Australia.
Seven months after one protest, asylum seekers attacked by PNG police and locals – a riot ensues. Evidence shown of the fence pushed in by locals and shots fired into the camp.
Sixty refugees are injured, one throat slit, one lost an eye, one man killed.
Reza Berate, an Iranian, beaten and not helped when dying. We see the grief of his family in Iran and their bewilderment as to how it could have happened.
2015 – Condemnation from the UN
The UN investigates and confirms Australia breeched conventions and accuses those in the detention centres of torture.
Tony Abbott’s response – “We won’t be lectured to by the UN.“
We are 67th in the world for refugee intake. Abbott and Morrison cut our annual intake from 20,000 to 13,000 +
Minister Peter Dutton negotiated the Cambodian Settlement claiming that country free from persecution and a safe option. Australia made a $40 million down payment declaring refugees would be voluntarily sent there. Another $15 million was paid, but only 5 refugees went there. The average wage $100 a month.
We don’t want the offshore refugees here and so we will let the government spend as much money as they want to treat them any way they like.
The options – go to Cambodia or live in the community in Nauru where there are no jobs, low pay, and the cost of living outrageously high.$20 for 2 litre carton of milk.
The refugees have:
No travel documents
No hope of reunification with family
Live in demountable blocks and share rooms
Live behind high fences in a soulless compound
their accommodation will always need security because some locals threatened them
No guarantee of safety.
Refugee women have claimed 20 cases of rape and sexual assault, but no one charged!
Flashback to 1970s
70,000 Vietnamese came to Australia under Malcolm Fraser’s LNP Government.
On the documentary, Fraser states, ‘I believed we had an obligation because of our part in the Vietnam war… most of the refugees had been through processing in Malaysia and Australia co-operated – these refugees beneficial. Refugees add to our culture, our wealth, our diversity.’
A sign at his funeral attended by many Vietnamese – Farewell to our champion of humanity. You are forever in our hearts…
Chasing Asylumis in memory of Malcolm Fraser – 1930 – 2015
To those who fear the Other Look not only with your Eyes, but with Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart. Are people less human, more evil, if different? Nationality and ethnicity Culture, religion, identity Earth’s children all ache, bleed, cry, – desire belonging and love.
It has been two weeks since my last post, but considering the hive of activity online with free courses, art-related and celebrity freebies, newspapers and journals unlocking paywalls, plus the constant news updates about the coronavirus, I doubt anyone has missed my jottings!
We also had Mother’s Day last weekend, which I enjoyed even if the movie and treats shared via ZOOM on the day because stage three lockdown still operated and Anne couldn’t visit.
The girls and I fangirls of the Victorian Premier who has shown impressive leadership through the COVID-19 crisis.
I have a feeling this will be a favourite number played in every pub/club in Melbourne when Victorians can truly ‘get on the beers‘ and socialise guilt-free!
(My preferred tipple is cider and here I am enjoying one after a day gardening…)
I know I’m not alone in receiving more parcel deliveries during the pandemic than in recent years. The service convenient, especially online grocery shopping, which I’ve found excellent.
If you can’t go out shopping safely, how wonderful to receive deliveries. I’ve loved receiving real mail in the mailbox other than bills, real estate ads and donation-seeking charity blurbs.
Good Things Come In Small & Big Packages
Students from past classes have posted lovely cards and letters asking after my welfare, and my incredible friend, Lisa, sent me a gorgeous box of super healthy fruit!
My sister knitted a Rabbie Burns doll (oh, if I could write like him!) and I’m enjoying the beautiful indoor plant and excellent read (a biography of NZ PM) from the girls and looking forward to next weekend when Anne visits and we’ll play a new board game.
Another dear friend, Lesley dropped off flowers to plant after her husband, Ian did some culling.
A day in the garden aroused Josie’s interest and jealousy. She spent the next three days digging up the cuttings one by one!
Lesley assures me there are more cuttings on the way…
I take every opportunity to laugh these days because, despite the worst-case scenarios not eventuating in Victoria and being a glass-half-full person, there have been days when anxiety about the present and the future has been almost overwhelming.
We will not forget the year 2020
Coronavirus stories will see to that
pandemic panic and widespread crying
no country free from the sick and dying
people forced to isolate and quarantine
practise social distancing
whether pauper or queen…
Wildlife too, adjusted behaviour
we will not forget the year 2020
many relationships shape-shifted
the Earth a pandemic was gifted…
Wildlife’s observations during isolation
would make any book they published
a headline grabber and selling sensation!
Life as I knew it will return in some form but until then…
A chat with Mary Jane, or a phone call or FaceTime with Anne or a friend always helps calm anxiety, but the best antidote is a lengthy daily walk with Josie, a companion like no other – her unconditional love brightens the day.
When the time suits, I’ll be out walking Josie without creating a schedule.
Whether the weather is the cliched ‘rain, hail or shine’, dressed appropriately I walk the dog – or rather Josie walks me!
Josie loves Mordialloc too, and when we are heading to friend Jillian’s house she breaks into a trot.
Walking and inhaling the beauty of our surrounds – neighbourhood gardens, Mordi streets, the parks, the Creek, the foreshore area… restores soul and energy – and we both know it.
The sea breeze rustles trees, birds sing from branches, insects hum and water ripples – nature’s beautiful chimes announce all is right with the world.
Walking is calming and observing details to write about helps me focus on anything but the troubles the world faces.
If confined to stay at home with no outside stimulation, I would retreat more often to the computer not doing anything productive. Crosswords and games online or scouring Internet articles interesting but not riveting or remotely relevant to current creative projects.
I’ve discovered I can spend the day doing absolutely nothing but going around in circles – literally hearing mum’s voice when she lamented, “I can’t get out of my own road.”
I often think of Mum’s little sayings and they make perfect sense!
I know other friends have shared this experience – truly a sign of these times we are living through. Crises take effort to adjust despite the many ads about the pandemic proclaiming; we are all in this together – it is a shared global experience.
Hopefully, witnessing the effect on other countries, everyone will be more aware of how precious and fragile life on Earth is and the urgent need to address the effects of climate change and inequity – pressing issues BEFORE the pandemic.
The latest news from the USA is not surprising, showing it is the poor who suffer the most in a pandemic. The article refers to New York, but it is a similar story throughout the world – we may all be going through the same storm but are definitely not in the same boat!
I hope when the worst of the pandemic is over there is more effort to ensure sustainability and a healthy world for all living creatures wherever their home may be.
‘How has your day been?‘
This is a daily question from Anne as she checks in on me.
If it wasn’t for the reflections and little ‘happenings’ from walking, I’m not sure our conversation would last long.
I don’t practice formal mindfulness, but when I walk with Josie, I find this is a time of peace and meditation. A time to focus on anything other than problems or worries.
Most days it is answering emails, sorting through old papers or photographs, cooking the dinner, trying out a cake or biscuit recipe, editing a short story or poem, weeding the garden, washing clothes… jumping from one task to another, no rhyme or reason…
Did I achieve or finish anything?
Does it matter?
There is pleasure in the hours of walking, observing, and greeting (from a distance) other dog walkers, friendly strangers, friends, and acquaintances not seen for a while!
People working from home or at home because they have lost their job walk for exercise and are more visible than when in their cars.
(A definite bonus of isolation is meeting people from the past. People I met when involved with Mordialloc Primary School, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and who attended writing workshops I’ve held.)
Like many people, during the first few weeks of COVID-19 crisis, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with the news – not only of how the pandemic was playing out in Australia but each gruesome detail of disastrous death tolls and the lockdowns in Asia, Europe, UK and USA.
I soon discovered the day much better if I limited the news source to one or two outlets, only once a day or even news-free days.
My daughters agree:
‘Think of your blood pressure Mum’
‘You’re dealing with cancer – one crisis at a time’
‘Let us worry about that – we’ll do the shopping’
… and true to their word, I don’t have to go anywhere except for medical visits and exercise – the latter entails gardening and walking the dog.
Safe and contactless living!
Friends and family I haven’t been able to connect with face to face have stayed connected over the Internet and by phone. The severe social consequences some have suffered because of isolation hasn’t happened to me.
The change in circumstances has made me think more deeply from the perspective of those with disabilities or illness who always have a limited connection with the outside world and must rely entirely on carers.
Let’s hope some creative ways ZOOM and similar programs have been used to provide services will remain and give access to a richer day to those permanently socially distanced!
My walks alternate between Mordialloc Creek and McDonald Street football oval and surrounds plus wandering around the suburban streets.
Joyful as this is, I know Josie will be beside herself when we return to the off-leash dog park and she catches up with other dogs en masse. Dogs are pack animals and not overly enamoured with social distancing.
Josie loves to chase and fetch. When off-leash, she’ll be able to exercise her full potential running after balls thrown from the special holder we have to turn the ball into a long-distance missile.
Seasons Don’t Recognise Pandemics
The change from summer to autumn in the gardens has been delightful to watch. Gardens seem to have been a riot of colour this year and people have worked hard transforming their gardens or homes with imagination.
A house where a couple created a beautiful Japanese-type garden is now up for lease – maybe it is their retirement income. Kudos to them both for putting so much effort into a garden for others to enjoy. Josie and I enjoyed our daily chats and seeing the shrubs, pavers and water feature being installed.
I’ve watched a house around the corner being built and Josie has loved the attention from the tradies.
It has been pleasant to have so few cars parked in the street because of fewer commuters and no U3A classes in the Allan McLean Hall at the end of the street.
Lockdown rules changed after Mother’s Day, allowing small gatherings, businesses and workplaces to open if they can manage the social distancing guidelines. People are visiting friends and family and larger groups play or exercise in the parks or practise sport.
People are resilient, small businesses often adapt – I spotted this van in Albert Street.
But people are hurting and the local Presbyterian church recognises this and has set up a community pantry.
However, not a lot has changed in my little bubble but then apart from the dramatic decrease in traffic and more people walking and chalked pavements from kids being schooled at home, not much seemed to change in Mordialloc at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.
We are a coastal suburb with plenty of open space and I have been steering clear of busy shopping centres since Christmas because of poor health. Other suburbs will have their unique experiences.
Now to writing:
Where do you go for serenity?
This is something to reflect on and write about – it might be helpful to first record where you goor what you usually do to ease anxiety.
If yoga class is something you do, or dancing or working out at the gym many of these now have classes online you may have joined.
You may favour a room, a church, a friend’s house, or a special tree in your garden.
Or perhaps you indulge in an activity like writing or walking… maybe sewing or cooking…
Your serenity place or activity may be difficult to substitute during the lockdown, or you might have found it easy to adapt.
Do you have a special place you visit only once or twice a year? A place that may hold a strong emotional attachment or memory? Writing about it may help capture the calmness and peacefulness the place represents.
Perhaps there is there an activity or place in your daily routine easily adapted to isolation rules.
Here are more writing suggestions:
Imagine yourself where you find serenity. Why are you there? Has something prompted the visit?
Describe your serenity setting.
Compare at least two visits to your serenity place.
What happens when this place disturbed, or no longer available, or your plans must change?
Do you have an alternative?
Write a poem inspired by the word serenity.
What is the opposite of serenity for you? Is there one particular time that stands out?
Write about how you unwind or handle anxiety – this may have changed over the years.
List the various ways you are meeting the challenge of isolation and practising social-distancing.
Did you ever consider ‘stress’ before it became a much talked about ‘modern’ disease?
(When I recorded the history of our local primary school in Mordialloc on its 125th anniversary, I interviewed many past students and staff. I’ve never forgotten a woman who attended the school during the depression years of the 1930s and coped through the war years commenting, ‘ No one had stress then – we just got on with life.’)
Reflect on the lives of your parents and grandparents. Do you think they suffered stress – even if they didn’t call it that?
Do you know how they dealt with the tough periods of their lives? Were the pace of life and the responsibilities they had really that different from nowadays? If so – how?
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
For over a month now, every state in Australia has been in some form of lockdown and the measures taken by various levels of government appear to have worked. Unlike other parts of the world, we have successfully flattened the curve quickly and some states are looking at some relief from isolation by relaxing social distancing advice.
However, in Australia people have died and lives of many changed forever.
Each day there are still fresh cases of coronavirus reported, but nowhere near the numbers other countries are recording. Social distancing and quarantining appear to have worked because most of the population have respected the need for and obeyed the rules and the various public health messages.
In my little corner of Mordialloc, it has been strange–and very pleasant–to see less traffic and few parked cars. People are going on family walks, strolling in pairs or singly, entire families take the dog for a walk! Children play in the street, and chalk rainbows, love hearts, and well wishes.
All of this reminiscent of my childhood in the 50s (Scotland) and 60s (Australia).
Friends in other places have similar observations with a friend in Aberdeen who walks several miles a day through the lovely countryside of Inverurie, commenting when she rang me that the lack of cars has meant less pollution. She only washes her hair every few days rather than daily and no ‘black muck’ appears in the water!
A Time of Reflection
The last few weeks I’ve put up posts with ideas and prompts to help people who want to write or who have been writing but can’t go to classes or their usual groups because of COVID-19.
For some people writing will be a fill-in hobby, others may dream of a novel or collection of short stories sitting in a bookshop window.
There will be people writing life stories or a memoir which is a slice of their life, perhaps family history or researching for a school project or essay.
Feedback suggests the posts have been helpful but now as we near a ‘new normal’, perhaps it is time to record the experiences you’ve had over this period. You can incorporate them in a poem or short story or journal about them – but leaving some record for future generations is helpful – create a time capsule if you will…
People will look for historical records about the pandemic, just as we’ve seen plenty of articles about the 1918 Flu Epidemic, the Ebola and SARS outbreaks and even the Bubonic Plague.
“If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages.”
List what you have been doing to cope
How is it different from life before lockdown and social distancing
Make note of what you like and what you don’t like about isolation – I know some people have already made resolutions to value friendship and family more, live with less material things, value the environment more…
Ponder how your life has changed and whether any behaviours or activities will remain even once free of lockdown restrictions
This is a monumental period in history – global pandemics do not happen that often!
You may have experienced personal tragedy but also joy, or have knowledge of someone whose journey has differed from yours.
Have you made recent friends, lost established friends, or discovered qualities such as strengths or failings in people, whether family members or in the community?
What new skills have you learned?
What old skills have you revived?
Has your opinion of technology changed? Have you improved/increased your use of technology or do you regret your lack of knowledge?
How is homeschooling or working from home actually working out?
Have you received or sent parcels? What were the contents? How did the experience work out?
Are you a hoarder, panic buyer or did you manage to go without those items in much demand like toilet paper, flour, pasta and rice.
Did your use of social media increase, decrease, what you shared change?
Did you join any new online groups?
Have you ‘hit the wall’ yet – how are your anxiety levels?
Are You More Present in Your Life?
Rich sensory experiences surround us daily — IF we take the time to observe and as writers note them down.
Become a keen observer and recorder of the sensory intricacies of life. Make it a habit to jot down your observances in a journal or snap a photo to remind you of the weather, the season, the unusual occurrence… on my daily walks with Josie, I take at least one photograph of something interesting or new I notice – a cloud formation or blossoming flower.
Sometimes these changes are close to home – like this Yucca plant of mine that has flowered for the first time in nearly a decade! And the interesting fungi in the front garden – in fact fungi seems to mushroom all over Mordialloc – or maybe I’m just noticing it more.
Or these pigeons sitting in a bird bath – can you imagine the conversation? The one in my garden annoys the lorikeets but loves feeding on the seeds they spit out, and the ones on the deserted footy oval are excellent at social distancing.
What stories can you make up?
Have the parcel postman or couriers visited more than usual?
Contactless deliveries can bring surprises – write the story behind the parcels:
I haven’t seen my daughter, Anne, for weeks because of COVID-19 restrictions and miss her. I know she misses me and her sister but also misses Josie, our Kelpie/Staffy Cross who gives us so much pleasure. She has earned this certificate made by number two daughter, Mary Jane:
She got a special delivery from Anne to celebrate her first year with us. Josie was a rescue dogbut with the Pet Circle parcel became a lucky dog!
I received a parcel to learn pottery, a gift that gives twice because the arts and crafts have suffered from the economic shutdown and this helps to keep a small workshop viable.
One of my sisters sent me a knitted version of my favourite poet Rabbie Burns – knitting her forte but new projects helping her cope with being stuck more inside than usual and of showing she is thinking of family.
The picture of the praying mantis snapped by me after my daughter told me we had a visitor at the door!
Small delights happen every day and we mustn’t forget to notice and appreciate them and let our imagination roam.
Devote some time to dwell on daydreams. They are spontaneous messages from our subconscious. Not everyone has a daydream-friendly mind. In fact, some people have been taught to repress daydreams as mere distractions.
As writers, however, we should not only welcome daydreams but train ourselves to be aware of them. In fact, the core of most of my novels has come from daydreams. Daydreams are our primal storyteller at work, sending us scenes and topics that our imagination or subconscious wants us to investigate.
Each day, we should devote time (I usually do this before sleeping) to reviewing our daydreams and determining which of them insists on being turned into a story. Don’t push away those daydreams that make you uncomfortable: The more shocking the daydream, the more truthful about us it is. Embrace that truth.
Have Your Rituals Changed?
I’m retired from teaching at the moment – the return of breast cancer and arrival of coronavirus a perfect storm.
My morning ritual of observing the visiting lorikeets goes on for an extended period now and I never tire watching them come and go to feed at other times of the day or enjoying each other’s company in the bottlebrush outside my bedroom window.
Do you have a morning ritual? Has it changed recently like mine has?
Are you doing more cooking? Experimenting? There was a shortage of flour, eggs, sugar – in fact, lots of items disappeared from supermarket shelves in panic buying sprees. This made for some creative recipes being shared on social media.
This variation of Anzac biscuits is a healthier alternative to traditional Anzacs and results in a dark, slightly chewy variety of the biscuit. We understand some ingredients may be difficult to find in supermarkets at present. You could try your local health food shop, otherwise use the substitutes listed under ‘Ingredients’. You’ll still be getting the low-GI goodness of rolled oats.
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut or shredded coconut
¾ cup coconut sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Substitutions (which I used)
Swap the wholemeal spelt flour for plain or wholemeal flour
Swap the coconut sugar for white sugar
Swap the maple syrup for golden syrup
Method:Preheat oven to 160°C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, coconut and coconut sugar.
In a small saucepan, stir the butter and maple syrup over medium heat until butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Take off the heat. Stir the bicarbonate of soda with the water and add to butter and maple syrup.
Add to the oat mixture and stir well to combine.
Roll level tablespoons of the mixture into balls and flatten.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
Nutritional Info: Our knowledge of nutrition has progressed somewhat since World War II. We now know that we need to eat more whole-foods and less processed foods. While these biscuits are still a sweet treat, the maple syrup is far less processed than golden syrup traditionally used in Anzac biscuits. Coconut sugar is a lower GI alternative compared to white sugar and provides small amounts of nutrients not found in white sugar. The goodness of rolled oats, an excellent source of beta-glucan soluble fibre that helps to reduce cholesterol; combined with wholemeal spelt flour, provides healthy whole grains to balance out the sweetness.
Has technology been Your Friend or Foe?
I’m lucky because I’ve kept abreast of many of the changes in technology and my computer literacy and competency better than others in my age group. Both my daughters are highly skilled with technology so they fill any gaps exposed when dealing with this catastrophic virus.
I downloaded and have now used ZOOM several times. The first time there were minor glitches but subsequently, there have been no problems.
Courtesy of the Health Issues Centre, I’ve heard medical experts and local consumer health reps discuss the current crisis and offer opinions, ideas and suggestions to the government.
Courtesy of the Australia Institute, I’ve listened to economic experts and been able to ask questions of them, including the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers MP and hope to take part in other sessions with Media, Environmental and Arts representatives.
Courtesy of the trade union movement, I’ve taken part in sessions with the first woman ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus and the first woman General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow.
Many organisations are organising online discussions and hoping for feedback from as many ordinary Australians as possible. This is an unusual time and who knows how much more difficult life will become after the health crisis eases and we must face a devastating economic crisis.
Stay informed, raise your voice, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
My daughters have used ZOOM and other platforms to catch up with friends all over Australia and internationally, and many people rely on similar software while working from home.
We have had trivia and movie nights and I love hearing the laughter when a group of them get together but I know many people are not so fortunate.
What have been your experiences with technology? Do you have a disaster or comical story? Do you use Face Time on Messenger?
What type of social media helps you stay in touch with those you can’t visit? Or do you prefer a phonecall, text and email?
Here is a piece of flash fiction inspired by a sound (I mentioned incorporating sound in a previous post). The setting is in the 1930s when the world went through the Great Depression – yes; we have survived economic crises before too. Night Terror by Mairi Neil, flash fiction.
But to end on a funny note involving current times and technology, here is another Facebook meme doing the rounds.
Two days ago we experienced the coldest April day on record in Melbourne.
Today is definitely wintry – stay safe inside, stay well and stay strong – and scratch that pen or tap the keyboard. If all ideas fail, you can do what people normally do when they get together – but write don’t talk about the weather!
Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood – you will either write or you will not – and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.
Or would you rather be in Devon? (It rhymes!) Or anywhere but isolation, quarantined and unable to do what you usually do.
There are many memes doing the rounds of Facebook along with thousands of others, plus videos of people joking/coping at their changed circumstances because of COVID19.
Two are relevant to this post because I’m promoting writing as a means to fill in time, relieve boredom, improve your creative output, write that novel, memoir, poem, letter, journal you’ve always wanted to write – or just have fun playing around with words.
Today I want people to think about happiness – specifically –
What makes you happy?
Have you figured out the things in life that truly make you happy? Have those things changed as you’ve gotten older? Or changed since the onset of the global catastrophe of COVID19?
Here is another quote by Anne Frank you can use as a prompt – write down your answer after you have looked around – whether it be out your window, in your home or garden or workplace.
In a 2010 article in the New York Times, (I did say at the beginning of these daily postings, I am recycling old lessons!) “The Keys to Happiness,” Victoria Shannon reports on what we know about how to achieve happiness, according to recent research and expert advice:
Make Friends and Family a Priority…
One of the longest-running studies on living well and happily emphasises the importance of your relationships with family, friends and spouses.
At this time of upheaval, this is obvious. However, it will also have its negatives and be a testing time for many families. Sadly, in times of crisis incidences of domestic violence increase, the likelihood of divorce too sometimes sooner rather than later.
On the positive side, some relationships strengthen and I think in some countries, if not all, there may be a baby boom!
… Especially on Weekends
Busy lives can get in the way of happiness. Our feeling of wellbeing peaks on weekends, largely because of more time spent with friends and family, if you are lucky to have that regular time off. This is when people go to the zoo, visit museums, have picnics, trips to the beach, attend festivals, go for that regular bike ride…
You can’t do any of the above at the moment but you can visit many of those public facilities online – most museum and art institutions have virtual tours, zoos are posting what the animals are getting up to, and unless you are in lockdown, you can walk around the neighbourhood. Obey social distancing rules and wave to others, walk the dog, absorb the beauty in gardens – and you can still go for a bike ride.
Write about what activities you can still do – have you made new friends? reconnected with old friends? Learnt a new skill?
Or you can write about any of the activities you used to do at the weekends– perhaps the most memorable visit. Maybe a character in your story has to adjust to being housebound or restricted in some way – there are many people where being restricted is the norm!
Perhaps Anne Frank’s experience teaches us to count our blessings… write about how blessed you are now.
Income Equality Helps (So Move to Scandinavia)
National unhappiness is strongly associated with a country’s social inequality, research shows. One index finds that Scandinavia, a place with a wide and broad social net, is the location of the world’s happiest countries.
However, perhaps after this global crisis things will change… can you write down some ideas, dreams of what will improve where you live?
There was a lovely video of happy Italians playing music and singing from the balconies of their apartments during their lockdown. Another report from the UK showed a special hour where millions of people stood in their gardens or doorways clapping and cheering the workers in the National Health System to thank them for working during this health crisis.
When we value our community and the workers that keep important facilities and services there is more cohesion and happiness, less war and conflict and we all feel better.
What do you value in your community or friendship circle?
Gratitude Does, Too
Pharrell Williams, the star behind the 2014 hit music video “Happy,” on the happiness phenomenon: ”If you’re grateful, you can find happiness in everything.”
Are you grateful for being accepted in a new country, or new suburb, new club?
Are you grateful for your parents, children, siblings?
Are you grateful for your pets?
Are you grateful for your home, workplace, community house?
Now you have the time, reflect on what makes you happy and grateful – and express that thanks in writing.
I am blessed, I know and have often written about being grateful for the constant expression of love from my daughters and friends.
I try and reciprocate and pay it forward too.
The Health Factor
A correlation between happiness and good health has been evident for centuries. But which comes first? Does robust health lead to a good mood or the reverse?
Now is the time to find out, discuss, reflect and write!!
It’s Really Good for Kids
Happy kids learn faster, think more creatively, tend to be more resilient in the face of failures, have stronger relationships and make friends more easily.
Well, most of them. There have been plenty of reports and investigations into cyberbullying, the negative effects of social media etc. There are unhappy children and adolescents and so adults must all work harder to ensure we create an environment for happy children.
Don’t Overdo It or Obsess About It
Happiness engineers, chief fun officers, ministers of happiness … there’s evidence that “fungineering” at work might have precisely the opposite effect: making people miserable.
Write your thoughts on the belief that the pursuit of happiness may be an unhealthy preoccupation. Do some people have too high expectations?
If All Else Fails, Fake It
Can you fake your way to confidence and happiness? if you read some of the self-help and advice books circulating, the answer will be ‘YES’.
Some people swear by the power of positive thinking to banish negativity. They say focus on achieving your dreams or surviving bad times and things will work out.
What recent moments of happiness have you experienced, whether large or small?
What do you think made them so satisfying?
Have you figured out a “magic formula” for happiness that works for you?
What will change as you get older – or what has changed recently as you cope with COVID19 news?
What is your reaction to the keys of happiness listed above?
Did any of the keys surprise you – is there something missing? A spiritual aspect to life perhaps that is important?
In an earlier post, I talked about keys – did you write about the key to happiness then?
How Full Is Your Glass?
People have a significantly lower death rate over 30 years if they maintain an optimistic attitude.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
What do you think is healthy about whichever attitude you possess?
What might be some benefits to viewing life from the opposite perspective?
Write a story of an optimist and pessimist being trapped somewhere together – unlikely holiday companions, work buddies during a crisis, living in a share house, trapped in a lift – or in a cabin on a cruise ship!
Five Things That Make Me Happy
Birdsong in the morning and watching the birds cavort in the garden – especially the wattlebirds feeding on the grevillea and the magpies searching the ground for worms or carolling to each other from the electric wires. I also love when the lorikeets visit each day and feed on the bottlebrush outside my window.
Clean sheets – I love getting into bed between clean sheets, the smooth feel and fresh smell.
I’m happy when my daughters are – Mary Jane’s witticisms and her infectious laugh; Anne’s smile lighting up her deep blue eyes especially when she shares stories of her travels.
I’m happy when the words come and I can finish a writing project.
I’m happy when I get a phone call from friends, to chat or catch up over coffee, or when they drop in for a visit whether planned or unplanned.
Please share what makes you happy – and remember
… once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them and lessens the threat of their difference.
The world is going through a health crisis that is forcing a change in work patterns and community behaviour. There may be lockdowns, extended unemployment or underemployment and a lack of usual social activities.
In creative writing parlance – we are living through a tragedy.
However, if word association makes you think of Shakespeare – the master of tragedies – remember he also wrote comedies and had a great sense of the absurd. (Today we have Facebook memes and the ridiculous toilet paper wars as inspiration for some of those stories!)
Plus, he wrote romance and those stories are what so many songs suggest ‘As old as time‘… because human beings need and indeed thrive on love. (Ironically, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was their romance!)
Stories Can And Do Connect Us
For the next few weeks, I’m going to try and do a daily post and share some of the twenty- plus years of lessons and ideas I’ve used in my writing classes and workshops.
Hopefully, they’ll be useful for the many people turning to the Web to relieve their anxiety or boredom from either forced or self-isolation.
I have self-isolated because living with recently diagnosed breast cancer second time round and creeping perilously close to 70, I’m in the high-risk category!
I hope people have decided to use the gift of ‘free’ time to pursue creativity and writing as a hobby or beginning a project they’ve always wanted to do is certainly in that category.
This first post will be focused on having fun. To introduce those not accustomed to writing to an alternative to watching TV or endless hours of Netflix or if you want to add to the important pastime of reading a good book!
Writing is good therapy
You don’t have to have a desire to write a novel or record a memoir
You don’t have to create an alternative income or be driven to monetize (a word I hate hearing but seems to be all the go)
You may not want to share what you have written
You may just enjoy playing with words and wiling away a few hours with pen and paper, or keyboard and screen.
You may have children/teenagers/flatmates who need cheering up
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
Writing can be fun!
There are games to be bought online but this blog is all about gifting, passing on, transferring knowledge and pointing people in a direction for further study/research/information so here’s a bit of pirating from a game I enjoy…
Often at the end of term, before I’d expanded my pile of games, I’d take this into class. We’d have fun writing poems and stories, even advertising jingles from unusual prompts. There would be specific time limits or word counts and sometimes stories written in pairs or passed around for everyone to add a line or paragraph.
We let our imagination loose
We gave ourselves permission to be absurd
We broke grammatical rules
We made up words
We moved out of our comfort zone
We tried to entertain
Sometimes we produced gems and surprised ourselves
Always we laughed because the aim was to have fun!
I bought this board game in 1997 and have lost count of how many times we played it as a family and with friends. I also used its ideas at the Mordialloc Writers’ Group end of year break-ups and in writing classes.
According to the blurb ‘It was createdto encourage, promote and inspire the art of literacy. the modern decathlon of the mind…‘
It comes with board and dice, plus an egg timer that gives you 3 minutes to write. The time restriction important – please remember that when judging my imperfect and crazy examples:)
Although I defy anyone not to have a crazy example when you see what is on offer!
The few examples here are a taste of the combinations available with the throw of the dice but the game boasts the possibility of 6000 games about writing:
The character game – you are given three bits of information – a name (invariably absurd), appearance (even more absurd), and occupation (the more unusual the better).
The letter game – you must write to your mother and you are given the name of a character, a city and an age (this is a description with a number eg. an active 85)
The poesy game – you must write a poem, any style, but you must use the words you are given twice. You are given a colour (forget the most obvious ones), an adverb (only some end in ly!) and an adjective (I guarantee you rarely use these ones!).
The slogan game – think of our PM – Scotty-from-Marketing. You must write an advertising jingle or a promo. You are given a brand name (this will make your jaw drop), product (some are saleable) and target audience. This exercise along with the letter starting ‘Dear Mother’ stretches the imagination…
The accent game – you are given a topic, you are given a letter from the alphabet, and you are given an accent. Now write a speech showcasing the particular characteristics/traits of the speech of your designated nationality using as many words beginning with the alphabetical letter or including that letter. This exercise brings out the ham actor in us all and improves after a glass of wine or two.
The genre game – you are given appearance, occupation and setting and you must write about a character of your choice in the particular genre you are given.
Everything listed can be altered – please write creatively – suggestions welcome in the comments!! And there are other games commercially available – shop around.
Adapt, Adopt and Add
Two decades have passed since I bought this game, the digital world has given access to many cultures and created new careers/jobs and sent people travelling to places they may not have known existed. My examples are years old.
Remember this is not about perfection but fun. Who knows what other ideas or talents will be unlocked. Or, as often happens, a ‘bee in your bonnet’ is sent buzzing away, or frustration and anger appeased.
I’ve lost count of how many times in class I’ve heard students say, ‘goodness don’t know where that came from’, or ‘I haven’t thought about that in years’, or ‘fancy, me remembering that?’
Ms Ponosh White, Miss Emma Parade, The Blue Guru, Max Moniless, Mrs Catastro, Jimmy James, Mr Tomorrow, King Whoops, Princess Silly, The Rock Girl
a lazy 40, an old 26, a dreaming 8, a young 59, a busy 3, an active 85, a dying 99, a shining 30, a feisty 21, an overdeveloped 15
Melbourne, New York, Rio, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Bombay, Cape Town, Beijing
Remember the three basic rules from Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones:
Keep your pen moving
Capture first thoughts
Let yourself write junk
In place of having access to the board game and dice (and even people to play with), write the various names, places, words etc on strips of paper (or your own ideas). Put them in empty jars, or bowls and dip in for inspiration for the writing exercises.
No cheating – what you pick is what you work with:) And feel free to skip my offerings – you won’t get those few minutes back – but then this post is about filling in all that time you discover in quarantine or self-isolation.
Five Writing Exercises to Entertain
A letter to Dear Mother
You should come to Beijing, the city of bicycle bells. Your love of music will be sated as you tune into the constant jingle jangle. This city never sleeps and neither does my companion. Felicity is an overdeveloped 15 and I have to constantly watch her with the tour guide. Why did I agree to be her chaperone? My wild days as The Rock Girl with the R & B band may be over but I fear Felicity’s is just beginning. I’ll need another holiday after this trip.
Cape Town is cloaked in snow now. Climate Change has definitely arrived and eccentric visitors with it. Princess Silly turned up on a morning television show. She arrived in South Africa with an entourage of half-naked escorts, barefoot and hairless – the escorts, not her. How silly is that? Royalty not the same anymore since Britain became a republic. Mind you she defended her title as any feisty 21 year old would – ‘I have more claim to be treated like royalty than that Kim Kardashian you fawn over,’ she said. Mother, global warming’s gone to everybody’s head here and fried their brains. I’ll be home soon.
Here I am in romantic Rome or Roma as the Italians call it. And it is so romantic. I met a marvellous man last night called Max Moniless. He is a young 59 and we danced all night at a masked ball. However, Moniless by name and moneyless by nature. He confessed to being absolutely broke and obviously uses his gift of the gab to woo likely suiters or gullible girls like me. However, I don’t mind as he truly is a Don Juan and last night fun! Caio
You don’t need any more twee examples to write a letter to your mother.
You’re a Poet & Didn’t Know It
Use these words wisely and at least twice in a poem of any length or style. This is the part of the game I love because I find doggerel a lot of fun.
The colours (feel free to think up others): Lily, Raven, Livid, Tan. Rust, Verdure, Saffron, Plum, Azure, Ochre
The Adverbs (usually a no-no according to the gurus): Really, Equally, Instantly, About, Probably, Neither, Cheerily, Legally, Somehow, Habitually
The adjectives (these are such fun to say never mind use): Deranged, foreign, Sudden, Projectile, resonant, Secure, Sloppy, Obtuse, Sociable, Plausible
A Melting Moment
He was foreign with raven hair
She equally strange with a crosseyed stare
They met at the Tower of London
on a wet and windy day
He was shy and unused to talking
but said, please do stay
Stay the night in this foreign city?
She looked at his raven hair
and immediately took pity Equally lost, shy and looking for trust
needing out of the rain for fear of rust
They were waxen models
fallen off the back of a truck
heading for Madame Tussaud’s
before their wheels got stuck!
Sadie was obtuse
She thought the prize a ruse Legally a winner
although a raw beginner
She picked the plum prize
only looking at its size
I said she was obtuse
and thought the prize a ruse
tho’ legallya winner
this lady a raw beginner
won Crown Casino’s plum prize
took home the biggest size
of diamond ring, she’d seen
not on the hand of a queen!
What a Tosser
Tommy had a projectile
he fired about the house
it hit his brother’s pet
a teeny, tiny tan mouse
His mum removed the projectile
and threw it in the bin
with the teeny, tiny tan mouse
Tommy left with stinging skin!
The moral of this tale
be careful about the house
and don’t be cruel
to your brother’s pet mouse.
Jane loved to be sociable
and wanted to dance
her flimsy azuredress
drew many looks askance. Somehow Jake managed
to monopolise Jane
he too loved being sociable
And when that azure dress
caught his lustful eye somehowhe knew
with Jane, he’d fly
Soon midnight came
the dance it was done
Jake and Jane left
to welcome the sun
– or maybe a son?
Some say I am deranged
and really off my trolley
because I always carry
a lovely luminous lily brolly
But then Melbourne’s weather
inevitably decides to change
proving I’m not the one deranged
and my luminous lilybrolly reallyprotects my shopping trolley
Slogans to Put Aussie Scomo in the Shade
You’ve heard of the saying selling ice cream to Eskimos? Be as bizarre as you like with this exercise – goes well with a glass of wine to forget about being PC.
Choose a brand name: perplexed, Smarty, missy, fat, Pssst, Tuboff, Dooby Wacker, Sole Gate, nutritious, Tush.
Choose a product: Ant Poison, Bad breath purifier, Dial-a-figure mirror, Anti-aging nightwear, Flying car, Gossip Magazine, House paint, Bedtime drink, A fax company, Relaxing music
Attention all you athletes out there in the real world. Forget gruelling training, the impossible to keep diets just turn to Missy for the body of your dreams. The dial-a-figure mirror for smart athletes.
Attention all athleteswhether your sport is in the bedroom, the boardroom or track and field – let Missy into your life, the dial-a-figure mirror that prepares you for games inside and out!
Hey, all you studs, when you need a rest at night (you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) drink Sole Gate, the bedtime drink that allows studs to have some downtime!
The accent game: write a speech and deliver it in ‘character’ – this is where your knowledge of stereotypes and tropes can be unleashed! Again an exercise that improves if you have a glass of wine and forget inhibitions… and can use as many words starting with or containing the chosen letter…
Topic: Women, Cooking, Weather, Sport, Love, politics, Walking, Death, Man, public Transport
Good Evening ladies and gentlemen and distinguished members of the League of Long Lost Loyalists. Tonight I will layout the long and short of the politics of voting. Legally, you must line up to vote in Australia. Ladies this should excite all of you. Last century many ladies died fighting for the right to vote. Let’s liken voting to ensuring the powers-that-be learn who is largely in charge. Ah, I thought that would elicit a laugh.
Love, in American, the letter F
Welcome, y’all, – friends from France, Finland and other faraway places. Tonight I want to talk about love – not frivolous love but a deep meaningful love for deep-fried chicken that is finger-lickin’ good. Yeah, folks, I’m a fat Kentucky Fried food girl and find life is only fruitfully good when I get my fill of my funny Uncle Festa’s deep-fried finger-lickin’ chicken.
Women in Irish, letter C
Top of the morning to you all. My name is Cecelia and I represent Celtic women, that is the Celtic women who call themselves completely liberated. I have considered how this creates considerable consternation among our Celtic brothers. It is a challenge for Celtic women to campaign to change Celtic men’s perception of women. Can the 21st century see that change? Celtic women must collectively support each other to cultivate cultural change and consider that this new century is the century for Celtic women.
Write a story in a particular genre after being given the setting. Use the character appearance and occupation and any other items you like and let rip.
Setting: Street Cafe, Trapeze High Wire, Cinema, Under Water, Appollo 11, Nullarbor Train, Kremlin Kitchen, Daintree Forest, Big Australian Home, the Year 2000.
Character appearance: Always has a drink in hand, Tattoo on head, Webbed feet, Black tie, Never sits still, Buck teeth, 3 legs, Green frizzy hair, Half black half white, Naked
Occupation: Plumber, pop Star, Groovy and Gorgeous, Law Enforcer, Ghost, Cosmonaut, Philanthropist, Inventor, Fisherman, Dentist.
This is flash fiction on speed…
Dennis turned over the calendar and breathed a sigh of relief. The millennium scare had passed and it was now the Year 2000. The world hadn’t ended. He drank his coffee, climbed into his sports car and drove to work.
The streets were littered with the bodies of numerous suicides by people who believed the claptrap about the end of the world, and others still in a drunken stupor. Stupid sods. He manoeuvred his car through the lines of emergency vehicles cleaning up the bodies and survivors, grateful he was a dentist and not a doctor. He managed to reach his surgery before the receptionist and grinned. He unlocked the door to his office and stripped off his clothes.
A loud click and door closure announced Julie’s arrival. Had she remembered their bet? If they survived the prophesied meltdown they’d make wild passionate love in his dental chair. Dennis flexed his muscles and took a long look at his tanned naked body in preparation to surprise Julie. He threw open the door but wasn’t prepared for the scream from the middle-aged temp sent to replace Julie who decided to resign.
The Spirit of Adventure
When King Whoops stepped off the plane from Bombay he appreciated the weather in Brisbane was a shining 30 degrees. He revelled in the cool breeze. What a relief from the humidity and heat of India.
His destination was the Daintree Forest and he lost no time in setting out for the rented log cabin where he hoped to search for a special tree holding a secret cure for cancer. On the way, the hired car crashed but King Whoops was pulled free and unhurt except for a dent in his crown and injury to his pride in what had been an unblemished driving record.
The police confiscated his car and he continued the journey on foot, miraculously discovering the tree a few feet from the cabin. His exhilarating ‘whoop’ could be heard in Bombay!
A Minimalist View – tell it tight
Max Moniless donned the diver’s suit bought in Rome. He slid off the gondola like an eel and within seconds was underwaterin the deepest, murkiest part of the main canal in Venice.
The search for Mussolini’s hidden treasure nearly over. Max tugged the line and slowly swam to the surface to triumphantly hand over the best-kept secret of WW2 – Mussolini’s toupee.
A Maximalist View – be expansive
In the Kremlin Kitchen, President Gorbachov’s cook prepared supper for the guest who had just arrived from London. Mr Tomorrow was apparently in Russia to find his mother, a dying 99-year-old who had been sent to Siberia by Stalin and not heard of until recently.
Perestroika softened Soviet attitude to foreigners. The supper served was an English muffin topped with cheese, a snack President Gorbachov’s cook was sure Mr Tomorrow would appreciate.
He was right and as the President and guest munched on the muffins they planned the first step of the journey to Siberia to find Mr Tomorrow’s mother and thaw the very long, bitter Cold War.
Random Short Short Stories Using Occupation and Appearance
Ghost & ‘never sits still’
‘Jimmy ‘never sits still.’ His doting mother’s smile is apologetic. ‘Just has excess energy.’ Whenever their car pulls into the drive I watch Jimmy emerge and emit a tortured groan wishing I was invisible like a ghost and could pretend to be out. However, family courtesy dictates politeness.
I let Cousin Mary in and cope with the hyperactive, obnoxious Jimmy. Unchecked, he rifles cupboards, teases the dog, breaks several stereo knobs, gobbles all the chocolate biscuits and flushes a mysterious something down the loo requiring the inevitable expensive visit from a plumber.
I move next week, no forwarding address.
Tattoo on head & Pop Star
Maud ached to marry a pop star. She haunted concert halls watching members of various bands going in and out. A year passed and almost giving up hope of finding the man of her dreams, she watched a large man get out of a truck. When near the stage door he tripped and fell. His beanie flew off his head revealing a bald pate with an amazing tattoo of an ‘M’.
Maud was smitten. It was a sign. He must be the one.
She smiled as she helped him up and nearby church bells chimed.
Black Tie & Law Enforcer
Daniel was the Law Enforcer in Tucson, Arizona when rustlers attacked the Kruger’s cattle ranch. A clue, the rustler left behind was a black tie slung over the open gate. Daniel examined the silk material carefully and deduced it was an imported speciality item from Japan.
There was only one person in Tucson that fitted the profile and Daniel arrested a protesting Mr Chu refusing to listen that the longterm resident was from China.
Geography never Daniel’s strongpoint.
These exercises encompass important elements of creative writing:
a starting point for ideas
characters to think about that are not stereotypical
unusual settings and situations
thoughts about genre
introducing adjectives, adverbs and colours sometimes ignored
flexing writing muscles first
Allow yourself to write nonsense and in the coming days maybe knuckle down to learn more about the craft and techniques with more serious lessons. Although there are a few more writing games that will be ‘just a bit of fun‘ – the regular comeback of the tabloid journalist character Shaun Micallef lampoons each week on his show.
I’ve always found refuge and comfort in words whether writing, reading, talking or listening…
However, perhaps it is ageing and adjusting to retirement or the weariness of coping with this latest cancer diagnosis, but the urge and even the passion for creative writing is difficult to muster.
Snatches of poems and stories still swirl in head and heart, but that’s where they usually stay – no ‘writer’s block’ just disinterest or lack of energy to go the next step.
Maybe I need to remove self-imposed pressure and unrealistic goals.
I haven’t fallen out of love with the art of writing, just facing the use-by date of some goals and dreams I thought important or achievable.
Conversations with self and the in-depth reflections that often accompany a cancer diagnosis, especially when it strikes again, have led me to a new passion and much-needed relaxation.
Or rather, it has encouraged an expansion of an existing fascination and another project.
I’m talking about protecting birdlife – especially the ‘backyard birds’ I see every day – and creating a garden for man, beast, bird, bee and butterfly to enjoy.
It is addictive watching the interaction when birds visit the front garden, listening to their chitter-chatter – delightful twittering.
And like the paparazzi, I try to capture the perfect photo!
They inspire me to write – not for anyone else but myself and for fun – two elements missing in the years of planning lessons, teaching technique, and inspiring others to write and publish.
I don’t have to feel guilty about writing for pleasure, or that the pleasure is mine!
Words Have Power
Words are a powerful form of communication. I love the nuances and capabilities of the English language, although the multiple meanings and grammatical rules are complicated and confusing when you are trying to master it.
Choose wisely, check the dictionary, listen to the tone, think of interpretation…
The influence of poems, stories, and novels can stay with you for life, also excerpts of dialogue from a dramatic script or film. Favourite song lyrics may move you to tears and can take you back to an important moment in time when you hear the song.
‘Putting it in writing’ and sending letters or emails, recording a journal or updating a diary, even keeping a blog are all valuable forms of expression to share ideas, feelings, and creativity and wonderful when it is not a chore, venting about injustice, or keeping a friendship alive.
I hope to return to feeling elation when my words work.
Word Choice Matters
The pen can be mightier than the sword but that depends on the opponent and circumstance – wars are fought and won with military hardware and signed contracts of peace don’t seem to wield the same power.
The belief ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is patently untrue.
The toxicity of social media attacks and resultant damage, plus the terrible toll of suicides after bullying (virtual and physical), proof that name-calling, insults, false accusations and misinformation hurt and destroy. (The pen is as mighty as the sword?)
We have, as an example, President Trump, one of the most powerful leaders in the world, and his use of Twitter. He is certainly someone who has brought the medium into disrepute more than others, but there are many other examples of what reporters call ‘Twitter fights” – and suddenly someone has their account cancelled or removes themselves voluntarily.
There are many recorded instances of two-quick Twitter reactions/responses, and the toxic comments of trolls and others who comment with online anonymity creating more articles so that often the important news or original topic is ignored.
Poison-pen letters and nasty critiques existed long before the popularity of social media, but the digital age and the speed and distance words travel makes me content to have a twitter account of the feathered variety!
And once sent out a word takes wing beyond recall.
For the past year, walking by Mordialloc Creek and the foreshore, exercising Josie around suburban streets, exploring local parks and those further afield, provides comfort and delight but contentment is revelling in the joys of my garden’s flora and fauna.
The pleasure deepens sharing these activities with my daughters and friends.
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.
The Wit and Wisdom of Adlai Stevenson (1965)
The real world often disturbs these idyllic routines of the natural world. Politics, protests, the climate emergency and mundane household maintenance intrude, along with a persistent inner voice that I should be ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’ – getting the hang of this retirement gig is difficult!
Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.
A Comforting Stillness
In the stillness of the evening
birds nestle in the trees
In the stillness of the evening
nocturnal animals forage
In the stillness of the evening
Above the stars twinkle
clouds veil the moon
the Milky Way cascades in flashing lights
a reminder each day a star is born
in the endless universe
yet, no sound reaches Earth
In the stillness of the evening
my heart beats a sweet rhythm
thinking of you.
An Urgent Plea Received
The bushfires have been worse than any of us could have imagined. If you (or anyone you know) has been affected, our hearts go out to you.
BirdLife Australia is coordinating the response for threatened birds nationally and our fire mapping has identified the species most impacted by the inferno. Now is the time for us all to take urgent action.
We believe millions of birds were incinerated in the blaze. Millions more have lost habitat and face starvation right now. I fear many birds, like the Rufous Scrub-bird, will soon join the list of threatened species. Their future is in our hands…
We have the plans and the people in place, but we know it will take at least $2 million to begin priority actions to save the most threatened of the birds impacted by the fires.
With your urgent help today, we can:
Get survey teams into fire zones as soon as possible to find threatened birds
Help birds recover by protecting them from predators and supporting habitat recovery
Rebuild populations over the long term, through actions like captive breeding programs
Birds live in a range of habitats, making them useful indicators of what is happening in the world. Across the globe and throughout Australia, birds take exciting journeys to search for food, to follow the rain and look for breeding sites. Learning about birds helps you connect with the natural world and helps us understand more about the environment we live in.
While we enjoy a position at the forefront of bird conservation, our work is far from done. With 238 Australian birds already extinct, threatened with extinction or near threatened, we need to ensure that we don’t lose more of them.
We are running out of time to address the climate emergency, but we can all contribute to protecting and improving the aspects of our local environment necessary for native wildlife, especially the birds.
We can make buildings safer for birds. Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning…
New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.
The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows…
A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.
Create a bird-friendly garden
Birds need a home to breed and bring up their families. Their natural habitat normally provides food, shelter, water and nesting sites, but in urban areas they need help.
BirdLife.org advise how to create a suitable habitat in backyards, parks, bush reserves and even wider communities. Here are four of their fact sheets:
On Main Street, Mordialloc
the lull of evening signalled
by oh, so familiar sounds…
birds jostle and joust
for palm tree frond, gum-leafed house.
Dusk descends into twilight glow
the tweets and squeals
a deafening crescendo –
a cacophony of conversation:
‘Time for bed.’
‘That’s my branch…’
‘Move over magpies!’
All must know their station
in life. There’s a sense of place,
chatter, bargain, even squabble
but eventually sharing space.
‘Stop skylarking about!’
‘You lorikeet lout!’
‘Squeeze over sparrows.’
‘How precious are parrots?’
‘Pigeons! The rooftops are home for you go mutter your usual “coo-coo”…’
And in the gloaming, shadows
of building construction loom,
mounds of dirt in lonely gloom.
A treeless landscape, evictions rife
Mordi’s birds may face a new life.
I remember a bloody chainsaw day
shake my head and turn away…
Continue to walk by Mordi Creek
watch the ducks silently glide,
a cormorant rest in contemplation
this beautiful tranquillity
a sanctuary from conurbation.
How lovely the shimmering ripples
of boats tethered for the night,
feathered friends dive and feed
in the fast-fading light.
A familiar outline against the sky
silhouettes of ancient trees
reminding us of when this creek
hosted Bunurong corroborees.
The path peopled by dog walkers,
and school children hurrying home
joggers and health fanatics
grateful for the space to roam.
In the eucalyptus evening hush
this precious part of the day,
Mordialloc Meditative Therapy
chases my doldrums away.
Hitchcock’s Crime Against Birds
I’ve always had a fascination for our feathered friends, but nursed a fear of close contact after seeing Hitchcock’s The Birds!
Nothing equals The Birds for sheer terror when Alfred Hitchcock unleashes his foul friends in one of his most shocking and memorable masterpieces… beautiful blonde Melanie Daniels rolls into Bodega Bay in pursuit of eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner. She is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. Suddenly thousands of birds are flocking into town, preying on school-children and residents in a terrifying series of attacks. Soon Mitch and Melanie are fighting for their lives against a deadly force that can’t be explained and can’t be stopped in one of Hollywood’s most horrific films of nature gone berserk.
Released in 1963, I must have seen The Birds on television in 1968 or soon after – I would have been 15 – but it could have been yesterday because it is one of those movies you never forget.
Hitchcock was a master at creating fear and who would have thought a movie with such an innocuous title could be terrifying?
It took me years to look at birds with admiration, not suspicion. And it is amazing how many people I have met over the years who were affected by that film!
For years, I preferred to keep a distance from birds, disliked seeing them caged and envied their ability to fly, but still held an irrational fear they’d try and peck at my eyes.
If you read the trivia notes on IMDb, they reveal the treatment meted out to the birds on the set of the film – behaviour not tolerated today – we should feel sorry for them not the humans.
Ten Birds Regularly Visit My Garden
Google Backyard Birds, to discover a host of information on birds found in Australian backyards; each state gets a mention.
Depending on what suburb you live in, the following birds will probably be common visitors.
I admire and respect the tenacity and survival instincts of the bird population; their cleverness and beauty, their strength despite such fragile frames. For years, a blackbird family built their nests in the Photinia trees that line our back fence and watching the birds fly back and forth with twigs, discarded pieces of plastic and other debris hanging from tiny beaks proved how adaptable and innovative they can be.
Last year, I filmed a magpie ripping threads from a coir mat and flying off to build a nest.
Drought and urban development shifts bird populations. Mordialloc now echoes to the screeching and chittering of flocks of rainbow lorikeets, especially in the evening when they roost in the iconic date palms lining Main Street, the prolific sparrows and thrushes of earlier years forced elsewhere.
They appear on the lawn
like four pirates of old
strutting and aggressive
noisy and bold.
Fixing beady eyes
on a treasure trove
they bully incessantly —
taking what they love
They’ve come to this land
from across the sea
in an ideal climate
they thrive with glee
The cockatoos and galahs are still around but prefer the open area down by Mordialloc Creek.
Melodic butcherbirds and bullying wattlebirds have made their home in grevillea and banksias, ensuring the smaller birds rarely visit. The sky often patterned by flocks of migrating birds from the nearby Edithvale Wetlands.
Sometimes one or two rare birds choose my garden for a rest or snack instead of ‘eating on the wing’, the experience a delight, but Murphy’s Law dictates my camera is never ready to capture the moment!
Wandering in the garden with my morning cuppa, I’ve recorded quite a few of the bird calls because they are so beautiful. Identifying the singer often leaves me intrigued. Most birds are gifted with plumage to match their preferred habitat, they blend into tree foliage, the bushes, reeds or grasslands with ideal camouflage.
The plaintive song echoes
in the university grounds
as students hurry home
past skeletal branches
of winter trees
hosting the bird’s lament
a mournful echo
of dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels
a wistful whistle announces dusk
until full-throated celebration
a melodious call to rest
classroom doors close
the campus empties
crowded trams trundle by
bathed in artificial sunlight
tall grey buildings reach
for a star embroidered sky
this call of birded tongue
of long-forgotten species.
The Kookaburra Laughs In The Old Gum Tree…
When my family first arrived in Australia, in 1962, magpies proliferated in bushy Croydon, so did kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos and galahs. Most of those birds absent from Mordialloc when John and I started our family here in the 1980s.
The last kookaburras sighted in nearby Bradshaw Park long before I joined the Friends group and worked to save the remnants of indigenous flora and fauna from encroaching suburbia. Bradshaw Park is the only native bushland reserve in Mordialloc and is home to 136 native species – some of which occur nowhere else in Mordialloc.
Rangers have sighted 33 native bird species, but introduced birds thrive too.
Tuneful blackbirds, thrushes and common mynas gobbled the crumbs I scattered each morning (a politically incorrect habit learned from Mum and Dad that I’ve now ceased!).
As I learned from others in the Friends group and planted indigenous trees and flowers, after many years, some native birds now call the trees and shrubbery I’ve nurtured, home.
Recently, a dear friend of 50 years visited from London. Nobuko stayed with other friends in Olinda before me and brought me a teatowel made locally as a gift. It reminded me of childhood trips to visit Sherbrooke Forest.
These rosellas are often seen up in the Dandenongs but there is another bird I have only been lucky to spot a couple of times in my life – very special memories.
Lyre Bird’s Lair
A forgotten memory surfaces strong
feeds a yearning now the days are long
an image of childish eyes entranced
the memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his unusual repertoire of sound
the lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
tail feathers splayed shimmering white
hiding his head from onlookers’ sight
without colourful peacock arrogance
he began his shy seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
until the lyrebird’s energy spent
and he disappeared amongst the trees
ephemeral as the morning breeze.
Walking the paths of Sherbrooke Forest,
enthused by dreams of aeons past
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance.
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
replicates man-made sounds at will –
chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
he’s perfected them all as part of his charm.
The picnic area leads to the nature track
warmth of dappled sunlight upon my back.
Cloaked by primeval ferns dripping dew
I abandon pungent asphalt; exhaust fumes too
farewell gravel crunch, and human chatter
leaving creek where mosquitoes scatter.
Winding upwards to the whistling wagtail
I try to spot him but to no avail
a flurry of wings, camera shy rosella revealed
the foliage of Sherbrooke a perfect shield
As ancient eucalypts climb towards the sky
an eastern whipbird’s distinctive ‘crack’ nearby
spongy deep green moss cushions city feet
ornamental fungi from undergrowth peeps.
Vegetation hugs the path and sprouts native grass
exposed skin tickled as I stride past.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
the towering Mountain Ash cast their spell
fragile maidenhair ferns decorate the trail
flighty butterflies appreciating their veil.
Panting with the exertion of the climb
each pause filled with birdsong sublime
my misty breaths join whispering trees
a nearby rustling makes me freeze.
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
a sight I never expected to see
constructed with meticulous precision
a female lyrebird’s nesting vision.
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
the perfect home developed through years.
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
what an amazing bird unique to this nation
but alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
the enigmatic lyrebird and chick long gone.