Manchester By The Sea – a Review

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Last weekend, I went to see the recently released, Manchester By The Sea, at the Palace Cinema, Brighton with my daughters, Anne and Mary Jane.

Anne has been a fan of the actress Michelle Williams since she was a teenager and has a collection of her movies. When one is released we always try and see it because the subject matter and execution of Indie films are usually more enriching than the Hollywood blockbusters and populist ‘bums on seats’ fillers.

It’s the difference between enjoying reading a lightweight novel, but the stereotypical characters and plot forgettable compared to a novel, where the characters live with you for a lifetime, the story challenges or introduces a different perspective on life.

I want stories that tug at your heart and soul before adding another dimension to what it means to be human.

And there are so many scenes in this film that are touches of brilliance; they add to an already memorable story and characters.

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Michelle Williams plays Randi, Lee’s ex-wife and doesn’t disappoint in Manchester by The Sea – she has been nominated for the best supporting actress award.  The few scenes she has, and a gut-wrenching one, in particular – engages the audience the way good acting should – a total suspension of disbelief.

We are with her, feel her love, anger, pain, sadness, joy, guilt and grief. The whole gamut of emotions.

The logline of the movie is simplistic  “An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.” There are many stories in the subtext of this screenplay.

This is a film about broken lives and how easily tragedy and change can happen to any of us. It is a story exploring the journey and stages of grief and the effects of sorrow – different for everyone – especially if it compounds on other bereavements.

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Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan has won multiple awards – and I can see why – this film is a powerful story, but he has done a wonderful job of showing not telling, the pacing and tension breath-taking and balanced like any good page-turning novel. 

His choice of casting excellent with Casey Affleck playing a broody, moody Lee Chandler struggling to come to terms with inner demons. The first few scenes in the less salubrious suburbs of Boston sets the tone of the movie and reveals Lee’s personality.

In modern parlance, he has issues. 

He’s grumpy, socially disconnected, drinks alone and has violent outbursts yet he’s young, physically fit, reasonably good-looking and a competent handyman employed as a janitor for a landlord too cheap to pay tradesmen and prepared to ignore building regulations.

For a minimum wage, Lee Chandler does everything from cleaning, plumbing, electrical repairs, moving furniture, clearing snow, and changing light bulbs while demanding tenants treat him as if he’s invisible, beneath them, or to blame for their maintenance woes. Who wouldn’t be moody and pissed off?

But we sense something more to Lee’s surliness and brooding aloneness, especially when after a bout of solitary drinking in a local bar, he explodes into an inexplicable verbal then physical assault on two strangers.

We are intrigued.

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A phone call leads to a mercy dash to a hospital over an hour’s drive away. The pace of the story picks up as Lee is catapulted into a family crisis.

Through flashbacks, we start to piece together the life Lee Chandler left – the familial bonds, the close-knit community, the love for his brother who has just died. The unravelling of his past explains his choice of a life away from the Massachusetts fishing village where his family have worked for generations.

And when the full story comes to light, it is one of those moments, if it was a book, you would place it on your lap, close your eyes and struggle to get your breathing and blood pressure back to normal.  

On screen, these emotionally engaging moments are powerful indeed.

All the important storytelling elements keep the audience engaged with the use of scenery as clever metaphors. The movie begins in winter and ends in spring.

There is a brilliant scene where Lee is arranging his brother’s funeral but because it is winter the burial (they are Catholic) must be delayed, the snow covered ground too hard and the cost of heavy machinery too expensive. When Lee and his nephew Patrick leave the funeral parlour unhappy with the reality Lee can’t find his car because they’ve both forgotten where it was parked. Their actions and dialogue removing the angst and sentimentality often seen in other movies but so believable.

Anyone who has been left numb by grief will relate to trying to cope with the bizarre situations that occur as you go through the motions of dealing with death and funerals, especially if there are fractured family relationships (Patrick’s mother is still alive but left years before), complications of  beliefs (Patrick is not religious), cost and tradition.

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Lee struggles with coming to terms with the unwanted burden his brother has placed on him – legal guardianship of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick. The relationship between Lee and Patrick, the adjustments and revelations provides much-needed and natural humour as well as penetrating insight into teenage grief.

The scenes where Patrick is trying to consummate a long-standing relationship with a girlfriend and even involves his Uncle Lee to keep an overprotective mother busy are hilarious.

My girls and I discussed the irony of wanting to see a film where one of the main characters is a teenager dealing with the death of his father. They were thirteen and sixteen when their father died.

However,  afterwards, as we discussed the movie they both agreed that the portrayal of Patrick’s reactions, the reactions of his friends, and scenes where his anger explodes are spot on and will deeply resonate with young people who have had to cope with a similar tragedy.

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There is a richness to this film with its multiple layers of stories and character development. Several scenes will haunt me for a long time because my life has been touched by grief – death by accident, death by illness and disease, the horrific shock of suicide and the natural process of ageing. It is strangely comforting to reflect that there’s a commonality with people from a different demographic and different country.

The actors convey real emotion and believability and as Lee Chandler tries to make a go of this new hand he has been dealt, we root for him and really want it to work so that he can be healed too.

(The film begins and ends with scenes on the family fishing boat showing a bond between Lee and Patrick although the events occur eight years apart.)

This story of broken lives reminds us how easily lives can be shattered:

  • a lapsed moment of concentration
  • a bad or rash decision
  • being in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • and good old Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will

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We can’t always distance ourselves from the past, we can’t always beat our demons but we can be open to love and just as chance tragedy can change the direction of your life so can a random spark of friendship and love.

Sometimes we just need a reason to reconnect with that healing journey…

If you go to see Manchester By The Sea, I’ll be interested to hear your impressions and insights.

Visually the film is appealing – Manchester Massachusetts, in the United States, is known for scenic beaches and vista points. 24 miles from Boston, at the 2010 census, the town population was 5,136.

Tonight I’m attending a fundraiser for Hidden Figures – a very different film! I’ll review that in a few days!

 

 

Can The Past be Put To Rest?

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Yesterday,  Dr Michael Chamberlain died, aged 72 years. A respected academic, husband, father and pastor of the  Seventh Day Adventist Church, however, most of the news concentrated on the infamous 1980 Chamberlain Case, when Azaria, the baby of  Michael and his first wife, Lindy was stolen and killed by a dingo while the family on a camping trip to Uluru. (Then referred to as Ayers Rock)

Search any newspaper archives from that time and you’ll see that it was covered in local, state, national, and international newspapers. There was even a Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep, Evil Angels.

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from Guardian Archives

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were convicted, pardoned and later exonerated over the death of their baby daughter, Azaria, at Uluru in 1980.

The trial by media, rumours, innuendo, deliberate misinformation, the hounding of the couple and their family and friends, plus the sickening glee of crowds cheering when Lindy went to gaol is a sad and sorry stain on modern-day Australia’s history.

I hope, Michael’s religious faith, which sustained him in life, will reunite him with Azaria and he’ll find the peace and joy that from all accounts he was denied because of the tragedy at Uluru.

The Chamberlains paid a heavy price: not just losing their daughter but the public vilification led to the disintegration of their relationship and family unit although both remarried. They both lost careers and neither fully recovered from the emotional toll of the sensationalist reporting of the tragedy.

Sydney Morning Herald Summary

The Chamberlains’ daughter, Azaria, was snatched from their tent on a camping trip to Uluru in 1980. Both her parents were ultimately charged for their daughter’s disappearance; Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was given a life sentence in 1982 and Michael Chamberlain convicted as an accessory after the fact.

Ms Chamberlain-Creighton was imprisoned for three years before new evidence was found to overturn the verdict and both were exonerated in 1988. The pair separated in 1990.

It was not until 2012, 32 years after Azaria’s death, that a Northern Territory coroner issued the final report in the case, confirming that Azaria was taken by a dingo.

I was working in the office of The Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (Victoria) in 1980. Of the eight girls in the office, only three of us had sympathy for Lindy and believed her story.

Tea room conversations were heated and as often happens in Melbourne, a big divide between Herald Sun readers and those who read The Age. Both newspapers owned by rich families or consortiums, but one less tabloid than the other.

(Well, that was then. Today,  in the 24-hour news cycle, the proliferation of social media and the post or fake-truth era, few media outlets have credit. And people are still hounded, suicidal James Hird a recent victim.)

In 1980, the division between those who consulted with and believed Aboriginal Australians and those who dismissed local indigenous knowledge became obvious quickly. People who lived around Uluru were ridiculed for seeing the dingo as the predator it is. Serious shortcomings in police forensics and the Northern Territory legal system were exposed.

Many people ignore or refuse to believe the reports of dingo aggression, preferring to see the dingo as having more of the qualities of a dog than a wolf.

Sadly, ignorance makes people easy to manipulate and misinformation easier to spread. The court of public opinion almost unstoppable once it gathers momentum and in 1980 the ‘public’ making the most noise wanted Lindy Chamberlain punished.

The important ‘evidence’ that had the public baying for Lindy’s blood was what some perceived as her lack of anguish. She didn’t break down enough, appear inconsolably distressed or sob. She didn’t fit the idealised picture of a ‘good mother’.

Keeping her grief private, she was labelled ‘cold’, appeared too self-controlled therefore must be guilty.

The public’s need to have a saintly, sacrificing mother shattered by Lindy’s persona in interviews. Her grieving portrayed as inadequate.

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In 1992, when another media flare-up occurred after Lindy and Michael divorced, I wrote a poem. I wanted to send Lindy a letter to let her know people cared about her. To my shame, like many good intentions, it never happened.

I can’t begin to imagine the hurt, anger and despair Lindy suffered several times – from the first trial to the last. Nor can I imagine the pain of Michael being charged as an accomplice and having to watch his pregnant wife sent to gaol with ‘hard labour’.

But I remember the sadness, anger and disappointment I felt when work colleagues, friends, and acquaintances believed every sensationalist tidbit the media fed them. (Including the assertion Azaria meant ‘sacrifice in the desert’!)

Many of those feelings returned yesterday as details of the Chamberlain Case resurfaced and I thought of the grave miscarriage of justice.

The past may be gone but a trigger fires the memories.

Lindy
Mairi Neil

Oh, Lindy,
how I wept for you
and in my heart, I still do

those lost years will not return,
the anger you feel
must really burn –
make you want to scream
‘Wake me up, please God,
from this bad, bad dream.’

I watched a film
about your pain
relived those years
all over again

your biggest critics
other women…
instead of support
you were spurned
their judgment stern
without compassion
their hatred voiced
with a zealous passion.

refusal to accept a tragic event
can cause emotion to be spent
you’ll always be guilty
in some people’s eyes
because you could still smile–
what a surprise!

private grief unheeded
to break down publicly
all that’s needed…

I saw a woman
who carried a child for
forty weeks
laboured in childbirth
yet hounded as if a freak.

guilt or innocence
doesn’t lessen the loss
more than Azaria taken
in that desert summer –
a broken family a cruel cost

did you feel like Moses
by a Red Sea refusing to part
as authorities tore another babe
from your grieving heart

dingoes come in different shapes
your family found
demands for your blood
irrational, hateful, an awful sound

lost years can never be regained
justice may never be
many determined to imprison you
others determined you be free.

it may be cold comfort
to know many hearts bled
unwept tears scalded souls
for your little Azaria dead…

people heartbroken
not knowing what to do
caring deeply
but like me, offering
only words to support you!

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People and Places from the Past Inspires Prose

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Some of the happiest times I remember from childhood were the extended meal times. The evenings, when we sat around the table, ignoring the dishes in the sink, as we listened to Dad and Mum share stories about Papa, Dad’s father. A character with a larger than life personality who lived with us when I was born although I only remember the repeated stories.

I never really ‘knew’ my grandparents – Mum’s mother died in 1927, her father died 1939 and Dad’s mother died 1940.

Papa lived with us until he died in 1956 aged 81 years. I was three years old.  My sister, Catriona who was six years old at the time, appears to be the only one of us with clear memories of him.

I have to rely on the scraps of stories I can recall (oh, how I wish I’d taken notes at the time) from those nights when Dad entertained us with the escapades of ‘the old man’ and Mum repeated Papa’s reminisces when she cared for him after his strokes.

The modern generation with their mobile phones, capable of instant photos and videos, may take the time to create vivid ‘living’ archives or will they delete or forget to backup the important family history?

Perhaps they’ll find themselves in decades time wishing like me, that their memory was better?

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me with Papa 1955

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon

I feel privileged to be teaching Life Stories & Legacies at Godfrey Street and my other creative writing classes because I get to write in class too. I can dig deep into memory or imagination and it’s amazing what stories are triggered by the prompts.

In the last term this year, when we returned from the September holidays, I fashioned a lesson around “WATER” because we’d had an inordinate amount of rain and the media was full of stories about floods – a great setting for drama as well as life stories.

Below is a fraction of the brainstorming we came up with:

WATER

Floods have been in the news – have you ever experienced a flood? Know anyone who has?
Write about the experience or put your characters into a flood.

Or consider the following, and write the memory the words or phrase evokes, in an anecdote, essay, story or poem:

  • a bubble bath,
  • a puddle – did you own gumboots?
  • a storm-blown lake,
  • a calm green sea,
  • a child’s wading pool
  • an overflowing sink
  • a broken washing machine
  • a leaky tap
  • a spilt or empty dog’s bowl
  • a basin for soaking aching feet
  • bathing a baby/child for the first time
  • bathing an aged parent
  • bathing someone with a high temperature

It is always a surprise and a delight what memories are triggered and what the writers produce once the pen starts moving.

From this prompt, I remembered a story Dad had told about Papa. I hope I’ve done it justice.

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A Soothing Sunday Soaking

Papa’s feet always ached and he often pondered the culprit.

Was it the years encased in protective hobnail boots as he shovelled tonnes of coal into the cavernous, hungry mouths of steam trains?

Five – nine tonnes a day when he was a fireman – no wonder there was never a scrap of fat on his bones!

When he qualified as a locomotive driver, he rarely sat on the metal block that passed as a stool. Instead, he’d stand, head tilted out of the window to see round the treacherous tracks of the Highlands, or the myriad junctions, including cluttered Glasgow Central.

One misread signal and people’s lives put at risk – 300 tonnes of engine and carriages pack one helluva punch! No wonder, Papa kept on his toes; the hours of standing no help to his feet.

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Maybe it was just that – always being on his feet. Rain, hail, sleet, or snow… whatever the weather he trudged to work.

A five-mile walk there and five miles walk back from the railway yards. Trains, the main form of public transport in Scotland and they didn’t drive themselves. The rostered crew taking out the first train on their own transport-wise.

Twelve-hour shifts common and often Papa was away for several days if trains took goods and people north.

Unsociable shifts rendered bus timetables inconvenient, and in the era when not many working class men could afford a car, ‘Shanks’ pony’ (own feet or legs) the only reliable transport!

For part of his working life, Papa had a bicycle, if the weather suited, but once his sons started high school and apprenticeships, the family bicycle a precious commodity. He took his turn like everyone else but sometimes shifts, or the weather, didn’t go according to plan.

When he wasn’t working for Caledonian and later British Rail, part of his leisure time used to turn over soil, plant vegetables, and weed his allotment. The fruits of his labour supplemented the diet of his household of nine, or more.

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Highland-born, my grandparents ensured ‘extras’ always had food and board. Relatives or friends visiting or looking for work in the city, highlanders down on their luck and needing help. Papa and Granny’s generosity and traditional hospitality well-known in Greenock.

Needless to say, Papa’s feet rarely still or rested, and even when he shed his work boots for slippers, the feet still encased. Scottish weather not conducive to bare feet freedom in or out of the house.

However, there was one luxury for his aching feet and Sunday was the day he indulged!

His religious beliefs respected the Sabbath and made it a work free day. He let others chase the penalty rates, and he traded Sunday for a day of rest so he could attend his Gaelic church, ‘the Wee Free’.

On Sunday afternoons, before the evening walk, and after the traditional roast dinner, he’d remove his socks and shoes, roll up his trousers, slip off his braces, remove cufflinks and studs, and turn up his shirt sleeves. Tie and waistcoat already abandoned.

He’d collect the Gaelic newspapers sent from his native Skye, and donning his reading glasses, relax into the most comfortable armchair in the parlour.

The ritual sacrosanct! No one in the household needed a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.

In a basin of warm water with a generous amount of Epsom Salts added, Papa soaked his feet and relaxed. The minerals penetrated deep into his bones, and a rare, euphoric smile grew while he puffed on his pipe and leafed through newspaper stories to catch up with life on his beloved Isle of Skye.

This was how the Wee Free minister found him one Sunday afternoon when he called in unexpectedly and Papa refused to remove his feet from the basin, or get ‘dressed’!
The incident shattered domestic bliss for a week as Granny railed at her embarrassing husband.

Why did he refuse to dress properly for the Reverend?

How will she show her face to the neighbours when the story gets out – and it surely will! Tenements offered little privacy.

Did someone doing God’s work need to see misshapen toes and ugly feet? Not to mention braces hanging loose, shirt tails, no jacket or tie…

What was Papa thinking?

To treat the minister as if he was a nobody…

Now Papa helped found the National Union of Railwaymen, he admired Scottish socialist and the first Labour Member of Parliament, Keir Hardy. He disregarded class and hierarchies.

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President of An Comunn Gàidhealach, the Highland Society of Greenock (member of the radical Federation of Celtic Societies) he fought on behalf of the dispossessed and dislocated highlanders and islanders. He didn’t care ‘one iota’ what the minister thought.

The bathing of aching feet, in his own home, non-negotiable.

The Reverend might learn to be more courteous next time and wait to be invited.

Papa remained ‘on his feet’ and worked until 72 years of age, driving ammunition and supply trains for the war effort. His robust health a rarity for a working man in the 1940s.

His larger than life personality left a legacy of many stories of his idiosyncrasies for future generations –this is but one!

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All families have stories and memories, reminding us that behind the glass photo frames or plastic pages of an album the people once lived, laughed, worked and played – knowing their lives, we might better understand our own.

 

Farewelling The Old Year

“Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

C. D. Wright  1949–2016

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A Resolution to Stay Resolute
Mairi Neil

Farewell 2016
I’ll be glad to see the back of you
I imagine Mum’s voice as she adds
we must count our blessings
and the ashes of memory remind
that I’ve survived worse…

sure there’s been deaths
but not the heart-wrenching agony
of losing a partner, a child, a parent, a sibling,
a dearest friend…

the world remembers WW1, WW2,
other monumental massacres
wearing cloaks of nationalism,
colonialism, fascism, marxism
and all the other isms used
as excuses to slaughter

2016 no exception
millions fled by foot, lorry, boat and air
seeking solace and peace
but finding what Dad often quoted
man’s inhumanity to man
fulfilling the truism
man was made to mourn

tonight social media will update
conflict and celebration
twins staring at skies ablaze
benign or malignant memories
depending on the hemisphere

will we ponder or explore ‘the missing’?
the melancholic melody masking the year
the absent card, letter or phone call,
the bombed house, the razed street
signals of the uncertainty of life

moths blundering into flames
fallen leaves crumbling to dust
dogs chasing tails
bears hibernating till good times return
birds soaring to great heights if not caged
sperm whales plunging the ocean’s depths
humans circling outer space seeking
the perfect planet as we fuck-up Earth

reflective and resolute
a ‘to do list’ will not be written
wordless feelings weigh like stone
while memories of what I didn’t do
swirl and shout like New Year revellers
singe and sizzle like failed fireworks.

We’ve been through worse and
come out the other side…
Mum’s voice trying to tell me something?

Happy New Year

Like many others, I will try and remain positive, ache for the Hogmanays of the past when life seemed simpler, happier, and as we farewelled the ‘auld year’ we really did look forward to a better one.

I need the whispers of voices like Mum and Dad to keep perspective, shake me from being too solemn and sober – the generation born in the shadows of WW1, who survived the Great Depression and WW2 – they did indeed ‘come through’!

Let us hope 2017 is a happier new year.

Safe celebrating tonight – I’m hoping to count my blessings, shake off the solemnity and may not remain sober!

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Mixed Memories of Christmas 2016

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The tree made by the childcare staff Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

The signs of Christmas start in earnest mid-November and by early December a walk around Mordialloc or any Melbourne suburb provides an array of decorations and lights. Most workplaces and shops join in the festive spirit although for some it’s the bare minimum.

At Mordialloc Neighbourhood House the children in childcare have fun for weeks before Christmas making decorations and gifts. Their efforts reminding me of my own childhood – Mum teaching us how to make clusters of ‘bells’ using the metallic bottle tops from milk bottles. At Christmas time these tops were silver, gold, red and green.

In school, we used coloured paper squares and yards of crepe paper to make lanterns, cards and streamers. Store bought decorations a rarity as well as a novelty.

This year, Mordialloc sports a tree and rubbish bins have been parcelled in either red or green – just as well many of the residents celebrate and decorate their houses or we might not know it is the season to be merry and bright.

Frankston puts us to shame with their display and a Christmas Market which was very popular the day I visited.

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My friend, Barbara lives in the retirement village Richfield and from the entrance hall to every floor level the residents leave you in no doubt it is Christmas.

 

For many of the older generation, it is important to keep up with tradition, especially the sending of cards, something younger people (and those who are thrifty) are giving away now the digital age has arrived. E-cards, chatty emails or phone calls ensuring the postman’s bag is lighter each year.

I have two friends who still include a page-long newsy letter summarising their year with their card.

An octogenarian friend who likes to buy individual cards ‘a little bit different’ was saved from perhaps offending some friends when she reread the front message before popping them in the envelope:

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I have to say I found her error funny and wouldn’t have been offended if I’d received one of the five she had already written. Increasing consumerism and hype adding more than a hint of truth to the message.

However, also a warning sign as eyesight deteriorates to make sure to always put on reading glasses!

Mordialloc Christmas 2016

Mairi Neil

I smell the promise of a warm day –
pray it’s not a swelter
that silences magpie and butcherbird carols,
traditional birdsong reminders
that this is a time to celebrate…

a walk around the neighbourhood
reveals rainbows dancing in the gardens
jasmine, and honeysuckle embracing over fences
as devoted lovers and bougainvillaea and wisteria
just being neighbourly

roses and camellias peep through pickets
or stand proudly as perfumed sentinels
to announce the arrival of summer.
Agapanthus flutter and geraniums gush
daily floral tonics to banish gloom

and as if Mother Nature needed help,
colourful lights and decorations dazzle –
solar-powered necklaces strung under eaves
and threaded through trees. Seasonal symbols
to twinkle like stars in the evening hush

these jewels are joined by merry icons
dressed for another hemisphere
where ice and snow crackle underfoot…
I have a vision of my doppelgänger treading
a neighbourhood on the other side of the world

walking streets lit by a muted sun and
shadowed by thick clouds and skeleton trees
pigeon or cuckoo the only birds mad enough
to join little robin redbreast and
hustle for crumbs and kindness

what a miracle is Mother Earth!
How resiliently determined her human children
whether melting under a hot sun or shivering
in a fall of snow, many communities celebrate
Christmas their way…

the promise of a warm day permeates the air
warnings of a meltdown ignored
a meditative walk invites gratitude…
the reason for the season a childhood gift
bringing joy to the world of adult angst

Love, peace, and goodwill to all.

Garden Delights and Nighttime Sights

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Left Wing Ladies Still Flying High

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

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

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

Respect For White Ribbon Day’s Aims, But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Anna Burke MP and Anne Sgro 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Zelda Soprano

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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We could do with a sign like this here! 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic Violence Victoria

WESNET The Women’s Services Network

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

Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum

Women’s Health in the South East

WAYSS Ltd

No To Violence 

 

Mingary, The Quiet Place, May Save Your Sanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mingary, The Quiet Place
Dr Francis Macnab

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

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

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

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

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

Come in silence – leave in silence.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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The Mingary Prayer
Dr Francis Macnab

Restore in us
A peaceful mind.
A strengthened spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do I get to Mingary?”

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

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

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

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

I too closed my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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He Restoreth My Soul

 

Breathe
Dr Francis Macnab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time can heal. 

I remembered an old writing task:

5 things that make me happy:

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

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

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

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

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

Why do certain things make you feel comforted?

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

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Change Is Indeed Constant

 

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Tori’s parting gift to the class

 

Yesterday, a milestone in the Monday class, we farewelled Tori Dowd who has been attending for over a decade. Tori is what you would call ‘a personality’ or  ‘memorable character’ (we are writers after all!) – and she will be missed.

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Tori and me

Tori wrote us a thank you letter plus a card and gave us chocolates. Her mother, Lyn visited with lovely flowers to say thank you and goodbye. Niceties and kindness not everyone remembers and it was truly appreciated.

Lyn wrote:

Thank you to you very special people, Tori’s friends, who have been so inclusive of her at Writing For Pleasure.

To the staff at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House – thank you, one and all. Tori has been welcomed for many years.

With my love and thanks.

Lyn

 Ta Ta Tori
Mairi Neil

A sad Monday Class, farewelling Tori
Admin say the beginning was 2006
Tori a fixture from February to December
A decade of individuality in our midst.

Her wheelchair’s special controls
Enabled whizzing around the room
Two favourites were Barb and Kay
Between them Tori could zoom.

Each Monday, she arrived by special taxi
Most days a grin upon her face
Her greeting “a cup of coffee please”
The other students fetched with grace.

 

Tori’s special loves: her pet dog, Mimi
Watching romance on her bedroom TV
And we’ll remember her sweet tooth
How she looked forward to morning tea!

Chocolate being her favourite food
A love the rest of us also shared
Birthdays celebrated with gusto
Special cakes made because we cared.

But ‘all good things come to an end
Tori’s future safeguarded by sharing
Mother Lyn organised a move to Sydney
Where brothers will help with caring.

Future Mondays will feel strange
No yellow taxi stopping outside
No smiling drivers in coloured turbans
Strong hands the wheelchair’s guide

No teasing about forgotten homework
No whispered, ‘Mairi what can I write?’
No exclamations to Heather or Barbara
Or squeezing hands with all her might.

The dynamics of Mondays will be different
But with prompting poised pens will move
Poems and stories imagined and shared
Writing class mojo continues to groove!

 

Memories To Cherish

Each year as we published class anthologies, Tori contributed her writing, her words a wonderful reminder of who she was and her time with us in class. Although Tori could hold a pen, writing took great physical effort.

However, she was an example, not of disability but making the most of abilities.

Her time with us a reminder of our diversity, the richness it adds to daily life, and the fantastic safe spaces provided in community houses where all adult learners are welcomed to ‘write for pleasure and publication’.

 

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Tori has left her address and so we will now be pen friends in the old fashioned way – Australia Post can expect to be busy!

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Memories Enriched By Love

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I can’t believe it is seven years since Mum passed away, and as usual, on anniversaries of a loved one’s death or other special occasion, thoughts drift to the past.

I love my Life Stories & Legacies class at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh because each week I can conjure a memory and reflection as well as record family stories and history: growing up, studying, working, having my own children, and all the incidents, major and minor events,  coincidences,  and occurrences that weave to make the rich tapestry of our life.

This morning, my older sister sent me a message to say ‘thinking of us all today’ and as messages flew back and forth, we shared memories of Mum and her legacy – so different for each of her six children and fourteen grandchildren.

No matter how old you are there can be something special about a mother’s love – here’s a memory I had one day on the train going to work.

Shelter From The Storm
Mairi Neil

Bruised clouds sweep the sky
a gloomy ominous pall.
I remember your voice
a thunderplump is on its way.’

Nearing sixty,
I wish to be six again
to feel comforting arms
gather me close.

Cushioned against your chest
my anxious heart
working overtime
Pit pat, pit pat, pit pat

Until attuned to your
gentle breathing, and steady
ba boom, ba boom,
ba boom.

To relax, as your hands
usually burdened with chores
keep me safe
in rhythmic caress.

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Last year, in class we talked about childhood games and memories of the parks and places where we’d play. Children haven’t really changed but childhood has and oldies like me notice the change – the way we parented and the way new generations parent.

We were certainly left to our own devices for more hours in a much less structured day!

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Parks and Places to Play

My first nine years were spent in Greenock, Scotland. I can’t remember much of the first three years living at number 2 George Square, a tenement, in the centre of town, but the move further out to Braeside and starting school at Ravenscraig Primary, provides plenty of material and memories.

Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no parks as such for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’ as they were called) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with Dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van. We played on pavement and road rarely disturbed by cars. In those days it would be rare not to see children playing in the street.

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Yours truly with ‘the big girls’ wearing mums’ shoes

Our games were rowdy affairs: hopscotch (called ‘beds’), skipping with lengths of rope salvaged from washing lines, football (soccer), rounders – often with homemade bats, and the exhausting body-bruising but fun British Bulldog and Relievers (an equally physical game).

We also roamed the hill opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the road. The housing scheme stretched on a steep hill. Our house at number 35 Davaar Road in the middle of the street’s curve. Davaar Road the topmost homes in the scheme. Across the road from us, behind the last row of grey Corporation houses, the hill climbed high to view or walk to Gourock and the River Clyde on the other side.

This brae devoid of tall trees, but spread with scrub, granite boulders, and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgling television industry: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and his Merry Men (my favourite, Maid Marion), and whatever wonderful land Walt Disney invited us into when we wished upon a star on Sunday evenings.

Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under their chin and was shocked when a neighbour’s six-year-old asked if I wanted to see his ‘willie’. I shared Saturday night baths with three brothers, so couldn’t see the point!

A memorable part of the long summer holidays we spent collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn in preparation for bonfire night in November. We never forgot Guy Fawkes or the rhyme, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!’

The hills also experienced children roaming in hordes, buckets and jam jars in hand, seeking blackberries when in season. The taste of Mum’s delicious bramble jam a great incentive to risk getting scratched and clothes torn picking the hard-to-reach ones, which always seemed the fattest and juiciest.

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At the bottom of the street spread the farmer’s fields, where we weren’t supposed to go. His bull known to be a danger to life and limb. Of course, we incorporated a deliberate dare in some of our games.

There must be a guardian angel for stupid children.

The other reason the fields were off-limits was because the Tinkers (or Gypsies but now correctly referred to as Travellers) used to camp there.  Mum and Dad didn’t practise overt bigotry or prejudice against Travellers like some people. Mum, in fact, helped them whenever she could: letting them do mending and other odd jobs, and buying some of the goods they hawked (like wooden clothes pegs).

She often repeated a story of the ‘Gypsy Woman’ who knocked on the door when she was a little girl in Belfast. Her mother bought clothes pegs but also gave extra money and food. In return, for the kindness, the woman offered to tell her fortune but being a devout Christian Grandmother declined. Instead, the old  woman took Mum’s hand and prophesied that she would travel across the sea, not once but twice, and the last journey would be far away across a large ocean. Mum would also bear seven children.

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The surviving six of us with Mum 1961

 

You cross The Irish Sea to get to Scotland, so all of us knew the first part of the prediction was right! (It wasn’t until much later that we found out Mum gave birth to seven children and my older sister’s identical twin died soon after birth. Of course, the largest ocean was the journey to Australia by ship when we migrated.)

Mum also believed you don’t go ‘looking for trouble,’ stranger danger not indoctrinated like modern times and we were not made overly fearful, but we were warned to be careful and obey the limitations placed on us, ‘no visiting the Tinker’s camp.’

Again, rules we chose to ignore!

Unfortunately, as a consequence, for years a vivid nightmare recurred, of being terrified and running in fear of my life, yet unable to ask for comfort because I played in the forbidden fields.

Sometimes we live to regret not obeying rules!

I must have been seven years old and had wandered away from the usual gang of playmates, including my older brothers and sister. Always inquisitive, I decided to explore the fields at the bottom of the road. I discovered the remnants of an army camp – underground bunkers abandoned at the end of WW2 and no doubt used by the Travellers. Perhaps I’d heard the more adventurous boys talk about it – I can’t really remember. I do remember spending most of my childhood playing with my two older brothers and their friends because we were all so close in age – only 13 months separated me from George and 17 months separated him from Iain.

In the campsite, there were the usual discarded items: an old army boot, rusted tins, broken furniture, and piles of accumulated recent rubbish, including the ubiquitous empty whisky and beer bottles. Exciting finds for a curious child.

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An abandoned camp similar to the one I remember

 

I never heard or noticed a movement from a bundle of dirty, grey blankets.

Without warning, an unkempt man reeking of alcohol made a grab for me. I ran for my life and didn’t stop until I was home, safe behind the gate. Davaar Road was steep but my little legs pounded the pavement without a pause.

The drunk maybe didn’t mean any harm, my presence probably surprised him as much as he startled me. I vaguely remember him murmuring about a match. Perhaps he woke up craving a cigarette – the two addictions of nicotine and alcohol often go together. All I remember is knicker-wetting terror; the sound of panting breath and thudding heart in my ears.

The proverbial wild horses would not pull me into the farmer’s fields! I didn’t care if I was accused of being a scaredy-cat because I was after that encounter. The smell and fear of the abandoned army camp forever part of my nightmares.

A more pleasant memory is playing near the secret lake. We’d walk along the Aileymill Road, a country trail linking the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny seaside towns further down the coast.

The hedgerows home to Willow Tits and Warblers singing their delightful ditties, the Golden Ringed dragonfly patrolling and the final goodbyes of the Swallows and Cuckoos before they left for Africa.

Cotton Grass swayed in the breeze and the heather’s vibrant colours bright amongst scented summer foliage not found in our home gardens with their neat rows of dahlias and roses. The hedges camouflage for lizards and beetles darting at our feet and the hilarious attempts of the boys to capture them.

We fished for tadpoles, and hunted frogs and toads, in our secret lake. Logs and stones upturned along damp paths. Bumblebees buzzing and Blue Bottles humming and maybe a hare or deer spotted, fleeing our noisy play. Sojourns to the secret lake a highlight of the long summer holidays as we ventured further afield than allowed.

I revisited Braeside in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes, the secret lake had shrunk. More a puddle really, just as the farmer’s fields seemed a small tract of land with plenty of cowpats, but not a bull in sight!

However, the hillside and view to Gourock was still a scenic wonderland and looking across the sparkling River Clyde revived memories of delightful Sunday School picnics at Kilcreggan and trips ‘doon the water’ to Millport and Dunoon. Children’s laughter still echoed and with a deep breath and strong imagination I could smell Mum’s blackberry jam.

Vale Amelia Auckett – Artist, Writer, Film Maker

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On Thursday, along with my friend Barbara Davies, I travelled to San Remo to attend Amelia’s funeral. The journey, by public transport, took 2 hours and 58 minutes: first a train to Frankston, a bus  to Cranbourne and then V-line coach to San Remo.

Others attended from further afield: Gippsland, Healesville, and Ballarat. A measure of the lives Amelia touched; her influence and legacy, and the high esteem in which she was held.

Although she has lived for over twenty years in Parkdale, Amelia was born in San Remo and has strong family connections there.  Her sons John and Paul, felt it fitting she be buried where she was born and grew up – her life a full circle!

The wake held at Amelia’s childhood home which is now occupied by a niece.

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When Barbara and I stepped off the coach directly opposite the little wooden church of St Augustine, I gasped.  My eyes immediately drawn to the empty silver-grey hearse across the road. ‘Amelia must be already there,’ I whispered to Barbara.

Each grief reminds you of a previous one and flashes of other funerals and other hearses came to mind. Despite the warmth of a wonderful spring sun I felt chilled.

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The deep azure sky mirrored in the blue sea stretching to Phillip Islandpromised a day of brilliant sunshine. A day for enjoying the beach not attending a funeral.

As I watched the traffic speed by and cross the bridge I wondered how many gave even a second glance to the little church gleaming white in a new coat of paint, belying its 110 years of weathering the storms from the sea, and the countless upheavals of the hundreds of families in attendance over the century or more, of its service to the township.

Amelia was one of my writing students, first at Sandybeach Centre and latterly Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. For many years she attended Readings By The Bay, the public readings by Mordialloc Writers’ Group,  often referred to as ‘The Prom lady’ because Wilson’s Promontory, a place she loved, was the subject of so many of her poems and stories.

Asked to read some of her poetry at the service I, of course, included The Spirit of The Prom. I can recall the day she wrote it in class and the discussion we had about the Aboriginal spirit  Loo-Errn .

Spirit Of The Prom
Amelia Auckett 2004

I am the Prom
A sacred place
A place I love

Walking to Lilly Pilly Gully
On Christmas Day
Cicadas a symphony of sound
Piercing our ears

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos
Feasting on banksia seeds
Forest ravens dancing
Crimson rosellas a splash of colour

Mount Oberon, a guardian
Mount Bishop presiding over the Prom
Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and emus
Ranging free

Rocks singing
Wind bending the trees
Eleven rainbows viewed from Pillar Point
Within the space of an hour

I am the ocean
Its roaring sound
As breakers run up the beach
Then a soft sigh as they sink back to the sea
Oystercatchers scour the seashore

I am the silence
I am one with Loo-errn
The Spirit of the Prom

A kookaburra laughs

 

The Artist and the Nurse

Amelia was also a prolific artist and belonged to the Mentone-Mordialloc Art Group for several years and even mounted her own art exhibition. Her sons displayed many of her framed works at the church and invited everyone to take one or two pieces as mementoes.

A lovely gift to mourners who will now have a permanent keepsake – I chose a Prom painting but also one from Amelia’s time trekking in Nepal – another period of her life she shared with us in class.

When I went into the Tarkine wilderness, Amelia gave me the backpack she used when travelling ‘I won’t be needing it anymore,’ she said, ‘the Prom’s far enough for me to travel.’

 

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A gift from Amelia when I was going through chemo

 

Amelia’s son, Paul gave the eulogy and his voice reflected the pride in his mother’s achievements which include nursing, writing, painting, music and filmmaking. Her nursing career took her to Central Australia and Canada, and for 25 years she was the Maternal and Child Health nurse at Frankston, Victoria.

Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

When people look at me they see a Miss Marple type. A woman with wisdom gained over the years and a person with knowledge, a love for, and understanding of people. They are not surprised I decided to be a nurse when ten years old. After all, my mother was the Matron of the Deniliquin Hospital in NSW before she married at thirty-two. My eldest sister Mary was two years into her nursing training at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Victoria. Nursing was in the family.

At the age of sixteen in June 1945, I started a twelve months Cadet Nursing course at the Eye and Ear Hospital, East Melbourne. It was an eventful year. The Americans dropped an Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th and a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th. The cities were flattened, thousands of people died.

On August 15th 1945 the war in the Pacific ended when the Japanese surrendered. A large group of nurses, from the Hospital, including me, joined thousands of people in Swanston and Collins streets outside the Town Hall that evening, in joyful celebration. We hugged strangers, and each other, We danced, laughed and cried, feeling a great sense of relief. Shouts of, ‘The war is over!’ ‘Peace at last!’ rang out.

We look at older people and what do we see? Who do we see? When they share their stories, or others share them at milestone celebrations or funerals, it is surprising what historical events they have witnessed, what skills they have learned, and their achievements.

When she left an unhappy marriage, Amelia worked hard as a single mother in a time when divorce and single parenting did not have the understanding or support from society like they have today.

Always breaking new ground, she published a book and DVD on Baby Massage. This has been translated into many languages and is a standard fixture in Maternal and Child Health centres throughout Australia. She also wrote music and produced songs as lullabies and for relaxation. Her sons are proud of their mother’s many talents, achievements and unique gifts.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Amelia came once a week and massaged my bald head and shoulders. She meditated with me – a peaceful interlude encouraging calm reflection and relaxation, and to focus on healing.

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Claire from Ballarat told me how Amelia mentored her and other infant nurses. Claire helped update the baby massage book for Amelia when Infant Welfare clinics were rebranded. She said the baby massage book was revolutionary and innovative.

I remember using the technique with my daughters who were born in the 80s and how thrilled I was when Amelia joined my writing class in the 90s – although it took me a while to make the connection!

Amelia’s son, John has established a website for people to access Amelia’s work, including his mother reading two poems that he set to music. This recording was played during the service. No shuffling feet or rustling papers disturbed Amelia’s soft rhythmic tones as they filled the room.  The Prayer of Thanksgiving followed, accompanied by a whispering sea breeze through the open side door.

Staring at the pine coffin adorned with a gorgeous display of flowers in various shades of purple, Amelia’s favourite colour, it was difficult to comprehend I wouldn’t see her again.

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On the way to the cemetery, Amelia’s nephew Sam pointed out various places Amelia mentioned in her poems and talked with affection about her affinity with the Prom and her love of the natural environment.

San Remo cemetery is high on a hill with magnificent views as it overlooks the township and the sea. Prime real estate – the pioneers who chose the spot, chose well!

Amelia is descended from the famous Andersons of San Remo and was very proud of her connection to Scotland. Their graves are nearby.

 

On the way to the wake, Sam stopped at Amelia’s favourite beach and as I stood and listened to the lapping of gentle waves I remembered the stories Amelia told of growing up when San Remo was a fishing village, and how calm waters could also be treacherous. The sea claimed the lives of two of her brothers, including her twin.

 

Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

The beach was our playground. In the summer, June, Sam and I swam in the warm water, then lay on our towels on the warm sand, sheltered from the southerly breeze behind clumps of marram grass, in the sand dunes. We floated on our backs in the waters of the fast flowing flood tide, on the beach side of the sandbar, starting from opposite our house, then floated down to the pier. We would then walk back to our starting point and float down to the pier again, again and again. It was pure magic, like floating on air in another world.

Many years later, when our mother died, June and I stayed in her home ‘The Haven’ for a few days clearing the house. During that time we swam at the beach and floated down to the pier, again and again, capturing magical moments from our childhood.

As children we played houses on the beach, creating large rooms divided by very small sand walls, leaving gaps for doors and windows We gathered green lettuce seaweed and shellfish for make-believe food. In the cool weather, we took long walks around the beach, collecting shells and seeing sea anemones and small fish in rock pools.

I loved the space, the freedom, the sun, the blue skies, the glistening clear blue sea, the stormy days and the fun.

The Haven, an appropriate name for Amelia’s family home and after a scrumptious afternoon tea provided by the ladies of the church I was grateful Claire offered to drop Barbara and me home saving us a long wait (the return coach left at 7pm!) and a circuitous trip to Mordialloc.

Amelia never returned to class in July because she fell and fractured her hip but up until then, despite failing health she came by taxi every Monday morning and always gave me a hug when she left, saying, ‘Thank you for a lovely class.’

Hugs were a signature of any encounter with Amelia – I’ll miss them!