It’s uplifting to spend a few hours with others interested in the environment and always a challenge to learn something new. These workshops the council organise aim to engage and educate but also to foster friendships and community spirit. A bonus is experiencing parts of the city you may rarely visit.
When I walked up Thames Promenade from Chelsea Railway Station and spied the garden from the road and horses in the fields opposite, I thought how rural it seemed compared to the rapid development of townhouses and apartments across Kingston.
You cross where the Long Beach Trail comes from Mordialloc and continues through Centennial Park – I’ve cycled and walked this trail with my children and later with walking buddies.
The community garden has been operating for ten years and welcomes new members. I can remember attending a meeting at Chelsea Heights Community Centre when it was first established but further visits have been rare. The established garden beds and host of activities offered now are impressive.
Members can have individual garden plots but more than half the beds are communal with work and harvests shared.
An excellent choice of venue to meet others in the community and gain knowledge about sustainability. Many of the plants were in bloom and the variety was inspiring. We were given a complimentary booklet (available from the Council) crammed with useful information about growing vegetables and herbs, including planning, maintenance, garden health, preparing for harvest and recipes too.
The First Step Towards A Very Edible Garden
The workshop was a Wicking Bed Demonstration – Growing Plants that Thrive with Less Water, presented by Jeremy from Very Edible Garden.
A wicking bed is an agricultural irrigation system used in arid countries where water is scarce. It can be used both in fields as in containers. Besides use in fields/containers outdoors, it can also be used indoors.
If you Google Wicking Beds, the first post from Very Edible Gardens is 2015 but they have a whole new site dedicated to this increasingly popular way of creating sustainable garden beds here https://www.wickingbeds.com.au/and they offer ‘foolproof wicking bed conversion kits and instructional materials to the public‘.
It was a perfect day for being outside and Jeremy reminded us this was an interactive workshop. We’d build a wicking bed together. Before he began his presentation he asked for a volunteer to hold a glass jar while he put a small amount of water in the bottom and inserted a rolled-up piece of paper into the jar.
This was a timer – and Jeremy promised his presentation would be over by the time the paper had absorbed the water.
Capillarity (capillary action) will occur. The phenomenon, in which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid – the tube of paper – is raised or lowered depending on the relative attraction of the molecules of the liquid for each other and for those of the solid.
This piece of showmanship a great introduction to a basic physics lesson and explanation as to how a wicking bed works – water is drawn up through layers from the bottom by the roots of the plants and is a more efficient way of conserving water and feeding.
Science was not my best subject at school but Jeremy was a good presenter and kept my attention better than Mr Menzies all those years ago at Croydon High.
I understood the explanation of osmosis, how plants absorb water and the cycle of evaporation into the air, but if you are interested the science is explained here.
The inventor of the wicking bed, an Australian Colin Austin has his own website, and his ongoing research into soil and improved wicking beds can be read here.
Most people present had never used a wicking bed. Some, like me, had never heard of the concept until invited to the workshop.
Jeremy noted the list of questions people wanted answers to and proceeded to answer them:
what is a wicking bed?
can you convert an existing raised bed?
what is the cost?
what soil is needed and are there different materials to choose from?
how small can the bed be?
how do you manage size?
can you build on concrete?
troubleshooting an existing bed.
can it be made to water automatically?
The last point was from a couple who were tired of returning from holiday to find many plants in their garden dying or dead.
Jeremy admitted the wicking system allowed you to water less frequently and a garden may survive a week in summer without adding water but it is not designed to be fully automatic.
He added that less water is used if you stay engaged with the garden bed and it is healthier too. The wicking bed is fixed irrigation, a different type of watering system and doesn’t replace the attention and care you give to the plants apart from ensuring they have water.
Your container can be any waterproof receptacle – a bucket, the colour bond garden beds commercially available, or one similar to the wooden beds of the community garden. Jeremy converted two wine barrels because he lives in an apartment and has a small patio.
A base is not necessary, but a flat surface is – a wicking bed can be built on the lawn, concrete or paving – anywhere strong enough to handle the weight, and any shape that can have a plastic liner inserted if needed because it must be waterproofed.
Jeremy advised choosing the plastic carefully – it has to be thick and lasting. Some cheap commercial products may disintegrate or puncture easily. His company imports a Canadian product from Adelaide.
Measuring and placing the liner a great example of organisation and cooperation – the size needed cut from a roll and folded before being placed in the bed – the sides then pulled up and clamped in place.
When folding the corners attention must be paid to ensure it is as evenly upright as possible and water can’t be trapped between folds.
Water is fed into a layer of gravel underneath the soil and moves up through layers so that the plant has access to water all the time. The roots suck up the water when needed.
There is a layer or barrier between the soil and base to ensure the soil is not wet all the time and air is circulating through the soil. This reservoir is important.
A pipe outlet is needed – one pipe/hose is used to feed in the water but there needs to be an outlet in case there is a lot of rain that fills the bed and to ensure no overwatering. The pipe must be between the soil and the barrier layer.
The various bits of hose and pipe can be bought from a hardware store or a kit online. Generally, the proportions for the bed are 2/3 soil and 1/3 gravel in the reservoir.
35-38cm soil depth should remain moist when the reservoir is full and the pipe outlet can be lower down at the base of the bed, or just beneath the soil layer. 40cm is a good ballpark figure to use for placement of the outlet.
It was an interactive workshop and each stage of explanation or work, Jeremy called for volunteers. People offered to cut an access point, to seal the washers, to attach the outlet pipe – we were a cooperative crowd!
All the work is upfront – it takes time to build and prepare but once that is completed, choose what you want to plant. A timely reminder to choose plants carefully before placing the bed in either the sun or shade – whatever is appropriate for the climate and situation.
Some plants do better than others in a wicking bed but plants often surprise us by adapting to an environment. According to Jeremy, ‘plants do life differently to us and are a lot more chill.’
The advantage of a wicking bed is that you can go on holiday and not come back to dead plants providing you are not gone for several weeks! You don’t have to water daily and you can judge and monitor how much water is used.
The Plumbing in place, now the Layers
The hard work began filling the bed with gravel, soil and mulch. Teamwork meant some people wheelbarrowed, others shovelled, and others watered. (We took it in turns and also watered ourselves with the tea and coffee provided!)
The pipe and hose in place before the gravel put in and water added to ensure a reservoir soaked before adding soil. Care must be taken at all times not to tear or puncture the plastic.
A layer of textured material placed on top of the gravel before soil added – this is to provide the all-important ‘air-obics’, plus measurements to make sure the 40cm drainage outlet.
The Soil Ready to Be Added
Every gardener knows the importance of good quality soil and compost. We wheelbarrowed and shovelled the soil as everyone shared tips and stories about where to get the best quality … Jeremy revealed the soil came from the Zoo… there were jokes about who knew elephant poo was good fertiliser.
I remembered how a random pumpkin vine appeared in my garden when I had a neighbour who kept Lucy, the pig who loved recycling vegetable waste and rubbing herself against the fence. Nature’s recycling indeed wonderful!
After the soil came the mulch. Jeremy emphasised that the mulch should be dampened during the process. All this preparation is done before seedlings or plants added. This was the time too for trimming and stapling the plastic liner.
The Finished Wicking Bed
Jeremy reminded us:
You look after the plants and soil in the top of the bed as you would normally – this is a different type of irrigation that’s all.
Do not add fertiliser to the water pipe because it may build up and won’t all be flushed away.
Remember, it is a heavy set up and once it is in place it is hard to pull apart and move.
It is a fixed irrigation system and less water is used by staying engaged and enjoying looking after your plants. Some plants like garlic that like drier soil may be harder to grow.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Please share if you discover resources or information that may improve the system or benefit others
After the workshop, I noticed the other beds had similar water systems installed, where the main water outlet was and the community garden’s huge water tanks.
The Grand Tour
Vicky, one of the stalwart Earthcarers gave me a grand tour and I felt honoured as she generously shared her knowledge and commitment to the garden and community.
Vicky is ‘the bee lady’ and I saw the hives. She shared her concern about the tragic loss of human and animal wildlife because of the bushfires but said that many people won’t realise the impact on an already worrying ‘bee situation’ worldwide.
Many Australian beekeepers place their hives in the National Parks and forest reserves believing they’d be more secure and the honey purer. In these catastrophic fires, habitats, houses, and everything else have been destroyed.
She showed me the composting area, where members could deposit stuff for composting and mulching and the healthy soil produced.
There are hens to recycle much of the by-products of gardening. Tables groaned under the weight of plants and herbs for sale.
Seeing the Community Garden through Vicky’s eyes was wonderful – the area where young mothers come with their babies and toddlers (one little boy loves to play ‘au natural’) and the children learn to love and nurture the environment and feel happy in a safe place.
Hopefully, nurturing the environment and gardening will be second nature to them.
Walking around the garden, you notice innovative repurposing of receptacles like baths and barbecues. Reused plant pots – even children’s toys!
There are beds devoted to flowers, to herbs, to companion plants, to fruit… community beds and those cared for by individual members.
I know clubs and schools have their own gardens and I can see the benefit of wicking beds for these places.
The world is faced with climate change and Australia is coping with catastrophic bushfires, drought and floods but it is heartening to know that there are communities and individuals, caring for the environment, nurturing gardens, sharing knowledge and contributing to sustainable living.
It’s lovely to have a book signed by an author and although I couldn’t get to the book launch because of another launch, a friend kindly picked up a copy of Ros Collins’ latest book, Rosa by Hybrid Publishers.
The blurb announces the memories of Rosa are presented ‘with a deliberate overlay of lies and licence.’ The boldness of this statement, a little confronting, especially sincethe book is labelled Memoir – defined in the dictionary as a narrative or biography written from personal experience.
However, as a teacher of Life Story writing, I’ve lost count of how many times class discussions have debated the concept of truth in relation to the reliability and perspective of our memories, coupled with the attendant fear of causing hurt to someone still alive or even tarnishing the memory of someone deceased.
A memoir is considered ‘Creative Non-fiction’ and who is to say the emphasis is not on the word creative, which can be interpreted as ‘having the quality of something imaginatively created’ or ‘containing misleading inventions designed to falsify or conceal the facts’!
… memoirs depend on memory and, despite being the subject of philosophical investigation going back as far as Plato and of plentiful scientific research since the mid-nineteenth century, memory remains an elusive topic. How does it work? Can our fondest memories of childhood and loved ones really be reduced to molecular activity in the neurons of the brain? Will medical science one day be capable of eliminating the traumatizing memories that can paralyze us, and implanting happier memories in their place? Are memories the cause of the biographical continuity that bolsters our belief in personal identity? And how accurate are memories even among the healthiest of us? Does it make sense to base our present-day attitudes and emotions on recollections of our past experiences?
Robert Atwan, Creative Nonfiction, Issue #55, The Memoir Issue
In her introduction, Ros uses softer words to explain how Rosa differs from a previous book about her life, it is ‘much more personal… freely written’ and she admits to ‘taking liberties with the truth’.
There is still a lot of family history included in Rosa – she revisits Solly’s Girl (2015), a book that was as ‘accurate as my memory would allow’ and written as a companion piece to her now-deceased husband’s Alva’s Boy (2008). An acclaimed writer, Alan Collins wrote short stories and books about his Bondi childhood.
Ros Collins writes to entertain as well as inform and her conversational style with well-researched detail has produced wonderful stories revealing scenes of Anglo-Australian-Jewish life probably unfamiliar to many readers, and which I found fascinating.
‘Memoir with a little fiction, or fiction with a little history? It’s hard to say, Memories with licence.’
Although of a different generation, there were historical references, organisations and events I recognised. They triggered memories, especially involvement with the labour movement and the Australian Labor Party and various campaigns in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
The divisiveness of the Vietnam War, the election of the Whitlam Government and the opening up of educational opportunities for older women, which Rosa took advantage of. ‘The Palestinian Debate’ which still causes angst and the trade union campaigns to improve conditions for Victorian teachers that raised the ire of Premier Henry Bolte.
Rosa ticked several boxes in the list of why I read books: for enjoyment, to be immersed in a different world, to learn something new, to encourage me to seek more information and to reflect on the human condition.
Ros is a woman of many accomplishments with several great achievements as a qualified librarian, yet, there is no pretentiousness when she explains her journey to becoming a director of a Jewish community library at fifty-seven and her vision of a national Australian-Jewish library.
With dedication, commitment, and tenacity she created the successful ‘Write Your Story’ program whereby the eclectic members of the Jewish community can access funds and help, and write their memoir.
‘Most memoirs -so far, more than 140 have been published, the largest such series in the world – are related to the Holocaust; eventually, as generations pass away, the stories will become more Australian, less European.’ (p122)
Her involvement with the community library for thirteen years followed by twelve years cataloguing the Yiddish library:
‘She brings the boxes of shabby books home to catalogue… A little pamphlet, held together with rusty staples; cheap yellowed paper, crumbling to pieces; no cover; a grey, grainy author’s picture.
… a first-hand account of how his village was destroyed during the Holocaust – most of the Jewish community died, locked up in the synagogue and then set on fire – he hid in a barn.’
Ros is reduced to tears translating the story for her husband – such is the power and importance of recording and sharing stories.
‘I couldn’t even find the village in the atlas, it’s been erased by some thoughtless publisher. It’s Yiddish, only a few people will ever find out what happened; there’s just my catalogue entry to provide a link.’
Her husband responds, ‘Libraries are important. This is your contribution.’ (p124)
Ros has catalogued and encouraged the recording and publication of so many stories of the Jewish diaspora and so it is fitting and fortunate, she decided to share her own life story and reflections – albeit with several references to her husband’s story and books. She has added a creative flair to her memories.
The deep love and respect Ros has for her parents, husband Alan, her sons and several close friends mentioned in Rosa shines like a beacon. There is no malice in any of her memories but there is a theme of regret.
Ros repeats several times how she wished Alan had been more open and honest about his feelings – not for her but the damage done in his childhood and the guilt he carried because his mother died in childbirth. Ros also regrets not having a closer relationship with her own mother.
‘Themissing mother. Rosa had always been aware, but when she first read his stories she’d never put it all together in her mind, never ‘joined the dots’, done the whole ‘lit-crit’ exercise. Perhaps it would have led them to deep and meaningful discussion and enriched their relationship if they’d talked about his emotions, but then, she reflects, he’d only have turned it into a quip, slid away from the subject with a bit of banter.(p156)
We learn about their unconventional courtship in London and Rosa’s decision to migrate to Australia as a ‘ten pound Pom’, their determination to build a home – physically a house and financially a business but also emotionally with children – three sons, plus later, a teenager, ‘the Boy’, a fostered child described but not named.
‘The six-year-old and the five-year-old took the view that they had now acquired an older brother, but for the three-year-old, the Boy represented an heroic Superman figure; their relationship became very special and the rift, when it came, was all the more painful.’ (p89)
A family disagreement and period of estrangement always difficult to write about, the temptation to omit or embellish to justify an action. In Rosa, it is deftly handled although Ros did give herself a ‘memory with licence…’
The use of dialogue to good effect, the attention to detail and use of senses to describe food, flowers and situations – techniques writers keep in their toolbox – Ros uses all of them to produce a good read.
Italics for non-English words and terms but also for emphasis and reflections in her voice. There is a flitting backwards and forwards to weave all the family stories and people together along with their place in history without rupturing the fabric of the overall story, which is why I believe others writing their life story could use Rosa as a template.
Our memories don’t all come in a linear or chronological fashion and from my experience in writing class piecing together short stories is a natural way of collating memories and weaving the threads together.
Ros is a proud secular Jew yet is determined her grandchildren will know the family history but does not want them to be weighed down by the Holocaust.
Throughout the book, the workings of family, worship, differences in synagogues, sects, customs and the politics of ‘those of Jewish persuasion‘ Alan’s wry remembrance of the phrase often used in the past, are explained and placed in historical as well as an Australian context. The knowledge and explanation of beliefs and practices, I found invaluable.
‘For many non-Jews, the Shoah, the Holocaust, is just another part of the war: Hitler had plans for something called the ‘The Third Reich’, and, by the way, he also intended to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews.
For Jews, the Holocaust is the war and Israel is our miracle: In every generation from Pharaoh to Hitler they have tried to destroy us; never again!’
Remembering is a solemn duty, as is recording and researching. Jewish literature wrestles with stories of survival, heroism and of course the complexities of the Middle East. Museums and memoirs multiply. Al, fifth-generation Australian and Rosa, second-generation English and ‘more British than the British’ do not exactly fit the norm for Melbourne Jewry, which is home to one of the largest communities of Holocaust survivors in the world. She thinks: We’re a perfect example of how deeply embedded the history is in our psyches even though neither of us was directly involved. (p117)
Ros relates a speech husband, Alan made at a Shoah commemoration event at Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum where he painted a picture of 1930s Sydney and his father:
‘a devout xenophobe with a particular focus on Jewish refugees who told him; ‘not to mix with them’, ‘Jew-hating out-of-work Australian labourers’ and ‘well-meaning policemen who called me Ikey.’
The older audience members nodded sadly in remembrance. (p118)
The more we share our stories and make a habit of listening to others the more tolerant society we will become – I hope!
Ros explained Alan finished his talk, given over 30 years ago at the Holocaust Museum thus:
So I write about what I know which is what it is like growing up and living and dying in this country where thank God, patriotism and zealotry are negligible and when a letter arrives with OHMS on the envelope it doesn’t contain an imperative to pack your bags. (p73)
Ros reflects in 2018 that she ‘doesn’t quite share his belief in the fundamental goodness of Australia, and long ago she cast off her allegiance to England…(p73)
Therefore, a book like Rosa that ‘flings open the windows and doors‘ and invites us to learn about a world of cultural habits and rituals often misrepresented, misunderstood, or unknown is one to grab for the bookshelf.
In the final chapter, aptly titled Rose Garden, Ros discusses the Jewish section of a cemetery and thoughts sparked by physicist/musician/celebrity Brian Cox’s remarks on television …
…belief in some form of afterlife ‘feels right’ or more precisely, the alternative, that after death we are nothing but a bag of chemicals from which ‘nothing has left, yet what is left is not longer me’ somehow ‘feels wrong’…
The central question is, can you build a time machine? The answer is yes, you can go into the future… Going back in time, or returning to the present, would be slightly trickier, however…(p183)
Rosa harks back to childhood and a fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and repeats a conversation she had with a grandson.
‘Where will you go when you die, Grandma?’
‘Well I’m not absolutely sure because no one comes back after they die, but I think I shall go on a journey.’
‘A long one?’
‘What will you take with you?’
‘I think I can take my memory. Clever people now think it might be possible to travel through time – backwards and forwards.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you can Grandma, I once read a story like that.’
‘So did I, darling! (p185)
Many of us can identify with this conversation, fear of or concern about dying common.
The conundrums, worries and questions of life wax and wane as we live and age, but writers continually reflect on the significance to the big picture, as well as the importance of those near and dear. Who do we love and how much do we matter to them and they to us?
It doesn’t matter what your background, race or religion as we near the end of our life most of us have failing health, increased vulnerability, and wonder how and in what manner we will die – and then what?
Rosa explores the distant and not so distant past, the present, and voices curiosity about the future. Ros has written a wonderful legacy and future descendants will understand their family’s Jewish history, current festivals and rituals, even if they choose to rationalise like she often did: The significance lies in the fact that we are together around the table, never mind the calendar.
Ros Collins was born in 1938 and after supporting her husband’s writing endeavours began to write short stories and now has two books to her credit – an inspiration indeed!
There is no greater thrill for a teacher of creative writing than to see the joy on a student’s face when they hold in their hands, the book they have written.
When that student has put years of effort into making the dream a reality and overcome health problems, the moment even sweeter.
Yesterday, I met up with some past students of my Life Stories & Legacies class that ran from February 2014 – December 2018, at Godfrey Street Community House in Bentleigh. We gathered in Sandringham to celebrate with Edna Gaffney the publication of her memoir, Chibby From Brandy Creek.
The Life Stories class at Godfrey Street, one of the most cohesive, supportive and friendliest classes in my 20 plus years of teaching, which has included four community houses. Several of the students still meet monthly and email or phone each other regularly.
Edna is the second to publish a memoir, another student will have one out for Christmas and another perhaps in the New Year. A great bunch of writers dedicated to their purpose of leaving a legacy for family and friends. They have all led amazing lives spanning decades.
Edna was in her mid-eighties when she came to my class with a determination to write a book about her mother, family life in Gippsland between the wars, and also her own life as a nurse, particularly, as one of the first nurses to be trained at Cabrini Hospital to care for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
In her Dedication, Edna wrote:
These efforts to record memories, I dedicate to my family and future generations. I wanted to describe my early life living in Gippsland, rural Victoria, and to honour my mother. Our family experienced a lifestyle and events different to many others and to the expectations of people today.
Miracles can occur in most families, maybe not suddenly, but over time, and I consider the eventual reunion of my siblings after the death of our mother, a miracle. Six siblings were adopted during 1943-44 and the family split up, yet we eventually reunited as adults and became a family once again. I am writing down some details of our early life for those siblings who have no memories of our natural mother.
I also record my own experiences of family and career. Change of attitude, much-needed patience and endurance to cope and care for others, are some of the qualities I learned in my working and family life – becoming a parent a profound change. My chosen profession of Nursing has altered dramatically since I began Mothercraft Nursing at the Berry Street Babies’ Home in 1947.
A Powerful Story Shared
When Edna enrolled in 2014, like many older students, she had no computer skills and in fact, no computer. However, after absorbing what it means to be a writer in the modern world, Edna enrolled in computer classes at the Community House and bought a laptop.
I don’t think she’d mind me saying that her success in writing this book was not replicated in the computer class! Wisely, she concentrated on the writing and saved money and time by allowing her daughters and me help with typing. I have no idea what happened to the laptop except it was often threatened and may indeed have been ‘chucked out the window’.
Edna’s daughter, Jane-Maree arranged the launch yesterday and was a driving force in the final stages of the project as her mother’s health deteriorated. We were determined the book would be published before Edna’s 90th birthday on July 2, 2019, and made the deadline.
However, the actual launch delayed while Edna settled into a nursing home – a disruptive, often devastating, and certainly time-consuming challenge for everyone concerned.
Fortunately, Edna likes her new home and Jane-Maree said, ‘they were great’ providing the comfortable space for the celebration.
The Journey To Publication
Over the years, I published five of the nine anthologies for the Mordialloc Writer’s Group. Along the way I threw myself into lifelong learning, grappling with InDesign, attending workshops on desktop and digital publishing, reading books, online articles, trawling websites and information from email lists, and watching webinars to keep up with the rapid changes in the writing and publishing industry.
It is a privilege to share those skills with writing students and to be trusted with their precious words when they decide to publish. I know there are some disastrous self-publishing efforts and looking back at my early efforts, improvements can certainly be made, but I have become a small press publisher by accident and will continue to learn on the job.
Software and hardware capabilities and printing options have radically changed in a few short years. The cost, which has a big impact on choice has changed too – you get a bigger, better bang for your buck nowadays!
The aim of most writers is to be published – not necessarily a novel, memoir, or poetry book, but perhaps simply a short story or poem that begged to be written, or a slice of family history or an anecdote so memorable, it must be committed to print. (I prefer printed books.)
Some students come to class with a definite project in mind. They have a dream to publish a book with a target audience of friends and family.
Not everyone aims to have a book in Readings or become rich and famous with a bestseller or win a prize.
Not everyone wants to monetize (how I hate this buzz word) their talent or creativity.
Most want to write and publish for the joy and satisfaction of telling a story/stories and being able to share their writing with others who will read and appreciate their words. They desire to write or would feel strange not writing, perhaps love being a wordsmith.
When you believe in yourself and writing, being published is a realistic achievable dream.
Edna had a powerful story to tell and I gladly helped with advice and editing. My talented daughter, Mary Jane designed the cover, as she has done for several book ventures. (A reluctant book cover designer, she doesn’t refuse to help her mum.)
The class gave Edna feedback and encouragement and through this collective effort, a beautiful and readable book was offered free of charge yesterday with an option to donate to Berry Street Babies Home. (most people did!)
When you read Edna’s book you understand her strong commitment to Berry Street, where she trained as a Mothercraft Nurse, but also the deeply emotional link because of family circumstances.
Books for Purpose Not Profit
This is the third book I’ve produced whereby the writer has donated all or most of the profit because of their commitment to a cause or appreciation of events or people. There was no profit involved with Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies either, with any money from sales going towards the publication of the next book.
When Mordialloc Writers’ Group folded in 2018, I donated group funds to Mordialloc Beach Primary School to create a scholarship and encourage creative writing. The Principal, Sue Leighton-Janse suggested the money provide ongoing writing awards for Junior, Middle and Senior school, in the name of MWG. I only hope this happens.
You can read about Julie Wentworth: A Life Sharedhere. Julie, a teacher of Yoga, mentor and spiritual guide, donated the sale of her books to an orphanage in Africa caring for children with HIV.
Mary Jane and I had the privilege of working with Peter Hocking, who wrote about his recovery from a stroke and sold books to support The Stroke Foundation.
I’m sure writing and publishing is often a labour of love, and if articles discussing the state of publishing in Australia are to be believed, poetry books, even traditionally published, seldom make a profit with publishing houses using the sales from more popular books to counter-balance the low-profit margin in some literary genres.
Another book I worked on this year was a huge labour of love for a woman who wanted to celebrate her 70th birthday by publishing travel diaries kept by her parents on their first overseas trip in the 1970s.
Ruth inherited the handwritten exercise books, 500 slides and meticulously detailed itinerary notes and letters home. What to do with this material so that her brothers and sisters, her children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren will enjoy the old school and very personal travelogue?
She had a friend type the 55,000 words, paid to digitise then print the slides, and commissioned a nephew to draw maps of the route her parents travelled through continents and several countries, to introduce the three separate parts of their trip.
Ruth only printed 25 of this A4 landscape book, which I edited and published. Muriel and Len’s observations were side by side and Mary Jane chose 100 of the best photographs. Mary Jane created Ruth’s vision for the cover using Muriel and Len’s passport photos, the best close-up photographs Ruth possessed.
Not every book needs a launch or a large audience. Often writers can cover their costs and break-even. Family members may contribute or if written for a target audience (sporting/hobby club, regional or historical relevance) writers may make a small profit by self-publishing.
Writers keep control and have important input to the content, cover and cost of their book every step of the way from conception to birth if they self-publish.
It’s an exciting and worthwhile journey – not always smooth – but as John Denver sings in one of my favourite songs, ‘some days are diamonds, some days are stone,‘ and yesterday for Edna, her family and friends was a diamond day.
Well done Edna and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your dream!
I’ve taken a long time framing this post because of recent events and the adversarial way many parts of the media cover topics such as religion, refugees, and immigration and the resultant ire, ignorance and irritation that inevitably results, particularly on social media.
Ignorance is a keyword here – if more people moved out of their comfort zone and made the effort to learn, mix, communicate and appreciate each other’s contributions to the tapestry of society a lot of angst and misinformation could be avoided.
We are lucky living in Melbourne because there are myriad opportunities to access and enjoy what a multicultural community offers. We can live together in peace and mutual respect aware of each other’s contributions.
I’ve attended two enriching events recently, provided by the Kingston Interfaith Network to appreciate the diversity of our community.
It’s heartening to know there are people actively working to breakdown barriers and challenge bigotry and I’d recommend the annual bus trip the Network organises to visit various places of worship.
Religion & Politics Can be Discussed With Civility
Along with many baby boomers, I grew up with family traditions of attending Sunday School and church but it never translated as ‘blind faith’.
Both parents were immersed in church life in Scotland; they continued this involvement in Croydon when we migrated. I drifted away from organised religion in my teens and only returned to be part of a community as a young mother, to eventually drift away again.
None of us chooses the country, culture or community we are born into and the idea that there is a ‘true’ religion or ‘master’ race seems ludicrous and irrational.
I’m grateful for access to education and several fine teachers at high school and university, to have continued that education by travelling, accessing wonderful books, films, and essays and appreciating the contribution of others to a pool of general knowledge more easily available now through the worldwide web.
I know I’m not alone among my peers questioning human existence, our relationship to the natural world and seeking meaning to life – a journey that will end one day and that day is getting closer –
I recall the pithy words of a good friend, ‘We all die and one day we’ll discover whether there is a God or life after death!‘
In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the journey, learning something new every day, look for the joy because focusing on social injustice and world conflicts convinces me we are stuck in Groundhog Day! (“a situation in which events are or appear to be continually repeated” )
John Lennon’s Imagine is often played to a compilation of visuals – technology leaves nothing hidden! We see the horrific death toll of the two world wars, the partition of India and Pakistan, the euphemistic ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the Biafran/Nigerian War, the Middle East, Idi Amin’s Uganda … oh, how Lennon’s lines resonate with generation after generation …
Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, Above us only sky… Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…
There is never a shortage of up-to-the-minute footage of conflicts – the world seems to produce tragedies at an alarming rate. For many people, their religious beliefs and being part of a community helps to make sense or at least alleviate some of the fear and pain.
A meme doing the rounds of Facebook also strikes a chord –
Many Beliefs One Community
The Kingston Interfaith Network ‘celebrates the commonality and diversity of our spiritual communities’.
encourage understanding and respect between people of all faiths and cultures
affirm spiritual and religious freedom
work towards peace, compassion and equality within our local community
In my writing classes, we have some wonderful discussions while sharing knowledge regarding human needs, the importance of belief systems and what form these may take whether philosophical or religious.
Discussion, reflection and sharing information and experiences important for writers to understand and create characters regardless of the genre but also for citizens when we have the current Australian Parliament discussing the introduction of religious freedom legislation.
Since 9/11, the constant stirring of fear and misinformation about Islam looms large.
The Royal Commission into Abuse of Children in religious and other institutions with many still quibbling about compensation to victims has shattered the trust and appeal of several churches, especially the Catholic Church.
Stories about cults or gurus ripping off or abusing vulnerable people are rarely out of the news.
The Israel Folau controversy started a debate about freedom of speech in the context of workplace contracts and religious beliefs.
Any Interfaith Network has its work cut out!
In Kingston, the Network engages with the community by being involved in:
Learning and Education
Community consultations and representation
I worked for the Uniting Church, Hotham Parish until daughter, Anne was born in 1986 and was fortunate to work with Rev. John Rickard who was a strong believer in ecumenicalism and social justice. A pharmacist before ‘getting the call’, he was a great boss – understanding, compassionate and down-to-earth.
I saw the church from a different perspective. Working closely with Hanover Welfare, the church raised money and provided services to people in need in the community, they also owned houses in Curzon Street and ran a kindergarten. ‘The church’ can be a landlord, employer, business entrepreneur, owner of private hospitals and schools. Practicalities to be dealt with that many don’t associate with theologians.
Another learning curve occurred in 2004 when I was commissioned to write the history of St Aidan’s Church and subsequently published The Little Church On The Hill for their Centenary.
The Chelsea/Carrum Anglican community influential in developing and providing youth services, fellowship groups for women, raising money for much needed social services and encouraging the arts but there were internal conflicts, debates about policies and implementation, and adapting to a world where Sunday was no longer sacrosanct.
Talking about the Christian faith my comfort zone but I still treasure a necklace made from a leather strip with the tooth of a moose blessed by an elderly Iroquois Indian when I visited their village in Montreal, Canada 1976. She wanted me to be safe on my travels.
World Book Day 2019
Kingston’s World Book Day was hosted in conjunction with Kingston Council’s Interfaith Committee, established by Council to provide a conduit between Kingston Council and the faith communities within local areas to encourage open communication, interfaith dialogue and partnerships and to address the needs of the local communities.
World Book Day theme for 2019 was Interfaith in the Libraries. Kingston’s Interfaith Committee chose to deliver a book donations event to Kingston Libraries to further support an interfaith dialogue within the community.
Invited to write religious affiliation, I wrote Humanitarian. Nobody baulked at the label, with some attendees commenting they wished they had written that rather than nominating a religion or leaving it blank.
A warm welcome epitomised the evening with many groups taking the opportunity to display the books attached to their Faith and donate them to the library. The buzz of conversations filled the room, people browsed the books and I met acquaintances from past involvement with community groups and Mordialloc Writers’.
There were printed sheets from a variety of religious groups within the Network summarising their core beliefs, sacred texts and laws, places of worship, branches, practices and festivals, origin story, morals and ethics… in no particular order here are the sheets I picked up:
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) (aka the Hare Krishna Movement)
Catholic Church (Christian)
ECKANKAR (This means Co-worker with God -founded 1965, main temple Minnesota USA
Sufi works and practices: The Whirling Dervishes, the poetry of Rumi, the works of Ib Arabi…
Zee Cheng Khor Moral uplifting Society Inc (known as DEJIAO in Chinese)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
My knowledge of some of these groups minimal – and to know they worshipped in Kingston and felt welcome at the event is a testament to the religious freedom we already enjoy. (Note to Federal Government don’t fix what’s not broken!)
Fast forward to the annual bus tour I joined recently…
A Journey of Discovery
Kingston Interfaith Committee runs a bus tour once a year to places of worship to provide an opportunity for the public to learn about different faiths. Tour participants see different places of worship and ask questions in a respectful and supportive small group environment. There is no cost and a light lunch is offered by the Council.
I have been wanting to go on this tour for many years but work or other commitments meant I missed out. I was thrilled to join the 23 other participants (some followed the community bus in their own cars) on August 7, leaving from the Council Offices at Mentone.
Guided by Elisabetta Robecchi, Community Development Officer, Social Development, we visited four places of worship. There were people from Glen Eira and Casey communities. The only person with an outward sign of religious affiliation was a Sikh gentleman from Monash who told me most councils have these tours with some providing several a year. He had been on a few tours and generously shared his knowledge.
The places visited change each time so it wasn’t surprising to find some people had toured before, but most were first-timers like me – and what an eclectic group we were!
Elisabetta shared the two group photos taken at a mosque and Orthodox church.
We set off a bit late because of the difficulties of participants finding all-day parking – so for future reference:
use public transport like me, or plan ahead as to where you will park in Mentone and prepare for a walk to the meeting point!
Also, wear comfortable and easily divested footwear – most places you visit require removal of shoes.
Plus slip in a headscarf or make sure your jacket/coat has a hood for the places requiring women to cover their head.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre, Clayton South
Lunch at Westall Hub
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple
Hinduism is one of the oldest surviving religions in the world, with an unbroken succession of seers and teachers. It is practised by millions of people living in the vast subcontinent of India and in many other places where Indian migrants have settled, including Australia.
And although it is an ancient religion it continues to evolve and form new branches. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) represents modern India and is a religious personality who was loved throughout the world. He preached truth and non-violence and his attempts to reform India’s religious-social tradition of caste legendary as is his fight for India’s independence from colonial rule.
You don’t need to travel to India to immerse yourself in Indian culture and learn about Hinduism.
First impressions of the Hindu temple and grounds is one of spaciousness, then lushness – the garden flowering and emerald green grass plentiful. Driving in from the road you see the Cultural Centre first, and around the corner, you release an audible gasp at the magnificence of the temple barely glimpsed from the road.
Inside, after removing our shoes, the first thing you notice is incense thickened air. A sign requested no photos but apparently, our temple guide (a deacon) gave approval and Elisabetta shared this one she took.
Priests were attending to devotees so I chose to switch my phone off and instead purchased a very informative book about the history of the temple and details about Hinduism, including festivals and beliefs. An incredible bargain at $5.00.
The huge area seems cavernous but there are different sections with mini enclosures holding statues of various deities. The air heavy with incense and burning charcoal and within moments I felt my eyes sting. It was obvious couples and families were worshipping with the three out of the six priests on duty.
A young couple prayed with a priest by a fertility deity (?). The priest ladled into our cupped hands, the concoction made from fruit and flowers and signalled us to drink. The nectar tasteless to me, stirring memory of drinking kava at a ceremony in Fiji. There was a small open fire like a mini BBQ but generating plenty of smoke. The fire alarm constantly beeped because of its copious smoke and from a couple of similar fires.
I had a fleeting thought of what could happen if there were sprinklers!
Our guide explained there are gods (deities) for Education, Fertility, and Birth etc. Planets match your birth sign and some gods look after you. He explained about puja or pooja, a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to one or more deities in devotional worship.
Prayers can also be offered to host and honour a guest or to spiritually celebrate an event. It may honour or celebrate the presence of a special guest, or their memories after they die. A table with baskets of fruit (oranges, apples and bananas) for $15 and a well-stocked kiosk is just inside the entrance. the deities require offerings.
A temple is a busy place with chanting in Sanskrit and the buzz of conversations plus people moving across the polished floorboards and around the perimeter where cabinets or shrines hold statues of the gods. The black, grey, or gold figures often draped with pure silk gowns and scarves.
We walked past a cabinet that appeared to have a Nazi sign scrolled on glass doors – and a member of the group asked the significance of this, which remains an important symbol in Hinduism.
The swastika represented something entirely different for thousands of years before its appropriation by the Nazi Party, and for many, it is a sacred symbol.
Versions of the design have been found in prehistoric mammoth ivory carvings, Neolithic Chinese pottery, Bronze Age stone decorations, Egyptian textiles from the Coptic Period and amid the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Troy.
Its most enduring and spiritually significant use, however, can be seen in India, where the swastika remains an important symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Despite the explanation, one of our group whispered, ‘Try going down Carlisle Street with that on your car!’ A reminder that in a multicultural society we have to be even more diligent learning about other religions and beliefs and be perceptive to differentiate when a symbol should provoke instant repulsion and condemnation and when it is used in context of worship.
The etymology of the word “swastika” can be traced to three Sanskrit roots: ‘su’ (good), ‘asti’ (exists, there is, to be) and ‘ka’ (make). That the collective meaning of these roots is effectively ‘making of goodness’ or ‘marker of goodness’ shows just how far the Nazis dragged the swastika away from its Hindu association with wellbeing, prosperity and dharmic auspiciousness.
The symbol, normally with its arms bent towards the left, is also known in Hinduism as the sathio or sauvastika. Hindus mark swastikas on thresholds, doors and the opening pages of account books – anywhere where its power to ward off misfortune might come in handy.
… it was Indian religion and culture that was the original source from which the National Socialists derived the swastika.
In Buddhism, the swastika is thought to represent the footprints of the Buddha. It takes on a liturgical function in Jainism, and in Hinduism, the clockwise symbol (the swastika as we know it, with the arms pointing right) and the counterclockwise symbol, the sauvistika, pair up to portray opposites such as light and darkness.
The scent of flower petals mingled with fruit and incense and oils. I missed a lot of the explanations because naturally our guide spoke without amplification and my hearing is not as good as it used to be. Fortunately, the book I bought, published to celebrate a special Consecration Ceremony in April this year, is full of detail about Hinduism, the temple, the hard work and cohesion of the Indian community.
The Hindu Society of Victoria (HSV) was founded on Saraswathy pooja day in 1982 at the initiative of some Hindu migrants from Sri Lanka. Hindu migrants from India, Malaysia and other countries enthusiastically joined the Society. The topmost priority for this new gathering was to probe ways and means of realising a traditional Hindu temple. Prayer meetings were held on the last Saturday of each month at the Migrant Centre in Prahran. Poojas were performed to the pictures of deities by Sri Raman Iyer on these occasions. On 21 June 1984, this society was officially incorporated and referred to as the Hindu society of Victoria (Aust) Inc.
The HSV decided to buy a plot of land and build a temple… bought a block of land of 14.35 acres in Carrum Downs on 14 April 1985… made up of a bank loan, interest-free loans from devotees and donations. Bhoomi Poojah was performed at the site to invoke the blessings of the Almighty. Since then Thai Pongal Festival was celebrated at the site but prayer meetings continued at the Prahran Migrant Centre.
… there was a prolonged debate about the choice of deities to be installed in the temple. Eventually, the Management Committee decided to build a Shiva Vishnu temple facilitating devotees from all sects of Hinduism….
Building works started in October 1990 and Nagarajan Sthabathy and a team of 8 artisans arrived in November 1992… The Granite and Panchalokha Vigrahas and other artefacts required were crafted by well-known artisans in India. The Granite Vigrahas were sanctified by a special pooja at Kanchi Mutt.
Additional six artisans were brought from India in Jan 1994 to accelerate the temple construction… completed, with the erection of the raja Gopurams and consecration on 25 may 1997. This temple has become an inseparable part in the spiritualemancipation of the Hindus of Victoria. It has also become a must-see icon to all Hindus and non-Hindus in Australia…
Traditional Hindu temples are not just places of worship. They function as a place of learning, foster the arts and encourage social interaction. The Cultural and Heritage Centre opened on 5 May 2012, includes a wedding hall, restaurant with industrial-scale kitchen, library, Hinduism classrooms, museum and conference hall that can accommodate 200 people.
The Hinduism classes for children also offer Bhajan, Yoga and meditation for all ages. The centre hosts ceremonies on auspicious days, Hindu weddings, and a cafe open to the public, which operates six days a week.
A children’s park with playground equipment and an enclosure with peafowls and chicks as well as surrounding gardens with attractive flowers, trees, and lush foliage ensures a relaxing family-friendly environment.
The sign in the garden reads: Nature is Gods vesture. The universe is the ‘university’ for man. Do not pluck flowers treat nature with reverence.
We put on our shoes and joined the ever-patient bus driver after thanking our hosts for their welcome and farewelled the first place of worship for the day.
Shri Shiva Vishnu temple is one of the iconic Hindu temples outside the Indian subcontinent providing a spiritual and cultural legacy for future generations.
Whether you practice Hinduism or not, a visit will add to your knowledge and understanding, and appreciation of the wealth of talent immigrants bring to Australia.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre
We travelled to Westall for our next visit to learn about Islam, a religion that has suffered the most backlash and bigotry in recent years despite Afghan cameleers being present in Australia since the early nineteenth century.
The first camel drivers arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, June 1860, when eight Muslims and Hindus arrived with the camels for the Burke and Wills expedition.
The word islam means ‘surrender’ and specifically implies ‘surrender to God’. A ‘muslim’ is therefore simply ‘one who surrenders’.
In the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an, the story of Islam shares a common tradition with Judaism and a common Biblical origin when God (Allah) created the world. Chosen prophets spread the essential message of surrender to the One (Allah).
Muslims recognise all prophets including Moses and Jesus, Rama, Krishna and Buddha but the Prophet Muhammad is the vehicle whereby the Qur’an, the final protected Word of God was revealed.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers. They make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. We mainly hear about conflict in the Middle East but devotees extend all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China although the birthplace of this compelling faith was Arabia when it was a semi-nomadic and semi-urban civilization.
Islam is the most adhered to religion in Indonesia and in a 2010 estimate, 87.2% of the Indonesian population (225 million) identified as Muslim making Indonesia the largest Muslim population in the world.
At the Masjid Westall, we were greeted by two deacons who were generous with their knowledge and time. From the outside, the building is not imposing and doesn’t look like a mosque but once we removed our shoes and went inside the calmness and decor confirmed it was not ostentatious but a place of worship.
According to the 2016 Australian Census, the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 604,200 people, or 2.6% of the total Australian population, an increase over its previous population share of 2.2% reported in the previous census 5 years…
… there are now 604,000 people who identify as Muslim in Australia. In addition, the Census reports that 1,140 of the Muslims in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
After a welcome prayer and blessing, the deacons let us wander freely and ask questions rather than give a formal guided tour. There are 3 Indonesian mosques in Victoria, and they do keep in touch with each other and share Imams, some are students from Saudi Arabia. The mosque is Sunni, the major and orthodox branch of Islam.
Islam hasn’t escaped the fate common to other religions: sectarian divisions. There are sub-sects, but the two main branches of Islam are Sunni and the Shi’ite. They spilt over the question of the line of succession from the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims pray 5 times a day and a digital clock has the prayer times. During the day up to 5 people will come and pray because most are working – perhaps a taxi or truck driver if nearby, maybe students and teachers from Westall Secondary next door, or others ‘just passing’.
Sundown prayers and Fridays attract the largest number with up to 50 regulars. After Christchurch, many non-Muslims visited to offer condolences and support and prayed in solidarity. The mosque provided hijabs for them but because we were only visiting and not participating we did not need to cover our head.
We all commented on how luxurious the carpet felt beneath our feet and the room was spacious even with a section for the women and children curtained off. There is a library, also a study corner and out the back a kitchen and communal area where crafts and toys are stored on shelves.
Our two gentlemen guides had set up a table with nibbles and tea and coffee – most hospitable and welcome. One deacon tried but failed to get his pictures up on his phone to show me the crowd of well-wishers who came to the mosque after the horrific events in Christchurch.
No question went unanswered and cameras worked overtime. Several people stood with the Imam’s arch in the background, others were fascinated by the displayed prayer times and mentioned seeing taxi drivers pull over to pray.
I remembered a tale of two young men…
In 2013, flying to Italy via Borneo and London, I sat between the pair. One was returning to Egypt for a holiday after being in Australia most of his life, the other, a student returning home after finishing studies at Queensland University.
The young Egyptian/Australian struggled out of his window seat to diligently adhere to the prayer times – there was a prayer mat aft, available for passengers – and throughout the flight, he read the Qur’an.
He confided in me that he had become more devout because of prejudice at work and all the things said about Muslims in the media. He felt he had to learn more about his faith (his parents and sister weren’t devout) and his origins – hence the trip “home”. He seemed unworried about the fall-out from the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ongoing sporadic violence.
The young student, returning home to his family and Muslim country didn’t bother praying and read a popular sci-fi novel in between discussing general topics ranging from history to politics and poetry. He confessed he’d love to return and work in Australia because he loved the freedom to choose his lifestyle and the climate.
I’ve often wondered what happened to these two young men – did their future turn out the way they wanted?
A little more enlightened about Masjid Westall and seeing Westall Secondary College and surrounds for the first time we set off for our lunch stop at Westall Hub – a place I’d never visited before the intergenerational project last year and one I’ve visited twice in the last four months!
I thought about the fuss in Bendigo about the building of the mosque and cultural centre and reflected on how many people would have driven or walked past Masjid Westall with no idea there is a welcome within if ever their curiosity needs satisfied.
Breaking Bread often Breaks The Ice!
Kingston Council hosted a lovely lunch at the Westall Hub providing a chance to sit and make conversation, get to know each other and share observations.
‘That was a while ago,’ I replied, ‘You have a good memory.’
We shared our interest and curiosity about the tour. Ann, a practising Catholic was born in Lithuania; her mother could speak seven languages and because of this Ann understood Russian. Four of the people on the bus were chatting. ‘They’re speaking Russian and probably don’t realise I understand what they were saying,’ she said with a smile.
At lunch, a lady sat down beside me, ‘Do you remember me, Mairi?’
‘When I saw you, I thought you looked familiar, but I can’t place you.’
‘I’m Honey, you came to my library and ran a couple of wonderful writing workshops.’
‘Honey! Of course, that was a long time ago – how are you?’
A small world, indeed. The phrase ‘six degrees of separation’ springs to mind. Almost two decades have passed since I ran workshops at Springvale Library. I cherish the letter of appreciation from Honey and the opportunity she gave me to improve workshop skills.
I was not a ‘big name’ author yet she gave me a chance and a paid gig!
There was only one young person under 30 travelling on the bus but a Samoan family followed in their car a father with his son and daughter who could be teens or twentysomethings.
Chatting at lunch, he was pleased I’d been to Samoa. He new Aniva’s Place where I stayed. I told him about climbing Mt Vaea and paying homage to R L Stevenson’s tomb and we discussed the contribution RLS had made to Samoa, which explained why he was so revered.
He said, ‘His greatest achievement was uniting the chiefs and teaching them to negotiate and achieve independence.’
I mentioned how much new history I’d learned when in Samoa. I had forgotten they had been a German colony and about the peaceful surrender to the British during the war.
‘My great grandfather could speak German and he was an interpreter for the German/British negotiations,‘ he said and confided his Scots ancestry – family names being Crichton and Williams!
We talked a little more about Samoa and how surprised I was at the number and variety of churches in such a small place as Apia. Religion is important to Samoans and there are many rituals, including traditional Sunday feasting.
(A later discussion with his daughter and son ranged from the problem of feral dogs to their relief Folau was Tongan, not Samoan!)
Our conversation ended with a quiz – he asked, ‘What one word did Samoa give to the English language?’
The answer, ‘Tattoo.’
My final lunchtime chat was with Dr Dinesh Sood who said, ‘I used to be a practising Hindu but now I’m a scientist,’ and a lady who used to be Russian Orthodox professed to ‘being an atheist and humanitarian‘…
I said we were an eclectic bunch.
However, what I remember most about the lunch stop happened outside when I went for a walk after spying two galahs on the power lines cuddling up to each other. They looked like a heart and I thought, what a great photo opportunity.
I walked to the edge of the car park and as I aimed my camera, I heard a distressed chirrup. I looked down and a seagull sat on the nature strip with an obvious broken wing, begging for help.
What to do?
I returned to the Hub and asked at reception for help and a wonderful young woman responded immediately, ‘I’ll get a cardboard box and rescue it.’
True to her word, she sprang into action. I watched from the bus in trepidation when her initial effort to pick up the bird caused it to scurry lopsided across the busy road. Wielding her jacket, she persisted and as trucks and cars roared past, I fretted for her safety.
‘Please be careful,’ I murmured … miraculously, the bird and rescuer made it the other side, escaping further injury. She scooped the seagull into her jacket and returned to safety when the road was clear.
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
The third visit for the day introduced a completely new church to me and again the obligatory removal of shoes.
We were met by the priest and a warm welcoming committee. There was a powerpoint presentation, also two short talks on the history and origins of what devotees regard as the first church where the name ‘Christian’ applied.
It began in Antioch, with St Peter, after the death of Christ and surviving persecution the faithful travelled to India.
The first family practising this branch of Christianity arrive in Melbourne in 2006. Since then the number of families has reached 200 and within a decade they have raised the money to build their church and also donate thousands to charity.
(They gave $20,000 to the Kerala flood victims among other causes. A generous effort for a small congregation!)
A group of dancers performed a traditional dance of celebration about a reluctant bride being convinced the wedding is a good idea!
The costumes, music and performers a delightful treat and afterwards many took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and join in discussions. I was fascinated by the striking curtains and altars – the furthest away can only be entered by the priest and designated elders, the smaller one is open to all.
Having St George and Jacobite in the name intrigued me – as a Scot, Jacobite referred to supporters of King James II of England or of the Stuarts claim to the throne. I know many Christian churches use different versions of the King James Bible as their sacred text but never realised one incorporated Jacobite in their name.
The mythology of St George predates Christianity and any stories I learnt as a child about his Christianity – light conquering darkness – were set in the 10th or 11th century, hence him becoming the patron saint of England. The origin story of this church interesting and proves religion is full of surprises.
Later, delicious and sumptuous afternoon tea made some of us reluctant to get back on the bus. We were farewelled with an unexpected gift and will certainly remember our visit!
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Our final visit for the day was another mosque and one I’d seen from the highway many times. The imposing building flying the Australian flag and one with the symbol of Islam – the star and crescent moon.
Outside, we were warmly welcomed by a teacher from an Islamic school and several students with an open invitation to ask questions and let the students be our guides.
After removing our shoes and covering heads, we sat and listened to a welcome speech by the Imam and a young female student. The Imam’s mobile phone rang, ‘Excuse me, could be Jesus calling,‘ he said.
I love his sense of humour! In fact, laughter and smiles a significant part of the day in all the places we visited.
After the phone call, he continued with his explanation of the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah (Creed), Salat (Prayer), Zakay (Almsgiving), Fasting and Pilgrimage (Hajj) and a brief history of the mosque and fielded questions before inviting us on a tour.
The art and woodwork stunning inside the mosque. Most of the artisanship done locally, some imports from Turkey. The ceiling magnificent, the chandelier adorned with a Qur’anic verse in Muhammed’s favourite colour, green.
Oh, I didn’t know he was Irish,’ I quipped and my young guide laughed. She pointed out the balcony upstairs where women worship and explained the delicacy of the stencilling on the ceiling and how time-consuming the job was for the artist.
The colours, designs, placement of artefacts, windows, doors, balcony – all hold symbolic meaning. There are three places where the imam can preach depending on the number of devotees. There is a beautiful raised staircase with detailed carving and inlays.
One of the young students sang a prayer and it reminded me of being in R L Stevenson’s house in Samoa and the young guide singing a verse of his favourite hymn. Another memorable experience was being alone in the church at Hermannsburg Mission, Central Australia and Jan Cornell, the leader of the group I was with sang to test the acoustics.
The unaccompanied human voice raised in a song of praise can be truly beautiful.
Our visit coincided with one of the regular prayer times and the Imam excused himself to attend to several men waiting to pray. We sat up the back in silent contemplation.
I don’t know what the others were thinking but as I watched the prayer ritual it struck me how vulnerable these men were and how trusting. They didn’t know any of us but believed they were in a safe space just like those worshippers in Christchurch and many other places where people have been attacked.
Their trust, vulnerability, and devotion humbling.
We trooped outside for the last few photographs and the bus journey home. If there are different places on the list, I look forward to joining another tour.
No one tried to convert me and I had no epiphany, just interesting conversations and experiences to mull over and deposit in my memory bank.
Many local councils and state governments acknowledge there is a crisis, even if our Federal Government doesn’t.
We have created havoc by over-consumption and disregarding how to responsibly dispose of man-made materials like plastics, radioactive waste and other byproducts of industrialisation and general pollution.
How can an individual help repair the damage to the environment?
The slogan developed years ago for tourists – take only photos and leave only footprints – should be expanded and applied to our everyday life.
Some communities are running out of places to safely put landfill and countries that bought our rubbish (yep – we exported our trash to China and Malaysia among others!) recognise this practice is not good for their populations.
Australia and the U.S.A as the biggest culprits in this region have been forced to rethink and find other solutions.
More than ever there is pressure for citizens to be more pro-active about reducing waste and also to recycle, reuse and repurpose.
Consumers have demanded plastic bag free supermarkets, returnable deposit cans and bottles, no more plastic straws, refillable cups and most of all reduced packaging – and gradually the corporate world is responding.
There is always more to do…
I live in the City of Kingston and am grateful we have a recycling program and they are looking at ways to not only improve services to citizens but educate people on how to reduce their rubbish.
Currently, I pay rates for three rubbish bins: one for recycling of glass, tins, cardboard, paper and some plastics, one for recycling green waste – grass clippings, weeds and small tree branches, and one for general rubbish that goes into landfill.
Can We Recycle More Efficiently?
I was thrilled that Kingston Council is helping citizens learn the alternatives to filling garbage bins.
In the near future, they are trialling an organic food collection, which may happen once a week – and be introduced in January 2020. For progress check the ‘Waste” page on the City of Kingston website and Back to Earth videos explaining the programme.
This new food bin will be a compost bin and it will go to a commercial facility with a 5 day turn around and sent to farmers to fertilise their land.
Contamination will be a huge issue and so the Council aims to have an intensive education program for citizens.
They have chosen this path rather than a compost hub except for access by community gardens.
You Can Be Pro-Active Now
An alternative that can be done immediately is to start your own compost at home and there will be no need to have Council collect your food scraps!
I took advantage of one of the free workshops being run to encourage people to recycle their food waste at home and turn it into compost.
I hope to spend more time in the garden and aim to create a more productive veggie patch and more flowers and want to make my own good quality compost.
Any gardener will tell you great outcomes begin with the quality of the soil – and the best soil is obtained from compost.
Plants grown in healthy soil have fewer problems with disease and pests – and that goes for vegetables as well as flowers.
Good soil contains organic matter – worm castings, decomposed leaves and remains of organisms such as insects, fungi, and bacteria. Replenishing organic matter essential – and what better way than to use your own compost.
Free: Beginners Composting, Worm Farming and Bokashi Workshop
Last Tuesday evening, I attended a workshop on Composting – it was International Composting Awareness Week.
I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?
The young woman presenting is a Waste Education Officer for Kingston, a consultant to many councils and her wages paid for by JJ Richards & Sons, an Australian owned and operated family business providing innovative waste management solutions throughout Australia since 1932.
It is one of the largest privately-owned waste management companies in Australia and provides recycling, sanitary and green waste collection services.
I believe they may have more or less a monopoly on garbage collection in Melbourne and also operate in other states.
Freya said she was the one leading a team in Kingston, wearing HiVis vests and shorts, who inspect the bins on recycling day. They put a good or bad sticker on the lids to encourage people to do the right thing.
They also sort through rubbish periodically to determine what education packages may be used to determine solutions to our ever-growing rubbish problem.
“If you get a Well Done sticker on your bin, leave it there to encourage others,’ said Freya. “And if you get a Warning sticker, you won’t be fined but please try and do better!”
The bin inspection program her idea, plus the use of stickers. As a multicultural city, Freya said she is aware of a lack of English language skills, which creates a barrier in the community.
Therefore, a message about what can be recycled is often misunderstood if only written in English. The stickers can be understood by everyone.
The clarity of the message will reduce costs to the Council and ratepayers.
When I was young, I remember you got money back on glass bottles and we scoured the countryside looking for abandoned empties to return and get pocket money.
For some reason (most probably someone decided it was less profitable) the practice was stopped in Victoria. I also remember when the girls were in school in the late 80s early 90s, collecting aluminium cans was popular to raise money.
In fact, it was a good fundraiser for many charities but they competed with those on a low income who trawled the rubbish bins.
Returnable deposit schemes work in other states and countries – here is a goodnatured way of encouraging recycling I snapped in the Orkneys – the bins were outside a club.
Freya has also initiated an effective School Program about recycling and composting so hopefully future generations will be more aware, if they are not already, of the fragility of the environment and the need for sustainability.
Many schools in the municipality have vegetable gardens, compost bins, water tanks, worm farms, hens… the children are aware of the importance of recycling to the environment that it becomes second nature.
When I asked about reducing the amount of hard rubbish left on nature strips by people moving out or just dumping stuff, Freya said she is trialling a program in partnership with Diabetes Australia, to pick up and recycle goods abandoned by International Students at end of semester departures and readvertise them to others arriving.
This program once established can be spread throughout Melbourne.
A friend and past student who lives in the City of Glen Eira will be extremely happy to learn this because she often lamented that her street, which has many small apartment blocks, often looks like a tip because of the high turnover of renters, who are invariably international students attending Monash University.
She often commented that much of the furniture and household goods are top quality and could be reused but are left on nature strips to be collected as rubbish.
The Cost To The Community of Dumping
The workshop I attended limited to 30 people because of the availability of space and was booked out but another one will be held on June 27.
I was pleased to see grey heads like mine but also young couples, teenagers and middle-aged – a good selection of ratepayers all wanting to learn more about recycling food waste and other organic matter.
There was a collective gasp when Freya told us that illegal dumping of rubbish was costing Kingston $203,000 per annum until she analysed the pick-ups and discovered there were three streets in Clayton South accounting for $100,000 of that figure!
Security cameras were installed and the cost reduced to $26,000 with the Clayton South area reduced to $10,000. (Whether the cost of installing and monitoring the security cameras is included, I don’t know but it is still a massive reduction!)
Freya said viewing the camera footage to get the car number plates of the culprits to issue infringement notices (and hopefully recoup some costs!) revealed awkward moments.
A truck pulled up and dumped a massive tyre but when the driver saw the camera he retrieved the tyre and drove off – not before his number plate recorded.
Another person was caught doing the toilet on a nature strip!
The car number plates showed that many of the people who dumped were from a mixture of businesses, lived out of town, and were not all locals.
Perhaps we need more provocative murals like this one I saw in Canberra above a row of bins marked for recycling – the quote says:
“Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.”Hunter S Thompson
Change Habits To Save Habitats
Bali’s beaches are drowning in litter
Debris piles where no butterflies flitter
Apocalypse fed –
but the solution is not storming Twitter
The main culprit named is plastic
a product we embraced as fantastic
but it resists decay
and won’t go away
The destruction of marine life tragic!
Fast food a convenience we craved
Marketing gurus constantly raved
Junk created ignored
As rubbish was poured
Into the environment, we should have saved.
Who profits from accumulated trash?
Is life on Earth worth less than cash?
Consumers fed lies
While pollution spreads like a rash!
What species destroys its own nest
Where standards should be the best?
‘Away’ doesn’t exist
Rubbish isn’t a mist
We create it, so must produce less!
‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ a catch cry
This must be reality or we all die
The coral withers
Our PM dithers
Climate change deniers watch Earth fry.
To the tourists who boast loving Bali –
Has your behaviour increased the tally?
Of beach debris
Polluting the sea
Leave only footprints when you dally!!
Bali’s problem is really worldwide
from culpability, no one can hide
It starts with a ‘me’
I hope becomes ‘we’
From today let’s take the Earth’s side.
Approximately 50% of the waste that goes into your garbage bin could be composted.
When sent to landfill, food and garden waste produces methane – a harmful greenhouse gas.
This waste represents 3% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, we are all contributing to climate change.
If you compost, the environmental benefits are:
extend the life of the landfill sites
decrease greenhouse gas emissions
If you compost, the gardening benefits are:
improve soil structure
chemical free fertiliser
increase the yield of crops
Freya explained what composting is and how it is created and there were leaflets available to take home, and examples of the type of compost bins. Several participants shared opinions and experiences of the different methods and different bins.
‘I’m not an expert,‘ said Freya as she encouraged people to share their knowledge, ‘and always learn something at every workshop.’
I loved the generosity of those present sharing tips about where to get containers to use as compost bins or worm farms.
Freya had brought along some examples of the bins to show us plus a worm farm, which a lucky audience member won.
Freya explained, with illustrations, how to get started setting up a bin (these leaflets are available from the City of Kingston) and give us the ADAM recipe on how to compost successfully:
You need a mixture of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon-rich) organic waste materials. The ratio being 3:1
GREEN – fresh grass clippings, fruit & vegetable scraps, bread (this may attract mice), tea leaves, coffee grounds, hair, vacuum dust, manure – vegetarian, weeds.
BROWN – tree prunings, dry grass clippings, straw, hay, cane mulch, dry leaves, bark, egg cartons, paper (serviettes, tissues…)
Other useful ingredients: wood ash, lime, egg shells, dolomite, blood and bone, dynamic lifter, soil.
A compost bin replicates what happens in the rainforest. Compost will be ready after 3-4 months.
Poking and mixing compost helps with aeration and decomposition to produce a good compost mix. Save your back by investing in a Compost mate for $20 to stir everything up!
to avoid rats place chicken wire under the bin before you start filling.
weeds can produce seeds – kill these in a black garbage bag first before adding to the compost or you could be spreading weeds throughout your garden beds.
instead of buying expensive conditioner use crushed eggshells instead – Google and there will be 1000s of opinions and bits of advice!
remember if you add citrus worms will not go near it
if you set the bins up in winter, it is colder and so add a few weeks or months to breakdown time
too many ants in the bin is a sign the compost is too dry so sprinkle with water
don’t let the compost get too dry and you will prevent fruit fly and other flies
keep mixing regularly to stop it getting too wet or too dry
the smaller the pieces the quicker it will break down – blend food or cut up to small pieces
bins like a lid!
She provided a troubleshooting guide but said if in doubt always return to ADAM!
A Plea for Earth Day
Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe And yet, we take its bounty for granted Really, we are running out of time To heal and save this damaged miracle How foolish we are to ignore the signs Do nothing is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc
My knowledge of worm farms negligible and this was the part of the evening I found most interesting. As far as recycling and limiting my environmental footprint is concerned, I have been doing that most of my life.
I had good teachers because my parents lived through the Great Depression and WW2 in the UK and brought us up with the mantra ‘waste not, want not’.
We were a working-class family, Mum saved and reused string, wrapping paper, jam jars; we wore or used things until they could no longer be handed down, or mended; our backyard grew potatoes and other vegetables, plums were turned into jam, hens provided eggs and ate scraps, and if by some miracle there was food left over, instead of compost, it was added to the plates of our pet dogs and cats.
But worm farming?
Didn’t know that was a ‘thing’ until the 1990s. I remember seeing a lot of wriggling worms at Collingwood Children’s Farm when the girls were on a school excursion and I went along as a parent helper. They were not in containers but eating their way through compost between two sheets of dark tarpaulin-like material.
The image has stayed with me but I never thought it was something I’d have at home.
When I worked at Bentleigh, one of my writing students talked about her worm farm but beyond that whenever someone mentions worms I think of a poem by Edward Larson and a song by ‘Unknown’ that I learnt at school and used to sing around the campfire when a Girl Guide:
Ooey Gooey Worm
Ooey Gooey was a worm
A wiggly worm was he
He climbed upon the railroad tracks
The train he did not see…
…OOOOOEEEE GOOOOEEE GOO!
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
because I go and eat worms,
Long, thin, slimy ones;
Short, fat, juicy ones,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
Down goes the first one,
down goes the second one,
Oh, how they wiggle and squirm.
Up comes the first one,
up comes the second one,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
At the workshop, Freya explained the advantages of worm farms:
ideal for homes with small yards or no gardens and for apartment balconies, courtyards
designed primarily for food scraps
faster process than composting
produce rich castings (vermicast)
and produces liquid fertiliser
it compliments garden waste compost – so keep fruit and veg for worms
you need 500-1000 worms to start (borrow from friends farms or buy from Bunnings)
Worms are hermaphrodites
there are 3 different types of worms for compost: Tiger worms, Indian Blues and Red Wrigglers
they don’t like sunlight or excess heat
coffee speeds up the composting process
worms don’t have teeth so cut food into small pieces or blend it before adding to speed up the process
worms eat their body weight in 24 hours
A ring around a worm like a saddle is holding up to 10 worm babies
worm populations double every 2-3 months
their life cycle is 2-3 years
worms don’t smell so can be kept indoors
if going on holiday leave bigger pieces – it takes worms approximately 8 weeks to munch through average organic waste
they will eat each other
drain the farm regularly
if the worm farm dies it may because too hot so always keep in shade (a dead worm farm smells disgusting! Freya said she’d rather sort through rubbish bins than cope with that smell!)
add ice cubes on a really hot day
if worms gather on the lid they are predicting rain
if in a big ball they are stressed and it’s not a good sign
if you want them to move into a particular area to remove worm castings then use citrus peels and they’ll move to avoid this
Worm farms are in layers: always have a dark lid
separate layers of food scraps and organic waste
the middle layer is where worms live and travel up through holes for food
the bottom layer is for worm castings and fertiliser
drill at least 12 holes to allow worms to move between layers – on a sunny day they will burrow down deeper
Australian worms cope with drought and are therefore slow eaters so use imported worms from South America to start your farm
don’t put tea bags with plastic tags into a worm bin
by a bedding block made from coconut husk, soak in a bucket of water and use this to cover the first layer of your farm – add layers and/or trays one at a time once full of food and ALWAYS blanket on top this will keep out direct sunlight. Can use an old carpet in winter or add coffee to get the worms active
Setting Up A Farm
Buy or build one from plastic tubs
begin with 1000 worms (bought or gifted from friends)
choose a shaded area sheltered from direct sunlight and heavy rain
line the tray with moist ‘bedding’ or newspaper
distribute the bedding and worms covering each layer with moistened paper
let worms settle for a week before feeding them
Keep the worms happy by always maintaining: Drainage, Acidity, Air, Food and Temperature
The final choice of the evening regarding composting was a Bokashi Bucket – probably the least popular method with only myself and two others admitting to having one. I haven’t used mine since I returned from overseas so maybe I shouldn’t count myself.
Bokashi is a convenient and environmentally friendly way to compost kitchen waste and it will compost almost all of your food waste – prepared foods, cooked or uncooked, meats and fish, cheese, eggs and eggshells, bread, fruit and vegetables, coffee grinds and tea leaves and bags, wilted flowers and tissues.
DO NOT put dog or cat faeces, bones or excessive liquid in the Bokashi Bucket – for these items a Biodegradable Cornstarch Bag if used, will help break them down in landfill.
5-Step Process To Use Bokashi Bucket
Place bin close to where food produced (kitchen bench, under the sink, laundry.) Put drain plate supplied with the kit at the bottom of the bin to allow excess liquid to drain.
Sprinkle a small amount of special BOKASHI MIX onto the drain plate. Add your food waste/scraps. Even paper and meat.
At the end of each day, compress the waste with the mashing utensil provided or your own tool if you’ve made a bin for yourself. This removes air pockets and then sprinkle some Bokashi Mix lightly covering the surface of the waste. Reseal lid so that it is airtight.
Once or twice a week drain the liquid from the bin. Repeat the filling process until the bin is full, which for an average family is just under a month. Feed the garden with the drained liquid (fertiliser) after adding water at a ratio 1:100. (Beware it is very strong fertiliser!)
When the bucket is full, empty the contents into a small hole or trench in your garden, or add to your compost bin. The waste will be fermented but not broken down, to do that it needs soil. (If you have an inquisitive dog like me, dig that hole deep!)
Rinse the bucket with water, no detergent or soap, drain and repeat process. You may have to check the tap at the bottom to drain does not get clogged. Also shop around for Bokashi Mix, which can be expensive but necessary because it contains effective micro-organisms. It is usually a combination of wheat bran and rice husks that have been sprayed.
The microbes have been organically certified by both NASAA and the BFA if you buy the mix from reputable outlets.
If there is no rotting odour, the Bokashi Bin is working well. The waste inside should go foul in a day or two and even produce white mould. Always mash down well, also drain properly. It is the fermentation process that is turning the waste into a rich soil conditioner
If the mould is green or black and the Bokashi begins to smell, then tip the contents out, wash bin and begin again.
4-6 weeks after the compost has been buried, it may be dug up and used on garden beds.
Of all the composting methods, the Bokashi Bucket is probably the most expensive setting-up and with ongoing costs. However, Freya gave leaflets out (and these can be easily downloaded) with DIY options.
An ice-cream container works just as well
You may get a food caddy free from the council when they introduce recycling food waste but the problem with anything free or discounted is that it can end up abandoned on the nature strip.
Compost Revolution (check online) may give a discount
I think it is safe to say that everyone left the evening inspired and determined – I know I’m certainly more confident in making the right choice and being pro-active in reducing landfill and may restart using my Bokashi Bucket!
There were some great suggestions about DIY compost receptacles – including a worm farm in an old chest of drawers!
Dog Poo – And Other Unmentionables
Polystyrene can’t be recycled in Victoria but the large rectangular containers are good to make your own worm farm.
There is still no recycling of dog poo or even special bins for collection, like in other countries – and even other councils.
Stonnington has special bins and bags available. And I saw many bins in the UK as far back as the 90s.
When I mentioned this to Freya, she said Australia was about 10 years behind many other countries.
Cultural change is slow but I guess we will get there eventually – especially with education officers like Freya and programs initiated by progressive local governments.
Meanwhile, we can all do what we can to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REPURPOSE and COMPOST!
And keep our fingers crossed Federal politicians catch up!
The older my children become, and as I age, the intensity of love for them deepens. I think of them every day, confirming the feelings and wisdom my own mother shared with me in the months before her death in 2009, aged eighty-nine.
She talked about her fears for my brother, George who was undergoing treatment for Leukaemia and said,
‘Loving and mothering is a lifetime responsibility – your children should never die before you. It’s not right.’
I have close friends who have lost adult children. They confirm the truth of Mum’s observation and I know each day for those friends getting up and coping with daily life is a struggle and testament to their resilience to ‘continue and carry on with life’ the way their loved ones would wish. The lead-up and actual celebration of days like today must be particularly difficult and my heart goes out to them.
‘She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.’
Margaret Culkin Banning
When I decided to have a baby I was thirty-two and didn’t truly understand how profound becoming a parent would be personally or the effect on relationships with family, friends – and even strangers.
Born in the 1950s and part of Women’s Liberation in the late 60s and 70s, I was still expected to follow the ‘normal’ path of marrying and having children. It wasn’t my sole aim in life and I didn’t actively plan it but I went with the flow after meeting John and neither of us challenged the system, except I eschewed a white wedding and expensive reception and chose to marry in the garden of the house we bought together and party afterwards with many of the guests ‘bringing a plate’!
On reflection, I can say becoming a mother was the most exhaustive (and exhausting) change in my life – and continues to be – as long as my daughters and I remain intertwined.
I could write a lot about the picture of me in the early days of my daughter Anne’s homecoming – the congratulatory cards still visible, the dessert and glass of wine husband John prepared sitting untouched, me in an exhausted sleep all new mothers know well…
I salute my own mother for her guidance, values, and many examples of mothering. How she coped with six of us I will never know! I remember ringing her up and asking her once, after a particularly trying day with a baby plus toddler, ‘How are you still sane?“
I know that the deep love and bond I had with her is one of the reasons a loving bond with my daughters came easily.
There are similarities and huge differences regarding how Mum and I parented but not in attitude and determination to be loving and loyal whenever needed. We were both extremely lucky to be with partners we loved (Mum had Dad and I had John).
Partners who wanted children and were supportive, partners unafraid to share the household chores and unglamorous aspects of parenting and in my case, I know, a partner who cherished me and never stopped showing it.
John had been married before and so to a certain extent ‘knew the ropes’ regarding parenting so I was lucky. Although being present at the birth of both our girls, a totally new experience for him just as having me, a feminist as a partner, also a new experience!
In this picture, we are pregnant and ecstatic.
‘Say, what is the spell, when her fledgelings are cheeping, That lures the bird home to her nest? Or wakes the tired mother whose infant is weeping, To cuddle and croon it to rest? For I’m sure it is nothing but Love!’
Cheryl, now my ex-sister-in-law was a friend as well as part of the extended family in 1986. She produced the first of the next generation for our branch of the McInnes Clan in Australia in 1979 and the only ‘modern mum’ I’d observed firsthand.
She visited me in Jessie McPherson Hospital, Lonsdale Street, shortly after Anne’s birth. Into my ear, she whispered, ‘Welcome to the club.’
Her brown and my hazel eyes met as she squeezed my arm gently and with the still vivid memory of that miraculous moment when I held Anne to my breast for the first time, I knew exactly what she meant – becoming a mother, accepting the responsibility for another human being is transformational and understood by other mothers.
My first little ray of sunshine born after an emergency dash to Jessie Mac’s in Lonsdale Street at 3.00am, May 24, 1986.
John tailgated a taxi breaking the speed limit ( ‘they know the fastest route and where all the coppers and cameras are’ ). We hit no red lights and made the city in record time.
Three hours later Anne Courtney Neil arrived, three weeks earlier than expected but wide-eyed and ready to take on the world!
When I took Anne home from the hospital little did I know she had a hole in the heart – not discovered for almost twelve months, and then only by the extra diligence of a young doctor on work experience at the local clinic!
I still have cold sweats in the middle of the night when I think of the operation she had for ‘sticky-eye’ and a blocked tear duct when she was barely two months old, the eye specialist and the anaesthetist completely unaware of her heart condition.
There were the usual childhood accidents and illnesses too. The catastrophes that send mothers into a spin, fearful for the child’s wellbeing and welfare – Anne had no broken bones (Mary Jane delivered that excitement) but one day she bit hard and severed her tongue when she collided with a large wooden rocking horse.
I rushed to the local GP at the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets, in my slippers, wheeling five-year-old Anne in her sister’s pusher and carrying a protesting Mary Jane under my arm.
I’d stuffed a wet face-washer in Anne’s mouth to hold the tongue together and stem the bleeding (‘excellent response’ according to the doctor).
The trail of blood in the house and garden that greeted John when he rushed home after receiving a garbled message from his receptionist made him imagine a severed limb and he almost fainted. (The tongue does bleed profusely!)
However, he too praised my quick action racing to the surgery rather than ringing an ambulance or panicking. (That and delayed shock came later!)
Sometimes we amaze ourselves how we react and cope as parents.
Mary Jane’s birth in 1989, a more traumatic and dramatic story.
She arrived more than a week early and I barely got to Mordialloc Hospital in time for delivery sending the nursing staff into a flap. To this day she is known as ‘the baby born during the tea break’ arriving less than fifteen minutes after I walked through the front door.
John and Dr Ferguson arrived at the hospital just in time for delivery and I’m sure if there had been more traffic police on duty in those days, both would have been booked for speeding – perhaps even reckless driving.
Adding to the drama, Mary Jane breathed the meconium and amniotic fluid mixture into her lungs while in the womb and was born with the umbilical cord around her neck prompting a nurse to say, ‘Oh, she’s dead.’
The baby rushed to an incubator and the nurse reprimanded while everyone in the room paused for a moment taking stock of a miracle birth indeed! I went into shock and apparently kept asking John if I’d had a baby until they brought Mary Jane to me to be cuddled and fed!
Later, Mary Jane broke her arm in a ‘monkey bar’ accident at primary school but the seriousness of the fracture ignored by teachers who left her in Sick Bay while they tried to contact me or John and ‘ask what to do’ instead of taking her to a doctor or ringing an ambulance.
Our membership in the ambulance service and private health insurance on record and you can imagine the tongue lashing the administration of the school received from me.
Fortunately, a friend volunteering for reading duty noticed Mary Jane’s distress and demanded action; unfortunately, the delay and subsequent treatment at Sandringham public hospital during the upheaval of the Kennett years meant the arm was badly set and needed to be re-broken weeks later – this was done by a specialist at Como Hospital in Parkdale.
Sadly, Sandringham botched another operation when MJ was in her 20s, damaging her bowel when they discovered endometriosis during a routine operation to remove an ovarian cyst. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice??
Often at night, I close my eyes and recall the horror of seeing my daughter with multiple tubes hanging from her young body. Flushed, in pain despite high doses of morphine, and unaware of the emergency operation, she murmured through an oxygen mask, ‘What happened?’
The déjà vu of the multiple traumas she has suffered weighs heavily on my heart. I have often wished for a magic wand to reverse the hurts or give my daughters the happiness and pain-free world of fairytales.
Motherhood exposes your deepest fears and inadequacies but it also helps you gain courage and grow – as Sophocles said, ‘Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.’
Whenever my girls have been ill, in pain, troubled or suffering, I’ve wanted a magic wand to remove their misfortune or possess the ability to swap places and take away their discomfort. Instead, reality over fantasy, I’ve ‘gone into bat’ for them and fought school and government authorities, bullies, and anyone else who needed to be held accountable.
Like a lioness, I will fiercely fight to protect and defend. These skills and determination I learnt from own mother – she may have been barely five foot tall but her love and commitment to all six of her children taught me to be courageous and resilient regarding caring and coping as a parent.
‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.’
Motherhood indeed the most emotional and enlightened transformation for me. Everything I’ve read, shared, learnt and absorbed about other women’s experiences reveals none of our journeys is exactly the same or can be predicted.
There are similarities, but it is a unique life-changing event filled with joys and sorrows, calm and turbulent seas, problems and solutions, holding tight and letting go, embarrassing moments and moments of pride and satisfaction.
‘The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.’
Honore de Balzac
Around the world, mothers worry about their inadequacies, feel overwhelmed and many like me who became a single parent because our partner died carry guilt about not coping or spending enough time as the ‘default’ parent.
(John died when Anne was sixteen and Mary Jane thirteen – I think most will agree parenting adolescents is tough with two concerned parents, with one, I can assure you, it is challenging and at times very lonely!)
Frustration, financial stress, fear of failure or making mistakes – subjects often discussed between friends, family and in some cases counsellors.
Nurturing has never stopped from their early childhood…
From miraculous beginnings to challenging responsibilities, navigating hopes and dreams, disasters and near misses, parenting has been rewarding, scary, comical, confronting, but most of all fulfilling.
My life has had a purpose and I’ve experienced and continue to experience a wonderful mutual love.
I am so lucky my girls as young women still want to visit and ‘hang out’ with me, travel together, see movies, play board games, walk the dog, shop, discuss and debate, laugh and even party with me.
They are friends as well as daughters, and often the nurturing role has been reversed – especially when I had breast cancer and now as I age and have lost some confidence about decision-making for the future.
At the beginning of my writing career, at the launch of my first poetry book, I said children were the inspiration and reason I wrote and also the reason I didn’t write because motherhood is time-consuming.
Over the years, especially caring for John, I can substitute family instead of mothering but I wouldn’t really have life any other way. Loving and knowing John and our daughters have enriched me and made me the person I am today.
I hope I’ve helped add two more productive, caring citizens to the community. I’m grateful that feminism has wrought changes in society and many of the preconceptions about women and their destiny are no longer peddled – my girls have choices their grandmothers didn’t.
My Mum won a scholarship to college in Northern Ireland but her stepmother wouldn’t let her continue with study and ordered her out to work, then came WW2, the ATS and then nursing. Her stymied educational opportunities were what motivated Mum to encourage all six of her own children to study and seek suitable qualifications for what we wanted to be.
I was the first in my family to go to university and I only wish mum could have witnessed me returning to study at 57 years old and gaining a Masters degree in Writing and her two granddaughters earn Bachelor degrees.
Always my wish has been happiness and good health for both girls – to be whatever they want to be and find contentment and fulfilment in their choices.
We are so fortunate to live in Australia and have the privileges we do and I’m glad both daughters are aware they stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, that there are still hurdles to leap, and they will always strive to ‘go higher’ and seek equity for themselves and for so many others not as fortunate.
I am happy they will follow their mother as I followed my mother in fighting for social justice.
‘Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’ s secret hope outlives them all.’
Last Saturday, I caught up with my two sisters in the city – Cate had come down from Albury for the annual quilt show at the Exhibition Buildings and Rita and I met her at Southern Cross to spend a few hours together.
The sculpture above an apt metaphor because with the disruptions to the rail system there were replacement buses for me and delays for both my sisters. Lots of comings and goings!
Ironically, I thought I’d be late but the connection from Moorabbin to the Arts Centre by express bus was seamless and I was the first to arrive at our designated rendezvous.
Cate’s VLine delayed by a signal failure outside Seymour and Rita’s train on the Lilydale Line sat at Flinders Street ‘forever’ before continuing onto Southern Cross.
First stop, of course, was a cuppa to catch up and plan our day – my sisters would go into the quilt show for a couple of hours and I’d go into the museum opposite.
They are both into a craft and excellent sewers and knitters. However, sister Cate hadn’t entered a quilt panel this year, so I opted to catch the latest exhibition ‘From the Heart’ at Museums Victoria which focused on the regeneration of communities after the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires.
At Moorabbin, I had got on a crowded bus because I was prepared to stand and so ended up close and personal with a bloke from Sydney who accepted the offer too.
It became one of those random meetings that turn into a happy memory.
He was from NSW and we chatted all the way into the city comparing Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne won! He hadn’t been here for 30 years but couldn’t believe how much it had changed – and he loved it.
‘I met my wife here – the only good thing about the place all those years ago. It was grey, grey, grey and boring.‘
A bit harsh, I thought but then he admitted being born and bred in the Blue Mountains and still living there.
‘I sit on the verandah with my coffee and listen to the birds and watch the sunrise or sunset transform the mountains and trees.’
The journey then became a mutual admiration society – we covered climate change, the troglodytes in the LNP, the need to change the rules and reintroduce fairness and the lack of good social interaction and communication in the age of people being constantly plugged in and tuned out.
He envied Melburnites because despite disruptions our transport system ‘still worked and your Premier finishes things.’ He was impressed by our replacement services.
I envied him living in the Blue Mountains and told him one of my never to be realised dreams was ‘to afford a writers’ retreat at Varuna.
We parted ways and as I walked towards Flinders Street and paused to admire the beauty of Birrarung Marr, I appreciated again, the joy of living in ‘the world’s most liveable city’ with many public gardens and parks, heritage buildings and great facilities.
We can explore or retreat to beautiful places with our children and friends to enjoy the outdoors if we don’t have our own garden.
There are so many delightful places the public can access to reinforce an important connection to Nature that nurtures happiness and belonging.
Melbourne Museum – An Undervalued Gem
I spent a relaxing two hours in a garden often overlooked and yet it is not only delightful but educational because it is part of the Melbourne Museum and alongside other amazing exhibitions it tells the story of our country from the perspective of our First Peoples and highlights the strong relationship they have with the land – a relationship developed over thousands of years.
Silence and solitude are invaluable, offering time and space to reflect and contemplate. And in the Milarri Garden, there are plenty of rest stops where visitors can take time out, similar to the benefits of visiting Mingary in the heart of Melbourne.
Milarri is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal community. It is planted with trees and shrubs used by Indigenous people for food, technology and medicine, and promotes an understanding of Aboriginal people and their culture.
Every sign naming the plants has the Aboriginal name too if known. Milarri is from the Woi-wurrung language and means ‘outside’. Wominjeka is a Woi-wurrung word for welcome.
You discover the plants by walking a pathway that wends its way to the Forest Gallery and you are advised to watch your step because the rocks can be uneven and slippery so always remain on the path.
Also, the museum being, child-friendly as a number one priority, there are signs warning against eating and touching the plants – some of them may be poisonous if consumed. There is a water feature with eels, fish, ducks and turtles and a sign warns that eels bite.
Sometimes, when I see these signs asking for behaviour, which I deem common sense, I wonder if respect has been thrown out the window. Fortunately, on Saturday, everyone I met or observed behaved impeccably!
When you walk through the garden, you leave behind the noise of the city, the irritations, any personal worries and concerns…
The garden seems soundproofed and it is easy to absorb the serenity as well as appreciate the knowledge held by the oldest living culture in the world.
Feed your spirit.
Near the entrance, there were two exhibitions reinforcing the wonderful gift our First Peoples want to share:
Sometimes we need to reinforce the positive messages and lessons learned in childhood. Those idyllic days when we played outside in the fresh air.
We need to take time from the busyness of our lives to reconnect with the earth and a ‘green’ place where we belong.
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!”
Places and experiences that provide comfort and joy and a host of memories – all valuable contributions to health and wellbeing.
Milarri Garden is one of many places for a writer to observe the changes wrought by each season and perhaps acknowledge the changes in our life or the lives of characters in our stories.
Every culture has folklore and stories and we are fortunate in Australia to reap the benefit of the richness of many cultures from our First Peoples to the various ethnic groups and races who now call Australia home.
In Milarri, there is a sculpture, Biamie the Rainbow Serpent, by Clive Atkison and Dominic Benhura. Clive is a Yorta Yorta artist from northern Victoria and Dominic is a Shona artist from Zimbabwe. They collaborated on the artwork in 1999.
For Clive, the snake is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, and the paved concentric circles represent harmony, strength and unity.
The sculpture reflects his respect for the wisdom and guidance of his elders.
There was also an area where paintings on the rock told a story of the trail and the animals to be found in the habitat.
When I meandered through the garden at the Museum, I was fascinated to read the Aboriginal names for plants I recognised as being indigenous to Mordialloc.
Bradshaw Park, Mordialloc is an example of grassy woodland consisting of a lower storey of native grasses, sedges, rushes, lilies and small shrubs.
Grassy Woodland has a middle storey of shrubs and small trees with a scattered dominant tree completing the upper storey. The dominant tree species at the time of European invasion and settlement would have been the Coast Manna Gum.
The Manna Gum, Wurun, in Wurundjeri was enjoyed as a food source by the Aborigines and early settlers. The sap dries into hard sugary drops that fall to the ground – ‘manna from heaven’!
The bark comes off the tree’s pale trunk in long ribbons and the wood used to make implements such as shields and wooden water bowls called tarnuksby Victorian Aborigines. the long thin leaves were smoked over a fire to lessen fever.
There are over 800 different wattle species in Australia and several species grow in Bradshaw Park. Wattle, karook, gum was an important food for the Boon wurrung as well as being used as a glue or cement. Taken as a medicine, the gum helped treat dysentery or was applied to wounds.
Wattleseed is high in protein and carbohydrate – the green seed pods were cooked and eaten, and dry seeds ground into flour.
Plants were used for many other things besides food. When collected, the long leaves of sedges, rushes and lilies made baskets and mats. Soaked and beaten to free the fibres they made string. The inner bark of some wattle trees also made string.
Kangaroo grass, wooloot in Gunditjmara, was common in Victoria’s low-lying plains but grazing animals quickly destroyed much of this. The Boon wurrung used the grass to make fishing nets, using the leaves and the stem to make string. The seeds can be ground into flour.
Common sedge, poong’ort in Djabwurrung were made into capes and worn around the neck to cure toothache.
Sweet pittosporum, bart-bart in Gunai/Kurnai language, has a sticky substance around its seed and this is used to relieve insect stings. The inner bark is used for string.
Even the humble pigface, gadwud in Gunai/Kurnai has fruit that can be eaten raw. New leaves are eaten raw or cooked and sap from leaves can be used to treat insect stings and small cuts.
The flax lily, murmbai, in Gunditjmara is also found in Mordialloc and the fibre from strap-like leaves can make string and baskets. The fibre in the leaf makes a strong cord.
The drooping she-oak, gneering, inGunditjmara provides hardwood for making implements such as boomerangs, shields and clubs. The young shoots chewed to relieve thirst and the cones can be eaten.
Usually, it was the women who collected vegetable foods and trapped small animals, while men hunted the larger animals. Depending on the time of year groups of hunters and gatherers went out each day to spend 4-6 hours collecting food.
Children went with their mothers to learn where to find plants, which ones to eat and how to forage. Finding food involved everyone, and all learned the skills necessary to hunt and gather. All the food was shared.
The First Peoples knew the land and it provided them with a variety of food to produce a well-balanced diet. They were not undernourished or deprived and had the kind of diet we are encouraged to follow today.
They ate fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish. The meat from wild birds and animals was lean and low in fat. Their lifestyle included plenty of exercise, particularly walking and of course, they got plenty of fresh air.
The Aboriginal people have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment. Their seasonal calendar encompasses seven seasons. Each season marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather coinciding with the life cycle of animals and plants.
For our sustainability and survival, we need to take heed of the knowledge our First People possess and value our environment. If some of the catastrophic predictions regarding climate change are correct, we may appreciate the medicinal, edible and practical qualities of many of the plants we have ignored or wantonly destroyed.
After the tragedy of the 2009 bushfires, acknowledgement of the importance of learning from First Peoples and allowing them to continue their stewardship of the land has been an important step.
If you can’t visit From the Heart you can access online a mini digital exhibition of the Victorian Bushfires Collection, Curious?
But you can improve your health and wellbeing and take a Milarri Garden Walk or hug a tree any time!
“Even the smallest landscape can offer pride of ownership not only to its inhabitants but to its neighbours. The world delights in a garden… Creating any garden, big or small, is, in the end, all about joy.”
83-year-old Edie believes that it is never too late – packing an old camping bag, leaving her life behind and embarking on an adventure she never got to have – climbing the imposing Mount Suilven in Scotland.
My daughters bought me this DVD for Christmas and I took the opportunity last weekend amidst our autumn heatwave to watch it. (Something positive and uplifting to take my mind off worrying that those we trusted have left action on climate change too late…)
I was only pushing 65 when I went on my travel adventure but since it also included Scotland, I imagine that influenced my daughters’ decision to buy me this DVD.
It certainly is a spectacular showcase of the beauty of my birth country, especially of parts that regular tourists may not see.
Anne and Mary Jane are too young to appreciate what a brilliant actress Sheila Hancock is and probably didn’t realise how much I admire her work. I can still remember the TV series The Rag Trade (circa 1961) with Miriam Karlin – a show my Mum never missed. (even thinking about it triggers memories of Mum’s laughter and giggling drifting up the stairs in our house in Scotland – a wonderful sound to fall asleep to – an added bonus when gifts of books, DVDs and CDs of music trigger happy memories.)
Sheila also worked on stage, other television productions, and many films – a stellar career.
She is an author of several books. I have her 2004, The Two of Us, a dual biography, of her life with second husband, actor John Thaw. The book focuses on their careers and 28-year marriage. John died of oesophageal cancer in 2002, the same disease that killed her first husband, actor Alec Ross in 1971. Sheila is also a breast cancer survivor.
(As a widow who also nursed a husband through cancer and then survived breast cancer myself, Sheila’s book resonated with me.)
Not surprising with all the personal emotional and physical obstacles overcome in her life, she is superb as feisty Edie and any ‘acting’ seems effortless. At 84 years old when making the movie, Sheila did all the scenes in real time and remains the oldest person to climb Mount Suilven (731 meters or 2398.29 feet) – the normal suspension of disbelief required in cinema easily achieved.
The movie is inspirational and entertaining on several levels – as mentioned the scenery alone absolutely mesmerising, Edie could have been made for the Scottish Tourism Board – I can imagine visitors to Sutherland increased after the film’s release in 2017.
Suilven is one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland. Lying in a remote area in the west of Sutherland, it rises almost vertically from a wilderness landscape of moorland, bogs, and lochans known as Inverpolly National Nature Reserve. Suilven forms a steep-sided ridge some 2 km in length.
A Positive Ageing Story
Edie is not the usual cliched ‘grey power’ movie. There is no reuniting with or meeting a new love interest, no romantic entanglement, no outsmarting or put down of the younger generation or authority, and no tear-jerking death scene.
Instead, there are interesting layers to unpack and questions left unanswered, leaving food for thought or discussion.
Will she now be able to control her future and remain ‘feeling alive’?
Has she finally put the past to rest?
Can she heal her relationship and reconcile with her daughter?
What of her newfound friendship with the young guide – will he make the ‘right’ choice for his future?
Easy to watch, the movie’s overall narrative says it is never too late to make your special dream a reality and be open to new experiences and new friendships
It is ‘Herstory’
March is Women’s History Month and we learn of women who have made a difference – some of whom were written out of history.
Edie is not a tale of a ‘famous’ female achiever, but it tells a story of limited choice and restrictions familiar to many women, especially of a particular generation – and sadly, perhaps still too familiar!
Edie could be ‘everywoman’ who put the needs and desires of fathers, brothers, husbands, sons and daughters before her own happiness. It is uncomfortable viewing at times.
At the beginning of the movie, we see Edie is the sole carer for a wheelchair-bound husband, George (Donald Pelmear). He can’t speak and has to be aided to eat. When he dies, it is not long before the house is up for sale and daughter, Nancy (Wendy Morgan) is taking Edie to view a residential aged care centre that on first glance looks like a luxury hotel (the camera through Edie’s eyes drawn to a huge golden chandelier in the entrance hall) but to Edie the place represents first class misery.
There is little dialogue in the early scenes but plenty of good acting, directing, and camera work. Edie’s expressions and body language show how unimpressed she is with the facility, despite the over-enthusiastic praise of residents and activities by Nancy.
Trying too hard to ‘sell’ the place, Nancy and the staff reminiscent of parents talking up boarding school to a reticent child. Naturally, Edie is not cooperating!
The scene where she is supposed to be learning flower-arranging and churlishly snips off the head of a flower once the instructor walks away, a great metaphor – and hints at the rebellion to come.
Edie and Nancy return to pack up the house and encounter a life-changing shock:
Edie focuses on an old postcard of Mt Suilven from her Dad promising they’d ‘climb it together‘.
Nancy finds a journal her mother kept and is appalled by the anger and misery in the short entries. Edie complains about being trapped, having to look after a child and her sick husband, having no support or pleasure, the unfairness of her workload, of being depressed at the drudgery her life has become and living a life she hates.
Nancy is hurt, offended, and furious, and not interested when Edie tries to explain the journal was a way to release her frustrations at the miserable and restrictive marriage, not motherhood… the crushing of her dreams and loss of independence… She was upset about the demands of caring for her husband after his severe stroke so early in the marriage.
‘It wasn’t meant to be read by anyone else!’
Nancy is too hurt and stunned to have sympathy.
‘But I always did my duty,’ Edie yells as her daughter storms out. (It was 30 years of caring.)
‘And I’m tired of doing my duty,’ Nancy yells back as she tearfully slams the gate.
No winners in that argument just valid points about the strain of changing relationships, the carer’s role, which can occur at any age, and the very human habit of not communicating honestly with those we love, and the huge gaps in society’s resources to help families in times of crises.
Appropriately, it’s a bleak, stormy, wet day and Edie is left standing at the gate drenched in rain (tears?)… like novels, metaphor important in scene setting.
That night Edie burns her journals and almost incinerates the postcard but rescues it and sits staring into the flames, deep in thought.
We glimpse ageing in suburbia with Edie’s only relief from drudgery a cuppa in a favourite local cafe where she is someone other than trapped wife or recalcitrant mother.
A lightbulb moment springs her to action and the gorgeous visuals of the journey north by train begins. Determined to climb that mountain and keep her father’s promise she has packed ancient equipment, which must be replaced of course and the shopping trip for the latest gear from the Scottish equivalent of Kathmandu provides comedy and pathos.
Many of these scenes resonated with me because when I went into the Tarkine wilderness on a hiking and camping holiday in 2008, I hadn’t shouldered a backpack since Girl Guide days – I was also amazed and shocked at the variety and cost of camping gear but must admit to having fun trying on the clothes just like Edie.
The Generation Gap
In Scotland, Edie meets Johnny (Kevin Guthrie) and their unusual relationship provides laughs, tension, and poignancy – Sheila Hancock has never lost her comedic timing and the close-ups of her wrinkled face and hands, falling over, and struggling with weakened limbs truthfully portrayed.
There’s a memorable scene where she rests and examines a leaf from a nearby bush. The close-up shows the veins on the leaf held beside the back of her hand – roots pump water and minerals to branches and leaves, the heart pumps blood through our veins to limbs… a leaf can be the sign of a new beginning or reaching maturity…
It is a beautifully filmed sequence and her smile and demeanour say she is glad to be alive and grateful to be in that place, at that time.
I’ve been fortunate to have many private moments in wonderful places of natural beauty, I too have been able to sit in silence and contemplate… this was a lovely moment in the narrative and I’m sure contributed to the film winning its two awards.
At the start of her adventure because of a mix-up, Edie has to spend a night in Johnny’s share house. Two scenes are funny and emphasise gender and generation gap many people can relate to:
She prepares for bed in a bathroom/toilet shared and neglected by the all-male, twenty-something household
Leaving the next morning she has to navigate past four young men sprawled on the lounge room floor after a heavy night of drinking.
Genuine warmth and friendship develops between Edie and Johnny, who has his own relationship troubles because his girlfriend, Fiona (Amy Manson) is in the middle of negotiating a bank loan to create the biggest camping store in the north of Scotland while he feels trapped and longs to escape his job as a guide in what he considers a parochial area. He took on the job of training Edie for the climb solely for the money, thinking it would be easy because she would back out.
In an honest exchange of stories, we learn Edie’s life and how her spirit was broken by her husband who was a control freak. He estranged her from her father to ensure she forgot being ‘a wild child’ and just as she realised the marriage was not what she wanted and stood up to him, he had an almost fatal stroke. She sacrificed the next 30 years to dutifully care for him and ensure her daughter would have choices she didn’t.
The wisdom of age juxtaposed with impetuous youth exchanged like their stories. But when Johnny is looking forward to guiding, Edie surprises him by insisting she climb Suilven alone! Wow – who is risk-taking and foolish now!?
The drama and tension speed up at this point – for all the characters – and the reunion of Johnny and Edie near the top of the mountain and him stepping back and letting her move unsteadily alone to the peak to add her small stone to the cairn, speaks volumes about their changed relationship. His happiness and joy reflected in a huge smile and glistening eyes.
Exhausted Edie stands proudly surveying the raw haunting beauty of Suilven and Lochinver and for Scottish me with roots still in my birthplace, the scenery and emotions evoked, breathtaking.
A satisfying and inspirational movie that is also thought-provoking because, barring tragedy, we are all ageing and/or watching loved-ones age, and how we navigate and cope with the process and live affects wellbeing and happiness.
There is a marvellous interlude when we think Edie will not survive – her equipment lost in a terrible storm and she is alone in the dark until she discovers a hermit’s hut – this episode has even more layers you can unpack if you like philosophy and ponder our relationship with nature and each other.
Triggered Memories of My Mountain Climbed
I replicated Edie’s journey, in a tiny way, when I was in Skye in 2017 – not that climbing The Storr (or Old Man of Storr as it is known) was near the effort of Mt Suilven but for someone who suffers acrophobia, I’m proud of my achievement.
I’ve written about when I think my fear of heights startedhere and although The Storr has a path described as ‘well-constructed’, for me it was a challenge.
Looks can be deceptive, the gradient, the instability and variable surface of the ground underfoot, and the constant force of the wind the day I climbed presented a challenge too.
The Storr (ScottishGaelic: An Stòr) is a rocky hill on the Trotternishpeninsula of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The hill presents a steep rocky eastern face overlooking the Sound of Raasay, contrasting with gentler grassy slopes to the west.
The Storr is a prime example of the Trotternish landslip, the longest such feature in Great Britain. It is the type locality for the mineral gyrolite.
The area in front of the cliffs of the Storr is known as The Sanctuary. This has a number of weirdly shaped rock pinnacles, the remnants of ancient landslips.
A well-constructed path, used by many sightseers, leaves the A855 just north of Loch Leathan. It heads up through a clearfell area that was formerly a conifer plantation. Most day-trippers are content simply to wander around the Sanctuary, admiring the pinnacles and gazing up at The Storr’s eastern cliffs. Walkers can easily ascend to the summit, however, by skirting below the cliffs whilst heading north from the north end of the Sanctuary. After passing over a fence at a makeshift stile and climbing a brief steep section of loose rock, the recommended route for walkers heads north-west as far as Coire Scamadal, 1 km north of the summit, then doubles back and heads southwards along the north side, climbing towards the summit. From this route, visible breaks in the cliffs offer tempting short cuts, but these are steep, may not save time and may not be safe…
The Storr is 719 metres (2,359ft) at its highest point – I reached the base of the steepest pinnacle but discretion being the better part of valour and considering I was on my own, I did not scramble around the narrow ledge to ‘touch’ the pinnacle because I feared the wind would blow me away or a panic attack make me freeze.
In fact, a few times during the climb I wondered if my travel insurance would pay out because I signed a clause saying I was not planning any unusual extreme ventures!
At the start, I took photographs of the area known as The Sanctuary and met plenty of tourists ‘scrambling’ and climbing to a vantage point for good views.
I then started the ascent in earnest, stopping plenty of times for photographs but also to chat with people coming down or going up:
How long did it take you?
Is the going rough?
Are there any landslides?
What’s the best side to tackle?
Where are you from?
Have you done this before?
Did you get to the Pinnacle?
The wind will blow you away!
It’s too hard!
It’s too dangerous!
I made it – just wanted a photo for Instagram… Facebook …
I took a Selfie to prove it I reached the top!
It was treacherous underfoot and I found it took all my concentration and physical ability to navigate some steep and slippery sections.
I met a lovely father and daughter from India but the little girl of eleven refused to be as enthusiastic about the challenge despite coaxing from her Dad.
They only climbed part of the way and were still negotiating about going further when I met them on my way down!
Two lovely Italian girls shadowed me part of the way – perhaps thinking I was going to need assistance. We were all thumbs up and celebrating when we reached the base of the Pinnacle and through sign language and limited English, they said they admired someone of ‘my age’ for even attempting the climb!
I don’t know about Sheila Hancock in Edie but I found the descent as daunting as the climb and several times thought I was going to lose my footing. However, I did climb, Old Man of Storr and have some wonderful photographs of the view of Skye I would otherwise not have… and as you can see by my smiles it was a good feeling to have a small triumph over a lifelong fear of heights.
Edie, the movie, and Sheila Hancock, the actress – both inspirational. I won’t be queuing up to climb Suilven when I’m 85 but I hope to achieve other dreams.
At the end of last year, I went to a talk at Glen Eira Art Gallery, one of several in their Be Persuaded — Jane Austen exhibition. It brought the literary icon Jane Austen’s world to life through a fascinating selection of rare fashion, accessories, and ephemera from the 18th century and Regency era but it also sent me off on a journey to the immediate and not so immediate past!
As I’ve said many times, I like joining dots, discovering connections and links that enhance my understanding of people and the world, move me from my comfort zone and add to what I thought I knew or better still challenge my assumptions…
Presented by Dressing Australia — Museum of Costume, the exhibition highlights included an 18th-century silk gown, diaphanous Empire line frocks, spencers and other undergarments, capes and shawls, bonnets, parasols, and rare hand painted watercolours documenting fashion from the 1790s to 1840 but it also gave historical context and relevance.
The selection of little paintings – 27 in all – a unique collection illustrating the development of fashion styles during that period and according to organisers, there may not be others in existence.
Jane Austen used words, this artist used drawings – original drawings from 1793 – 1830 – to tell little stories. The drawings are detailed and in context whether it is streetwear, formal or informal and covers a range of age groups. The 18th century and Regency era’s Vogue Magazine with some tongue in cheek observations thrown in.
An exhibition of fashion we have all seen and perhaps admired/envied in period films but in reality comes with a suitcase full of disadvantages, class distinctions, and choices dictated by obedience to societal mores!
Everyone was invited to step back in time and play with games and toys that were popular during Jane Austen’s childhood as well as imagine what it must have been like wearing clothes on display.
A fabulous day in Bath immersing myself in Jane Austen country. Met so many interesting people including a couple of Aussies from Newcastle. Caught the bus to Swindon, a meandering weekend path swapped for a very fast train to Bath with just one stop! Bath is another place that could absorb a week and you’d still have a list to do but I’m happy – I had an enjoyable walk after “Jane” checking out the Regency Circle and Georgian houses before visiting a fashion museum with 100 costumes plus accessories from the early 17th century to 2017. And it was Free Comic Book Day so cosplay characters were everywhere delighting passersby, including me.
My Facebook Post May 6th 2017
Bath, a World Heritage City, yet most of my time spent tracing Jane Austen’s footsteps when I discovered a free walking tour and delightful guide with seemingly infinite knowledge of where Jane lived, visited, walked and shopped, along with places made famous by her two Bath novels: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Like many others, I admire Jane Austen as a writer and studied Northanger Abbey for HSC Literature and surprised myself at how much I could recall.
guide advertising the tour is free
first stop on tour
the most photographed man in England
Jane looking far from welcoming
me with wax model Jane
we all had such rapport
There was an instant rapport with the guide who had a great sense of humour, even posing for a photograph with one of the cosplay characters from Planet of the Apes. All of us doing an impromptu dance together because music blared from a portable player nearby.
When I mentioned my daughter was a Whedon fan (the writer/filmmaker Joss Whedon) I was inundated with free comics to take back to Australia. I’ve blogged about the importance of comics and also cosplay before.
A wonderful, heartwarming hug at the end of the Walking Tour made my day. In the beginning, I was the only one on the tour with two others joining when they eavesdropped and discovered the tour was free.
Am I the only person who reads brochures and local leaflets? There is always a host of free stuff available and you get to meet amazing volunteers or organisations committed to history, the arts, and other community activities.
If ever in Bath, the free Walking Tour a must – it leaves from the Post Office and ends at the Jane Austen Centre and you meet people passionate about their work.
The young man who accompanied me a great raconteur. We discovered a mutual love of history, had read and liked similar books – and even shared our opinion about Brexit which was a talking point everywhere in 2017. (Methinks that hasn’t changed!)
Plus, he thought I was brave travelling by myself because ‘I was older than his mother‘. He wanted to know how I got on in Russia. I told him how much I enjoyed it and to separate countries from governments, people from politicians, and not be scared to travel and find out for yourself!
The other gentleman in the photo is Martin Salter, ‘England’s most photographed man‘ a title awarded March 2017 to recognise his ten years of outstanding service as the meeter/greeter at the Jane Austen Centre.
An icon recognised around the world because of the number of people he has welcomed, photographed, and posed beside for photographs – including me!
In the Georgian mansion that houses the Jane Austen Centre, I tried on clothes and delved into all things Jane Austen having a great giggle with other tourists and the enthusiastic employees and volunteers.
I was grateful it was just pretence because I don’t think my patience or spacial awareness, let alone deportment, would cope with the clothes of the Regency era or the lifestyle – definitely not the lack of rights for women.
I can’t imagine living in a time where beginning a novel with the following statement is so well understood:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice
After the museum, I wandered through the main streets of central Bath where the past and present nestled together with a few misfits, adaptations and imaginative additions.
Eating my sandwiches in the square I also digested what I’d learned about Jane’s life, her family, and the Bath that existed during the period she was writing. I imagined all the ladies and gents from middle and upper classes strolling through the city, admiring each other’s fashionable dresses, noting the designers and where it was purchased.
But what of the workers who keep the necessary machinery of life turning?
Where are the names of the seamstresses and the tailors who made the creations?
Who were the washerwomen who laundered and ironed, the maids and butlers who kept the clothes in good repair?
And considering that sweatshops still exist will tourists of the future attend exhibitions and ask the same questions about modern fashion?
At the nearby Fashion Museum, I barely absorbed all the interesting details because I’d reached the stage in the day when my brain signals ‘information overload’. The exhibition at Glen Eira a great opportunity to refresh or add information.
A different perspective is always good – especially when it comes to history and this free exhibition so close to home at Caulfield Town Hall – a magnificent period building in its own right.
I missed the opening by Caroline Jane Knight, the fifth great niece of Jane Austen, but got to hear the engaging floor talk from Fiona Baverstock from Dressing Australia — Museum of Costume who provided the exhibits.
Her talk ran the scheduled 45 minutes and her passion and knowledge of the subject, kept the whole room enthralled, even begging for more.She moved around the floorspace discussing each exhibit in detail – a 3D Powerpoint presentation with pertinent asides adding to the excellent information already provided.
Fiona explained her credentials as owner/curator of Dressing Australia Museum of Costume, which is not a ‘bricks and mortar’ museum. She only does travelling exhibitions with her private collection.
Jane Austen Perennially Popular
Mention Jane Austen and people come, especially since contemporary films and TV serials have introduced Jane to new audiences and her novels appear regularly on school booklists.
The timing was right, 2017, the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. The last 20 years have seen a revival of interest in Austen mania – good news for Fiona who thought she had sold most of her costumes from the Regency era.
She normally weaves a story about who owned the clothes but couldn’t for this exhibition because she had got rid of so much of her collection. Instead, she chose Jane’s family and a few major characters from the more popular novels and looked for clothes to suit their persona.
Jane was born in 1775, therefore, an 18th-century girl and 25 years old when the 19th century began. Her fashion taste well-established, however, the new century meant moving away from stiff conservatism and from what we know of Jane’s personality and lifestyle, she probably embraced new styles.
We know a little about her through her novels and lead characters but which character’s characteristics match the author? Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliot, the two Dashwood sisters? When she sat down to write what personal thoughts and experiences did she channel?
Jane probably had at least one love attraction, never realised, and one proposal of marriage… accepted and almost immediately turned down. Love and marriage often discussed by her characters…
There are such beings in the world – perhaps one in a thousand – as the creature you and I should think perfection; where grace and spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding; but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the near relation of your particular friend, and belonging to your own country. Letter to Fanny Knight, 18 November 1814
Jane’s nephew wrote the first biography of Jane Austen and he gave us a staid view, presenting Jane as a sweet, unassuming homebody. He censored or ignored letters – and Jane was a prolific letter writer – and did what I suspect many family historians do, sanitising, omitting and caring more about what people might think than accuracy or honesty.
Jane was not like his impression, she had an acerbic tongue and a more accurate impression is gained from letters she wrote to her sister Cassandra.
Unfortunately, shortly before Cassandra died, she destroyed the bulk of their correspondence – perhaps she too was worried about Jane’s reputation, or that the words would be taken out of context. Perhaps she wanted to shield family members and friends from forthright comments such as :
Poor woman! How can she honestly be breeding again? Letter to Cassandra Austen, 1 October 1808
This quote from a beautifully illustrated book from the Bodleian Library I discovered in Dymocks. Fifty Illustrated Quotations are drawn from Jane’s letters and novels, testifying to her wit and candid humour – and some not so humorous observations.
Her comments about the effects of the Peninsular War, dislike of parties and social obligations and impressions of London, ranging from acerbic, ironic to poignant.
No surprise that her characters sometimes use bitter sarcasm when speaking of women’s inequality, ageing, the disappointments of marriage, fashion, and the social scene.
Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin to find already my morals corrupted. Letter to Cassandra Austen (on arrival in London), 23 August 1796
I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most proliferate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 9 January 1796
Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected… the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago! I thought it all over, and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 9 December 1808.
Jane Austen observed – everything.
She captured behaviours, dialogue and idiosyncrasies of the people around her. As a writer, she is famous for her ironic omniscient narrator – detached and amused. For example that oft-quoted opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.
Her observations of life and manners of the gentry class have been described as ‘a comedy of manners’.
I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.
No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
Letter to James Stanier Clarke, 1 April 1816
Her characters are lively and believable so that even today’s readers engage with them when society has dramatically changed because she focuses on relationships and minutiae we can identify – and thank goodness she remained true to her own style!
All six of Austen’s novels are about love and marriage among the county gentry and the larger world of the French and American Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars and simmering Irish and Scottish unrest don’t intervene except in her private letters.
How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!
Letter to Cassandra Austen on the Peninsular War, 31 May 1811.
Discovering A Different Jane
The following novels by Jane Austen were successful in her lifetime but published anonymously: Sense and Sensibility (1811) Pride and Prejudice (1813) Mansfield Park (1814) Emma (1815)
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1818. Jane died in Winchester in July 1817, at the age of 41.
All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. […] And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. […] They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception, they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that …
Virginia Woolf’s observation about the literature of her time in her 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own
I discovered earlier writing by Jane that certainly gives a clue her personality and thoughts far from staid!
She wrote the ‘history’ book when she was sixteen and we can thank the writer JL Carr for publishing it in a series of Pocket Books:
… the originator, compiler & publisher of these Pocket Books did so in order to subsidise the writing of novels; the best known of which ‘A Month in the Country’ was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1980 and won the Guardian Fiction Prize.
‘The History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. By a partial, prejudiced & ignorant Historian’ is dedicated to Cassandra and from start to the end of its 15 pages offers witty, barbed, and radical ( perhaps treasonous!) summations of various English monarchs.
The intro has two telling quotes – I wonder if it started off as a school assignment or a rant against how and what history is taught:
Read me anything but history, for history must be false
Sir Robert Walpole
History is just the portrayal of crimes and misfortune… All ancient history is no more than accepted fiction.
No doubt Jane was above average intelligence and better read and informed than many teenagers of her day, which probably went with the territory of having an educated father and many brothers in a variety of occupations.
I can imagine active and lively discussions over dinner and all those long country walks but I’m guessing when the manuscript came to light it would have raised a few eyebrows.
Was it a reaction to whatever history was considered the most important to learn or items in the news or an exercise to explore the power of words to tell a story – they could be the first examples of flash faction.
Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.
Anne Elliot, Persuasion
I’ve kept her spelling and style in these snippets –
Henry the 4th
Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2d, to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is supposed that Henry was married, since he certainly had four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his Wife. Be this as it may, he did not live for ever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales took away the Crown; whereby the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays & the Prince made a still longer. Things being thus settled between them the King died, & was succeeded by his son Henry who had previously beat Sir William Gascoigne.
Henry the 5th This Prince after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed & Amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions & never thrashing Sir William again… Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His Majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went & fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King’s daughter Catherine, a very Agreeable woman by Shakespear’s account. In spite of all this however he died, & was succeeded by his son Henry.
Henry the 6th
I cannot say much for this Monarch’s Sense – Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & The Duke of York, who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History… This King married Margaret of Anjou, a Woman whose distresses & Misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her…
Edward the 4th
This Monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage… his undaunted Behaviour in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs… One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore who had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his majesty died, & he was succeeded by his Son.
Edward the 5th
This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that no body had time to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3d.
Richard the 3d
The character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable man… Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace for Henry Tudor E. Of Richmond, as great a Villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it…
This Monarch soon after his accession married the Princess Elizabeth of York, by which alliance he plainly proved that he thought his own right inferior to hers, tho’ he pretended to the contrary. By this Marriage, he had two sons & two daughters, the elder of which was married to the King of Scotland & had the happiness of being grand-mother to one of the first Characters in the World. But of her, I shall have occasion to speak more at large in future… his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son Henry whose only merit was his not being quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth…
What the teenage Jane alludes to is the belief that Mary Queen of Scots should never have been executed and in fact, after she describes the reigns of Henry the 8th (‘Crimes & Cruelties too many to mention’),
Edward the 6th (“a favourite” … “He was beheaded…”),
Mary ( “the good luck of being advanced to the throne of England, inspite of the superior pretensions, Merit & Beauty of her Cousins Mary Queen of Scotland & Jane Grey..),
Elizabeth ( It was the peculiar Misfortune of this Woman to have bad Ministers – Since wicked as she herself was, she could not have committed such extensive mischeif had not these vile & abandoned men connived and encouraged her in her Crimes.),
James the 1st ( Though this King had some faults, among which & as the most principal, was his allowing his Mother’s death, yet considered on the whole I cannot help liking him.) and
Charles the 1st (This amiable Monarch seems born to have suffered Misfortunes equal to those of his lovely Grandmother…),
she concludes with –
…my principal reason for undertaking the History of England being to prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland, which I flatter myself with having effectually done, and to abuse Elizabeth, (tho’ I am rather fearful of having fallen short in the latter part of my Scheme.)
I wonder what witty observation or acerbic put down she would write regarding her popularity today, which is almost cult status thanks to – museums, festivals, competitions, documentaries, films, sequels and prequels and of course Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy – all that focus on a man!
Fiona in her talk said she had to include an outfit close to what people imagined Mr Darcy wore in that famous scene from the TV series that people remember yet it never actually happened! You know the scene when Colin Firth walks out of the lake after a swim and his partly unbuttoned undershirt is clinging to his body!
Well, with another detour taken care of – I’ll get back to Fiona’s talk and the exhibition –
When History Is Fashionable
Be Persuaded had a firm focus on fashion but Fiona threw in lots of historical asides and gems to think about when she explained why she chose particular items:
… from the rare 18th century gown which her mother might have worn at the time of Jane’s birth, through to the elegance and daring of the Regency era with its classic Empire line gowns, to the 1840s when women such as Cassandra had to once again retreat behind tight waists and voluminous skirts…
Jane was a keen observer of fashion and the role it played in defining status and the complex relationships in the society of her novels, even if in private she thought much of the detail and rules ridiculous.
I learnt from Mrs Ticker’s young lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 15 September 1813
a mature Mrs Darcy
tulle and tissue bonnet
quilted protector and hat
Next week (I) shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 27 October 1798
Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Northanger Abbey
In her research, Fiona found that the French open robe style usually didn’t come with a petticoat because few survived – they were frequently taken on and off and most probably wore out. Petticoats were often made of the same fabric as the gown in a complimentary or contrasting colour.
Women didn’t wear knickers in the eighteenth century (audible gasps and giggles around the room) but diaphanous see-through gowns led to pantaloons – although many of these were knitted and flesh coloured to give the appearance of no knickers. (more audible murmurings…)
What Influences Fashion?
Classical Greek and Roman lines are often the basis for design but also things like the Hussar Soldier Uniform and other unusual inspirations for accessories.
In the 18th century, the American revolution interrupted the supply of raw cotton and English industrialists looked to India and other colonies. The East India Company imported not just raw cotton but ready-to-wear material. Muslin, a popular dress material became available plain, coloured and even patterned.
Revolutions and wars are big influences.
For example, in WW2 and years immediately following, stripes and shoulder pads introduced and women’s suits were made from sturdy fabrics mimicking the style of military uniforms. It was a sad and serious time with material shortages plus more women in the workforce requiring suitable clothes. Less frivolity and more practicality.
When it is happier less threatening times, clothes reflect the change of mood – frills, fripperies, colour, softer material, flowing designs …
Who can forget the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the shock of mini-skirts and Jean Shrimpton attending the Melbourne Cup hatless, in sandals without stockings, and a mini dress?
Often military inventions lead to a fashion use (nylon, rayon and drip dry fabric, lycra) or in the case of the 18th century because of the French Revolution wearing silk, which was considered luxurious, became a ‘no no’.
The Empire Line named after Napoleon’s determination to create his empire another example of fashion reflecting what is happening in society.
Muslin easier to look after than silk but still hand washed, rinsed, squeezed – towel dried and ironed. Bows and vandyke edging needed a special tiny iron to get into tucks with its point.
When dresses long, if they swept the ground women didn’t walk in parks and gravel and avoided dirty paths. They stepped from the doorway to carriage. For those stepping out more – hems went up a bit and wore gowns that could be washed or survive regular washing.
18th-century shoes had thin soles for dancing pumps. Boots were for country lanes and lace-up boots had a slightly thicker sole and heel. Fashionable shoes wore out quickly – poorer people needed stout leather because they walked more and their leather shoes thicker and more uncomfortable.
In the Regency era parasols tended to have straight handles and small canopies. Folding handles appeared mid 19th century as did the metal spoke. The parasol in the exhibition dated to the late 1840s, it has metal spokes but a straight handle and the canopy of polished cotton has ruching, a frill and wooden finial.
Fiona dressed Cassandra in crinoline – it was a time when there was an absence of war and the men were back and the male idea of femininity emphasised. Women were ‘financially dependent so had to kowtow.’
Fiona compared the dress on display to the 70s fashion of bell bottoms, describing both as ‘ridiculous’. I agree – the above illustrations from the Fashion Museum emphasise how limiting those voluminous dresses would be.
I wore bell bottoms in the 70s and they were a short-lived fashion item. The nearest I’ve been to a crinoline is a hooped dress a friend made me for my 60th birthdayparty when everyone had to come dressed as their favourite literary character. I chose Jo from Little Women and the hooped petticoat and puffed-out gown not ideal for movement.
Just like in the 1820s/30s dresses were designed with restricted shoulder lines because women were not supposed to raise their arms – again we are talking about women in a particular class!
Anne Elliot, from Persuasion, was chosen to model a gown with a floor-length shawl.
Fiona asked us to note the sleeves and ruffles around the neck. The dress, fine cotton circa 1815 with flounces around the skirt. The lace a later addition. The bodice has ruching and the neckline an organdie tucker with ruffled collar. A Norwich shawl is over her shoulder.
The Norwich shawl, a long rectangle not square – perfect for wrapping or draping around Empire-line gowns. Itcould also be a Paisley or Edinburgh shawl, the name denotes where they were made. A Paisley square often folded into a triangle later in the 19th century when the voluminous ‘crinoline’ gowns returned to fashion.
The bustle killed the shawl as a fashionable accessory.
The shawl on show magnificent, Fiona’s own version of an expensive imported Kashmir shawl fashionable in the 18th century, which encouraged weaving centres like Norwich and Paisley to produce their own versions. However, original Kashmir shawls popular with the very rich.
This shawl is ‘partially filled’ – an assistant (usually a woman) sitting beside the weaver hand sews extra, thicker strands to the back of the shawl to make it stronger and warmer. In 1845, fine wool began to be imported from Australia and the fashion industry incorporated this in dresses as well as shawls.
Lizzie Bennet’s Wedding Dress?
Any exhibition must have the young Lizzie Bennet and Fiona chose a wedding gown circa 1810 imagining it was Lizzie’s because she considered after all the build up in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen could have at least given a description of Lizzie Bennet’s wedding dress.
The classic Empire line gown is of ivory silk and so fine it needs a padded hem to give it weight. The bonnet is a reproduction of the original. The pumps 18th-century shoes.
White became a popular option in 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert of Saxe-Coburg, when Victoria wore a white gown trimmed with Honiton lace. Illustrations of the wedding were widely published, and many brides opted for white in accordance with the Queen’s choice.
Regency era it was white or pastel colours because white was a fashionable colour not just for brides. In Brideswear Revisited – 200 years of gowns: off-white, cream, ivory and oyster more popular because ‘white flatters no one’.
The Provenance of the Gown an interesting story
It was worn by Emma Cato who married George Daniel at Chelsea Old Church in London 1810. Emma, born in Holborn 1787, was one of nine children to Thomas and Elizabeth Cato. Thomas described as a wireworker who made items such as needles, fish hooks, cages, chains, traps, decorative architectural embellishments and garden decorations.
He would have belonged to the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate and Wire Workers, a City of London Trade Guild. Fiona said he must have been a master rather than a mere worker because he left a Will.
George Daniel, variously described as book collector, literary critic and author, meant Emma came into contact with some of the literary giants of the day as he claimed membership of an exclusive circle including Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
He published critiques of their work as well as those from ‘superstars’ like Sir Walter Scott often inserting some of his own ‘dubious attempts at verse’ in the critique.
Fiona adds we can ‘only imagine what Emma’s life with a self-important wannabe poet and author must have been like. Perhaps he earned enough from his published literary criticism to keep them in comfortable circumstances.’
She surmises that if Jane Austen had been a man, George Daniel may have critiqued her work and Emma might have met her – considering Jane’s early novels were written anonymously perhaps he did come across them – how would we know?
I don’t think he could have been too horrible considering he composed a poem to his daughter for her birthday (c1815) and it was stitched together as a booklet – a reproduction on display and the original is at the University of Indiana.
And Yet Another Sidetrack… Huguenots
I always learn something new whenever I attend a talk, workshop, gallery, museum… and Fiona’s had me searching online about the Huguenots who were French Protestants active in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were forced to flee France due to religious and political persecution by the Catholic Church and the Crown.
I knew their story of persecution but not their contribution to the fashion industry and beyond.
Still a lightning-rod for collective anxieties, the word “refugee” entered the English language when the Huguenots landed. Although migration had begun beforehand on a modest scale, around 50,000 French Protestants came to England after Louis XIV revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes at Fontainebleau in October 1685. Another 10,000 fled to Ireland, part of an exodus of perhaps 200,000 people. Other large contingents went to Holland, Sweden and Prussia. That still left the bulk of a hard-pressed but robust population of 750,000 or so to weather hardship in France and wait for more tolerant times…
According to one estimate, one in every six Britons has some Huguenot ancestry. Names of obvious French origin tell only a fraction of this tale. Yes, it’s easy enough to spot a Laurence Olivier, a Simon Le Bon, a Walter de la Mare, a Daphne du Maurier, a Samuel Courtauld, a Jon Pertwee, a Reginald Bosanquet, an Eddie Izzard, even – as the Ukip leader happily acknowledges – a Nigel Farage. Yet, just like Jewish incomers two centuries later, Huguenot migrants often changed their names or had them changed by impatient clerks.
As a Victorian history of London puts it, “the Lemaitres called themselves Masters; the Leroys, King; the Tonneliers, Coopers; the Lejeunes, Young; the LeBlancs, White; the Lenoirs, Black; the Loiseaux, Bird”.
The Huguenots arrived in Britain from France and brought their skill of silk weaving to Spitalfields where 300 families settled transforming it into London’s centre for silk-weaving. The most amazing silk designer of that period was a woman – Anna Maria Garthwaite.
The type of motifs, scale, rendering, and colour palette in textile patterns went in and out of fashion and can be used to identify a garment as being from the 1710s, 1740s, or 1760s. The importance of silk-weaving and new designs to Georgian fashion cannot be underestimated as they conveyed not only taste but also status and wealth for the wearer.
Remarkably, one of the most successful and influential designers of silk patterns was an English woman, Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), who came to Spitalfields in 1730 and quickly infiltrated the male-dominated and family-based industry. In fact, the establishment and prosperity of Spitalfields silk-weaving were due largely to waves of immigration by French Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of whom were weavers bringing advanced skills.
As a forty-year-old single woman, it is unlikely that Garthwaite received much if any of the formal training required of her male counterparts. She worked in watercolour and at her most prolific produced approximately eighty designs a year, tapering off in the 1750s to about thirty designs per annum
Spitalfields was a major force in shaping eighteenth-century fashion because it was the centre of the silk-weaving industry in England. Silk manufacture drove the very business of fashion as trends concentrated on new textile patterns rather than garment styles.
Weavers, joiners, smiths and merchants set up shop in Soho or Spitalfields and textile and design students at London Metropolitan University, now study some of their crafts, such as silk-weaving, silversmithing and upholstery.
It is remarkable that a woman like Anna Maria Garthwaite achieved the level of success that she did. It is a testament not only to her sheer talent and vision but also her courage to value her own abilities.
The beginning of the year always a mixed blessing because January 10th is John’s birthday and a reminder my husband and best friend is no longer around, yet it is a new year and the future beckons and being a glass-half-full person, I look forward to whatever challenges await.
For the last sixteen years, the girls and I have visited Stony Point each January to reflect and remember John – and yes, we chat or share our thoughts with him.
Whenever I give my writing class an exercise to write about their happy place, or a place where they feel serene, I have Stony Point in mind.
Serenity Writing Exercise
Once a year, sometimes more often, I visit Stony Point on the outskirts of Melbourne. This tip of the Victorian coast looks across to French Island among other smaller islets and the tide flows out to the sea. There is a pier always populated with anglers – more in some seasons than others.
There is a ferry to French Island and half the pier is now fenced off for Navy patrol boats installed during John Howard’s ‘be alert not alarmed’ crusade.
John requested his ashes be scattered where they would be carried out to sea, being ex-Royal Navy, John was more comfortable on the water than land and Stony Point fitted the bill.
There are mini-wetlands (or mud flats) at Stony Point frequently visited by shearwaters, pelicans and of course the ubiquitous seagulls. The area is attractive to fishermen and regardless of the season, you will always see boats coming and going.
The gutting and scaling table regularly visited by a host of birds who seem to know just when to land and wait for a feed. The take-offs and jockeying for advantageous positions to catch thrown leftovers provide a rambunctious display by the birds, especially the pelicans.
My daughters laugh at my delight and are convinced I have the largest collection of photographs of pelicans in the world! This year, I think they had a bet going and were counting how many pictures I took – I never discovered whose guess was correct!
Many people visit Stony Point and there is a caravan park with permanent residents as well as frequent holidaymakers. Every day there could be bushwalkers, anglers, picnickers, fossickers, commuters to French Island, naval personnel from nearby Cerberus base and a handful of locals who operate a rundown cafe/shop.
But there are times, like the other day, when we were the only ones soaking up the serenity for an hour or so before one boat returned and two families arrived to visit.
I’m sure others like me, come to sit or walk by the short strand of sand or along the pier. Others relax while waiting for the ferry to French island. The kiosk, the railway station, the car park – so little change in sixteen years.
Stony Point is the end of the line for the train – a little diesel that comes from Frankston. The station personnel seem to be from another era of railway culture – a more friendly era – attuned to the age of steam perhaps – like my Dad and Grandfather…
However, just like the rest of the Victorian rail system, upgrading is happening to the only non-electrified rail line operated by Metro. There will be electrification to Hastings soon, but who knows when the upgrade will reach Stony Point, a place where change is rare.
John’s Story Forever Linked to Stony Point
When I think of John, I remember his love for the sea. The vivid memories of years in the Royal Navy he loved to share. His time at sea an escape from a violent step-father. It gifted skills and room to grow. Life below deck a creative exercise in space management and curled in a hammock beneath clambering pipes was not conducive to sleep. In the 1950s and 60s, he served on destroyers and stowed belongings in lockers between gurgling pipes. Ironically, the life he loved contaminated him with asbestos…
When I think of John, I recall he joined the navy as a fifteen year old ‘boy sailor’ and said he learned to respect and consider others, to cook, clean, and iron, to share, to care for himself, to operate radar and radio, sort and deliver mail, be the butcher and food buyer for the mess, and also train as a deep-sea diver. He mastered calligraphy and latch-hook weaving and became the Mediterranean Fleet’s high jump and long jump champion in Malta. Above deck, he discovered the pleasure and benefits of breathing fresh sea air; the joy of time to scan for exotic lands, learn to read the stars, be entertained by dancing dolphins, flying fish, and the unforgettable sight of the majestic blue whale.
When I think of John, I hear his voice reciting poetry and doggerel, quoting favourite passages from books he loved or people he admired (he could recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address!) and singing songs from favourite entertainers. A man of few words, each sentence counted. John didn’t do small talk…
His stints at sea gave him time to sit and think, to listen to the stories of others, and absorb some of life’s harsher lessons. He witnessed horrific scenes while based in the Mediterranean when Britain became embroiled in the Suez Crisis. He visited many European ports and also South America and South Africa, experiencing a variety of cultures and cuisine. Moved out of the comfort zone of his childhood English village, people and places expanded his heart and vision.
When I think of John, I remember his love for the sea and how it shaped his character. A sea he now roams as his ashes float from shore to shore, revisiting the lands he loved, being part of a marine world he admired – free of human form, he can dance with the dolphins, fly with the fish, or ride a whale.
When I think of John, I remember his keen sense of humour, can hear his laughter and know he would laugh with us and enjoy the story I’m about to tell of our visit to Stony Point last Wednesday.
I was taking pictures of some Shearwaters and Pacific Gulls sunning themselves on the edge of the slipway jetty when a man in his early 40s and his two children, a boy of 8 and girl of 6, followed me towards the birds. Their conversation –
‘What kind of birds are they Dad?’
‘They’re ducks, son.’
‘No they’re not.’
‘Yes, they are – look,’ he points to the pelicans,’ see how small they are to the albatrosses.’
I’ve seen gannets and black swans at Stony Point but never an albatross.
When I shared the father/son conversation with the girls, we laughed – it reminded us of that funny TV ad for Bigpond or maybe Google, some years ago – when the young boy asked his Dad why the Great Wall of China was built and the dad replied, ‘to keep the rabbits out.’
For the record, the next evening on a walk with buddy Jillian, I took a picture of a duck in Mordialloc Creek.
And this is a pelican –
Pelicans – symbols of mutual aid and love
The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is the largest of the shorebirds that can be found along Victoria’s coastline. It has a wingspan of 2.3-2.5 metres and weighs 4 to 6.8 kilos. Wild pelicans can live up to 25 years. Predominantly white with black along the perimeters of the wings, it has a large pale, pinkish bill. An Australian pelican was recorded with the longest bill of any bird in the world. It is the most southerly breeding of all pelican species and is the only pelican found in Australia.
Between the bones on the lower bill is a stretchy patch of skin called the gular pouch. The gular pouch will stretch when it is filled with water and can hold up to three gallons. Pelicans also