Vale – Frank Jones – Thank You For Pausing and Sharing Your Poetry…

 

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There was joy in the return from my travels, but sadness too when I heard that Frank Jones had passed away on 9th of May, aged 92 years. His funeral held at St Brigid’s Mordialloc on 18th May 2017.

As a longtime member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, Frank’s poetry and stories have graced eight of our nine anthologies. Another broken link with the group I founded in 1995 and although I am no longer active at Mordialloc workshops, I’m sure there are many Mordi writers who grieve Frank’s passing.

 

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I was privileged to attend Frank’s family celebration for his 90th, 2015.

 

Frank celebrated his 90th birthday at our regular Readings By The Bay and was the oldest writer in our last anthology, Kingston My City, contributing a marvellous reflective essay on his 65-year relationship with Mordialloc and the City of Kingston.

A natural born writer, Frank loved poetry – especially ‘bush’ and rhyming poetry – ‘the old -fashioned kind’, he said to me when he first joined the group. He wrote from the heart, a kind compassionate heart.

 

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From Casting A Line, Mordialloc Writers’ Group  2000.

 

I’ve never forgotten when he and his wife Joan turned up at the inaugural Readings By The Bay. Frank stood up and recited from memory, a poem he had written to Joan on their wedding day 50 years before! A romantic at heart too.

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Surrounded by friends and family Frank reads at his birthday celebration, held Parkdale Footy Club.

When Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer Frank suffered deeply and was shattered when she died. He, of course, used writing to share their story.  Another poem showing his love for Joan as she struggled with treatment.

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From Up The Creek with a pen! Mordialloc Writers’ Group, 2003.

I lost my partner, John in 2003, and also had a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010. These shared sorrows added a depth to my relationship with Frank I didn’t have with other writers in the group.

Frank and I lived a street apart and sometimes bumped into each other when he walked to U3A, or latterly to his acupuncturist in McDonald Street. He’d often ring me and ask for help editing or to give an opinion on a writing idea, or to share the joy of publication.

My daughters knew who was calling before Frank offered his name – he had a distinctive Aussie twang and spoke at the level you’d expect from someone going deaf.

Mairi, is that you? It’s Frank Jones,’ he boomed.

When Frank had bouts of illness that kept him from workshops or readings, I still included him in any anthology project because he always produced a memorable poem or story.

He was a writer who understood deadlines, listened to and appreciated any feedback. Also that rarity – Frank accepted the editor’s suggestions and decisions. A boon for those who helped edit the anthologies.

Frank referred to me as his ‘writing teacher’ although he never attended any of my classes!

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Eleven O Four, Mordialloc Writers’ Group 2004

Frank used his life experiences to produce interesting and contemporary pieces: –

  • growing up in the country (Kyneton area),
  • serving in WW2 in the RAAF
  • working in the building trade (a brickie)
  • and newsagency business,
  • his love of family,
  • his British heritage
  • love of swimming – he was in the icebreaker club
  • love of golf,
  • his love of dogs, especially a particular pet
  • his determination to continue to learn the craft of writing – he wrote stories, poems and a play
  • his commitment to his Christian Faith and volunteer work for St Vinnie’s
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Casting a Line, Mordialloc Writers’ Group 2000.

A prolific writer, I can remember how proud Frank was when his family collated his poems into a beautiful leather bound volume. He brought it to Sunday Readings to show us.

What a wonderful gift for a writer – your life’s work in a gold-lettered book!

The book was for one of his significant birthdays. Frank said it was after he became an ‘OBE’, ‘over bloody eighty’!

Frank’s honesty and sense of humour will be missed too. I have many photographs of Mordialloc Writers’ events over the 21 years but only the last few years are digital and easy to add to this blog post. Below is a selection from the last five years.

In Mordialloc Writer’ eighth anthology, Off the Rails, 2012, Frank wrote about attending an interstate swimming carnival – he had a pool in his backyard and swam every morning – perhaps a key to his longevity.

To Albury Grand Railway Station

Frank Jones

Hurrah! I proclaim we’re away on the train
Without fanfare or celebration
We glide down the tracks and never look back
As we leave old Spencer Street Station.

Our journey profound, we are Albury bound
In their carnival, we’re listed to swim.
We’ll strive to be best as our bodies protest
Even though we are taut, fit, and trim.

Onwards on time through a mesh of train lines
We view backyards tightly compacted
We wonder amazed, some even quite dazed
By urban plans neatly protracted.

We pay no heed as the train picks up speed
The wheels clattering faster and faster
No one complains as we head for the plains
Where drought is a common disaster.

Soon a voice loud and clear announces
!e cafeteria is ready to serve us
!reading through seats to sample the treats
The swaying train a challenge, if nervous.

Cars on the roads and trucks with their loads
All head for unknown destinations
!e train’s horn blasts every crossing we pass
No cause for great consternation.

Wangaratta and snowfields well passed
Signposted Canberra a further location
The Murray in sight and Wodonga’s delights
We are nearing our destination.

Speed now declines … it’s the end of the line
We’ll get on without hesitation
You won’t read in the papers about our capers
Or the fun of our jubilation.

We savoured the home, of ‘Albury’s Own’
So many sacrificed for this nation
On the hill high, their memorials lie
To overlook Albury’s historic Grand Station.

 

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Albury Railway Station – grand indeed.

 

Frank wrote from the heart expressing himself in a language he understood and used daily – the best qualifications a poet can have – he was himself!  He didn’t try to emulate another style or be ‘poetic’. His words authentic. Frank Jones, the poet, writer, and raconteur will be missed.

One of the first poems of Frank’s that our group published is one I have never forgotten and is alluded to in the title of this blog post. It is one I mentioned to others when on my recent travels.

I spent a lot of time overseas visiting cemeteries. Not just chasing information about relatives but because I find them fascinating historical records. Discoveries are inspiring and intriguing, headstones holding so many stories.

Sadness too – all those people who have lived and by the state of some graves, are forgotten, or the family line has died.

 

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Up The Creek with a pen! Mordialloc Writers’ Group, 2003.

 

Frank Jones – a rich legacy indeed – thank you!

You will be remembered as more than a pause between two dates.

 

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Frank enjoying my apple cake at Readings By The Bay – the main reason he attended he’d say with a grin.

 

 

 

Walking, Writing, Wellbeing, And Inspiration

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Most people want a safe and attractive neighbourhood and will get up-in-arms if it is threatened – the NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor, yet their relationship with the local surrounds can often be like the adoration Sir Robert Menzies expressed for Queen Elizabeth 11 in the 1960s “I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die.”

In our community, most people travel by car. It’s easy to become disconnected from the immediate neighbourhood and cling to what you think is there.

Changes may go unnoticed until too late, validating the observation ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’

Walk Your Neighbourhood, Know It, Own It!

While many places have been romanticised as wonderful places to hike or take a walk, I find my local area in Mordialloc just as beautiful as many mentioned in tourist brochures.

I don’t need to travel to walk by the sea along a wonderful foreshore, enjoy a park, or tour streets with well-kept and interesting gardens.

All of these attractions are within walking distance of my house, Mordialloc Railway Station or Mordialloc Main Street – and I’m sure there are similar attractions in suburbs all the way down to Frankston and onto the Peninsula, and up towards the city.

In my street, regardless of the season, council workers do a great job maintaining a lovely display outside a local hall where community groups like Kingston U3A meet regularly.

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Although, it’s not always roses! Vigilance is needed to protect what we have and that’s why walking is important.

We can never assume things will remain the same – whether it’s the neighbourhood or our health – nothing should be taken for granted.

Melbourne is growing. Development is a huge issue with streetscapes changing rapidly as apartment blocks, town houses and units replace the traditional family home on a quarter acre block. The resulting increase in traffic and limited parking often the biggest issue people complain about.

The population is increasing, people need somewhere to live and will flock to desirable areas – especially places like Mordialloc in the south-eastern suburbs bordering Port Phillip Bay.

If councils don’t handle the transition and changes carefully and sensibly, the ambience and advantages people have moved to the area to enjoy will be lost. The natural beauty and good life people seek will disappear.

State Governments and Council Planning authorities are forever changing the rules about who can protest a development, or who needs to know, the height of buildings, the size of apartments etc.

Not everyone accesses the Internet or council websites so communication within a neighbourhood is vital.

Walking the neighbourhood benefits my mental and physical wellbeing but also keeps me aware of what is happening. If there is warning of inappropriate development I can write to my local councillor for an explanation or to protest. (and have done so.)

Sometimes it’s saving a heritage building, trees or vegetation, sometimes it’s reducing the number of apartments to be built or stopping overdevelopment.

Always it is prioritising the neighbourhood’s character and the effect on the people who live here or may want to live here in the future.

Walking Boosts Creativity

The creative effect of absorbing the beauty of the environment also worthwhile. I often walk with a friend. We consciously notice the trees and flowers in gardens, the activities at the foreshore, listen to the birds –  are mindful of the places we walk….

I take my phone because of the camera. Taking pictures helps me remember and can prompt a poem or story later.

I’ve always walked – pushing my children in their strollers, walking them to school, taking the dog for an evening walk. The latter walk often a meditative exercise, alone with thoughts, working through worries and ideas, reflecting on the day.

For me, there is a synchronicity between walking and writing.

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Some Women Writers Who Walked To Reflect & Be Inspired:

(I’ve chosen women in honour of IWD today!)

Virginia Woolf loved solitude and often walked. Perhaps it was genetic because her father, Leslie Stephens, a renowned writer and editor was also a notable walker and mountain climber.

In the biography of Woolf by her nephew, Quentin Bell, he says she’d write in the morning and in the afternoon go for long walks of several miles, usually with her dog. 

Perhaps the walking enabled her to relax and solve any writing problems.

 As a child Woolf summered in St Ives, the inspiration for “To A Lighthouse” in 1926, as she was revising the book, she returned, noting in a letter, ‘all my facts about lighthouses are wrong’.

Domitille Collardey & Alicia Desantes

Agatha Christie loved to walk and think – producing amazing results!

Jane Austen and her sisters took long walks together and the outings gave Jane inspiration to write.

Louisa Mae Alcott was a walker and her companion none other than great thinker Henry David Thoreau who wrote the aptly titled essay Walking. Walking through the natural world a pilgrimage without a destination where he discovered new places to adore.

Mary Oliver, the American poet born in Ohio in 1935, writes poignant observations of the natural world. Nature feeds creativity and Oliver, an avid walker finds inspiration when her feet are moving. Her poems are full of images that come from daily walks near her home.

Jane Goodall moved out of her comfort zone and trekked to places no one in the western world had gone before in her efforts to save the gorillas.

Cheryl Strayed trekked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote Wild, which later became a movie.

Robyn Davidson trekked 1,700 miles across the Australian outback with four camels and a dog. She wrote Tracks about her epic journey, which was later made into a film.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas spent many summers in Bilignin, Ahône Valley 1929, at a villa surrounded by mountains. Stein strolled and wrote letters to Paris about her poodle, Basket – the first of three dogs she gave the name.

Domitille Collardey & Alicia Desantes

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Merlin Coverley wrote The Art of Wandering,  taking the view that walking and writing are one activity. His writer/walkers from the times of Blake, Wordsworth and Rousseau to modern day are concerned with their inner worlds, philosophy and spirituality.

The Twilight Zone
Mairi Neil

At night, just before I fall asleep
I sometimes ponder
on thoughts quite deep.
Why do we exist
and live on earth?
If there is no purpose
why do we give birth?

I can’t believe
some random explosion
put such a balanced world
in motion –
the worm, the fly, the elephant,
the platypus and parasite
interact with precision
like day and night.

The food cycle chain
and each environmental link
intricately interwoven
to really make you think
a clever creator’s hand
has been involved –
that Supreme Being’s identity
still to be solved.

Each religion I know believes
they alone have the answer
destruction wreaked by zealots
a malignant cancer
Allah, Buddah, Krishna, God,
Jesus, the sun, mankind, the trees
human beings worship
one or more, of these.

I have a yearning to know why I’m here
a reason for existing that is clear
I seek an answer to why
the world’s not one
why love and respect’s not mutual
just as we share the moon and the sun.

I’ve not discovered the answer
to explain why we’re here
but to ‘do no harm’ a message
we should all hold dear.
What is my destiny?
My reason for being?
My eyelids droop,
elusive sleep arrives
to stop me from ‘seeing’…

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Walk Your Neighbourhood For a Healthy Body and Healthy Mind

Walking just 20 minutes a day can reduce your risk of premature death by 30%. About 30 minutes of walking a day burns 150 calories, which can help you reach a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss. Walking regulates blood sugar levels, which keeps insulin levels low and diabetes at bay.

https://www.quora.com/What-would-be-the-benefits-of-walking-1-30-to-2-00-hours-daily

A feeling of happiness and contentment can flow from recognising and appreciating where you live and regular walking is a great way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. You’ll become leaner, firmer, and fitter.

Walking has always been meditative and calming, yet still invigorating to me. Bad moods can be marched out and life put in perspective. 

It’s also a good way to rid yourself of anger – the suggestion ‘go for a walk’ or ‘walk it off’ good advice.

Anytime I need to work through a complex idea or problem, I walk or do something physical while I think.(Yep, even housework!)

Physical activity lets me ‘step aside’ and focus on the ‘real’ world while the thought process continues in the ‘virtual’ sub-conscious world where ideas/problems circulate.

The stresses of life walked out and tumultuous thoughts or emotions replaced by the sounds, smells, and sights of the sensory world of nature.

Keeping active and walking regularly not only helps maintain your weight, but lowers blood pressure, helps build healthy bones and muscles, and can improve “good” cholesterol.

The benefits aren’t just physical. Reports show that those who exercise regularly sleep better, have improved concentration and feel less stressed.

Life will be healthier and happier.

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Towards the end of her life, when my mother visited and she couldn’t walk far, I’d hire a wheelchair from the chemist and take her for ‘walks’ around the neighbourhood.

We’d go down to the beach cafe and have a cuppa while I pointed out changes to the foreshore, or we’d discuss the changes to shops in Main Street since her last visit.

Perhaps in the future, my girls will be wheeling me in a wheelchair where once I wheeled them in a pram!

Walking isn’t just putting one foot in front of the other. It can be a way to socialise, to clear the brain, prevent mental breakdown, get healthier and extend life, solve – or ignore – problems, experience the world around in all its glory, beat insomnia and find a purpose.

Many of the most accomplished and creative people throughout history have also found walking to be an integral part of their daily routines and key to their success as artists, creators, writers, musicians, thinkers, and human beings.

The author, Charles Dickens, who suffered depression went for long walks. After writing from 9 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon, he’d walk – 20- or 30-miles being routine. He suffered insomnia and would prowl London’s streets until dawn. His friends worried, he walked obsessively but the habit worked!  His prolific writing achievements of more than a dozen major and well-regarded novels, several short story collections, a few plays, and non-fiction books.

He said if he couldn’t walk “far and fast,” he would “explode and perish” from the psychological burden of remaining still. He found writing difficult and so walking was a relief. It probably saved his sanity.

His characters also do a lot of walking – perhaps he followed the mantra write what you know –  a character in Our Mutual Friend, spends hours walking around London after dark, sometimes all night. Other characters walk from one town to another, which probably occurred in those days before motorised transportation.

Where you choose to walk can boost your sense of wellbeing. Strolls or hikes in the countryside, close to nature, can have a restorative effect at the end of a hectic working week but so can a walk around your neighbourhood.

Going for a stroll with a friend or family is a great way to spend time together while keeping active.

When you wander daily around your locale, you start to look at it properly and notice its devastating beauty. There’s the ‘naturally’ weird:

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And the  sweet:

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the unusual or  contrary (yes it is a rabbit he’s walking on a leash!):

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There’s architectural loveliness,  unusual plants, unfortunate graffiti and stylish landscaping.

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A walk is NEVER boring.  You don’t have to live next to the greatest park to experience the benefit of walking in the fresh air. Urban areas can give the same effect – there are always tiny local parks, laneways and byways to explore.

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Walking is cheap and doable – you can even walk to music or listen to a book if you have headphones and an iPod.

Does walking figure in your life, help your creativity?

Where do you walk? Has it inspired poetry or prose?

 

Several Natural Tweets Trumps 45

 

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Some days the world seems to have exploded with craziness. Who would have thought the man now in the office, often referred to as the most powerful in the world, would spend his days watching cable TV and tweeting? 

Every time I think of Donald Trump as President of America – especially in light of his derogatory remarks about, and to women, I shake my head in disbelief. But there are many other failings that worry me more including the fact he has the power to start a war and has access to the nuclear codes!

I’m part of the generation born in the decade after World War Two in the shadow of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Three Wise Monkeys
Mairi Neil

Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru sit on the mantlepiece:
seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and speaking no evil.
A Japanese pictorial maxim transplanted to Scotland;
brought home by a great uncle, a ship’s captain,
these wise monkeys an added admonishment
to a childhood steeped in Presbyterian rules.
Yet, the shadow of evil an unseen cloak
as we lived in the tatters of World War Two.
Crowded cemeteries, buildings awaiting demolition,
food rationing…crippling austerity
shattered families struggling to find meaning,
shuddering when ambulance and police sirens wail.
Speak no evil an achievable rule perhaps
hearing no evil more difficult
and what of seeing evil or evil seen?
The brass monkeys cold. A chilly weight
in my child’s hand, etching a mystic message
of aspirations difficult to achieve.

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Born in Scotland I lived not far from the Holy Loch where American submarines were first based in 1960. People in the peace movement (CND), including my father, protested this base made Scotland a first strike nuclear target.

This was the era of ‘The Cold War‘ and Russia was the enemy to fear, the people and country to demonise.

However, many people who survived WW2 were shocked at the devastation caused by the atomic bombs and believed the only way to safeguard the world was to ban nuclear weapons. CICD, the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament became a part of a worldwide movement.

Fears were realised when interference in Cuba escalated into what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Polaris submarines were deployed from Scotland but hostile contact averted.

“By midOctober six of the Navy’s new Polaris submarines, based at Holy Loch Scotland had deployed to their battle stations deep under the sea. USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN 602), in upkeep at Holy Loch, and two other submarines that had just completed shakedown cruises were also prepared on short notice to add their firepower to the nuclear equation.”. . . “ On October 22 at 1900 at DEFCON 3 “Polaris submarines moved to their launch points.”

Cuban Missile Crisis paper from Wilson Center

My mother told me about the day news came of the movements at Holy Loch, after days of tensions being reported on the radio.

A neighbour rushed into our house in Scotland crying hysterically, ‘we’re all going to die!’ She had young children like Mum, had survived the Greenock blitz and horrible memories had been triggered by the threat of another war – this time one that would wipe out sizeable chunks of countries simultaneously.

 

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I used to have a similar poster as this hanging on the toilet door throughout the 70s.

 

Perhaps it is the story from Scotland and recalling other stories my parents shared about the war that feeds an almost morbid fascination with President Trump’s cavalier attitude to the power he has, where he seems more enthralled with his signature than what he is signing.

I’ve had to make a conscious effort to switch off and try and actively look for peace of mind. Luckily, living where I do and working where I do, it has been fairly easy.

Bird Tweets Trump Donald’s

Mother Nature has given us wonderful birds who tweet because it’s their natural way of communicating. Their tweets more inspiring than those from you know who!

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The rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus) is a species of parrot common along the eastern seaboard, from northern Queensland to South Australia and Tasmania. Its habitat is rainforest, woodland and coastal bush, hence its attraction to Mordialloc!

Limerick for the Birds
Mairi Neil

Australia has parrots galore
feathered wonders love to soar
with squeals and tweets
the Rainbow Lorikeets
brighten our Mordy foreshore.

I spotted a rainbow lorikeet one evening when I was out for a walk with my friend Jillian. Usually, they are in pairs or a cluster but this one sat on the electric wires observing us. Not sure if he was as enamoured with me as I was with him! They really are pretty birds.

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This little fellow that I think is a Thornbill entertains me every morning and early evening. He and a couple of mates flitter in and out the vines outside my kitchen window, moving so fast it is difficult to take a picture. I’m sure they sense me hiding behind the net curtains.

Focused and persistent, they chat to each other as they forage for insects. Their antics make me happy and I look forward to catching a glimpse of their fluttering feathers.

Haiku – Mairi Neil

Winter’s skeleton
Hides the promise of springtime
And the buzz of life

One day recently, having coffee with my friend Lesley in Mentone, a tiny House Sparrow decided to join us and we had a lovely conversation. Although, we were never in any doubt of what he was really after!

One reason for the successful establishment of the House Sparrow in Australia and, indeed, all over the world, is its ability to feed on a wide range of foodstuffs. Birds eat insects, spiders, berries, seeds, flower buds and scraps of food discarded by humans. There are many reports of birds entering canteens in buildings to feed, with birds even learning to activate automatic doors in order to gain entry.

Walks with friends around my neighbourhood of Mordialloc, Parkdale and Mentone, a welcome distraction to current political shenanigans dominating the news and even birds regarded as pests are more appealing than many of those who claim to be leaders.

Mordialloc Beach

Mairi Neil

The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day.
Eucalypts and pine compete with salty air and
the whiff of abandoned seaweed.
The blue-green sea a mirror for fluffy clouds of whipped cream.
Dainty dollops on a pale blue plate.
Gulls sit or glide atop this glassy sea.
Bathed in white sunlight I imagine I too drift and dream.
In the distance, palm tree fronds tremble casting lacy shadows on hot sand. The clink of moorings and masts drifts from the creek
and a sudden gust of wind whips sand to sting legs and face.
Airborne seagulls now screeching origami kites.
A dark veil unfurls from the horizon, shattering the grey-green mirror
and peaceful contemplation. Waves lap and soap around feet.
I retreat to the shelter of eucalypts and pine,
the taste of salt bittersweet.

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Polluting Politics

The current state of politics and events are repugnant yet there is a fascinating compulsion to follow the relentless shocks – that’s where playing with words relieves the tension. 

Limerick for the Times
Mairi Neil

President 45 an aggressive male
as a leader, he’s destined to fail
dividing his nation
without hesitation
‘Trumplethinskin’ is no fairy tale.

Of course, what passes for Australia’s political leadership is not much better. Some Australian MPs adopting the style, policies, and even similar slogans to Donald Trump.

Limerick for the LNP
Mairi Neil

Cory Bernardi is making news
he’s given PM Turnbull the blues
South Australian Bernardi
now has his own party
being ‘Liberal’ exposed as a ruse!

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And then we had the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull attacking the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten in a most unbecoming personal rant while those on the government benches laughed like hyenas savaging prey.

The face of the leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce dark red like an apoplectic fit in progress, albeit driven by laughter, not anger.

Although apoplexy as a specific medical term is not such a common term now, the word apoplectic certainly is, meaning furious and red-faced with uncontrollable rage (so called because its symptoms of flushed red face and loss of bodily control mimic those of apoplexy).

When Treasurer, Scott Morrison brandished a lump of coal and the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg championed ‘clean coal’ WA (usually hot in summer) flooded, NSW and Queensland faced the hottest days ever recorded and bushfires destroyed homes and farmlands. SA faced extreme weather conditions and power blackouts. We in Melbourne had four seasons in one day as usual but on steroids as summer temperatures fluctuated more than normal.

Time for harsh words to be written.

Dear Federal Parliament –

You laugh as Australia burns
the LNP MPs taking turns
to promote dirty coal
cut pensions and the dole –
dear PM where’s your soul?

Barnaby’s red face a disgrace
and vitriol sprayed like mace
Appalling barefaced liars,
Climate-change deniers,
all justify influence buyers!

Halt the wheeling and dealing –
it’s our kids future you are stealing
the Antarctic ice cracking
yet you consider fracking!
Show leadership, please
wind turbines need a breeze
the sun doesn’t always shine
all adjustment takes time…

So, instead of point scoring,
lying, bluster, and theatrics
parliamentarians must sit down
to discuss the energy mix.
The public wants clarity
Extreme weather our reality!

From Mordialloc where even a small rise in sea level threatens homes!

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Thank Goodness For Distractions

I’m lucky classes have resumed, limiting the time I have available to check on the latest scandals, shocks, and silly decisions from those who are supposed to lead.

I’ll get more writing done if I ignore social media – yet switching off or ignoring the news at this critical point in history, seems an impossible task – especially when social justice is at stake.images.png

It’s a bit late for New Year Resolutions but I’ve decided to follow the advice I’m always giving my writing students – ‘write every day’. My lack of output directly related to allowing myself to be distracted and become obsessed with ‘the News’, ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and worrying – which as the quote above implies, is a waste of energy.

My daughter Mary Jane made me a lovely gift at Christmas with a quote from my favourite character, Jo March, from one of my favourite books, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Jo wanted to be a writer and as a nine-year-old reading about her made me determined to be a writer too.

I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all some day.

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I’m grateful for having parents who valued books. When I was ten I received Jo’s Boys, and the following Christmas my aunt gave me Little Men – I treasure these books.

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I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve something heroic or wonderful but perhaps some of my writing will remain and be read after I’m dead. It may not astonish but it will reflect me and the times I lived.

During the week I received a lovely card (with a bird on it!) and thoughtful presents from a student who said, “thank you for mentoring me so well with my writing.” I’ll treasure these too.

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We may live in tumultuous times where there is much to criticise and feel uneasy about, but with a purpose and job I enjoy, wonderful friends and family and surroundings that provide constant delight, I know I’m privileged.

The mantra ‘one day at a time’ and a conscious effort to stay positive will keep me focused.

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Perspective, Prejudice, and Positivity

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Marie Lightman, an accomplished writer/poet/performer based in Newcastle, England was so incensed at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees she asked for poets throughout the world to contribute towards an anthology Writers for Calais Refugees

Reception conditions for the refugees in Calais are worsening and there is an increasing death toll of refugees attempting to cross the channel from Calais to Dover. People are getting together all over the UK to send basic aid, that is not being provided in the holding camp in Calais. Writers are in the unique position to be able to express their concerns about the situation that the state does not seem to share.

Writers for Calais Refugees is an anthology in support of people seeking refuge.

After one of my poems was chosen, Marie and I have kept in touch,  through emails and Facebook. In the last few weeks, she called again for writers to raise their voices, particularly after the shocking death of  Jo Cox MP and the divisive BREXIT Campaign but also many incidents across Europe and throughout the world, where bigotry and prejudice flourish.

A new website was born:

WRITERS AGAINST PREJUDICE

As I write this, an alarming number of cases of intolerance are being reported in the press. We as writers are in the unique position to express our concerns over people being discriminated against because of their race, faith, sexuality, or for any other reasons. Everyone should be appreciated for who they are, without fear or judgement.
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Dictionary.com

Prejudice (noun)

1.an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2.any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable.
3.unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
4.such attitudes considered collectively: The war against prejudice is never-ending.

Prejudice is Everywhere

As a society, we have to be aware of prejudice, and consistently challenge each other about assumptions and word choice, even if that means being uncomfortable and starting controversial and difficult conversations .

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Writers, in particular, must be aware – after all, stereotypes (we use them all the time in our writing, especially on screen), are assumptions and tropes about certain people (characters)  whether it is the picture postcard Scot who is mean or drunk, the stiff-upper-lip or foppish Englishman, the stupid Irishman, the dumb blonde, the nagging mother-in-law, the larrikin Aussie  etc.

Prejudice is often masked as jokes, perpetuated by media by sensational reporting, and stirred up by irresponsible politicians.

However, we can make a conscious effort to not be prejudiced. Choose to speak out for tolerance and harmony like Marie and countless others do. The power of storytelling and words encourages creative thinking as well as writing. Conversations can change relationships and attitudes.

Perspective -A Cautionary Tale

This week, my family experienced the perfect example of prejudice.

My youngest daughter was coming home late (10pm) Tuesday night after dropping her sister off in Elwood. She stopped the car at traffic lights at Glenhuntly Road and a man appeared from a nearby park and tried to get into her car.

She only got a glimpse of a hooded figure and a gloved hand at the window as he yanked at the door because she screamed and automatically hit the central locking switch, planting her foot to drive away as fast as she could.

Twenty minutes later, she was with me in Mordialloc, ashen-faced, shaken and relating what happened. I insisted on phoning St Kilda Police to report the incident. If the attacker is hiding in the parkland, the next female on her own may not have such a lucky escape!

The telephone call went like this:

I dialled the number for St Kilda Police – the nearest station to the incident. A robotic woman’s voice told me if it was urgent to hang up immediately and dial 000. If not urgent, I had a press-button selection to work through:

Press 1 to speak to a uniform officer…

I didn’t wait for the other options and pressed 1.

After what seemed an interminable delay Constable A answered. I explained briefly why I was ringing and handed the phone to my daughter.

I listened to her story again as told to the officer and she said the word caucasian a few times. She explained the man wore a hoodie or a beanie, it was dark, the encounter was scary and brief, but yes he was caucasian.

Apparently, the police officer’s first question after her explanation of events, happened to be, ‘Was  he black or…’

His questioned trailed off into an uneasy silence as if he was searching for another word to describe people. This was why my daughter said ‘caucasian’ and why she had to repeat it because he asked her if she was sure.

Prejudice by the police against people of colour is well-documented and often in the news. But it isn’t until it affects you personally, or you witness the prejudice like my daughter did that you can fully comprehend the extent and consequences of such bias.

The officer should have asked: ‘Can you describe the person who tried to get into your car?‘ Not immediately lead with, ‘Was he black?’

There are a lot of homeless in the St Kilda area and some will sleep in the parks, and a percentage of those are Aboriginal and also migrants, but the preconceived idea and prejudgement that people of colour are more likely to car jack or attack lone drivers just perpetuate prejudice and intolerance. It also can’t be assumed that the man who tried to get into my daughter’s car was homeless or mentally ill – two other groups of people often targetted.

In daylight, there is an obvious scratch near the door handle of the car – the likelihood of the man being armed with a knife a probability.

We haven’t heard any more from the police – no follow-up phone call. We don’t even know if they bothered to go and check out the park or intersection. Perhaps my lack of confidence that they took the complaint seriously shows my prejudice!

Positive Action Required

In these troubled times,  we all need to make more of an effort to encourage harmony and tolerance. To be careful of our choice of words, aware of our own cultural biases, the labelling and placing of people in pigeonholes.

If we make an effort to smile more, be welcoming and open to new friendships, barriers can be broken, prejudice lessened. You can make a difference to someone’s life.

Tolerance
Mairi Neil

To those who fear the
Other
Look not only with
Eyes, but with
Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart.
Are people less human, more evil, if different?
Nationality and ethnicity
Culture, religion, identity
Each of us, ache, bleed, cry, desire – all children of Mother Earth.

Harmonious Haiku
Mairi Neil

To have Harmony
Set aside your prejudice
Give everyone a chance

And to End With a Bit of Positivity

sunflowers

Sunflower Happiness
Mairi Neil

Sunflowers in bloom
Symbols of sunshine
Petals flutter as bees buzz
And butterflies flitter
Interconnected, dependant
Beautiful sunflowers are
Tough and easy to grow
These tall bright blossoms
Enormous examples of
Resilience and adaptability.
Vacant blocks transformed
Into gardens of yellow
Ugliness dispelled
Blandness abandoned
Stunning visual feasts
Sunflowers in bloom
Instant smiles installed!

Promenade with Penguins – the Promise of a Perfect Day!

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On Sunday morning, I looked out the bedroom window to the promise of a beautiful spring day. The Bird of Paradise bush glorious as usual and not a cloud in the sky. A great to be alive day despite the fact it was September and Father’s Day!

Special celebrations like Father’s Day are hard if you are missing a father you loved. My Dad died in 2005, and John, the girls’ dad, died in 2002. The two men I adored no longer around.

We three, remaining Neils have coped with the hype of Father’s Day for a few years now, the weeks leading up to the day where the media and shops are full of reminders, and stories that scream what could have been…

The loss never lessens but there are many people who are in the same boat and deliberately organising the day to focus elsewhere and make a conscious decision to live in the now and not in the past, does help numb rather than exacerbate, the persistent pain.

An Outing To See The St Kilda Penguins

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My friend, Kristine who retired to the other side of the city, belongs to the Altona Adventurers, pictured above with yours truly bottom left. They are an amazing community group, exploring local walks and sites as well as going further afield. On Sunday, Kristine had arranged a trip to see the penguins at St Kilda Pier.

How privileged was I to be included in their outing – they are certainly a friendly, hospitable bunch!

The trip to see the penguins at St Kilda Pier included a special talk and tour by Bronwyn from the Port Phillip Eco-centre. Before we met Bronwyn at the pier, we strolled through the beautiful St Kilda Botanical Gardens land bordered by Dickens Street, Tennyson Street, and Blessington Street. An easy walk from Balaclava Station.

First Stop St Kilda Botanical Gardens

 

The gardens were formally established in 1859 when a boundary fence was erected. By 1907 significant donations of money and plant material had led to the establishment of a rosary, extensive flower beds, and a nursery. Exotic forest trees were planted during the 1870s and Australian species were included in 1932.

Registered with Heritage Victoria, the gardens contain 810 mature tree specimens eight of which are on the significant tree register. In the 1950s the Alister Clarke Rose Garden was established and a Sub-Tropical Rainforest conservatory added in the early 1990’s. Seasonal displays and local indigenous plants provide a valuable collection to study or sit alongside enjoying a picnic.

Built features in the gardens include a giant chess board, ornamental pond with Rain Man fountain, children’s play space, gazebo, glasshouses and the Eco-centre which facilitate lessons on sustainable living practice.

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The gorgeous spring weather helped everyone’s mood but I can imagine the well-kept gardens is an oasis of serenity in any weather. How lucky we are to live in Melbourne – one of the world’s most liveable cities – a title won several times!

The gardens boast an ornamental lake and a lovely sculpture by artists Corey Thomas and Ken Arnold. RAINMAN is a solar powered water feature in harmony with the environment, utilising the sun’s energy, the variations in light are reflected by the flow of water.

On a sunny day, rain will fall onto the figure from under the umbrella, the figure’s hand stretched to feel the day beyond. A cloud passes over, it starts to rain, the solar power ceases, a dry Rainman reaches from beneath the umbrella to feel the rain.

(The solar panels and pump integral to the project were donated.)

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I was delighted when I came across a garden bed with ‘desert’ plants because it triggered a memory of San Antonio when Mary Jane and I visited The Alamo Mission. San Antonio must be one of the most beautiful cities in the USA and one I’d love to revisit.

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Living Fossils
Mairi Neil

Celebrate parks and open spaces
How they let us breathe and play
They put smiles upon our faces

Nature provides wondrous places
Adding beauty to the everyday
Wildlife parks, wilderness spaces

Trainers recommend 10,000 paces
Exercise and be healthy they say
Remember smiles upon our faces

In childhood egg and spoon races
Kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
Celebrates parks and open spaces

Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
And whether skies are blue or grey
We must put smiles upon our faces

In the future, they’ll look for traces
Of how we spent our lives each day
They’ll dig up parks and other spaces
Perhaps put names to long gone faces…

Celebrate parks and open spaces
Breathe deeply and enjoy your play
And remember put a smile upon your face!

Second Stop the delights of Acland and Carlisle Streets

From the Botanical Gardens, we walked to Acland Street for an early tea before heading to the pier for dusk. For some of the Altona Wanderers, the delights and oddities of Acland were a joy to behold and will no doubt entertain many a future coffee break chat.

One of the group had extra special memories – she had been married in the Botanical Gardens and the surrounding streets triggered lots of stories too.

Many Melburnians consider St Kilda synonymous with live music venues like The Espy, but heritage buildings are being redeveloped at an alarming rate.  There is also the fabulous and wonderful Luna Park. Who hasn’t got a story about the Great Scenic Railway (rollercoaster) and other vomit-inducing rides? How many teenage love stories can those rides tell?

Walking towards the pier I saw Edgewater Towers where I’d volunteered last year for Open House Melbourne. A fabulous day spent in a fascinating place with a great history. What serendipity I could take a picture from a different angle this year and see the building from a different perspective.

You really do notice so much more when you walk!

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A Promenade Towards The Pier

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We walked past the partly completed Stokehouse Restaurant tragically destroyed by fire but now being rebuilt to the highest of “green” environmentally friendly standards.

There was the famous Donovans, catering for up-market clients and also four-legged friends. It was just wonderful to enjoy expanses of sand and ocean and stroll with happy singles and families as we prepared for the aim of the evening – our date with the penguins!

 

Despite the sizeable group and people ‘doing their own exploring’ we all managed to make it to the pier.

Bronwyn gave excellent hints, information, and advice about the Port Phillip Environment and future foreshore sustainability in general. The dangers of microbeads to ocean life one of the biggest challenges we face. She searched in the sand to show us some microbeads, and Neil, the other ranger from the Eco-centre explained how natural the pink tide was when we were all imagining something sinister!

We had never seen the pink frill before and thought it may have to do with the dredging of the bay or pollution, but it seems it is a natural and healthy occurrence!

On the way back from observing the penguins nest for the night, Bronwyn threw a stone in the water to show an explosion of the blue phosphorescence underneath the pink. Truly amazing! It certainly kept me and nearby tourists amused.

Watch amazing shades of orange, yellow, pink and blue reflect off Port Phillip Bay’s calm waters. The view from St Kilda Pier is simply mesmerizing. Hang your legs over the pier, feel the cool breeze and gaze at the horizon as the day’s light slowly fades away.

The friends of Port Phillip’s Eco-centre and volunteers looking after the penguins are also helping refurbish the breakwater and extension to the pier that holds the rockery where the Little Blue Penguins nest and breed.

We helped carry buckets of sand to spread alongside the rocks to prevent erosion. Groundcover (Disphyma crassifolium, Rounded Noon Flower) similar to pigface is planted along with saltbush.

We owe much to the dedication of volunteers in environmental groups. They contribute enthusiastic caring for the places that make Melbourne such an attractive city!

Bronwyn encouraged us to have some bush tucker and I tasted saltbush for the first time. I will now learn more about what food and medicine can be found in plants we take for granted.

In fact, the evening was a salutary lesson about how wonderful the world around us can be – the little penguins have returned in greater numbers because people continue to work hard to maintain their habitat and protect them. I’ve heard estimates their numbers to be anywhere from 700 – 1200.

We were asked not to use flash photography, to keep our distance, and respect the Little Penguins. To stay on the viewing platforms or path, and to cover any torch with red paper to limit the shock to the penguins.

It is appalling that many of the public disregard such simple requests and vandals have  hurt and killed the Little Penguins this year. On Sunday night, I was surprised that even with volunteers politely requesting better behaviour, onlookers flashed cameras, blocked the path of a Little Penguin trying to cross, and made loud noises and startling movements that would distress them.

If we want close encounters with wildlife lets respect the animals and not treat them as pure entertainment.

If you go down to the pier, perhaps offer to carry a bucket of sand and help the volunteers trying to stop erosion and improve the habitat so future generations will enjoy the penguins too.

The Little Penguins are not the only attraction on St Kilda Pier. One of my favourite birds was there – a pelican. Perched atop a lamp post some of our group thought it was a sculpture!

There are photo opportunities to capture other seabirds and to witness the swift moving penguins come ashore. They zip through the water like torpedoes.

A walk along the pier at St Kilda at dusk reveals another aspect or perspective of the city. The skyline is an imposing backdrop, yet the busyness and noise of traffic remarkably absent once you get to the far end of the pier.

In fact, the noise of the penguins mating (it is breeding season) rose to a crescendo several times on Sunday evening and it was hard to believe you were anywhere near urbanisation!

The hundreds of boats at the marina gleamed in the fading light and once street and traffic lights came on, plus the lights of the city buildings, the reflections on the water were truly enchanting. A veritable watery fairyland.

It was with some reluctance that we made our way back to ‘civilization’ to catch the light rail into the city and the train home.

A perfect day indeed!

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Welcoming Spring – a Planting, Paintings, and Poetry

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Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Golden Wattle Sunday Springfest at Box Cottage Museum, home of the City of Moorabbin Historical Society. The event organised by the Box Cottage Museum Team.

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Several months ago, Fran Bader, writer, historian, Box Cottage Team member and close friend, invited me to pen some limericks and haiku for the day focusing on the wattle, Australia’s floral emblem associated with spring and Box Cottage situated in Joyce Park, Jasper Road, Ormond.

I accepted the challenge for terse verse and emailed some limericks to Fran for approval. An invitation arrived to write more poetry and also read alongside representatives from the Henry Lawson Society, Australian Natives Association, and the  Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group – a privilege indeed.

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In July, as Kingston Citizen of the Year 2016, I attended the opening of the NAIDOC Week exhibition and learnt about the wattle tree from an indigenous perspective. When I shared a poem that came from that experience, Fran asked if I would read it at the Springfest. From having fun as a wordsmith, I became a presenter of a poem, which I hope will encourage people to think more deeply about our national floral emblem and our national identity.

The Golden Wattle
by Mairi Neil, 2016

Five small petals peep from long stamens,
a cluster of yellow welcoming Spring.
The Golden Wattle
a Gondwanian wonder.

I ponder NAIDOC Week
watching smoke drift from
the smouldering leaves
of the Blackwood Wattle.
Welcomed to Country
like those colonisers long ago
who repaid the First People
by stealing their land
to build wattle and daub huts.

Frontiers became bathed in blood
but indigenous spears and clubs
fashioned from the Mulga Wattle
succumbed to muskets and cannon.

Two hundred years and more pass
Still a wattle tree flowers each day
across this continent.
Accepted as a symbol of unity,
the hardy plant
withstands drought, winds, and bushfires.
Resilient, like the spirit of the First People.

I hope the wattle’s therapeutic qualities
work their healing on a nation
coming to terms with a tumultuous past
and often intolerant present.

Leaves, bark, and seeds
medicine to mind, body, and soul.
When you don a sprig of yellow
reflect on Australia’s birth,
remember to mourn the fallen,
but, like the strong shrub,
survive. Banish winter blues,
flourish, and welcome Spring!

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Cover of a magazine at end of WW2

Before I read my poem, I thanked Fran and her committee for inviting me – not as Kingston Citizen of the Year, but as a writer:

Fran and I share a love of history, and poetry, and since it has been a long time between visits to Box Cottage, I’m enjoying the tour today. 

I teach a Life Story class at Godfrey Street Community House in Bentleigh and several of my students have written their memories of Wattle Day – a regular commemoration before my family’s arrival in Australia.

However, I know how attached we can become to a tree – my birthplace is Greenock, Scotland, named because of a green oak. One of the songs Greenockians sing in exile is ‘I’m proud to be a branch of the green oak tree…’

So, here is my tribute to another tree precious to those in my adopted country…

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The day was a great success, due to the hard work of the Box Cottage Museum Team. Blessed with a glorious blue sky, the warm sunshine definitely more spring than the tail-end of winter!

A relaxed and friendly group sat outside listening to several poetry recitals, including mine, plus short speeches and an even shorter tree planting ceremony from local State MP, Nick Staikos. Nick expressed surprise that the hole had been dug and all the hard work completed – he just had to pop the sapling in and pat the soil.


However, he did have to give a speech and present some awards – we don’t let our politicians off too lightly!

Nick mentioned, that although only 30 years old, he’d seen massive changes to the area where he’d lived all his life. He thanked the Historical Society members for their hard work and enthusiasm in preserving important aspects and artefacts of historical significance for future generations.

The Historical Society initiated an art exhibition involving Ormond Primary School’s Grades 4,5, and 6. Valma Sharp, President of the Historical Society,  announced the winners of the Most Creative Artwork Awards, and Nick presented the prizes.

The walls of the  verandah and outside the cottage, plus inside the shed, were festooned with the children’s efforts to capture the essence of the wattle in a creative way. Several times throughout the afternoon as visitors appreciated the display, I heard how difficult it had been for the  judges to choose the winners.

Well done to the children and art teachers of Ormond Primary School!

I felt at home at the Springfest because I knew many of the people attending the day. There were several ex-students from my writing classes in neighbourhood houses and a couple of current ones. Also, several regulars who read or attend Mordialloc Writers’ Group Readings By the Bay.

The writing community in bayside suburbs participates in cross-pollination just like the native bees humming in the various flowering bushes at this time of year.

For those who may wonder who Adam Lindsay Gordon is, perhaps the following verse from one of his poems, recited by John Adams of the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group, may strike a chord – I know my mother quoted the last four lines of this verse often:

“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.”

Rosemary Kelleher, Secretary of the ANA Fraternal Organisation, recited the following poem:

Waratah and Wattle
by Henry Lawson

Though poor and in trouble I wander alone,
With a rebel cockade in my hat;
Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown,
My country will never do that!
You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, and Rose,
Or the three in a bunch if you will;
But I know of a country that gathered all those,
And I love the great land where the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.

Australia! Australia! so fair to behold,
While the blue sky is arching above;
The stranger should never have need to be told,
That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold,
And the Waratah red bloom of love.

Australia! Australia! most beautiful name,
Most kindly and bountiful land;
I would die every death that might save her from shame,
If a black cloud should rise on the strand;
But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes,
Let them come! Let them come when they will!
Though the struggle be grim, ’tis Australia that knows,
That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.

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Jan and Tony, seasoned performers from The Henry Lawson Society, read poems written in the bush poetry style favoured by Lawson and Patterson.

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It wouldn’t be an Aussie celebration without a delightful afternoon tea and the Box Cottage Museum Team put on a great spread with fruit cake, lemon slice, and other tasty treats. There were old newspapers (accompanied by the appropriate cotton gloves) to look through – here is a page from the year 1959, dated August 12 (my birthday).

The tour of the Museum’s collection inside the cottage and in the sheds is worthy of several visits – and although it is open to the public on the last Sunday of the month, the historical society generously makes the place available by appointment. (moorabbinhs@gmail.com)

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When I left Box Cottage I mentioned to Fran’s husband, Holger, who manned the entrance all afternoon welcoming visitors, that Fran and the organising committee will ‘sleep well tonight’.

There is a lot of work ensuring a day like yesterday, is a success. Effort volunteers do cheerfully every weekend in many communities, not just at Box Cottage. But creating an inaugural event such as the Springfest is always a gamble – will people respond and support something new?

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Reflecting on yesterday – the tree planting, the magnificent display of artwork, the appreciation of poetry – the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Sharpen your pens for next year and start penning those limericks, haiku, and other verse!

 

 

Colours of Harmony Work Towards Peaceful Co-Existence​

 

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sunrise over Albert Street Mordialloc

 

This post about a wonderful event is late, because as my husband John, used to say, you can never budget for ill-health – it strikes at any time.

He wasn’t just talking about finances, but also the time lost when yourself or a family member is sick. I’ve experienced both recently with the emergency hospitalisation of my youngest daughter and then becoming ill myself with labyrinthitis, a condition I’ve had before and often recurs because of stress.

To top the unfortunate week off, the family dog Aurora had to be taken to the vet and is now scheduled for an operation and treatment we hope will be beneficial for the eleven and half-year-old, who has been remarkably fit. She is lying beside me as I type, still sulking after the visit to the vet! 

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Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition

Therefore, apologies in advance if I don’t do justice to an inspiring local art exhibition I was lucky to be invited to attend as Kingston Citizen of the Year. The Mayor, Cr Tamsin Bearsley, spoke at the Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition sponsored by the City of Kingston Interfaith Network and held at St Nicholas Gallery, Mordialloc.

Interfaith Network in Kingston

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Despite heavy rain drumming on the pavements, and outside becoming the ubiquitous “dark and stormy night” the venue oozed light, love, and harmony.

The title of the art exhibition apt.  I walked through the door to the buzz of conversations and laughter contributing to a feeling of harmony and happiness. I spied a couple of faces from my past association with the church and years melted away.

There is a special aura around people comfortable in their faith, regardless of denomination or creed, as well as those without a religion but who believe in humanity’s goodness.

Kindness, compassion, and spirituality warm and encompassing, like the sunrise and sunset’s predictable beauty of benign light.

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It was the first time I had been inside the renovated church and ‘new’ gallery (renovations occurred 2011!), although many years ago, I attended services regularly, helped out with the children’s program (the J-Team), and Father Tony, the priest at the time, officiated at John’s funeral.

However, 2007 was the last time I attended as a parishioner when we took Mum to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a service I adored. It’s a memory the girls and I treasure for many reasons, particularly since Mum died in 2009.

For me, a  special ceremony in the calendar of any religion is a spiritual experience and celebrating the birth of Jesus at St Nicholas is always joyous. Even for those who don’t profess a deep faith, Christmas can be special.

The thousands who attend Carols by Candlelight events(or watch them on TV) throughout Melbourne, including events in Kingston, and most notably at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the city proper, often discover a sense of community and of peace.

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Renovations and Transformation…

I was impressed by the transformation of the inside of the church building and the addition of the gallery. The sanctity of the church building enhanced and inviting the public to come in and use the space. A link to the world outside and recognition that symbols and ritual have value because meaning will come from interaction and thoughtful contemplation.

St Nicholas will be celebrating 150 years soon and a member of the congregation is researching and writing its history. I understand the commitment he has undertaken because I put together the history of St Aidan’s Anglican Church, Carrum for their centenary. What a wonderful addition to Mordialloc’s history Colin’s research and the resultant book will make.

Little church on HIll
Published 2004

The beauty in the renovated church, especially of the restored brick archways, the polished wood and the lovely baptismal candle and wall hangings, illustrate the care of the congregation in retaining the essence of the original church.

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Given the multicultural nature of the Australian population sometimes the needs of faiths other than Christian are forgotten and so interfaith networks are important.  

I’ve been fortunate to have many life experiences meeting exceptional human beings in places such as:

  • a ceremony in Japan on the Buddha’s birthday,
  • in a Hindu Temple in Singapore,
  • at Harmony Day and Eid celebrations in Mordialloc
  • and countless workshops and events where people gather to advance equity and social justice without professing a particular faith.

It was good to hear the Chairman of the Interfaith Network thank two long term members taking retirement from active involvement in an organisation committed to tolerance and acceptance of other religions. He also encouraged some of the artists to come forward and share their practice and inspiration for the theme of Colours of Harmony.

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flowers of appreciation
art teacher
art teacher from Parkdale College

The enthusiastic art teacher from Parkdale College bursting with pride at the magnificent display of students’ efforts, admitted she could have filled all the walls of the gallery and it was difficult to choose just a few works to display such was the response to the topic.

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the wall of art from Parkdale College

The students found inspirational quotes or thoughts and went where their imagination and artistry led and produced a variety of responses to Colours of Harmony. Their efforts a comforting balance to the mainstream media’s ‘shock/horror/outrage’ news-bites designed to either keep us all in a constant state of fear and/or ignorant of any in-depth analysis of national and international affairs.

Sadly, the digital age and proliferation of social media contribute to a reduction in quality journalism and as I considered the thoughtful responses to this exhibition’s brief,  I pondered all the challenges the younger generation face. How lucky we are to have teachers like the young art teacher who embraced this opportunity to get her students involved and share their creative responses.

(Sadly, last year was the final year of a creative writing competition I judged involving Parkdale College and Kingston U3A, which initiated the project. Mordialloc Writers’ Group provided the Encouragement Award for the ten years of the project but alas all good things come to an end and Kingston U3A has decided not to continue.)

However, we are lucky to have teachers who embrace opportunities to get students involved with community groups and share their creative responses. Parkdale College has a good track record of doing this.

we dont have to be ordinary
We don’t have to be ordinary
dont get harmony etc
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note
do not judge
Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on

 

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It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day, and I’m feeling good.

We live in troubled times and Australia is having many difficult conversations around tolerance and multiculturalism and a recent incident where a group of people calling themselves patriots dressed as Muslims and invaded the progressive Gosford Anglican Church last Sunday, indicates we have a long way to go to reach harmony. 

Congratulations to a local school with no problem embracing the topic and producing insightful artwork like the ones in the exhibition.

The Gallery and Exhibits

Artist/Photographer Suzanne Ashton spoke about seeing the tiny details of life in the ‘big picture’ of the natural and human world. The beauty and wonder others may miss.

Diana Muller’s art is eclectic and her card and crochet pieces depict the soul inspired by poems of Keiko Takahashi. Her message profound, it is in our hands – we can change the future. Her piece The Source reminds us:

We come from the Source, we go back to The Source, and we are The Source.

Felice Cortese in Moordi Walk uses Melaleuca broad-leaved paperbark with water base paint and pigments to create a spiritual piece on prayer and reflection.

Colour on an indigenous tree background inspired from my walks along Mordialloc Creek. Its spirituality and natural beauty.

Richard Newton captured Harmony of Buddha with oil, acrylic, bitumen, gold and silver leaf and layers of resin/mixed medium.

The Thai images of the Buddha are very spiritual and I have attempted to counterbalance the image with a harmonious abstraction… there is an unnatural harmony between the classic old image and the use of colour and line.

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Harmony is about coexistence, and interfaith harmony is a reality when people respect each other’s right to believe and worship their religion without discord and violence. This calls for cooperation and a level of understanding, which may require education and effort – moving out of our comfort zones, reaching out and looking within.

Exhibitions like the Colours of Harmony supported and encouraged by council and community help us grow towards what may seem elusive – an achievable world of mutual respect and appreciation of all cultural traditions so that interfaith and intrafaith dialogues are guided by love and tolerance.

 

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Mother Earth in Harmony by Charmaine Crisp

This idea encapsulated by artist Charmaine Crisp, in her work depicting the Tree of Life and all its nuances. The ethereal glow and exceptional detail in her painting not done justice by my photograph!

“We wake under the one rising sun, which provides warmth and light for all. May love, hope, and charity be our guide in life.”

The Exhibition lasts until August 30 so I hope as many people as possible make the effort to enjoy the 41 pieces of work by talented artists.

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And for those interested in learning more about other faiths in Melbourne we have The Interfaith Centre, which organises World Interfaith Harmony Week. A Multifaith Calendar is available so that organisations can plan events and be mindful they don’t clash with or inadvertently exclude other faiths.

I studied at the ANU in Canberra in the 70s  and often return to visit friends.  I love this statute of Ethos by Tom Bass,  in Civic.  It embodies how I feel about humanity, the world and belonging to a place where people work for harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

Ethos sculpture canberraEthos speaksnew ethos sculpture ed 2

Acrostic by Mairi Neil

Healing words soothe
A heartfelt hug or sincere smile
Reason, not racism
Multicultural vibrancy Australia’s style
Outsiders no more
Not only tolerance but acceptance
You are welcome – we are enriched

Open House At Abbotsford Convent

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On Sunday, for the sixth year, I volunteered for Open House Melbourne and spent the day at Abbotsford Convent sharing the welcoming duties with Shirley, another volunteer. It was a gorgeous, sunny day for winter and the sun had a sting for my Celtic pelt. Although still officially winter, I regretted not having a sun hat.

Shirley and me

It had been several years since I’d been to the complex and although I didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the inside of the buildings, the changes to the gardens, grounds, and renovated buildings was a pleasant surprise.

I just had to block from memory the chequered history of the institution and not dwell on the sadness when the convent was a home for “wayward girls”. Instead, I enjoyed the ambience of the grounds and chatted with the 1000 plus visitors I recorded during my 4-hour shift!

A stream of musicians and singers as people arrived to practice for concerts and the opera. Locals who walked their dogs;  met up with friends or attended regular classes in art, writing and other endeavours.

The tiny, grey-haired and softly spoken ‘sister’ in her mid-80s, now retired, but who had come to revisit the place where she worked with ‘so many happy memories’. My writer’s mind had difficulty not flying off at a tangent and recreating a different scenario!

An article in the Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 34 (2013), 70-90 can be read here: Abbotsford convent nuns treatment of girls with details of when it was still functioning in the Catholic network.

Established in 1863, the former Convent of the Good Shepherd was the most important Catholic institutional complex constructed in Victoria. Some outstanding features include the medieval French ecclesiastic architecture, the historical importance of the Industrial School and the Magdalen Asylum, the  grandeur of the Convent building and heritage gardens and the aesthetic qualities of the surrounding farmland and rural setting.

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at the entrance gate

 

In April of 2004, the Abbotsford Convent Coalition and the public finally won the fight to save the Convent. The State Government of Victoria gifted the site to the public; with $4 million to commence the restoration works and the City of Yarra contributed $1 million. With this, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation was born as the custodian of the site to own and manage it on behalf of the people, with a focus on arts, culture and learning. A strong team was built to implement the strategy and vision and the restoration works commenced. With many of the buildings left for years to become derelict and overgrown gardens beyond belief, the job ahead was monumental.

2014)… Ten years on, 60 per cent of the buildings have been restored, hundreds of tenants fill studio and office spaces, the venues are filled with performances, workshops, rehearsals, conferences and meetings, and there is an extensive program of events staged throughout the year. As a community hub and an accessible cultural platform and creative cluster, the Convent hosts a valuable confluence of connectivity, inspiration and ideas. With close to a million annual visitors, the Convent is now one of Australia’s most popular cultural icons.

WURUNDJERI PEOPLE AND CULTURE HONOURED

 

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First People acknowledged

 

Pre 1838 

The Abbotsford Convent is located on part of the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. The nearby junction of the Merri Creek and Yarra River at Dights Falls continues to be an important meeting place for the Central Victorian Tribes, who are also known as the Kulin Nation. The site is enclosed in a natural amphitheatre that for centuries provided the Wurundjeri people with a sheltered and resource-rich camping area. The river flats and deep fresh water also provided plentiful opportunities for hunting and fishing. The Wurundjeri have maintained their connection to the site, with their office located in the Convent’s Providence building.

Haiku by Mairi Neil

Ningla a-Na! This our land
Indigenous and immigrant
Now sharing history

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Memory Lane

Of course, further down the street, and visited by most of the people who came with children was the Collingwood Children’s Farm. This brought back happy memories of when the girls and I visited with their primary school and we actually milked a cow!

Not sure if they remember the experience with fondness but I know their Nana was thrilled to hear about the visit because it gave her an excuse (not that Mum ever needed that) to tell stories about her childhood years after her mother died, when she lived on her Uncle Arthur’s farm in Northern Ireland .

collingwood childrens farm

The Good Shepherd Chapel

I did manage to have a quick look inside the restored Good Shepherd Chapel. A testament to devotion and the talents of many skilled artisans. Built in 1871, it is the second oldest building at the Abbotsford Convent site and ‘has enormous cultural and historic significance for Victoria’. The original architect, Thomas Kelly, the great uncle of John Clarke, actor/comedian/writer of the ABC Clarke & Dawe duo!

(I always love the connections and six degrees of separation trivia!)

The Chapel is so much more than a church – it is a vibrant and versatile space for the community to gather, share, learn, laugh and reflect. 

Renovated in 2012, its remaining original features lovingly restored, it is now a popular venue for weddings, baptisms, and funerals. My co-volunteer, Shirley, told me her son had been married in The Chapel.

More an agnostic now than having any close relationship with my Protestant upbringing, I’ve been inside many Catholic churches all over the world and usually find the statues of the crucified Christ and much of the art confronting.  Sunday was no exception and the large sculpture in the foyer didn’t disappoint!

jesus crucified

The Crucifix at the end of the Chapel, in a space called the Avant Choir, was made by Max Kreitmayer who was one of the waxworks owners in Melbourne. He came from Germany where he studied anatomy. The house he lived in across, and down the road from the Chapel near the farm is now a cafe.

Terse Verse by Mairi Neil

Faith isn’t logical,
neither is love
delicate… fragile…
sometimes destructive

 

The stained glass windows include the beautiful Rose Window above the History Centre, and the Wheel Window, behind the altar, which breathes new life after being concealed internally during the 1960s and 70s. The two traciered windows next to the Wheel Window, representing the Good Shepherd and the Immaculate Conception on the left, and St joseph and St john the Baptist on the right.

 

 

The high Altar is still in its original form and was built by Moisseron & L Andre Sculpteures in France. The beautiful marble ordered by Sister Carmel Curtain, the revered sister interred beneath the Chapel nave.

The Apse (Dome) Painting is a set of 5 paintings depicting Mary and two archangels. A visiting artist, Signor Cavallaro, painted the mural in 1899.

Asylum Seekers & Refugees – TREE OF HOPE

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have always been outspoken on the issue of asylum seekers and many have been active and vocal demanding change in government policies. I wrote a message on a luggage tag and hung it on their Hope Tree –

I hope that all refugees and asylum seekers are released from detention and the Australian Government discovers the meaning of compassion.

 

 

Seeking Asylum by Mairi Neil

Despair and desperation in their eyes
they plan to seek a new life
as far away as possible from strife

Seeking a safe haven is the prize
perhaps leaving behind children and wife
despair and desperation in their eyes

For many, it may take several tries
this plan to seek a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes

Living on the edge of a knife
their only crime seeking a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes.

floor inscription

The Order was founded on activating the values of faith, hope, charity and compassion…

‘Charity and Zeal must be universal, that is, they should reach out and relate to everyone.’

St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

 

There is also a Bell Tower with bells cast in the 1880s. The bells still ring on special occasions although the original mechanism has been decommissioned. However, Anton Hassell, maker of the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr configured a drop hammer mechanism to allow the fickle instrument to resonate when needed, much to the delight of the Convent and neighbourhood.

Many of the buildings have been turned into artist and writer studios and I have to admit to envy – especially when the benign sun shone on Sunday, the first hints of spring budded on trees and there was a serene solidity and suspension of time as you walked on paths -whether earthen or concrete – trod by thousands of feet for thousands of years.


Inside the buildings, there may have been shadows of a dark and painful past but outside the gardens display nurturing care and love. A middle-aged man I spoke to yesterday worked as an apprentice gardener ‘many moons ago’ he said with a smile. He was returning to ‘have a look at the changes’.

I complimented him on all his hard work because the mature trees and plants are a credit to the years of care and somebody’s vision, magnificent shrubs and trees don’t just happen!

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Haiku by Mairi Neil

Sunlight dispels shadows
gardens nurtured with love
brighten everyone’s day.

Mother Nature’s arms
Always soothes and refreshes
Whispering sweet peace

tree skeleton

When it was time to go off duty, Shirley and I headed for the Bakery for a well-earned cup of coffee. So many people visit Abbotsford Convent every weekend for breakfast or lunch, the variety of eating places popular – especially Lentil As Anything. But there is also Kappaya Japanese Soul Food Cafe, Cam’s and the Convent Bakery.

The sound of children’s laughter, adult chatter and the clinking of wine glasses and coffee cups and the biggest variety of dogs I had ever seen in a public space that was not specifically a dog park, was a marvellous testimony to how lucky we are living in a place often voted the world’s most liveable city!

Haiku by Mairi Neil

Coffee for two, please
Friendship needs refills
And a regular fix

Mark your calendar now for next year – Open House Melbourne weekend is a wonderful opportunity to spend time and appreciate marvellous Melbourne.

You can experience buildings with historical, architectural and cultural significance and learn a little more of the development of the city while having fun.

 

Resisting The Fear of Terror, Trump and Tempestuous Times

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In a world of instant news, we seem to be inundated with horror, and as the well-known dictum suggests: Bad news travels fast.

A couple of days ago, I received an email with news I hadn’t yet heard. It was from my dear friend Tanja, who now lives in Italy.

Last night a crazy guy shot many persons in Munich. My children are all well. They live in the center of Munich. I feel very sad for this crazy world.’

I sighed with relief  while feeling tremendous sorrow and heartbreak for those who had suffered!

Since then, the number of dead and injured in Kabul has risen, there have been more incidents in Iraq, ongoing carnage in Syria, and fearful repercussions of what may or may not have been a well-organised coup in Turkey while the people still recover from suicide bomber attacks. And more shootings involving police and African-Americans in the USA.

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I’ve mentioned before how privileged I feel to have the world of my writing and teaching to keep me sane and grounded in reality. A reality that there is only a small percentage of human beings committing these acts of terror and violence, but we must all work towards a solution to stop people feeling angry and disenfranchised, or forcing their view of the world on others.

Irresponsible political leaders and celebrities like American Donald Trump, Britain’s Nigel Farage and Australia’s Pauline Hanson peddling the politics of fear, ignorance, lies, and hate in the West and multiple groups and leaders fighting for power in the Middle East – the place we are led to believe is the origin of current acts of terror – can’t be allowed to define who we are.

Limericks Against Loose Language

There’s a presidential hopeful called Trump
From Australia, he looks quite a chump
He speaks in platitudes
With aggressive attitudes
Yet, his popularity is not in a slump!

So many seem to admire Donald Trump
Because ‘political correctness’ he’ll dump
But dissecting his words
Reveals policies absurd
If he wins ‘stop the world’ let me jump!

In Oz, we have a female version of Trump
Pauline Hanson is back with a thump
Fear she’ll expand
’All Muslims banned’
But ask for the logic, and she’s gazumped

Pauline’s no stranger to misinformation
Founding the ironically named ‘One Nation’
She nurtures division
With xenophobic precision
Be welcome as long as you’re not Asian!

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Study History and be Informed

If you have lived over six decades, like me,  you’ll remember the prolonged bombings, murders, and plane hijacks by nationalist groups such as the IRA, PLO, Spanish ETA, not to mention others with perhaps a broader agenda like the Red Brigade, Baader-Meinhof , American Weathermen, the Front de libération du Québec and too many guerrilla groups in South America and the African continent  to list. Who can forget Pol Pot, the Tiger Tamils, extremist groups in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Burma, the plethora of groups involved in the Vietnam War, China’s Cultural Revolution, the Sarin Gas Subway attack in Japan … and the list goes on

Google isn’t the only source of knowledge and shouldn’t be but it is a good start if you type in any of the above struggles, countries, or causes.

Turmoil and tempestuous times are not new but having instant access on our phone which we carry everywhere means we have difficulty escaping from whatever circulates on social media as well as mainstream news.

Bigger television sets with clearer satellite images and on the spot reporting beamed into our homes, every doctor, dentist or hospital waiting room, pub, shopping centre and anywhere else people gather, ensures 24-hour shock and horror with often limited context or facts. Creating and marketing fear second nature to some sections of the media.

May we… be part of the answer, and not part of the problem.

This quote, also from the Rev.  Peter Marshall  was on a plaque above our mantelpiece when I was growing up. My parents shared a lot of the values of Peter Marshall, which was not surprising because they were Scottish Presbyterians before coming to Australia and joining what became the Uniting Church.

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I was lucky to be brought up with what I consider good core values, particularly in regard to social justice and belief in equity and the priority of peace. My parents were Christians who acknowledged that others, as well as their own children, may not necessarily have the same views. They may not have celebrated our drift away from their religious practices, but they accepted it.

Dad spent his life studying and questioning the tenets of his Christian faith. He was a deep thinker and loved philosophical discussions.  I’ve inherited some of his books, including one about Comparative Religions, which he encouraged me to read when I was studying Eighteenth Century history in my final year of high school.

We listened to the Boyer Lectures on the ABC together and had great discussions on the wide-ranging  topics covered.  Dad read and listened to tapes by the Rev. William Barclay, who many considered preached heresy. He loved debating aspects of religion and church life and read and admired Paulo Freire. Sometimes discussions could be prolonged, passionate, even heated and sometimes ended with agreeing to disagree!

In today’s world, voices of religious fundamentalism of various persuasions and fanaticism want to dominate. We could do with more people like my father.  Dad enjoyed seeking and sharing knowledge, having a respectful debate, not only being tolerant but accepting different religious and spiritual beliefs.

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The world does seem crazy, so I focus on the wellbeing of family and friends, celebrate birthdays and achievements, share coffee catch-ups with past students and close friends, enjoy the seasonal changes of my garden.

I throw myself into the various volunteer events I enjoy. (Next weekend is Open House Melbourne.) I’m glad the discussions and laughter shared in writing classes are meaningful, life-affirming and a source of joy – and we all love the writing time.

peter marshall quote

 

My Five Memorable Experiences This Past Week To Keep Me Singing and Wondering:

  1. I receive a delightful and humbling thank you email plus a gorgeous gift from past student Trish when we meet for lunch. She had created the mini garden just for me and sent a lovely poem by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

present fro Trish

 

Journal Newsletter

2. I prepare a book for publication by a beautiful woman who has helped many people find peace in meditation and yoga. She wants to leave a legacy of her life’s journey, which is a triumph of survival against barriers, cancer, and other life events that would have defeated others. Julie Wentworth’s, A Life Shared will be as treasured as her first book, Love & Light.

3. I attend two consumer focus groups with people like myself determined to make our health system the best it can be.

(a) One to help the Cancer Council’s  Quit Campaign improve its approach and be more effective and advise on the language used on their website.

(b) One to improve quality and safety in our hospitals with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Quality and Safety Framework Consumer Focus Group at the Health Issues Centre.

4. I spend a Saturday afternoon with Karen Corbett one of the best theatre/drama teachers in the business learning to improve my play-writing skills to submit a monologue to Baggage Productions annual Madwomen’s Monologues. Shortlisted two years ago I will keep trying in the hope my work is performed.

5. Two long-standing writing buddies and dear friends help me workshop a novel started in 2008 (!), abandoned when I was diagnosed with cancer –  but now ready to be resurrected. I am so blessed having valued critics with amazing writing talent. When the three of us get together we have a lot of fun as well as work hard  workshopping our words.

Writing Class
Mairi Neil

A library of imagination
Pens fill blank pages
Words arranged and stacked
Released to the public
Knowledge laced with fantasy
A choice of genres
To receive a stamp of approval

I hope after reading this post people can count their blessings and perhaps create a list too! A great buffer against negativity.

 

Flex Writing Muscles With Flash Fiction Fun

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Mordialloc beach storm brewing

I can’t believe the term holidays are almost over and my  list of ‘things to do’ has morphed into ‘things I should have done’.

I hear my Mother’s voice ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions...’ Mum loved quotes: proverbs, Bible texts, aphorisms, lines from poems or classical literature and it’s amazing how many come to mind – imprinted on my brain like the times tables from school.

C’est la vie

At least, I’ve almost finished preparing my lessons for the four classes starting soon, and I’ve caught up with some friends, but the clearing of clutter to renovate the shed didn’t happen, nor clearing the boxes of papers from my study.

Maybe spring cleaning will work …

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While filing away old lessons and researching and planning new ones I came across pieces of writing I’d written in class or on the train to work. Such a welcome distraction. The inevitable editing and polishing began until in some cases the original words barely recognised.

I don’t need any excuse to play with words or write and often when I come across a poem or story I can’t remember what the prompt was or why I wrote it!

Like this poem from 2o12, which was buried among notes in a lesson about dialogue!

Sea Dance
Mairi Neil

Shattered nerves soothed
By waves in a slow waltz
One two three four
One two three four
Lapping at feet, teasing the sand
The glittering sun
A silver ball suspended
From an azure ceiling
The vast ocean
A mirrored dance floor
A crooning breeze snatches
Troubles away
To where white sails flutter
And dolphins dream
One two three four
One two three four
Waves in a slow waltz
Soothe shattered nerves.

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Of course, the recent Federal Election and the prospect of a hung parliament is an entertaining (and worrying) distraction. Listening to all the politicians putting their particular spin on an extraordinary turn of events will no doubt fuel many writers, albeit comedians.

However, what it will mean for Australia is anybody’s guess and it is certainly keeping journalists busy. They have no trouble filling the 24 hour news cycle. The rest of us get on with life and hope for the stability promised.

An Election Limerick

Malcolm Turnbull, the PM in Oz
Who decided to be the LNP boss
Well, he turned out a dud
Just like Kevin Rudd
Their poor judgement Australia’s loss

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I discovered a piece of flash fiction with a title that seemed to fit the election result so will share it to show what can come from a prompt I have used a few times over the years in classes. And like most fiction there is a lot of truth because here is a link to where I got my original idea.

Feel free to ‘have a go’ if the prompt triggers a story or poem:

The Writing Prompt

You were walking on the beach this morning and came across a bottle with a note in it.
Were you alone?
Why were you at the beach? Is that important?
Who put the message in the bottle?
Where did the bottle originate?
What does the note say?
How long was the bottle in the water?
Will you have to do something/take some action?
What are the consequences?

The story you write can be fantasy, adventure, horror, humorous, historical, mystery, romance…

Mixed Messages
Mairi Neil

Janet scuffed the sand oblivious to the cry of seagulls and crash of incoming tide. The dullness of leaden clouds grew darker by the minute. Hunched over with hands stuck deep inside her Duffel coat’s pockets, she struggled against the wind.

Straight from the Arctic – cold and frigid – the words Ben used to describe her last night.

She sidestepped a surge of white foam, stumbled over a green bottle vomited ashore with other debris. The jolt made her focus for a moment on something other than her own misery, then she noticed a scrap of paper inside the bottle.

She peered through the sand encrusted glass. The bottle, a peculiar shape with glass reminiscent of the bedside lamp inherited from her grandmother and supposedly from the 1800s.

Wary of touching anything the sea threw up, Janet used her booted foot to roll the bottle free of seaweed and entangled driftwood.

The sea harboured unpleasant creatures; animals that bite and sting.

Janet shuddered, remembering the stab from the stone fish she’d unwittingly stood on as a child. The pain of poisonous spines, the brush with death and disaster – a story her mother retold to anyone who’d listen. A story reinforcing Janet’s anxieties – not just of the sea, but fear of anything unknown.

Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! The chants of school bullies still hurt 30 years later.

‘You’re scared of your own shadow.’ Another taunt Ben threw at her last night when she offered reasons why she didn’t want to travel to Doha.

‘Not shadows, Ben! Bombs and terrorists – no place is safe over there.’

‘Do you realise how much money is on offer? The lifestyle we can live if we move there?’
It always came down to money with Ben.

Emotion almost choked her as she picked up the bottle before the angry sea reclaimed it. She strode to the bluestone wall separating sand and promenade and sat on the cold bricks. A nearby stick ideal to dig out the weathered cork.

A few shakes and canny manipulation meant the note fell into her hand. Faded paper and blurred ink. However, the scrawled letters clear: HELP!

Janet began to shake, her imagination haywire, heart thudding.

Was someone captive on a ship? Abandoned on an island? Robinson Crusoe sprang to mind – when was that written? Janet tried to remember.

How far away from Australia was the island? What about pirates? Treasure Island’s murderous crew not that far-fetched. Plenty of people imprisoned, tortured and abandoned on the high seas over the years.

Today, the media full of refugees fleeing horror, needing help. How many migrant ships lost at sea? People seeking a new life in another land, survivor or survivors struggling in a lifeboat, minimum supplies gone, burning sun blistering skin, salt water driving the occupants mad…

She breathed deeply, inhaling the freshening wind. Ben always accused her of indecision and procrastination. She straightened her shoulders and with bottle and note in hand, started towards the town.

I’ll call into the police station first. What if they think my ideas fanciful? Tell me they have too much important work to do regarding border security. They’ll dismiss the note as a prank. Maybe accuse me of mischief!

Better to go to the local museum. Double check if the bottle is old or a replica. Ease the fear that someone isn’t desperate for help.

A sixth sense made Janet turn to stare seawards. With the worry over Ben and distraction of her find, she hadn’t scanned the bay this morning for ships heading for the city or leaving for distant oceans.

She loved speculating about their journeys – a not-too distant ancestor had been a sea captain – ‘the sea’s in our blood’ her father always said.

A white speck on the horizon moved fast becoming bigger like an expanding balloon.
A speedboat?
Was that a hand waving – arm pointing?

Janet looked around. No one else on the beach this dreary winter’s day. Even the regular dog walkers avoided the icy weather.

She edged towards the sea like a child worried about seeing the store Santa. The boat bumped over breakers, mounted waves, stayed on course, heading her way. Two people visible – one waving, shouting and pointing. At the bottle?

Her bottle.
How did they know?

A minute later, the boat skidded and juddered onto the sand. A sleek motorboat equipped with the latest technological wizardry. One of the men had binoculars around his neck, the other an earpiece hooked into a radio.

‘The bottle please, madam,’ said the man with binoculars, reaching out a gloved hand.

‘We’re from the CSIRO,’ chimed his companion.

‘The bottle. CSIRO,’ Janet repeated their words. Confused and flustered, she felt an anxiety attack beginning, chest tightening, breathing difficult. Heat in her chest moved up to her neck burning her face. Her legs quivered.

‘How did?’ she began to speak, but gloved hands interrupted.

‘Inside the bottle, there’s a tracking device stuck to the bottom.’

Janet hesitated as if he spoke Swahili. She reluctantly held the bottle up for examination. A glimmer of sunlight managed to break through the bruised clump of clouds now suffocating the foreshore. She noticed a tiny pebble, shook the bottle, it refused to dislodge. A transmitter?

‘Oh,’ she whispered.

Her imagination flew to spies, espionage, invading armies, dredged up a story her grandfather told about the war; explosive devices masked as innocuous wrack washed ashore. Ordinary people blown up because of their curiosity.

She pushed the bottle into outstretched gloved hands. The driver of the boat began to speak.

‘We’re testing the power of waves and…’ his explanation cut short by gloved hands pressuring his shoulder.

Janet retreated a few metres before turning and running towards the promenade. She slowed to catch her breath and shove her shaking hands into pockets.

Wait ’til Ben hears about this, she thought. Will he believe me?

She spun around to get more details about the men, but the boat was already speeding out to sea.

What just happened? What if they were lying? Were they scientists or Defence personnel? Were they even Australian?

A gust of wind whisked her sigh seawards.

She wouldn’t tell Ben. Why invite another lecture of what she should have done? How the world had changed since 9/11 – Australia included.

Ben can go to Doha or anywhere else for that matter. On his own. Stay there for all she cared. Amass his millions at the expense of the poor.

The wind died down, and the dark clouds scudded out to sea as if being towed by the speedboat. Janet threw her head back and laughed, surprised at the sound.

She hadn’t heard herself laugh or felt so relaxed in a long time.

It was over between her and Ben. No indecision or procrastination now!

The winter sun a pale promise in the clearing sky as she strolled home.

 

Today you are you.

That is truer than true.

there is no one alive

who is truer than you!

Dr Seuss