I could count on my one hand the creative events and exhibitions I’ve been to in the last two years and I know I’m not alone.
There was attendance at talks, videos and workshops online, but that’s not the same as the sensations experienced walking around, sometimes touching, smelling, hearing and seeing and most importantly feeling the buzz from emotional connections.
Attending events and exhibitions in person triggers memories and ideas and occasionally controversies. If you have someone to share the experience: to reminisce, laugh, cry, debate merits, discuss the impact and celebrate the success, it is a bonus.
Until last Thursday, the “live” events I’ve managed to experience have been with family – and all this year (the least said about 2020 the better!):
a Hannah Gadsby Concert at Sydney Myer Music Bowl with daughter Anne enabling great exercise of laughter muscles (February)
a fascinating Open House Melbourne discussion on The Great Birrarung Parkland by boat with Indigenous guides sharing their knowledge (March)
a tour of the National Trust’s Labassa and the history of the garden with Anne where we managed to dodge showers (May)
a wonderful weekend away with my two sisters, to see the Mary Quant Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery which happened between lockdowns so didn’t have to be rescheduled (June)
a visit to Como for the display of Miniatures and Doll Houses with both Mary Jane and Anne that had been rescheduled (November)
Cat Rabbit: The Soft Library
My good friend Lisa Hill is a prolific book reviewer and alert to events in libraries, writing festivals, bookshops – in fact all things bookish. A few weeks ago she asked if I would like to go with her to The Soft Library , an exhibition by artist Cat Rabbit at the Bayside Gallery, Brighton Town Hall and we booked a date for early December.
“Cat Rabbit is a textile-based artist living in Naarm/Melbourne. Using felt, recycled and vintage fabrics, Cat hand stitches plush sculptural works of her imagined characters and the worlds they might live in. Her work translates to many formats – from children’s books to large-scale felt installations – always with aim of bringing softness and warmth to the viewer.”
How could anyone resist an invitation to an exhibition promising softness and warmth – not only after surviving what we hope is the worst of a global pandemic but anytime!
Lisa is a friend who always goes above and beyond – not only did she offer to drive me but also negotiated with the curators to allow us to visit the exhibition before official opening time so we wouldn’t clash with any school or kinder visit because she worried about my severely compromised immune system when most children are still unvaccinated. The Omicron variant in the headlines revealing the Covid pandemic is stubbornly persistent. Athough no lockdowns and eased restrictions, the adage better to be safe than sorry always applies!
“The soft library is an extraordinary new project by Melbourne-based textile artist Cat Rabbit. The artist has transformed the Bayside Gallery into a fantastical library run by bears, or ‘libearians’, many of who are famous literary characters. Lovingly made by the artist in felt and fabric, the library houses books and animations and a special giant ‘storytime’ bear who invites visitors to sit and enjoy an audio story. This whimsical and delightful exhibition celebrates the freedom found in play and pays tribute to the library as a place of learning and wonder – a home for the endless possibilities of the imagination.”
An ideal place for an art exhibition on the theme of books
Brighton Town Hall is an imposing building with a history dating back to 1885 when the memorial stone was laid by The Hon Thomas Bent MLA, for the District of Brighton and Mayor of the Borough. (Whenever politician Thomas Bent is mentioned someone always adds ‘Bent by name and bent by nature’ and Lisa beat me to that observation! Mr Bent gained quite a reputation when he ‘served’ the people of Victoria and made himself wealthy.)
Above the memorial stone is a plaque dated 1978 when the restored town hall incorporating the central library was opened. Above that yet another plaque dated 1998, when the building became The Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre – Brighton Town Hall.
The design of the exhibition simulates an art gallery display – there are ‘paintings’ on the wall (all made of felt), there is the obligatory marble-look sculpture of a figurehead (made of felt), and the larger than life Libearian and the professional paraphernalia (cards, date stamp, pad etc) laid out on the desk are all felt. A story-teller sits with stories quietly playing on a loop and a circle of soft cushions await eager listeners.
Lisa and I spent a pleasant hour appreciating the imagination, talent and sense of humour of the artist. It is a display ready-made for children’s activities but paved with richness of detail to delight adults. We recognised authors, exclaiming over the craftsmanship and attention to detail and I thought of the various discussions initiated with the children lucky enough to attend.
There are shelves ‘laden’ with felt tomes – the titles wittily clever. Children are given an activity sheet The Great Detective designed to engage them with the exhibits but also to encourage close observation and attention to detail. They are asked: If you could write a bear themed book, what would it be about? What would the title be? (More than children can have fun with this activity and I mentioned to our hosts there could be fun with homophones as well as homonyms!)
I eventually solved a mystery that had been bugging me – I was sure I had heard of Cat Rabbit, even met her somewhere. When I saw the book Too Much For Turtle on the storytime stand I remembered Cat and the illustrator Isobel Knowles had been a guest author and illustrator for The Mordialloc Writers’ Group several years ago when I was coordinator.
Local primary children have participated in workshops with the artist and there is a trolley and shelf with felt books made by Hampton Primary.
There are also gorgeous individual postcards with a QRcode that will take you to digital details of authors and books and the creativity of the artist. QRcodes throughout the exhibition allow further exploration of authors and books. Technology enhances exhibitions by adding or extending interactive elements.
Brighton Libearian Karyn Siegmann pens a lovely intro to The Soft Library confessing her love of books:
“And where is the one place you could get all the books you wanted to read, and for free? The local library of course. That magical place full of stories and ideas and places to curl up and imagine and think…
Libraries have seen so many changes over the years, but they will always be a place of comfort containing infinite stories, both real and imagined. Libraries house characters you can revisit again and again and stories you can learn different things from no matter how many times you read them. It’s a shared place, but at the same time it’s all yours!”
Most of the authors in the exhibition I’d read or heard of but some of the newer children’s authors I didn’t know. However, the exhibits triggered memories of a time in my life I loved when I regularly dabbled in felt craft. From firsthand experience, I appreciate Cat Rabbit’s amazing talent and the effort and hard work to produce such a showcase. I believe craft as an activity and as works of art gained popularity during lockdowns and I expect to see more exhibitions and also more work at open air markets.
My daughters attended a Steiner stream at primary school and craft and creativity interwoven with all subjects. We made tiny gnomes to help gather gum nuts for maths, wove recorder bags to house music sheets and made various animals for the story cloth when the children sat in a circle to read or listen to stories. Along with other Steiner mums I spent months knitting and sewing to prepare a stall at the annual school fair.
I still do some craft for particular projects and each Christmas I place a Nativity at the foot of the tree – my tableau made in felt over 20 years ago needs a make-over but will outlast me!
The Soft Library will be open until mid-January.
The festive season has a way of becoming too busy and after a lull of activities for two years Melbourne has a lot on offer, but I hope people make the time to visit the Bayside Gallery which has other exhibitions running as well – you won’t be disappointed.
And if the warm and thoughtful treatment Lisa and I received from the staff is replicated you’ll join their mailing list too!
The ACTU acknowledged the 110th Anniversary of IWD by publishing a report on the challenges facing working women in 2021. The report’s key points are not easy reading: “At the turn of the 20th century, Australia was considered one of the most progressive nations for women in the world. In 1902 we became the second country to win some women the right to vote (it took until 1962 for First Nations women to win the same right) and the first to allow women to stand for parliament.” And yet today, ‘Australia ranks just 44th in the world for gender pay equity. In 2006 we ranked 15th.’
For someone like me, who joined Women’s Liberation in 1971 during my first year at university and who is a longterm member of the Union of Australian Women, I feel it is indeed another example of Groundhog Day, and I can’t believe we are not only still fighting for equal pay, but in some instances, we have lost ground as far as equity and respect is concerned.
I’ve owned the following badges since the 70s and 80s and have marched for equality every year on IWD and at other protests, including the one against Trump where many of us wore homemade Pussy Hats. The article underneath those pictures is from The Age newspaper in the 90s and asks the perennial question – in the struggle for equality, how much has really changed?
Impact of Covid-19 On Women
The ACTU Report reveals that women bore the brunt of losses from the catastrophic changes to society due to the pandemic.
• Women over-represented in insecure and low paid jobs • Women dominated the frontline care, and the caring responsibilities at home • JobKeeper rules unfairly excluded women workers • Over 300,000 women emptied their superannuation accounts to cope during Covid, putting them at greater risk of poverty in retirement.
The reasons why feminism seems to be making little headway in changing deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes in a culture that prides itself in championing the ‘fair go’ will no doubt continue to be the subject of essays, books, blogs, podcasts, documentaries and film, not to mention the plethora of talk shows and infotainment passing as news we see on television and online, but here is another old cutting from my scrapbook. The date 1999!
2021, we have some high profile female journalists – some even host their own radio or television shows – but it is still men who actually control the boardrooms, the directorships and CEO positions, and who own the newspapers, television stations, and big tech giants of the Internet.
(I can hear people asking: What about Ita Buttrose? However, considering the LNP Federal Governments have cut the ABC’s funding since 2013, and the organisation’s loss of staff and resources, I think we can discount any perceived advantage Ita’s appointment holds.)
And so the struggle continues!
The first photo is from the 2019 IWD rally, the middle photo of IWD in the 70s (the arrow points to me) appeared in the 2018 City of Melbourne exhibition, We Protest, and the last photo is the cover of a book published in January 2000, detailing the history and incredible achievements of the UAW.
Choose to Challenge – Kingston Woman of the Year Award 2021
The stories of the final nominees, all proven leaders in their field can be read online. They inspire others and make a difference through exceptional professional or personal achievements in the following categories:
Courageous Commitment: Women who are dedicated to making a difference to the health, well-being, safety, and/or sustainability of our community through advocacy, campaigning, fundraising, and/or thought-leadership
Excelling in Arts and Sport: Women using their sporting and/or creative talents to represent, motivate and inspire our community.
Inspiring Innovation: Women who are leaders in Business, Economics, Politics, and/or an Entrepreneur.
Success in STEM: Women excelling in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The Mayor, Cr Steve Staikos, acknowledged the barriers that continue to perpetuate gender inequality which is a key cause of family violence and violence against women. “Kingston Council is committed to working towards the vision of creating safe, equal and respectful relationships in our community where family violence and gender inequality are not tolerated.”
The Council, working with Youth Services, launched the Young Women’s Mentoring Program last year hoping to help inspire future generations of young women to achieve their full potential with many of the nominees from past years, and hopefully this year, mentoring young people. By acknowledging their achievements the Council helps encourage positive contributions, encourages women to keep sharing stories, and encourages us to keep lifting each other up.
An award winner from last year, Tara Graves winner was MC. Tara emphasised the importance of support from others and having a sense of community. The mentoring program so important to inspire and help young people and an opportunity for nominees to share their skills and give back. It encourages women to take part and show leadership at Council events, just as Tara is emceeing and it helps emerging leaders, bringing out the best in all participants. Tara hoped, “the nominees this year will participate because their stories inspire and challenge us to make a positive difference in the community.”
A short video of the established Young Women’s mentoring Program heard from some of last year’s nominees and also the young people who joined the program. Messages from mentors included:
The importance of listening
the joy and importance of sharing skills
encouraging the seeking of help for mental as well as physical health
encouraging teenagers to grow into womanhood feeling positive.
Teenagers shared what they got from the program:
Importance of checking-in on a regular basis with those who you love and love you,
important to communicate
realising they are not alone or on their own,
a sense of optimism
it’s okay to be interested in multiple things and passionate about more than one thing
you don’t have to be always focused on one aim,
the value in learning from different life experiences and that it’s okay to be different.
Tell Your Truth – Speak Out – Own Your Story, Design Your Destiny
The keynote speaker was Mariam Issa, an inspired coach, storyteller, and author of A Resilient Life, co-founder of the non-profit organisation RAW – Resilient Aspiring Women – a multi-cultural program to encourage diversity and encouraging women to achieve while healing from personal, physical, mental or emotional trauma and life’s tribulations. RAW supports women’s resilience through intercultural dialogue and exchange facilitated by storytelling, cooking and gardening.
Mariam, originally from Somalia, said her African ancestry believes there is no death. We live in continuous life, and represent all the elders in our DNA. She meditates, and one day she saw a cross, and even although she is not Christian but Muslim, this visualisation she understood to mean the following:
At the top of the vertical line is the storyteller, and at the bottom is the listener. On the extreme left of the horizontal line are our ancestors and past experience, and on the extreme right of the horizontal line is youth and the future.
She asked us to visualise this cross and the description and to add a bubble above the cross and each world we live in is in that bubble. Everyday it is important to realise we are all the bubble amid many bubbles. The story doesn’t belong to any one group – not the past, or future. The story is now and the segment of time we share.
Cultures who don’t share stories die. Mariam is a storyteller and cultures in the past used storytellers to share stories of the past in oral histories, settle disputes, celebrate special times, share knowledge. Mariam considers oral history similar to how we use technology today to process and pass on information.
Language and Rhythm are powerful tools.
Stories give us insights. Mariam considers her life is a safari and she uses stories as a platform to transform experiences through questions. We should use opportunities to be inquisitive, engage, and be inspired and connected. Resilient and inclusive communities bring together diversity and amazing stories.
Humanity is at a crossroads with the world changing rapidly.
2020 – revealed our inability to predict the future and the power of focused presence. Imagination is a lens to create a new reality of equity and equality that must be built into the system and we must challenge the systemic oppression of women.
Mariam’s mother was a weaver of mats and she told her daughter, it was important to change the pattern and your mat because life changes and we must adapt. We must change all the time. Don’t spend too much time looking at past mistakes or worrying too much about the future.
Claiming your rights is claiming your story. People meet the women within when you are faced with adversity and speak up or act.
Mariam was a Somalian refugee and like all refugees from a different culture, arriving in a new country, everything they knew about themselves was questioned. Her culture deflated and it was difficult to retain her cultural identity, especially after 9/11. Fortunately, she kept a journal and reflecting on this she saw a pattern of phases common to many refugees.
Phase 1: Victimhood: They were living in Brighton with feelings of powerlessness and despair. Separated from birth country and culture and extended family, she gave birth to her fifth child shortly after arriving from her war-torn country and a refugee camp in Kenya. She went into post natal depression. It was a dark period of settlement. She struggled but continued to hang on to the dream many refugees have, that one day they can return to their own country and be happy.
9/11 had happened and the media hype and many politicians rhetoric was anti-Islamic. She lived in fear and sent her children to an Islamic school, across Melbourne, expensive to attend and travel to, even when she knew the standard of education and the curriculum at Brighton public schools was better.
Phase 2: Anger: She took her four-year old daughter, her youngest child to kindergarten. Although excited to be part of all kindergarten entailed, her daughter asked, ‘Do they not want me because I am African?” Mariam realised what the fear and victimhood was doing and got angry wanting to change the situation.
The angry phase was better – she made better decisions. She put her children in local schools, she stayed in Brighton and decided to settle in Australia, not always dreaming of ‘going home’. She made a choice to adapt to the community. Her ancestors were courageous nomadic people, they knew how to adapt and she would too.
Choosing to Challenge
It is hard to move forward, she believes you navigate adversity not ‘come through it’. You must challenge yourself – as her mother advised, ‘change the mat’. Mariam’s passion is to unlock the contributions of others and her daughter now joins her as a storyteller and was speaking at a school in Sunshine.
Mariam told the story of the day she decided to change.
On a winter’s day, she sat in front of their only heater clutching a coffee to get warm. Looking out of the window, a vision appeared that remains with her – it gave her inspiration on that winter’s morning. A young woman in lycra went by, holding a dog on a leash in one hand and pushing a baby’s pram with the other. And she wore perfect make-up.
Mariam wondered at this woman’s motivation and fortitude – it reminded her of women she had observed in Kenya who got up at 3.00 am, put a child in a sling and a basket on their head and walked more than half a mile to market. The vision started a curiosity about that woman in lycra, and others who lived in Brighton.
(There was a murmured giggle from the audience at this point in the story – many of us I am sure recalling ‘Karen from Brighton’ and the fuss during the 2020 Lockdowns!)
Mariam started work as a cleaner in Brighton, cleaning homes of the women in lycra, and then worked in aged care. Cleaning the big mansions she met many ‘lycra’ women and was introduced to the coffee culture. She also met plenty of old people abandoned to loneliness in aged care.
Women are at the forefront of culture everywhere but lifestyle did not necessarily bring happiness, nor does isolation. She believes in bridging gaps. Life is happening to us all the time, we must participate and create a life bridging gaps within the community. Working towards goals of inclusiveness and similar goals she created her own business.
She discovered food the best social catalyst and established her own business cooking East African food called Cooking with Mariam, and was even on TV with well-known Australian basketball player, Andrew Gaze.
Then she became an author – writing her book about resilience, and now she has founded RAW (spells war in reverse) believing resilience springs from women. The more women thrive, the more communities thrive.
We Are the System
Choose to change, ponder the stories of other, find the courage to challenge any system oppressing you. Be curious, ask questions. Take the power you have within. Mariam asked Tara what she thought was possible in this space of uncertainty as we recover from the global pandemic. Tara answered: The future is female. Women must be empowered, must be taken more seriously in the workforce and in places where decisions are made.
Mariam is a woman of faith and finds that most faiths regardless of religious persuasion share many similar beliefs. She ended her speech with the following:
Accept worthiness comes from your existence. You exist therefore are worthy.
We are all one – I am because you are. There is no you or me. Accept the fullness of who you are.
Whatever seed you put in and how you nurture that seed is what you plant. The law of cause and effect.
Law of presence – we suffer because of past or future fears but we must focus on now.
A need to promote and create a safe space so the vulnerable can reach out.
The program also included two uplifting, energetic and joyous dance performances. The first from Indigenous Outreach projects and the second from Tribal African drum and dance ensemble by Melbourne Djembe group. Both encouraged audience participation which emphasised we were indeed there to celebrate and not dwell on all that needs to be done.
There will be time enough to harness our Angry Phase!
As an artist, I never wanted to be fettered by gender nor recognised or defined as a female poet, musician or singer. They don’t do that with men – nobody says Picasso, the male artist. Curators call me up and say, “We want your work to be in a show about women artists,” and I’m like, why? For Christ’s sake, do we have to attach a gender onto everything?
Although it is difficult to make headlines or initiate a public discussion about anything other than the global pandemic or Trump and his supporters’ refusal to accept the results of the USA Election, Greta Thunberg who just turned 18, has reminded us global warming is still happening with devastating consequences.
For those who have never seen the movie Groundhog Day,perhaps take a few minutes to Google, or accept the explanation below…
Based on the movieGroundhog Daystarring Bill Murray. It is the idea that every action that one makes; the rewards and consequences of those actions are not followed through the next day. If someone were to make a big choice, commit a crime, offend someone, make a mistake, or meet someone throughout a period of a regular 24 hour day, those rewards and consequences for all of those actions are not carried through the next day. It is all forgotten. In other words, it’s like yesterday never happened. Therefore this pattern can keep on repeating for an unknown amount of time.
I’ve known about the dangers of the Greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change – call it what you will – all my adult life and yet each year the public discussion seems to be the same. I’m with Greta – why aren’t we woke yet?!
A Member of the Victorian Parliament Warned about Climate Change in 1990!
Before social media, many members of parliament made an effort to keep the electors informed via regular newsletters. Jean McLean was especially interested in the environment and social justice issues – climate change most certainly an environmental AND social justice concern.
(It was time-consuming to get the message out with the tools of typing, Gestetner printing or photocopying, hand stapling and enveloping, even before relying on Aussie Post or volunteers like me to distribute, but I am so glad Jean did! )
Environmentalists and conservationists have been warning about global warming since April 22,1970, when the first Earth Day was held in the USA and scientists coined the term Greenhouse Effect. They forecast the Earth’s future in doubt because air pollution was warming the planet – pollution primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
In the 80s the anti-uranium movement gained momentum against those seeking nuclear power because of the Chernobyl disaster, a place still contaminated 35 years later. It wasn’t the first but is perhaps the worst nuclear power station disaster, yet some people still suggest nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Since the 70s, environmental activists usually lumped in with ‘the Left’, disbelieved and vilified, shrugged off with contempt as ‘greenies’ and ‘tree huggers’. Although social media favours ‘snowflakes’ and ‘leftards’ and other generic insults to cover numerous issues, not just the perceived ‘hoax‘ of climate change!
Not surprisingly, many who disbelieve climate change also favour the conspiracies around COVID19, although ironically there are some who believe the science of climate change but not the science of epidemiology (and vice versa)!
Climate messengers have expanded, from both sides of the political divide and even in the corporate sector. They admit climate change is real and we are experiencing dire human and economic consequences by ignoring the science.
Natural disasters on the rise mean the tragedy of global warming can’t be ignored, but we shouldn’t forget many of our current political and corporate leaders have always KNOWN!
Access, to scientific reports and data like the World Oceanographic Commission and World Meteorological Organisation, mentioned above,
plus a variety of other national and international research bodies.
Ignorance and lack of action a choice we really can’t afford now:
Friends in the USA and Canada have shared the devastation of the 2020 fires in California that compounded the grief of coronavirus suffering.
Since the global pandemic struck, I have increased email correspondence to friends overseas or locals keeping social distance because of lockdown. Often the discussion is about the future and we recognise the existential threat of global warming. It may be off the front pages of newspapers but not forgotten by the people living with the memory of last summer’s fires in both hemispheres.
Shirly is 88, and a dear friend in England who is married to a cousin of my husband’s, and like many living in the UK, she copes with what she describes as a world ‘in a mess… it’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote the year we’re living. Dystopian.‘
On January 4th she wrote
Yesterday, quite accidentally, I turned the news channel on and your PM was extolling the joys of coal and the fact that this was Australia, not some little country dependant on Europe or America.
We can do what we like. We have coal and we’ll use coal.
He said it as though he was giving the people an enormously good piece of news. As though global warming had nothing to do with your country. I couldn’t believe my ears.
But there are so many non- believers, we shouldn’t be surprised…
How right she is and the many reports about climate change updated because of another year’s data prompted others in Australia to remind the population of PM Morrison’s pathetic position:
Easy actions many of us can take is to care and plant more trees, become a dendrophile. Also reduce, reuse and recycle, and start conversations with friends and neighbours to lobby local councillors and politicians about the importance of renewable energy and government policies that help create a sustainable environment.
Most importantly, we can use our voice and our vote. This year there will be a Federal election in Australia, we must make sure climate change is addressed.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Various health organisations continue to work towards improving how health is delivered whether the topic is related to COVID-19 or not. I also presented (via an online platform) to a conference at Melbourne University, organised by medical students for their 2020 MD Student Conference (MDSC). (Details below)
Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives. It is about how they use that information to decide on treatment and lifestyle.
Over the years, I have been able to use my writing skills combined with personal experience of the health system to give input and feedback to help health professionals and various institutions and government bodies improve the health information provided.
From the Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Healthcare:
Individual health literacy is the skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.
Health literacy environment is the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.
Volunteering To be A Health Advocate May Help Others
My health advocate journey began in 2009 when I attended a focus group at Central Bayside to help them rewrite leaflets about Diabetes.
My father had been diabetic for many years (mature-age onset) and moved from tablets to insulin before his death. From firsthand observations, I knew there was room for improvement in the brochures publicly available.
At the time, I was enrolled in the Masters of Writing so my writing skill was, and still is, useful to share.
For me, the upsurge is not surprising because when the initial Lockdown was eased mid June many people behaved as if the pandemic was over despite Premier Daniel Andrews saying repeatedly, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brett Sutton reminding us continually, ‘this coronavirus is ten times more infectious than flu.’
Few, if any, of us enjoy forced isolation, but most people DID put the health of others before social considerations and obeyed the rules. Let’s hope we can do it again!
The message of the dangers of COVID-19 has made headlines since March – not just here but overseas. Any other topic has great difficulty gaining oxygen. Most people can access the Internet – there is no excuse for being ill-informed.
In the beginning, there were mixed messages, especially from the Federal Government, but by April all States had the same mantra about social distancing and washing hands. Debate continues about wearing masks, but many people have made that choice and it helps reinforce social distancing.
There is concern not enough effort was used in Victoria to ensure the message was inclusive of multi-cultural communities but frankly considering every country is touched by COVID-19 and we have multi-cultural television and radio stations with many communities having their own language newspapers, I don’t think that can be the only reason. There is also an excellent website with health translations in more than 100 languages. More likely it is the socio-economic make-up of those suburbs with people working the casual and low paid jobs of hospitality, retail and transport that have continued throughout the Lockdown period – plus the pressure on schools throughout Australia to reopen. The virus is highly infectious – it was never about elimination (a vaccine is a long way off and will ever only be 70% effective anyway) but aiming for suppression and control.
Debate still rages about schools going back too early and the opening up of businesses and venues but considering the world is coping with an unprecedented crisis this century our various levels of government are doing their best – it was always going to be a balance between health and economic survival. Again – personal behaviour is the key.
Sadly, some people CHOOSE to believe the seriousness of the pandemic and ignore regulations.
It is up to individuals to be aware, follow the rules, and take care.
Recording The Pandemic For Future Generations
In April, my friend Matilda Butler who runs the womensmemoirs.com site in the USA with Kendra Bonnett, asked women to write about COVID-19.
Now, with a sense of security rapidly diminishing if we continue to see larger numbers of infections, an update will be needed and it may well have a different tone!
There are writers all over the world recording this pandemic from a variety of perspectives and journalists and bloggers tapping daily. Next year and the years to follow, we’ll see a plethora of films, documentaries, plays, poems, novels and memoir…
A summary of the results of the City of Kingston’s May 2020 survey:
From the 202 responses collected between 13-21 May 2020, they identified the following insights:
A lot of people adapted to using technology to remain connected (89% of people)
Around half were worried about being infected, but most (97%) had access to facts and information on quarantining
41% were worried that they or their families wouldn’t recover if infected
Physical activity was cited as the main activity providing relief
The main concern people had about being isolated was the loss of connection with their social support network
You can access the full report and also see regular updates from the website.
The Use of Technology Has Zoomed During COVID-19
As mentioned before, I have been extra careful since January because of a recent breast cancer operation and so adapted easily to Lockdown, isolation and social distancing.
When the Cancer Council asked me to contribute to the medical student conference at Melbourne University, I accepted because it could be prerecorded. The session recorded in May, but broadcast on June 25th.
The organisers and presenters plus the film crew amazing. It was a positive and fascinating experience. A great learning curve in the use of technology!
Here are screenshots from the session: “Breaking Bad News”.
This session forms part of the Day 4 program theme “The Ultimate Equaliser”. We have chosen this theme to give medical students the opportunity to have in-depth discussions on mortality and the human condition. We are very fortunate to have a number of esteemed healthcare professionals presenting on Day 4. An integral aspect of medical education is learning from patients, as they are often our best teachers. We feel that it is essential to include personal stories in a session on breaking difficult news, so that we can keep patients at the centre of our education.
Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to share my story. Thank you, too, for those who will listen who are joining the medical profession – as we have seen during this pandemic, the pressure, expectations, danger and sacrifices for frontline workers has revealed how important, precious and valuable you are for a healthy functioning society.
Personally, I’m grateful to medical science for my life. The improvements in breast cancer detection and research plus treatment available in Australia meant my cancer diagnosis in 2010 disrupted my quality of life but was not a death sentence.
And that is what the mention of cancer means to most people – a terminal illness that once you are diagnosed and even go into remission, it is a coiled snake waiting to strike. That metaphor turned out to be true for me because of my breast cancer, albeit another type, returned in December 2019.
In the words of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr Peter Gregory – ‘nine years Mairi, you almost reached ten!’ His disappointment and disbelief matched mine because of course there are legendary milestones, whether true or not, of 5 years and 10 years – making those free of a recurrence is believed to extend the likelihood the cancer won’t return , or worst spread to other parts of the body.
And my thank you after everything went as planned!
To be cliched – the pleasure was all mine:)
Thank you again for giving me a platform for my story and I think you, Tansy and all the others have done an amazing job considering the circumstances in which you have had to operate.
Thank you for always being so courteous and ready to respond and adapt to my needs, even when it probably inconvenienced your own,
All of you can be immensely proud of what you are achieving but more importantly the place from where your efforts and the impetus has come – creating a first class health system that cares for everyone’s needs.
I was most impressed with – I think it was Lily who said it – ‘welcome, this is the way of the future…’ You and your co-workers are all very talented and I can see the benefits for a lot of digital expertise being applied in the future for conferences etc because who knows how long travel or large gatherings will be risky to organise. Also, what you have done over the last few weeks has been amazing in establishing a pathway for all sorts of voices to be included at conferences where usually only certain ones are invited.
I know the title consumer rep has been coined, especially by organisations fighting for equity in the two-tiered system we have (private V public health) and for a multitude of voices to be heard, but I personally never want to move away from the word patient when I am referred to treatment for my health because it implies being in the care of a doctor/medical clinician. Whereas consumer can so easily be applied to someone shopping or dining whose main interest is value for money rather than the esoteric outcomes of quality of life regarding health procedures!
We are all individuals and our bodies can respond in various ways and so care provided must always be personal and often tailored to suit the individual – not mass consumption – what works or is accepted by one may be inappropriate or not work on another.
A bit like in the 90s when suddenly those receiving education became clients rather than pupils or students.
Word choice matters because we all come with our own prejudices, perspectives and experiences but it would be nice if we could agree on a terminology that gets the balance and duty of care right – and in some areas of our society there has to be an authoritative balance some times.
I want to be empowered to have a say in the health system but I also want to acknowledge the expertise of the people looking after me and that their advice is coming from a place of knowledge and wanting to heal me and I am happy to accept they know more than me but I hope they are also prepared to listen and set aside some of their assumptions.
Good luck with all your other planning and remember to take some time out for relaxation and fun – you deserve it:)
All the best
We have a good health system in Victoria and there are people working all the time to make it better.
The health system had to take stock and organise to cope with the pandemic and remain functioning. It could have so easily become overwhelmed like other countries – especially Italy, Brazil and the USA.
In Victoria, the effort to keep everyone informed and to meet everyone’s expectations has been excellent.
The initial postponement of elective surgeries to ensure there were enough hospital beds and equipment if needed has been lifted, but if people don’t heed the warnings who knows what strain will be put on available resources?
The message I received and took on board is ‘don’t forget your health check-ups’ . An important message to act on.
I went for my regular skin cancer check and they discovered an invasive melanoma. Despite increased testing for COVID-19 the results of the biopsies came back quickly and an operation including skin graft is scheduled for next week.
But if the system becomes overwhelmed, others in the future may not be so lucky. We must stop the COVID-19 infection rate increasing!
I started off the post with a leaflet explaining the logic and simple steps to avoid spreading viral infections. These work for flu as well, and one welcome side effect of the isolation rules is that fewer people are contracting flu this season!
Here are just a few of the public notices around Mordialloc I see every day advising people about COVID-19:
I’m sure these informative signs are replicated in every suburb – authorities can only do so much – members of the public must cooperate.
Being in the high risk age group with underlying health issues, I sincerely hope people will make the effort to be informed and obey the rules so we can suppress the rapid spread of this coronavirus.
Support all those frontline health workers, plus the workers in other occupations who have remained or returned to work and must cope with new rules and the compliance necessary to combat COVID-19.
This year’s World Environment theme is time for nature:
The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature. It’s time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.
COVID-19 lockdowns restrict movement in neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countryside in countries throughout the world and have done so for several months, and most people now realise how important it is to breathe fresh air and to enjoy outside activities.
The easing of some restrictions in Victoria saw hundreds flock to national parks. Many places were overwhelmed and had to be closed because the recommended 1.5 metres of social-distancing couldn’t be enforced.
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has forced governments to act for the greater good of the public health, even closing international borders despite severe economic consequences.
Ironically, because of less air travel and movement of people, plus reductions in road traffic and industrial pollution, there has been an improvement in some natural areas such as cleaner waterways and a resurgence of wildlife.
However, the consequences of climate change are still severe and deadly and as many people have pointed out – if you believe and obey the science regarding the COVID-19 pandemic why are we not believing and acting urgently on the science about climate change!
As this picture doing the rounds of Facebook shows, the damage fossil fuels cause is not a new discovery – this newspaper date is 1912!
The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day. The scent of eucalyptus and pine compete with salty air and whiffs of abandoned seaweed.
The cyan sea a mirror for whipped cream clouds. Dainty dollops on a baby blue plate. Gulls sit or glide atop the glassy surface. Bathed in brilliant white sunlight, I imagine I too float and dream.
But in the distance, palm tree fronds tremble, casting lacy shadows on the warm sand. The clink of moorings and creak of 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 steel blue mirror swallowing the fluffy clouds.
Peaceful contemplation disappears, waves soap around my feet, slap at ankles, sunlight fades. I retreat to the shelter of groaning eucalypts and pine, the taste of salt bittersweet.
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
and put smiles upon our faces
In childhood, egg and spoon races
kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
celebrated parks and open spaces
Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
whether skies are blue or grey
let’s put smiles upon our faces
Find joy in parks and open spaces
because they let us breathe and play
and they put smiles upon our faces
In the future, they’ll discover traces
of how we spent our lives each day
they’ll dig up parks and other spaces
and put names to forgotten faces.
The importance of trees to our wellbeing and the earth’s health is, at last, being recognised by local councils (including Kingston) and I hope many more will become dendrophiles.
We Have An Extinction Crisis In Australia
Today, I received an email from birdlife.org.au
This year hasn’t been what any of us expected.
Australia was already in the grip of the extinction crisis, which meant our birds were facing unprecedented threats… and then the devastating bushfires struck. Fighting the extinction crisis became even more urgent.
He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…
She swigs kombucha
for inner health
ignoring Mother Earth’s digestive tract
blocked by the plastic bottle and cap.
Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes.
Junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…
Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes
and even those who profess to care sucked in
and swallowed by consumerism
Landfill dumps grow garbage
litter refuse muck
There is no ‘away’ in throw!
Parks and Places to Play Important For Childhood Memories
Write about the wild or natural places you remember playing in as a child.
Where do you go today to breathe in and experience the natural world?
How important is your garden, and what pleasure does it give?
Describe your favourite walk?
What bird, tree, flower do you see from your window/s?
I spent my first nine years in Greenock, Scotland, an industrial town on the River Clyde that used to be famous for shipbuilding – the yards built the Queen Elizabeth and first Queen Mary, plus submarines for Australia.
I can’t remember much of the first three years living in a tenement in George Square, the centre of the town, but when we moved to Braeside where I started school, there is plenty of material for trips down memory lane.
Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no built parks for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with my dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van.
Cars rarely disturbed our play which included hopscotch chalked on pavements (we called it ‘beds’), skipping (often with rope leftover from the clothesline), football, rounders, and British Bulldog and similar games involving lots of chasing, hiding and rough and tumble.
However, we also roamed the hill towering over the houses opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of our road and a swathe of land separating upper and lower streets. The housing scheme stretched up a steep hill, Davaar Road being the topmost street and in the middle of that street, our house was number 35.
Across the road, behind a row of houses, there was a path we could climb to the top of the hill and see Gourock and the River Clyde. There were no tall trees but plenty of scrub, granite boulders and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgeling television industry: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco kid, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, and whatever adventure story Walt Disney promoted when he invited us to ‘wish upon a star’ on Sunday evenings.
Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under the chin. A memorable part of the long summer holidays was collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn to prepare for bonfire night in November.
We never forgot Guy Fawkes and to “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot!”
The hill also welcomed children roaming in hordes carrying buckets and jam jars to seek blackberries when in season. The incentive of Mum’s delicious bramble jam spurned us on. We even spread our hunt into the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the street where we weren’t supposed to go. We knew the resident bull to be a danger to life and limb – plus when the Tinkers (Gypsies/Travellers) came they camped in the fields and we were warned to respect their privacy.
Mum and Dad didn’t practice overt bigotry against Travellers like some people. Mum helped them whenever she could by paying them to do odd jobs and buying some goods they hawked, such as wooden ‘dolly’ clothes-pegs.
However, any place forbidden meant we incorporated them as a deliberate dare in games. There must be a guardian angel for stupid children!
Stranger danger not indoctrinated, and we were never overly fearful, although warned to be careful, not ‘ask for trouble’ and to obey the limitations placed on us. But I remember roaming even further afield and going to what we called ‘the secret lake’ along the Aileymill Road. This pleasant track linked the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny towns further down the coastline.
If she knew, Mum would never have sanctioned that sojourn, but we fished for tadpoles and hunted frogs and let loose our imagination and energy.
I revisited the secret lake in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes; the lake had shrunk to a large puddle rather than a lake. The farmer’s fields smaller too, and the bull nowhere in sight!
I checked out my old house in the 70s and again in 2017 – Davaar Road has not changed much although the houses modernised inside; sadly Aileymill is no longer bush to roam but another housing estate.
Walk the Neighbourhood Absorb the Beauty of Your Place
For many writers, it’s difficult to make an initial start on a project – to find the words for that first sentence or paragraph.
When a global crisis strikes we’ve just multiplied our difficulties and anxiety a thousandfold!
But as the quote above emphasises unless you start, you can’t shape your idea into the story, poem, play, script, or novel that is inside waiting to be shared.
It’s important to know that all writers – even the ones with published best sellers – struggle at times to write or to write to a standard they’ve set for themselves. They too will be struggling with the consequences of COVID19 as various dramas play out.
We are all learning that human beings, regardless of who you are or where you live, are in this crisis together.
Fortunately, the World Wide Web is literally bursting with creative people sharing their skills and ideas. There is heaps of advice and encouragement suggesting activities.
But if you are isolated alone and depressed, or sharing a house with little privacy, motivation and serenity hard to muster.
Supporting each other and giving positive, critical feedback on a piece of writing is important. Just as important as being prepared to rewrite and edit your writing. Published writers have professional editors to offer support and feedback but for the majority of writers, support is found in understanding friends, writing groups and writing classes.
I look out my window onto a street normally packed with the cars of commuters, workers and visitors to the Aged Care Centre and also U3A attendees – Kingston U3A classes held a block away. Many workplaces are in lockdown and so are U3A classes, along with classes at community houses, schools, colleges…
Writers and those dreaming of being writers have lost their physical support and the important interaction, feedback and inspiration from face to face contact.
Write from memory?
Sore Feet and Soaring Thoughts – a haibun
A wonderful warm spring day. A clutch of residents from the nursing home, walk around the block for a dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. The two carers dressed in floral finery, not wings and halos.
Shuffling slippered feet
walker wheels squeak and sticks tap
dull pleated skirts flap…
Without a sideways glance, a gaggle of schoolgirls overtake the pensioner posse. They preen and prance. Laughter tinkles, iPod cords dangle, mobile phones jingle.
A raven squawks as
strutting peacocks and tired chooks
enjoy the sunshine
The ambulatory group not seeking to collide, or slide to the other side – yet. Today’s challenges taken in their stride.
Smiling carers guide
stumbling feet and rheumy eyes
to avoid a fall
Gnarled arthritic hands cling to walking frames bumping over paths once traversed with prams and baby strollers. Reminiscent of bygone children’s frolics, parrots chitter overhead and magpies chortle and caper.
Pavement cracks trigger
memories. Past lives flash of
mothers, daughters, wives.
For all those finding their writing life interrupted and those new to writing, or using it as therapy, fun, a way to ease the boredom of life in isolation because of COVID9, I suggest you pick up a pen and write whatever comes to mind.
Write in response to prompts I’ve posted – not just since COVID19 disrupted our world but there are many posts with suggestions and ideas – just search or flick through the posts.
Write whenever a picture, comment, sound, smell triggers a memory or idea – sometimes a walk through your house will do this.
Where did you buy that painting? Why? Imagine yourself inside the painting looking out…
When and where was that photograph taken? Why? Can you describe the preparation, the occasion … is there something or someone missing?
Write a story or anecdote a friend or relative told you
Can you remember the funniest story you ever heard? What about the one that revealed life is stranger than fiction? The story you introduce by saying ‘you wouldn’t read about it…’
Write whatever you feel like venting about today
Write a list of what you have to celebrate
Record how you and your friends are coping with the forced isolation and all the conflicting news stories and advice
Jot down ideas, lists of observations and descriptions for characters you might use, overheard conversations, remembered dreams, absurd thoughts… all will come in handy when you feel up to writing or have that ‘place of one’s own’ to write.
Write a letter or email to a friend you haven’t heard from for a while or start regular correspondence with a friend or relative
Send Easter cards, postcards or letters to people you used to catch up with, or in lieu of whatever you used to do at Easter time
Writers Do Need To Write – We Are Society’s Storytellers & Storykeepers
Human beings can’t live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target.
Inside culture, the writer is the talking self.
Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.
When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read.
Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness – such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer’s first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language.
Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.
The gate may open.
The gate may not.
Regardless, the writer can see straight through it.
The PLOT is the sequence of events that happen, the THEME is the underlying thread that connects all of these things.
A theme is what gives a particular work its depth, texture, and meaning.
To remember the difference between plot and theme, author Colin Thiele offers this advice:
“A plot is what the book is about. The theme is what the book is really about.”
Points to consider
Who is your audience and what do you want to tell them?
What effect do you want your words to have on the reader?
What word choice will make your work spooky, suspenseful, comical, touching or inspiring…
Set the mood in the first paragraph and write on the theme of friendship or sacrifice
To have a friend you must be a friend
Life is a series of ups and downs
During this catastrophic global crisis – the big picture – there are examples of countries helping each other with medical supplies and workers. There are also many closed borders. What stories can you write about the positives and negatives of borders… narrow it down to the effect on one or two people – lovers separated, families stranded, strangers showing kindness…
Everywhere communities are rejigging how they do things – daily activities turned upside down, new habits formed, a greater awareness of what is important, what are necessities, luxuries, privileges…
Scientists sharing knowledge
Sudden job loss, facing ill-health, separations but also new friends, hobbies, activities…
Create a character or write from a personal point of view.
Five Writing Prompts Based on Theme
Choose one of the following famous quotes for a story and think of the theme it suggests – you can choose a different one that is assumed:
You never reach the promised land. You can march towards it. (IDEALISM)
At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent. (SUCCESS)
Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow God. You know where. I want to be like everyone else. (YOUTH)
If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life. (LOVE)
A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent. (TRUTH)
Here are some of my old efforts written in class – I know you can do better:)
I’ve been inspired to write poetry as well as short stories or personal essays to explain memorable experiences:
Visiting Singapore 1973 – a haibun Mairi Neil
We crowd on deck as the cruise ship glides into Singapore harbour, a week after leaving Fremantle. The silver sun aglow in a cloudless azure sky. Skin fiery scarlet from too many hours in the ship’s pool as Singapore City wobbles and wilts in the heat.
I ache for relief
from this tantalising veil
and covet the sea
Engines thrum and screeches of gulls mask the first hint a change is on the way. Rain falls in sheets and shafts. Solid blocks of water pound the decks.
Clouds scud across sky
the veil now a fog blanket
hiding the city.
Beneath our feet racing rivers fill deck gutters and our shoes. On automatic pilot, we slosh for cover, although there is no icy wind in this downpour.
No unsettling chill
just instant relief
from relentless heat
Rain hammers metal, swamps furniture and people, drenching everything not covered. Metal rails hiss. Steam sizzles on the shrinking, not sinking ship. No crevice escapes. A continuous stream of trickles and dribbles demonstrates the power of this deluge.
A turmoil of grey
idyllic tropics in grip
of monsoonal rain
Yet, within minutes, the ship docks and the downpour stops as quickly as it began. Singapore city a perfect watercolour painting showcases sunlight and serenity. The tropical shower and haze but a dream as perspiration leaks from every pore.
Share Your Travel Memories
Once you have organised a story – or many – enjoy the pleasure of armchair travel and swap with those in isolation with you. Or share online via Skype, Face Time or Zoom. The digital tools available ensure your photos or slides will be more entertaining than the slide shows of old.
I remember more than a few family and friends falling asleep when I showed my China slides in 1979!
However, when I taught at Sandybeach Centre 20 years ago, they ran a regular program for people with limited mobility called Armchair Travel, and I volunteered one afternoon to share my China travels. I had learnt to choose the most interesting slides for that audience. I targeted correctly and they retained interest and were appreciative. Make sure your pitch matches your readers, listeners or viewers:)
Anyone who travelled in the 50s – 70s will remember those family slide nights before Super 8 movies superseded the modern version of ‘magic lantern’ shows in village halls.
Updates when friends travel flood social media with Facebook and Instagram designed for travel photos more than any other.
But these pics are soon forgotten unless you put them into context with words. Write a few sentences about each pic or retell your experiences over a beer or cuppa.
What Travel Experience Can You Write About?
Think and share what made your travel experience different from those of thousands of others. Even if you haven’t travelled overseas or interstate you have a travel story because you can write about your neighbourhood and everyday journeys.
In 2012, Mordialloc Writers’ Group published our 8th collection of poems and stories, Off The Rails, around the theme of the Frankston Railway Line – a journey thousands of people do daily and a topic the 21 featured writers embraced with relish and creativity.
You might have journeyed on the Orient Express, the Trans Siberian, the Flying Scotsman or Puffing Billy – write about:
why you made the journey
who was with you
the people you met
the best memory
the worst memory
if you would do it again
Remember too, those walks around the neighbourhood you are allowed during COVID19 can turn up ideas for stories – fictionalised if you want. Set a story in one of the houses that intrigues you or garden you admire…
Ask questions that you don’t know the answers to:
Who, what, why, when, where… and make up the answers!
I took these pictures this morning when walking the dog.
Who did the drawing? What was their motivation? How long will the drawings stay there?
Write up the reactions of people – good and bad – was seeing them transformational for someone? Did it trigger memories?
The drawing of Frida Kahlo stunning for a child or teenager to draw – could be the start of an intriguing mystery or a memory of a visit to Mexico?
There are houses with bears or pictures of bears in the window – I’ve put my bear outside yet there are no children living here now.
Your characters in the story don’t have to be obvious or stereotypical.
A house advertised a birthday boy – 8 years old today. His party probably cancelled yet his parents found a way to make him feel special and stay connected to the outside world.
Write a story where you or your character has to find a creative solution to a problem.
How do you make someone feel special in this catastrophic time if you normally treat them to an outing?
What’s your funniest travel story?
Humour is a great way to make a story memorable and different from everyone else’s experience. The stuff-ups or unexpected laughs are usually the tales we recount first (and often) when we return from our trip.
Humorous framing or retelling can also ease the embarrassment or shame when you make a cultural faux pas or do something stupid like miss a flight, board the wrong train, get lost in a foreign city or say something strange in a foreign language you just learned.
Here is my tale of travelling with a young child in the 90s:
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you travelling?
What is the nicest (or most horrible) food you have eaten when travelling?
(A class exercise Monday 15th October 2012 )
Have You a Taste For Travel? Mairi Neil
When I went to Alice Springs in 2011, to walk the Larapinta Trail, I braced myself for the time when I would be offered a witchetty grub. I remembered a student, Amelia reading a story of her encounter with the delicacy when she worked as an infant welfare nurse in the Northern Territory in the 1950s. I didn’t want to shame myself by refusing and offending indigenous hosts if they offered me a meal.
Five giggling Aboriginal girls had arrived at Amelia’s house with outstretched hands, displaying half-a-dozen thick white grubs whose sluggish twists indicated they were still alive.
The girls’ gift a gesture to show Amelia she had been accepted by the community. Amelia assured me that once cooked, the grubs tasted meaty. She shared a picture of herself, sitting on the ground in a circle around a campfire, head tilted back and mouth open, ready to accept the long white grub poised above her. Her eyes sparkled as a friend snapped the photograph for posterity.
Could I be as gracious and adventurous as Amelia?
The thought of putting what looked like a fat white caterpillar into my mouth, never mind swallowing it, made me nauseous. I’ve always had what my mother referred to as a ‘weak’ stomach – perhaps if I closed my eyes I’d be able to eat enough not to offend. If I concentrated I’d be able to keep it down rather than gagging or vomiting – my usual reaction to nasty tastes.
The more I thought of eating witchetty grubs the more obsessed I became of what they would taste like. They looked shiny and soft. What meat could they be like with that texture? Perhaps they firmed when cooked. A vision of people crunching on cooked insects surfaced as I remembered the fascinating produce of street vendors when I visited China in 1979.
I remembered too, the constant dissection and examination of every meal on that tour by one of the other travellers in our group. She made me long for a Vegemite sandwich as she poked and dismembered every meal with chopsticks looking for evidence we were being served rat, cat or dog. Cultural assumptions and prejudices rife when it comes to food and her behaviour shameful.
Why I couldn’t I embrace a meal of witchetty grubs, when research provides evidence of their nutritional value? Was I riddled with prejudice too?
Near the end of the five-day trek in Central Australia, I had to face the witchetty grub dilemma. Throat constricted and mouth dry, I could barely form the words to ask our Aboriginal guide, Nicholas to describe the taste of the large fat witchetty grub wriggling in the palm of his hand.
Sweat bubbled on his lip from exertion. A streak of dirt above one eye where he’d wiped his brow, gave a warrior glint to his expression as he showed the delicacy with pride. Nicholas and his auntie had spent almost an hour digging at the roots of an acacia bush to retrieve the prize. ‘It tastes like the yolk of an egg,’ he said, ‘and has a similar texture.’
He watched me closely and must have seen the mix of emotions cross my face, perhaps heard the gulp as I tried to swallow. Egg is not one of my favourite tastes.
‘One witchetty grub,’ he said, almost to himself.
I realised how much he craved the wriggling grub in his hand but innate generosity obliged him to give it to me.
‘It’s not really big enough to share,’ I said. ‘You and auntie did all the hard work. Maybe I’ll taste them another day.’
Our smiles of relief a mirror match as Nicholas hurried away before I changed my mind.
What Armchair Travels Will You Create?
Can you match a photograph with a short poem like haiku or terse verse? I write this after a trip to Italy but it could apply to many famous places crowded with tourists. The joke about ‘exiting through the gift shop’ is very much a reality in our consumer-driven world. What do you think those communities are like now?
Write about what a place was like when you were there and research what it is like now and write a comparison.
Memories of Lago Di Garda, Italy Mairi Neil, 2013
Lake Garda absorbs the rainbow on her shores,
sways to the call of African and Indian hawkers,
moans softly as the Peler, a northern breeze,
blows from pine-clad slopes, and is
ready for the challenging midday switch
when Ora, a cooler wind, whistles from the south.
Reminiscent of a Norwegian Fjord
She is the lake who thinks she is the sea
Each afternoon she lifts the rocky hem
of her blue dress and sashays to pick at
sun-bleached pebbles or reedy soil.
Fat ducks and swans float and gossip. Gulls dive,
searching the lake’s belly for lunch or supper
Rumbling planes overhead ripple her dress
and she runs icy fingers through sandy frills
sparkling with a thousand scattered gems.
She ignores the constant drone of tourist motorbikes,
bicycles, cars and coaches speeding through galleries
built by Mussolini and prefers the memories of
Hannibal, Hardy, Goethe, Rilke and Wharton.
Torbole fishermen, tend boats and mend nets
as they have done since the fifteenth century,
amused and puzzled by modern foolishness,
their dark eyes follow colourful flapping sails.
Lake Garda’s duty is to be Madame Bountiful,
nurturing sardines, eels, carpione and trout.
Tourists and locals, promenade to and fro Riva
or ride the ferries that trust her arms.
Summer and winter sun attracts holidaymakers,
but Lake Garda indulges lovers of sports trophies,
scantily clad onlookers, and awestruck children
who worship at the shrine of physical prowess.
Lake Garda – the lake who thinks she is the sea.
More Writing Prompts
Write a prose poem about a place or a short story recreating the setting.
What memories are evoked?
Choose a place that makes you happy or sad; or two different places where you have had contrasting experiences. (Perhaps a childhood compared with adult experience, going somewhere alone compared with a trip with family or friends, seasonal visits – winter compared to summer, idyllic memories compared to the place after a natural disaster.)
Contrast the two places or the mixed feelings about the same place.
Write a HAIBUN ( a combination of prose and haiku) – about your journey/journeys.
HAIBUN (hie’-bun, the “u” pronounced as in “put”) A Japanese form in which a prose text is interspersed with verse, specifically haiku. A haiku typically appears at the end of a haibun, but other haiku may appear earlier, even at the beginning. Haibun often takes the form of a diary or travel journal.
Write a poem or story using the technique of an extended metaphor:
Life is a journey
Life is a mere dream
Life or love is a camera full of memories
Home was a prison
Have you ever had the holiday from hell?
Have You A Favourite Holiday destination?
Currumbin a Sanctuary of Serenity Mairi Neil, 2001
Looking from the balcony of our Currumbin holiday flat, the Pacific Ocean roared and vomited white foam onto the golden sand. This was not a beach for non-swimmers or the faint-hearted. Waves crashed against jagged rocks in the distance, massaging them smooth by the next millennium but the continuous licks and slaps hadn’t altered their shape in any noticeable way since my last visit.
I stared at the black shapes rising and disappearing in the waves. Dolphins or sharks? Then laughed as the black shape rose on a wave, stretched and balanced and fell. The group of dedicated surfers braving morning chill certainly needed wet suits, and their crouching and clinging in the force of the gigantic waves an amazing workout.
A group of rosellas arrive on the balcony. They line up on the railings waiting for the plate with seed, confident I will provide their breakfast. Chittering and hopping from ledge to chair back to patio tiles, they nag me to perform my act of goodwill.
Music drifts from above. A radio disc jockey drones, children’s sing-song chatter wafts from the swimming pool below, a van backfires in the distance and the pump that tirelessly cleans the swimming pool chugs into life at regular intervals. There are ten floors of holiday flats but if inside and the balcony door is closed, each flat is soundproof.
Peak hour traffic builds, Currumbin is coming alive and I know if I don’t go for a morning walk I’ll be dodging retirees and their pet dogs, fitness fanatics in lycra shorts and Reeboks, and crew for magazine and film photoshoots because this apron of sand is immensely popular. Thank goodness the flotilla of boats on the horizon don’t try to sail closer to shore.
The rosellas are a mass of squawking as I place the seed plate on the balcony table. A hot rising sun dispels the remaining coolness and shadows of the night. The ocean sparkles turquoise. I shake yesterday’s sand from my sandals, grab a hat and make for the lift. The half-hour walks along the beach towards the surfers just what the doctor ordered.
Even More Writing Prompts
Write a poem or story where you are describing the joys of summer to an extraterrestrial life form.
Write a story that begins, “She tripped and fell into the burning sand…”
Write a story that ends, “Roll on winter.”
Write a poem or story where everything that provides relief during the summer randomly breaks down. The air conditioning suddenly stops working. The power goes out in your home. You can’t seem to start your car.
Write a story that begins “This was no ordinary day…”
Write a story that ends – “She found her paradise after all.”
Enjoy A Cultural Experience Without Leaving Home
A friend I met when I was working on celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Mordialloc Primary School, told me her husband was scared of flying. They were teachers and all they wanted to do when they retired was travel overseas but she refused to travel by ship.
No flying, no sailing – what could they do to satisfy their desire to visit other countries?
They compromised and innovated. They borrowed books and documentaries from the local library and researched the customs, costumes, music and food of a country. After a few weeks, they visited the place via armchair travel.
They dressed appropriately for the season, cooked a custom meal, played the music you’d expect to hear and totally immersed themselves as if they were in the chosen country. They even spoke learned phrases from a new language to each other.
Most people connected to the Internet and using some sort of social media platform will have seen the quizzes going around like chain letters of old and the finger games with folded paper.
You have to answer personal questions, are given a score or a personality description and then you must pass it on. Frequently, one of the questions wants to know are you an owl or a lark.
We can get right into writing prompts because I’ll assume most people have already put themselves into a category!
It is an important question to answer – know yourself well if you want to create realistic characters with flaws, foibles and interesting features.
Although, as I suggest in the post’s title, during this catastrophic COVID19 pandemic, many of us would love to hibernate like bears and wake up in a few months with the crisis over and some semblance of normality we used to know!
Are you a lark?
Describe your perfect morning.
To what would you compare morning and why?
Have you a morning ritual?
How has the ritual changed over the years?
Did you become a lark when you started working because you had to?
Do you prefer mornings or dark?
Have you an opinion or a story about a rooster?
How do you know it is morning? What morning and evening sounds can you identify?
Think back to your childhood –
Can you remember what mornings were like before you went to school?
Did your mum work outside the home – was there a strict timetable to stick to?
Were you looked after by someone other than family?
Where were you living – city or country?
Is there one particular morning you have never forgotten?
What were mornings like when you attended school?
Were you always early, or late – how did you get there?
Was breakfast cooked or not?
Did you have chores to do?
Did you have pets to feed? Dogs to walk? Horses to groom? Cows to milk?
What were mornings like when you went to high school – more independent?
Did you look after your own uniform? Did you polish your shoes?
Did you walk to school? With siblings, friends, boys and girls?
Did you have a paid job like newspaper or junk mail delivery before school?
Did you have to escort a younger sibling to their school, to kinder?
How old were you when you took responsibility to make your own breakfast?
How old were you if you had to help others in the morning – siblings, ill parent, grandparent?
Have you made a conscious effort to change a morning routine? Why?
Write about what was/is/or could be your perfect alarm clock – this could be birdsong, a piece of music or a particular song, children’s laughter, a purring cat, a romantic kiss… or as my youngest daughter wrote in a writing workshop once, ‘my perfect alarm clock is one that is broken.’
Did you have a routine for working days and another for weekends?
What morning is/was your favourite and why? (Sunday is often a special morning even for those not religious but also special events like Easter or Christmas morning, or a birthday ritual!)
How has your morning changed during this COVID19 crisis?
Are You An Owl?
What time do you normally go to bed – before or after midnight?
Are you an insomniac? Have you a cure for insomnia or tried any that failed?
Are you a shift worker? Has this disturbed your sleep patterns? How did it affect your metabolism?
Did you have a bedtime routine as a child?
Do you have an evening or bedtime routine now?
Did your sleeping habits change when children came along?
Was it a lifelong change?
Did anyone else in the house alter their sleeping patterns?
What daily rituals do you adhere to?
Do you get a second wind in the evenings?
Do you have an afternoon nap? A siesta?
Do you catnap? Do you have forty winks or longer?
Have you any stories about sleeping in, uncomfortable mattresses, disturbed sleep
Do you take earplugs and an eye mask when you travel?
How do you compensate for lack of sleep?
Is there a place you like to go when you can’t sleep?
What is your most poignant and memorable experience of being a night owl?
Write an opinion piece based on your life experience:
Different people have different behaviour patterns and preferences. However, most of us still need the obligatory minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night to look our best, function well and achieve our goals.
Humans are naturally polyphasic (multiple sleep times per day), just like our natural eating habits. Research is often conducted into the impact of cortisol, melatonin, and even caffeine on our sleep-wake cycles, how the use of these can be modified with lifestyle changes. Sleep can be changed based on lifestyle but sleep needs cannot.
The impact of artificial light from computer screens alone has a substantial effect on melatonin production and largely explains why people have trouble syncing their sleep-wake cycle with sunlight. Manipulation of artificial light is used by the military to help soldiers stay awake abnormally long hours and to adjust to different time zones or work shifts.
If I had free choice, I’d be a siesta person. Early to rise and late to bed, with a long nap after lunch.
From A Lark to An Owl Mairi Neil
“….The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn,
God’s in his heaven;
All’s right with the world.”
Robert Browning (1812-1889)
I wouldn’t say I’m a lark, I don’t wake up singing, but I do love the mornings – especially those sunny mornings in spring and autumn with the grass still gleaming with dew. When I step out to a clear sky and the air warm, but not hot, I can smell the promise in those mornings that all is right with the world.
Backyard blackbirds flit from cherry plum tree to Photinia, rest awhile on the fence before singing their joy. Magpies peck the lawn before flying atop the gum trees and carolling, wattlebirds sup nectar from the grevillea and lorikeets munch from the seed block I’ve placed in the bottlebrush.
Most of my life I have been motivated to rise early and get on with whatever task is on the agenda – whether it be study, school, work, or play. One of six children, I was the one who woke the household much to the disgust of siblings – especially during the teenage years. No matter how late I went to bed, my body clock had me rising early to breakfast or I’d suffer a headache. I couldn’t lie in bed until noon like my older sister, Catriona or brother Iain – the two definite night owls in our family.
Mum loved telling the story of me falling asleep over my dinner from when I sat in a high chair up until I went to school. Often I was carried into bed from the dinner table.
The change from a lark to an owl arrived with motherhood. My first baby Anne, turned night into day and destroyed whatever energy was needed to face the morning. The tiredness of caring for a newborn babe ranges from fatigue to exhaustion. Sleepless nights breastfeeding on demand, soothing a colicky baby, changing nappies, walking the floor crooning nursery rhymes or any other song that came to mind. (The People’s Flag & Internationale my favourites – no wonder both girls fight for social justice!)
New to parenting I employed all sorts of distracting tricks to calm fractious cries when the girls were ill or just out of sorts. From being a sound sleeper, I became a light sleeper, awake at the least disturbance from cot or bed.
Each morning, I fought to stay awake, sometimes falling asleep with a slice of toast in my mouth from the breakfast tray my loving, but well-rested husband prepared before heading off to work. John’s years in the Royal Navy meant he could sleep through WW3.
My body seemed to relax into a deep sleep two minutes before the 6.00am alarm for John to get up for work. Jolted awake, I faced the morning, not with a joyous song but fear. Would tiredness make me an incompetent mother?
Some say biorhythms determine our health, fitness, and response to nature, and crises occur when these rhythms are off their beat. Motherhood was the first serious change in the tempo of my life but it was not the last. The long period of caring for John when he was ill with COAD, asbestosis and later lung cancer meant I spent many nights lying listening to his struggling breaths. Uninterrupted sleep became a precious commodity.
Older, but not necessarily wiser, my sleep patterns so disturbed I am now officially (a) cuckoo!
Are you an owl? Describe your perfect night. Now throw a spanner in the works and write about when the morning or evening wasn’t so perfect!
… we should not only welcome day-dreams but train ourselves to be aware of them. In fact, the cores of most of my novels have come from daydreams. Daydreams are our primal storyteller at work, sending us scenes and topics that our imagination or subconscious wants us to investigate. Each day, we should devote time (I usually do this before sleeping) to reviewing our day-dreams and determining which of them insists on being turned into a story. Don’t push away those daydreams that make you uncomfortable: The more shocking the day-dream, the more truthful about us it is. Embrace that truth.”
Do you daydream? Do you dream in your sleep? Write a story based on your dreaming experiences – maybe you have a recurring dream?
“I write in the first person because I have always wanted to make my life more interesting than it was.”
Writing Post for Day Five – Count Your Blessings To be Alive
Keeping a sense of perspective and humour amidst all the gloom and doom can be difficult but for mental health – and physical as shown by the fights in supermarkets – it is necessary.
Many people are doing their bit online – sharing jokes, funny memes, clips of singing, dancing, live performances of every creative art and hints, like mine, to ease the anxiety and stress of being cooped up while in quarantine or working from home.
Working at home doesn’t necessarily mean you are alone – especially if children are home from school. Perhaps the only time alone will be in your head! Put those thoughts to good use, focus on ideas (the more positive the better), grab a notebook, and write.
This post is about writing recipes, not for food or cooking. There are plenty of free recipes for that on the Internet and I’m sure with the panic buying and shortages there will be a host of new food recipes doing the rounds.
Not to mention books: How I Survived Covid19 When The Pantry Was Almost Bare…
(I could write that one because I refused to panic buy and with a compromised immune system I’m avoiding the queues in shops!)
Humour & Love Is Needed
I started with my Dr Seuss inspired poem written in a lesson about rhyming poetry to grab your attention. I mean who doesn’t know or love Dr Seuss?
But now, here are some ‘rules’ or suggestions:
Eight Steps For Writing A Recipe To Lift Your Mood
What would your ideal day consist of? Jot points down – often a list is a good format – or maybe even start with the same introductory phrase: Each day I’d love to
Now make a mind map. In the middle of a blank piece of paper write ‘My recipe.’ Here is an example of a mindmap from the Internet from ResearchGate:
Now describe your ingredients. Go through them one by one
All recipes specify quantities for every ingredient. Add these to your ingredients on the mind map.
Try adding similes or metaphors to make your recipe more interesting and imaginative.
(A simile is a comparison of one thing to another using the connecting word ‘as’ or ‘like’, a metaphor just is and doesn’t need the introduction. For example:- When my first daughter was born a popular song at the time was ‘A Little Ray of Sunshine’. If I was using a simile, she’d be like a little ray of sunshine, but with metaphor, she is my little ray of sunshine. A subtle but important difference.)
Method of Preparation – it’s your recipe so explore, be daring, be innovative – give readers a window into your soul…
Serving Suggestions are necessary, of course:
(Add a ‘garnish’ to your recipe, these are the finishing touches that present a dish to perfection.)
Add a title – What word or feeling would sum up your recipe? Try and keep it relevant and short. Or call it like it is:
A Recipe For A Good Mood Mairi Neil (2016)
a chorus of Mary Jane’s chuckles
an eyeful of Anne’s excitement
a cacophony of birdsong
a dash of possum
a snuggle and lick from Aurora
a strong trace of walking on the foreshore
a breath of rosemary and lavender
large helpings of writing time
a ladle of television murder-mystery
unlimited cupfuls of English Breakfast tea
a glass of cider (or two)
a shower of sunshine
a whisper of an autumn breeze
a turntable of favourite music
a reflection on the love of family and friends
Add liberal dollops of Mary Jane’s infectious laughter
Organise Anne’s surprises to drizzle at intervals
Enjoy Aurora’s daily cuddles and friendly licks
Encourage the possums to nestle in the trees
Welcome the magpies’ morning trill, the butcher birds’ songs,
the wattlebirds’ chok-chok and the doves evening coos.
Wait for the aromatic profusion of rosemary, lavender, geraniums
and roses and rainbow colours of seasonal displays
Embrace the sea air and lapping of waves
Mix and serve daily, in no particular order. Whether sunshine or rain this recipe has my personal guarantee.
Try writing another recipe with different ingredients or write a recipe for a friend, a family member, based on what that person likes:
Or perhaps a recipe based on current affairs (especially if you have a solution to the current catastrophe – remember we’re focusing on a good mood but absurd is okay), the perfect holiday, a travel experience…
**And if you are not into poetic -style recipes whatever is stirred up and remembered can be written in prose – another life story, or piece of fiction!
There Are Benefits To using A Mindmap To Brainstorm Ideas Before Writing
A mind map is a diagram that uses words or sketches to note ideas linked to a central keyword. (This is often called theme in creative writing. A piece of writing can have many themes but often there is an overarching one.)
A mind map gives you the opportunity to explore many different concepts and shows the process of developing them. There is no limit to size – if you want to be expansive grab a sheet of butcher’s paper!)
Mind maps are useful for generating, visualising and organising ideas. They are often used to make decisions and solve problems in the corporate world, but for creative writers, we generate ideas for stories or poems, and to recall memories.
What Does Your Ideal Day Consist of?
Prepare the mindmap –
Favourite time of day
Favourite hobby & activity
Favourite films/TV shows
Use whatever interests you, add extra categories.
Write examples next to all or chosen categories – there may be more than one answer. (Go with your initial one perhaps)
When describing your ingredients go through them one by one.
What words would you use? Think of associations with your central ingredient and write them around that. Think of descriptive words that you could use along with similes and metaphors.
Let your mind roam freely, don’t think too hard or edit yet. Try not to judge one word as being better than another at this stage.
Repeat for as many ingredients as you wish and if you use the senses in the description it will help to make your recipe poetic.
This is a Recipe For a Good Mood, rather than a recipe for food, but all recipes have measurements – some are exact like half a tablespoon of sugar…
In your recipe, measurements don’t have to be standard. You can use traditional measures but be creative and add more inventive indications of quantity.
A small amount could be –
A large amount could be –
Think of other ways we measure things, such as time, space, height and distance.
Here is a list of words for measurement (some traditional, others not) – you can add more in the comments:
This recipe is about feelings, therefore, make it as richly descriptive as possible.
Similes add depth to a description. eg. A summer’s evening as soft as velvet Spring blossom falling like snow
If your ingredient is A tranquil summer or A Quiet Summer Day/Evening
Think about comparisons: What things are quiet? for example tranquil as…. a soft wind in the trees, a sleeping mouse (or any pet), an owl in flight, a swan gliding…
Rather than repeat the description of ‘quiet’ twice, choose different words to mean the same thing eg.. A sprinkle of quiet summer, tranquil as an owl in flight.
Do this for one or two ingredients, not every line because you can defeat the impact of the mood you want to create.
•There’s no right or wrong way to approach your method of preparation.
Write out the list of your ingredients onto a piece of paper.
What will you mix your ingredients in?
In what order will you add them?
Is there a special way they need adding?
This is where you can grab one of those recipe books off the shelf that you have stopped using because it is easier to Google but you haven’t thrown them out because of an emotional attachment, they were a gift, or sometimes it is quicker to check a page than wait for Malcolm Turnbull’s oh, so slow, NBN to download.
Check out the instructions on a favourite recipe and substitute your ingredients:
fold in gently,
beat with a fork
You might put a fractious toddler in a large garden and lightly whisk a sprinkle of quiet summer….
Look at the methods of preparation from the list below or choose your own:
Garnishing & Serving Suggestions:
Add a ‘garnish’ to your recipe, these are the finishing touches that present a dish to perfection. You may like to think of it as the cherry on top of your Recipe For a Good Mood
Serve with a sprig of stories and a warm feeling.
Garnish with a cuddle from a sister and enjoy with a relish of friends
Best enjoyed with a glass of Cider
Serve with optimism and chocolate cake.
You can say how many people it serves – perhaps the ‘recipe poem’ is for a special celebration – birthday, anniversary, wedding, christening…
Add a title. What word or feeling would sum up your recipe? Try and keep it short.
Fun, Warmth, A Giggle, Feeling Blessed, Chilling Out…
Write Your Recipe For a Good Mood –
prose or poetry!
And here is a bit of history in a recipe book – a selection of pages of a book put together on my kitchen table for Mordialloc Primary School as a fundraiser in the 90s.
Most parents contributed a recipe, and some helped with surveys and collection and encouraged their children to illustrate. Some of the data is worthy of a time capsule!
There were no computers, no money for offset printing and the book was divided into sections, with bits of general knowledge and current research regarding food sprinkled throughout.
The aim was to encourage harmony, tolerance and an appreciation of each other’s culture and it worked – families had fun contributing and we learnt a lot about different countries and foods.
We even got a review in the Herald Sun – not bad for a wee school and complete novices. You never know where your ‘kitchen’ creativity will lead!
On February 29, I attended a screening of the 1992 film BARAKA to raise funds for Wildlife Victoria after the devastating bushfire season.
The date is special because it is a leap year and according to Google, this is a lucky year with a spirituality website suggesting, a year “when energies are higher and filled with enthusiasm, optimism, love and compassion. It is a great year to search for spiritual wisdom.”
And considering Australians are facing a climate catastrophe, a coronavirus outbreak, the aftermath of a horrific bushfire season, ongoing drought, and poor economic outlook, luck is much-needed and wisdom always worth seeking – spiritual or otherwise!
It would be nice to have a competent government that fostered optimism and enthusiasm for the future but achieving that needs work and an early election! Meanwhile, if you are not a climate denialist and you believe in social justice like me, please keep raising your voice in whatever way you can.
I saw Baraka a long time ago, but the advertised conversation scheduled after the film captured my attention because it was about “designing the future with hope and humanity” – two principles omitted from many concrete jungles we call cities and media full of gloom and doom.
The film, like a good book, needs to be absorbed and savoured in stillness. It’s like an epic novel or saga with layers of meaning to be digested and reflected upon.
Deep concentration – not a quick glance or speed read – the MC asked us to relax, be drawn into the music and visuals, ‘be still, absorb, listen and watch … be in touch with emotions and senses, enjoy a transformational experience.’
The lights dimmed, the film rolled, I became completely immersed in the visuals and incredible soundtrack. The atmosphere calm and comfortable in the recently renovated Capitol until ironically, someone turned the air conditioner up or forgot to adjust it to the vagaries of Melbourne’s recalcitrant summer.
Luckily, the film was almost over and it was panel time so the discomfort wasn’t too much of a distraction.
It was then the turn of the two presenters to provide the promised hope and information. To represent the current generation’s ideas for tackling the climate emergency.
To offer man-made solutions to man-made problems.
BARAKA – Ron Fricke’s Guided Meditation On Humanity
A breathtaking journey across 25 countries on six continents, Baraka is a sublime reflection on the beauty and the chaos of the world. The film brings together spectacular imagery with no plot, actors, script or narrative, transcending nationality, identity, place and time. The result is a meditative panorama of our natural and human landscapes – a visual survey made all the more urgent and affecting given today’s climate emergency.
As much a technical masterpiece as it is a conceptual one, Baraka was shot entirely on 70mm with a custom-built computerized 65mm camera. Taking 30 months to complete, with over 14 months on location, the making of the film was a feat within itself.
Baraka quickly became a cult classic for its unique non-linear, non-narrative approach to documentary and its astonishing footage that jumps from the elating to the disturbing. The awe, harmony, destruction and rebirth of nature merge in cycles. Ultimately we are looking at humanity’s interconnectedness and our relationship to the environment.
When writing, the importance of techniques such as metaphor and simile are important to improve poetry and prose, and so it is with a film. A picture replaces a thousand words especially if revealing a powerful metaphor, and there were many in Baraka.
Music to evoke mood and soundtrack using percussion to great effect are important aspects of cinema and in Baraka, it kept pace with the sweeping and varied scenes of the natural world and cities. Percussion and natural ‘noise’, especially when industrial scenes of production lines, manufacturing and mining activities filled the screen segued seamlessly from panoramic or close-ups of mountains, oceans, deserts and green plains.
Superb cinematography and editing drew us into each scene. Memorable close-ups of the faces of animals and humans, the zooming into the natural and human world’s rhythms.
Time-lapse photography provided scenes of people commuting on foot, by train and car before switching to herds of animals, marching insect lines…back to the expressions on the faces of train travellers in Tokyo … reminding me of writing poetry on peak hour trains to and from the city…
Have We Forgotten the Value of Stillness?
Barakais full of juxtapositions – we see Japanese men in a pool following a bathing ritual, crowds of men and women bathing in the Ganges – close-ups of people relaxing, luxuriating in the relaxation and purification of water, not much different to a family of baboons in a hot spring high in the mountains, ice on the baboon’s fur melting crystals as he closes his eyes… his stillness mesmerising.
A Shinto priest surrounded by fast-paced traffic and busy shoppers in Tokyo walks one foot in front of the other, heel touching toe, as if on a tightrope or narrow ledge, snail-paced, a bell in his hand chiming with each slow, deliberate, step, no deviation from the path or the rhythm.
I remember Donne’s poem, ‘For whom the bell tolls… ‘ It tolls for thee…
No drones in 1992, yet the visuals are stunning, probably from a helicopter or aircraft but each vein, artery, vivid colour stands out: of mountains, rocks, snow,-laden fields, trees, shrubbery and humans…
There are painted faces, tattooed bodies, jewellery made from natural items adorning naked or semi-naked bodies dancing and performing rituals indoors and outdoors, in continents across the globe.
The camera visits temples, mosques, synagogues, churches – and most of those performing the rituals or leading the service are male (has the power balance changed?).
In a Buddhist temple, the maroon-robed, adolescent lamas chant as old women sweep the courtyards and surrounding streets and old men slowly sprinkle oil. I remember visiting Mongolia...
In an orthodox Christian church, an old woman garbed in traditional black sits beside a table of candles, as if in servitude, while the priest walks ceremoniously towards an altar agleam with ornate gold and silver. He stops to pray
… and the camera focuses on another priest in another country, walking through cloisters to kneel and pray by an unadorned tomb …
There are scenes of the Hajj where hundreds of thousands of Islamic devotees make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey connected to the time of Abraham and requiring certain rituals, including walking counter-clockwise seven times around the holy Kaaba.
In Cambodia, we see rows of men in an arc following the lead of a chief/guru with a painted face. He chants and moves his hands and arms in various poses. The men emulate his loud laughs, chants, alternately sitting and standing. Their behaviour is reminiscent of a Maori haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge with vigorous movement, stamping feet, rhythmic shouting and specific facial expressions.
Australian Aboriginal dancers around a campfire sing and act a story after being painted by women who then stand and sway in the background. Females playing a supporting role or performing their own rituals in the shadows mirrored in Kenya and Nigeria…
The film spans 25 countries with a focus on first nation peoples and their connection to the natural world and the rituals that have grown or been created.
The lifestyles of first nation people have been disrupted by industrial development, yet many retain cultural rituals. (Or they did in 1992!)
In South America, tribal children peep from the jungle, behind trees thousands of years old, and wide-eyed watch as a gigantic saw screams and fells trees. We are still destroying the Amazon rainforest at a horrendous rate.
In cities, descendants of those tribes peep through bars in pigeon-coop-sized apartments huddled in ramshackle confusion, on the side of city hills. Children peep through barred windows on the slum buildings protecting them from falling to their death. Families being contained, exploited … still… the cost of the Rio Olympics to Brazil’s poor in 2016...
“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil, set off a tornado in Texas?”
From caged people to caged birds, automated conveyor belts as thousands of hens lay eggs. From the cruelty of egg farming to chickens, checked, painted, beaks seared, thrown into chutes one by one and suddenly, there are lines of workers, clocking on and clocking off, jammed tightly on production lines…
Like the tobacco factory in Indonesia, women and girls, making cigarettes, one by one, rolling and clipping the tobacco, shaping the cigarette for a well-dressed, suited businessman to smoke as he joins the line of commuters crossing a Jakarta street…
While in India, at Hindu funerals on the Ganges we see funeral pyres, some can afford a decorated raft, others a homemade stretcher on the banks of the river. As the camera zooms in on a smouldering corpse, I steal a glance at the young lad sitting next to me. He’s ten, perhaps eleven and with his dad and is completely absorbed. I watch those grieving on the screen, the charred remains of their loved one and close my eyes for a few moments as tears sting – being a voyeur uncomfortable and sad.
But what of the crowds of women and children trawling through gigantic rubbish heaps salvaging anything that can be used, eaten, sold, repurposed. They don’t have a choice in lifestyle or of avoiding unpleasant death scenes.
Ragged and dishevelled, the scavengers move amongst bulldozers, smouldering fires and industrial shovels. The scene somewhere in India but it could be the Philippines, Nigeria, rural China… places where reports of populations exploited in this way fill the news cycle.
First Nations sovereignty – the film revealed that the people most affected are often those least responsible for the damage to the earth. A combination of approaches will equal climate justice.
Anthropocene– the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
We have created an extinction crisis and must act now. We must accept and appreciate the human impact and population on the natural world and change our behaviour.
Lauren Rickards is a human geographer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University Melbourne, where she co-leads the Climate Change Transformations research program of the Centre for Urban Research. Lauren’s research examines the social, cultural and political dimensions of the human-environment relationship, focused on climate change, disasters and the broader Anthropocene condition. A Rhodes Scholar, Lauren is a Lead Author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report and a Senior Fellow with the Earth Systems Governance network.
Lauren studies how the earth functions and is now starting to dysfunction.
For Australia, this summer of bushfires a stark wake-up call. Fears, scientists thought we had decades to deal with, are here, and we must deal with the crisis.
Here are links to recent articles about the magnitude of Australia’s bushfire crisis:
Lauren said, Baraka, made the familiar strange and makes us face up to what we regard as normal. We must start to think differently. We must not accept the view of politicians like our Prime Minister who talk of ‘the new normal‘!
For example, bushfires are now strange and more threatening to generations brought up reciting Dorothea Mackellar’s poem about an Australia ‘of drought and flooding rains’.
‘You live in the bush. You live by the rules of the bush, and that’s it.’ These were the reflective words of Mrs Dunlop upon seeing the blackened rubble of her home, which made headline news the morning after the first, and most destructive, fire front tore through the Blue Mountains in New South Wales on 17 October 2013 (Partridge and Levy, 2013).
While seemingly a simple statement, it goes right to the heart of heated public and political debates – past and present – over who belongs where and why in the fire-prone landscapes that surround Australia’s cities. Bushfire is a constant and ongoing part of Australian history, ecology and culture. The love of a sunburnt country, the beauty and terror of fire, and the filmy veil of post-fire greenness described in the century-old poem ‘Core of My Heart’ (Mackellar, 1908) are still apt depictions of Australian identity today.
Yet longer fire seasons and an increase in extreme fire weather days with climate change add both uncertainty and urgency to Australia’s ability to coexist with fire in the future (Head et al., 2013).
Man has an obsession with fire – in the film we see various religious rituals involving lighting candles, lanterns, bonfires. Purification and burial rituals. There are shots of the sun, moon, stars juxtaposed with the fires out of control on the oil fields of Kuwait, and the explosions caused by bombs.
The foundries, crematoriums, mining and other industrial sites, and cities lit up… but also the horror of the Holocaust gas chambers, mass burials, destructive bombings.
We are able to control combustion, we have electricity because of coal but fossil fuels now need to be made strange.
Our relationship to the military-industrial complex where atomic weapons and stockpiling nuclear weapons are seen as normal must be challenged.
The film depicts soldiers on the Chinese and Russian borders protecting piles of weapons, then pans to row after row of USA military planes…
As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. It is, perhaps, the most well-known line from the Bhagavad-Gita, but also the most misunderstood.
The general notions about human understanding . . . which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture, they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom.’
Oppenheimer, quoted from F. Capra, The Tao of Physics.
atmospheric aerosol loading
the equivalent of an atom bomb a week in our oceans
planetary boundaries transform our approach to growth
great acceleration of climate change and mother earth becomes deeply unfamiliar
the threat is here and people already suffering
UN scientists warn that roughly 1 million plant and animal speciesare on the verge of extinction due to human activity. It would be the first mass extinction since humans started walking the earth and has dire implications for the survival of our own species. Already, humans are losing key ecosystem services that nature provides, including crop pollination, storm mitigation, and clean air and water.
“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
In Baraka you see people following this path, people meditating, pushing back against some of the technology and damaging changes.
We too must question technology of the future – it may be shiny and bright but not normal – Lauren refers to the common symbol we see of a pair of hands holding up the earth. She challenges that image: Let us remember –
the planet holds us up not us holding up the planet.
We need to pierce the politics of denial. Do not accept climate change as the new normal!!
We must move from the idea of a shareholder to stakeholder, not capitalism but a system where the environment is the shareholder.
I think of the endless debates people have about whether climate change is real and wonder how anyone can still be a climate denialist. Then remember a meme doing the rounds of social media and sigh:
Bio Cities Living Architecture – Beyond Green Design
The next presenter was Dr Ollie Cotsaftis, a post-disciplinary and speculative designer whose practice sits at the intersection of the human evolution, the built environment and the realm of creative biotechnologies.
His research addresses climate resilience and social innovation in speculative urban futures. Ollie is also the founder and creative director of future ensemble studio, the co-founder of Melbourne Speculative Futures—the Melbourne Chapter of The Design Futures Initiative—experiments with new ideas through his visual art practice, and most recently started a column on speculative and critical design for the This is HCDnetwork.
Ollie wants to answer the question – How do we build our cities and stop the concrete working against us and reconnect with nature?
Bio Cities, Living Architecture – Beyond Green design
Architecture that is organic
Architecture that is sustainable
Architecture that is alive
He referred to information from the Bureau of Meteorology that shows temperatures will increase and have been increasing over the last 110 years. The slide courtesy of the CSIRO, July 2019.
Ollie suggested we Google action architecture climate change for a wealth of information from people who agree the climate is changing therefore so must architecture.
One of the most well-known architects of our time, Bjarke Ingels said: “If we can Change the Climate of the World by Accident, Imagine What we can Achieve by Trying”
Bjarke has become one of the most sought-after architects. In 2019 alone, he and his team completed as many as 13 projects, including large-scale undertakings such as Copenhill, a zero-emission waste-to-energy plant. The innovative solution is the first of its kind in the world: utopia turned reality.
90% of Melbourne’s energy is still based on oil, gas and coal. The CBD is very expensive to live regarding energy use. Ollie has been involved in an experimental project to convert a high-rise corporate building into a sustainable residential alternative.
385 Bourke Street – Hope For The Future
385 Bourke Street (also known as the State Bank Centre) is a high-rise office building located in Melbourne, Australia. It is the former head office of the State Bank of Victoria and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It is located on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets.
The lower levels of the building are the Galleria shopping centre. Major tenants in the building are Energy Australia and Industry Superannuation fund UniSuper.
Photo and this info from Wikipedia
Built in 1983 it had poor energy efficiency. The owners have spent $2.5m for an energy retrofit to transform it into a residential building. The side exposed to the sun had solar panels fitted to capture that energy.
Panels have been put on the outside of the building’s upper floors facing the sun and are red because that is the colour that captures the most energy from the sun.
There are plants on window sills, in walkways, on ledges.
385 Bourke Street has been transformed from a carbon positive corporate tower to a carbon-negative residential tower.
The experiment has proven it is possible to transform energy inefficient city buildings into sustainable alternatives –
Extension of OPVs
Affordability is an issue and more information will be available during Melbourne Design Week march 12-22, 2020 and on April 24, where there will be a full presentation at the NGV.
Ollie wants us to think of different perceptions. A level of awakening needed and the ability to question how we do things differently. to have –
Speculative ideas and consider their future
Speculative visions of the future
How do we move from object and service (a building) the individual to a collective way of shaping the city?
Shareholders should be the community of the city. Even change shareholder to stakeholder, not viewing through a capitalism lens but a system where the environment is the shareholder.
A combination of approaches will equal climate justice
First Nations sovereignty important to recognise – Baraka revealed that the people most affected are often those least responsible for the damage to the earth.
Inequities revealed in 1992 and still happening today
Environmental and economic problems caused by historical violence inflicted on first nations people – their lifestyle did not cause these events.
We have to face the enormous depths of problems created by history and recognise it is getting harder to predict the future and impact of technology because change happens so fast
Who moved the earth into this state of catastrophe?
It is a slow emergency on a geological timescale but for us now there is a sense of urgency. Baraka shows the disintegration of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the reclaiming of the ruins by nature – through a variety of lens and focus you can lose track of hours and time but you get a sense there is a trajectory we are heading on…
Let’s learn from those who have lived with the earth, let them lead us to repair, restore and be on a better path. In Australia, we must listen to our Indigenous rangers about land management.
An emerging crisis implies a window of opportunity.
Organisations like Wildlife Victoria are helping creatures get through on the short term but also building bridges to an eco future and looking longterm to be positive towards a sustainable future for our wildlife.
In urban settings, we have architects and designers transforming buildings from one function to another. Considering adaptive reuse.
When a bushfire season like the one we have just experienced is so catastrophic, we can be blinded by the vastness of scale which is on the level of global plastic pollution and recycling and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s easy to miss a lot of slow violence to the earth not necessarily making headline news:
land theft from First Nations peoples
Poisoning of water and land
Ollie explained the city of Jakarta is sinking – water is being drained from tabletops and the city is drowning and must be relocated. What about the buildings left – will they just rot or will they be reused and repurposed? This is a project to consider under the banner of a speculative future.
Can we program a building to degrade itself after a certain lifespan?
Can we adapt buildings to our needs?
Principles and ideas shared globally, not just western canon and ethics which has been a problem when everything is Eurocentric or Western-centric.
When tackling projects, cooperation needed around the world between countries and cultures with shared questions.
Is this anticipatory?
What can go wrong?
What are the different scenarios?
Have we included everyone and everything to be affected?
Are we doing it for the right purpose?
Is it the right thing to do?
part of the world’s problem is too many design groups are white-centric – we must share principles rather than some grand narrative of design
Greed has led to the Climate Change Catastrophe
How do we go about overtaking and replacing greed and accumulation of wealth as a motivation of the people in power?
Law must come into it – positive changes can be imposed by regulations and consequences
Often environmental laws are inadequate but even those must be enforced
We can funnel channels of greed – eg. You’ll lose money in fossil fuels but make money in renewables
We must question fundamental ideas – the shareholder model our society uses feeds inequity
We can slow down economic activity – bigger and faster and more luxurious is not necessarily better
Change the architecture of our streets to encourage more walking, more sedentary use, more shade, more trees, more places to sit and contemplate, communicate, converse…