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…
On Thursday evening, I heard this amazing thought voiced when I attended a FREE public lecture, exploring the history, current practice and future of breast cancer treatment hosted jointly by the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Care Centre (VCCC) and Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).
Held at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (VCCC), the CEO of BCNA, Kirsten Pilatti, introduced Dr Eric Winer, the keynote speaker and one of the world’s foremost and highly regarded breast cancer specialists from the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in the United States.
It is not the first time Dr Winer has visited Australia to share the knowledge he’s gained from clinical trials he has designed and conducted, the results of which paved the way toward the more personalised treatment of breast cancer patients and move away from the ‘one-size fit all’ approach of previous years.
Kirsten praised Dr Winer’s commitment to ‘treating the patient not the disease’, an approach shaped by his own cancer journey, which enabled him to draw on empathy as well as expertise.
Improving Breast Cancer Outcomes: Past, Present and Future
When Dr Winer, diminutive, grey hair and glasses took over the podium, he apologised if he fell asleep or stumbled during his presentation because he had only arrived in Melbourne that morning after a long flight from Boston.
However, his well-researched presentation delivered efficiently and with aplomb, showed no sign of fatigue and he held the audience spellbound.
The Past – 1990
1990 was the beginning of Dr Winer’s career concentrating solely on breast cancer, or as he explained ‘that year was the last time I treated a patient without breast cancer.’
His reflections and observations:
in the USA there were 150,000 cases recorded and 44,300 deaths
it was a monolithic disease – doctors could only determine the stages, not the type
most cases presented as a lump or mass
treatment was extensive and debilitating surgery
psychological and physical distress for the patient
chemotherapy and other adjuvant treatments, not an option
women were scared, uninformed and felt victims – some felt shameful
breast cancer advocacy was in its infancy and sadly, even today, some women still feel or are made to feel ashamed
lymphedema was common whereas although it can be a problem today it is not as severe as in the past
metastatic treatment was limited, toxic, barbaric and ineffective
hormonal therapy limited and it too barbaric compared to nowadays
there was poor pain control and patients spent lots of time in hospital
breast implants and reconstruction experimental
wards were run like ‘concentration camps’
Today it is totally different.
there’s a recognition that one woman’s breast cancer not the same as another
a better understanding of biologics heterogeneity (2001 study – genetic differences across tumour types)
a better understanding of cancer biology and differences within subtypes
a growing appreciation of the tumour micromanagement
massive drug development – many new ones on the market with real improvement and better outcomes
a better understanding of hormone receptive tumours, they grow slowly and survival rate is high if therapy used
Studies divided tumours into high grade and low grade, and negative and positive to various hormones
Clinical trials and researchers looked at:
the microenvironment, macroenvironment (the host), diet and exercise
In the last 30 Years
Less extensive surgery and more breast preservation
Far fewer lymph node dissections
Use of several adjuvant therapies to decrease surgery
Reduction in early and late toxicity using modern techniques
More convenient fractionation schedules
Improvements in reconstruction
Individualised therapy based on patient preferences
Radiation more accurate with better protection of the heart and lungs
⅔ of women eligible to have lumpectomies choose this in the USA
Small number choose bilateral mastectomies
Advances in chemotherapy and supportive care
Widespread use of drugs for cancer deemed hormone therapy receptive with a substantial decline in mortality
The magnitude of late (6-20years) recurrence after an initial diagnosis of ER+ breast cancer disease has shown the value of extended hormone therapy but he is aware of the side effects of this therapy.
Adjuvant treatment is additional therapy after primary surgery to kill or inhibit micro-metastases. Primary surgery for breast cancer is accomplished by lumpectomy followed by whole-breast irradiation or by mastectomy.
In patients at increased risk, chemo, immune or hormonal therapy, kills hidden cancer cells – adjuvant therapy has proven effective in various cancers especially if lymph nodes are involved.
He designed this USA study of 2006-2010.
It was one of the first large scale trials to examine a methodology for personalising cancer treatment.
“Any woman with early-stage breast cancer age 75 or younger should have the 21-gene expression test and discuss the results with her doctor to guide her decision to the right therapy.”
Dr Sparano MD, associate director for clinical research, Albert Einstein Cancer centre New York
The role of chemotherapy for some tumours is still unclear but the data “… confirm that using a 21-gene expression test to assess the risk of cancer recurrence can spare women unnecessary treatment if the test indicates that chemotherapy is not likely to provide benefit.”
The findings of the trial significant:
Most women with early breast cancer do not benefit from chemotherapy – that is 70% of women with the most common type of breast cancer
Women with hormone receptor (HR) – positive, HER2-negative, axillary lymph node-negative breast cancer, the discovery that treatment with chemotherapy and hormone therapy after surgery is not more beneficial than treatment with hormone therapy alone.
There is now greater attention to the quality of life and symptom management of those diagnosed with breast cancer.
There are a plethora of anti-HER2 drugs, these new drugs combat the adverse drug reaction patients experience
Targeted approaches that augment hormonal agents – an array of hormonal and chemotherapy approaches
Advances in radiotherapy
Immunotherapy Trials for triple-negative breast cancer
Immunotherapy is more used for the treatment of melanoma and lung cancers
It may be useful for metastatic breast cancer
Mortality rates from breast cancer have dropped 38% in the USA
During the trial, the combination of adjuvant therapy and screening compared and the findings show screening is important but can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.
Some cancers may never bother you in life but are picked up by screening
276,480 cases of invasive disease
48,539 new cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ – the earliest form of breast cancer which is non-invasive)
Therapeutic resistance exists – this a major cause of death in developing countries where there is limited access to screening and drugs
Brain metastasis is a major problem for 50% of patients with HER2+
Need for better treatment for some cancers and reduction of chemotherapy
Overtreatment is an issue – causes substantial morbidity, not death
For anyone following USA politics, health equity is a big issue. Dr Winer let it be known he couldn’t imagine anyone in the room liking or supporting President Trump, or his acceptance of the current health inequalities in the USA where there is inadequate and unequal access to healthcare
Dr Winer certainly didn’t support Trump, he was ‘from Boston and no one supports Trump there!’
Health equity is a fundamental social problem and screams discrimination.
Race, poverty, limited education, lack of health insurance and health literacy all contribute to inequity.
Whether it is because of poverty, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or being considered overweight – statistics show if you are a 30-year-old lesbian or a woman over 80, if diagnosed there is a high risk of dying from breast cancer!
Racial disparity in breast cancer persists with people of colour suffering higher rates of death.
In her introduction, Kirsten mentioned the problem in Australia regarding Aboriginal women’s access to health services. In the USA, Dr Winer said it is the African-American population who suffer, and ironically the worst equity is in Washington!
Less than optimal care can cause death from almost anything that makes a person have less access to healthcare available.
Health inequity may cause up to 30% unnecessary deaths
Regarding clinical trials – there is a low participation rate and Dr Winer wants more engagement with clinicians and better communication so there is meaningful interaction between patients and clinicians about the importance of clinical trials.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Possum Skin Cloak – Peter MacCallum Centre acknowledges and pays respect to the Wurundjeri People, the traditional owners of the land on which the hospital stands.
Possum skin cloaks are one of the many expressions of traditional south-eastern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Cloaks aid healing and wellbeing by connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to their culture and identity and spiritual healing.
We thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women Survivors of Breast Cancer and other cancers that created this beautiful healing cloak, intended for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families while at Peter Mac.
In creating this healing cloak, we acknowledge the Peter Mac Foundation and our partnership with Breast Cancer Network Australia.
DRUG COST 2017
These are the amounts drug companies estimate it costs for production of various drugs used in breast cancer treatment (a year’s supply):
Dr Winer said the drug development costs 2-5 times more in the USA than anywhere else, therefore the profit margin is not reasonable.
The government prohibits negotiating around the cost of drugs, Dr Winer believes there should be control and regulation for the sake of health equity.
Dr Winer looked at the future and made some predictions:
Next 10 Years
More detailed understanding of the disease
Real improvements in survival and quality of life
Advances and better-targeted radiation
Decline in deaths
Increase in those considered “cured”
Health equity may improve in the next decade
25-40% reduction in deaths
No movement in prevention
Next 25-30 Years
We’ll be treating breast cancer with antibiotics
Death will be rare – a 50-80% reduction
Prevention treatment may be possible
Questions from the audience
A man in the audience suggested dragon boat racing, which many women take up after surgery, is effective in reducing the risk of recurrence because it is good exercise and helps with weight loss and improved strength. He had attended another talk where a doctor had said that 10,000 breast screens only saved one life and wanted to know if that statistic was true.
Answer: Dr Winer said that breast screening was a less useful tool than people assumed. People have to consider their general health and quality of life and detect cancer early and choose the best treatment available.
Screening mammograms can often find invasive breast cancer and DCIS that need to be treated, but possibly some of those cancers would never grow or spread.
Dr Winer is aware that many of the hormonal therapies have horrible side effects and more work needs to be done in deciding who will benefit from it and in reducing side effects.
How Do You Prevent Breast Cancer?
Dr Winer admitted his reply was the ‘impossible dream’ and with a slightly facetious smile rattled off the following:
Have first child before the age of 18
Avoid weight gain if post-menopausal
Avoid excessive alcohol intake
If the disease is in your family have regular check-ups
Take Tamoxifen (however, this has side effects some people find distressing!)
The forum was on the 7th floor of the cancer centre – an amazing view of the city you don’t often see.
I chatted with two women while waiting for the forum to start.
One had a mastectomy plus lymph bodes removed 28 years ago. She was on a trial and her chemotherapy resulted in many weeks in the hospital. Cancer, returned 11 years later but it is now 17 years since the recurrence. The other survivor had a bilateral mastectomy 27 years ago. Now in her 80s, she has decided to resign from the committee of the VCCC. She fundraised and campaigned to have the centre established.
As Dr Winer said, clinical trials and learning from the vast amount of data over the years is very important. Both these women have given so much to help clinicians understand and treat breast cancer and improve survival rates.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
Just as I saw the city in a different light that evening, I also saw the effectiveness of breast screening in a different light. Apparently, only 30% of breast cancers are picked up by screening and unless interpreted correctly can lead to unnecessary interference, overtreatment and a lot of angst.
Both my cancers were first detected by a routine mammogram – how lucky was I?
I left the VCCC more enlightened but with plenty to mull over on the train trip home while acknowledging my privilege.
I’ve always found refuge and comfort in words whether writing, reading, talking or listening…
However, perhaps it is ageing and adjusting to retirement or the weariness of coping with this latest cancer diagnosis, but the urge and even the passion for creative writing is difficult to muster.
Snatches of poems and stories still swirl in head and heart, but that’s where they usually stay – no ‘writer’s block’ just disinterest or lack of energy to go the next step.
Maybe I need to remove self-imposed pressure and unrealistic goals.
I haven’t fallen out of love with the art of writing, just facing the use-by date of some goals and dreams I thought important or achievable.
Conversations with self and the in-depth reflections that often accompany a cancer diagnosis, especially when it strikes again, have led me to a new passion and much-needed relaxation.
Or rather, it has encouraged an expansion of an existing fascination and another project.
I’m talking about protecting birdlife – especially the ‘backyard birds’ I see every day – and creating a garden for man, beast, bird, bee and butterfly to enjoy.
It is addictive watching the interaction when birds visit the front garden, listening to their chitter-chatter – delightful twittering.
And like the paparazzi, I try to capture the perfect photo!
They inspire me to write – not for anyone else but myself and for fun – two elements missing in the years of planning lessons, teaching technique, and inspiring others to write and publish.
I don’t have to feel guilty about writing for pleasure, or that the pleasure is mine!
Words Have Power
Words are a powerful form of communication. I love the nuances and capabilities of the English language, although the multiple meanings and grammatical rules are complicated and confusing when you are trying to master it.
Choose wisely, check the dictionary, listen to the tone, think of interpretation…
The influence of poems, stories, and novels can stay with you for life, also excerpts of dialogue from a dramatic script or film. Favourite song lyrics may move you to tears and can take you back to an important moment in time when you hear the song.
‘Putting it in writing’ and sending letters or emails, recording a journal or updating a diary, even keeping a blog are all valuable forms of expression to share ideas, feelings, and creativity and wonderful when it is not a chore, venting about injustice, or keeping a friendship alive.
I hope to return to feeling elation when my words work.
Word Choice Matters
The pen can be mightier than the sword but that depends on the opponent and circumstance – wars are fought and won with military hardware and signed contracts of peace don’t seem to wield the same power.
The belief ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is patently untrue.
The toxicity of social media attacks and resultant damage, plus the terrible toll of suicides after bullying (virtual and physical), proof that name-calling, insults, false accusations and misinformation hurt and destroy. (The pen is as mighty as the sword?)
We have, as an example, President Trump, one of the most powerful leaders in the world, and his use of Twitter. He is certainly someone who has brought the medium into disrepute more than others, but there are many other examples of what reporters call ‘Twitter fights” – and suddenly someone has their account cancelled or removes themselves voluntarily.
There are many recorded instances of two-quick Twitter reactions/responses, and the toxic comments of trolls and others who comment with online anonymity creating more articles so that often the important news or original topic is ignored.
Poison-pen letters and nasty critiques existed long before the popularity of social media, but the digital age and the speed and distance words travel makes me content to have a twitter account of the feathered variety!
And once sent out a word takes wing beyond recall.
For the past year, walking by Mordialloc Creek and the foreshore, exercising Josie around suburban streets, exploring local parks and those further afield, provides comfort and delight but contentment is revelling in the joys of my garden’s flora and fauna.
The pleasure deepens sharing these activities with my daughters and friends.
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.
The Wit and Wisdom of Adlai Stevenson (1965)
The real world often disturbs these idyllic routines of the natural world. Politics, protests, the climate emergency and mundane household maintenance intrude, along with a persistent inner voice that I should be ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’ – getting the hang of this retirement gig is difficult!
Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.
A Comforting Stillness
In the stillness of the evening
birds nestle in the trees
In the stillness of the evening
nocturnal animals forage
In the stillness of the evening
Above the stars twinkle
clouds veil the moon
the Milky Way cascades in flashing lights
a reminder each day a star is born
in the endless universe
yet, no sound reaches Earth
In the stillness of the evening
my heart beats a sweet rhythm
thinking of you.
An Urgent Plea Received
The bushfires have been worse than any of us could have imagined. If you (or anyone you know) has been affected, our hearts go out to you.
BirdLife Australia is coordinating the response for threatened birds nationally and our fire mapping has identified the species most impacted by the inferno. Now is the time for us all to take urgent action.
We believe millions of birds were incinerated in the blaze. Millions more have lost habitat and face starvation right now. I fear many birds, like the Rufous Scrub-bird, will soon join the list of threatened species. Their future is in our hands…
We have the plans and the people in place, but we know it will take at least $2 million to begin priority actions to save the most threatened of the birds impacted by the fires.
With your urgent help today, we can:
Get survey teams into fire zones as soon as possible to find threatened birds
Help birds recover by protecting them from predators and supporting habitat recovery
Rebuild populations over the long term, through actions like captive breeding programs
Birds live in a range of habitats, making them useful indicators of what is happening in the world. Across the globe and throughout Australia, birds take exciting journeys to search for food, to follow the rain and look for breeding sites. Learning about birds helps you connect with the natural world and helps us understand more about the environment we live in.
While we enjoy a position at the forefront of bird conservation, our work is far from done. With 238 Australian birds already extinct, threatened with extinction or near threatened, we need to ensure that we don’t lose more of them.
We are running out of time to address the climate emergency, but we can all contribute to protecting and improving the aspects of our local environment necessary for native wildlife, especially the birds.
We can make buildings safer for birds. Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning…
New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.
The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows…
A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.
Create a bird-friendly garden
Birds need a home to breed and bring up their families. Their natural habitat normally provides food, shelter, water and nesting sites, but in urban areas they need help.
BirdLife.org advise how to create a suitable habitat in backyards, parks, bush reserves and even wider communities. Here are four of their fact sheets:
On Main Street, Mordialloc
the lull of evening signalled
by oh, so familiar sounds…
birds jostle and joust
for palm tree frond, gum-leafed house.
Dusk descends into twilight glow
the tweets and squeals
a deafening crescendo –
a cacophony of conversation:
‘Time for bed.’
‘That’s my branch…’
‘Move over magpies!’
All must know their station
in life. There’s a sense of place,
chatter, bargain, even squabble
but eventually sharing space.
‘Stop skylarking about!’
‘You lorikeet lout!’
‘Squeeze over sparrows.’
‘How precious are parrots?’
‘Pigeons! The rooftops are home for you go mutter your usual “coo-coo”…’
And in the gloaming, shadows
of building construction loom,
mounds of dirt in lonely gloom.
A treeless landscape, evictions rife
Mordi’s birds may face a new life.
I remember a bloody chainsaw day
shake my head and turn away…
Continue to walk by Mordi Creek
watch the ducks silently glide,
a cormorant rest in contemplation
this beautiful tranquillity
a sanctuary from conurbation.
How lovely the shimmering ripples
of boats tethered for the night,
feathered friends dive and feed
in the fast-fading light.
A familiar outline against the sky
silhouettes of ancient trees
reminding us of when this creek
hosted Bunurong corroborees.
The path peopled by dog walkers,
and school children hurrying home
joggers and health fanatics
grateful for the space to roam.
In the eucalyptus evening hush
this precious part of the day,
Mordialloc Meditative Therapy
chases my doldrums away.
Hitchcock’s Crime Against Birds
I’ve always had a fascination for our feathered friends, but nursed a fear of close contact after seeing Hitchcock’s The Birds!
Nothing equals The Birds for sheer terror when Alfred Hitchcock unleashes his foul friends in one of his most shocking and memorable masterpieces… beautiful blonde Melanie Daniels rolls into Bodega Bay in pursuit of eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner. She is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. Suddenly thousands of birds are flocking into town, preying on school-children and residents in a terrifying series of attacks. Soon Mitch and Melanie are fighting for their lives against a deadly force that can’t be explained and can’t be stopped in one of Hollywood’s most horrific films of nature gone berserk.
Released in 1963, I must have seen The Birds on television in 1968 or soon after – I would have been 15 – but it could have been yesterday because it is one of those movies you never forget.
Hitchcock was a master at creating fear and who would have thought a movie with such an innocuous title could be terrifying?
It took me years to look at birds with admiration, not suspicion. And it is amazing how many people I have met over the years who were affected by that film!
For years, I preferred to keep a distance from birds, disliked seeing them caged and envied their ability to fly, but still held an irrational fear they’d try and peck at my eyes.
If you read the trivia notes on IMDb, they reveal the treatment meted out to the birds on the set of the film – behaviour not tolerated today – we should feel sorry for them not the humans.
Ten Birds Regularly Visit My Garden
Google Backyard Birds, to discover a host of information on birds found in Australian backyards; each state gets a mention.
Depending on what suburb you live in, the following birds will probably be common visitors.
I admire and respect the tenacity and survival instincts of the bird population; their cleverness and beauty, their strength despite such fragile frames. For years, a blackbird family built their nests in the Photinia trees that line our back fence and watching the birds fly back and forth with twigs, discarded pieces of plastic and other debris hanging from tiny beaks proved how adaptable and innovative they can be.
Last year, I filmed a magpie ripping threads from a coir mat and flying off to build a nest.
Drought and urban development shifts bird populations. Mordialloc now echoes to the screeching and chittering of flocks of rainbow lorikeets, especially in the evening when they roost in the iconic date palms lining Main Street, the prolific sparrows and thrushes of earlier years forced elsewhere.
They appear on the lawn
like four pirates of old
strutting and aggressive
noisy and bold.
Fixing beady eyes
on a treasure trove
they bully incessantly —
taking what they love
They’ve come to this land
from across the sea
in an ideal climate
they thrive with glee
The cockatoos and galahs are still around but prefer the open area down by Mordialloc Creek.
Melodic butcherbirds and bullying wattlebirds have made their home in grevillea and banksias, ensuring the smaller birds rarely visit. The sky often patterned by flocks of migrating birds from the nearby Edithvale Wetlands.
Sometimes one or two rare birds choose my garden for a rest or snack instead of ‘eating on the wing’, the experience a delight, but Murphy’s Law dictates my camera is never ready to capture the moment!
Wandering in the garden with my morning cuppa, I’ve recorded quite a few of the bird calls because they are so beautiful. Identifying the singer often leaves me intrigued. Most birds are gifted with plumage to match their preferred habitat, they blend into tree foliage, the bushes, reeds or grasslands with ideal camouflage.
The plaintive song echoes
in the university grounds
as students hurry home
past skeletal branches
of winter trees
hosting the bird’s lament
a mournful echo
of dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels
a wistful whistle announces dusk
until full-throated celebration
a melodious call to rest
classroom doors close
the campus empties
crowded trams trundle by
bathed in artificial sunlight
tall grey buildings reach
for a star embroidered sky
this call of birded tongue
of long-forgotten species.
The Kookaburra Laughs In The Old Gum Tree…
When my family first arrived in Australia, in 1962, magpies proliferated in bushy Croydon, so did kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos and galahs. Most of those birds absent from Mordialloc when John and I started our family here in the 1980s.
The last kookaburras sighted in nearby Bradshaw Park long before I joined the Friends group and worked to save the remnants of indigenous flora and fauna from encroaching suburbia. Bradshaw Park is the only native bushland reserve in Mordialloc and is home to 136 native species – some of which occur nowhere else in Mordialloc.
Rangers have sighted 33 native bird species, but introduced birds thrive too.
Tuneful blackbirds, thrushes and common mynas gobbled the crumbs I scattered each morning (a politically incorrect habit learned from Mum and Dad that I’ve now ceased!).
As I learned from others in the Friends group and planted indigenous trees and flowers, after many years, some native birds now call the trees and shrubbery I’ve nurtured, home.
Recently, a dear friend of 50 years visited from London. Nobuko stayed with other friends in Olinda before me and brought me a teatowel made locally as a gift. It reminded me of childhood trips to visit Sherbrooke Forest.
These rosellas are often seen up in the Dandenongs but there is another bird I have only been lucky to spot a couple of times in my life – very special memories.
Lyre Bird’s Lair
A forgotten memory surfaces strong
feeds a yearning now the days are long
an image of childish eyes entranced
the memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his unusual repertoire of sound
the lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
tail feathers splayed shimmering white
hiding his head from onlookers’ sight
without colourful peacock arrogance
he began his shy seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
until the lyrebird’s energy spent
and he disappeared amongst the trees
ephemeral as the morning breeze.
Walking the paths of Sherbrooke Forest,
enthused by dreams of aeons past
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance.
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
replicates man-made sounds at will –
chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
he’s perfected them all as part of his charm.
The picnic area leads to the nature track
warmth of dappled sunlight upon my back.
Cloaked by primeval ferns dripping dew
I abandon pungent asphalt; exhaust fumes too
farewell gravel crunch, and human chatter
leaving creek where mosquitoes scatter.
Winding upwards to the whistling wagtail
I try to spot him but to no avail
a flurry of wings, camera shy rosella revealed
the foliage of Sherbrooke a perfect shield
As ancient eucalypts climb towards the sky
an eastern whipbird’s distinctive ‘crack’ nearby
spongy deep green moss cushions city feet
ornamental fungi from undergrowth peeps.
Vegetation hugs the path and sprouts native grass
exposed skin tickled as I stride past.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
the towering Mountain Ash cast their spell
fragile maidenhair ferns decorate the trail
flighty butterflies appreciating their veil.
Panting with the exertion of the climb
each pause filled with birdsong sublime
my misty breaths join whispering trees
a nearby rustling makes me freeze.
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
a sight I never expected to see
constructed with meticulous precision
a female lyrebird’s nesting vision.
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
the perfect home developed through years.
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
what an amazing bird unique to this nation
but alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
the enigmatic lyrebird and chick long gone.