Experts suggest more than a billion animals have died in the bushfires engulfing eastern Australia and animal rights groups have asked the Victorian Government to replicate the action of the NSW Government and drop thousands of kilograms of carrots and sweet potatoes into bushfire-affected areas to save starving wildlife.
Although feeding wildlife and making them dependent on people for food can create problems too. However, Lyn White, of Animals Australia has said:
This is an unprecedented situation which requires unique and innovative solutions.
It is indeed!
And Guardian Australia revealed two days ago that already 80% of the Blue Mountains and 50% of Gondwana rainforests have burned – and the bushfire crisis is ongoing.
As a conservationist and longtime supporter of animal organisations, even proudly earning the title ‘Champion’ from WWF Australia, never in my worst nightmare did I think the devastation we are experiencing would happen, but the signs have been there for a long time regarding habitat destruction as this 1999 article states:
The terrible losses suffered must motivate all levels of government and all communities to think about development, urban creep, logging, mining, land clearing and overall treatment of our rivers, parks and nature reserves.
Do we want a world with less diversity, a world without birdsong, a world where TV documentaries or zoos are the only available access to certain species?
The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper.
What have we done & What can we do?
The statistics of a billion animals dead and millions of acres destroyed, and figures skyrocketing daily are too massive for me to comprehend. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words and heart-breaking images saturating social media and the traditional press show the urgency of this climate catastrophe.
There are also heartwarming stories and pictures of animals being rescued and treated for burns, other injuries, plus starvation or thirst because their homes no longer exist.
Communities not affected by the fires have responded in amazing ways. One of the most popular and most needed at the beginning of the bushfire disaster was the plea for pouches for injured and orphaned baby koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums and bats.
Bushfires had been burning for weeks in Queensland and NSW but increased as summer drew near and temperatures got hotter. Much of the news taken up with debates about climate change, fire resources and apportioning blame and it took some time for the public to understand the impact on our wildlife.
I was aware because of membership of WWF but wanted to do something practical. I can still hear my parents saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’ and I always feel I’ve achieved something if I can see a practical outcome.
However, it felt strange attending a workshop as a participant, not the facilitator! I hadn’t visited the House for two years although I’d taught writing there for over twenty and it was the ‘home’ of Mordialloc Writers Group.
There was a new manager, and I didn’t know anyone in the sewing group – in fact, I was the only ring-in who had answered the call advertised on Facebook.
Made welcome immediately and offered a brief tutorial, I joined the production line, to cut out pouches and listen to expert advice and tips. I took a baker’s dozen pouches home to sew and posted them to Sydney the following week, receiving a lovely email of appreciation.
The patterns are freely available from the Animal Rescue Freecycle Craft Guild and many other places found on Google. You can mix and match material – injured wildlife care about comfort (cotton or other soft materials for liners) not fashion.
Knitters and those able to crochet can make items too and Facebook groups have sprung up advertising community gatherings and mass knitting and crochet events.
I had an attempt at knitting an outer pouch over Christmas but the pile of pouches I sent to Gippsland were mainly liners from cutting up a flannelette sheet.
Not sure if it was because I was recovering from surgery, misread the pattern, or I’m a slow knitter, but the one outer pouch I knitted took ages and turned out a different size than I expected. And here was me thinking the pattern would be easier to follow than the Poppy Project I did!
Support From All Over Australia and Internationally
Just like the firefighting and fundraising efforts, people from all over the world have rallied to send money and craft items for a variety of wildlife organisations. I’ve heard reports the response has overwhelmed some centres with koala mittens and bat wraps, while others desperately need large pouches for kangaroos.
I hope this fabulous outpouring of support will continue but we must put pressure on those in power to accept the realities of climate change, accept the consequences of lost or degraded habitat and instigate policies to turn this tragic situation around.
Think Global and Act Local
Our CSIRO scientists warned us about the effects of climate change as has Greta Thunberg and the ‘A-list’ of conservationists headed by Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.
As I write, giant hailstones pelt Parliament House, Canberra – I’m sad for the damage to vegetation, homes and birds but oh, how I wish they could knock some sense into the politicians ignoring all the best advice from public servants, emergency service personnel and scientists.
Meanwhile, we can all look after the native vegetation and wildlife in our own communities – and for most of us living in suburbia that could include possums, wombats, lizards, ducks and birds. Although experts do not recommend feeding because of increased development and unusual weather patterns, looking out for the health of native wildlife will ensure their survival.
Ringtail and Brushtail possums in Melbourne have suffered because of increased development, domestic cats, and the periods of intense summer heat becoming longer. Some councils have guidelines to help positive interaction between human and possum.
On hot days I leave a bit of food and water in the garden for our resident possums. Some friends do the same for their furry friends.
Although nocturnal animals, our little possums come down to sleep in the camellia tree during the day when it is boiling – a behaviour I’ve never seen until recently.
Sadly, when out walking I’ve come across dead possums more often. They may have died because of the heat, starvation, a cat or dog attack and even electrocution when they’ve got too close to power lines.
Native birds dislocated because of dense development, the drought, changing climate, introduced species and lost habitat can also do with some proactive love if you still want to wake up to birdsong.
It is preferable to plant trees and flowers that provide natural food but that isn’t always possible in an urban environment.
I love it when the magpies, butcher birds, wattlebirds, rainbow lorikeets and even the vocal noisy minors visit me. Several bottlebrushes provide a feast for various birds but I supplement their diet with some wild bird seed and fill the water dish on hot days.
Google information on plants that attract butterflies and bees and trees that nurture the birds – but also the fact sheets on what not to feed them!
But most of all, listen to the scientists and take climate change seriously we do not want this horrific summer with all its tragic losses to be the new norm.
It’s uplifting to spend a few hours with others interested in the environment and always a challenge to learn something new. These workshops the council organise aim to engage and educate but also to foster friendships and community spirit. A bonus is experiencing parts of the city you may rarely visit.
When I walked up Thames Promenade from Chelsea Railway Station and spied the garden from the road and horses in the fields opposite, I thought how rural it seemed compared to the rapid development of townhouses and apartments across Kingston.
You cross where the Long Beach Trail comes from Mordialloc and continues through Centennial Park – I’ve cycled and walked this trail with my children and later with walking buddies.
The community garden has been operating for ten years and welcomes new members. I can remember attending a meeting at Chelsea Heights Community Centre when it was first established but further visits have been rare. The established garden beds and host of activities offered now are impressive.
Members can have individual garden plots but more than half the beds are communal with work and harvests shared.
An excellent choice of venue to meet others in the community and gain knowledge about sustainability. Many of the plants were in bloom and the variety was inspiring. We were given a complimentary booklet (available from the Council) crammed with useful information about growing vegetables and herbs, including planning, maintenance, garden health, preparing for harvest and recipes too.
The First Step Towards A Very Edible Garden
The workshop was a Wicking Bed Demonstration – Growing Plants that Thrive with Less Water, presented by Jeremy from Very Edible Garden.
A wicking bed is an agricultural irrigation system used in arid countries where water is scarce. It can be used both in fields as in containers. Besides use in fields/containers outdoors, it can also be used indoors.
If you Google Wicking Beds, the first post from Very Edible Gardens is 2015 but they have a whole new site dedicated to this increasingly popular way of creating sustainable garden beds here https://www.wickingbeds.com.au/and they offer ‘foolproof wicking bed conversion kits and instructional materials to the public‘.
It was a perfect day for being outside and Jeremy reminded us this was an interactive workshop. We’d build a wicking bed together. Before he began his presentation he asked for a volunteer to hold a glass jar while he put a small amount of water in the bottom and inserted a rolled-up piece of paper into the jar.
This was a timer – and Jeremy promised his presentation would be over by the time the paper had absorbed the water.
Capillarity (capillary action) will occur. The phenomenon, in which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid – the tube of paper – is raised or lowered depending on the relative attraction of the molecules of the liquid for each other and for those of the solid.
This piece of showmanship a great introduction to a basic physics lesson and explanation as to how a wicking bed works – water is drawn up through layers from the bottom by the roots of the plants and is a more efficient way of conserving water and feeding.
Science was not my best subject at school but Jeremy was a good presenter and kept my attention better than Mr Menzies all those years ago at Croydon High.
I understood the explanation of osmosis, how plants absorb water and the cycle of evaporation into the air, but if you are interested the science is explained here.
The inventor of the wicking bed, an Australian Colin Austin has his own website, and his ongoing research into soil and improved wicking beds can be read here.
Most people present had never used a wicking bed. Some, like me, had never heard of the concept until invited to the workshop.
Jeremy noted the list of questions people wanted answers to and proceeded to answer them:
what is a wicking bed?
can you convert an existing raised bed?
what is the cost?
what soil is needed and are there different materials to choose from?
how small can the bed be?
how do you manage size?
can you build on concrete?
troubleshooting an existing bed.
can it be made to water automatically?
The last point was from a couple who were tired of returning from holiday to find many plants in their garden dying or dead.
Jeremy admitted the wicking system allowed you to water less frequently and a garden may survive a week in summer without adding water but it is not designed to be fully automatic.
He added that less water is used if you stay engaged with the garden bed and it is healthier too. The wicking bed is fixed irrigation, a different type of watering system and doesn’t replace the attention and care you give to the plants apart from ensuring they have water.
Your container can be any waterproof receptacle – a bucket, the colour bond garden beds commercially available, or one similar to the wooden beds of the community garden. Jeremy converted two wine barrels because he lives in an apartment and has a small patio.
A base is not necessary, but a flat surface is – a wicking bed can be built on the lawn, concrete or paving – anywhere strong enough to handle the weight, and any shape that can have a plastic liner inserted if needed because it must be waterproofed.
Jeremy advised choosing the plastic carefully – it has to be thick and lasting. Some cheap commercial products may disintegrate or puncture easily. His company imports a Canadian product from Adelaide.
Measuring and placing the liner a great example of organisation and cooperation – the size needed cut from a roll and folded before being placed in the bed – the sides then pulled up and clamped in place.
When folding the corners attention must be paid to ensure it is as evenly upright as possible and water can’t be trapped between folds.
Water is fed into a layer of gravel underneath the soil and moves up through layers so that the plant has access to water all the time. The roots suck up the water when needed.
There is a layer or barrier between the soil and base to ensure the soil is not wet all the time and air is circulating through the soil. This reservoir is important.
A pipe outlet is needed – one pipe/hose is used to feed in the water but there needs to be an outlet in case there is a lot of rain that fills the bed and to ensure no overwatering. The pipe must be between the soil and the barrier layer.
The various bits of hose and pipe can be bought from a hardware store or a kit online. Generally, the proportions for the bed are 2/3 soil and 1/3 gravel in the reservoir.
35-38cm soil depth should remain moist when the reservoir is full and the pipe outlet can be lower down at the base of the bed, or just beneath the soil layer. 40cm is a good ballpark figure to use for placement of the outlet.
It was an interactive workshop and each stage of explanation or work, Jeremy called for volunteers. People offered to cut an access point, to seal the washers, to attach the outlet pipe – we were a cooperative crowd!
All the work is upfront – it takes time to build and prepare but once that is completed, choose what you want to plant. A timely reminder to choose plants carefully before placing the bed in either the sun or shade – whatever is appropriate for the climate and situation.
Some plants do better than others in a wicking bed but plants often surprise us by adapting to an environment. According to Jeremy, ‘plants do life differently to us and are a lot more chill.’
The advantage of a wicking bed is that you can go on holiday and not come back to dead plants providing you are not gone for several weeks! You don’t have to water daily and you can judge and monitor how much water is used.
The Plumbing in place, now the Layers
The hard work began filling the bed with gravel, soil and mulch. Teamwork meant some people wheelbarrowed, others shovelled, and others watered. (We took it in turns and also watered ourselves with the tea and coffee provided!)
The pipe and hose in place before the gravel put in and water added to ensure a reservoir soaked before adding soil. Care must be taken at all times not to tear or puncture the plastic.
A layer of textured material placed on top of the gravel before soil added – this is to provide the all-important ‘air-obics’, plus measurements to make sure the 40cm drainage outlet.
The Soil Ready to Be Added
Every gardener knows the importance of good quality soil and compost. We wheelbarrowed and shovelled the soil as everyone shared tips and stories about where to get the best quality … Jeremy revealed the soil came from the Zoo… there were jokes about who knew elephant poo was good fertiliser.
I remembered how a random pumpkin vine appeared in my garden when I had a neighbour who kept Lucy, the pig who loved recycling vegetable waste and rubbing herself against the fence. Nature’s recycling indeed wonderful!
After the soil came the mulch. Jeremy emphasised that the mulch should be dampened during the process. All this preparation is done before seedlings or plants added. This was the time too for trimming and stapling the plastic liner.
The Finished Wicking Bed
Jeremy reminded us:
You look after the plants and soil in the top of the bed as you would normally – this is a different type of irrigation that’s all.
Do not add fertiliser to the water pipe because it may build up and won’t all be flushed away.
Remember, it is a heavy set up and once it is in place it is hard to pull apart and move.
It is a fixed irrigation system and less water is used by staying engaged and enjoying looking after your plants. Some plants like garlic that like drier soil may be harder to grow.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Please share if you discover resources or information that may improve the system or benefit others
After the workshop, I noticed the other beds had similar water systems installed, where the main water outlet was and the community garden’s huge water tanks.
The Grand Tour
Vicky, one of the stalwart Earthcarers gave me a grand tour and I felt honoured as she generously shared her knowledge and commitment to the garden and community.
Vicky is ‘the bee lady’ and I saw the hives. She shared her concern about the tragic loss of human and animal wildlife because of the bushfires but said that many people won’t realise the impact on an already worrying ‘bee situation’ worldwide.
Many Australian beekeepers place their hives in the National Parks and forest reserves believing they’d be more secure and the honey purer. In these catastrophic fires, habitats, houses, and everything else have been destroyed.
She showed me the composting area, where members could deposit stuff for composting and mulching and the healthy soil produced.
There are hens to recycle much of the by-products of gardening. Tables groaned under the weight of plants and herbs for sale.
Seeing the Community Garden through Vicky’s eyes was wonderful – the area where young mothers come with their babies and toddlers (one little boy loves to play ‘au natural’) and the children learn to love and nurture the environment and feel happy in a safe place.
Hopefully, nurturing the environment and gardening will be second nature to them.
Walking around the garden, you notice innovative repurposing of receptacles like baths and barbecues. Reused plant pots – even children’s toys!
There are beds devoted to flowers, to herbs, to companion plants, to fruit… community beds and those cared for by individual members.
I know clubs and schools have their own gardens and I can see the benefit of wicking beds for these places.
The world is faced with climate change and Australia is coping with catastrophic bushfires, drought and floods but it is heartening to know that there are communities and individuals, caring for the environment, nurturing gardens, sharing knowledge and contributing to sustainable living.
I’ve lived in Mordialloc for 35 years and like many living bayside I’m forever conscious of the fragility of our environment: erosion of cliffs and sand dunes, the need for the perpetual replacement of sand on some of the beaches, the close proximity of the water table and propensity to flood, importance of the wetlands for bird migration and propagation, history of the swamps and flooding in certain areas, the risk of pollution to Mordialloc Creek…
The glorious walks along Mordialloc Creek alone, or with Jillian, my current walking buddy, or walking the family dog, Josie with one of my daughters. You never know what or who you will encounter.
I love strolling through Attenborough Park showing visitors the Indigenous plants, the boats moored on Mordialloc Creek and then wandering up and down the pier checking what fish are biting – or not – whether it is a good day for sailing – before finishing the tour enjoying a cuppa in one of the many cafes in Mordialloc and Parkdale.
indigenous camping ground
Cormorant on boat
Memories of sitting on Doyles’ deck abound – sipping a cider or cup of tea, revelling in the happy noises of chatter and laughter, birds twittering, ducks quacking, boat engines chugging and the steady drone of cars powering to work or home.
To live in such a peaceful community a blessing, especially surrounded by so much natural beauty. However, peace, tranquillity and beauty do not ‘just happen’ in urban areas because for every park, waterway or wetland there are friends’ groups and volunteers working hard to preserve the natural environment, forever vigilant against threats and encroachment.
Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League Caring for 50 years!
The reason we have so much natural space and loveliness to enjoy in Kingston is that there are those within the community ever ready to defend the environment – even if that means public demonstrations, court challenges to the council and state government proposals and decisions, or campaigns of awareness that something of value is under threat.
One such group is the Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League and at the end of September, I attended a low-key celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
This community group of volunteers dedicate their time to protecting and promoting the wonderful coastline of the Bayside suburbs and also monitoring the environment of Mordialloc Creek.
A name that continually pops up in regard to the group is Mary Rimington AM, who with her husband and children and a handful of stalwarts have done an outstanding job over the years, ensuring the group not only continues but achieves many successes.
Mary has been the secretary of MBCL for 30 years and is the keeper of archives – being a local school librarian BC (before children) her training and attention to detail a wonderful asset.
Research and accurate record-keeping and a passion for the environment have helped Mary be an inveterate writer to the newspapers. Her published letters in the local paper and The Age always demonstrate knowledge and field experience. Likewise the numerous submissions to government bodies and enquiries.
There was a board display at the celebration but also bundles of leaflets and material on shelves, which were full of remarkably rich historical information. I’m grateful to another active member of the group, Nina Earl for this summary:
the first AGM in 1969 and documentation and outcomes of other meetings
campaigns against a Bay Gas Pipeline and later channel deepening to retain the natural coastline and Mordialloc Creek
Copies of submissions, letters, maps, photographs, paintings
flyers on the long-running campaign for the Bay Trail,
three versions of brochures of Coast and Creek walks – the latest one used in local secondary colleges
the 2019 submission on the Mordialloc Freeway Environmental Effects Statement
the draft concept for the long-awaited Sandbelt Open Space Chain of Parks and Trails first proposed in 1984 and long supported by MBCL and still current.
The contrast between the booklets published previously and the latest one, more to do with cost and availability of technology than the information provided.
Although, there is no contest as to what booklet will appeal to young people and hopefully, encourage them to read and explore the local environment. The latest edition is stunning!
Here are selections from each to compare:
Mary’s son, Lew, the Treasurer for MBCL shared some firsthand memories of the various campaigns since his school days and how he and his siblings were often called in at short notice to be ‘in the picture’ if media showed interest in a campaign and a photographer turned up – his mother always media savvy!
The Hon. Clifford Hayes MLC Southern Metro and his Chief of Staff, Kelvin Thompson (an ex-MP) were invited guests and Clifford Hayes thanked the group, especially Mary and her family for their conservation work and keeping so many important and necessary campaigns in the public eye.
He promised to continue to advocate for the environment.
Mary spoke about some of the highs and lows of MBCL’s history – not every campaign was successful and some were more memorable than others. She commended the commitment and activism of Professor Michael Buxton and Peter Scullin who were unafraid of taking on the establishment and challenging the law.
I nominated Mary to be a co-speaker when I was asked to present at IWD 2016 because I was Kingston Citizen of the Year. When she was awarded the Kingston Citizen of the Year in 2017, I was thrilled her remarkable community service and devotion to all things environmental was recognised!
I have a deep respect for all that MBCL have achieved and know Mary is the devoted lynchpin of the group, even when some of the campaigns have been controversial or far from popular. I’ve lived in Mordialloc for 35 years and have seen the improvements to the foreshore, the Creek, the Wetlands – all areas championed by MBCL.
Other community groups have also been active for many years with a few prominent in the 80s and 90s when the council responded to their concerns and we are reaping the benefits today.
I became involved with some of the groups and in campaigns to rein in developers and retain the ‘village atmosphere’ so many Mordialloc residents value.
Campaigning to retain the integrity of the Green Wedge an ongoing battle debated every year for almost the last decade!
A climate catastrophe has been declared/recognised by many countries, at the same time Victoria has massive infrastructure projects and fast-paced housing developments, and in Mordialloc and surrounds we see evidence of this daily.
We need the diligence and courage of groups like MBCL to remind us of the value of our natural environment, of what we must conserve if we want to protect the habitat for countless flora and fauna facing extinction and to ensure our own health.
Infrastructure and housing important for a growing population but how we manage the necessary development important for the survival of the natural environment because our health and wellbeing depend on that too!
Groups like the Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League remind us to value the natural world and inspire us to action to convince legislators to protect and provide a vision of what is necessary for future generations.
I’ve taken a long time framing this post because of recent events and the adversarial way many parts of the media cover topics such as religion, refugees, and immigration and the resultant ire, ignorance and irritation that inevitably results, particularly on social media.
Ignorance is a keyword here – if more people moved out of their comfort zone and made the effort to learn, mix, communicate and appreciate each other’s contributions to the tapestry of society a lot of angst and misinformation could be avoided.
We are lucky living in Melbourne because there are myriad opportunities to access and enjoy what a multicultural community offers. We can live together in peace and mutual respect aware of each other’s contributions.
I’ve attended two enriching events recently, provided by the Kingston Interfaith Network to appreciate the diversity of our community.
It’s heartening to know there are people actively working to breakdown barriers and challenge bigotry and I’d recommend the annual bus trip the Network organises to visit various places of worship.
Religion & Politics Can be Discussed With Civility
Along with many baby boomers, I grew up with family traditions of attending Sunday School and church but it never translated as ‘blind faith’.
Both parents were immersed in church life in Scotland; they continued this involvement in Croydon when we migrated. I drifted away from organised religion in my teens and only returned to be part of a community as a young mother, to eventually drift away again.
None of us chooses the country, culture or community we are born into and the idea that there is a ‘true’ religion or ‘master’ race seems ludicrous and irrational.
I’m grateful for access to education and several fine teachers at high school and university, to have continued that education by travelling, accessing wonderful books, films, and essays and appreciating the contribution of others to a pool of general knowledge more easily available now through the worldwide web.
I know I’m not alone among my peers questioning human existence, our relationship to the natural world and seeking meaning to life – a journey that will end one day and that day is getting closer –
I recall the pithy words of a good friend, ‘We all die and one day we’ll discover whether there is a God or life after death!‘
In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the journey, learning something new every day, look for the joy because focusing on social injustice and world conflicts convinces me we are stuck in Groundhog Day! (“a situation in which events are or appear to be continually repeated” )
John Lennon’s Imagine is often played to a compilation of visuals – technology leaves nothing hidden! We see the horrific death toll of the two world wars, the partition of India and Pakistan, the euphemistic ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the Biafran/Nigerian War, the Middle East, Idi Amin’s Uganda … oh, how Lennon’s lines resonate with generation after generation …
Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, Above us only sky… Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…
There is never a shortage of up-to-the-minute footage of conflicts – the world seems to produce tragedies at an alarming rate. For many people, their religious beliefs and being part of a community helps to make sense or at least alleviate some of the fear and pain.
A meme doing the rounds of Facebook also strikes a chord –
Many Beliefs One Community
The Kingston Interfaith Network ‘celebrates the commonality and diversity of our spiritual communities’.
encourage understanding and respect between people of all faiths and cultures
affirm spiritual and religious freedom
work towards peace, compassion and equality within our local community
In my writing classes, we have some wonderful discussions while sharing knowledge regarding human needs, the importance of belief systems and what form these may take whether philosophical or religious.
Discussion, reflection and sharing information and experiences important for writers to understand and create characters regardless of the genre but also for citizens when we have the current Australian Parliament discussing the introduction of religious freedom legislation.
Since 9/11, the constant stirring of fear and misinformation about Islam looms large.
The Royal Commission into Abuse of Children in religious and other institutions with many still quibbling about compensation to victims has shattered the trust and appeal of several churches, especially the Catholic Church.
Stories about cults or gurus ripping off or abusing vulnerable people are rarely out of the news.
The Israel Folau controversy started a debate about freedom of speech in the context of workplace contracts and religious beliefs.
Any Interfaith Network has its work cut out!
In Kingston, the Network engages with the community by being involved in:
Learning and Education
Community consultations and representation
I worked for the Uniting Church, Hotham Parish until daughter, Anne was born in 1986 and was fortunate to work with Rev. John Rickard who was a strong believer in ecumenicalism and social justice. A pharmacist before ‘getting the call’, he was a great boss – understanding, compassionate and down-to-earth.
I saw the church from a different perspective. Working closely with Hanover Welfare, the church raised money and provided services to people in need in the community, they also owned houses in Curzon Street and ran a kindergarten. ‘The church’ can be a landlord, employer, business entrepreneur, owner of private hospitals and schools. Practicalities to be dealt with that many don’t associate with theologians.
Another learning curve occurred in 2004 when I was commissioned to write the history of St Aidan’s Church and subsequently published The Little Church On The Hill for their Centenary.
The Chelsea/Carrum Anglican community influential in developing and providing youth services, fellowship groups for women, raising money for much needed social services and encouraging the arts but there were internal conflicts, debates about policies and implementation, and adapting to a world where Sunday was no longer sacrosanct.
Talking about the Christian faith my comfort zone but I still treasure a necklace made from a leather strip with the tooth of a moose blessed by an elderly Iroquois Indian when I visited their village in Montreal, Canada 1976. She wanted me to be safe on my travels.
World Book Day 2019
Kingston’s World Book Day was hosted in conjunction with Kingston Council’s Interfaith Committee, established by Council to provide a conduit between Kingston Council and the faith communities within local areas to encourage open communication, interfaith dialogue and partnerships and to address the needs of the local communities.
World Book Day theme for 2019 was Interfaith in the Libraries. Kingston’s Interfaith Committee chose to deliver a book donations event to Kingston Libraries to further support an interfaith dialogue within the community.
Invited to write religious affiliation, I wrote Humanitarian. Nobody baulked at the label, with some attendees commenting they wished they had written that rather than nominating a religion or leaving it blank.
A warm welcome epitomised the evening with many groups taking the opportunity to display the books attached to their Faith and donate them to the library. The buzz of conversations filled the room, people browsed the books and I met acquaintances from past involvement with community groups and Mordialloc Writers’.
There were printed sheets from a variety of religious groups within the Network summarising their core beliefs, sacred texts and laws, places of worship, branches, practices and festivals, origin story, morals and ethics… in no particular order here are the sheets I picked up:
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) (aka the Hare Krishna Movement)
Catholic Church (Christian)
ECKANKAR (This means Co-worker with God -founded 1965, main temple Minnesota USA
Sufi works and practices: The Whirling Dervishes, the poetry of Rumi, the works of Ib Arabi…
Zee Cheng Khor Moral uplifting Society Inc (known as DEJIAO in Chinese)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
My knowledge of some of these groups minimal – and to know they worshipped in Kingston and felt welcome at the event is a testament to the religious freedom we already enjoy. (Note to Federal Government don’t fix what’s not broken!)
Fast forward to the annual bus tour I joined recently…
A Journey of Discovery
Kingston Interfaith Committee runs a bus tour once a year to places of worship to provide an opportunity for the public to learn about different faiths. Tour participants see different places of worship and ask questions in a respectful and supportive small group environment. There is no cost and a light lunch is offered by the Council.
I have been wanting to go on this tour for many years but work or other commitments meant I missed out. I was thrilled to join the 23 other participants (some followed the community bus in their own cars) on August 7, leaving from the Council Offices at Mentone.
Guided by Elisabetta Robecchi, Community Development Officer, Social Development, we visited four places of worship. There were people from Glen Eira and Casey communities. The only person with an outward sign of religious affiliation was a Sikh gentleman from Monash who told me most councils have these tours with some providing several a year. He had been on a few tours and generously shared his knowledge.
The places visited change each time so it wasn’t surprising to find some people had toured before, but most were first-timers like me – and what an eclectic group we were!
Elisabetta shared the two group photos taken at a mosque and Orthodox church.
We set off a bit late because of the difficulties of participants finding all-day parking – so for future reference:
use public transport like me, or plan ahead as to where you will park in Mentone and prepare for a walk to the meeting point!
Also, wear comfortable and easily divested footwear – most places you visit require removal of shoes.
Plus slip in a headscarf or make sure your jacket/coat has a hood for the places requiring women to cover their head.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre, Clayton South
Lunch at Westall Hub
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple
Hinduism is one of the oldest surviving religions in the world, with an unbroken succession of seers and teachers. It is practised by millions of people living in the vast subcontinent of India and in many other places where Indian migrants have settled, including Australia.
And although it is an ancient religion it continues to evolve and form new branches. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) represents modern India and is a religious personality who was loved throughout the world. He preached truth and non-violence and his attempts to reform India’s religious-social tradition of caste legendary as is his fight for India’s independence from colonial rule.
You don’t need to travel to India to immerse yourself in Indian culture and learn about Hinduism.
First impressions of the Hindu temple and grounds is one of spaciousness, then lushness – the garden flowering and emerald green grass plentiful. Driving in from the road you see the Cultural Centre first, and around the corner, you release an audible gasp at the magnificence of the temple barely glimpsed from the road.
Inside, after removing our shoes, the first thing you notice is incense thickened air. A sign requested no photos but apparently, our temple guide (a deacon) gave approval and Elisabetta shared this one she took.
Priests were attending to devotees so I chose to switch my phone off and instead purchased a very informative book about the history of the temple and details about Hinduism, including festivals and beliefs. An incredible bargain at $5.00.
The huge area seems cavernous but there are different sections with mini enclosures holding statues of various deities. The air heavy with incense and burning charcoal and within moments I felt my eyes sting. It was obvious couples and families were worshipping with the three out of the six priests on duty.
A young couple prayed with a priest by a fertility deity (?). The priest ladled into our cupped hands, the concoction made from fruit and flowers and signalled us to drink. The nectar tasteless to me, stirring memory of drinking kava at a ceremony in Fiji. There was a small open fire like a mini BBQ but generating plenty of smoke. The fire alarm constantly beeped because of its copious smoke and from a couple of similar fires.
I had a fleeting thought of what could happen if there were sprinklers!
Our guide explained there are gods (deities) for Education, Fertility, and Birth etc. Planets match your birth sign and some gods look after you. He explained about puja or pooja, a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to one or more deities in devotional worship.
Prayers can also be offered to host and honour a guest or to spiritually celebrate an event. It may honour or celebrate the presence of a special guest, or their memories after they die. A table with baskets of fruit (oranges, apples and bananas) for $15 and a well-stocked kiosk is just inside the entrance. the deities require offerings.
A temple is a busy place with chanting in Sanskrit and the buzz of conversations plus people moving across the polished floorboards and around the perimeter where cabinets or shrines hold statues of the gods. The black, grey, or gold figures often draped with pure silk gowns and scarves.
We walked past a cabinet that appeared to have a Nazi sign scrolled on glass doors – and a member of the group asked the significance of this, which remains an important symbol in Hinduism.
The swastika represented something entirely different for thousands of years before its appropriation by the Nazi Party, and for many, it is a sacred symbol.
Versions of the design have been found in prehistoric mammoth ivory carvings, Neolithic Chinese pottery, Bronze Age stone decorations, Egyptian textiles from the Coptic Period and amid the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Troy.
Its most enduring and spiritually significant use, however, can be seen in India, where the swastika remains an important symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Despite the explanation, one of our group whispered, ‘Try going down Carlisle Street with that on your car!’ A reminder that in a multicultural society we have to be even more diligent learning about other religions and beliefs and be perceptive to differentiate when a symbol should provoke instant repulsion and condemnation and when it is used in context of worship.
The etymology of the word “swastika” can be traced to three Sanskrit roots: ‘su’ (good), ‘asti’ (exists, there is, to be) and ‘ka’ (make). That the collective meaning of these roots is effectively ‘making of goodness’ or ‘marker of goodness’ shows just how far the Nazis dragged the swastika away from its Hindu association with wellbeing, prosperity and dharmic auspiciousness.
The symbol, normally with its arms bent towards the left, is also known in Hinduism as the sathio or sauvastika. Hindus mark swastikas on thresholds, doors and the opening pages of account books – anywhere where its power to ward off misfortune might come in handy.
… it was Indian religion and culture that was the original source from which the National Socialists derived the swastika.
In Buddhism, the swastika is thought to represent the footprints of the Buddha. It takes on a liturgical function in Jainism, and in Hinduism, the clockwise symbol (the swastika as we know it, with the arms pointing right) and the counterclockwise symbol, the sauvistika, pair up to portray opposites such as light and darkness.
The scent of flower petals mingled with fruit and incense and oils. I missed a lot of the explanations because naturally our guide spoke without amplification and my hearing is not as good as it used to be. Fortunately, the book I bought, published to celebrate a special Consecration Ceremony in April this year, is full of detail about Hinduism, the temple, the hard work and cohesion of the Indian community.
The Hindu Society of Victoria (HSV) was founded on Saraswathy pooja day in 1982 at the initiative of some Hindu migrants from Sri Lanka. Hindu migrants from India, Malaysia and other countries enthusiastically joined the Society. The topmost priority for this new gathering was to probe ways and means of realising a traditional Hindu temple. Prayer meetings were held on the last Saturday of each month at the Migrant Centre in Prahran. Poojas were performed to the pictures of deities by Sri Raman Iyer on these occasions. On 21 June 1984, this society was officially incorporated and referred to as the Hindu society of Victoria (Aust) Inc.
The HSV decided to buy a plot of land and build a temple… bought a block of land of 14.35 acres in Carrum Downs on 14 April 1985… made up of a bank loan, interest-free loans from devotees and donations. Bhoomi Poojah was performed at the site to invoke the blessings of the Almighty. Since then Thai Pongal Festival was celebrated at the site but prayer meetings continued at the Prahran Migrant Centre.
… there was a prolonged debate about the choice of deities to be installed in the temple. Eventually, the Management Committee decided to build a Shiva Vishnu temple facilitating devotees from all sects of Hinduism….
Building works started in October 1990 and Nagarajan Sthabathy and a team of 8 artisans arrived in November 1992… The Granite and Panchalokha Vigrahas and other artefacts required were crafted by well-known artisans in India. The Granite Vigrahas were sanctified by a special pooja at Kanchi Mutt.
Additional six artisans were brought from India in Jan 1994 to accelerate the temple construction… completed, with the erection of the raja Gopurams and consecration on 25 may 1997. This temple has become an inseparable part in the spiritualemancipation of the Hindus of Victoria. It has also become a must-see icon to all Hindus and non-Hindus in Australia…
Traditional Hindu temples are not just places of worship. They function as a place of learning, foster the arts and encourage social interaction. The Cultural and Heritage Centre opened on 5 May 2012, includes a wedding hall, restaurant with industrial-scale kitchen, library, Hinduism classrooms, museum and conference hall that can accommodate 200 people.
The Hinduism classes for children also offer Bhajan, Yoga and meditation for all ages. The centre hosts ceremonies on auspicious days, Hindu weddings, and a cafe open to the public, which operates six days a week.
A children’s park with playground equipment and an enclosure with peafowls and chicks as well as surrounding gardens with attractive flowers, trees, and lush foliage ensures a relaxing family-friendly environment.
The sign in the garden reads: Nature is Gods vesture. The universe is the ‘university’ for man. Do not pluck flowers treat nature with reverence.
We put on our shoes and joined the ever-patient bus driver after thanking our hosts for their welcome and farewelled the first place of worship for the day.
Shri Shiva Vishnu temple is one of the iconic Hindu temples outside the Indian subcontinent providing a spiritual and cultural legacy for future generations.
Whether you practice Hinduism or not, a visit will add to your knowledge and understanding, and appreciation of the wealth of talent immigrants bring to Australia.
Masjid Westall, Indonesian Muslim Community Cultural Centre
We travelled to Westall for our next visit to learn about Islam, a religion that has suffered the most backlash and bigotry in recent years despite Afghan cameleers being present in Australia since the early nineteenth century.
The first camel drivers arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, June 1860, when eight Muslims and Hindus arrived with the camels for the Burke and Wills expedition.
The word islam means ‘surrender’ and specifically implies ‘surrender to God’. A ‘muslim’ is therefore simply ‘one who surrenders’.
In the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an, the story of Islam shares a common tradition with Judaism and a common Biblical origin when God (Allah) created the world. Chosen prophets spread the essential message of surrender to the One (Allah).
Muslims recognise all prophets including Moses and Jesus, Rama, Krishna and Buddha but the Prophet Muhammad is the vehicle whereby the Qur’an, the final protected Word of God was revealed.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers. They make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. We mainly hear about conflict in the Middle East but devotees extend all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China although the birthplace of this compelling faith was Arabia when it was a semi-nomadic and semi-urban civilization.
Islam is the most adhered to religion in Indonesia and in a 2010 estimate, 87.2% of the Indonesian population (225 million) identified as Muslim making Indonesia the largest Muslim population in the world.
At the Masjid Westall, we were greeted by two deacons who were generous with their knowledge and time. From the outside, the building is not imposing and doesn’t look like a mosque but once we removed our shoes and went inside the calmness and decor confirmed it was not ostentatious but a place of worship.
According to the 2016 Australian Census, the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 604,200 people, or 2.6% of the total Australian population, an increase over its previous population share of 2.2% reported in the previous census 5 years…
… there are now 604,000 people who identify as Muslim in Australia. In addition, the Census reports that 1,140 of the Muslims in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
After a welcome prayer and blessing, the deacons let us wander freely and ask questions rather than give a formal guided tour. There are 3 Indonesian mosques in Victoria, and they do keep in touch with each other and share Imams, some are students from Saudi Arabia. The mosque is Sunni, the major and orthodox branch of Islam.
Islam hasn’t escaped the fate common to other religions: sectarian divisions. There are sub-sects, but the two main branches of Islam are Sunni and the Shi’ite. They spilt over the question of the line of succession from the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims pray 5 times a day and a digital clock has the prayer times. During the day up to 5 people will come and pray because most are working – perhaps a taxi or truck driver if nearby, maybe students and teachers from Westall Secondary next door, or others ‘just passing’.
Sundown prayers and Fridays attract the largest number with up to 50 regulars. After Christchurch, many non-Muslims visited to offer condolences and support and prayed in solidarity. The mosque provided hijabs for them but because we were only visiting and not participating we did not need to cover our head.
We all commented on how luxurious the carpet felt beneath our feet and the room was spacious even with a section for the women and children curtained off. There is a library, also a study corner and out the back a kitchen and communal area where crafts and toys are stored on shelves.
Our two gentlemen guides had set up a table with nibbles and tea and coffee – most hospitable and welcome. One deacon tried but failed to get his pictures up on his phone to show me the crowd of well-wishers who came to the mosque after the horrific events in Christchurch.
No question went unanswered and cameras worked overtime. Several people stood with the Imam’s arch in the background, others were fascinated by the displayed prayer times and mentioned seeing taxi drivers pull over to pray.
I remembered a tale of two young men…
In 2013, flying to Italy via Borneo and London, I sat between the pair. One was returning to Egypt for a holiday after being in Australia most of his life, the other, a student returning home after finishing studies at Queensland University.
The young Egyptian/Australian struggled out of his window seat to diligently adhere to the prayer times – there was a prayer mat aft, available for passengers – and throughout the flight, he read the Qur’an.
He confided in me that he had become more devout because of prejudice at work and all the things said about Muslims in the media. He felt he had to learn more about his faith (his parents and sister weren’t devout) and his origins – hence the trip “home”. He seemed unworried about the fall-out from the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ongoing sporadic violence.
The young student, returning home to his family and Muslim country didn’t bother praying and read a popular sci-fi novel in between discussing general topics ranging from history to politics and poetry. He confessed he’d love to return and work in Australia because he loved the freedom to choose his lifestyle and the climate.
I’ve often wondered what happened to these two young men – did their future turn out the way they wanted?
A little more enlightened about Masjid Westall and seeing Westall Secondary College and surrounds for the first time we set off for our lunch stop at Westall Hub – a place I’d never visited before the intergenerational project last year and one I’ve visited twice in the last four months!
I thought about the fuss in Bendigo about the building of the mosque and cultural centre and reflected on how many people would have driven or walked past Masjid Westall with no idea there is a welcome within if ever their curiosity needs satisfied.
Breaking Bread often Breaks The Ice!
Kingston Council hosted a lovely lunch at the Westall Hub providing a chance to sit and make conversation, get to know each other and share observations.
‘That was a while ago,’ I replied, ‘You have a good memory.’
We shared our interest and curiosity about the tour. Ann, a practising Catholic was born in Lithuania; her mother could speak seven languages and because of this Ann understood Russian. Four of the people on the bus were chatting. ‘They’re speaking Russian and probably don’t realise I understand what they were saying,’ she said with a smile.
At lunch, a lady sat down beside me, ‘Do you remember me, Mairi?’
‘When I saw you, I thought you looked familiar, but I can’t place you.’
‘I’m Honey, you came to my library and ran a couple of wonderful writing workshops.’
‘Honey! Of course, that was a long time ago – how are you?’
A small world, indeed. The phrase ‘six degrees of separation’ springs to mind. Almost two decades have passed since I ran workshops at Springvale Library. I cherish the letter of appreciation from Honey and the opportunity she gave me to improve workshop skills.
I was not a ‘big name’ author yet she gave me a chance and a paid gig!
There was only one young person under 30 travelling on the bus but a Samoan family followed in their car a father with his son and daughter who could be teens or twentysomethings.
Chatting at lunch, he was pleased I’d been to Samoa. He new Aniva’s Place where I stayed. I told him about climbing Mt Vaea and paying homage to R L Stevenson’s tomb and we discussed the contribution RLS had made to Samoa, which explained why he was so revered.
He said, ‘His greatest achievement was uniting the chiefs and teaching them to negotiate and achieve independence.’
I mentioned how much new history I’d learned when in Samoa. I had forgotten they had been a German colony and about the peaceful surrender to the British during the war.
‘My great grandfather could speak German and he was an interpreter for the German/British negotiations,‘ he said and confided his Scots ancestry – family names being Crichton and Williams!
We talked a little more about Samoa and how surprised I was at the number and variety of churches in such a small place as Apia. Religion is important to Samoans and there are many rituals, including traditional Sunday feasting.
(A later discussion with his daughter and son ranged from the problem of feral dogs to their relief Folau was Tongan, not Samoan!)
Our conversation ended with a quiz – he asked, ‘What one word did Samoa give to the English language?’
The answer, ‘Tattoo.’
My final lunchtime chat was with Dr Dinesh Sood who said, ‘I used to be a practising Hindu but now I’m a scientist,’ and a lady who used to be Russian Orthodox professed to ‘being an atheist and humanitarian‘…
I said we were an eclectic bunch.
However, what I remember most about the lunch stop happened outside when I went for a walk after spying two galahs on the power lines cuddling up to each other. They looked like a heart and I thought, what a great photo opportunity.
I walked to the edge of the car park and as I aimed my camera, I heard a distressed chirrup. I looked down and a seagull sat on the nature strip with an obvious broken wing, begging for help.
What to do?
I returned to the Hub and asked at reception for help and a wonderful young woman responded immediately, ‘I’ll get a cardboard box and rescue it.’
True to her word, she sprang into action. I watched from the bus in trepidation when her initial effort to pick up the bird caused it to scurry lopsided across the busy road. Wielding her jacket, she persisted and as trucks and cars roared past, I fretted for her safety.
‘Please be careful,’ I murmured … miraculously, the bird and rescuer made it the other side, escaping further injury. She scooped the seagull into her jacket and returned to safety when the road was clear.
St George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Heatherton
The third visit for the day introduced a completely new church to me and again the obligatory removal of shoes.
We were met by the priest and a warm welcoming committee. There was a powerpoint presentation, also two short talks on the history and origins of what devotees regard as the first church where the name ‘Christian’ applied.
It began in Antioch, with St Peter, after the death of Christ and surviving persecution the faithful travelled to India.
The first family practising this branch of Christianity arrive in Melbourne in 2006. Since then the number of families has reached 200 and within a decade they have raised the money to build their church and also donate thousands to charity.
(They gave $20,000 to the Kerala flood victims among other causes. A generous effort for a small congregation!)
A group of dancers performed a traditional dance of celebration about a reluctant bride being convinced the wedding is a good idea!
The costumes, music and performers a delightful treat and afterwards many took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and join in discussions. I was fascinated by the striking curtains and altars – the furthest away can only be entered by the priest and designated elders, the smaller one is open to all.
Having St George and Jacobite in the name intrigued me – as a Scot, Jacobite referred to supporters of King James II of England or of the Stuarts claim to the throne. I know many Christian churches use different versions of the King James Bible as their sacred text but never realised one incorporated Jacobite in their name.
The mythology of St George predates Christianity and any stories I learnt as a child about his Christianity – light conquering darkness – were set in the 10th or 11th century, hence him becoming the patron saint of England. The origin story of this church interesting and proves religion is full of surprises.
Later, delicious and sumptuous afternoon tea made some of us reluctant to get back on the bus. We were farewelled with an unexpected gift and will certainly remember our visit!
Turkish Islamic and Cultural Centre, Keysborough
Our final visit for the day was another mosque and one I’d seen from the highway many times. The imposing building flying the Australian flag and one with the symbol of Islam – the star and crescent moon.
Outside, we were warmly welcomed by a teacher from an Islamic school and several students with an open invitation to ask questions and let the students be our guides.
After removing our shoes and covering heads, we sat and listened to a welcome speech by the Imam and a young female student. The Imam’s mobile phone rang, ‘Excuse me, could be Jesus calling,‘ he said.
I love his sense of humour! In fact, laughter and smiles a significant part of the day in all the places we visited.
After the phone call, he continued with his explanation of the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah (Creed), Salat (Prayer), Zakay (Almsgiving), Fasting and Pilgrimage (Hajj) and a brief history of the mosque and fielded questions before inviting us on a tour.
The art and woodwork stunning inside the mosque. Most of the artisanship done locally, some imports from Turkey. The ceiling magnificent, the chandelier adorned with a Qur’anic verse in Muhammed’s favourite colour, green.
Oh, I didn’t know he was Irish,’ I quipped and my young guide laughed. She pointed out the balcony upstairs where women worship and explained the delicacy of the stencilling on the ceiling and how time-consuming the job was for the artist.
The colours, designs, placement of artefacts, windows, doors, balcony – all hold symbolic meaning. There are three places where the imam can preach depending on the number of devotees. There is a beautiful raised staircase with detailed carving and inlays.
One of the young students sang a prayer and it reminded me of being in R L Stevenson’s house in Samoa and the young guide singing a verse of his favourite hymn. Another memorable experience was being alone in the church at Hermannsburg Mission, Central Australia and Jan Cornell, the leader of the group I was with sang to test the acoustics.
The unaccompanied human voice raised in a song of praise can be truly beautiful.
Our visit coincided with one of the regular prayer times and the Imam excused himself to attend to several men waiting to pray. We sat up the back in silent contemplation.
I don’t know what the others were thinking but as I watched the prayer ritual it struck me how vulnerable these men were and how trusting. They didn’t know any of us but believed they were in a safe space just like those worshippers in Christchurch and many other places where people have been attacked.
Their trust, vulnerability, and devotion humbling.
We trooped outside for the last few photographs and the bus journey home. If there are different places on the list, I look forward to joining another tour.
No one tried to convert me and I had no epiphany, just interesting conversations and experiences to mull over and deposit in my memory bank.
Warning: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people are advised this post may contain names and images of deceased people.
I couldn’t let this week pass without celebrating NAIDOC, especially since the message is such an important one for all Australians to heed.
We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. The Indigenous voice of this country is over 65,000 plus years old.
They are the first words spoken on this continent. Languages that passed down lore, culture and knowledge for over millennia. They are precious to our nation.
It’s that Indigenous voice that includes know-how, practices, skills and innovations – found in a wide variety of contexts, such as agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological and medicinal fields, as well as biodiversity-related knowledge. They are words connecting us to country, an understanding of country and of a people who are the oldest continuing culture on the planet.
Unfortunately, because of circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t attended any events this year as in the past, but as I continue to organise the house in preparation for full retirement, I unearthed newspaper clippings and articles on various subjects, that I kept for research or out of interest.
Revisiting this treasure trove stirred a lot of memories of connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since my university days and involvement in the first Aboriginal Embassy, 1972.
I’ve spent several days of reflection thinking about what I’d write today.
It’s sobering to remember that it was only in 1975 that the one-day acknowledgement of National Aborigines Day became a week-long celebration with diverse activities to acknowledge our past, examine our present and hopefully look toward a better future.
Among the pile of paper, I must decide to scan or throw out, there are many book reviews, opinion pieces and essays written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as academic or investigative reports by non-indigenous writers.
However, the realisation that there has been some progress made is tempered by the current Federal Government’s reluctanceto consider a true voice in parliament for First Australians and its outright rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Broaden Your Knowledge About Australia and Its History/Herstory
This is also the International Year of Indigenous Languages – a United Nations observance in 2019 with aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world and to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation.
The traditional owners of Melbourne are people from the Kulin Nation, with surrounding groups including the Woiworung and Boonwurrung (the Mordialloc traditional owners) and you can learn some words here.
Last year, I visited Canberra and the National Museum, which has some great exhibitions as a starting point for those seeking knowledge and understanding:
empathy, not sympathy; acceptance not tolerance.
At the entrance of the National Museum is a magnificent set of sculptures of the Bogong Moth, acknowledging the cultural traditions of the Aboriginal peoples who lived in the ACT prior to the European invasion and settlement.
What do our First People mean by Country?
Almost every public ceremony at all levels of government now includes a ‘welcome to country’. If you wonder why or don’t know how to explain it to visitors, an explanation follows.
Country’ is more than just the name of a place. When used by the Aboriginal people it is about a connection to all aspects of the land; landscape, ecology, spirituality, seasonal rhythms, people and culture.
For most of us, everything we read about our First People is either white/colonial/European perceptions of Aborigines or Aboriginal perceptions of themselves.
To read Aboriginal writing allows Aborigines to speak for themselves and state their view of Australian history.
In 2019, there is a wealth of Aboriginal writing to choose from including poets, creative writers, non-fiction and academia.
Albeit almost two decades ago, in his book, Writing from the Fringe: A Study of Modern Aboriginal Literature, Hyland House, Melbourne 1990, Mudrooroo Narogin divides Aboriginal history into five periods:
From the Beginning to 1788: the time of the dreaming, before the coming of the Europeans.
The Time of the Invasion(s): Aboriginal culture is threatened and is forced to adapt.
The Utter Conquering of the Aboriginal Peoples: many of the old ways of communication are destroyed or drastically changed.
The Colonial Period: outright oppression gives way to paternalism, then to assimilation.
The Period of Self-Determination: dating from the Referendum in 1967 and the Whitlam government in the early 1970s – still continuing…
Evidence of early Aboriginal habitation of the continent includes bones uncovered at Lake Mungo in south-eastern Australia and the sites of volcanoes, such as those at Tower Hill, near Melbourne.
The oldest continuing culture in the world dates back 50,000 – 60,000 years depending on what archaeological discoveries you choose to focus on.
What we know now is that Aborigines comprised many language groups, each with their own country. They created a network of overland commerce, developed ingenious ways of finding water and food in deserts, were expert trappers and fishers, skilled herbalists and farmers with a hundred different plant foods to supplement a diet of meat, fish, eggs and insects.
Colonial Invasion Without a Treaty
From the late 18th century, British and other Europeans arrived on the shores of this continent, some willingly, others with no or little choice: – officers, soldiers and sailors of the Crown, convicted felons, free men and women searching for economic opportunity and a new life or fresh start.
They built towns on Aboriginal land tended and shaped over thousands of years and so began the Frontier Wars and decades of conflict over the sovereignty of the land.
Aboriginal writers of note during the 1960s and 70s argued for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. People like Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) and Kevin Gilbert brought an Aboriginal voice to wider audiences. Both of these wonderful poets died in 1993 – a tragic loss to Australian writing.
A newspaper clipping I have from The Sunday Herald, August 20, 1989, has a story by Brett Wright titled, Our Forgotten War. This challenges the lie that Aborigines didn’t fight for their country or were always the victims.
” John Lovett, Aboriginal Advisor and former elder of the Kerrupjmara clan, surveys the stony ruins of a lost culture.
“This is one here,’ he says, standing in a ring of weathered rocks, barely discernible in a volcanic landscape strewn with boulders. Further afield, at the edge of a drained swamp known as Lake Gorrie, are the remains of stone fish traps, used to catch eels when the lake flooded.
Historians say the ruin is almost certainly the base camp of a group of Aboriginal guerrilla fighters who fought the squatters in the black version of Vietnam: the Eumeralla War of the 1840s.
Records show the resistance to white settlement was intense and bloody in Victoria’s Western District. The 1838-39 drought left the Aboriginals short of food and water, and they were forced to drive off the squatters.
In 1842, two clan leaders, Tarerarer and Tyoore, nicknamed Cocknose and Jupiter, led attacks on stations around Eumeralla River, near Macarthur. They attacked shepherds and took their sheep for food.
The Eumeralla War had begun. An unknown number of lives were lost on both sides, as the attack led to fierce reprisals by the settlers. One of the raiding parties from the Nillangundidji tribe numbered 150.
“The tactics used were very similar to those used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War,” Mr Lovett said.
… concentrating their attacks on settlers who had taken up land around sacred sites, the Lake Gorrie guerrillas were very successful… the campaign continued for two years until native police killed Jupiter and Cocknose. With the leaders gone, the resistance movement faded.
“What we were fighting for was to survive, to maintain and keep our traditional areas,” said Mr Lovett …(who) believe sites such as Lake Gorrie should be recognised. “It’s relevant for white and black people to know the history of Australia.’
Fast forward 20 years and a lot more truth about how the invasion and settlement of Australia played out debunks peddled myths that the Aborigines didn’t fight for their land or try and repel the invaders.
Perhaps the greatest lie that I was taught at school regarding Aborigines was that there were no Aborigines left in Tasmania after Trugannini died. The National Museum has a fantastic exhibition detailing the cultural heritage of the Tasmanian First People.
There are many stories showing the diversity and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the most compelling are those of resistance, resilience, cultural adaptation, creativity and leadership.
There is a lot to take in when you walk through the galleries devoted to Australian history and culture and so it’s a relief to sit and rest in a special place designed to help you relax, reflect, and yarn. And yes, you can recharge your mobile phone, if like mine the battery is low because the camera worked overtime!
Yarning circles and gathering circles are important places. They are where stories and knowledge can be shared in a caring environment that’s relaxed and comfortable. With our bodies, we include ourselves in the listening and learning that is being gifted.
Nancy Bamaga, Thabu/Samu
We could do with yarning circles in every home and community.
On Saturday, I went to the matinee session of the Mordialloc Theatre Company’s latest play at the Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale.
My theatre buddy, Lisa cancelled because of ill-health but I am glad I didn’t let that or the wintry weather, which caused sudden and severe squalls, to convince me to stay at home in the warmth – although it was tempting!
Now I’m ‘retired’ it is easier to stay at home, especially in winter and by the demographics I’ve observed who support the MTC and the smattering of empty seats on Saturday, the cold weather and perhaps the lethargy of age took its toll, which is a pity.
The play was enjoyable, the ambience in the theatre welcoming, and you get free coffee/tea and biscuits at the interval.
In fact, if so inclined you can buy a glass of wine or sherry before the play starts. Saturday definitely, chilly so I’m not surprised many people took that option.
See this play and support your local theatre
Mr Bailey’s Minder is on until the end of the week!
Of the three productions I’ve seen this year, this definitely gets a thumbs up from me and considering the response of the audience, others also agree.
Maybe it is because this is the first one this year by an Australian playwright and so the actors didn’t have fake American or Canadian accents.
Maybe it’s because I can relate more to the themes which are not only current and relevant but emotionally engaging.
Maybe it’s because of the actors – apart from a bit of nervousness at the beginning, their interactions were believable and entertaining.
This is the promo blurb:
However, discussing the play at the interval with one of the volunteers another lady joined the conversation and when I said the subject matter was interesting and topical she said, ‘Ah yes, elder abuse.’
A reflection perhaps because we are in the middle of a Royal Commission into how we treat people in Aged Care and there are stories galore about abuse in the media.
But Mr Bailey’s Minder is much more than a story about someone growing old and being mistreated or fearing mistreatment.
All the major characters in the play have fears and emotional scars – not just Mr Bailey.
We are all ageing or know someone who is and if we live long enough must face declining health and death.
We all have or will have a life to reflect on with good and bad decisions, successful or unsuccessful relationships, haunting memories of the warm glow kind or filled with regret.
Many of us have had experience with someone in the family coping with alcoholism and/or dementia and family estrangement is common too.
The play mines a rich field of life experiences.
Therese, as the title suggests, is the ‘Minder’ or carer, and frequently, takes centre stage. Her story, one of a need to belong and be valued – and to value herself – a contrast to Leo’s life of celebrity status where being a ‘famous artist’ resulted in Leo overvaluing himself! (as others did too!)
Leo Bailey (Eric Hayes) is a drunken ‘has-been’ artist suffering from decades of alcohol abuse and self-indulgent misbehaviour. He’s offended, hurt or neglected friends, several ex-wives and all but one of his children. His past is confronting – what he can remember of it, or how he remembers it, which varies depending on his mood or awareness.
Now he is facing death – and he is astute enough to know it will probably be alone. He must also cope with the realisation that he’s lost some of his artistic abilities yet boasts how valuable his signature still is – even on a blank piece of paper (be intrigued).
Only his daughter, Margo (Juliet Hayday) continues to visit him and manage his affairs, despite being subjected to a barrage of abuse every time she steps into Leo’s home.
Margo has remained dutiful although she can’t escape the bitterness of unhappy memories of childhood spoilt by her celebrity father’s behaviour.
In the opening scene, the much-maligned Margo meets Therese (Julia Landberg), a young woman desperate for work and the latest in a long list of Leo Bailey’s minders.
We learn how ill Leo is, about his obnoxious behaviour, plus how dementia has heightened his disagreeableness.
Margo who works in investment banking does not ‘pull any punches’ regarding her father. In fact, she repeats the well-worn cliches –
Old people abandoned in nursing homes must look no further than their own past behaviour.
Abusive drunks reveal their true self – it’s never just the drink talking.
Adults must take responsibility for their behaviour whether they’re a celebrity or not
Therese, cagey about her past, is worried Margo will check her references. She doesn’t expect to get the job, yet in her desperation behaves alternately, belligerent and defensive. She is feisty and a survivor.
Leo comes downstairs, he is at his alcohol-sodden best, insulting Margo and Therese and accusing them of wanting to take his home and independence.
Disagreeable is an understatement.
(Interestingly, “Leo’s” lines or actions alternated between outrageous, wily astuteness and downright insulting, but a group in the audience loudly appreciated Eric’s performance – indicative that the actor who is a Life member of MTC has a following!)
The final major player to add to the emotionally scarred cast appears later.
Karl (Aaron Townley) a tradie who comes to remove a mural and repair a wall. His life is as difficult and broken as the others. He’s paying off a debt caused by an ex-business partner and recovering from a marriage breakdown caused by same debt.
Needy and lonely, Karl continues to visit to do odd jobs after establishing a friendship with Leo and Therese who manages to get her charge to give up drinking and begin to make amends to those he has mistreated by writing letters of apology. They even start going out and visiting parks and museums.
Of course, there are sub-plots and a minor character (also played by Aaron) who will make your blood boil and an all-important twist that good drama provides.
The necessary conflict to keep an audience interested is delivered – with a couple of realistic physical scenes, which had me worried because Eric wasn’t using make-up to age!
Each character also revealed an inner conflict through actions or dialogue at some stage.
The Playwright, Debra Oswald.
Wikipedia tells us that Debra Oswald is a screenwriter, playwright and fiction author. She was the co-creator and head writer for series 1-5 of the award-winning Channel Ten series Offspring…
Mr Bailey’s Minder and The Peach Season both premiered at Griffin Theatre Company. Mr Bailey’s Minder toured nationally in 2006 and premiered in the United States in 2008 at The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.
When it was first released, a review said, the play
… grapples with how much latitude we’re prepared to give artists we consider to be blessed with some kind of genius. It also explores the separate journeys of three individuals committed to creating a place where they can belong.
The play may also promote discussion about past behaviour and caring for ageing parents whether they were celebrities or not.
The worship of celebrity, of course, seems to have intensified in recent years. A prime example is in the acting profession where TV creates celebrities frequently, with actors who study the craft and perform on stage often overlooked or not given the recognition, they may deserve.
In this social media age celebrities flourish, however, in the future they may pay the price for their behaviour much earlier or burn out quicker.
The publicity social media gives that makes it easier to make celebrity status, also makes it easier to punish or shatter a celebrity. And with the Internet – everything is on record whether it has been edited, doctored, embellished, made up…
Plus we have an ageing population. Debra’s play will remain topical and relevant for some time.
Stagecraft and Set Design
The set design and construction depicting Bailey’s disintegrating home above Sydney Harbour is eye-catching and memorable. Martin Gibbs, the Director and set designer is to be congratulated.
The various scene changes facilitated seamlessly by three exits – a door through to a kitchenette, the ‘front’ door and a staircase that led to the bedrooms and much-mentioned bathroom. The music accompanying each scene change setting the relevant mood and the lighting used to great effect to signal the passing of time and a new day.
So, add a bit of spice or emotional angst to your day and catch a session of Mr Bailey’s Minder you won’t be disappointed and it will do what all good art does – make you confront various aspects of the human condition – especially your own.
A note of caution – if like me, you have experienced a loved one whose personality changed because of dementia, ageing, or a combination of both, or have experienced family estrangement, make sure you have a tissue in your pocket… you never know what triggers an emotional moment… this play just might hit the spot.
We are experiencing a colder winter than usual this year and as I shiver, Facebook reminds me that two years ago I enjoyed warm spring weather in the UK including the lovely two weeks experiencing the Absolute Orkney & Shetland Islands Escape with several days spent in Shetland.
I’m now revisiting that time in Shetland while continuing the journey of going through boxes of past writing and teaching files to ‘clear out clutter’.
Recently, I discovered one of the first poems I wrote when I moved to Mordialloc and attempted to fulfil a dream to be a writer.
Whether scribbled poems (and this one was pre-computer days for me) or journal notes, the words, like my Facebook posts and photographs catapulted me to another place, another time – in many ways – another me!
The Change of Seasons
Mairi Neil, 1992
A winter’s day at the beginning of June,
who would have thought it cold so soon?
The hum of the fan as the gas fire burns
lifeless clothes drip on the hoist as it turns
the breeze gentler no more leaves falling
but the plaintive cry of cockies calling
to be released from their caged captivity
a monument to mankind’s insensitivity.
The cold weather outside, wet and bleak –
where is the sunlight we all seek?
My neighbour traps birds to keep for pleasure
others destroy the environment to amass treasure
I frequently criticise but no action take –
is my concern for social justice all just fake?
The silent majority murdered the Vietnamese
a radical student, I demonstrated with ease
Like winter’s rain, my protests poured down
on the heads of politicians – even the Crown.
There are always Vietnams, wrongs to be righted
has motherhood, mortgage, my conscience blighted?
Puddles on the concrete quiver and ripple
Raindrops plop like intermittent spittle
Was I more effective when young and carefree?
Persistently protesting – no one silenced me!
Perhaps mature responsibilities have weakened my voice
the business of raising a family offers limited choice…
When young, I felt strong like the rain – now I’m spittle
still caring deeply, yet doing too little
Can I blame it on SAD – sunlight deprivation
And be like a bear, accept temporary hibernation?
Winter Nights In Front of The Telly With Jimmy
On Sunday nights, a new series of the television series Shetland is broadcast. The crime drama has amassed an international audience since it began in 2013. Its popularity due to the excellent adaptation of award-winning crime novels by Ann Cleeves, a location, which provides plenty of stunning coastal scenes, strong storylines, and good acting.
Douglas Henshall plays Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, the main character and in a recent interview, he agreed that the collection of around 300 islands lying between Orkney and the Faroe Islands, at the area where the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea meet does intrigue and excite viewers.
“Not only because it’s beautiful but because it’s like another character in the show,” he said. “I think people are drawn to the place because they imagine themselves there.”
Cinema is all about suspension of disbelief so it may come as a surprise to viewers that many scenes in Shetland are filmed in Glasgow, Barrhead, Irvine and Ayr – hundreds of miles away in the lowlands of Scotland, in places resembling Shetland!
They just have to make sure no stray trees wander into the shot because trees are still not prolific on Shetland – although that is changing!
There was certainly a time when Shetland was almost devoid of trees. Old photographs from the early 1900s show a strikingly stark, bare landscape, even in and around settlements.
Whilst it’s true that large tracts of the islands lack tree cover to this day, there’s no doubt that things are changing. In part, this is because of a concerted effort by public bodies to plant more trees over recent decades…
Archaeological investigations have revealed that Shetland once enjoyed extensive tree and shrub cover, with species such as willow, downy birch, hazel and alder appearing in the pollen record. The real reasons for the lack of trees are to do with clearance for firewood and the presence of sheep, which have prevented natural regeneration. Where sheep are excluded, trees grow with little or no shelter.
Judging by the number of trees sold by local garden centres, not to mention the continuing work of the Shetland Amenity Trust, the Shetland landscape will continue to evolve; around settlements especially, we can expect it to change as much over the next generation as it has in the last one.
Alastair Hamilton, My Shetland, 2015
In June 2017, when I visited Shetland, I still had fun looking for familiar sites from Season 1 & 2 of the TV series, the only seasons released in Australia before I left.
And last night watching the final Season Six, not yet released free to air in Melbourne, it was satisfying spotting places I visited, beaches I walked on, houses or ruins I stood beside contemplating ancient Shetland!
I visited Jarlshof one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the UK spanning Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages to Middle Ages.
No part of Shetland is more than 3 miles from the sea and everywhere the landscape is stunning.
Jarlshof Mairi Neil
Gulls cry overhead
circling rugged cliffs
and ancient rocks
the remnants of a long-ago
but not forgotten past…
The constant motion
of waves crashing,
massaging, and chipping as they
accompany the wind song –
wild background music to
settlement, farms and crofts…
I imagine a family watching
the horizon with anticipation
the tempestuous sea surging,
the creeping mist of dawn.
Watching with hearts filled with hope
for a returning fishing fleet
or do they tremble with trepidation
at warships ploughing through
the tumultuous waves
to claim a land not their’s?
I don’t read a lot of crime fiction nowadays but often love the TV adaptations, particularly when Ann Cleeves’ great characters like Vera and Jimmy Perez, come to life or Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Alan Hunter’s George Gently and of course Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple.
I can thank my mother for introducing me to Agatha Christie and another of her favourites, Georges Simenon’s, Maigret. I still have several old hardback novels decades old that I should declutter because if the truth is faced, I won’t read them again.
However, they are a link to Mum and a period in my life when I virtually read a book a day commuting by train to work on the old Red Rattlers from Croydon to the City so I just can’t part with them – yet.
I even watch the repeats on TV with several reincarnations of Miss Marple to argue over who is the best and although Peter Ustinov did a fine job in the movies, most people agree that David Suchet has now made Poirot his own.
I’m biased towards British crime novelists and their television adaptations. Many of them character-driven and tackling society’s issues and a bigger picture than petty crime or one issue. They are not just police procedurals (although there is plenty of that), but explore the social reasons for crime, not just the crime itself.
They show justice is fluid and the ones set in particular periods of history mark the effects of social change – or lack of it! They examine the human condition in a way most of us experience and/or comprehend. Who isn’t flawed?
The all-important conflict necessary for gripping fiction is flawed characters and their struggles to come to terms with the world, whether external or internal. Good novelists and screenwriters of the quality of Shetland dish it up in wonderful dollops!
Shetland has examined the rise of populism and the extreme Right, people smuggling and sex-trafficking, social isolation, bigotry, child abuse and the effect of oil and gas discoveries on environmental pollution among other hot topics.
However, one of the best storylines included a character who Ann Cleeves said she wished she had written – Tosh, a female detective who is raped in the line of duty.
The way this tragedy is handled and the arcs of various characters in Shetland are examples of fine writing and storytelling.
Along the way, we learn about life in a close-knit community, where everybody almost seems to know of each other – not hard in a population of 23,000.
As a comparison, I think of the City of Mordialloc before it merged with Kingston in 1994. In an area of 5.25 square miles, there was a population of almost 28,000. A dramatic difference in population density to Shetland’s archipelago.
The beacg by Jimmy Perez’s house
the laneway to Jimmy’s house
Jimmy Perez’s house on Shetland
When I mentioned on FB that I was standing outside the house in Lerwick used for Jimmy Perez, and then posted pictures of other houses used in the series with ‘a murder committed here‘… ‘another crime scene‘ … a friend referring to the ABC’s Dr Blake Mysteryseries commented,
Is there anyone left alive in Shetland? It’s a dangerous place, like Ballarat…
A bit like the popular English series Midsomer Murders where picturesque English villages harbour murderers and serial killers who knock off the local population at an alarming rate…
However, be assured Shetland locals are friendly and welcoming as this poster in Shetland dialect on the Library noticeboard says:
And as this article from a local paper relates, Shetland has produced female writers who don’t necessarily delve into the dark side of human nature…
All the people I came into contact with were wonderful and I’d return in a heartbeat.
I think at this time in my life, a place like Shetland appeals because I can imagine myself in a cottage, tending a garden and writing – no need for bright city lights anymore just a haven to indulge an inner search for peace and serenity!
I made a lovely Canadian friend, Linda during my trip and we still keep in touch hoping that one day we’ll meet again – either in Melbourne or Vancouver.
Our guide for Shetland was Robina Barton, an expert on history and geology and also the Labour Party candidate for the north, which is held by the Liberal Democrats. (She gave him a good shake in 2017 elections!)
I found her a most obliging and generous guide similar to those I experienced one-to-one in Mongolia and Russia. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, caring guides who added so much to my extended holiday.
Robina met Linda and me at the ferry terminal and although there was a schedule for the day, she was more than happy to take us for ‘a cup of tea’ where we discussed whether we wanted to stick with the planned tour or do something else that suited our interests and mood.
With mutual understanding, the day went from good to great and helped colour my view of Shetland – I mentioned already I would return in a heartbeat!
In the photo below we were interrupted in our orientation stroll by a man offering free boutique chocolates – now that’s what I call hospitality! A chef who had just moved to Lerwick, he was promoting his soon to be opened restaurant.
WELCOME TO LERWICK
Lerwick is Shetland’s capital and takes its name from Old Norse Leirvik meaning muddy bay. Sheltered by Bressay over the water – where Robina lives. I could see her house from my hotel window and said goodnight to her twinkling lights after a super day.
The natural harbour attracts a wide range of visiting craft and a large cruise ship came in adding to the constant stream of ferries, fishing boats, and working craft from the oil rigs. Also a few moored ‘Viking’ long boats because of course, Shetland celebrates Up Helly Aa – the Viking Fire Festival in mid-winter January.
Lerwick, only officially named the capital in the 19th century, building on the trade from the Dutch herring industry. From a scattering of huts on a shoreline track, the busy Commercial Street developed surrounded by tightly packed narrow lanes. Later, new docks were created north of the town to accommodate the fishing fleet.
The characteristics of the buildings, brickwork and flagstones different from anything seen in Melbourne and many a lot older!
The largest ship built in Lerwick was the barque North Briton in 1836 at Hay’s Dock, now home to the Shetland Museum and Archives. There are models of typical Shetland Boats and to keep alive traditions, festivals are held and displays.
For me, the innovative incorporation of boats in buildings and gardens very appealing, but considering my forbears were all sailors and fishermen from the Isle of Skye, I loved learning about Shetlanders and the sea too!
Facebook Post, June 16, 2017
The Kveldsro House Hotel harks back to another era with Reading Rooms, relaxing lounges and shoe shine machines in the corridor. The bar even has a stained glass sign for Gents and of course, the Ladies Powder Room is some distance away!
There are plenty of tasteful furnishings and interesting artworks. The staff from Portugal, Ecuador, Greece and even Scotland 😆
I have been fortunate with all of the places I have stayed this trip.
Atop a hill and across from Shetland’s highest mountain we found where rocks crack and explode and create a moonscape. Robina a mine of information on the geological formation of Shetland.
Wildflowers blooming, sheep bleating, salt in the air and evidence of human habitation going back hundreds of years as sunlight glitters on the water like scattered gemstones.
Lunch stops are always interesting too, meeting the locals, getting to know each other, tasting Shetland delicacies. And a bonus when it rained while we were snug inside!
Different sides of mainland Shetland have different weather depending on whether exposed to North Sea or Atlantic .
We learnt a lot about geology today from Robina, our expert guide. The variety of rocks amazing. We also went on wildflower searches.
No view here boring and each pile of rocks intriguing – is it a broch, remnants of a tomb, a medieval or Viking village, a deserted croft from the cruel land clearances or collapse of herring fishing industry?
Is that of neolithic significance or a deliberate structure from WW2?
The Kveldsro House Hotel was comfortable and the staff pleasant. I usually had the same woman serving me breakfast, she was from Portugal and couldn’t wait to return home to the Mediterranean sunshine.
To do Shetland justice, I’ll have to write some more posts because although I didn’t experience any crime or startling epiphanies, I did learn some interesting history and a lot more about the natural world of birds and wildflowers.
We even got our ‘Viking’ on when we stopped at a restaurant for lunch that incorporated all things Up Helly Aa. After watching a video on the origins of the Fire Festival and reading reminisces of participants, we could dress up and let loose our inner Viking.
It was a fun interlude in a day that ended depressingly, sad – the Nightly News full of the Grenfell Tower Fire – an incredible tragedy hard to imagine.
I had spent some time in London with a friend when I arrived in the UK for this final leg of my journey and there were a couple of sisters at the hotel who joined our tour the next day who lived in London.
As you can imagine, news updates dominated the mealtime discussions over the next few days.
The horrors and brutality often associated with marauding Vikings wear a different mantle in modern times. Will those in authority whose greed, negligence and even deliberate contempt for others ever be held accountable? Death and destruction among the least wealthy and privileged in society a tale as old as time!
My next post about Shetland will definitely end on a more cheerful note!
Many local councils and state governments acknowledge there is a crisis, even if our Federal Government doesn’t.
We have created havoc by over-consumption and disregarding how to responsibly dispose of man-made materials like plastics, radioactive waste and other byproducts of industrialisation and general pollution.
How can an individual help repair the damage to the environment?
The slogan developed years ago for tourists – take only photos and leave only footprints – should be expanded and applied to our everyday life.
Some communities are running out of places to safely put landfill and countries that bought our rubbish (yep – we exported our trash to China and Malaysia among others!) recognise this practice is not good for their populations.
Australia and the U.S.A as the biggest culprits in this region have been forced to rethink and find other solutions.
More than ever there is pressure for citizens to be more pro-active about reducing waste and also to recycle, reuse and repurpose.
Consumers have demanded plastic bag free supermarkets, returnable deposit cans and bottles, no more plastic straws, refillable cups and most of all reduced packaging – and gradually the corporate world is responding.
There is always more to do…
I live in the City of Kingston and am grateful we have a recycling program and they are looking at ways to not only improve services to citizens but educate people on how to reduce their rubbish.
Currently, I pay rates for three rubbish bins: one for recycling of glass, tins, cardboard, paper and some plastics, one for recycling green waste – grass clippings, weeds and small tree branches, and one for general rubbish that goes into landfill.
Can We Recycle More Efficiently?
I was thrilled that Kingston Council is helping citizens learn the alternatives to filling garbage bins.
In the near future, they are trialling an organic food collection, which may happen once a week – and be introduced in January 2020. For progress check the ‘Waste” page on the City of Kingston website and Back to Earth videos explaining the programme.
This new food bin will be a compost bin and it will go to a commercial facility with a 5 day turn around and sent to farmers to fertilise their land.
Contamination will be a huge issue and so the Council aims to have an intensive education program for citizens.
They have chosen this path rather than a compost hub except for access by community gardens.
You Can Be Pro-Active Now
An alternative that can be done immediately is to start your own compost at home and there will be no need to have Council collect your food scraps!
I took advantage of one of the free workshops being run to encourage people to recycle their food waste at home and turn it into compost.
I hope to spend more time in the garden and aim to create a more productive veggie patch and more flowers and want to make my own good quality compost.
Any gardener will tell you great outcomes begin with the quality of the soil – and the best soil is obtained from compost.
Plants grown in healthy soil have fewer problems with disease and pests – and that goes for vegetables as well as flowers.
Good soil contains organic matter – worm castings, decomposed leaves and remains of organisms such as insects, fungi, and bacteria. Replenishing organic matter essential – and what better way than to use your own compost.
Free: Beginners Composting, Worm Farming and Bokashi Workshop
Last Tuesday evening, I attended a workshop on Composting – it was International Composting Awareness Week.
I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?
The young woman presenting is a Waste Education Officer for Kingston, a consultant to many councils and her wages paid for by JJ Richards & Sons, an Australian owned and operated family business providing innovative waste management solutions throughout Australia since 1932.
It is one of the largest privately-owned waste management companies in Australia and provides recycling, sanitary and green waste collection services.
I believe they may have more or less a monopoly on garbage collection in Melbourne and also operate in other states.
Freya said she was the one leading a team in Kingston, wearing HiVis vests and shorts, who inspect the bins on recycling day. They put a good or bad sticker on the lids to encourage people to do the right thing.
They also sort through rubbish periodically to determine what education packages may be used to determine solutions to our ever-growing rubbish problem.
“If you get a Well Done sticker on your bin, leave it there to encourage others,’ said Freya. “And if you get a Warning sticker, you won’t be fined but please try and do better!”
The bin inspection program her idea, plus the use of stickers. As a multicultural city, Freya said she is aware of a lack of English language skills, which creates a barrier in the community.
Therefore, a message about what can be recycled is often misunderstood if only written in English. The stickers can be understood by everyone.
The clarity of the message will reduce costs to the Council and ratepayers.
When I was young, I remember you got money back on glass bottles and we scoured the countryside looking for abandoned empties to return and get pocket money.
For some reason (most probably someone decided it was less profitable) the practice was stopped in Victoria. I also remember when the girls were in school in the late 80s early 90s, collecting aluminium cans was popular to raise money.
In fact, it was a good fundraiser for many charities but they competed with those on a low income who trawled the rubbish bins.
Returnable deposit schemes work in other states and countries – here is a goodnatured way of encouraging recycling I snapped in the Orkneys – the bins were outside a club.
Freya has also initiated an effective School Program about recycling and composting so hopefully future generations will be more aware, if they are not already, of the fragility of the environment and the need for sustainability.
Many schools in the municipality have vegetable gardens, compost bins, water tanks, worm farms, hens… the children are aware of the importance of recycling to the environment that it becomes second nature.
When I asked about reducing the amount of hard rubbish left on nature strips by people moving out or just dumping stuff, Freya said she is trialling a program in partnership with Diabetes Australia, to pick up and recycle goods abandoned by International Students at end of semester departures and readvertise them to others arriving.
This program once established can be spread throughout Melbourne.
A friend and past student who lives in the City of Glen Eira will be extremely happy to learn this because she often lamented that her street, which has many small apartment blocks, often looks like a tip because of the high turnover of renters, who are invariably international students attending Monash University.
She often commented that much of the furniture and household goods are top quality and could be reused but are left on nature strips to be collected as rubbish.
The Cost To The Community of Dumping
The workshop I attended limited to 30 people because of the availability of space and was booked out but another one will be held on June 27.
I was pleased to see grey heads like mine but also young couples, teenagers and middle-aged – a good selection of ratepayers all wanting to learn more about recycling food waste and other organic matter.
There was a collective gasp when Freya told us that illegal dumping of rubbish was costing Kingston $203,000 per annum until she analysed the pick-ups and discovered there were three streets in Clayton South accounting for $100,000 of that figure!
Security cameras were installed and the cost reduced to $26,000 with the Clayton South area reduced to $10,000. (Whether the cost of installing and monitoring the security cameras is included, I don’t know but it is still a massive reduction!)
Freya said viewing the camera footage to get the car number plates of the culprits to issue infringement notices (and hopefully recoup some costs!) revealed awkward moments.
A truck pulled up and dumped a massive tyre but when the driver saw the camera he retrieved the tyre and drove off – not before his number plate recorded.
Another person was caught doing the toilet on a nature strip!
The car number plates showed that many of the people who dumped were from a mixture of businesses, lived out of town, and were not all locals.
Perhaps we need more provocative murals like this one I saw in Canberra above a row of bins marked for recycling – the quote says:
“Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.”Hunter S Thompson
Change Habits To Save Habitats
Bali’s beaches are drowning in litter
Debris piles where no butterflies flitter
Apocalypse fed –
but the solution is not storming Twitter
The main culprit named is plastic
a product we embraced as fantastic
but it resists decay
and won’t go away
The destruction of marine life tragic!
Fast food a convenience we craved
Marketing gurus constantly raved
Junk created ignored
As rubbish was poured
Into the environment, we should have saved.
Who profits from accumulated trash?
Is life on Earth worth less than cash?
Consumers fed lies
While pollution spreads like a rash!
What species destroys its own nest
Where standards should be the best?
‘Away’ doesn’t exist
Rubbish isn’t a mist
We create it, so must produce less!
‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ a catch cry
This must be reality or we all die
The coral withers
Our PM dithers
Climate change deniers watch Earth fry.
To the tourists who boast loving Bali –
Has your behaviour increased the tally?
Of beach debris
Polluting the sea
Leave only footprints when you dally!!
Bali’s problem is really worldwide
from culpability, no one can hide
It starts with a ‘me’
I hope becomes ‘we’
From today let’s take the Earth’s side.
Approximately 50% of the waste that goes into your garbage bin could be composted.
When sent to landfill, food and garden waste produces methane – a harmful greenhouse gas.
This waste represents 3% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, we are all contributing to climate change.
If you compost, the environmental benefits are:
extend the life of the landfill sites
decrease greenhouse gas emissions
If you compost, the gardening benefits are:
improve soil structure
chemical free fertiliser
increase the yield of crops
Freya explained what composting is and how it is created and there were leaflets available to take home, and examples of the type of compost bins. Several participants shared opinions and experiences of the different methods and different bins.
‘I’m not an expert,‘ said Freya as she encouraged people to share their knowledge, ‘and always learn something at every workshop.’
I loved the generosity of those present sharing tips about where to get containers to use as compost bins or worm farms.
Freya had brought along some examples of the bins to show us plus a worm farm, which a lucky audience member won.
Freya explained, with illustrations, how to get started setting up a bin (these leaflets are available from the City of Kingston) and give us the ADAM recipe on how to compost successfully:
You need a mixture of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon-rich) organic waste materials. The ratio being 3:1
GREEN – fresh grass clippings, fruit & vegetable scraps, bread (this may attract mice), tea leaves, coffee grounds, hair, vacuum dust, manure – vegetarian, weeds.
BROWN – tree prunings, dry grass clippings, straw, hay, cane mulch, dry leaves, bark, egg cartons, paper (serviettes, tissues…)
Other useful ingredients: wood ash, lime, egg shells, dolomite, blood and bone, dynamic lifter, soil.
A compost bin replicates what happens in the rainforest. Compost will be ready after 3-4 months.
Poking and mixing compost helps with aeration and decomposition to produce a good compost mix. Save your back by investing in a Compost mate for $20 to stir everything up!
to avoid rats place chicken wire under the bin before you start filling.
weeds can produce seeds – kill these in a black garbage bag first before adding to the compost or you could be spreading weeds throughout your garden beds.
instead of buying expensive conditioner use crushed eggshells instead – Google and there will be 1000s of opinions and bits of advice!
remember if you add citrus worms will not go near it
if you set the bins up in winter, it is colder and so add a few weeks or months to breakdown time
too many ants in the bin is a sign the compost is too dry so sprinkle with water
don’t let the compost get too dry and you will prevent fruit fly and other flies
keep mixing regularly to stop it getting too wet or too dry
the smaller the pieces the quicker it will break down – blend food or cut up to small pieces
bins like a lid!
She provided a troubleshooting guide but said if in doubt always return to ADAM!
A Plea for Earth Day
Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe And yet, we take its bounty for granted Really, we are running out of time To heal and save this damaged miracle How foolish we are to ignore the signs Do nothing is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc
My knowledge of worm farms negligible and this was the part of the evening I found most interesting. As far as recycling and limiting my environmental footprint is concerned, I have been doing that most of my life.
I had good teachers because my parents lived through the Great Depression and WW2 in the UK and brought us up with the mantra ‘waste not, want not’.
We were a working-class family, Mum saved and reused string, wrapping paper, jam jars; we wore or used things until they could no longer be handed down, or mended; our backyard grew potatoes and other vegetables, plums were turned into jam, hens provided eggs and ate scraps, and if by some miracle there was food left over, instead of compost, it was added to the plates of our pet dogs and cats.
But worm farming?
Didn’t know that was a ‘thing’ until the 1990s. I remember seeing a lot of wriggling worms at Collingwood Children’s Farm when the girls were on a school excursion and I went along as a parent helper. They were not in containers but eating their way through compost between two sheets of dark tarpaulin-like material.
The image has stayed with me but I never thought it was something I’d have at home.
When I worked at Bentleigh, one of my writing students talked about her worm farm but beyond that whenever someone mentions worms I think of a poem by Edward Larson and a song by ‘Unknown’ that I learnt at school and used to sing around the campfire when a Girl Guide:
Ooey Gooey Worm
Ooey Gooey was a worm
A wiggly worm was he
He climbed upon the railroad tracks
The train he did not see…
…OOOOOEEEE GOOOOEEE GOO!
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
because I go and eat worms,
Long, thin, slimy ones;
Short, fat, juicy ones,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
Down goes the first one,
down goes the second one,
Oh, how they wiggle and squirm.
Up comes the first one,
up comes the second one,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
At the workshop, Freya explained the advantages of worm farms:
ideal for homes with small yards or no gardens and for apartment balconies, courtyards
designed primarily for food scraps
faster process than composting
produce rich castings (vermicast)
and produces liquid fertiliser
it compliments garden waste compost – so keep fruit and veg for worms
you need 500-1000 worms to start (borrow from friends farms or buy from Bunnings)
Worms are hermaphrodites
there are 3 different types of worms for compost: Tiger worms, Indian Blues and Red Wrigglers
they don’t like sunlight or excess heat
coffee speeds up the composting process
worms don’t have teeth so cut food into small pieces or blend it before adding to speed up the process
worms eat their body weight in 24 hours
A ring around a worm like a saddle is holding up to 10 worm babies
worm populations double every 2-3 months
their life cycle is 2-3 years
worms don’t smell so can be kept indoors
if going on holiday leave bigger pieces – it takes worms approximately 8 weeks to munch through average organic waste
they will eat each other
drain the farm regularly
if the worm farm dies it may because too hot so always keep in shade (a dead worm farm smells disgusting! Freya said she’d rather sort through rubbish bins than cope with that smell!)
add ice cubes on a really hot day
if worms gather on the lid they are predicting rain
if in a big ball they are stressed and it’s not a good sign
if you want them to move into a particular area to remove worm castings then use citrus peels and they’ll move to avoid this
Worm farms are in layers: always have a dark lid
separate layers of food scraps and organic waste
the middle layer is where worms live and travel up through holes for food
the bottom layer is for worm castings and fertiliser
drill at least 12 holes to allow worms to move between layers – on a sunny day they will burrow down deeper
Australian worms cope with drought and are therefore slow eaters so use imported worms from South America to start your farm
don’t put tea bags with plastic tags into a worm bin
by a bedding block made from coconut husk, soak in a bucket of water and use this to cover the first layer of your farm – add layers and/or trays one at a time once full of food and ALWAYS blanket on top this will keep out direct sunlight. Can use an old carpet in winter or add coffee to get the worms active
Setting Up A Farm
Buy or build one from plastic tubs
begin with 1000 worms (bought or gifted from friends)
choose a shaded area sheltered from direct sunlight and heavy rain
line the tray with moist ‘bedding’ or newspaper
distribute the bedding and worms covering each layer with moistened paper
let worms settle for a week before feeding them
Keep the worms happy by always maintaining: Drainage, Acidity, Air, Food and Temperature
The final choice of the evening regarding composting was a Bokashi Bucket – probably the least popular method with only myself and two others admitting to having one. I haven’t used mine since I returned from overseas so maybe I shouldn’t count myself.
Bokashi is a convenient and environmentally friendly way to compost kitchen waste and it will compost almost all of your food waste – prepared foods, cooked or uncooked, meats and fish, cheese, eggs and eggshells, bread, fruit and vegetables, coffee grinds and tea leaves and bags, wilted flowers and tissues.
DO NOT put dog or cat faeces, bones or excessive liquid in the Bokashi Bucket – for these items a Biodegradable Cornstarch Bag if used, will help break them down in landfill.
5-Step Process To Use Bokashi Bucket
Place bin close to where food produced (kitchen bench, under the sink, laundry.) Put drain plate supplied with the kit at the bottom of the bin to allow excess liquid to drain.
Sprinkle a small amount of special BOKASHI MIX onto the drain plate. Add your food waste/scraps. Even paper and meat.
At the end of each day, compress the waste with the mashing utensil provided or your own tool if you’ve made a bin for yourself. This removes air pockets and then sprinkle some Bokashi Mix lightly covering the surface of the waste. Reseal lid so that it is airtight.
Once or twice a week drain the liquid from the bin. Repeat the filling process until the bin is full, which for an average family is just under a month. Feed the garden with the drained liquid (fertiliser) after adding water at a ratio 1:100. (Beware it is very strong fertiliser!)
When the bucket is full, empty the contents into a small hole or trench in your garden, or add to your compost bin. The waste will be fermented but not broken down, to do that it needs soil. (If you have an inquisitive dog like me, dig that hole deep!)
Rinse the bucket with water, no detergent or soap, drain and repeat process. You may have to check the tap at the bottom to drain does not get clogged. Also shop around for Bokashi Mix, which can be expensive but necessary because it contains effective micro-organisms. It is usually a combination of wheat bran and rice husks that have been sprayed.
The microbes have been organically certified by both NASAA and the BFA if you buy the mix from reputable outlets.
If there is no rotting odour, the Bokashi Bin is working well. The waste inside should go foul in a day or two and even produce white mould. Always mash down well, also drain properly. It is the fermentation process that is turning the waste into a rich soil conditioner
If the mould is green or black and the Bokashi begins to smell, then tip the contents out, wash bin and begin again.
4-6 weeks after the compost has been buried, it may be dug up and used on garden beds.
Of all the composting methods, the Bokashi Bucket is probably the most expensive setting-up and with ongoing costs. However, Freya gave leaflets out (and these can be easily downloaded) with DIY options.
An ice-cream container works just as well
You may get a food caddy free from the council when they introduce recycling food waste but the problem with anything free or discounted is that it can end up abandoned on the nature strip.
Compost Revolution (check online) may give a discount
I think it is safe to say that everyone left the evening inspired and determined – I know I’m certainly more confident in making the right choice and being pro-active in reducing landfill and may restart using my Bokashi Bucket!
There were some great suggestions about DIY compost receptacles – including a worm farm in an old chest of drawers!
Dog Poo – And Other Unmentionables
Polystyrene can’t be recycled in Victoria but the large rectangular containers are good to make your own worm farm.
There is still no recycling of dog poo or even special bins for collection, like in other countries – and even other councils.
Stonnington has special bins and bags available. And I saw many bins in the UK as far back as the 90s.
When I mentioned this to Freya, she said Australia was about 10 years behind many other countries.
Cultural change is slow but I guess we will get there eventually – especially with education officers like Freya and programs initiated by progressive local governments.
Meanwhile, we can all do what we can to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REPURPOSE and COMPOST!
And keep our fingers crossed Federal politicians catch up!
I’m still coming to terms with the election result – as are about 50% of the population!
I was never confident of an overwhelming victory but I couldn’t believe that after six years of dysfunction, failed policies, three prime ministers and scandal after scandal of corruption and incompetence, and going to the voters with literally no policies or vision to solve climate change and social inequality that the LNP Coalition would be rewarded.
It was disappointing too that their lies were rarely challenged and the dodgy figures about unemployment – insecure work, underemployment, casual and contract work and the fact that one hour’s work a week is enough to move you from unemployment statistics – a shameful state of affairs for a wealthy country like Australia.
I’m a writer and writing teacher but how do I find the words to explain how saddened and shocked I am about the election result? Recommend strong verbs of course – many friends have already expressed their opinions:
The Liberal candidate in Isaacs, my electorate, was disendorsed for posting hate speech in an ‘appalling anti-muslim rant’.
Yet, as I scrutineered for Mark Dreyfus QC MP, I couldn’t believe the hundreds of people who still voted for the dumped candidate!
‘My goodness, are there that many racists living in Mordialloc?’ declared Nola, my fellow scrutineer.
Now the election is over, we have other similarly disendorsed Liberal candidates going to take their seat in parliament, no doubt under the auspices of the party that preselected them originally.
What happened to ethics and morality?
Election 2019 – A Failure For Fairness
We’ve just had Election Day when all through Australia
we turned out to vote to prove Democracy no failure.
Votes already cast knowing shocking deals done – later
some candidates forced to resign, one by horrible one.
But the men who removed Malcolm Turnbull as PM
not reduced in number – so don’t underestimate them.
Visions of Dutton as a leader still dance in some heads…
the folk on Manus and Nauru still toss in their beds.
The ‘silent majority’ with privileged excess in their bellies
believed Murdoch’s media and the crap on their tellies!
Despite what we heard – there was a rumble abroad –
not everyone realised that Morrison’s a fraud.
Plenty tapping at keyboards and scratching of pens
letters and online posts numbered multiples of ten
Passion and persuasion for society to include all
true social justice and ‘action on climate’ their call.
Lament environmental disasters, habitat losses
a wage system and laws overwhelmingly for bosses.
Seeds grow flowers and trees bear far-reaching fruit
school strikers and protesters cocked more than a snoot
at politicians and rich cronies who legislate inequality
the climate change deniers, those fearing collective solidarity.
Raised voices had courage, progressives give each other heart
so we must continue the fight until Morrison & Co depart.
Trickle down economics a failure, we must change the rules
implement a fairer tax system to fund hospitals and schools.
Labor’s policies seemed commonsense, natural and right
but when results were tallied on that fatal Election night…
How could this be? Morrison’s win dubbed ‘a miracle’
yet so little policy evidence to prove it empirical.
The nation is deeply divided although the LNP returned
with Labor’s bold reforming plan effectively spurned.
The outcome explored by journos and political pundits
while almost 50% of the population in bewilderment sit!
I weep for the planet, the suffering, and marginalised
I thought social justice and fairness an achievable prize!
Voters had one job to do and decisively blew it
but climate emergency means there’s no time to sit!
Progressives may reel from this election result
it seems to defy logic with the winners an insult
but the struggle must continue – no time for a pause
in tackling climate catastrophes and industrial laws.
‘It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’
The older my children become, and as I age, the intensity of love for them deepens. I think of them every day, confirming the feelings and wisdom my own mother shared with me in the months before her death in 2009, aged eighty-nine.
She talked about her fears for my brother, George who was undergoing treatment for Leukaemia and said,
‘Loving and mothering is a lifetime responsibility – your children should never die before you. It’s not right.’
I have close friends who have lost adult children. They confirm the truth of Mum’s observation and I know each day for those friends getting up and coping with daily life is a struggle and testament to their resilience to ‘continue and carry on with life’ the way their loved ones would wish. The lead-up and actual celebration of days like today must be particularly difficult and my heart goes out to them.
‘She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.’
Margaret Culkin Banning
When I decided to have a baby I was thirty-two and didn’t truly understand how profound becoming a parent would be personally or the effect on relationships with family, friends – and even strangers.
Born in the 1950s and part of Women’s Liberation in the late 60s and 70s, I was still expected to follow the ‘normal’ path of marrying and having children. It wasn’t my sole aim in life and I didn’t actively plan it but I went with the flow after meeting John and neither of us challenged the system, except I eschewed a white wedding and expensive reception and chose to marry in the garden of the house we bought together and party afterwards with many of the guests ‘bringing a plate’!
On reflection, I can say becoming a mother was the most exhaustive (and exhausting) change in my life – and continues to be – as long as my daughters and I remain intertwined.
I could write a lot about the picture of me in the early days of my daughter Anne’s homecoming – the congratulatory cards still visible, the dessert and glass of wine husband John prepared sitting untouched, me in an exhausted sleep all new mothers know well…
I salute my own mother for her guidance, values, and many examples of mothering. How she coped with six of us I will never know! I remember ringing her up and asking her once, after a particularly trying day with a baby plus toddler, ‘How are you still sane?“
I know that the deep love and bond I had with her is one of the reasons a loving bond with my daughters came easily.
There are similarities and huge differences regarding how Mum and I parented but not in attitude and determination to be loving and loyal whenever needed. We were both extremely lucky to be with partners we loved (Mum had Dad and I had John).
Partners who wanted children and were supportive, partners unafraid to share the household chores and unglamorous aspects of parenting and in my case, I know, a partner who cherished me and never stopped showing it.
John had been married before and so to a certain extent ‘knew the ropes’ regarding parenting so I was lucky. Although being present at the birth of both our girls, a totally new experience for him just as having me, a feminist as a partner, also a new experience!
In this picture, we are pregnant and ecstatic.
‘Say, what is the spell, when her fledgelings are cheeping, That lures the bird home to her nest? Or wakes the tired mother whose infant is weeping, To cuddle and croon it to rest? For I’m sure it is nothing but Love!’
Cheryl, now my ex-sister-in-law was a friend as well as part of the extended family in 1986. She produced the first of the next generation for our branch of the McInnes Clan in Australia in 1979 and the only ‘modern mum’ I’d observed firsthand.
She visited me in Jessie McPherson Hospital, Lonsdale Street, shortly after Anne’s birth. Into my ear, she whispered, ‘Welcome to the club.’
Her brown and my hazel eyes met as she squeezed my arm gently and with the still vivid memory of that miraculous moment when I held Anne to my breast for the first time, I knew exactly what she meant – becoming a mother, accepting the responsibility for another human being is transformational and understood by other mothers.
My first little ray of sunshine born after an emergency dash to Jessie Mac’s in Lonsdale Street at 3.00am, May 24, 1986.
John tailgated a taxi breaking the speed limit ( ‘they know the fastest route and where all the coppers and cameras are’ ). We hit no red lights and made the city in record time.
Three hours later Anne Courtney Neil arrived, three weeks earlier than expected but wide-eyed and ready to take on the world!
When I took Anne home from the hospital little did I know she had a hole in the heart – not discovered for almost twelve months, and then only by the extra diligence of a young doctor on work experience at the local clinic!
I still have cold sweats in the middle of the night when I think of the operation she had for ‘sticky-eye’ and a blocked tear duct when she was barely two months old, the eye specialist and the anaesthetist completely unaware of her heart condition.
There were the usual childhood accidents and illnesses too. The catastrophes that send mothers into a spin, fearful for the child’s wellbeing and welfare – Anne had no broken bones (Mary Jane delivered that excitement) but one day she bit hard and severed her tongue when she collided with a large wooden rocking horse.
I rushed to the local GP at the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets, in my slippers, wheeling five-year-old Anne in her sister’s pusher and carrying a protesting Mary Jane under my arm.
I’d stuffed a wet face-washer in Anne’s mouth to hold the tongue together and stem the bleeding (‘excellent response’ according to the doctor).
The trail of blood in the house and garden that greeted John when he rushed home after receiving a garbled message from his receptionist made him imagine a severed limb and he almost fainted. (The tongue does bleed profusely!)
However, he too praised my quick action racing to the surgery rather than ringing an ambulance or panicking. (That and delayed shock came later!)
Sometimes we amaze ourselves how we react and cope as parents.
Mary Jane’s birth in 1989, a more traumatic and dramatic story.
She arrived more than a week early and I barely got to Mordialloc Hospital in time for delivery sending the nursing staff into a flap. To this day she is known as ‘the baby born during the tea break’ arriving less than fifteen minutes after I walked through the front door.
John and Dr Ferguson arrived at the hospital just in time for delivery and I’m sure if there had been more traffic police on duty in those days, both would have been booked for speeding – perhaps even reckless driving.
Adding to the drama, Mary Jane breathed the meconium and amniotic fluid mixture into her lungs while in the womb and was born with the umbilical cord around her neck prompting a nurse to say, ‘Oh, she’s dead.’
The baby rushed to an incubator and the nurse reprimanded while everyone in the room paused for a moment taking stock of a miracle birth indeed! I went into shock and apparently kept asking John if I’d had a baby until they brought Mary Jane to me to be cuddled and fed!
Later, Mary Jane broke her arm in a ‘monkey bar’ accident at primary school but the seriousness of the fracture ignored by teachers who left her in Sick Bay while they tried to contact me or John and ‘ask what to do’ instead of taking her to a doctor or ringing an ambulance.
Our membership in the ambulance service and private health insurance on record and you can imagine the tongue lashing the administration of the school received from me.
Fortunately, a friend volunteering for reading duty noticed Mary Jane’s distress and demanded action; unfortunately, the delay and subsequent treatment at Sandringham public hospital during the upheaval of the Kennett years meant the arm was badly set and needed to be re-broken weeks later – this was done by a specialist at Como Hospital in Parkdale.
Sadly, Sandringham botched another operation when MJ was in her 20s, damaging her bowel when they discovered endometriosis during a routine operation to remove an ovarian cyst. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice??
Often at night, I close my eyes and recall the horror of seeing my daughter with multiple tubes hanging from her young body. Flushed, in pain despite high doses of morphine, and unaware of the emergency operation, she murmured through an oxygen mask, ‘What happened?’
The déjà vu of the multiple traumas she has suffered weighs heavily on my heart. I have often wished for a magic wand to reverse the hurts or give my daughters the happiness and pain-free world of fairytales.
Motherhood exposes your deepest fears and inadequacies but it also helps you gain courage and grow – as Sophocles said, ‘Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.’
Whenever my girls have been ill, in pain, troubled or suffering, I’ve wanted a magic wand to remove their misfortune or possess the ability to swap places and take away their discomfort. Instead, reality over fantasy, I’ve ‘gone into bat’ for them and fought school and government authorities, bullies, and anyone else who needed to be held accountable.
Like a lioness, I will fiercely fight to protect and defend. These skills and determination I learnt from own mother – she may have been barely five foot tall but her love and commitment to all six of her children taught me to be courageous and resilient regarding caring and coping as a parent.
‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.’
Motherhood indeed the most emotional and enlightened transformation for me. Everything I’ve read, shared, learnt and absorbed about other women’s experiences reveals none of our journeys is exactly the same or can be predicted.
There are similarities, but it is a unique life-changing event filled with joys and sorrows, calm and turbulent seas, problems and solutions, holding tight and letting go, embarrassing moments and moments of pride and satisfaction.
‘The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.’
Honore de Balzac
Around the world, mothers worry about their inadequacies, feel overwhelmed and many like me who became a single parent because our partner died carry guilt about not coping or spending enough time as the ‘default’ parent.
(John died when Anne was sixteen and Mary Jane thirteen – I think most will agree parenting adolescents is tough with two concerned parents, with one, I can assure you, it is challenging and at times very lonely!)
Frustration, financial stress, fear of failure or making mistakes – subjects often discussed between friends, family and in some cases counsellors.
Nurturing has never stopped from their early childhood…
From miraculous beginnings to challenging responsibilities, navigating hopes and dreams, disasters and near misses, parenting has been rewarding, scary, comical, confronting, but most of all fulfilling.
My life has had a purpose and I’ve experienced and continue to experience a wonderful mutual love.
I am so lucky my girls as young women still want to visit and ‘hang out’ with me, travel together, see movies, play board games, walk the dog, shop, discuss and debate, laugh and even party with me.
They are friends as well as daughters, and often the nurturing role has been reversed – especially when I had breast cancer and now as I age and have lost some confidence about decision-making for the future.
At the beginning of my writing career, at the launch of my first poetry book, I said children were the inspiration and reason I wrote and also the reason I didn’t write because motherhood is time-consuming.
Over the years, especially caring for John, I can substitute family instead of mothering but I wouldn’t really have life any other way. Loving and knowing John and our daughters have enriched me and made me the person I am today.
I hope I’ve helped add two more productive, caring citizens to the community. I’m grateful that feminism has wrought changes in society and many of the preconceptions about women and their destiny are no longer peddled – my girls have choices their grandmothers didn’t.
My Mum won a scholarship to college in Northern Ireland but her stepmother wouldn’t let her continue with study and ordered her out to work, then came WW2, the ATS and then nursing. Her stymied educational opportunities were what motivated Mum to encourage all six of her own children to study and seek suitable qualifications for what we wanted to be.
I was the first in my family to go to university and I only wish mum could have witnessed me returning to study at 57 years old and gaining a Masters degree in Writing and her two granddaughters earn Bachelor degrees.
Always my wish has been happiness and good health for both girls – to be whatever they want to be and find contentment and fulfilment in their choices.
We are so fortunate to live in Australia and have the privileges we do and I’m glad both daughters are aware they stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, that there are still hurdles to leap, and they will always strive to ‘go higher’ and seek equity for themselves and for so many others not as fortunate.
I am happy they will follow their mother as I followed my mother in fighting for social justice.
‘Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’ s secret hope outlives them all.’