We Need Another Gandhi – Another Great Soul to Remind Us to Honour all Humanity!

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One of my favourite places to visit in Melbourne is the Immigration Museum and last month I caught the final day of a magnificent exhibition on the life of Mahatma Gandhi – one of the greatest men ever to live and whose teachings and life informed, enriched and inspired me.

A great activist who changed the shape of our world by advocating for tremendous social change and justice years before Lenin formed his Bolshevik faction and before Mao Zedong embraced revolutionary ideals.

The 20th century had just begun when Gandhi developed his theories and put into practice a campaign of non-violent resistance to injustice.

 

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Today is World Humanitarian Day (WHD). It is held every year on 19 August to bring attention to the millions of people around the world who are affected by crisis and conflict and pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service and to rally support for people affected by crises around the world.

A fitting day to honour the life of Gandhi and to thank my parents for their influence and guidance in believing social change can and must happen if we want a more just and equitable world.

 

In my Life Stories & Legacies Class, I often ask the students to write about their beliefs and values and reflect on who and what influenced and perhaps still influences them.

To reflect on how much their parents, teachers, the books they read, personal experiences and current events shape their core beliefs and actions.

We’ve had a tumultuous week in the Australian Parliament revealing the best and worst of our representatives.

A week where Gandhi’s ability to dissolve prejudice in others and inspire courage to act and practise what we preach was sorely needed.

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World Humanitarian Day 2018

“Around the world, conflict is forcing record numbers of people from their homes, with over 65 million people now displaced. Children are recruited by armed groups and used to fight. Women are abused and humiliated. As humanitarian workers deliver aid and medical workers provide for those in need, they are all too often targeted or treated as threats.”

UN Secretary-General, António Guter

Only 1% of the 25 million people who have fled as refugees are ever resettled.

Gandhi believed we are all citizens of the world, unbound by exclusive loyalties of race or creed or class. He became renowned for shedding attachment to material things and at the end of his life, his only worldly possessions were his sandals, watch, glasses, a couple of spoons and bowls and a book of songs!

If only more people believed in such a universal society rather than nationalistic divisions, many more refugees and displaced people would be resettled.

The exhibition at the Immigration Museum approached telling Gandhi’s story by first introducing Gandhi as an immigrant. Indeed the forming of his philosophy to campaign for change in a non-violent way began when he lived and worked in South Africa and suffered discrimination because of his skin colour and ethnicity.

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The exhibition combined digital and non-digital storytelling and made good use of extracts from the 1982 Richard Attenborough film, Gandhi and archival footage from documentaries and newsreels. At least Ben Kingsley,  the actor chosen to play Gandhi,  is of Indian heritage, his father being Gujarati and Ben’s birth name, Krishna Bhanji.

The books I bought and read about Gandhi acquired in the 1970s and it was great to refresh my memory and immerse myself in exceptionally well-laid out exhibits.

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Gandhi’s Early Life

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Incident At Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

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Many people can point to a pivotal moment or event that either changed their attitude or thinking or forced them to change the direction they were heading in life.

Gandhi’s moment was outrage at the unjust humiliation of being ejected from the train despite having a ticket, and being ejected and roughly treated because he was ‘coloured’.

He had a long, cold night to sit in the waiting room and reflect on his undignified treatment and the general status of non-whites in South Africa. His legal training and political beliefs must have worked overtime as he imagined and planned an effective response – and considered the bigger picture, especially in relation to India under British rule.

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The year my father was born (1922), Gandhi was actively promoting his doctrine of passive resistance and making headlines in newspapers. My Scottish grandfather (Papa) was well-read for a working-class man and actively involved in the trade union movement. No doubt he followed the stories of Gandhi when he visited England in 1931 and promoted peaceful negotiation of conflict.

Fighting and Marching For Equal Rights in South Africa

In 1913 the Cape Supreme Court ruled that only marriages performed under the Christian rites could be recognised. With the stroke of a pen, all Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian, and other religious marriages were nullified.

This judgement added to long-standing grievances of the Indian community including the three-pound tax on ex-indentured labourers and the law prohibiting Indians from crossing state borders.

Several Indian women, including Gandhi’s wife Kasturba, declared their intention to seek arrest until the judgement was overturned.

Gandhi advised two separate parties of women, the Phoenix Party and Transvaal Sisters, to cross the Natal border and break the law. They were then to urge the people of Natal to join Satyagraha and not reveal their names and addresses upon arrest.

The Phoenix Party was arrested at the border and sent to a hard labour prison for three months in Pietermaritzburg Jail. The Transvaal sisters, however, positioned themselves in Newcastle, Natal without arrest. Their influence spread quickly among the indentured labourers, helping incite massive strikes.

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In 1915, Gandhi returned to India and continued to transform himself and the movement towards independence.

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Gandhi’s India

The exhibition had several display cabinets with a selection of traditional Indian clay figures, dating from the 1860s and 1880s, to provide a beautiful if at times idealised, representation of the human diversity of Gandhi’s India.

They included fine examples from the famous 19th century Indian workshops of Krishnanagar, Lucknow and Pune. These artefacts have rarely been seen in Australia since many were displayed in the Indian Court at the 1880 Melbourne International exhibition at the Royal Exhibition Building.

I have several friends and have had students who migrated here from India and my daughters have school chums who were born here from immigrant parents but like most people, I probably underestimate the sheer size and diversity of India geographically as well as population-wise.

The clay figures displayed from the Krishnangar, Lucknow and Pune regions, 1860s-1880s. (Museum Victoria Collection) Also figures from Mumbai.

Various people and occupations represented:

  • everyday men, poor villager, ‘Palanquin’ carrying army officer, washerman (dhobi), female labourer, office messenger (peon), woman of high rank, drummer, Parsi (Zoroastrian) house servant, Hindu writer, priestess begging for Hindu goddess Kali, musician, cloth dealer’s servant, woman spinning yarn, Muslim man, priest for Hindu goddess Kali, horse keeper (ghorawalla), Hindu clerk, dancer (nautch girl), goldsmith (sonawalla), man carrying bundles, merchant (banian), woman from mercantile class, Parsi (Zoroastrian) gentleman, Hindu tailor, Brahmin woman, policeman, domestic ‘half-caste’ worker (ayah), Muslim gentleman, agricultural female worker (ryot), priest, Muslin cloth seller, potter at wheel, fruit seller, water carrier, horse groom, Bengali man, teacher (pundit), woman wearing lace shawl, seated priest sewing, poor villager.

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Clay figure modelling in India

Clay figure modelling has been widely practised in India for hundreds of years. Models of humans, animals and scenes from everyday life have been used for worship, as toys, ornamentation and for ethnographic purposes. A gradual shift towards naturalism in clay figure modelling in certain regions increased during the 18th century with the arrival of Western traders, European settlers and planters who took souvenirs home from India.

While the manufacture of traditional clay toys and religious idols continued, the manufacture of naturalistic clay models was centred in the regions of Krishnanagar, Lucknow and Pune. The establishment of government art schools in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay (now Mumbai) during the late 19th century further increased European influence on the various styles of clay modelling.

The advent of international exhibitions, the first held in London in 1851, saw an increasing interest in the peoples, customs and traditions of the non-Western world. The established tradition of clay figure modelling in India was an obvious way to represent an often idealised Indian people, life and culture.

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Nelson Mandela

Salt March was Right Against Might…

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Satyagraha

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On 6 April 1930, Gandhi and his followers produced salt on the shores of Dandi, breaking the Salt Law. Time magazine declared Gandhi the “Man of the Year’ in 1930 and more than 1300 newspapers around the world reported the Salt March.

In June 2011, Time magazine declared the Salt March as the second most influential protest in the world.

My parents were married the year Gandhi was assassinated (1948) and after living through the tragedy and horror of WW2, my father threw himself into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and like many others, he was certainly inspired by Gandhi.

When I was a child I can remember the conversations of adults who visited our home and the discussions between my parents about the merits of various methods to effect change.

One name was often mentioned – Mahatma Gandhi, an activist who changed the shape of the world by encouraging people to fight for change by non-violent civil disobedience.

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The Untouchables

In the 1930s, Gandhi’s main concern was for the untouchables, whom he called the Harijans or Children of God. He strongly campaigned against systems of privilege and deliberately did the cleaning duties, particularly the cleaning of toilets, considered the duties of the untouchables.

The removal of the worst features of the caste system occupied him during this decade.

He transformed his own ashram at Sabarmati into a centre for training untouchables and edited a paper called Harijan,  contributing most of his later writings.

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The Brotherhood of All Religions

Gandhi was a deeply spiritual person who believed religion was a private matter and that each person made their own approach to God.  Any attempt to create a religious state unacceptable as was any other way of differentiation between people.

His life-threatening fasts to achieve a goal legendary, and none more so than towards the end of his life when inter-communal massacres at the time of India’s liberation derailed a smooth transition to independence.

His attempt to solve the religious divisions, notably the divide between Hindu and Muslim led to a pilgrimage through the most troubled regions. Sadly, he died at the hands of a religious fanatic and his dream of a society without social or religious discrimination died too.

Gandhi Championed a Simple Life

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Gandhi worked hard on a practical level to rehabilitate and promote the Indian village, reviving agriculture, industry, education and other features of the rural culture of India. He believed his vision of communal reconciliation and a thorough reformation of Indian society at this basic level would benefit everyone. he had a desire to turn the tribes of India into self-supporting farmers.

The combination of good farming and craftsmanship would ensure a sufficient but not luxurious life.

A spinning wheel similar to the one he used and an example of spun cotton was on display. Gandhi never asked anyone to do anything he did not and he spent 15 minutes spinning every day – his meditation time – a therapeutic exercise he recommended.

Gandhi’s ideas came with strong moralistic and anarchistic leanings.

The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form… self-government means continuous effort to be free of government control, whether it is foreign, or whether it is national… The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy.’

Women he regarded as the most exploited class of India, next to untouchables. He believed men and women were complementary – equal in status, but different in function. He campaigned for the abolition of purdah, child marriage and all customs that discriminated against women.

He believed that once women were liberated from male exploitation they would develop a high degree of sexual restraint and solve India’s population problem without other birth control methods, which he saw as an encouragement to indulgences.

Gandhi’s ideas and action challenged and changed our way of thinking.

A complex, courageous man who continually transformed himself to remain engaged with the times and true to his ideals.

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Most of the protest movements that followed his death and liberation struggles in other countries whether it was the civil rights movement in the USA, anti-nuclear and anti-Vietnam marches, the campaign against racial discrimination and Apartheid or a free Tibet – all owe a great deal to Gandhi’s legacy.

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The Staging Post – A Film To Reaffirm Belief in Humanity

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Yesterday afternoon as part of the City of Kingston’s Refugee Week I attended a screening of Jolyon Hoff’s film The Staging Post – a remarkable film that leaves an indelible mark on your heart. 

The moving story of the creation of a school and the building of a cohesive community shows a different aspect of the lives of refugees awaiting processing in Indonesia. 

I don’t know whether it will change hardened opinions about our government’s refugee policy but it does confront and challenge and it definitely adds to our knowledge by telling a story not widely known!

This year, Refugee Week, held from Sunday 17 June to Saturday 23 June, aims to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and to celebrate the positive contributions they make to Australian society. (There are over 800,000 Australians who were once refugees!)

The film screening plus a scrumptious afternoon tea was held at Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale, a comfortable venue for the film and the Q and A session afterwards with the director Jolyon Hoff. A stark contrast to the lives of the thousands of refugees throughout the world who can’t help but feel nobody wants them when you see the news clips and read many of the comments on social media!

A Positive Ageing representative from Kingston’s Access and Equity Committee welcomed the audience and introduced Jolyon. Joanne mentioned it was World Refugee Day and this year the theme was “With Refugees.

Words And How Stories Are Told Matter

When you hear the word refugee what images spring to mind? 

  • Rohingya in their hundreds and thousands trekking through jungle mud,
  • boat people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Iraq arriving in Australia and suiciding in mandatory detention,
  • Africans floundering in the oceans off  Italy,
  • camps in Jordan with miles of tents,
  • crying women and children at the Mexican and U.S.A. border,
  • crowds of young men rioting in Germany,
  • ramshackle cities in Calais and numerous other towns … ?

Do you think the terms asylum seeker, refugee, illegal immigrants, migrants are interchangeable?

Naming is a choice, the words we use – especially the words our political representatives and media choose – are important.

The choice reflects not just perspective on how and why people have begun a journey, but who the people are and their rights. It especially says a lot about the speaker or writer’s opinion towards the people they are describing, and their knowledge or lack thereof.

By choosing to describe asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, economic migrants, or boat people it is easy for politicians to justify denying refugees basic human rights and classify them as less deserving of help.

Define A Refugee

A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country … ”

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

Protecting refugees is the core mandate of UNHCR.

The word refugee comes from French and was first used in the modern context following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which sent the Protestant Huguenots to flee the religious persecution by the French King Louis XIV.

There have been many pograms, persecutions, wars, land clearances, and oppression since.

For most of us, it was the horrendous displacement of people caused by WW2 that has cemented ideas and images in our mind about who or who isn’t a refugee and whether there is empathy for them as opposed to the fear, distrust and contempt that many populist leaders exploit.

The Director’s Introduction

Jolyon came to the story 4-5 years ago when living in Jakarta with his family because of his wife’s work. In 2013, the news broadcast the Australian Government’s latest ‘detention overseas’ policy by announcing anyone arriving by boat would be detained offshore in Manus or Nauru islands; they re-instated mandatory offshore detention.

  • He realised that in the 15 years of asylum seekers being in the news he had never met one.
  • He wondered who are these people and why do they want to come to Australia?
  • He decided to visit where refugees gathered, ostensibly to arrange to make deals with people smugglers and get to Christmas Island to seek asylum in Australia.
  • He drove to the outskirts of the city, went over a shaky bridge and arrived at Cisarua, a bustling village, but also the place considered a staging post for boats to Christmas Island.

The driver pointed to a man and said, ‘Over there, that’s a refugee.’

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Muzafar, Khadim, Jolyon

The meeting with ‘the refugee’ changed both their lives. Hasan introduced him to a cousin, Rizwana who said he must meet her brother, Muzafar, who was a photographer.

Jolyon asked all the ‘stupid but obvious’ questions:

  • Why did you leave your own country?
  • Was it really that bad?
  • How did you get here?
  • How do you manage to live?
  • Why do you want to live in Australia?
  • What is your plan, if you have one?…

Muzafar was an amazing photographer with beautiful photographs of Central Afghanistan who had teamed up with seventeen years old, Khadim who had made short films on his mobile phone and after posting them on the Internet had won awards.

Jolyon considered himself a good filmmaker, he’d studied in Australia but was stunned when he saw Muzafar’s photos and Khadim’s films – films oozing authenticity, raw footage from when both men decided to raise their voices and present their lives, culture, countries to the world and to keep a record of their incredible journeys.

Muzafar and Khadim are Afghan Hazara refugees who were stuck in Indonesia when Australia “stopped the boats”. They faced many years in limbo – at one stage the UNHCR said 5 years, some people had been there 10 years, and the forecast now is 15 – 25 years!!

Not only did they collaborate and complete this film with Jolyon but the majority of the film is about the creation of the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre an amazing community school that began with a $200 donation, two rooms, one trained teacher and two teenage assistants.

It now has 18 teachers and managers teaching nearly 200 students a day – 110 students in morning classes and 57 older women and mothers ( many illiterate in their own language) in the afternoon. They are trialling Skype classes by a teacher in Australia.

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Cisarua Learning Centre

When we started we had no idea. What should we teach? How should they teach? Little by little we found our way.

Muzafar Ali

The film does not skirt over the fact that the major issues in the refugees’ lives remain. They are not allowed to work in Indonesia and rely on friends, family, supporters to donate – they receive support from locals as well as concerned people in Australia.

  • Indonesia allows refugees to stay but gives no help or pathway to citizenship
  • Refugees are not allowed to work and not allowed to attend school (since the success of Cisarua, this rule has been ignored!)

There are family members still in their home countries but also others who have been resettled in Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. Unfortunately, some have family members here but because they arrived ‘by boat’ the new, tougher laws in Australia will not allow family members to be reunited!

“Courageous People Never Give Up”

The real value lies in the process behind the outcomes – refugees building trust in one another, confidence, participation in problem solving and decision-making, and a general sense of starting each day with a purpose. After more than two decades working with refugees, this is certainly the most effective pre-departure preparation program I have encountered.

Lucy Fiske, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research fellow, UTS, Sydney.

I hope many people see this inspirational film – an example of people who have been brutalised and forced to flee their own country in fear yet proved their resilience, courage and resourcefulness, by creating an amazing community that flourishes on hope.

The film is a must see – riveting and balanced – you laugh and you cry. This is about stateless people creating an energy, a force for the future. No longer perpetual victims or voiceless – they are telling their stories.

Adults with a variety of skills – plumbers, electricians, carpenters, artists, designers – renovating and fitting out a decrepit building into a functioning learning centre…

Two little girls learning to recite the alphabet, others reciting times tables whispering the answers to each other when one stumbles…

Afghani children dancing and singing, preparing for a concert to meet local and overseas children at an International School for the first time – the wonderment and uninhibited joy as the children mix with each other and share their knowledge… asylum seekers and refugees have something to give, a connection is made and a relationship grows in strength…

Khadim finally accepted to be resettled in the USA and as he packs his few belongings, he talks of his love for his mother and sisters, his fears for them, his determination to change a system that has women exchanged as young as 13 to marry men they do not love. He holds a traditional hat his mother made him, snuggles his face close, ‘It is so precious, it carries her smell…’ tears glisten –

I join him… and cry again when Muzafar and family arrive safely in Australia.

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After the film, there was a Q and A session and we discovered that one little girl in the film who had dreams of becoming a doctor is now at college in Texas, top of her class and writing a novel! She will achieve her dream one day!

Khadim arrived in Los Angeles, was given a $500 cheque although he didn’t have a bank account and was turfed out of the ‘resettlement’ hotel after one night and told he was on his own and to get a job.

Using the networks he established online, he is now travelling across America and Canada visiting former refugees. Part of a bigger story than Cisarua. The friendship and project that started all those years ago when Jolyon sought answers.  Understanding continues to grow and spread.

How to Help And Stand With Refugees

To support the filming and an outreach programme you can make a tax-deductible donation at the Documentary Australia Foundation – documentaryaustralia.com.au 

Muzafar fared better because Jolyon and his wife met him and his family at Adelaide airport when they were finally accepted here for resettlement. He is at Adelaide University and also travels promoting the film and the Cisarua Learning Centre, which is now a Public Benevolent Institution with DGR (deductible gift recipient) status.

Their idea is that refugees can be part of the solution. They “uncover the sleeping leaders within the refugee communities and encourage them to start their own refugee-led initiatives, and then accompany them for as long as they need.”

Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre has inspired at least 20 other refugee-led education centres and changed the lives of thousands of refugee families.

There are now over 1,500 refugees receiving education in Indonesia from approximately 100 refugee teachers.

To donate and to find out more to help and stand WITH refugees

  • email info@cisarualearning.com or
  • write to Cisarua Learning, Supporting Refugee Education, Unit 4, 484-486 Bronte Road, Bronte NSW 2024.
  • Buy the DVD,
  • read the stories,
  • stay engaged and be in there for the long haul.

Everywhere asylum seekers are being demonised. We are told stopping the boats was to prevent deaths at sea, yet where is the outrage at the prison-like conditions and deaths on Nauru and Manus – another suicide as recently as two weeks ago!

Many wealthy countries are closing their borders – the USA has halved their refugee intake, Canada has reduced their numbers too and Australia has radically reduced their intake but Minister Dutton and his BorderForce remain tight-lipped and make it increasingly difficult to discover numbers. Most media are denied access to Manus and Nauru.

We need films like The Staging Post to show us a world most of us will never experience and reveal the stories of courage, resilience, love and hope of refugee communities and maybe – just maybe Australians will rediscover the ability to warmly welcome ‘those who come across the seas‘!

The ground-breaking documentary, The Staging Post, is vital in shifting the understanding and debate in Australia to better understand the impact of our current policies.

Tim O’Connor, Director, refugee Council of Australia.

The staging Post is an incredible film and needs to be seen by as many people as possible. it shows how the refugees in Indonesia would make extraordinary citizens, in any country.

Glynis Johns

 

A Discordant Note On Harmony Day

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Harmony Day is celebrated throughout Australia on 21 March. It has become a significant day of the year when Australians are encouraged to celebrate the cultural diversity of our country.

21 March is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

We even have a government agency dealing with cultural, racial and religious intolerance, by promoting respect, fairness and a sense of belonging for everyone.

Orange is the colour chosen to represent Harmony Day. Australians are encouraged to wear orange clothing and/or the distinctive orange ribbon to show their support for cultural diversity and an inclusive Australia. 

I imagine our politicians have a drawerful of colourful ribbons and need advisors to remind them which one to wear!

However,  considering our two major parties have shown a shocking disregard for the plight of refugees still stuck in offshore detention perhaps they should refrain from being hypocritical today and leave the orange ribbon in the drawer.

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“I struggle with Australia’s record towards refugees. Australia is a nation of migrants and its culture accepts and tolerates difference. But Australia’s refugee record is quite poor internationally. This is a very bad position for a state because people judge states on their acceptance and tolerance of people who need help.

There is no excuse for any kind of policy which does not consider or protect very basic human rights.” 

Ai Weiwei: Chinese dissident artist 

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Operation Sovereign Borders
Mairi Neil

(a found poem from Refugee Week leaflet)

Refugees and asylum seekers
wanting safety
protection
a new life
cross stormy waters
with courage
seeking justice
and a welcome
from Australian society ––
young and old.

Amazing personal stories
of darkness,
bribery,
corruption
challenges faced
uprisings survived…
Prisoners of conscience
student leaders
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking resettlement
and freedom
seeking to celebrate and contribute.

Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.

In limbo
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom ––
Why?

We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Welcome here

 

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Ai Weiwei’s thought-provoking sculpture about the refugee crisis

 

 

International Odyssey
Mairi Neil

The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
The winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.

A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflecting a sea of shimmering blue
But beyond the benign bay
tragedy intrudes
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.

No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
ideological hubris.
Christian charity in short supply.
To seek asylum deemed illegal

It is Australia after all.

 

 

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Reading poetry at a Harmony Day event in Mordialloc 2016

 

A World of Bubbles
Mairi Neil

Sometimes the weight of sadness
crushes and destroys,
a cement mixer churning wails and tears
of the downtrodden –
the enslaved, imprisoned, tortured,
refugees and homeless…
a tsunami of pain
a relentless darkness
a night without dawn.

‘I want to help, but what can I do?’

A plea from compassionate people
whose words may become actions –
the cliched ‘drop in the ocean’.
Causes close to home a priority –
employees need to work,
families nurtured,
households serviced,
sick friends visited.
Joy sought in rituals
for normality’s sake.

Cocooned in bubbles we float
to survive turmoil we can’t control,
to escape the weight of crushing sadness.

Our bubbles must stay intact,
a prism of sunlight
not a prison of insensitivity.
Perhaps kiss other bubbles…
to share light and love,
to ease global sadness
resilient like a mother’s womb.

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Earth is as diverse as the planets in the universe. For most of us, each day is not a new adventure but the ‘same old same old’ unless we make an effort to move out of our comfort zone.

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing. 

Roll May

That comfort zone may involve embracing different cultures, envisaging a different Australia to the one we are used to, learning to accept, not just tolerate – welcome others to country as the Aborigines continually welcome people to country.

Haiku – Mairi Neil

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

Acrostic – Mairi Neil

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

Seeking asylum is not a crime.

 

Ten Pound Poms – Privilege At A Price!

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There are advantages of being a senior in Victoria, especially in October each year during the Seniors Festival when so many free and fun events are scheduled.

This year was no exception, the delight magnified when I shared a day out with my sister, Rita.

We attended Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to enjoy a sneak preview of their latest exhibition: British Migrants: Instant Australians?

An exhibition close to our hearts because we were part of the assisted migration program when our family migrated from Scotland in 1962.

– yes, the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh were labelled ‘Poms’ too!

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Migrant Myths and Memories

I love the Immigration Museum and have attended many special exhibitions, as well as frequent visits to the permanent reminders that more than nine million people have migrated to Australia since 1788. 

Immigration is about us all – those who were here and those who came.  Everyone has a story to tell – about ourselves, our families, friends and ancestors. It is in the telling of these stories that we can begin to understand Victoria’s rich histories.

The exhibition includes objects, historical film, images, and innovative multimedia experiences to explore the personal stories of British migrants and the contemporary perspectives of migrants and commentators.

(It)… incorporates a rich and diverse range of voices to explore narratives at both a national and personal level, focusing on questions of identity and impact on contemporary Australia.

There are plenty of well-known Aussies who were ‘Ten Pound Poms” or whose family were:

The Bee Gees (English), Hugh Jackman (English), Kylie Minogue (Welsh), Olivia Newton-John (English), Jimmy Barnes (Scotland), Bon Scott (Scotland), George Young (Scotland), Noni Hazelhurst (English), and cricketers Harold Larwood and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson…

And of course two ex-Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Not to mention a few other politicians caught in the recent Constitutional conundrum over dual citizenship and the right to sit in parliament.

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Picture gloomy, weary post-World War II Britain — England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Imagine the prospect of distant, sunny, booming Australia. Where would you rather be?

… Australia that was predominantly white and British — it had worked hard to be so.

Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy.

But reality is never that simple.

What did the British actually experience?

What did this mass migration mean for Australia at the time?

What does all this mean for us today?

Dr M McFadzean, the Exhibition’s curator talked about the methodology, research and work that went into putting the exhibition together. Several people shared their stories and visitors can listen to or read firsthand accounts from British migrants who travelled to Australia as part of the scheme.

  • 300,000 paid their own way
  • 80% of the 1.5 million from the UK were English
  • British migrants were the preferred migrants and didn’t have to be citizens to vote. (This changed in the 1970s)
  • British migrants could vote after 6 months, become citizens after a year and obtain an Australian passport – non-British had to wait 5 years.
  • British migrants could receive social security – they were considered lucky
  • Yet 25% returned within the two year period required for the assistance scheme and had to repay their fares.
  • Of those who returned to the UK, 25% came back to Australia!

The Tribute Garden

… the Tribute Garden is a public artwork that pays tribute to 7000 people who have made the journey to Victoria. 

The Tribute Garden features the names of immigrants who came from over 90 countries, from the 1800s to the present day.

The region now known as Victoria is represented by the people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land and records the names of languages and dialects spoken by Aboriginal communities.

Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris designed the original artwork, which was launched in 1998. Gina Batsakis led the design for the following stages of the project. The project concluded in 2002

 

I donated to the original art project so that my parents’ journey could be acknowledged.

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Our family recorded as coming across the sea: George T & Annie B McInnes and Family

Our family came under the auspices of the Personal Nomination Scheme because Dad’s sister Chrissie nominated us and guaranteed accommodation for the family, and to support us until Dad found a job.

Chrissie and her husband Bill arrived here 14th July 1952. He was an electrician and she was a tailoress. They came out to cousins whose family roots went back to the exodus from the Isle of Skye in the 1850s. We were lucky to have their support but childless Chrissie was so desperate to have immediate family join her she ‘gilded the lily’ and never foresaw the many adjustments our family of 8 would have to make.

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Many British migrants were accommodated in government hostels. These were usually a collection of corrugated iron Nissan huts left over from WW2, uncomfortable and unpleasant whatever the season, proving assumptions about the privileges of British migrants deceptive.

Breaking the Myths The Brits Got It Easy

Some migrants came out to jobs in the shipyards, railways or electricity commission, but most had to find their own employment. Even if eligible for Social Security many would not take it because of pride, others found the money inadequate and constantly struggled and worried about their poor prospects.

They often discovered their qualifications not accepted, their particular skill set not acknowledged, or required, or in my father’s case, he was considered “too old” at 40 to be an engine driver.

Vic Rail offered him a job as a cleaner, which he refused.

He had to abandon the idea of working on the railways and became a truck driver. In those days, more so than now, men were the breadwinners, their identity and self-esteem tied up with their employment.

For the first few months in Australia, my Father said he drove to work with tears in his eyes and sometimes streaming down his face as he adjusted to the sadness of no longer belonging to a railway community and doing a job he loved. He hated the ‘old house’ we rented with its ‘dry’ toilet down the back and a tacked on bathroom with no bath. He worried about the decision to migrate and our future.

He had worked for British Railways for 25 years, his father had been a railwayman. Both were proud to be train drivers – Dad competent with steam, diesel and electric. Like many migrants, the thought his skills would not be recognised or not needed never crossed his mind.

However, Dad said the Australian Government knew what it was doing when it insisted that assisted migrants remain at least two years or pay back their fares. Homesickness and culture shock genuine problems as many of the stories in the exhibition illustrate.

  • Some people took longer to adjust than others.
  • Some never adjusted.

sum of our parts

  • Family were left behind – loving grandparents, aunts and uncles
  • Established friendships abandoned or broken whether it be  at work, school, or neighbourhoods
  • The British thriving arts and culture scene – the Beatles, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street… was missed by many children and teenagers who had no choice but to follow their parents

A family arrived in Adelaide to be told by one of the ship’s crew, ‘Put your watch back 20 years…’

  • the city was ‘dead’ on a Sunday
  • no shops opened on a Saturday
  • pubs closed at 6.00pm

Two teenage migrant girls went to a dance dressed in latest gear from trendy Liverpool. The local hall full of girls with ’50s style frocks. You couldn’t dance unless a boy asked you.  The music outdated. The girls shunned for dressing weirdly.

They spent the night as ‘wallflowers’.

But Dad did adjust and although he had a series of blue collar jobs and ‘chased money’ to educate, house and clothe us all, he never had any desire to return to Scotland for a holiday and loved the weather and our home in Croydon.

The journey out to Australia by ship at least gave families a month to acclimatise. Many considered the trip a great holiday.  For some, it was the first holiday they’d been able to afford and they established new friends although many were parted at Australian docks depending on their destination.

  • Friendships made and lost
  • Exotic places visited
  • Teenagers sulked but most got ‘over it’ because of many onboard activities
  • Food and cabins either thrilled or disappointed
  • Marriages made, others destroyed.

Once here, migrants realised telephone calls were expensive, as was postage, especially packages.

The 12,000 miles distance from Europe made Australia seem isolated and ‘the end of the world’.

Even for British migrants the change and adjustments were huge. Christmas a shock – too hot – yet cards pictured snow and reindeer – absolutely no relationship to reality.

In Melbourne, they discovered winter is cold and some days the promised sunny Australia seemed a myth. The weatherboard houses referred to as bungalows by the migrants, not as substantial as the brick houses of the UK. There was no double glazing, insulation, or central heating – common attributes in post-war Britain.

Some migrants expected everything to be modern and new, or ‘bushy’. Established cities like Melbourne an initial surprise or disappointment.

I remember my Dad commenting when our ship pulled into Station Pier that Melbourne, “looked just like Glasgow!”

We’d left cold foggy London, travelled through the Suez Canal and stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived to an extremely hot summer.  Heat haze shimmered above melting bitumen, joined by a smoke haze above the ‘blue’ Dandenong Ranges ravaged by fire January and December 1962.

 

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A picture Dad took of the ‘bum boats’ that pulled alongside our ship at Port Said, Suez Canal. The Arab merchants spruiking their wares called every English woman “Mrs Simpson’ and every Scots or Irish “Mrs MacGregor”!

 

Life operated at a slow pace in our new home, semi-rural Croydon on Melbourne’s perimeter. Dress codes relaxed. Dad loved not having to wear a tie most days.

Aunt Chrissie walked to the mailbox in dressing-gown (housecoat) and slippers and no one seemed to mind. She even ran Uncle Bill to the railway station in their old Consol,  still in her nightie – and when she broke down one morning she was helped to start the car (crank handle in those days) by a passerby who didn’t seem surprised!

Mum couldn’t get over the meat trays in butcher shops, or the fruit shops with their plentiful melons, passionfruit, oranges and other fruit, but she sweltered in an old house cooking meals with a wood-devouring Raeburn stove.

Any money left over from Dad’s early pay packets used to buy an electric kettle, electric frypan and electric pot as a matter of urgency!

No matter when they arrived, all immigrants are linked by the common experience of a journey.

Over the past two centuries, the immigration journey to Australia has changed from a perilous sea voyage of up to 3 months to a routine flight lasting up to 24 hours. Changing transport has not only shortened the journey but made it more comfortable and affordable.

The journey remains one of the most memorable aspects of any immigration experience.

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Finding Ten Pound Poms in the National Archives & Public Record Office Victoria

The Immigration Museum invited two experts to explain how much easier it is to research your ancestry in the digital age and answer family history questions.

Terrie Page, National Archives of Australia demonstrated how to access the records of British immigrants. Personal and medical records available from the interviews conducted in the UK of those on the assisted passage scheme.

Go to the website naa.gov.au 

The first access point Terrie detailed was adverse publicity re Immigration scheme. There was plenty of criticism the publicity enticing migrants painted too rosy a picture and ‘facts’ were untrue. (For example, the offered wages were too high – stated in Australian pounds, not British pounds.)

This series is A445, Barcode: 247865 and you can read letters between the Australian and British Governments addressing complaints and articles in the press.

Series No. MP195/1, ( 1948-1958 basic information) MP210/2 (1952-1955) and MP250/2 (1958-1962) holds personal records of the interviews. Type in the name and year of your family and you may discover a copy of their acceptance letter (not every family has one).

Often there was only 2-3 weeks notice given to people. Not much time to pack up and sell goods and chattels and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.

In 1958, the Australian Government chartered the Fairsky for many voyages and although most people came by sea, the first aeroplane carrying assisted migrants arrived in 1959.

The Nominal Roll lets you type in the name of the ship and the date of departure and arrival and you can access Welfare Reports of the voyage, (A446 1962/67618) for example:

  • quality of food
  • entertainment provided
  • education provided
  • if there had been outbreaks of disease
  • if anyone had died

Searching for Melbourne Passenger Arrivals check if the ship came through Fremantle and put in the year of arrival. Items Series No. B4397

  • tick digital list box
  • enlarge to full screen
  • check multiple pages – look for the month (click pages, go up by 100)
  • hover over and find page number (Downloads are slow)
  • type into the box ‘jump to page’
  • remember the last page of every list has births and deaths
  • check passenger lists for a different class, boarding at different ports
  • the lists may not be alphabetical!

Stories Abound

Public servants were not as politically correct as today and many made handwritten notes on the official forms: “applicant obese but seems intelligent enough“, “five-year-old precocious and very bright”

There was a dock strike in Fremantle and migrants sent onto Melbourne by being off-loaded in Adelaide and put on the train. A young boy remembers waking up as the train trundled past Sunshine Station. The sun was rising and bathing the countryside in its glow, ‘What a lovely appropriate name,’ he murmured.

First impressions count.

PROV – Public Records Office Victoria

Charlie Farrugia, the Senior Collection Advisor explained that key records regarding immigration are Commonwealth therefore with the National Archives, but these are easily accessed from PROV State archives. (www.prov.vic.gov.au)

The State archives hold Department of Crown Land and Surveys information and records of statutory authorities such as the office of Valuer-General, School Councils and Courts etc.

  • What happened to peoples lives after migration and the great leap of faith to start afresh?
  • any activity involving State Government can be researched.
  • the key page is Family History
  • records are of a personal and private nature so not everything is kept
  • indexed by Family Name.

Exploration and Self – Discovery – Records May Have  a Key…

Charlie invited everyone to explore PROV’s collections and archives by topic: Wills & Probate (if there was a will required to be lodged for probate), Family History, Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Also inquests and other coronial matters. Land records, Census records (unfortunately rarely kept prior to 1973), some Cemeteries, pupil records from schools now closed (if the school still exists then they hold previous student records), and electoral and municipal voter rolls (in the past you had to own property to vote and not all councils have or kept voter rolls.).

British Migrants: Instant Australians?

Diary Date:

The exhibition opens on 25 November. There’ll be tea and traditional British fare and talks by historians and curators, as well as the personal stories of British migrants.

Rita and I are looking forward to the full exhibition and will be revisiting the museum. We looked through the current exhibitions and left with plenty of food for thought and itching to check out the available records for our family – the months ahead will be busy!

If you have a migration story – please share.

“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

Alan Rickman

 

A Magical Evening With Mem – A Real Gem!

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When an invitation from our local federal member, Mark Dreyfus QC appeared in a Facebook newsfeed, I didn’t hesitate and replied straight away. 

It was no ordinary invite from a politician. Not a party political event or publicising an election campaign, but a delightful opportunity to meet and greet and have a Q&A with Australian writer and children’s author, Mem Fox.

Wow! (Said with the expression of a groupie.)

Convenient because it was happening at Doyles Hotel, Mordialloc – and exciting – there are few families in Australia who haven’t heard of Possum Magican iconic picture storybook, which still sells today!

When I congratulated Mark on the event he gave all credit to his electorate officer,  Jacob Chacko who works in his Mordialloc office. Well done, Jacob who also did a great job as the emcee that evening.

 

Few Australian homes would not have one of Mem’s books on a shelf – she’s written over 40, and more than half are international bestsellers. 

For those wishing to write children’s books, the advice on Mem’s website, an excellent resource, but perhaps her best advice delivered that evening was for would-be writers to envisage the target audience sitting on the floor in front of them.

If the children fidget with their shoelaces, stare out the window or start being naughty your story needs editing and revising!

Remember you are writing for children today, not writing a book you read as a child, nor writing a book to be read by adults because they think that’s what children should read!

 

the crowd for Mem Fox
an eager crowd – mainly women but also some men

 

My daughters are 31 and 28 years old now and treasure many of the books from childhood, especially Mem’s. Like so many in the audience (almost 300) I cheerfully queued to have my daughters’ books signed and have a chat.

 

Mem is a writer I admire for her books, but also her views on social justice, evident in her latest picture storybook, I’m Australian Too. A book she wrote to celebrate Australia’s incredible multicultural heritage and which sold out in its first three months (March-May 2017) and has been reprinted.

I love the recommended readership for the book – for readers aged 0-95.

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Ambassador for Literacy

Mem is also ‘an educationalist specialising in literacy,’ and although retired, she was Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at Flinders University, South Australia, where she taught teachers for 24 years. 

She now spends most of her time writing presentations urging parents, teachers, and others to read aloud to children aged between 0-5, and she travels the world doing it. We were lucky to have in her Isaacs on her current tour travelling Australia promoting literacy and the importance of reading.

We should also thank Melinda Shelley of 123Read2Me who is currently collecting children’s books to give to those kids who don’t have them. I think she was the one who invited Mem to visit Victoria.

If you have quality children’s books in good condition please drop them off at The Lions Club Opportunity Shop in Mordialloc Main Street and Melinda will find them a good home.

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In her talk and answers to questions from Mark and the audience, Mem was entertaining (she did study drama) along with giving good advice about writing and teaching literacy.

Although born in Melbourne, Mem grew up in Africa, attended drama school in England, and returned to Australia in 1970, aged 22. Along came marriage and motherhood and attending university as a mature age student in her early thirties.

She studied children’s literature at Flinders University and during that course, she wrote the first draft of her first book: Possum Magic, as an assignment. Mem said she was inspired to write a book about Australia for Australian children because at that time books were either from the USA or UK, or written like those books.

Possum Magic was rejected nine times over five years because it was ‘too Australian’!

It went on to become (and continues to be, to this day) the best-selling children’s book in Australia, with nearly 5 million copies sold. In 2004 its 21st birthday was celebrated with parties and events in thousands of schools and other places around Australia, and a new re-designed edition was launched. The colours of the original film of the illustrations were fading because it had been reprinted so many times. They now look gorgeous again.

Mem Fox

Mem explained the inspiration for some of her other books. There was one she wrote in her head, sitting daily beside her grandson’s incubator when he was born prematurely and struggled to survive. She focused on his perfect fingers and toes and ears. She read to him too and recounting this story she urged mothers to read to children in their womb – it is never too early to read to children.

We laughed when she said she was thrilled her grandson had perfect ears because she had one ear bigger than the other and it juts out.

I loved this anecdote because I have the same affliction. When we chatted afterwards I whispered to her that I shared the imperfection regarding ears and her passion for writing and teaching, just wish I had her talent! We laughed together – and she has a raucous laugh!

Mem confessed she preferred teaching because the writing was a nightmare!

And that I could empathise with too! As do many writers.

dr seuss quote

Her latest book begged to be written because travelling around Australia, she realised the majority of people living here are welcoming and fair-minded yet it is the strident minority of people like Pauline Hanson who seem to dictate the heartless and cruel policies of successive governments against asylum seekers and refugees.

The loud, shrill voices encouraged politicians in our major political parties to act in shameful, illegal ways.  Many people are shocked and say ‘not in our name’ yet because the major parties have similar policies, the human rights abuses continue.

She let Mark Dreyfus know that she was disappointed in the federal ALP policy and he diplomatically asked another question.

The Responsibility of Writers With a Social Conscience

 I happen to have a loud voice myself—I’ve just woken up to the fact—and am now determined to use it, to drown out the others if I can, on behalf of the rest of us.

Mem Fox

 I’m Australian Too, takes Mem back to where she started: her passion for Australia. She hopes it will spark spirited discussions about ‘Australian-ness’, create an awareness of Australian immigration over the centuries, and begin to calm what she says is the appalling rising racism in this country.

There have been amazing positive responses, especially from schools and community centres:

We were so excited to read your book to our wonderfully diverse community of children at the service, who in turn were delighted to finally see and hear their culture represented so beautifully in the book, including the refugees and families seeking asylum, which are often forgotten…

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Mem recounted how she had personal experience of feeling ‘the other’ when she lived in Africa (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) where the authorities pulled her out of a local school because she was white and forced her to attend a European school, where she was bullied and laughed at for ‘speaking like an African’.

Fast forward to February this year (2017)  when she attended a conference in America a few weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President and was challenged by Border Control Officers

I was interrogated as if I were some kind of prisoner, in a holding room, in full public view and hearing of everyone in the room—and was kept standing throughout, imagine because I was earning an honorarium from the conference. The Border Control patrol officer said I was ‘working’ and had come in on the wrong visa. He was wrong, as it turned out. I was right. I knew I was right. It was my 117th visit to the USA, after all.

I am ageing and white, innocent and educated, and I speak English fluently. Imagine what happened to the others in the room, including an old Iranian woman in a mauve cardigan, in her 80s, in a wheelchair. I heard and observed everything. We all did…

… the irony of my book being about welcoming immigrants …

… my story has snowballed to include the airing of stories of the many others who have suffered similarly disgraceful treatment by immigration officers makes me proud, even though my telling of the story was neither brave nor purposeful, simply an accident of timing. The focus is where it should be, but the question remains: if this can happen to me as an ageing, educated, articulate, white English speaker, what on earth happens to those who aren’t like me?

What indeed?

Writing For Children Involves Lots of Reading – Especially Other Writers!

students learning by the River Don, Inverurie, Aberdeen

Listening to Mem talk about her teaching, her understanding of children and the deep love and interaction she has with her daughter and grandson was delightful and insightful.

Write from the compost of your own life, feelings, experiences, hopes, joys, disappointments, and so on. If you do that, the reader will be able to connect with your story because it will be based on the authenticity of universal understandings.

She talked about her favourite writers and the importance of learning the craft of writing by appreciating the talent of other writers.

Currently, she was reading Elizabeth Harrower’s novels reprinted by Text Publishing. “Marvellous stories, wonderful writing … check her out…’

She reads a lot of books while travelling around Australia – real books, not digital. If going overseas for a length of time then she’ll have her Kindle because it is convenient and light, but always print books are the first preference.

As an educator, she begged young mums not to put a screen in front of young children or encourage reading on an iPad. The visceral experience of reading a print book with a young child can never be replicated by swiping a screen!

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All evening Mem stayed on message: read, read, read – widely and carefully – but don’t forget to support Australian writers and tell modern Australia’s stories. Read to learn as many different ways of using language as possible. (She praised Indian writers who in her opinion, wrote the most grammatically correct English today!)

Write, write, write but know your audience, if writing for children make sure you have the rhythm right, not necessarily to rhyme, but the perfect placement of syllables in a sentence or in verse.

And remember you are telling a story that children can identify with – a little boy who was born in Lebanon shouted for joy when he heard Mem mention “his” birth country in I’m Australian Too.

The free evening was billed as 6.30pm (for 7.00pm start) – 8.30pm. It was closer to 10.00pm when I walked home. I met up with several people I knew from being a school mum (primary and secondary school) and made new acquaintances standing in line waiting to talk with a sociable and chatty Mem who was more than generous with her time.

She signed books yet did not sell one, or have any to sell – this was not a marketing exercise or sales pitch, yet I’m sure she could have sold a box of books to the adoring crowd!

The vibrant atmosphere abuzz with joy, the sharing of stories of when we first read Possum Magic, what other books are favourites, and how thrilling to meet the author in person and have books rather than sport lauded as an Aussie success story.

I left Doyles clutching my signed treasures, satisfied and smiling and laughed aloud because someone had added sunglasses to the horse statue out the front decorated for the up and coming Spring Carnival…

horse outside Doyles

I wonder what stories he/she can tell.

 

Surprising Thoughts A Bus Ride Sparks

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Two weeks before Christmas I caught a bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre for an appointment. I first heard of Chadstone in the 60s. We called it Chaddy. It was a big deal then – Melbourne’s first suburban shopping centre. At last, we could understand those Hollywood movie references to ‘malls’.

According to Wikipedia:

Chadstone Shopping Centre is a super regional shopping centre located in the south-eastern suburb of Malvern East, Victoria in the city of Melbourne, Australia and is the biggest shopping centre in Australia and claims to be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The centre opened on 3 October 1960 and was the first self‐contained regional shopping centre in Melbourne.

The centre contains 129,924m2 of shop floor space, about 530 stores and more than 9300 free car parking spaces. It has as many as 68,000 visitors on its busiest trading days and attracts about 400,000 tourists a year from interstate and 200,000 from overseas. Sales at the centre exceed $1.4 billion—the highest turnover of all Australian shopping centres—and it has more than 20 million visitors annually.

Huge as it is now, we locals still call it Chaddy!

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2007

 

Chadstone has been constantly reinventing itself but this visit I became disoriented. When I stepped off the bus from Mordialloc I didn’t recognise the place; the change so great from my last visit a couple of years ago.

There was a new bus interchange – no longer did you get dropped alongside an entrance I recognised.

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I wanted to visit the Oxfam Shop but where was it? The old bus stops that flanked the entrance demolished, shopfronts moved or renovated, the centre expanded.

Sculptures and garden beds existed. Welcome cafes had me twisting and turning wondering which way to go.

Chaddy has expanded with age, like me. The expansion causing heartaches for those living nearby as homes gobbled but also nightmares for commuters and clients.

Anecdotal stories circulate of people driving around for hours trying to find a parking spot in the centre. My last experience of that was 20 years ago when John was still alive and the girls were in primary school. One of them had been invited to a birthday party at the ten pin bowling alley. (Is it still there?) Another time one of the girls invited to a movie (the cinemas are still there). To say we got lost both times is an understatement.

Even all those years ago the centre was huge with multiple entries and exits to car parks and a labyrinth of corridors and floors. We spent 20 minutes looking for a park and a further 10 minutes finding wherever we had to go. All of us stressed, no one arriving in a party mood. ‘Never again,’ John said, and I agreed. Even the girls thought, ‘it sucks’ and confided our local Southland Shopping Centre was better. (Comfort zone triumphs.)

However, like ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s promise to never ever introduce a GST, I’ve been back to Chaddy several times over the decades. At least ten times because often I do market research for YouSource based at Chadstone. I take public transport so have no issues with parking.

Once I figured the right direction and entered the mall I discovered a pleasant surprise – a real bookshop! Robinsons –– a branch of an independent bookshop I frequent in Frankston. I confided to the staff I had no idea they had another shop. The girl at the counter laughed.

‘We have eight stores,’ she said and proceeded to reel off names including large shopping centres like Eastlands, Fountain Gate, Northlands and Highpoint West. I didn’t absorb them all because like most Melburnians, depending on what side of the Yarra River or Port Philip Bay you live, it’s rare to shop outside your comfort zone.

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People are parochial: western suburbs, eastern suburbs, south-eastern suburbs, northern suburbs, the peninsula…

The bus service between Mordy and Chaddy excellent and entertaining. The route passes several schools and suburbs, stops at Mentone and Oakleigh Railway Stations and multicultural Australia hops on and off as well as the silent majority, great unwashed, salt of the earth, uninterested masses – stereotypes and atypical depending upon your point of view and life perspective.

There are young parents with toddlers, grandparents with shopping jeeps; giggling and dour teenagers.

Characters galore and wonderful fodder for a writer considering the trip takes almost an hour. I love to use the trip to catch up with reading too, but always have my notebook handy:

Old man climbs the stairs to board the bus. It is an effort.
Greek? 80s?
A full length dark blue trench coat almost sweeps the ground. He’s hatless, grey hair atop brown wrinkled face. Two-three inches of trousers crumple over light blue trainers.
He swings a bag of oranges in his right hand and clutches a plastic bag bulging with 20 cent coins in the other along with a rosary, the light blue beads bright against a dull silver crucifix. He mumbles to himself, reciting prayer or penance as he shuffles down the aisle.

Who is he? Where is he going? Why the oranges? Why the coins? Is he a retired priest? What’s with the blue trainers?

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Houses and shops and public buildings viewed from the bus window all hold a story or make interesting settings.

I spot a sign, a rectangle of white cardboard hammered to a telegraph pole. Black Texta announces: ‘I buy houses’ and a mobile phone number is listed. The sign placed near a bus stop and intersection to attract passengers and motorists.
Who is buying the houses? A local or foreign syndicate? A developer wanting to make a killing?

Who? Why? Where? When?

Drivers play the radio or motor in silence. Many wear bright turbans along with their uniform. More women are drivers now. Often the bus pulls over in Warragul Road near the depot and there is a change of shift. Each driver has their own code, signs off and takes their cash box and a bag with their personal belongings.

Most still bring sandwiches from home, have a thermos, a book or newspaper to fill in the time when traffic, timetables or sudden changes give them spare minutes. Although less smoke nowadays, it is not unusual to see drivers pacing outside the bus enjoying a cigarette. Or more likely chatting on a mobile phone!

Mornings or Afternoons
Mairi Neil

The bus arrives to a restless queue
Driver grumpy, wishing time flew
Passengers board like a mutinous crew
No smiles, or greetings, courtesies few.

Timetables set and must be obeyed
When punctual, the memories fade
Lateness, delays, cancellations weighed
Invoking criticism, complaints, tirades!

What do passengers care of roadworks?
Better to assume all drivers are jerks
Perhaps skiving off, looking for perks
Responsibility of time, theirs to shirk.

Traffic jams, stress, interrupted flow
Vehicles broken down or going slow
Bicycles hesitant of where to go
Negotiating routes even hard for a pro.

Who’d be a bus driver, I often ask
Their daily challenge an unenviable task
The bus arrives to a restless queue
The long-suffering driver wishing time flew…

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Passengers plug into iPods, read books, message or chat on the phone, talk with each other or ignore the veritable Babel as English and a dozen other languages punctuate the air.

A girl, perhaps 14 sits opposite me reading Douglas Adams The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The comic Sci-Fi popular in the late 70s – I suppose in a world inhabited by Trump and his supporters the bizarre world created by Adams will seem normal!

A teenage boy, perhaps 16 talks loudly to impress his girlfriend and uses the ‘f’ word freely. A woman in her 60s or late 50s tells the boy to ‘Have some respect for others on the bus. Mind your language.’ Duly chastised he remains silent until he and his companion got off two stops later.

Good on her for speaking and good on him for respecting her point of view. I ponder the times when I’ve been in a train carriage and a portable player booms rap or techno music and I’ve wished the owner would turn it down but avoided confrontation by not speaking up. Sometimes we allow our fears and inhibitions to cloud our judgement.

A bus ride can have your brain ticking over like a Geiger Counter and also send you off on a philosophical journey, or into the past – all fodder for a writer.

Retail Therapy Flash Fiction
Mairi Neil

Sarah tapped the credit card on the machine just as the TV commercial advised. The shop assistant smiled; handed her the parcel.
Sarah beamed and said, ‘technology’s wonderful isn’t it?’
Happily swinging the bag containing her Nikes, she visited Prouds to take advantage of their jewellery sale. Purchases in exclusive boutiques followed. How she loved end-of-season sales, the packed shops, the casual assistants doing their best.
Chadstone a retail paradise that Sarah appreciated more than ever. In less than an hour, she’d spent $4,000.
What luck that the old dear had left her credit card on the counter this morning when Sarah served her coffee.

The Bus from Mordialloc to Chadstone
Mairi Neil

The sea a mix of grey, blue and green
as white sails parallel to the pier
leave the Creek as if pulled on a string
outdoor tables and chairs filled with families
a kaleidoscope of  colourful dots on the beach
groups and singles claiming patches of sand
and in the distance wetsuits mimic dolphins
the swimmers braving a tumultuous sea
gulls circle above gannets poised on rocks
myriad hungry eyes ever-watchful for food…

An old lady wearing too much makeup boards
with gaudy red lippy and rouge-stained cheeks
manicured red talons clutch bag and brolly
she sits beside a young girl whose compact mirror
wobbles as she applies mascara and eye shadow
the risk of losing an eye high as the bus bounces
over gouged lumps and road bumps
the old lady stares in disapproval or is it awe…

on the pavement solitary walkers stride
solo by choice or circumstance
perhaps walking through depression
a man and woman pant past
jogging fitness freaks, hot and sweaty
obligatory cords dangling from ears
music or meditation to increase their speed
not keep in touch with world affairs
an overweight man pushes a shopping jeep
looking uncomfortable and miserable –
for his generation, this was a wifely duty
or is he reduced to delivering junk mail
to maintain a quality of life?

when Oakleigh comes into view
graffiti walls compete with inner city lanes
the bus almost empties of people
going to work, to study, to shop
to catch a train to the city…
but just as many climb aboard
heading for Holmesglen TAFE
or the irresistible magnet of Chaddy
towering blocks of concrete and glass
studded with neon gems and greenery
surrounded by vehicles disgorging people
into a bustling commercial hub
no longer unique but replicated
throughout Australia and the world…

Please feel free to comment –

What experiences have you had on public transport that could be a poem, story or perhaps a novel?

 

Christmas, Community, Charm and A Tree

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A Community Christmas Tree

This year, the Governor of Victoria held a reception at Government House to unveil the Victorian Community Christmas Tree. The first such event and one she hopes will become a calendar feature. The aim, to build community, and provide a safe, relaxed environment for people from all over Victoria to meet, chat, and get to know each other.

Each Victorian regional city and shire was invited to prepare a decorative ornament that best represents their local area. A booklet with pictures and an explanation of the decorations that arrived in time to be included was printed.  Hopetoun Blue baubles were placed on the tree with the names of those cities and shires that didn’t submit their ornaments by the deadline so no place was excluded.

Some people brought ornaments on the night, and others will continue to be placed on the tree as they arrive, between now and  Christmas . The Governor placed a handmade ornament by a local artist on the tree after a short welcome speech. It featured an inked sketch of  Government House and the message of ‘Peace and Prosperity’ to all.

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As Kingston’s Citizen of the Year 2016,  the Council asked me to attend.  Of course, I accepted even although, in my heart, I’m a republican! Charlie Mizzi, last year’s Citizen of the Year and his wife Gael were familiar faces, along with Meesha Salaria who is Deputy Junior Mayor this year, and her mother. I met Meesha when I spoke at Cheltenham Library earlier this year.

The booklets with details of the ornaments weren’t available until near the end of the evening. There was a glitch with the Government House photocopier an aide said. It’s nice to know even Government House has a problem with photocopiers – the bane of my life – I work in three different community houses with three different photocopiers of varying quality, and three different codes to remember! I know all about ‘glitches’.

Along with my fellow Kingston representatives, I spent a good half hour examining all the decorations trying to find the one Kingston Council sent – all we knew was it had been produced on the 3D printer at Cheltenham Library!

I guess it being a ‘first-time’ event no one was quite sure what to expect or what to do.

Young eyes succeeded where old eyes failed – Meesha spotted the Kingston logo on the leaves attached to 3 red balls,  representing holly, a traditional Christmas symbol. The words ‘beach’, ‘park’, and ‘my home’ glittered and sparkled on the balls.

Later, when I checked the booklet there was no explanation of Kingston’s ornament just a note “Merry Christmas from the City of Kingston”.

However, if you want to know more about what our city is like download Mordialloc Writers’ free e-book Kingston My City!

Many of the other decorations make a strong statement about their community. If this event becomes a Christmas ritual for Victoria, I can see an artistic or historical exhibition in the future for these ornaments.

Most were works of art with a story attached.

Some community leaders took advantage of the golden opportunity to showcase local artists and groups. Ornaments represented what districts are known for and shared historical information.

Some were spectacular!

Of the 43 in the booklet that I could identify it was easy to choose favourites. A few representatives from the various geographical areas had in-depth knowledge of their ornament and were proud to share information. The friendly buzz of conversation around the Christmas tree exactly what the Governor hoped as guests searched for ornaments, or added ones they’d been too late to send.

I was impressed with the thought put into some of the decorations with councils proud of being a diverse, multicultural society with indigenous heritage. The Christmas Tree an ideal symbol to celebrate life. Many who celebrate Christmas as part of their culture and/or religion gather around a tree to exchange greetings and gifts and this custom has been adopted or accepted by those who are not Christian.

Some councils and shires sent mayors and councillors as their representatives, others sent citizens. Some councils and shires commissioned artists to make the ornaments, others ran competitions in the community or schools or asked community groups; others had council employees or committees provide the decoration.

A Sample of Decorations

 

mitchell-shire

Mitchell Shire

 

 

The original reason for the Cast Off Craft was to bring socially isolated women together under the excuse of craft. This was initially after the Black Saturday Bushfires, but the group wanted to be inclusive of all women, and not defined by that event.

The reason we chose the Golden Sun Moth and Mount Piper was the matching symbology between our group and these two magnificent objects from our community – Mitchell Shire.

Mt Piper stands alone, isolated from other mountain ranges, strong and stunning, but it is accessible – via walking track to the summit. It looks over our community.

The sun moth is delicate and rare, something that needs to be looked after and appreciated for its part in our local ecosystem – even the smallest contributor has value.

The gum nuts and leaves are reflective of our landscape and flora, and their silver reminds us of the beautiful, resilient and remarkable nature of our community.

 

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Whitehorse City

 

 

The City of Whitehorse delighted to provide a hand-cut paper decoration which represents the sights and sounds that encapsulate the multiculturalism, flavours and heritage of the City of Whitehorse.

I had a lovely conversation with Helene (‘please pronounce it Helen because the other way sounds too posh!’) from Mitcham about the importance of neighbourhood houses cultivating community and encouraging wellbeing. When I said I grew up at Croydon she recommended Magda Szubanski’s book Reckoning, which had ‘heaps’ about growing up in Croydon. It is now on my Christmas wishlist.

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City of Ballarat

 

 

We have selected a small brass gold pan stamped with the Eureka Flag. The pan is a symbol of Ballarat’s significant association with the Victorian gold rush, which started when gold was discovered at Poverty Point on 18 August 1851.

Ballarat quickly transformed into a major gold rush boom town with over 20,000 people moving to live on the diggings during this time.

The Eureka flag is also associated with this area and represents the Eureka Rebellion that took place on 3 December 1854. The battle of Eureka was fought between the colonial forces of Australia and miners objecting to the cost of a miner’s licence and the actions of the police and military on the gold fields.

The flag became a symbol of the rebellion and has become a national symbol of democracy in Australia.

 

 

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City of Swan Hill

 

 

Made by Suzanna Connely, ‘The Koorie Garden’ is a representation of the Mallee scrub. The feathers, eggs and seeds are brought from commercial farms and the trees are rescued from wood chipping.

 

From Golden Plains Shire, these Christmas pieces speka to the joy, colour and warmth of the festive season and feature the natural charcateristics of the municipality.

The characteristics of both the Christmas present and the Christmas tree art pieces are predominantly the golden wheat and canola paddocks, vaious fodder crops, winery vinyards, sheep and the golden sun across the plains.

 

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Monash City

 

 

The Monash men’s Shed is located in one of Monash council’s bushland parks, Bogong reserve in Glen Waverley. The ornament created by a Monash Men’s Shed member was inspired by the garden city landscape of Monash.

The ornament is also a reminder of the beautiful setting of the Monash Carols by Candlelight. This annual event is held amongst the gumtrees of Jells Park and attended by thousands of members of our culturally rich and diverse communities.

 

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Greater Geelong City

 

 

The City of Greater Geelong commissioned Geelong-based fibre artist, heather Frizzell to create an Orange-Bellied Parrot in flight as the ornament for the Government House Christmas Tree.

With around 30 to 40 left in the wild, the bird found in Geelong and the Bellarine region has been recognised as critically endangered and is protected under the Environemnt Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).

 

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 Bayside City

 

Brighton’s iconic Bathing Boxes are one of the most celebrated and recognised locations in Melbourne. The Bathing Boxes feature in both national and international marketing campaigns for the State of Victoria and are Bayside’s most visited tourist location.

This decoration is a whimsical, ‘beachy’ take on Christmas that employs images that are as iconic to Australian culture as the Bathing Boxes are to Bayside.

 

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East Gippsland Shire

 

 

The artwork on the Christmas bauble is of a mural designed and painted by local Aboriginal artists and youths as part of a graffiti prevention project.

The mural shows stories from the Gunai Kurnai people, traditional custodians of part of East Gippsland. A dingo and Bogong moth make the journey from the mountain to the seas. A journey also taken by the Gurnai Kurnai people.

The mural can be seen in ‘real life’ in Bairnsdale’s CBD.

PS. When I spoke to a councillor, he said a local woodturner made and polished the ornament from local wood.

 

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Cardinia Shire

 

 

This beautifully hand-crafted decoration was created by artists Viktor kalinowski and Elaine Rieger, and was inspired by a local native grass called bidgee-widgee.

It is made of 40 individual pieces of anodised silver and aluminium, which represent the 40 townships that make up Cardinia Shire.

 

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Buloke Shire

 

 

Artist Jo Malham from Donald:

Dry drought summer,
Autumn seeds, sown in hope,
Wet winter, flooded land,
Life springs,
Grains flourish,
Rich harvest reaped.

PS. An artist and a poet – how lovely.

 

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Moreland City

 

 

Created by the Lentara UnitingCare Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre. It was inspired by Simon Perry’s ‘Monument of Free Speech’ sculpture located outside the Brunswick Mechanics Institute.

The bird cage ornament was constructed using diver wire and crystals which sparkle as a symbol of hope for the future. the silver base was cut and engraved by local jeweller NB Jewel Masters of Coburg.

The bird cage is open and the birds have flown free, leaving behind only a small feather.

The idea of the cage resonated with the people who visit the Welcome Centre. These people are at various stages of rebuilding their lives, which have been devastated by conflict and oppression.

On the way into Government House, I walked behind Taj and his mother and offered to take a photograph of the pair of them in front of the building. Taj was Moreland’s Junior Citizen of the Year for his work on behalf of Asylum Seekers. His proud Mum involved in the environmental movement with their home open during Sustainability House Week. Taj wants to be an architect and has won a scholarship to Ivanhoe Grammar.

Talking with Taj you believe the future will be in safe hands! Here he is with Moreland’s other citizen representatives who made the most of the occasion.

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Greater Dandenong City

 

 

This ornament is decorated with patterns taken from a series of workshops held within the municipality where community members were encouraged to explore their cultural identity through textiles.

From representation of traditional dress to cultural celebrations, the etched images reflect individual fragments of fabric and pattern. these patterns combine to form an intricate layering, which highlights the diversity of our community.

 

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Corangamite Shire

 

 

Our ornament was made and designed by the Corangamite Youth Council. It is a symbol of our community’s strong connection to and proud history of agriculture and dairy farming. It represents the diversity of our region from the grain and sheep farms in the Western Districts to the beautiful beaches around the Great Ocean Road. 

It shows our pride in our youth and the hope we have for the future, while celebrating our history through the historic clock tower in the centre of Camperdown, our largest town.

 

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Glen Eira City

 

 

Made by local artist Madeleine Grummet using recycled materials from council’s Arts and Cutlure program.

PS. As one of my employers – I teach at Godfrey Street and also facilitate an ABI group – I looked out for Glen Eira’s ornament too but their description didn’t explain why they chose the design.

 

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Latrobe City

 

 

Students talked about the trees in shopping centres and stores, which were for sale roadside and the decorations throughout the Valley. They also spoke of the ‘giving trees’ at shopping centres. Sadly, some of our students experience hardship and trauma and stated the importance of this Christmas icon as they did not have one at home.

This Christmas tree is made from polymer clay and pipe cleaner. The process involved most students and staff at the campus being canvassed for their ideas. Six to eight students made prototypes, with two students working on the final product, supported by a staff member who undertook the drilling.

 

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Hobsons Bay City and Stonnington City

 

 

An ornament created by Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre representing divers locations within the Hobsons Bay municipality.

The glass work is by Maureen Williams, recognised as one of Australia’s foremost glass artists.

 

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Colac Otway Shire

 

 

The magic and beauty of the Otways inspired us to bellieve Santa might live here.

 

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Alpine Shire

 

 

The Christmas decoration represents Alpine Shire Council and was designed by a young artist, 13-year-old Giordano Genaro from Myrtleford.

 

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Macedon Ranges Shire

 

 

A finely detailed print porclain of our significant natural landmark, Hanging Rock. This rare volcanic formation, located near the townships of Woodend and Mount Macedon, is a sacred place for local indigenous people, and home to various events and a wide array of native flora and fauna.

PS.Who hasn’t read Picnic at Hanging Rock or been there to try and discover what really happened?

 

 

bendigo

City of Greater Bendigo

 

 

Bendigo Council is the first municipality in Australia to have its own official tartan registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.

The colours represent the stories of Bendigo, whilst the design is symbolic of the mullock heap from Bendigo’s gold mining heritage.

  • Gold: History of Bendigo’s goldmining days;
  • Green: The state forest Bendigo is surrounded by;
  • Red/browns: The parched Australian landscape and the sun;
  • Blue/White: the State of Victoria, water and skies.

PS. Although Scots born, Bendigo’s tartan was a new discovery for me!

 

hume-city

Hume City

 

 

This decoration represents the hopes and aspirations of the people who live in the City of Hume, many of whom are refugees and migrants. The decoration celebrates the cultural diversity of Hume City.

It was made by a group of women of diverse faiths, from many different countries. It has a message of peace and tolerance.

Everyone Was Charmed By The Governor And Her Partner

Both Linda Dessau AM, who is the first female Governor of Victoria, and her partner Anthony Howard QC, are down-to-earth and inclusive. They were friendly and approachable on the night – so much so, it became like a Pixie Photo queue as they made themselves available to chat and their aides cheerfully took snaps for people on phones and iPads.

Anthony Howard approached me in the corridor, introduced himself and wanted to know where I was from and whether I was enjoying myself. His aide Michael obligingly took a photo and as the evening progressed and we were invited to wander through selected rooms and ‘make ourselves at home,’ I spotted Anthony on a sofa between a group of ladies from Echuca. Michael took half a dozen photographs amid laughter and joking. A fabulous time had by all!

A far cry  from the stuffiness and strict protocol of ‘Government House and Governor’ in days of yore!

I saw hijabs, turbans, young and old, male and female, elected officials and ordinary citizens. Like the ornaments on the tree, we were diverse, colourful, different shapes and sizes and each had our own story!

Earlier this year, I went to Government House after being nominated for a Seniors’ Award but I never got a chance to meet the Governor.  This time, I was able to congratulate her for trailblazing and being an inspiration for younger women. Each time I’ve heard her speak she has emphasised the importance of tolerance and equity, as well as equality.

This community event she has initiated has the potential to grow, to provide a space for city and country to come together, to learn from each other. To share stories about our communities and maybe even change the way things are done at a council or community level as ideas are explored and discussed.

For me, it was the first official Christmas event for this season and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I know there is a lot of sadness and conflict in the world but it is comforting to know that in Victoria there are compassionate, caring, community-minded people working to build a  welcoming, harmonious society and we have a Governor who wants to recognise and honour that.

Events like this fill up those dark places and thoughts with light.

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Wyndham City’s ornament looks like a large silver jellybean

 

 

Artist Will Francis used materials of 3D printed plastic with light emitting diodes, to signify the future of technology and manufacturing. When it glows the light represents the constantly increasing cultural diversity of the region.

Christmas is indeed the season of Light – a light in the Christian faith emanating from the birth of a little boy who was sent to preach love and be the spiritual light for His followers.

Other faiths celebrate light and love too – Hanukkah, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr is a festival of sacrifice, feasting and giving of presents.

The girls and I have now put up our own Christmas tree with baubles loaded with memories just like the Government House tree.

A great beginning to what I hope will be a happy festive season!

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A Writer’s Best Friend Is Another Writer

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Yesterday was the last Readings By The Bay for 2016. It was also the last Readings for me as coordinator of the Mordialloc Writers Group – after 21 years, I’m spreading my wings like a fledgeling duck and wobbling off for new adventures – in particular, my love of travel.

I’m spending term two next year away from teaching and will be travelling to more places on my bucket list. Definitely  moving from my comfort zone by going to Mongolia and Russia and hoping the talent of so many Russian writers I admire will inspire me as I indulge in another love – history.

images-1.pngIt was great yesterday to not only have a guest author, Jennifer Scouller, to share her writing journey to publication but to reflect on other guest writers this year: Maria Katsonis and Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit.

We also had Mordy Writer, Glenice Whitting attend to share her good news about her latest novel, Something Missing, to be launched soon. (Read all about this on Glenice’s blog!)

On Saturday, at Mentone Public Library, Glenice was the guest local author and I was asked to introduce her:

 

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Glenice with poster of her book in background

 

Introducing Glenice Whitting

It is a privilege to introduce my dear friend Glenice Whitting to you today, although looking around the room no introduction is necessary for so many here, who are already aware of Glenice’s writing ability and talent.

Glenice has been a valued member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group since 1999, and we were lucky to workshop her writing, and later publish early excerpts from both her novels in our anthologies:

Pickle to Pie first delighted us in the story Grossmutter And Me published in 2000 in the anthology Casting a Line and we gleaned the first hint of Glenice’s latest novel, Something Missing, in 2004, with the story What Time is it There? in the anthology Eleven O Four.

Over the last two decades nurturing and teaching local writers, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard: ‘I’m writing a novel’ ‘I could write a book’ ‘I want to write a novel.

Sadly, few follow through with the task or achieve their goal. They may give up by choice or circumstance, or they don’t put the work into the manuscript to realise publication, the traditional or even non-traditional way.

Having a published book in your hand is no mean feat – the journey is not for the faint-hearted. You need dedication to the craft, incredible determination and effort, as well as talent. Networking and luck such as serendipity can play a part, but overwhelmingly it is sheer hard work and a belief in self that finishes the book. And if you are looking for success you need to write a story others want to read.

Glenice ticks all the boxes: she has created recognisable characters and interesting worlds we can identify with – both novels are mainly set in Australia and span historical periods many will recognise. However, they also cover universal themes of family relationships, love and grief, desire, disappointment – real life! Her storytelling style sweeps the reader along and we turn the pages!

Glenice has worked tirelessly at being the best writer she can be, her personal learning curve an inspiration. She went back to school as a mature age student, onto university studies that culminated in a PhD in creative writing.

She has drawn on her own life experiences for her novels, which makes them resonate but has added that infinitesimal quality that good writers possess – imagination!

Enjoy her presentation.

And we did!!

 

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Glenice in the centre of her fans:)

 

2016 Guest Authors at Readings By The Bay

I want to thank Kristina Rowell for arranging these author presentations – each one so different. I also thank the writers’ for their generosity in sharing their journey and experience. The three presentations worthwhile, inspiring, and the detailed talks gave new insight into the publishing world today, and the various paths writers must take to achieve their dream.

We had a unique opportunity for an intimate discussion with author, senior public servant and mental health advocate Maria Katsonis as she talked us through the publication of her novel: The Good Greek Girl.

This life-changing, heartfelt memoir about her mental breakdown after graduating from Harvard, the ramifications on her family life and high-level job in the public service and the long road to recovery and acceptance of living with a diagnosed mental illness is riveting reading.

Maria’s story also covers being part of the LGBTQIA community and what that meant to someone within the Australian Greek community. Her honest presentation to our group kept everyone spellbound and I wasn’t surprised all the books she brought to the session sold!

In Australia, like many countries, mental health and gay rights are two very hot topics! Throw in the multicultural nuance and this is a book you want to read, and a book that adds value to what it means to be human.

The personal financial commitment Maria made, taking writing courses, getting a mentor from Victorian Writers’ Centre, going on a writers’ retreat, paying for editing and publicity – all before finding a publisher – was important information for writers to hear.

Her acceptance of critique, changing the title and now promoting her work all part and parcel of a modern writer’s life.

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Maria reading from her novel

 

Earlier in the year the two young author/artists Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit, delighted us with their presentation creating  the crafty, innovative and unique children’s books Owl Know How and Too Much for Turtle.

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Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit

 

These two young writers/textile designers/artists/animators shared their journey of being asked to turn their visual art exhibition and soft toys into children books.

Tech savvy and brimming with ideas, they also have a strong social justice conscience. Their books bring up difficult issues like homelessness, refugees and global warming but are delivered in a sensitive child-friendly way.

As you can tell, I have a preference for books that deal with real life issues, contribute to peace and tolerance and help us understand that universal theme “the human condition”.

My Last Readings

I only met Jennifer Scoullar yesterday, but recommend everyone check out her website. A wonderful short story there kept me engrossed, as well as a lot of other information she generously shares with her readers, as I researched for my intro speech!

Jennifer is another writer I admire because she cares deeply about the environment and it shows. In fact, as she stated yesterday, the environment is always a character in her books. She is a proud rural Aussie writer and her love of ‘the bush’ evident in her work.

 

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Jennifer Scouller

 

Jennifer is a best-selling author of rural fiction with her genre advertised as eco-romance.

I searched for a snippet from her website to introduce her and the first paragraph on her ‘About’ page revealed why it would have been difficult for her not to be a writer or a committed environmentalist (I said I’d let her fill in the romance obsession… )

“Writing is in my blood.  My grandfather was editor of the newspaper at Wood’s Point in its heyday. My mother, Alice, was a great story teller.  My great aunt, Mary Fullerton, was a novelist and poet, and a friend to Miles Franklin. But a greater influence was my father, Doug Scoullar, who had been a jackeroo in Queensland. Later on he began a nursery specialising in native plants, long before it was fashionable to do so. Dad was a man ahead of his time. He passed on to me a lifelong love of horses and the bush…”

Jennifer has a love affair with the wild …. again check out her website and blog where there are many examples of beautiful writing… 

“When I was a child I lived in suburban Melbourne. Our house backed onto a railway line, and I could tell the time by the trains. Our back gate opened onto a broad, shady laneway and wild paddocks lay between it and the tracks. A canal, where I wasn’t supposed to play, flowed past the end of the lane.

That was decades ago now, and the overgrown paddocks and canal are long gone…

The heartfelt connection I formed with the natural world has lasted me a lifetime. It caused me to seek out wild places, and for the last thirty years I’ve lived on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Bunyip State forest.

As a keen amateur naturalist, I’m fascinated by the notion of rewilding – restoring flora and fauna to their historical range. The theory has gained popularity after conservation success stories such as bringing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park and the large-scale return of Europe’s apex predators like lynx, bears and wolverines.”

As I mentioned her genre is Eco-romance and her first novel was published in 2008, others followed in 2012,2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 (Another almost ready to be released with the manuscript at the publishers!)

What a pattern and what amazing output …  we sat spellbound and indeed did learn many useful tips!

Like the other writers mentioned, she worked hard to be the best writer she could be –

  • She reads in her own genre and moves out of her comfort zone and reads other genres – she does what I tell my students: read write read write read write…
  • She established a blog and engages with her readers.
  • She writes 1000 words a day
  • She finishes the first draft before editing – but rewrites and rewrites!!
  • She does her research – not just Google, but visiting settings, always including the senses
  • She checked the acknowledgement pages of other books to learn where to seek help when she was looking to publish (libraries and bookstores your best friends)
  • She joined her local writers’ centre (the Victorian Writers’ Centre)
  • She bought the Australian ‘bible’ for writers – the Australian Writers’ Marketplace an invaluable resource to help find agents and publishers
  • She blitzed both agents and publishers
  • She got used to rejection (6 publishers, 6 knock backs)
  • She learned to pitch at a writers’ conference – and 3 minutes with a Penguin representative produced interest and an eventual deal
  • When she was rejected she resubmitted after rewriting but never abandoned her integrity or forgot the aim of the story
  • She deals with the major issue of mankind’s damage to the environment, the fragility of the earth and the animals are her themes, but she always has optimistic endings!

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For those who attended Readings By The Bay in 2016, it’s been a year of exposure to successful writers but also regular listening to each other – the reason I started the writers’ group and the public readings.

All writers need nurturing and encouragement and someone to listen to finished stories and poems and say well done!

Thank you to everyone who has joined me for 21 years of reading and writing – good luck for the future!

Perspective, Prejudice, and Positivity

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

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

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

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

A new website was born:

WRITERS AGAINST PREJUDICE

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

Prejudice (noun)

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

Prejudice is Everywhere

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

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

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

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

Perspective -A Cautionary Tale

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

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

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

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

The telephone call went like this:

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

Press 1 to speak to a uniform officer…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Action Required

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

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

Tolerance
Mairi Neil

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

Harmonious Haiku
Mairi Neil

To have Harmony
Set aside your prejudice
Give everyone a chance

And to End With a Bit of Positivity

sunflowers

Sunflower Happiness
Mairi Neil

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

Life Doesn’t Have to Be A Gamble

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I don’t consider myself a wowser but have to admit to disquiet about where we are heading as a nation regarding gambling after a recent report ranks Australia among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

In the past, I’ve smiled at the jokes about Australians having a public holiday for a horse race when the Melbourne Cup is discussed.

I’ve bet on the Cup, bought Tattslotto and raffle tickets, and once when visiting my sister in Albury, even put a complimentary $2.00 in 5cent coins through a machine at their local League Club in an attempt to ‘join in the fun’.

That evening I had to beg my sister to take over my machine because I got bored – each time I thought I’d finished feeding the coins I’d win just enough to keep going! I honestly can’t see the attraction of pokie machines, yet poker machines still account for more than half of all gambling losses in Australia.

Here is an article from our local paper this month:

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The trend is similar in other cities, where disadvantaged suburbs are delivering the biggest returns to the operators of pokies venues.

On a Monday morning, as we sit writing our stories in the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House there is a steady stream of punters going into gamble at the hotel across the Nepean Highway, now named Mordy HQ, although previously called the Kingston Club.

View from the Window

Mairi Neil

The grey monolith of the Kingston Club dominates the streetscape
Seen through the green curtain of trembling palms, the bleakness softens.
Green and yellow flapping fronds a distraction from concrete geometry.
The garden bed of emerald bushes comforts the dull red leaves of the coprosma
dying under the weight of winter. Tiny shoots peek from the tanbark,
promising spring. I imagine white lilies and yellow daffodils dancing.
Still secreted beneath the soil, other seeds prepare for Mother Nature’s show,
Trained to perfection they absorb today’s bright sunshine.A rainbow line of cars gleam, duco washed and polished by weekend rain.
Last night’s downpour, a cleansing river whisking dusty debris, and leaf litter
Into the drains, to be carried to the sea and discharged into the bay
Fired like a cannonball from the stormwater pipe at Mentone.
A woman walks by, head bowed, hands thrust in jacket pockets.
A mother wheels a stroller down the ramp, her smiling toddler eager to play.
Pens scratch as we listen to meditative music of winter sounds in the writing class
Outside sunshine and serenity belies drumrolls of thunder and crashing cymbals.Beyond the window, I imagine the sea. A calm mirror today, wavelets daintily
Tripping to the foreshore. Dog walkers stroll, children shovel sand and laugh
Beachcombers search for abandoned treasure after hundreds of weekend visitors
Tourists, high-spirited revellers, and locals caught in metal detectors’ sweep.
The gamblers and lonely misfits in the grey monolith hope for luck too
Not by the blue sea, nor breathing fresh air, or soaking in the warmth of the sun.
Caught in the magnetic attraction of gaming machines they do not see
Dappled sunshine dancing on the window pane, or the palm trees tremble.

 

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Australia is ranked among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

Dr Piers Howe, a cognitive scientist at the University of Melbourne, believes Australians are among the heaviest punters on the planet on a per capita basis and are probably the biggest.

Our nation’s gambling addiction has deepened with average net losses borne by each adult member of the population climbing to $1242 in 2015.

New national data published by the Queensland government this month shows that total net losses rose 7.7 per cent to $22.73 billion in the 12 months to the end of June last year, driven by massive growth in online sports betting and casino gaming.

New South Wales is the country’s biggest consumer market for gambling, with average losses per head of population rising more than $100 to $1517.

Victoria was the second-highest gambling state with per capita losses rising by around $85 to $1250, although gamblers burnt cash at a slower rate than their NSW counterparts.

 

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The biggest beneficiaries from our national fixation are big ASX-listed gaming and casino operators and the state governments.

  • James Packer’s listed casino business, Crown Resorts, raked in a net profit of more than $400 million for the year to the end of June, on the back of solid returns from flagship casinos in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
  • Packer also owns the local operations of online sports gaming provider Betfair, which is benefitting from the digital gambling boom.
  • Woolworths is another big winner through its hotel joint venture with national pokies king, Bruce Mathieson.

“It’s easy to look at the release of these figures today as just statistics but let’s not forget that every dollar of ‘gambling expenditure’ comes from a real person and much of this from problem gamblers.”

Tasmanian independent MP Senator Andrew Wilkie

Crowning Glory
Mairi Neil

A glittering palace to mankind’s ingenuity
Or a concrete prison to addiction?
A private playground for the rich list,
Convenient bank for money launderers,
Or harmless escapism to chase Lady Luck?
The foyer a curiosity for snap-happy tourists,
Their wondrous delight as cameras flash
And children stare at magic ceilings
While colourful water fountains dance
To Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Verdi…

Beyond smooth marble surfaces,
Polished wood and gleaming brass,
The alluring world of gaming machines hums.
Amid baize Roulette and Black Jack tables
Serviced by smiling seductive croupiers,
Homes are lost, marriages disintegrate,
Unfettered,the leviathan shatters youthful dreams.
In private rooms high rollers
Win what they can afford to lose…

This is a place for saviours to seek sinners.
Priests have intoned ‘the poor are always with us’
As cries of ‘Bingo’ echo in church halls and
School fetes spin wheels to fund libraries.
Government coffers bulge and the
Community Benefit Tax manipulated ––
Everyone celebrates Cup Day and
Glue-stick legs and arms clamp onto the
2,500 metal machines hidden behind glitzy walls…

The cry of a child in the carpark
Bounces off Commodores and shiny Volvos;
Smothered between Land Rovers and limousines,
Jaded Mazdas, new Toyotas, ancient Fords.
Trembling hands swipe plastic cards ignoring
Mobile phone vibrations and merry ringtones
Self-control buried behind pale faces.
Glazed eyes focus with burning intensity
On spinning numbers and gaudy symbols;
Dry lips pray for luck
To a God abandoned long ago…

Security guards turf tipsy losers
Onto Southbank’s smooth walkways.
At the mercy of loutish thugs they
Stumble home to suburbia, seeking courage to
Face frantic family or exhaust-fumed garage  –
Perhaps Gamblers’ Anonymous?
The Yarra River reflects Melbourne’s progress
But at night this River Styx absorbs
The tears of the disadvantaged and
Washes away the writing on the wall.

Each night the news is full of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, jobless… and although maths has never been my forte you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how much better off society would be if we could get the nation’s addiction under control. If the casino and hotel owners thought of people before profits, and if social programs worked to entice people away from self-destructive behaviour.

A lot of ifs and buts in that dream…

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“As gambling becomes more popular it has less of a social stigma and it might be that social norms around gambling have made it more acceptable.”

I guess what we need to do is change behaviour and in some cases cultural norms. As usual, this must start in childhood – children learn what they live! Here is a modern nursery rhyme from my book of Nutty Nursery Rhymes:

Little Miss Honey
Lost all her money
Down at Crown Casino
She found being broke
Wasn’t a joke
Oh, how her tears did flow!

Little Miss Honey
Went to the bank
To ask for a housing loan
The bank manager said, ‘No,
To the Casino don’t go,
Gambling we won’t condone!’

In this episode of Not for Podcast, by Pro Bono Australia news, special contributor Rachel Alembakis, founder and publisher of The Sustainability Report, follows a group of responsible investors, consumer rights advocates and financial counsellors who are campaigning to get the major banks to cut the credit. Online gambling is under the microscope and discredited.

 

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