Although it is difficult to make headlines or initiate a public discussion about anything other than the global pandemic or Trump and his supporters’ refusal to accept the results of the USA Election, Greta Thunberg who just turned 18, has reminded us global warming is still happening with devastating consequences.
For those who have never seen the movie Groundhog Day,perhaps take a few minutes to Google, or accept the explanation below…
Based on the movieGroundhog Daystarring Bill Murray. It is the idea that every action that one makes; the rewards and consequences of those actions are not followed through the next day. If someone were to make a big choice, commit a crime, offend someone, make a mistake, or meet someone throughout a period of a regular 24 hour day, those rewards and consequences for all of those actions are not carried through the next day. It is all forgotten. In other words, it’s like yesterday never happened. Therefore this pattern can keep on repeating for an unknown amount of time.
I’ve known about the dangers of the Greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change – call it what you will – all my adult life and yet each year the public discussion seems to be the same. I’m with Greta – why aren’t we woke yet?!
A Member of the Victorian Parliament Warned about Climate Change in 1990!
Before social media, many members of parliament made an effort to keep the electors informed via regular newsletters. Jean McLean was especially interested in the environment and social justice issues – climate change most certainly an environmental AND social justice concern.
(It was time-consuming to get the message out with the tools of typing, Gestetner printing or photocopying, hand stapling and enveloping, even before relying on Aussie Post or volunteers like me to distribute, but I am so glad Jean did! )
Environmentalists and conservationists have been warning about global warming since April 22,1970, when the first Earth Day was held in the USA and scientists coined the term Greenhouse Effect. They forecast the Earth’s future in doubt because air pollution was warming the planet – pollution primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
In the 80s the anti-uranium movement gained momentum against those seeking nuclear power because of the Chernobyl disaster, a place still contaminated 35 years later. It wasn’t the first but is perhaps the worst nuclear power station disaster, yet some people still suggest nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Since the 70s, environmental activists usually lumped in with ‘the Left’, disbelieved and vilified, shrugged off with contempt as ‘greenies’ and ‘tree huggers’. Although social media favours ‘snowflakes’ and ‘leftards’ and other generic insults to cover numerous issues, not just the perceived ‘hoax‘ of climate change!
Not surprisingly, many who disbelieve climate change also favour the conspiracies around COVID19, although ironically there are some who believe the science of climate change but not the science of epidemiology (and vice versa)!
Climate messengers have expanded, from both sides of the political divide and even in the corporate sector. They admit climate change is real and we are experiencing dire human and economic consequences by ignoring the science.
Natural disasters on the rise mean the tragedy of global warming can’t be ignored, but we shouldn’t forget many of our current political and corporate leaders have always KNOWN!
Access, to scientific reports and data like the World Oceanographic Commission and World Meteorological Organisation, mentioned above,
plus a variety of other national and international research bodies.
Ignorance and lack of action a choice we really can’t afford now:
Friends in the USA and Canada have shared the devastation of the 2020 fires in California that compounded the grief of coronavirus suffering.
Since the global pandemic struck, I have increased email correspondence to friends overseas or locals keeping social distance because of lockdown. Often the discussion is about the future and we recognise the existential threat of global warming. It may be off the front pages of newspapers but not forgotten by the people living with the memory of last summer’s fires in both hemispheres.
Shirly is 88, and a dear friend in England who is married to a cousin of my husband’s, and like many living in the UK, she copes with what she describes as a world ‘in a mess… it’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote the year we’re living. Dystopian.‘
On January 4th she wrote
Yesterday, quite accidentally, I turned the news channel on and your PM was extolling the joys of coal and the fact that this was Australia, not some little country dependant on Europe or America.
We can do what we like. We have coal and we’ll use coal.
He said it as though he was giving the people an enormously good piece of news. As though global warming had nothing to do with your country. I couldn’t believe my ears.
But there are so many non- believers, we shouldn’t be surprised…
How right she is and the many reports about climate change updated because of another year’s data prompted others in Australia to remind the population of PM Morrison’s pathetic position:
Easy actions many of us can take is to care and plant more trees, become a dendrophile. Also reduce, reuse and recycle, and start conversations with friends and neighbours to lobby local councillors and politicians about the importance of renewable energy and government policies that help create a sustainable environment.
Most importantly, we can use our voice and our vote. This year there will be a Federal election in Australia, we must make sure climate change is addressed.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
There has been a host of issues covered by a variety of media in the last week, as the important Black Lives Matter Movement continues to dominate headlines around the world and it is also Pride Month in the USA.
Australia was party to this Convention as David Marr explains in an interview recorded on the 2016 documentary Chasing Asylum.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights and Refugee Convention was a humane understanding, according to David and ‘the world’s apology to what was done to the Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust.’
When the doors are closed, people need protection and have a right to seek it! Australia signed up to this Convention and to letting refugees come in – and they come by the sea when other channels are closed!
When I revisited this documentary, I wept.
Even with COVID-19, when we are all encouraged to care for each other, we are detaining and treating asylum seekers as if they are criminals and of lesser value than ourselves. Fortunately, there are courageous advocates still speaking up and trying to get the Australian Government to honour the Conventions they signed.
I agree with David Marr, who ”defies anyone not to be moved and not feel ashamed.’
The film shows horrific footage (taken without the knowledge of those in authority) of inside the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands that Australian taxpayers fund and set up by the Federal Government. Repeated parliaments headed by BOTH main political parties have made excuses to maintain these offshore camps.
The cost of torturing innocent people who had a RIGHT to seek asylum – $500,000 per asylum seeker per year – that is $1.2 billion to maintain Nauru and Manus Islands.
A lot of money to torture people because mandatory and indefinite detention is definitely torturing!
There is testimony from employees with firsthand experience who observed the inhumanity and horrific conditions in the detention camps. No amount of posturing and excuses will hide the fact the premise of Australia’s policy is we have a right to put refugees through hell because they came by sea and others might die at sea following their example.
It is profoundly hypocritical to claim ‘stop the boats and turn back the boats’ policies are humanitarian because they stop deaths at sea – especially when we continually engage in wars and other practices creating refugees!
The most recent mass migration of people fleeing their Syrian homeland a case in point. Australian planes bombed Syria. Many of the refugees in this documentary are Iranian, Afghani and Iraqi – Australia was part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ who bombed these countries!
There are reasons for refugees fleeing their homeland – foremost is war – most people would prefer to stay in their own country. If more effort made to prevent the reasons, people put themselves at risk, we would not be facing a worldwide crisis of 60 million refugees.
The countries sheltering half a million to over a million refugees are:
Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.
Germany accepted one million Syrian refugees in 2016.
Meanwhile, in Australia, we’ve demonised refugees since 2001 and used them as a political football.
In 2016, Chasing Asylum challenged us as a nation to confront the flagrant abuse of human rights perpetrated in our name and as a nation we responded by repeatedly electing governments to continue this inhumanity.
Reduced to its basest element, Australian government policy is to begrudgingly treat those who legally sought its asylum – by one mode of transport, by boat – with axiomatic cruelty, in order to discourage others from paying people smugglers and hopping into leaky boats across south-east Asia. This policy saves lives, they say, because it deters others.
But it’s not this policy that’s stopping the boats from reaching Australian shores. Australia has spent billions of dollars putting an armada to sea in the waters to the country’s north and west.
Asylum boats continue to ply the waters of the region and attempt to reach Australia. They do so in much smaller numbers now because they are intercepted, boarded and their passengers and crew forcibly turned around. Protection assessments are conducted at sea – a policy considered illegal under international law by almost every expert opinion, including that of the United Nations.
The support workers, volunteers, social workers, doctors and security personnel who speak on camera in Chasing Asylum also demonised. Classed as malcontents and whistleblowers, there have been many attempts to discredit them by sections of the government and media.
Their evidence may be unpalatable but cannot be ignored.
Because of their courage, protests from many community groups, and the persistence from MPs with a conscience like Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the voiceless may have been ‘out of sight’ but were not ‘out of mind’!
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2006:
No one knows how many boat people have died, but thousands have been rescued at sea. In the reality of dangerous journeys undertaken to gain access to reluctant coastal states, the time-honoured maritime traditions of rescue at sea collide with the growing determination of states to prevent illegal entry to their territory.
However, to seek asylum as a refugee is not illegal!
We must face the reality of the deceit of the cruel and barbaric ‘stop the boats’ mantra and there is no time like the present!
The pair still peddle the myth that our refugee policy of mandatory offshore detention is humane!
Like many of the horrific scenes circulating on social media at the moment, this history of our offshore detention policy makes uncomfortable viewing!
By choosing to describe asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, economic migrants, or boat people, and classifying them as less deserving of help, it is easy for politicians to justify denying them basic human rights.
I’m glad that there are still activists protesting on behalf of asylum seekers. I will continue to donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, write letters and sign petitions – trying to keep the issue alive via conversations and the written word.
Refugees and asylum seekers
young and old
a new life…
They cross stormy waters
and a welcome
from Australian society
Amazing personal stories
Prisoners of conscience
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom ––
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
We sit in the cafe
indulging a desire
for coffee and cake
and a need
for each other…
we struggle to accept
that sitting, sipping coffee:
skinny latte, cappuccino, mochaccino
long or short black
and devouring slices
of gluten-free, fructose-free, fat-free,
carrot cake and a chocolate muffin –
is not conscience free…
Modern media mobility
screams of drought, bushfires
floods at home and
war, random shootings,
terrorist attacks, refugee crises…
Manus Island and Nauru…
We skip the sugar and cream
search mobile screen for a funny meme.
The opening scene of a crowded boat navigating a choppy sea has a male voice over explaining ‘I head for Australia because it is a safe, humane country… respects people… no war, calm, everything good…’
And then there is the reality as shaky footage from a concealed mobile phone camera reveals Australia has some of the harshest refugee and asylum seeker policies in the world.
We see conditions in Nauru Detention Centre – the footage filmed in secret because no journalists, filmmakers or camera crew allowed inside the Nauru camp.
Nauru a remote island, population 10,000, isolated and extremely hot, you can drive around it in 20 minutes. It is a ‘poor’ country with a failing economy.
Easy pickings for Australia to sweep responsibility to somewhere else and pass on our problem. And it is understandable why the Nauruan government accepted Australia’s offer of a cash splash and allowed a detention centre.
At the time the documentary was made there were 2,175 asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Manus Islands, including children.
A social worker speaks about the shock of arriving to work at the camp – meeting people already detained 400-500 days and so many security personnel giving the camp a militarised feel.
We hear faceless conversations. The views of camp, fences, tents and people from imperfect angles, but there is sufficient footage to capture the bleakness, sparse colourless surroundings, makeshift and temporary set-up. Cyclone fencing reminiscent of building sites.
Painted on the side of a tent in Nauru – Welcome To Coffin…
Sad drawings and paintings by children decorate walls, featuring tear-stained faces surrounded by flames, barbed wire and guns.
The camps really set up to make the refugees feel unwelcome and to send them home or hope they’d opt to return.
The social worker said in 6 weeks the detainees degrade mentally.
We hear a man say, ‘I am 28 years old – wasting my youth here… I lost dreams.’
A shocking concept, no program, no future. Criminals in a prison can count the days until the end of their sentence, but that can’t happen in a refugee camp.
No crime committed, the UN Convention ignored, people left to rot.
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
Tortured at home
Tortured in the detention camps
Separated from their families with no prospect of being reunited.
No hope for the future.
A protest organised by the incarcerated men and WE WANT JUSTICE written on t-shirts.
We see men with lips sewed together, a lot of self-harm. The nurse saw a man who cut his stomach open with glass, men with stitched lips and eyelids, another beat and stabbed himself with a fluorescent light tube. A lot of cutting. And swallowing of razor blades, washing powder, bleach.
People hang themselves.
Support workers describe how they answered an advert of Facebook from the Salvation Army. When they enquired what the job entailed, the interviewer ‘made it sound like a nice place, enjoy a two-week holiday, invite your friends to apply…’
Arriving on Nauru, the fresh recruits discover an eclectic group of fellow workers: a manager of a MacDonald’s, retirees, factory workers and university students.
The only thing they had in common was no one had experience working with asylum seekers or refugees!
The briefing they got on arrival was indeed brief!
A woman said, ‘Go and help the men, befriend them. Go in pairs, mingle, I’ll be back in two hours.’
They found dispirited refugees, lying listlessly on the bed and lethargic asking, ‘Why are you here? Why are we here? How long will we be here?’
Many couldn’t sleep, were on medication because of the rapid deterioration of their mental health, which usually started after 6 weeks.
The support workers realised intakes were confused, some didn’t know they were not in Australia, others couldn’t understand why they were treated like criminals.
A support worker questioned what she was doing there and regretted signing up, especially when she read a sign that said, ‘Make sure staff are trained to use a Hoffman’s Knife.’
She discovered a Hoffman’s Knife is used to cut people down when they hang themselves! She was in a place she’d never choose to visit and she shouldn’t have taken the job.
A social worker recalled a Tamil from Sri Lanka’s story. He was the same age as herself 24/25. He was living in an area controlled by Tamil Tigers. His father shot in front of him. He and his brother left for Colombo and arrested by authorities, imprisoned and tortured for a year. He had cigarette burns on his back and genitals. Highly distressed on Nauru, he displayed symptoms of severe trauma.
He wanted to die and kept repeating ‘My life, where is my life?’
The social worker broke down, ‘I can’t help them, I have nothing of comfort to say.’
People talk to themselves. Have psychotic episodes, walk around like zombies, most are medicated. Every day they have thoughts of suicide and self-harm. She can only tell them things will get better, but they know, and so does she, that it is a lie.
A support worker saw a severe beating of a refugee by two guards – a New Zealander and an Australian – but after pressure, she changed her statement. On reflection, she is ashamed but did so because she was scared. She was the only one prepared to be honest.
The guards are ex ADF, bouncers and prison officers and are always on edge. Hyper-vigilant, many are racists. Their aggressive attitude shows no empathy for asylum seekers.
Official Refugee Policy?
Although no politician offered an interview for the documentary there is enough recorded interviews and broadcasted soundbites included:
Prime Minister John Howard in 2001 – the Tampa Election – ‘we will decide who comes into this country and how…’
2009 Kevin Rudd – those coming by boat will be detained offshore
2012 Julia Gillard – ‘don’t risk a voyage at sea… don’t give money to people smugglers… you will be detained offshore’
2013 Tony Abbott– won the election with the promise to ‘stop the boats’
2013 – Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister – it is a national emergency and border security operation – ‘the boats must be stopped.’
July 19, 2013 – Australia’s policy: any asylum seeker arriving by boat will not be settled in Australia– mandatory offshore detention.
2015 – Turnbull – ‘only way to stop deaths at sea.’
In the documentary, Greg Lake, the public servant who ran the Detention Centre admits that he took on the job with a background of ‘upper-middle-class white guy from NSW, growing up in a place with few migrants and never meeting a refugee or asylum seeker.’
He saw the job as implementing government policy, but the policy issue changed from looking after people seeking asylum to, we will make your life worse than what you fled if you choose to stay here.
We don’t want you coming by boat and will make your life horrible so the message will get out and no one else gets on a boat. Greg Lake realised it was a deterrent strategy and people will be permanently damaged so he left – it was too hard a portfolio.
Go Back to Where You Came From Is Not An Option!
In 2011, SBS produced a reality show to tackle Australia’s refugee policy and reveal the human face behind the statistics by exposing six Australians with strong opinions about immigration to the journeys of some refugees.
Hopefully, it helped some members of the public to think more deeply and beyond three word slogans.
Ironically, one of every two Australians is an immigrant or the child of one. (I came to Australia as a child in 1962 with my parents and 5 siblings.)
Yet, despite our diverse population and culture, immigration continues to be a central political issue. Often the people who are the most vociferous and ill-informed are migrants or children of refugees who came here after WW2.
Sadly, social media has amplified bigotry and racism and spread misinformation like wildfire. Many in Australia applaud President Trump’s recent playbook by telling those in the public eye who are critical, especially women of colour like Greens MP, Mehreen Faruqi and Labor’s Anne Aly, to ‘go back where they came from’.
The “go back” insult is offensive because it is not about citizenship, said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s about your skin colour,” she said. “You are seen to be more loyal or disloyal depending on whether you look like the norm.”
quoted in New York Times, Letter to Australia
Does the Australian public realise the price paid to stop the boats and who pays??
Dr Peter Young reported measurable disorders observed in children.
Children watching parents getting sicker, young babies not feeding properly or gaining weight.
Children’s drawings reflect how disturbed they are watching self-harm and also many had been sexualised or seen things they shouldn’t have seen.
Mouldy damp tents with no privacy or space, erected upon white phosphate rock. Behavioural issues because there were no age-appropriate activities.
Children referred to each other with boat IDs instead of names. The practice rampant – they had forgotten their names and who they were.
The Forgotten Children – the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young collected toys and when they arrived the kids didn’t know what to do with them.
Heartbreaking for the support workers to witness!
A social worker will never forget a child’s reaction to receiving a soft toy after a year in the camp with no play activities.
David Marr talked about the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of women and children which resulted in The Moss Review in 2015
There were details of sexualised behaviour amongst children, cigarettes traded for sex, children under 5 exposed to sexual behaviour and other activities at an inappropriate age….
It took the Australian Government 17 months to investigate reports.
No results and no repercussions instead the government legislated on July 1, 2015, that whistleblowers will face prison!!
Michael Bachelard, an Australian journalist living in Indonesia believes the threat of asylum seekers blown out of proportion and hardline policies of successive governments may have stopped the boats by successfully attacking the people smugglers’ business model, but the human cost appalling when you see the lives of the 10,000 stranded in Indonesia and those detained on Nauru and Manus.
The refugees in Indonesia can’t work, children can’t go to school, everything costs money and they can’t earn any.(see my Staging Post Review)
Hazara refugees from Afghanistan share their stories – husbands, fathers, sons, mothers, widows… all fleeing persecution by the Taliban and seeking a better peaceful life.
Asylum seekers are now told there is no way you will make Australia home…
In 2013, Rudd declared a resettlement agreement with Papua New Guinea would stop the scourge of people smuggling. Some refugees who arrived on Christmas Island flown straight away to Manus Island. They were terrified, believing New Guinea still practised cannibalism. Escorted on the plane by two security guards holding their arms they were heavily guarded on the flight.
Arriving in Manus they noticed there were trees but few houses. They saw a fruit turned teeth red, and despite assurances feared the cannibalism they’d read about in books that happened 50 years ago still occurred.
A security guard turned whistleblower, explained it was a camp for single men. He had been a prison officer for 9 years with Victorian Corrections Service, but like others employed on Manus, had only experience dealing with those from the criminal world. The camp was not what he thought a detention camp would be. He assumed they would train expert staff.
A WW2 Nissan hut one of the buildings with a concrete floor housing 122 double bunks. In the tropical weather, the shed was stifling – odour disgusting as was the surrounds, an overcrowded gaol behind padlocked gates.
There were not enough clothes, shoes, toilets or drinking water. Faeces littered the ground. There were cases of malaria and other sicknesses. The men resembled broken men without a future, slouched shoulders and despair on their faces.
The contrast with staff quarters, stark – carpeted floor, air conditioning, matching sheets…
The Prison Officer, a whistleblower, he voiced his concerns and was threatened by a note left on his bed, then another verbal threat.
He stopped complaining and left. ‘I had principles, we need to talk and face the reality of what is happening about refugee policy.’
There is film of a demonstration by the detainees that became violent. 100 were arrested but no criminal convictions. Apparently, the bill was $60 million damage. (I’d question the figure because the facilities on Manus and Nauru are appalling and that was the reason for the protest!)
There is a lot of resentment from locals on Manus and Nauru who are not happy with the deal their governments have made with Australia.
Seven months after one protest, asylum seekers attacked by PNG police and locals – a riot ensues. Evidence shown of the fence pushed in by locals and shots fired into the camp.
Sixty refugees are injured, one throat slit, one lost an eye, one man killed.
Reza Berate, an Iranian, beaten and not helped when dying. We see the grief of his family in Iran and their bewilderment as to how it could have happened.
2015 – Condemnation from the UN
The UN investigates and confirms Australia breeched conventions and accuses those in the detention centres of torture.
Tony Abbott’s response – “We won’t be lectured to by the UN.“
We are 67th in the world for refugee intake. Abbott and Morrison cut our annual intake from 20,000 to 13,000 +
Minister Peter Dutton negotiated the Cambodian Settlement claiming that country free from persecution and a safe option. Australia made a $40 million down payment declaring refugees would be voluntarily sent there. Another $15 million was paid, but only 5 refugees went there. The average wage $100 a month.
We don’t want the offshore refugees here and so we will let the government spend as much money as they want to treat them any way they like.
The options – go to Cambodia or live in the community in Nauru where there are no jobs, low pay, and the cost of living outrageously high.$20 for 2 litre carton of milk.
The refugees have:
No travel documents
No hope of reunification with family
Live in demountable blocks and share rooms
Live behind high fences in a soulless compound
their accommodation will always need security because some locals threatened them
No guarantee of safety.
Refugee women have claimed 20 cases of rape and sexual assault, but no one charged!
Flashback to 1970s
70,000 Vietnamese came to Australia under Malcolm Fraser’s LNP Government.
On the documentary, Fraser states, ‘I believed we had an obligation because of our part in the Vietnam war… most of the refugees had been through processing in Malaysia and Australia co-operated – these refugees beneficial. Refugees add to our culture, our wealth, our diversity.’
A sign at his funeral attended by many Vietnamese – Farewell to our champion of humanity. You are forever in our hearts…
Chasing Asylumis in memory of Malcolm Fraser – 1930 – 2015
To those who fear the Other Look not only with your 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 Earth’s children all ache, bleed, cry, – desire belonging and love.
This year’s World Environment theme is time for nature:
The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature. It’s time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.
COVID-19 lockdowns restrict movement in neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countryside in countries throughout the world and have done so for several months, and most people now realise how important it is to breathe fresh air and to enjoy outside activities.
The easing of some restrictions in Victoria saw hundreds flock to national parks. Many places were overwhelmed and had to be closed because the recommended 1.5 metres of social-distancing couldn’t be enforced.
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has forced governments to act for the greater good of the public health, even closing international borders despite severe economic consequences.
Ironically, because of less air travel and movement of people, plus reductions in road traffic and industrial pollution, there has been an improvement in some natural areas such as cleaner waterways and a resurgence of wildlife.
However, the consequences of climate change are still severe and deadly and as many people have pointed out – if you believe and obey the science regarding the COVID-19 pandemic why are we not believing and acting urgently on the science about climate change!
As this picture doing the rounds of Facebook shows, the damage fossil fuels cause is not a new discovery – this newspaper date is 1912!
The day is calm. Tranquil. A great-to-be-alive day. The scent of eucalyptus and pine compete with salty air and whiffs of abandoned seaweed.
The cyan sea a mirror for whipped cream clouds. Dainty dollops on a baby blue plate. Gulls sit or glide atop the glassy surface. Bathed in brilliant white sunlight, I imagine I too float and dream.
But in the distance, palm tree fronds tremble, casting lacy shadows on the warm sand. The clink of moorings and creak of masts drifts from the creek and a sudden gust of wind whips sand to sting legs and face. Airborne seagulls now screeching origami kites.
A dark veil unfurls from the horizon shattering the steel blue mirror swallowing the fluffy clouds.
Peaceful contemplation disappears, waves soap around my feet, slap at ankles, sunlight fades. I retreat to the shelter of groaning eucalypts and pine, the taste of salt bittersweet.
Celebrate parks and open spaces
how they let us breathe and play
they put smiles upon our faces
Nature provides wondrous places
adding beauty to the everyday
wildlife parks, wilderness spaces
Trainers recommend 10,000 paces
exercise and be healthy they say
and put smiles upon our faces
In childhood, egg and spoon races
kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even croquet
celebrated parks and open spaces
Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
whether skies are blue or grey
let’s put smiles upon our faces
Find joy in parks and open spaces
because they let us breathe and play
and they put smiles upon our faces
In the future, they’ll discover traces
of how we spent our lives each day
they’ll dig up parks and other spaces
and put names to forgotten faces.
The importance of trees to our wellbeing and the earth’s health is, at last, being recognised by local councils (including Kingston) and I hope many more will become dendrophiles.
We Have An Extinction Crisis In Australia
Today, I received an email from birdlife.org.au
This year hasn’t been what any of us expected.
Australia was already in the grip of the extinction crisis, which meant our birds were facing unprecedented threats… and then the devastating bushfires struck. Fighting the extinction crisis became even more urgent.
He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…
She swigs kombucha
for inner health
ignoring Mother Earth’s digestive tract
blocked by the plastic bottle and cap.
Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes.
Junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…
Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes
and even those who profess to care sucked in
and swallowed by consumerism
Landfill dumps grow garbage
litter refuse muck
There is no ‘away’ in throw!
Parks and Places to Play Important For Childhood Memories
Write about the wild or natural places you remember playing in as a child.
Where do you go today to breathe in and experience the natural world?
How important is your garden, and what pleasure does it give?
Describe your favourite walk?
What bird, tree, flower do you see from your window/s?
I spent my first nine years in Greenock, Scotland, an industrial town on the River Clyde that used to be famous for shipbuilding – the yards built the Queen Elizabeth and first Queen Mary, plus submarines for Australia.
I can’t remember much of the first three years living in a tenement in George Square, the centre of the town, but when we moved to Braeside where I started school, there is plenty of material for trips down memory lane.
Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no built parks for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with my dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van.
Cars rarely disturbed our play which included hopscotch chalked on pavements (we called it ‘beds’), skipping (often with rope leftover from the clothesline), football, rounders, and British Bulldog and similar games involving lots of chasing, hiding and rough and tumble.
However, we also roamed the hill towering over the houses opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of our road and a swathe of land separating upper and lower streets. The housing scheme stretched up a steep hill, Davaar Road being the topmost street and in the middle of that street, our house was number 35.
Across the road, behind a row of houses, there was a path we could climb to the top of the hill and see Gourock and the River Clyde. There were no tall trees but plenty of scrub, granite boulders and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgeling television industry: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco kid, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, and whatever adventure story Walt Disney promoted when he invited us to ‘wish upon a star’ on Sunday evenings.
Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under the chin. A memorable part of the long summer holidays was collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn to prepare for bonfire night in November.
We never forgot Guy Fawkes and to “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot!”
The hill also welcomed children roaming in hordes carrying buckets and jam jars to seek blackberries when in season. The incentive of Mum’s delicious bramble jam spurned us on. We even spread our hunt into the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the street where we weren’t supposed to go. We knew the resident bull to be a danger to life and limb – plus when the Tinkers (Gypsies/Travellers) came they camped in the fields and we were warned to respect their privacy.
Mum and Dad didn’t practice overt bigotry against Travellers like some people. Mum helped them whenever she could by paying them to do odd jobs and buying some goods they hawked, such as wooden ‘dolly’ clothes-pegs.
However, any place forbidden meant we incorporated them as a deliberate dare in games. There must be a guardian angel for stupid children!
Stranger danger not indoctrinated, and we were never overly fearful, although warned to be careful, not ‘ask for trouble’ and to obey the limitations placed on us. But I remember roaming even further afield and going to what we called ‘the secret lake’ along the Aileymill Road. This pleasant track linked the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny towns further down the coastline.
If she knew, Mum would never have sanctioned that sojourn, but we fished for tadpoles and hunted frogs and let loose our imagination and energy.
I revisited the secret lake in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes; the lake had shrunk to a large puddle rather than a lake. The farmer’s fields smaller too, and the bull nowhere in sight!
I checked out my old house in the 70s and again in 2017 – Davaar Road has not changed much although the houses modernised inside; sadly Aileymill is no longer bush to roam but another housing estate.
Walk the Neighbourhood Absorb the Beauty of Your Place
I acknowledge the Boon Wurrung as the traditional owners of Mordialloc and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Yesterday was Mabo Day, a significant day for First Nation Peoples, a day to honour the vision, commitment and legacy of Eddie Mabo, who paved the way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights and Native Title in Australia.
It is also the end of Reconciliation Week, which occurs from 27 May – 3 June every year.
The dates mark the May 27,1967 Referendum that amended the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census and ends with June 3 when in 1992, the historic Mabo judgement by the High Court of Australia recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land.
The Mabo decision acknowledged the First Nations longstanding and unique connection to the land for the last 65,000 to 80,000 years and declared Australia was not terra nullius – a claim used to justify the colonial invasion and acquisition of the land by Britain. In 1993, the Native Title Act passed in Federal Parliament and this has returned some sovereignty in some areas to First Nation peoples.
I wrote several posts in the last few days on other subjects, but each time stopped before posting because creative writing hints or other topics paled into insignificance with what is happening in the USA and other parts of the world after the recent murder of George Floyd.
Coupled with news of COVID-19, we have a perfect storm of misery.
George Floyd’s tragic murder captured on mobile video and replayed millions of times throughout the world has led to scenes reminiscent of the 1960s.
Scenes of civil unrest in the USA I remember watching as a teenager as they played nightly on the television news.
Sadly, many of the issues around systemic racism have still not been resolved and most politically aware people know this because what happened to George Floyd has happened to other African Americans, year in, year out!
Why do we remain silent? Why in Australia have we mostly ignored the 2015 death of David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who also struggled and said I Can’t Breathewhen pinned to a bed by several prison officers in Long Bay Gaol? (The video of that incident also circulating on social media and just as distressing as George Floyd’s murder.)
Social media has fuelled the current protests, but my newsfeed often filled with videos of appalling racist incidents, particularly since the election of Donald Trump.
I only hope the rage is maintained and results in a definite change.
Too many people are still reluctant to acknowledge systemic and institutionalized racism and white privilege exists or that people of colour are targeted by the police here in Australia and the USA.
Australia had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991) but there has been a lack of action on the recommendations and avoidable deaths are still occurring.
English has a list of words describing you
I checked the dictionary and thesaurus too
but really words will fail to record
your harmful legacy of bitter discord
How sad the office of American President
is sullied by you, the 45th resident
a narcissistic, dastardly, vainglorious fool
boastful, vacuous as you let ego rule
Pusillanimous, brutish, pompous, offensive
spouting ignorance when on the defensive
craven, fatuous, corrupt, and oafish
your addled tweets so often malicious.
A destructive numbskull you need to resign
the current civil unrest another warning sign
just go to Florida and there please stay
allow decent adult voices to have their say
Your election a nasty global surprise
a long three years have exposed your lies
let’s hope the tide will really turn blue
and in November we’ll be rid of you!
Civil Rights An Ongoing Struggle
I recall vividly hearing the news of JFK’s assassination in November 1963, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968, and of Bobbie Kennedy in June 1968. I’m sure many people my age remember where they were exactly when they heard the news of the killings.
When I went to university in Canberra in 1970 and took part in the protests supporting the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and Land Rights, I learnt firsthand the depth of Australia’s institutionalised racism and started on a journey to educate myself and to seek ways of being part of the answer and not part of the problem.
It is important not to remain silent – words in the form of poems, essays and stories are my way of working through the pain, anger and powerlessness I often feel when events like the murder of George Floyd or Aboriginal deaths in custody occur.
I also write letters to politicians and write blog posts and have conversations with people – encouraging others to be more aware and accept systemic racism exists.
When I look at the poems, I wrote in the 90s and in 2000; it seems there has been little progress, but I’ll keep writing because words are all I have and effective cultural change takes a lifetime.
When Mordialloc Writers Group hosted regular monthly Readings by The Bay, the poems and stories shared often sparked important conversations about racism. That forum no longer exists, but every community group can start conversations!
We watched with horror
as they beat you to the ground…
on the ground
into the ground
The gang of four wielding batons
grasped tightly to
beat your head
beat your body
beat your legs…
Pounding, pounding, pounding, pound.
A steady funeral dirge
burying the myth
of racial equality –
of equal rights
Middle-class liberals gasped
horrified at the naked truth
victims sighed with relief
the truth at last revealed
those with power to change
shrugged – what’s the fuss about?
Rodney King – who gave you that name?
A king in black skin – a hint of irony
– or is it okay if a surname?
Your destiny now entwined
with that other dreamer…
A picture is worth a thousand words
a video worth a thousand affidavits
television news worth a thousand protests
political decisions worth a thousand votes…
Time dimmed the anger and horror
even brutes are innocent until proven guilty
at the scheduled trial
will Nuremberg be revisited?
We waited for the sentence
believing we knew the judgement
but a jury without black faces
proves society controlled by red necks
and white lies let injustice triumph…
Los Angeles burns along with our shame
those with power remain unchanged
cosmetics mask the ugly face
waspish capitalists sting… again and again.
Australians are shocked. Horrified!
Yet reality reveals our guilt.
Our smugness shattered
when black deaths in custody
inspire jokes among police
our custodians of law
don’t need lessons in brutality
We watch L.A aflame
but closed minds switch off
like television sets.
Will Australia suffer the same fate?
I can only imagine the despair of many people of colour in the USA and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here but I stand in solidarity with their struggle for justice and will continue to promote events, books and articles to help others to stand in solidarity too.
It’s 20 years this week since theReconciliation Walkacross Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, a defining moment in the tortured history of Indigenous affairs in Australia.
We are hungry for our land!
The catch cry of the seventies
as angry black activists
reclaimed a slice of land…
They protested by establishing
an Aboriginal Tent Embassy
opposite Parliament House, Canberra
When the Embassy brutally dismantled
thousands of people
black and white together
linked arms to prevent
dispossession, yet again.
We celebrate Corroboree 2000
hundreds of thousands of people
black and white together
march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
but how far have we come when
Treaty is still a dream
Mandatory sentencing a reality
Black deaths in custody a shame
Government statistics used to deny
the devastating generational horror
of the Stolen Children!
Despite historical misinformation
and the cultural exclusiveness
of our education system
we cannot say we did not know!
We must be honest and admit
we didn’t care enough to seek the truth
confront the injustice
move out of our comfort zone…
It is a new century
we have a second chance
to right past wrongs
resolve to move forward
all contributions important – so
write a letter of protest
challenge a racist remark
invite Aboriginal speakers
to address schools and clubs
one nation honouring
the First People of this land
This our land.
It has been two weeks since my last post, but considering the hive of activity online with free courses, art-related and celebrity freebies, newspapers and journals unlocking paywalls, plus the constant news updates about the coronavirus, I doubt anyone has missed my jottings!
We also had Mother’s Day last weekend, which I enjoyed even if the movie and treats shared via ZOOM on the day because stage three lockdown still operated and Anne couldn’t visit.
The girls and I fangirls of the Victorian Premier who has shown impressive leadership through the COVID-19 crisis.
I have a feeling this will be a favourite number played in every pub/club in Melbourne when Victorians can truly ‘get on the beers‘ and socialise guilt-free!
(My preferred tipple is cider and here I am enjoying one after a day gardening…)
I know I’m not alone in receiving more parcel deliveries during the pandemic than in recent years. The service convenient, especially online grocery shopping, which I’ve found excellent.
If you can’t go out shopping safely, how wonderful to receive deliveries. I’ve loved receiving real mail in the mailbox other than bills, real estate ads and donation-seeking charity blurbs.
Good Things Come In Small & Big Packages
Students from past classes have posted lovely cards and letters asking after my welfare, and my incredible friend, Lisa, sent me a gorgeous box of super healthy fruit!
My sister knitted a Rabbie Burns doll (oh, if I could write like him!) and I’m enjoying the beautiful indoor plant and excellent read (a biography of NZ PM) from the girls and looking forward to next weekend when Anne visits and we’ll play a new board game.
Another dear friend, Lesley dropped off flowers to plant after her husband, Ian did some culling.
A day in the garden aroused Josie’s interest and jealousy. She spent the next three days digging up the cuttings one by one!
Lesley assures me there are more cuttings on the way…
I take every opportunity to laugh these days because, despite the worst-case scenarios not eventuating in Victoria and being a glass-half-full person, there have been days when anxiety about the present and the future has been almost overwhelming.
We will not forget the year 2020
Coronavirus stories will see to that
pandemic panic and widespread crying
no country free from the sick and dying
people forced to isolate and quarantine
practise social distancing
whether pauper or queen…
Wildlife too, adjusted behaviour
we will not forget the year 2020
many relationships shape-shifted
the Earth a pandemic was gifted…
Wildlife’s observations during isolation
would make any book they published
a headline grabber and selling sensation!
Life as I knew it will return in some form but until then…
A chat with Mary Jane, or a phone call or FaceTime with Anne or a friend always helps calm anxiety, but the best antidote is a lengthy daily walk with Josie, a companion like no other – her unconditional love brightens the day.
When the time suits, I’ll be out walking Josie without creating a schedule.
Whether the weather is the cliched ‘rain, hail or shine’, dressed appropriately I walk the dog – or rather Josie walks me!
Josie loves Mordialloc too, and when we are heading to friend Jillian’s house she breaks into a trot.
Walking and inhaling the beauty of our surrounds – neighbourhood gardens, Mordi streets, the parks, the Creek, the foreshore area… restores soul and energy – and we both know it.
The sea breeze rustles trees, birds sing from branches, insects hum and water ripples – nature’s beautiful chimes announce all is right with the world.
Walking is calming and observing details to write about helps me focus on anything but the troubles the world faces.
If confined to stay at home with no outside stimulation, I would retreat more often to the computer not doing anything productive. Crosswords and games online or scouring Internet articles interesting but not riveting or remotely relevant to current creative projects.
I’ve discovered I can spend the day doing absolutely nothing but going around in circles – literally hearing mum’s voice when she lamented, “I can’t get out of my own road.”
I often think of Mum’s little sayings and they make perfect sense!
I know other friends have shared this experience – truly a sign of these times we are living through. Crises take effort to adjust despite the many ads about the pandemic proclaiming; we are all in this together – it is a shared global experience.
Hopefully, witnessing the effect on other countries, everyone will be more aware of how precious and fragile life on Earth is and the urgent need to address the effects of climate change and inequity – pressing issues BEFORE the pandemic.
The latest news from the USA is not surprising, showing it is the poor who suffer the most in a pandemic. The article refers to New York, but it is a similar story throughout the world – we may all be going through the same storm but are definitely not in the same boat!
I hope when the worst of the pandemic is over there is more effort to ensure sustainability and a healthy world for all living creatures wherever their home may be.
‘How has your day been?‘
This is a daily question from Anne as she checks in on me.
If it wasn’t for the reflections and little ‘happenings’ from walking, I’m not sure our conversation would last long.
I don’t practice formal mindfulness, but when I walk with Josie, I find this is a time of peace and meditation. A time to focus on anything other than problems or worries.
Most days it is answering emails, sorting through old papers or photographs, cooking the dinner, trying out a cake or biscuit recipe, editing a short story or poem, weeding the garden, washing clothes… jumping from one task to another, no rhyme or reason…
Did I achieve or finish anything?
Does it matter?
There is pleasure in the hours of walking, observing, and greeting (from a distance) other dog walkers, friendly strangers, friends, and acquaintances not seen for a while!
People working from home or at home because they have lost their job walk for exercise and are more visible than when in their cars.
(A definite bonus of isolation is meeting people from the past. People I met when involved with Mordialloc Primary School, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and who attended writing workshops I’ve held.)
Like many people, during the first few weeks of COVID-19 crisis, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with the news – not only of how the pandemic was playing out in Australia but each gruesome detail of disastrous death tolls and the lockdowns in Asia, Europe, UK and USA.
I soon discovered the day much better if I limited the news source to one or two outlets, only once a day or even news-free days.
My daughters agree:
‘Think of your blood pressure Mum’
‘You’re dealing with cancer – one crisis at a time’
‘Let us worry about that – we’ll do the shopping’
… and true to their word, I don’t have to go anywhere except for medical visits and exercise – the latter entails gardening and walking the dog.
Safe and contactless living!
Friends and family I haven’t been able to connect with face to face have stayed connected over the Internet and by phone. The severe social consequences some have suffered because of isolation hasn’t happened to me.
The change in circumstances has made me think more deeply from the perspective of those with disabilities or illness who always have a limited connection with the outside world and must rely entirely on carers.
Let’s hope some creative ways ZOOM and similar programs have been used to provide services will remain and give access to a richer day to those permanently socially distanced!
My walks alternate between Mordialloc Creek and McDonald Street football oval and surrounds plus wandering around the suburban streets.
Joyful as this is, I know Josie will be beside herself when we return to the off-leash dog park and she catches up with other dogs en masse. Dogs are pack animals and not overly enamoured with social distancing.
Josie loves to chase and fetch. When off-leash, she’ll be able to exercise her full potential running after balls thrown from the special holder we have to turn the ball into a long-distance missile.
Seasons Don’t Recognise Pandemics
The change from summer to autumn in the gardens has been delightful to watch. Gardens seem to have been a riot of colour this year and people have worked hard transforming their gardens or homes with imagination.
A house where a couple created a beautiful Japanese-type garden is now up for lease – maybe it is their retirement income. Kudos to them both for putting so much effort into a garden for others to enjoy. Josie and I enjoyed our daily chats and seeing the shrubs, pavers and water feature being installed.
I’ve watched a house around the corner being built and Josie has loved the attention from the tradies.
It has been pleasant to have so few cars parked in the street because of fewer commuters and no U3A classes in the Allan McLean Hall at the end of the street.
Lockdown rules changed after Mother’s Day, allowing small gatherings, businesses and workplaces to open if they can manage the social distancing guidelines. People are visiting friends and family and larger groups play or exercise in the parks or practise sport.
People are resilient, small businesses often adapt – I spotted this van in Albert Street.
But people are hurting and the local Presbyterian church recognises this and has set up a community pantry.
However, not a lot has changed in my little bubble but then apart from the dramatic decrease in traffic and more people walking and chalked pavements from kids being schooled at home, not much seemed to change in Mordialloc at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.
We are a coastal suburb with plenty of open space and I have been steering clear of busy shopping centres since Christmas because of poor health. Other suburbs will have their unique experiences.
Now to writing:
Where do you go for serenity?
This is something to reflect on and write about – it might be helpful to first record where you goor what you usually do to ease anxiety.
If yoga class is something you do, or dancing or working out at the gym many of these now have classes online you may have joined.
You may favour a room, a church, a friend’s house, or a special tree in your garden.
Or perhaps you indulge in an activity like writing or walking… maybe sewing or cooking…
Your serenity place or activity may be difficult to substitute during the lockdown, or you might have found it easy to adapt.
Do you have a special place you visit only once or twice a year? A place that may hold a strong emotional attachment or memory? Writing about it may help capture the calmness and peacefulness the place represents.
Perhaps there is there an activity or place in your daily routine easily adapted to isolation rules.
Here are more writing suggestions:
Imagine yourself where you find serenity. Why are you there? Has something prompted the visit?
Describe your serenity setting.
Compare at least two visits to your serenity place.
What happens when this place disturbed, or no longer available, or your plans must change?
Do you have an alternative?
Write a poem inspired by the word serenity.
What is the opposite of serenity for you? Is there one particular time that stands out?
Write about how you unwind or handle anxiety – this may have changed over the years.
List the various ways you are meeting the challenge of isolation and practising social-distancing.
Did you ever consider ‘stress’ before it became a much talked about ‘modern’ disease?
(When I recorded the history of our local primary school in Mordialloc on its 125th anniversary, I interviewed many past students and staff. I’ve never forgotten a woman who attended the school during the depression years of the 1930s and coped through the war years commenting, ‘ No one had stress then – we just got on with life.’)
Reflect on the lives of your parents and grandparents. Do you think they suffered stress – even if they didn’t call it that?
Do you know how they dealt with the tough periods of their lives? Were the pace of life and the responsibilities they had really that different from nowadays? If so – how?
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
In life, we use five senses and if a writer, we should also use them in our writing to allow the readers to experience poems and prose on all levels.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about other senses and today I’ll concentrate on the sounds in the real world and the world you create when writing.
We are farewelling autumn in Melbourne and because of the COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing, there were some traditional sounds missing from Melburnian lives – minimum playing in parks and on beaches, football and other sporting games cancelled and the annual ANZAC Day celebrations and accompanying parades didn’t happen – although we did light up the dawn…
Autumn Mairi Neil
Autumn… the clocks change
a time to enjoy
an extra hour
snuggled beneath the doona
Autumn… walks in the park
crunching leaves underfoot
a season with warm days
pretending summer still around
Autumn… vibrant flowers
a time of colourful
rainbows dropping from trees
playing peek-a-boo through fences
Autumn… a season to pause
contemplate winter’s chill
prepare body and soul
with warming soups and good books
Autumn… a time of contemplation
The Easter story and ANZAC
Love and Hope the best human qualities
Write about the sounds of your autumn – before coronavirus and what you have experienced recently. What daily sounds do you notice in isolation?
Extend your thoughts and think of a sound that isn’t around anymore: the click of typewriter keys, the tone that played during the test pattern on 1950s TVs, the brrrring of your portable alarm clock, the sound of the dial turning on a telephone, the theme of an old TV or radio program, the sound of a former pet’s paws on the hardwood floor, the sound of the doorbell of a house you used to live in, a steam train’s whistle, the clink of milk bottles…
… What memories do those sounds conjure up?What rooms, people, neighbourhoods and workplaces do you see in your imagination?
Remember the starting handles for cars? Remember, an overheated radiator often spoiled trips in the summer, or cars refusing to start in winter?
Did the roar of a neighbour’s motorbike wake you up, or did they have a Holden V8? What about church bells ringing, a grandfather clock striking? Someone practising a musical instrument (bagpipes/drums), off-key singing – an acoustic versus electric guitar? The tap of dance shoes or a walking stick, the squeak of a pram or wheelchair?
What sounds do you hear now?
does a tree mulcher or leaf blower shatter your peace?
perhaps a chainsaw cutting trees down
how noisy are the garbage men? Do you remember the days of chasing your bin lids down the street?
do neighbours have hens – a rooster? Or perhaps a pig?
what about someone learning a musical instrument?
did you ever stop and listen while someone played a street piano, a busker played their fiddle or guitar?
Sounds of Albert Street Mairi Neil
In the morning, at dawn break
in a dreamlike state
to sounds that jar
electric train whistle
whine of car, after car…
a distant noticeable rumble
the roar of the sea
as white caps tumble…
I picture huge waves crashing
spewing debris ashore
against pier and rocks splashing –
on the street, horses make
a constant clip-clop
as daily exercise take…
familiar daily tapping
announced in suburbia
by family dogs yapping.
a dawn chorus will sing
curlews, starlings, magpies
twittering, cawing, whistling
blackbirds, seagulls and crows
dewy feathers a-glistening
If you are writing a memoir or a historical story or novel, pay a visit to your local museum for research. If you’re lucky, there will be firsthand accounts and exhibits of household and workplace equipment and tools to remind you to include authentic descriptions and sounds.
Spend some time brainstorming a list of descriptive words that you can refer to when needing inspiration. Continually add to your list, expanding memories and categories as they evolve. Your list could look like this:
the soft sound of someone breathing or harsh gasp of breath
buzz of a chainsaw (or bees)
drone of an aircraft or car
bark, yap, yelp, howl of a dog – think of other animals noises
rumble of thunder, wheels on concrete – an empty stomach, that can also grumble
rustle of leaves, bushes, trees, pages of a book
gurgle of a drain, water in a hose, water down the plughole
the wail of a child, or laugh and giggle
quiet as midnight, the hush of morning, the silence of sadness….
Writing Exercise 1:
Choose any of these images, think of the sounds you will hear if you are also in the picture. Write a story or poem, or memory.
Writing Exercise 2:
Extend one or all of these sentences to make the situation real – pick any genre, add a character, theme and plot – or write a poem. (Team it up with one of the images on this post perhaps?)
The kitten MIAOWED when I left for work.
The puppy BARKED when I left for my jog/to go shopping.
The tree branches SWAYED in the wind.
The cursor MOVES across the computer screen.
The clock TICK-TOCKED in the kitchen.
Sounds for excitement or pizazz
In a piece of writing, a sentence including descriptions of noises creates a strong atmosphere. It rouses the reader’s excitement.
Sound unrelated to the action but characterise the place is perfect for creating atmosphere. You can combine several sounds in a single sentence:
An empty beer can clattered along the pavement
Keyboards clacked, papers rustled, and printers whirred
Upstairs a toilet flushed and water gurgled down the drainpipe
Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning flashed
Washing machines sloshed, driers rumbled and coins rattled into slots
Motors whined, and tyres screeched on the tarmac
Hooves clattered on the cobblestones below
The train sped up with a low growl that rose to a high whine within moments
Thunder roared, and raindrops hammered against the glass
The fire in the grate crackled and red gum logs hissed and popped
the engine throbbed as the waves slapped the side of the boat
ice clinked in the glass as Bond poured her a martini
Writing Background Noise
You can insert a sentence about background noises in any part of the scene where it makes sense. For example:
The point of view character is waiting (for a job interview, a medical appointment, a rescue, an execution, an exam…) what do they hear? Inside and/or outside noises?
A character pauses or delays replying. A sentence like this implies the pause and is more interesting than ‘he paused’ or ‘she hesitated’… what can fill the silence?
To emphasise an exciting moment. Is there a clap of thunder, applause, a balloon popping, laughter…?
To further raise the tension in a suspenseful situation, insert a sentence about background noise the moment the reader holds his/her breath.
When the setting is dark (at night, or in a cellar), sprinkle sounds throughout the scene to add to the mood suspense, to ground the reader.
Here are two different pieces of short fiction including background and action sounds:
The sounds mentioned above may inspire you; think about the examples shown and write a scene with background noises to create a realistic scene and draw the reader in.
Whenever characters do something – walk, work, fight or rest – their actions, even if in a small setting, will create a link between the action and the setting.
Emphasise this link, especially if you want the reader to become immersed in the story. The best way to do this is by describing the sounds arising from the characters’ interaction with the environment.
She ran out, banging the door behind her.
The door slammed shut behind her.
Here are some other examples:
The door screeched on its hinges
I sank into the armchair, and the cushion wheezed.
The seat squeaked under his weight.
Stairs creaked as she retired to bed.
Gravel crunched under their feet.
The wheeled suitcase rattled across cracked paving-slabs.
The light plane trundled over the patched tarmac.
The windshield wipers scraped the glass.
The grandfather clock chimed midnight.
The lift shook and grunted to a stop.
His breath rasped as he scraped the mud off his boots.
The car keys jangled in the air as he tempted her to go for a drive.
Writing Exercise 4:
Use some above examples to write a story or poem, or perhaps a memory, or let the following images inspire you:
When I visited London in 2017, Big Ben was under renovation, but it still worked.
International tourists cluster beneath Melbourne Central’s famous musical clock as it opens up to reveal Australia’s famous birds
Have you seen or heard any other famous clocks?
What about the clock at Melbourne’s National Art Gallery – what would it feel like to be trapped in a time warp, or trapped inside a clock?
There are famous bells like this ship’s bell in Shetland and the one aboard the Rainbow Warrior – exciting tales of shipwrecks and rescues make a great story with plenty of sounds of the sea and storms:
Sound – the waves crashed on the rocks, the gulls screaming above. Sight – the heavy, grey rocks look as if they will slide into the leaden sea. Touch -the wind lifts my hair and sudden gusts sting my face. Taste – the spray from the waves leave salt on my lips
Do you have a travel tale? A character who goes on a spiritual journey?
There are pictures of churches and temples and tourist attractions to inspire imagination or memory –
Home Delivery of Milk
Sometimes photos remind us of how sex-segregated occupations were in years past. When I was young, librarians were primarily female and milk was delivered by males. Many streets had a post where the horse-drawn milk delivery cart could be tied up.
When I migrated to Croydon in 1962 there was still a horse trough in the main street. And in Mordialloc in the 80s there was one outside Davis’ Laundry in Bear Street. (horse trough and laundry both gone)
The horse always knew where to stop on the route and wait until the milkman delivered the bottles. When I arrived in Australia as a nine-year-old, I thought it was wonderful to have a horse and cart bring the milk and often cadged a ride from the milkman.
Did you ever talk to the milkman or his horse? Feed it? Collect the manure for the garden? Describe a scene you remember including sounds, smells, taste.
Was milk delivered to your home when you were young? If so, did the milkman bring any other items? Can you remember a coalman, firewood being delivered, soft drink (Loys), the iceman? Did you have a refrigerator or an icebox?
Great grandparents may have kept the milk cool in a small stream that ran across their property, or in a bath of cold water. Write about your childhood memories of home deliveries of milk and possibly other groceries.
How often were the deliveries? Daily? Can you remember when deliveries stopped – how did you or your parents feel? Were you over-awed at the first supermarket visit? Were you friendly with the milk bar or corner shop owners?
Have you had home deliveries during the lockdown?How different was that experience from earlier days? Can you imagine home deliveries for a range of goods resuming by drone??
What things are better left in the past and what’s your ideal future?
In the mornings, when the light of day is breaking do you imagine you can still hear the sound of glass milk bottles in wire baskets heading to your front door?
Did you go to the local dairy and get milk and bottles of cream in glass jars?
Reflect on how the way you shop and what you shop for has changed – emphasising sound.
Here is a Facebook meme that made me smile because I still have one of these by my bedside!
Writers describe a sound when the situation draws attention to it – a door creaks, so your protagonist turns her head. They can also use a sound for effect – to get on the reader’s nerves, to alarm or relax them. The soothing babble of a little brook is comforting but the shrieking sound of nails scratching over a chalkboard, the exact opposite.
Has a sudden or particular sound frightened you? Acoustic shock effects are deeply ingrained in most readers. The sudden uproar of a roaring chainsaw is frightening enough, but if it is wielded by a madman bent on murder, you’ve got your shock value!
Nowadays, if writing sci-fi you’d be describing the noise of lightsabers!
Good writers use all the senses to give readers a multi-dimensional experience. Using the senses evokes feelings and responses in the reader.
Senses like sight, sound, and smell can also build tension.
When you’re writing, think about using all the senses to allow your readers to immerse themselves in the world and lives of the characters. Try to incorporate these into your writing.
The most engrossing books are the ones that draw us into their world and evoke many sensations and emotions.
The reader doesn’t just experience what the main character can see. Using sounds and smells can evoke pain and fear.
Great writers make our mouths water as we read about sumptuous feasts, gasp as the main character touches something that they’re not supposed to and grimace when they taste a bitter berry that could be poisonous.
Write a little every day, without hope and without despair.
In a few hours, thousands of people across Australia will stand in their driveway or pause inside their home to pay respects and remember those who gave their lives in WW1.
This special commemoration of an important day in the Australian calendar for national remembrance is because of COVID-19 and the unprecedented lockdown and social-distancing restrictions placed on the community to halt the spread of the virus.
Mordialloc’s local member of parliament, Tim Richardson MP, sent a special newsletter detailing the celebration of ANZAC Day and paying tribute to veterans.
ANZAC Day Dawn services are still being held without the crowds, so the RSL has asked those who have a brass instrument to play the Last Post for their neighbourhood who will #StandTO as the official service ends with the usual minute silence.
I’ve written other posts about ANZAC Day, not to elevate or celebrate the importance of military prowess but from the perspective that all war is a tragedyand a senseless waste of human life.
WW1 is part of our family history – the trauma is personal. We have genuine heartache and tears remembering those who paid the ultimate price. The uncle buried in Egypt, who fought at Gallipoli, shares the same name as my father.
The details of the grave of GEORGE ALEXANDER McINNES_is here. He is one of over 60,000 who sacrificed their life in WW1.
The Annual Service At The Shrine
I’ve only attended the Shrine Dawn Service once but have never forgotten the emotional experience:
Ten years ago, I booked a seat on the free bus to the ANZAC dawn service at the Shrine, leaving Mordialloc Station at 4.20am. No alarm needed because I toss and turn half asleep, fearful of missing the bus. Warm clothes required for the short walk along Albert Street – especially for my head recovering from the ravages of chemotherapy.
Exhaustion, the chill from the sea air, and discomfort from cancer recovery negligible compared to what my Uncle George and other soldiers endured. I clutch a travel mug of freshly brewed tea and hurry towards a group of shadows hovering at the bus stop.
A blonde in a fur-trimmed camel coat and matching hat detaches herself from the fence and returns my ‘good morning’ with a smile. A mother and teenage son turn away obviously not wanting a conversation – it is a bit early to be chatty. An indecipherable black figure doesn’t move from a post further down the street.
The blonde speaks, ’I wish I’d thought of a travel mug.’
‘One of my better ideas. I never slept.’
‘Nor me, and I went out last night.’
‘Gosh, no point in going to bed then.’
As we laughed a ringtail possum scurried along the electricity wires, ‘He’s probably wondering what we’re doing here in the middle of the night,’ I said.
‘This is my first time.’
‘Me too,’ I say, ‘ it’s on my Bucket List.’ I point to my mauve turban, ‘breast cancer.’
‘Good on you. I’m meeting a friend who goes every year. Her dad’s a vet…’
The bus grumbles to a stop and a dozen more passengers materialise from parked cars in the street and station car park. The night streets are silent as we drive to the city, neon lights stab the inky sky, masking the stars.
At the Shrine, a sea of people merges in the predawn dimness. The number of people takes me by surprise. Such a hive of activity. All ages and genders, all shapes and sizes… a steady stream of buses from rural and suburban Melbourne, drop people off to join the crowd.
The Shrine looms out of the fog. Soldier and media scrum silhouetted against the brightening sky. A handful of lights dot the skyline, making the buildings on St Kilda Road discernible except for a massive glowing cube, changing from blue and green to red and silver, atop a building.
Perhaps Dr Who or Daleks will arrive from this gigantic ice cube to remind that man was made to mourn and peace is an elusive concept for every generation…
Serendipity or synchronicity, but even that light doused when a church service hush descended.
45,000 attend this Dawn Service.
The words and music of Buffy St Marie’s Universal Soldier and John Lennon’s Imagine come to mind just as the public address system fails miserably. I can’t hear what they say, despite gigantic strategically placed speakers.
Silently, I recite the 23rd Psalm in place of whatever solemn speech is being intoned.
To be close to the front, I squelched through grass still soggy from a recent storm and rapidly churned to mud by the crowd. I imagine George sleeping in the trenches and emotion lumps in my throat.
Buried in Egypt, he died six months after arriving at Gallipoli. A working-class boy from Williamstown. He would never have imagined this huge, eclectic crowd, heads bowed, remembering him and others who did not come home.
Colour crept into the sky, a dark red stain obliterating the fog. Two fruit bats hover and fly away, not the squadron of nesting bats a friend complained marred last year’s ceremony.
The flypast invisible because of heavy clouds but the aircraft’s’ rumble and drone a cause to celebrate with a rifle salute that startles me, even although I was prepared. How did George and his mates cope with constant bombardment? No wonder so many came home shell-shocked.
A glimmer of sunlight bounces off the medals adorning chests lined up centre stage and on the chests of people around me. No need for uniforms to remind us this is a military occasion.
The smell of traditional breakfast – sausages, bacon, eggs, toast… a drawcard for many but I have no appetite. I weave through the crowd and climb on the bus to return home, fighting back tears and overwhelming sadness.
George, like so many others, died alone in a foreign land, never understanding what the war was about. His grave never visited by family… Lest we forget.
World War One began in 1914 and lasted for four years; 416 809Australians volunteered for service. 324 000 served overseas and over 60 000 were killed, including 45,000 who died on the Western Front in France and Belgium and more than 8,000 who died on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.
Many nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service served on the Western Front. These nurses worked in overcrowded hospitals for up to 16 hours a day, looking after soldiers with shocking injuries and burns. Those who worked in hospitals close to the fighting were also in danger of being shelled by the enemy.
Red poppies worn on Remembrance or Armistice Day, November 11, are often used as a symbol for ANZAC Day too.
The tradition has its origins in a poem written in 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps. Lieutenant Colonel McCrae noticed that, despite the devastation caused by the war to towns, farms and forests, thousands of small red poppies began growing everywhere in Spring. This inspired his poem, first published in England’s Punch magazine in December 1915.
Within months it came to symbolise the sacrifices of all who were fighting in WW1.
In 1918 Moina Michael, an American, wrote a poem in reply, We Shall Keep the Faith, in which she promised to wear a poppy ‘in honour of our dead’ and so began the tradition of wearing a poppy in remembrance.
She and Frenchwoman Madame Anna Guérin, known as “The French Poppy Lady”, encouraged people to use the red Flanders poppy as a way of remembering those who had suffered in war.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Nurses and Doctors Always In the Front Line
During the current coronavirus catastrophe, we have lauded medical staff as heroes. This acknowledgement of their dedication and courage is important. They put themselves at risk and serve the community in peacetime and war.
When I was on duty at the Soldiers Memorial Institute for Open House Bendigo 2019, their historical exhibits and telling of Bendigo stories impressed me. I’ve been to many historical exhibitions and museums commemorating WW1, especially during Centenary celebrations, and I always learn something new or discover another aspect not considered before.
In the recently refurbished building, they present well the stories of Bendigo nurses and doctors who went to war and also Chinese Australians.
The Returned Soldiers’ Memorial Hall grew out of the returned soldiers’ associations that were established throughout Australia during and after World War I. The first such association in Bendigo was established at the home of a local woman but by 1917 the Returned Soldiers’ Association was advocating for the creation of club rooms at the former Hustler’s Royal Reserve mine site, Pall Mall.
Local architect George Dawson Garvin was commissioned to design the Memorial Hall and the Governor of Victoria officially opened it in 1921. They added the Institute building to the Victorian Heritage Register in 1997. Recent conservation works by Lovell Chen have included the removal of past extensions and, as the building is sited over old mine shafts and on a compacted mullock heap, underpinning.
A new gallery, designed to Passive House standards and conceived as a contemporary interpretation of the arcaded loggia, nestles behind the Institute. The external use of a single material for the walls and roof blurs the scale of this new addition, allowing it to read as a single storey building. An entry vestibule at the north end mediates between the inner gallery and an encircling verandah that also provides additional exhibition space. The verandah is timber lined (floor, walls and ceiling) focusing and framing the visitors views constantly outwards through the arcaded openings, in-filled with glass and perforated mesh.
Open House, Melbourne
Seventy-four Bendigo nurses volunteered to serve in Egypt, the Dardanelles, Salonika, France, Belgium, England, Italy, India, and on hospital and transport ships. Their qualifications ranged from infectious diseases, acute care, experience in theatre, ward and hospital management. They cared for the injured and sick with care and compassion.
Of the local nurses who served, two died because of their service, and twelve were invalided home. Four were Mentioned in Despatches, one received the award of the Royal Red Cross and four received the Royal Red Cross Second Class.
Thirty-one doctors from Bendigovolunteered to serve, leaving the safety and security of their positions at the Bendigo Hospital, medical practices, or studies. Some supported the recruitment and training effort in Australia, others went overseas.
The local doctors came from two distinct groups. Fifteen were linked to the Bendigo Hospital; sixteen were born or educated in Bendigo, or had family connections to Bendigo and had practised in central Victoria.
Non-combatant medical officers, they dealt with horrific wounds, grave illnesses and deaths associated with war with constant compassion and dedication.
Of the Bendigo doctorswho served, three died because of service, several were invalided home, seven Mentioned in Despatches, four received the Military Cross, two received foreign decorations, one received the Distinguished Service Order and three admitted to the Order of the British Empire.
Over 200 Chinese-Australians joined the AIF. Almost all were born in Australia. Many were descendants of immigrants who came from southern China to central Victoria during the 1850s gold rushes.
Samuel Tong-Way was born in Ballarat to Chinese-born parents. Despite being initially rejected by recruiting officers in 1916, Tong-Way persevered and enlisted in 1917 when there was an easing of restrictions. After training, he was posted to France in December 1918, just after the Armistice. Before returning home, Tong-Way obtained study leave at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in Kensington.
He returned to Australia in 1920 and resumed studies teaching. He taught at the Violet Street and Gravel Hill state schools and marched every ANZAC Day in Bendigo until the year before his death in 1988.
Whenever I see the honour rolls of war dead, the immensity of the loss to families is always overwhelming. On the Bendigo roll, many surnames the same, and reflect a similar story in other Australian country towns – you ache for the farming families who lost several sons and cousins.
This ANZAC Day, I hope all those who pass the Gallipoli Precinct at St Nicholas’ Church in Mordialloc, will pause.
Please think of the tragic loss of life in all wars and make a commitment to always champion peace. I know I will when having my daily exercise walking Josie.
We are still in stage 3 Lockdown and still practising social distancing – but not from our pens or computer keyboard!
It’s easy to write poorly, but it’s hard to write poorly every day. Wait. Let’s go back a step: It’s hard to write every day.
Writing is a craft and like all crafts there are techniques to improve your work and to make it stand out from others. One such writing technique or device is personification.
PERSONIFICATION is giving human qualities, feelings, actions or characteristics to an inanimate or non-human object. This can include giving human characteristics to animals or animal characteristics to humans or even writing a story from an object’s point of view.
For example: the window winked at me (winking is a human action, the window is an object); the tree clawed at me – tree branches are not human arms.
Personification enriches poetry and prose and may be culturally biased because writers experiment, they express their emotions, reflect their upbringing and education and life experience. They will write personal views of certain human attributes, cultural perceptions, and sayings when they write creatively.
Personification is probably the most common figure of speech we come across and most of us use examples several times a day in speech and writing without realising we do.
Personificationinjects human behaviour into material objects or abstract concepts.
Advertisers and marketers use it to sell products all the time. For example: health educators will try to make vegetables exciting to children.
We talk about shoes killing us, colours screaming, a furious sea battering the coastline, a doona smothering us, the wind crying, howling or whispering…
TV adverts talk about cancer as if it is a bullying soldier, an invading army, an enemy of the state… if you have cancer we must battle it.
A house might be a demanding baby to be soothed by a coat of paint…
Pay attention to the seductive ditties, words, arguments in marketing and you’ll understand the value of personification to persuade an audience, drawing them into a world they identify.
Contemplating our own mortality is a struggle and confronting – death is a taboo subject to many families and cultures, so we use personification to describe our feelings:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the New Testament – usually named as war, famine, disease and death.
We have depicted death as a serious farm worker (the Grim Reaper) – remember the Aids campaign?
An old woman with a broom (always witch-like) also used to represent death!
There are various representations for someone described as a fox: a sly old fox, a silver-haired fox, a vixen, a good hunter, an evil marauder, a thief, a murderer… depends on your point of view or experience of foxes and what the story is about.
It’s so easy to personify that many poets don’t realise they’re doing it. Be mindful of your personification tools and use them sparingly.
Don’t be obscure – if you are writing about a gymnast, readers shouldn’t think you are writing about a light bulb or a tree.
In Emily Dickinson’s poem Death is a gentleman with impeccable good manners –
Because I could not stop for Death He Kindly stopped for me The Carriage held but just Ourselves And Immortality.
Personificationcan pack a punch.
In 1819, cavalry charged into an unarmed crowd of men, women and children demanding parliamentary reform in Manchester, in the north of England.
About 20 people died and over 400 wounded. The tragedy shocked the country, and it became known as the Peterloo Massacre (the battle of Waterloo occurred four years earlier.)
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem about the incident reveals his anger and contempt for the politicians fighting the reforms and who he blames for the shocking tragedy:
I met Murder on the way He had a mask like Castlereagh Next came Fraud, and he had on, Like Eldon, an ermined gown; His big tears, for he wept well, Turned to mill-stones as they fell, And the little children, who Round his feet played to and from, Thinking every tear a gem, Had their brains knocked out by them
Personification can reduce big concepts, events, even people or authority to a level we can understand. It can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, memorable, or at least something we see with new eyes.
What kind Of Person?
Decide what kind of personal traits or career each of the following could be. Write a sentence or perhaps write a character profile for a story:
In case you are uninspired or unsure, I’ve shared a range of responses from past students:
A shark – a used car salesman, someone in marketing, a predator A goat– a good climber, a person who eats anything, someone with a ravenous appetite, a stubborn old goat, mindless, randy, agile, nimble, single-minded, socially and physically active A worm – a bookworm, wriggly, a crawler, worm their way into affections, slimy, shy, retiring A rabbit – skittery, timid, shy, bright-eyed, brainless, harmless, breed like a rabbit, sexually irresponsible, randy, cuddly, fluffy bunny A leech – clingy, bloodsucker, parasite, ingratiating, an invader, An elephant – good memory, solid, stoic, get with the strength, clumsy, blunders, too big for their boots A snake – slithery, slippery, dishonest, shedding skin, a fake, a bigamist, dangerous, untrustworthy A wombat– hides away, muddleheaded, determined, a night worker, sleepy, retiring type A lamb – innocent, vulnerable, frolics, gambols, meek, religious person, a follower A rat– selfish, sneaky, dangerous, untrustworthy, crafty, survivor, deserter, attacker, insatiable
When the sun entered the room, he threw his bright light into a dark corner.
Her warm orange glow made everyone feel better.
In the evening, she is a buxom wench in flame-coloured taffeta.
He is the centre of our world, and the day pivots around him.
The shadow crept around the building as furtive as a thief.
She huddled cold and forlorn in the shadow, praying for rescue.
The bushfire raged throughout the night, destroying everything in his path.
Thunder & Lightning
The thunder roared and lightning flashed and she knew the two giants would fight all night.
The earthquake swallowed the city in several angry bites.
We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
Cat on Condominium Rooftop Mairi Neil
Soaking up the sun
green eyes ignore life below
people scurry to work
forget to look up
marching ants trudge
to soulless jobs
drones on daily grind
a boring bind.
No such limitations for the cat
rising and stretching limbs
warm tiles a luxurious bed
to sleep and dream of
the tramp of footsteps
cacophony of voices
fading rising fading rising
the daily grind
not his bind.
A butterfly flitters past
pauses briefly on a tree branch
trembling wings bathed in sunlight
green eyes blink, a paw twitches
but passersby unaware
of Mother Nature’s show
weary feet tramp and trudge
the daily grind
grips and binds
An elegant stretch, the cat sits
to watch the dying sun
green eyes observe life below
people scurrying home from work
forgetting to look up
they’ve missed the sunshine
the butterfly’s graceful dance
the cat’s sunny somnolence
their daily grind
a soulless bind
Write about a character or an event and use personification. Here are some sentences that could start you off –
The cloud scattered rain throughout the city.
The ancient car groaned into third gear.
The daffodils nodded their yellow heads as we walked up the path.
The wind sang her mournful song through the rafters of the barn
The microwave’s alarm told me it was time to eat my TV dinner
The camcorder observed the whole tragedy
The chocolate cake begged to be eaten
The crockery danced on the shelves when the door slammed
Look around the room, or your home, your workplace, your garden, the local park, a cafe, a place you visit regularly… (some of these will be from memory because of COVID-19!)
Think about inanimate objects and other everyday items – what kind of vocabulary do they have?
The sturdy, dark brown bookcase in the corner- is it male or female? Cheerful or depressed?
Could the corkscrew on the bar be on a diet, have a memory of failure?
Is the bargain basement table sneaky or does it feel second best?
An antique, leather armchair and an Ikea stool do similar jobs, but do they have different ways of looking at the world
How do you feel about computers? Have you been frustrated and yelled at the computer – how did it answer?
What stories about clocks do you have? Write about your favourite or least favourite alarm clock – perhaps it is a baby’s cry and not a clock at all!
You may have the same bed after a failed marriage but does it feel the same – maybe miss the previous occupant?
What stories have you about trees in your garden – removing them, perhaps one fell down and damaged something, perhaps you always got fruit and bottled it, had a tree house… do you talk to the trees and do they answer you?
Those Wedgewood plates you inherited – do they have the same thoughts as you – do they feel fragile, overused, useless, precious?
One of my favourite poets, Scotland’s Rabbie Burns (1759 – 1796), said ‘the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley‘ a truism for most of us because at least once or twice in life we have planned to do something and the plan fails for personal or external reasons within our control, or not.
My plan, to blog every day to help myself and others write through the COVID-19 crisis fell by the wayside over Easter. Each day since there have been medical appointments, other events or just sheer procrastination leaving a post unwritten.
Rather than beat myself up over the failure, I’ll cling to the good intention and try not to fail again but if I do, it is not the end of the world!
I’ve experienced many failures and the whole gamut of reasons to explain writing poorly or not writing – as I’m sure many others have – so while staying home, staying safe and staying positive, here are some more ideas to conquer the isolation blues!
Where Do Stories Come From And What Can We Do With Them
“Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.”
Many things trigger memories and usually, when we want to be imaginative and creative we draw on our own experience or what we have seen, read about, or heard.
Originality is rarely found in the idea but in the words you use, the perspective, interpretation, and presentation of your story. Christopher Booker in his 2005 book The Seven Basic Plots, Why we tell stories listed those plots as:
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
Voyage and return
Of course, these headings leave plenty of scope for you to exercise your imagination!
However, it is the emotional engagement a writer creates for the reader/audience that makes the difference. Characters, storyline, conflict and setting contribute to making a story memorable too.
An accomplished creative writer can take any one of these basic plots into the realm of a great, entertaining read with perhaps a life-changing effect on the reader.
Today we’ll have fun with words
Word suggestions – A quick exercise in writing triggered by a pair of words – often mismatched. Write whatever comes into your head, a poem or piece of prose, a ditty or an observation. Perhaps the germ of an idea saved for later to be expanded into an anecdote or story.
These are random word pairs I’ve picked from Wordplay – mix and match, pick one or all of them:
As always with these exercises, if you set a timer for 10-15 minutes, or set yourself a time to write, that little bit of pressure can nudge the muse.
This dinosaur poop is a real scoop
The grinning newspaper reporter said
As he munched a banana and bounced a ball
And watched his rival go red.
He hinted the newspaper’s chief editor
thought him top dog, a diamond find
His rival’s eyes glared, tongue clicked
thinking a punch might change his mind
But alas he’d be fired like a rocket
And this boastful nut continue to smirk
So like a ship with a good compass
He went to bed to ignore the horse-faced jerk
Crazy headlines – you are given several cards – use them all or discard the ones that don’t fit. Create a headline and then write a short story or article to match the headline, or depending what newspaper or magazine is leading the charge, and what genre your writing, perhaps the story can be as absurd as the game!
For an extra exercise of your writing muscles rewrite the story in the style of several newspapers from tabloid to academic, print to online…
Today, a packed Supreme Court was shocked to hear that one of its own judges was crooked. It is alleged that Judge Lilow aided and abetted the infamous Jessica James who is wanted in three continents for fraud and money laundering.
Ms James, an American tourist became Judge Lilow’s lover before embroiling him in shady dealings. The judge remains in custody and is said to be angry and ready to turn Queen’s evidence since he discovered that he is not the first senior judge to fall for Jessica James. The 25-year-old tourist is an expert in manipulating older men proving that there is no fool like an old fool!
Rememory – share a memory – a character (could be you, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, cousin, or friend), place the character in a setting (a season, work, night or day…) and a topic – could be a word, a phrase, an idea, a comment…
Write a story, true or false, your own memory or someone else’s.
It can be a definite season or the season of life, Spring can mean April or September depending on the hemisphere, or the springtime in your life. Likewise work, school or time of day. Interpret the way it works for you.
Who is your main character? It’s okay if you want to start with ‘I remember’ or ‘once upon a time’, or ‘I don’t know for sure but I imagine my grandmother did/said/thought’ or ‘I wonder if my mum/dad ever… ‘
By evoking the person (character) and season/setting take whatever topic or word you were given and let it lead you to the door of memory… open the door and write about a real life experience or complete fantasy.
Here are some random scenarios I’ve picked for your inspiration, again you can mix and match, swap words or settings – whatever the muse dictates:
You, Spring, the object that doesn’t want to get thrown away, laundry
Brother or sister, Autumn, reading material, the natural world
Grandparent, Night, restaurant, how love was expressed
Parent, Work, breaking the law, sports event
Friend or cousin, School, storm, stood out from the rest
You, Winter, money for nothing, patience
Brother or sister, Summer, when they were happiest, birthday
Grandparent, Winter, what the handwriting was like, hobby
Parent, Night, rejection, where people gather in silence
Friend or cousin, Autumn, chores, haven’t been there in a long time
Take a deep breath before writing, draw on your thoughts, memories, ideas!
It’s okay if what you remember seems small, or inadequate, hardly worth mentioning – small is BIG, even small memories can illuminate the great themes of our lives!
Write whatever you want to write and enjoy writing – memoir, poetry, essay, fiction, creative non-fiction…
Your memories and life experience can take you just about anywhere you choose and you can write on any subject matter as diverse as paint, divorce, singing, food, travel, dancing … whatever
Friends, family, neighbours or colleagues – you have a lifetime of characters to choose from or imagine.
The Chocolate Box Mairi Neil
I open up the chocolate box,
lift out a piece of lace,
crushed and yellowed, badly stained
the condition a disgrace!
My eyes spy a matching piece,
needing examination too
discover a pair of baby shoes
crocheted with love when new.
I gently remove other treasures
the box has stored within ––
a ration book, faded cards and letters,
felt needle case and Mizpah pin.
Why had these particular items
earned the right to be kept?
A legacy of more than eight decades –
with no one left to ask – I wept.
Major upheavals rocked the world
adding turmoil to Mum’s life
but perhaps the profound change
was becoming a mother and a wife.
I caressed again the contents -–
this chocolate box of delight,
pondering a girl becoming a woman,
–– and imagination took flight.
A journey spanning continents,
Working, birthing, building a home
Mum, I promise you, I whisper,
your stories will fill a tome.
With a grieving, weighted heart
and pressure of unwept tears
I write so she won’t be forgotten
hoping words survive the years.
Our sense of smell can do more to revive a memory than other senses and yet it is often a sense writers forget to include. Whether you are writing about indoors or outdoors remembering to include a smell will enrich the scene for the reader.
How often have you caught a whiff of perfume or food cooking and you are reminded of someone or transported to a place in memory?
Many smells are accompanied by a particular taste – sour or sweet, bland or tangy, ‘to die for’ or vomit-inducing… the experience for the reader can be visceral.
Senses empower limitations, senses expand vision within borders, senses promote understanding through pleasure.
A Lesson On Smell
Whenever we had a lesson to encourage the inclusion of smell in writing, I’d ask for suggestions and the student responses often overlapped because certain pungent smells stick in everyone’s mind.
However, the more we wracked our memories ‘to be different’ or recall what made an impression, the list grew – maybe you can add to this collection from a variety of classes:
The strong odour of our pets – dogs, cats, reptiles.
Gardens enlivened by rosemary, lavender, geraniums
Special perfumes – Estee Lauder, Chanel, Christina Ricci…
Working as a nurse in hospitals/nursing homes/clinics – the smell of disinfectant, anaesthetics, lotions and creams
The perspiration and sweat of fellow teammates playing a sport, the smell of lovers, of commuters, workmates, sweaty feet, old sneakers, shoe polish
Fresh country air, honeysuckle in hedges and cow pats in the fields
Lilacs and lily of the valley and roses, Daphnes – flowers with a redolence that lingers
The smell of the sea, seaweed, tea-tree bushes, rotting fish
Steam train smoke, fires burning red gum logs, barbecue and campfire smoke
New car smell, leather upholstery, new carpet smell, polished furniture
The smell of freshly turned soil, padded down straw in chicken coops, horse manure
Antiseptic like Fennel, Dettol, bleach, ammonia, outdoor toilets, raw sewage
Chocolate and sweet shops, jam being cooked, baked bread,
Mustiness and the dank smell of cellars, caves, old, buildings
Dry and decaying wood – the smell of death, animal and human urine
Mowed grass, the eucalypts and other trees, dead flowers
Fish and cod liver oil, garlic, onion – many different spices
Whisky, rum, beer, cordial, coffee, cocoa, tea…
Flowers are always a favourite and easy to include in a poem or story because they are found inside as well as outside. Every season has some shrub flowering and pot plants or cut flowers in vases are common whether on balconies or dining tables.
And what if you had no sense of smell? People can lose it after an illness or injury. At the moment while we fight COVID19, some people are saying their sense of smell and taste are not only affected but don’t fully return once they recover from the virus.
How frustrated and disappointed would you be if unable to smell fresh coffee or baking bread?
It might be dangerous if you can’t smell because sometimes a bad smell is the first sign of danger like a gas or petrol leak.
A student who was a carpet layer said if he didn’t have a sense of smell he’d be more cautious because many of the old carpets he had to remove have animal and human urine stains and other nasties.
You might have to rely more on the reaction of other people. Think about this if you give a character either no sense of smell or keenly developed olfactory glands.
A Sense of Smell
If I lost my sense of smell
how could I tell
when dinner was ready or
when the dog needed a bath
I’d have to watch visitors up close
for signs of irritated eyes and nose
No memorable scents of changing seasons
to uplift and linger…
winter rosemary massaged between fingers.
A walk by the sea to enliven senses
without salty air
could lead to despair
I’d drift disengaged
like floundered fish or discarded shells
without those pungent seaweed smells.
No comfort at home
from the smell of fresh sheets
and clothes newly laundered
no thrill of familiarity from a lover’s body
or distinctive perfume tied like shoelaces
to family, friends, and favourite places.
Gone the delight of visiting the lolly shop
to choose a special treat for the movies
or sniffing freshly baked bread and brewed coffee
and of course, the milky delight of newborn babies
shampooed hair and soft moisturised skin
the list is endless once you begin…
On the other hand
life could be grand
without smelly feet or rancid meat
no dog poo or stinky loo
no foul smells to make the nose twitch
oh, how I wish for an on and off switch!
‘There should be an invention that bottles up a memory like a perfume, and it never faded, never got stale, and whenever I wanted to I could uncork the bottle, and live the memory all over again.’
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
“When you write the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen!” (origin unknown but quoted by Gurbaksh Chahal, Huffington Post)
Who Attends Life Story Classes?
In Life Stories Class, for three hours, students write, discuss, chat, laugh and cry, sharing experiences, memories, opinions, dreams and reflections.
Most classes vary in age but one class the students spanned 9 decades of living.
Families can be traced to colonial times or have arrived with the waves of migrants after WW2. For some English is a second language, others wish they still knew a language or culture that is lost.
Some have never married, others are divorced or widowed, some childless, others have children and grandchildren.
Some write about ancestors, immediate family, friends, ourselves, the joys and tragedies.
Some write prose and poetry, essays and anecdotes, flowery descriptions or minimal words.
Some learn how to craft the stories to include the senses, dialogue, humour or pathos.
We all remind ourselves how we felt, what we feel now, what we want others to know.
We gift of ourselves as we gift our words, nurturing each other, supporting each other – and most importantly, we have fun!
Here is a list that I give students and ask them to write at least a paragraph of what the smell means to them – later they are asked to expand at least two into a personal essay.
Try it – you are relying on your memory here, you don’t have to break lockdown and go outside. Many of the smells may be found inside your home or garden shed!
Think about the smells – is the smell sweet like perfume, or stinky like sewage, faint or strong, current or in the distant past? What person, place or event does it revive or what character and story can you create?
radiators heating up
fish – oysters
a new car
BBQ – meat or onions
roast or curry,
List the smells you associate with a particular season:
The smells of summer
The smells of autumn
The smells of winter
The smells of spring
Now weave some of them into a story or poem…
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald introduces us to the Buchanans in early summer. He emphasises the breeze blowing through the room, billowing the curtains and the women’s dresses. Later, the same characters are seated in the same place in the heat of summer as weighted down, dispirited, languid.
The story has progressed and so have the characters but he connects them to the place and reveals how they have changed through the weather/season – they are no longer bright, breezy and carefree. Circumstances have changed and so have they and their earlier energy no longer on show.
He has added balance and unity to both character and story.
In their magazine a long time ago, the Victorian Writers’ Centre used to publish a writing prompt for members to practice their craft. I think there was a prize of reduced membership – not sure. I never submitted a story just used the exercise as a bit of fun.
This one had to be exactly 250 words about a ghost haunting a Georgian mansion in Southern Ireland, the visitations always accompanied by a foul smell.
The Truth Stinks Mairi Neil
The cottage door burst open and several burly members of the local constabulary filled the room. Seamous O’Flaherty blanched with fear.
‘Ye murdering swine,’ barked Sergeant O’Neill, ‘we found your dagger outside the big house, still dripping wit poor William O’Malley’s blood.’
O’Flaherty crouched against the wall of his tumbledown cottage pleading for his life. O’Malley had been the Head Gamekeeper for George Thomas, the English aristocrat who owned half of Kiltmargh in County Mayo and the rights to land with the best game and fish. O’Malley and O’Flaherty often hurled abuse at each other after a few ales in their local.
‘Yerve got the wrong man,’ Seamous whined, ‘lots of poachers use the same kind of knife!’
‘We know ‘tis yours,’ sneered the Sergeant.
‘I’m innocent, please listen. Let me go!’ The constables ignored his pleas and hauled snivelling Seamous into the police wagon. The rough justice continued, until within the hour, Seamous hung from the rafters of the stables nestled in the shadow of the Thomas family’s Georgian mansion.
If the indignity of such an ignominious death was not enough, the vigilante executioners had dragged Seamous through a pile of fresh horse manure before stringing him up.
On October 31st each year, on the anniversary of that terrible night, Seamous returns searching for evidence to prove his innocence. His visitations are always accompanied by a foul smell, earning him the nickname of the farting ghost.
It appears in death as in life, poor Seamous O’Flaherty stands wrongfully accused!
A marvellous little book compiled by Michael Marland called Pictures For Writing, published in 1996 by Blackie & Son Ltd, Glasgow and London proved a godsend in early days of teaching.
I used it a lot when I started teaching almost full-time at Sandybeach Centre and Mordialloc neighbourhood House after John died. Here are two photographs that may spark a story. Remember to introduce smells or a smell:
The bushfire picture is definitely topical as far as those living in Australia are concerned – I’m sure there will be plenty of stories, novels and poems featuring the catastrophic summer we have lived through. Tragedy compounded now by COVID 19.
Bush On Fire Mairi Neil
(written after Black Saturday)
The sun is dulled by a veil of cloud
animals culled, Mother Nature a shroud
This defeated giver of life so dear
a dried-up river with power unclear
a red threat creeping, gathering power
creatures weeping, air rancid and sour
It dances with glee destroying with ease
devours blade and bush its direction a tease
whipped and encouraged by wind’s collusion
fiery menace forages and causes confusion
until the sun’s conscience explodes and
a large nimbostratus cloud reveals worth
the life-saving rain soaks the scorched earth.
You return to the house where you grew up, only to learn it has been condemned.
Why I love the smell of …
Why I hate the smell of …
Two characters are lost in the woods or the mountains – they have to survive overnight before rescue.
Write a story, essay or poem using the following title: Yesterday’s Coffee, Sunsets will never be the same again or Unforgettable or The worst mess I ever had to clean up
What comes after this opening sentence:
Why is this on the front porch?
‘I’ve got to get out of these clothes—fast.‘
If you want to annoy me, just
We have read stories about paparazzi haunting the alleyways and snapping celebrities putting the rubbish out, and stalkers going through bins.
Did you know the City of Kingston do spot checks of bins to ensure people are recycling properly and putting the appropriate rubbish in the right bins? Apparently, you’ll get a note to improve or a sticker to say well done.
If someone inspected your rubbish bin – or recycling bin – what could they surmise about you – would they be mistaken?
Do you have a favourite celebrity (or one you don’t like) what do you think they’d have in their trash worth writing about?
Write about someone who takes shelter. What is the most dominant smell and why should it matter? (Think bus shelters, doorways, under a table, in a foxhole, in someone’s arms, in a church, in a cave …)
Two Quotes For Inspiration
This one is particularly relevant considering the disastrous economic consequences of the current lockdown because of COVID 19 and the pain many people are experiencing with social-distancing and isolation:
The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.
Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
and from another successful writer:
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.
As always – feel free to share the post and ideas, or any work you’ve been inspired to write:)