Who Will Be In The Class of 2017?

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Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

On Monday, January 30th, my first writing class for the year commences at Mordialloc. My association with this neighbourhood house spans over two decades, first as a volunteer, and then as a paid worker.

Volunteering is not an unusual path to follow to find gainful employment, especially in the arts. If you want to work in an area, seeking activities and others who share that desire is a great starting point.

Most people who know me understand how I feel when it comes to writing and how much I enjoy my classes – I spend most of the holidays researching and gathering the latest ideas and developments in writing and publishing, as well as doing at least one refresher course to hone my craft. (There are many online courses and Udemy is a good place to start and with their $15.00 sale, excellent value.)

I’m happy to promote words, literacy, education, and of course creative writing and reading quality fiction and non-fiction! (For books to read look no further than Lisa Hill’s blog!)

And the practice apparently has proven health benefits!

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However, establishing courses in neighbourhood houses was a steep learning curve for me. The challenge, for the most part, has been fun as starting fresh and making your own blueprint or career path, can reveal hidden strengths and certainly builds resilience. The element of tension and fear attached to any course relying on some form of government funding and the incentive to remain relevant and improve kept me on my toes.

I’ll always be grateful for the guidance of  Bruce Lundgren, who taught at Sandybeach for many years. Bruce invited me to apply for a job teaching Picture Storybook Writing for Younger Readers, a unit in the Professional Writing & Editing Diploma. I started in 2002, but within a few weeks, after a cancer diagnosis, Bruce asked me to take over his Accredited Writing classes.

The anthology,  Good Morning Writers, a collection of tributes to Bruce, by those who worked with him, and from many of his students was published in 2003 with a Foreword by close friend and tutor, Libby Strain:

The phrase “Good morning writers” is resonant with meaning and memories for many of the writers who contributed to this anthology. It was Bruce Lundgren’s usual weekly welcome to the creative writing classes he taught for many years at Sandybeach. The phrase conferred a status and dignity on each of them and on their endeavours. It served to create a sense of fellowship and shared purpose…

Bruce was an inspirational teacher and a caring and supportive friend. He touched many lives in very positive ways.

I contributed a personal reflection to the book, revealing that Bruce’s initial confidence in my ability and job offer was down to mistaken identity!

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Fate, Lady Luck, Serendipity… life can be surprising.

Six Degrees of Separation – 2003

I first heard of Bruce, when I founded the Mordialloc Writers’ Group with Noelle Franklyn in 1995 and she brought along her friend, Shirley Randall. Both of these writers had been students at Sandybeach. They praised Bruce’s teaching, his writing talents, but most of all his encouraging attitude and generosity of spirit…

Over the years, I continually met people who talked about Bruce with similar warmth and admiration. When I was welcomed at the door by the man himself at an Author’s Voice evening, I felt I already knew this polite, gentle gentleman with the ready smile.

In 2001, another ex-student of Bruce’s, and a current member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, self-published. Bruce launched the book and I was MC for the afternoon. After the launch, Bruce announced that he was happy to meet me at last because he had heard a lot about me. I expressed surprise and suggested that it was me who was glad of the opportunity to chat with him and queried that I was well-known. In the course of our conversation, we discovered that Bruce had mistaken me for another Mairi Neil, assuming her writing credentials and mine were one and the same.

Recovering from mutual embarrassment, Bruce then encouraged me to apply to teach at Sandybeach suggesting I post my resume. He knew they were expanding the writing courses and wanted me on board…

I recall the day Bruce came to my home to hand over his Accredited Writing class details and some of the material he used. Two battered, bulging manila folders represented a lifeline that helped me tremendously, to swim (just) rather than sink amidst erudite and eloquent students, used to an even more erudite, eloquent Bruce…

The day he came to my home, I witnessed his valiant struggle at close quarters. When he left, I watched his retreating back and was overcome by an immense wave of sadness. My husband was dying, yet he too felt that Bruce’s death was imminent. Ironically, Bruce recovered enough of his health to experience several months of quality living (and finish his second poetry book) whereas John’s rapid decline led to him dying before Bruce.

And then Bruce’s health deteriorated. I struggled with my grief and to cope with teaching. Despite his own ill health, Bruce demonstrated remarkable compassion, ringing me or leaving encouraging notes in my pigeonhole – supportive, caring gestures I appreciated.

I started teaching at Sandybeach because of Bruce. I finished the 2002 teaching year because of Bruce, and I remain at Sandybeach because of Bruce’s legacy. I too have a passion for creative writing and want to nurture that passion in others.

The final coincidence of Bruce’s life intertwining with mine happened shortly after his death. I was on a bus returning to Mordialloc from Southland Shopping Centre and met Jackie McInroy, a teacher at Mordialloc Primary School who taught my daughter Mary Jane. Jackie had often invited me to her classes to run writing workshops and encouraged creative writing from her pupils. She informed me that Bruce taught at Mordialloc Primary School and was her mentor when she started teaching there over twenty years ago.

Life is indeed amazing – I too ponder “the wonder and connectedness of all life“** and know the world is a better place because Bruce Lundgren lived.

** from Chagall Fading, Starling Seasons, Bruce Lundgren.

Sandybeach To Mordialloc

A newbie teacher at Sandybeach, I was asked to also start paid classes at Mordialloc.  And being one of the longest serving (if not the longest) at Mordialloc, I’m looking forward to classes this year producing memorable writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. With writing prompts including plot, characters, setting, dialogue and themes, I know the students will surpass themselves.

The thought of producing some polished pieces of my own is exciting too!

Students motivate me as much as I motivate them. The 20-30 minutes when we ‘splurge write’ precious writing time.

We’ll craft short stories and poems, record family anecdotes, reflect and write a memoir or vignette.

We’ll discover poetry is an expression of the heart and soul and can be packaged in many different ways: song lyrics, free verse, form poetry, rhymes and prose.

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I look at the names of the writers and read their contributions and it’s as if they are whispering in my ear. Many became friends outside class, and of the class of 2002, Barbara still comes to Mordialloc on a Monday morning; Toula and Denise attend my class at Chelsea!

Doreen remained a student until her death last year and Jeanette still sends me her gorgeous haiku in cards for my birthday and Christmas.

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In 2005, Monday Class members were: Angela, Heather, two Margarets with surnames beginning with B so they were nicknamed B1 and B2 after Playschool’s Bananas in Pyjamas! Phillip and Marjorie also attended, plus Fay, Jeanette, Toula and Kay, Amelia and Doreen.

Divided into pairs, the students interviewed and introduced each other:

An Introduction to the Class of ’05

WW2 announced on the airwaves
Heather’s family gathered round
a ten-year-old girl confused
until air raid sirens sound
much later, the adult Heather
chose Nursing as a career
a passion shared by Angela
who cared for children three.
Angela’s knowledge of medicine
has stood her in good stead
because she daily battles MS
gallantly facing whatever’s ahead

She’s experienced a change in lifestyle
coming to Melbourne from the Apple Isle
like Margaret Birch’s memory of Moorabbin
when gumboots were a necessity, not style
Margaret has watched that city grow
soldier settlements to a busy metropolis
South Road’s dirt track transformed
into a modern traffic terminus.
To escape car fumes and city pollution
visit Margaret Birkenhead’s home
enjoy her beautiful Edithvale garden
a splendid oasis of love to roam
sixty years of devotion begs recognition
spanning the years Marjorie has lived
with similar family values and vision
these two ladies share a thirst for
knowledge as they praise education
Marjorie returned to study at sixty-five
Gained a BA and a new vocation.

She now writes family history,
children’s stories and rhymed verse
this strikes a chord with Phillip
whose words always aim to impress
he produces poems that inspire,
they also enlighten and amuse
a talent shared by Jeanette
who loves theatre and to choose
serenity listening to music
whether operatic or dance
she loves to go to the cinema
whenever there’s a chance
and with beautiful English skin
rosy-cheeks regardless of fashion
she’s travelled from Tibet to Marrakesh
citing bushwalking as a passion

Jeannette’s love of reading and writing
shared by Fay, a first meeting reveals
and grief’s strain on life’s journey
has oft times their sadness sealed
these two widows, like many others
have made a silent promise
they’ll live life to the fullest
and never an opportunity miss!

Kay was born in Wales
and sings as sweet as a bird
she wanted to go on stage
but her Mother said that’s absurd
until WW2 intervened and
Kay found the freedom she craved
in the airforce entertainment unit
performance dreams were saved.
Toula grew up fearful of change
her Greek father ultra strict
often friendless and oppressed
husband George was father’s pick!
Toula escaped through books,
photography and painting too
she wants to write her story
migrant voices being so few.

Amelia is an artist producing poetic
landscapes with her paintbrush
she meditates every morning
with a routine, she’ll never rush
each moment must be enjoyed
since meeting the Dalai Llama
his wise words keep her buoyed.
Whereas Doreen is more practical
divorced for over 30 years
and as a single parent
she conquered many fears
her Mazda 121 is special
it’s twenty-seven years old
driving gives her pleasure
walking leaves her cold.
Doreen is a voracious reader
and her stories entertain
with characters and dialogue
refreshing as spring rain.

Variety is the spice of life
this well-worn cliche we know
and this group of interesting writers
has plenty of seeds to sow
each Monday promises to delight
as their pens move across the page
characters and plots coming alive
as if on a Shakespearean stage.

2017 Here We Come

In less than a fortnight, a group of writers will sit around the table to write – I hope 2017 will be another good year!

“The stories we tell ourselves determine what we value and therefore the kind of world we strive to create.”  

Laura Leigh Clarke

 

Can The Past be Put To Rest?

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Yesterday,  Dr Michael Chamberlain died, aged 72 years. A respected academic, husband, father and pastor of the  Seventh Day Adventist Church, however, most of the news concentrated on the infamous 1980 Chamberlain Case, when Azaria, the baby of  Michael and his first wife, Lindy was stolen and killed by a dingo while the family on a camping trip to Uluru. (Then referred to as Ayers Rock)

Search any newspaper archives from that time and you’ll see that it was covered in local, state, national, and international newspapers. There was even a Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep, Evil Angels.

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from Guardian Archives

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were convicted, pardoned and later exonerated over the death of their baby daughter, Azaria, at Uluru in 1980.

The trial by media, rumours, innuendo, deliberate misinformation, the hounding of the couple and their family and friends, plus the sickening glee of crowds cheering when Lindy went to gaol is a sad and sorry stain on modern-day Australia’s history.

I hope, Michael’s religious faith, which sustained him in life, will reunite him with Azaria and he’ll find the peace and joy that from all accounts he was denied because of the tragedy at Uluru.

The Chamberlains paid a heavy price: not just losing their daughter but the public vilification led to the disintegration of their relationship and family unit although both remarried. They both lost careers and neither fully recovered from the emotional toll of the sensationalist reporting of the tragedy.

Sydney Morning Herald Summary

The Chamberlains’ daughter, Azaria, was snatched from their tent on a camping trip to Uluru in 1980. Both her parents were ultimately charged for their daughter’s disappearance; Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was given a life sentence in 1982 and Michael Chamberlain convicted as an accessory after the fact.

Ms Chamberlain-Creighton was imprisoned for three years before new evidence was found to overturn the verdict and both were exonerated in 1988. The pair separated in 1990.

It was not until 2012, 32 years after Azaria’s death, that a Northern Territory coroner issued the final report in the case, confirming that Azaria was taken by a dingo.

I was working in the office of The Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (Victoria) in 1980. Of the eight girls in the office, only three of us had sympathy for Lindy and believed her story.

Tea room conversations were heated and as often happens in Melbourne, a big divide between Herald Sun readers and those who read The Age. Both newspapers owned by rich families or consortiums, but one less tabloid than the other.

(Well, that was then. Today,  in the 24-hour news cycle, the proliferation of social media and the post or fake-truth era, few media outlets have credit. And people are still hounded, suicidal James Hird a recent victim.)

In 1980, the division between those who consulted with and believed Aboriginal Australians and those who dismissed local indigenous knowledge became obvious quickly. People who lived around Uluru were ridiculed for seeing the dingo as the predator it is. Serious shortcomings in police forensics and the Northern Territory legal system were exposed.

Many people ignore or refuse to believe the reports of dingo aggression, preferring to see the dingo as having more of the qualities of a dog than a wolf.

Sadly, ignorance makes people easy to manipulate and misinformation easier to spread. The court of public opinion almost unstoppable once it gathers momentum and in 1980 the ‘public’ making the most noise wanted Lindy Chamberlain punished.

The important ‘evidence’ that had the public baying for Lindy’s blood was what some perceived as her lack of anguish. She didn’t break down enough, appear inconsolably distressed or sob. She didn’t fit the idealised picture of a ‘good mother’.

Keeping her grief private, she was labelled ‘cold’, appeared too self-controlled therefore must be guilty.

The public’s need to have a saintly, sacrificing mother shattered by Lindy’s persona in interviews. Her grieving portrayed as inadequate.

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In 1992, when another media flare-up occurred after Lindy and Michael divorced, I wrote a poem. I wanted to send Lindy a letter to let her know people cared about her. To my shame, like many good intentions, it never happened.

I can’t begin to imagine the hurt, anger and despair Lindy suffered several times – from the first trial to the last. Nor can I imagine the pain of Michael being charged as an accomplice and having to watch his pregnant wife sent to gaol with ‘hard labour’.

But I remember the sadness, anger and disappointment I felt when work colleagues, friends, and acquaintances believed every sensationalist tidbit the media fed them. (Including the assertion Azaria meant ‘sacrifice in the desert’!)

Many of those feelings returned yesterday as details of the Chamberlain Case resurfaced and I thought of the grave miscarriage of justice.

The past may be gone but a trigger fires the memories.

Lindy
Mairi Neil

Oh, Lindy,
how I wept for you
and in my heart, I still do

those lost years will not return,
the anger you feel
must really burn –
make you want to scream
‘Wake me up, please God,
from this bad, bad dream.’

I watched a film
about your pain
relived those years
all over again

your biggest critics
other women…
instead of support
you were spurned
their judgment stern
without compassion
their hatred voiced
with a zealous passion.

refusal to accept a tragic event
can cause emotion to be spent
you’ll always be guilty
in some people’s eyes
because you could still smile–
what a surprise!

private grief unheeded
to break down publicly
all that’s needed…

I saw a woman
who carried a child for
forty weeks
laboured in childbirth
yet hounded as if a freak.

guilt or innocence
doesn’t lessen the loss
more than Azaria taken
in that desert summer –
a broken family a cruel cost

did you feel like Moses
by a Red Sea refusing to part
as authorities tore another babe
from your grieving heart

dingoes come in different shapes
your family found
demands for your blood
irrational, hateful, an awful sound

lost years can never be regained
justice may never be
many determined to imprison you
others determined you be free.

it may be cold comfort
to know many hearts bled
unwept tears scalded souls
for your little Azaria dead…

people heartbroken
not knowing what to do
caring deeply
but like me, offering
only words to support you!

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People and Places from the Past Inspires Prose

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Some of the happiest times I remember from childhood were the extended meal times. The evenings, when we sat around the table, ignoring the dishes in the sink, as we listened to Dad and Mum share stories about Papa, Dad’s father. A character with a larger than life personality who lived with us when I was born although I only remember the repeated stories.

I never really ‘knew’ my grandparents – Mum’s mother died in 1927, her father died 1939 and Dad’s mother died 1940.

Papa lived with us until he died in 1956 aged 81 years. I was three years old.  My sister, Catriona who was six years old at the time, appears to be the only one of us with clear memories of him.

I have to rely on the scraps of stories I can recall (oh, how I wish I’d taken notes at the time) from those nights when Dad entertained us with the escapades of ‘the old man’ and Mum repeated Papa’s reminisces when she cared for him after his strokes.

The modern generation with their mobile phones, capable of instant photos and videos, may take the time to create vivid ‘living’ archives or will they delete or forget to backup the important family history?

Perhaps they’ll find themselves in decades time wishing like me, that their memory was better?

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me with Papa 1955

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon

I feel privileged to be teaching Life Stories & Legacies at Godfrey Street and my other creative writing classes because I get to write in class too. I can dig deep into memory or imagination and it’s amazing what stories are triggered by the prompts.

In the last term this year, when we returned from the September holidays, I fashioned a lesson around “WATER” because we’d had an inordinate amount of rain and the media was full of stories about floods – a great setting for drama as well as life stories.

Below is a fraction of the brainstorming we came up with:

WATER

Floods have been in the news – have you ever experienced a flood? Know anyone who has?
Write about the experience or put your characters into a flood.

Or consider the following, and write the memory the words or phrase evokes, in an anecdote, essay, story or poem:

  • a bubble bath,
  • a puddle – did you own gumboots?
  • a storm-blown lake,
  • a calm green sea,
  • a child’s wading pool
  • an overflowing sink
  • a broken washing machine
  • a leaky tap
  • a spilt or empty dog’s bowl
  • a basin for soaking aching feet
  • bathing a baby/child for the first time
  • bathing an aged parent
  • bathing someone with a high temperature

It is always a surprise and a delight what memories are triggered and what the writers produce once the pen starts moving.

From this prompt, I remembered a story Dad had told about Papa. I hope I’ve done it justice.

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A Soothing Sunday Soaking

Papa’s feet always ached and he often pondered the culprit.

Was it the years encased in protective hobnail boots as he shovelled tonnes of coal into the cavernous, hungry mouths of steam trains?

Five – nine tonnes a day when he was a fireman – no wonder there was never a scrap of fat on his bones!

When he qualified as a locomotive driver, he rarely sat on the metal block that passed as a stool. Instead, he’d stand, head tilted out of the window to see round the treacherous tracks of the Highlands, or the myriad junctions, including cluttered Glasgow Central.

One misread signal and people’s lives put at risk – 300 tonnes of engine and carriages pack one helluva punch! No wonder, Papa kept on his toes; the hours of standing no help to his feet.

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Maybe it was just that – always being on his feet. Rain, hail, sleet, or snow… whatever the weather he trudged to work.

A five-mile walk there and five miles walk back from the railway yards. Trains, the main form of public transport in Scotland and they didn’t drive themselves. The rostered crew taking out the first train on their own transport-wise.

Twelve-hour shifts common and often Papa was away for several days if trains took goods and people north.

Unsociable shifts rendered bus timetables inconvenient, and in the era when not many working class men could afford a car, ‘Shanks’ pony’ (own feet or legs) the only reliable transport!

For part of his working life, Papa had a bicycle, if the weather suited, but once his sons started high school and apprenticeships, the family bicycle a precious commodity. He took his turn like everyone else but sometimes shifts, or the weather, didn’t go according to plan.

When he wasn’t working for Caledonian and later British Rail, part of his leisure time used to turn over soil, plant vegetables, and weed his allotment. The fruits of his labour supplemented the diet of his household of nine, or more.

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Highland-born, my grandparents ensured ‘extras’ always had food and board. Relatives or friends visiting or looking for work in the city, highlanders down on their luck and needing help. Papa and Granny’s generosity and traditional hospitality well-known in Greenock.

Needless to say, Papa’s feet rarely still or rested, and even when he shed his work boots for slippers, the feet still encased. Scottish weather not conducive to bare feet freedom in or out of the house.

However, there was one luxury for his aching feet and Sunday was the day he indulged!

His religious beliefs respected the Sabbath and made it a work free day. He let others chase the penalty rates, and he traded Sunday for a day of rest so he could attend his Gaelic church, ‘the Wee Free’.

On Sunday afternoons, before the evening walk, and after the traditional roast dinner, he’d remove his socks and shoes, roll up his trousers, slip off his braces, remove cufflinks and studs, and turn up his shirt sleeves. Tie and waistcoat already abandoned.

He’d collect the Gaelic newspapers sent from his native Skye, and donning his reading glasses, relax into the most comfortable armchair in the parlour.

The ritual sacrosanct! No one in the household needed a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.

In a basin of warm water with a generous amount of Epsom Salts added, Papa soaked his feet and relaxed. The minerals penetrated deep into his bones, and a rare, euphoric smile grew while he puffed on his pipe and leafed through newspaper stories to catch up with life on his beloved Isle of Skye.

This was how the Wee Free minister found him one Sunday afternoon when he called in unexpectedly and Papa refused to remove his feet from the basin, or get ‘dressed’!
The incident shattered domestic bliss for a week as Granny railed at her embarrassing husband.

Why did he refuse to dress properly for the Reverend?

How will she show her face to the neighbours when the story gets out – and it surely will! Tenements offered little privacy.

Did someone doing God’s work need to see misshapen toes and ugly feet? Not to mention braces hanging loose, shirt tails, no jacket or tie…

What was Papa thinking?

To treat the minister as if he was a nobody…

Now Papa helped found the National Union of Railwaymen, he admired Scottish socialist and the first Labour Member of Parliament, Keir Hardy. He disregarded class and hierarchies.

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President of An Comunn Gàidhealach, the Highland Society of Greenock (member of the radical Federation of Celtic Societies) he fought on behalf of the dispossessed and dislocated highlanders and islanders. He didn’t care ‘one iota’ what the minister thought.

The bathing of aching feet, in his own home, non-negotiable.

The Reverend might learn to be more courteous next time and wait to be invited.

Papa remained ‘on his feet’ and worked until 72 years of age, driving ammunition and supply trains for the war effort. His robust health a rarity for a working man in the 1940s.

His larger than life personality left a legacy of many stories of his idiosyncrasies for future generations –this is but one!

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All families have stories and memories, reminding us that behind the glass photo frames or plastic pages of an album the people once lived, laughed, worked and played – knowing their lives, we might better understand our own.

 

Surprising Thoughts A Bus Ride Sparks

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

According to Wikipedia:

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

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

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

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2007

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who? Why? Where? When?

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

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

Mornings or Afternoons
Mairi Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Therapy Flash Fiction
Mairi Neil

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

The Bus from Mordialloc to Chadstone
Mairi Neil

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

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

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

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

Please feel free to comment –

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

 

Farewelling The Old Year

“Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

C. D. Wright  1949–2016

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A Resolution to Stay Resolute
Mairi Neil

Farewell 2016
I’ll be glad to see the back of you
I imagine Mum’s voice as she adds
we must count our blessings
and the ashes of memory remind
that I’ve survived worse…

sure there’s been deaths
but not the heart-wrenching agony
of losing a partner, a child, a parent, a sibling,
a dearest friend…

the world remembers WW1, WW2,
other monumental massacres
wearing cloaks of nationalism,
colonialism, fascism, marxism
and all the other isms used
as excuses to slaughter

2016 no exception
millions fled by foot, lorry, boat and air
seeking solace and peace
but finding what Dad often quoted
man’s inhumanity to man
fulfilling the truism
man was made to mourn

tonight social media will update
conflict and celebration
twins staring at skies ablaze
benign or malignant memories
depending on the hemisphere

will we ponder or explore ‘the missing’?
the melancholic melody masking the year
the absent card, letter or phone call,
the bombed house, the razed street
signals of the uncertainty of life

moths blundering into flames
fallen leaves crumbling to dust
dogs chasing tails
bears hibernating till good times return
birds soaring to great heights if not caged
sperm whales plunging the ocean’s depths
humans circling outer space seeking
the perfect planet as we fuck-up Earth

reflective and resolute
a ‘to do list’ will not be written
wordless feelings weigh like stone
while memories of what I didn’t do
swirl and shout like New Year revellers
singe and sizzle like failed fireworks.

We’ve been through worse and
come out the other side…
Mum’s voice trying to tell me something?

Happy New Year

Like many others, I will try and remain positive, ache for the Hogmanays of the past when life seemed simpler, happier, and as we farewelled the ‘auld year’ we really did look forward to a better one.

I need the whispers of voices like Mum and Dad to keep perspective, shake me from being too solemn and sober – the generation born in the shadows of WW1, who survived the Great Depression and WW2 – they did indeed ‘come through’!

Let us hope 2017 is a happier new year.

Safe celebrating tonight – I’m hoping to count my blessings, shake off the solemnity and may not remain sober!

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Mixed Memories of Christmas 2016

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The tree made by the childcare staff Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

The signs of Christmas start in earnest mid-November and by early December a walk around Mordialloc or any Melbourne suburb provides an array of decorations and lights. Most workplaces and shops join in the festive spirit although for some it’s the bare minimum.

At Mordialloc Neighbourhood House the children in childcare have fun for weeks before Christmas making decorations and gifts. Their efforts reminding me of my own childhood – Mum teaching us how to make clusters of ‘bells’ using the metallic bottle tops from milk bottles. At Christmas time these tops were silver, gold, red and green.

In school, we used coloured paper squares and yards of crepe paper to make lanterns, cards and streamers. Store bought decorations a rarity as well as a novelty.

This year, Mordialloc sports a tree and rubbish bins have been parcelled in either red or green – just as well many of the residents celebrate and decorate their houses or we might not know it is the season to be merry and bright.

Frankston puts us to shame with their display and a Christmas Market which was very popular the day I visited.

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My friend, Barbara lives in the retirement village Richfield and from the entrance hall to every floor level the residents leave you in no doubt it is Christmas.

 

For many of the older generation, it is important to keep up with tradition, especially the sending of cards, something younger people (and those who are thrifty) are giving away now the digital age has arrived. E-cards, chatty emails or phone calls ensuring the postman’s bag is lighter each year.

I have two friends who still include a page-long newsy letter summarising their year with their card.

An octogenarian friend who likes to buy individual cards ‘a little bit different’ was saved from perhaps offending some friends when she reread the front message before popping them in the envelope:

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I have to say I found her error funny and wouldn’t have been offended if I’d received one of the five she had already written. Increasing consumerism and hype adding more than a hint of truth to the message.

However, also a warning sign as eyesight deteriorates to make sure to always put on reading glasses!

Mordialloc Christmas 2016

Mairi Neil

I smell the promise of a warm day –
pray it’s not a swelter
that silences magpie and butcherbird carols,
traditional birdsong reminders
that this is a time to celebrate…

a walk around the neighbourhood
reveals rainbows dancing in the gardens
jasmine, and honeysuckle embracing over fences
as devoted lovers and bougainvillaea and wisteria
just being neighbourly

roses and camellias peep through pickets
or stand proudly as perfumed sentinels
to announce the arrival of summer.
Agapanthus flutter and geraniums gush
daily floral tonics to banish gloom

and as if Mother Nature needed help,
colourful lights and decorations dazzle –
solar-powered necklaces strung under eaves
and threaded through trees. Seasonal symbols
to twinkle like stars in the evening hush

these jewels are joined by merry icons
dressed for another hemisphere
where ice and snow crackle underfoot…
I have a vision of my doppelgänger treading
a neighbourhood on the other side of the world

walking streets lit by a muted sun and
shadowed by thick clouds and skeleton trees
pigeon or cuckoo the only birds mad enough
to join little robin redbreast and
hustle for crumbs and kindness

what a miracle is Mother Earth!
How resiliently determined her human children
whether melting under a hot sun or shivering
in a fall of snow, many communities celebrate
Christmas their way…

the promise of a warm day permeates the air
warnings of a meltdown ignored
a meditative walk invites gratitude…
the reason for the season a childhood gift
bringing joy to the world of adult angst

Love, peace, and goodwill to all.

Garden Delights and Nighttime Sights

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Now Back to Writing

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When I finished teaching this year I fell in an exhausted heap – emotionally as well as mentally and physically. Like so many others I felt saddened and guilty – how could we be organising a festive season when images of the death, devastation, and despair in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan and many other countries filled our screens.

‘Turn off television’ and ‘ignore social media’ great mantras but in reality, difficult to do especially as this year we became addicted to and bombarded with every minute detail of the US Presidential Election.

And when my deepest fears were realised and Donald Trump triumphed after trashing all ethical and decency codes people thought mandatory for leadership – I really wished the old song could be reality – I wanted to stop the world and get off!

Instead, numb and going through the motions of what was expected I retreated from and neglected the one thing that has kept me sane and focused on living through many personal traumas – my writing.

So back to work and hopefully the spark will return …

Stop   Breathe   Reflect…

Again the Godfrey Street writers contributed to the annual fundraising calendar for the community house. Inspired by the paintings from the artists who meet at the house we wrote terse verse and haiku.

The calendar a wonderful showcase of creativity and dedication – for many of the contributors it is the first time they have shared their work with the public – and that takes courage as well as the celebration of achievement.

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Haiku by Mairi Neil

A third eye is useful
to view the world uniquely
the Picasso perspective

The writers in all my classes submitted work for our annual anthologies, an exercise to complete projects to publication. For some of the writers, it is the first time they have been published and they can all be proud of their finished poems, prose, stories and memoir.

The 37 writers at Mordialloc, Bentleigh and Chelsea produced quality writing to be enjoyed by family and friends.

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What motivates people to put pen to paper? In writers’ groups and creative writing classes people reveal much more than words – here is a poem I wrote fifteen years ago when I started teaching at Sandybeach Centre:

Why Write?

A has aspirations to write a novel
B likes to play with words
C has a loveless life and seeks romance
D thinks Mills and Boon absurd
E loves family history
F reads and journals a lot
G creates settings with descriptive flair
H just loves to plot!
I preaches grammar absorbed from school
J admits to being a hopeless speller
K always suffers from writer’s block
L is an expert storyteller.
M adores purple prose
N employs similes galore
O aches to be published one day
P escapes household chores
Q uses metaphors imaginatively
R nurtures the inner child
S writes for children while libertarian
T is erotica gone wild
U is definitely a poet
V writes doggerel and verse
W fears rejection
X is tense and terse
Y dramatises everything producing performance pieces to entertain
and Z – well –
Z needs to write to share emotion – the musings society’s gain!

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In each of the neighbourhood houses where I teach, the last class for the year is always relaxed. We play writing games and reflect on the year, especially in the Life Stories & Legacies Class where reflection is built into the writing lessons.

2016 – A Reflection

A change in my life this year, which I didn’t predict was being involved in the establishment of Chat ’N Chuckle. This group, held fortnightly on a Friday, at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh, encourages socialisation and friendship among people with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury), bringing together adults who have suffered a brain trauma through accident, stroke, or disease. There are no boundaries of age or gender. 

The year became a learning curve as I learnt more about types of ABI, its effect on abilities, the recovery process and healing time, and the range of ongoing difficulties. Over the years I’ve had students with an ABI attend my classes.

Chat ’N Chuckle formed at the instigation of Anat Bigos, one of my Life Stories & Legacies students, and her parents. They worked with Belinda Jordan, Community Development Officer at Glen Eira Council to establish a need, discuss structure, acquire funding, set up a meeting place, advertise, and then employ me as the facilitator.

Anat is an inspiration as a motivational speaker on the school circuit but also at Chat ’N Chuckle sessions and other events she supports. When you meet Anat you remove the ‘dis’ from disability.

I’m honoured to be involved with this group but was filled with anxiety when first asked. What was my role? Could I do what was expected? Was there someone more qualified, or more suited?

Some months down the track and we have extended the meetings by half an hour. We have a small core of regular attendees numbering a dozen who come at least once a month and a fluctuating number who attend or have attended various sessions. Some people have come once and not returned.  The group consists of people with severe physical difficulties, memory or speech problems, and others high functioning, the effects of their ABI perhaps not obvious.

Discussions have included movies, books, dance, music, poetry, family life, football and other sports, cars, public transport, taxis, food, gardening, school days, holidays, tattoos, ways to give up smoking, achievements, disappointments, research opportunities, employment, travel, and even touched on no-go areas of religion and politics, as well as sharing how the ABI happened. There have been presentations on aphasia, research into disability aids and one participant shared family history.

There have been presentations on aphasia, research into disability aids and one participant shared family history. Always there is courtesy and patience as some people struggle to find the words or articulate what they mean. My job is to ensure everyone feels included.

Some carers stay in the room, others use the time to chat with each other or have some time-out. Those who stay in the room participate in discussions and are not bystanders or observers.

Anat’s mother provides finger food of biscuits and dip and seasonal fruit such as strawberries. Carers will make tea and coffee if requested. The group often runs over time and as the year has progressed friendships and greater understanding and appreciation of each other have developed. From hesitating about the unknown, people enter the room relaxed.

It is amazing how people with severe memory problems can remember names and of course, a welcoming smile doesn’t require a name to be attached!

I am in awe of the participants each time I facilitate Chat ’N Chuckle – and there are always chuckles. Anat came up with the name and it speaks volumes about her personality and positive attitude to life. She initiated the project, takes a leading role ensuring ‘the show runs smoothly’, often starting the conversations as well as providing the food. One of her gems is ‘memory can be better than reality’ and for many present it is, yet they make the best of the hand they have been dealt.

I admire all the ‘chatty chucklers’, those with ABI and their carers, their courage, resilience and sense of humour. How would I cope if faced with many of their daily challenges? They keep me grounded and humbled: a reminder to count my blessings and not complain about minor physical ailments, breathe deeply of fresh air and give thanks for health.

I make a choice to be happy.

The opportunity to meet this group of people and reflect on how quickly life can change has been an unpredictable but amazing gift this year, reaffirming I must indeed live and cherish the moment!

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A snap Anat’s father took of the first meeting

 

Some Student Reflections:

  • ‘I shrank during the year – my grandson taller and he calls me a midget.’
  • ‘I value early morning and write notes about events to remember later on and see cleaning house and weeding the garden as necessary timewasters.’
  • ‘A close friend died and my grief palpable. She made my clothes for over 20 years and spent 60 years working for community groups. I treasure the friends who remain. ‘
  • ‘I discovered meditation is difficult to do and even other activities people tell me are beneficial. So I do my own thing!’
  • ‘I wake up most mornings feeling happy because I reflect on what makes me feel amazing and make sure I fit that into my day.’
  • ‘I write from the ashes of past traumas and find it therapeutic to share with others. I love dance therapy and drawing.’
  • ‘I loved receiving Christmas cards in the past but why give cards to people I can see and spend time with. I’ve resolved to ring up and talk to people, even those who are distant and I only hear from at Christmas. I’ve discovered keeping in touch this way very time-consuming but enjoyable. ‘
  • ‘A friend bought me a laptop this year and it has changed my life.’
  • ‘It’s been challenging but this year I farewelled people who are negative realising it was a waste of time trusting and believing in some people.’
  • ‘I love writing. It fills me up, gives me clarity and insight and helps separate the wheat from the chaff.’
  • ‘The rain on the roof is a joy when I hear my new water tank fill up.’
  • ‘I survived a hospital procedure that fed my anxiety and fears. I surprised myself!’
  • ‘This has been the most challenging year since my husband died three years ago because I have a new man in my life…’
  • ‘I’ve resigned from two committees, survived a dreadful accident and learnt I am resilient.’
  • ‘Three score years and ten now – I’ve discovered I’m classified as old, friends are contracting illnesses like Parkinson’s but writing class and book club brings me joy.’
  • ‘Not the best year, my little dog died, I achieved little and worried too much so next year must be better.’
  • ‘I consider this year as the beginning of the rest of my life. I started work at 15 and always yearned for more. Family obligations interrupted a commercial art course that started well. Fast forward to 2016 and I’m doing something about that yearning to feed my creativity. I’m determined to write and also learn computers.’

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Reflect
Mairi Neil

Cleaning out the cobwebs –
literally and metaphorically
Scottish New Year traditions
make us all clean frantically
seeking those dark corners,
out of sight and mind,
plenty of accumulated dust
for any broom to find.

And then there are plans
shelved for reasons
of money and health
I’ve some travelling to do because
old age creeps by stealth…
That dream of a train across Siberia
immersing myself in cultures unknown
the list of excuses swept away
by March 2017 I’ll have flown.

A trip of a lifetime with challenges expected
but the joy of new places and people
means with renewed vigour I‘m infected.
Foreign foods to try; new languages to learn
and no doubt after some weeks
for home, I’ll yearn!
But modern technology is such a gift
when I feel down
Skype, Facebook and Instagram will lift
my spirits, calm any fears
as MJ and Anne, vow love through tears.
We’ll miss each other
but as removed cobwebs reveal
although time passes quickly
love it won’t steal.
My adventures will cease
and I hope I’ll have grown
to know myself and others better
as I head for home.

Those literal cobwebs
clinging to corners of ceilings
will have returned – they always do
but what an incentive to clear out
with travel plans anew!!

 

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I’m determined to keep writing until my joy returns and try and keep perspective on all the doom and gloom and deaths that seem to encapsulate 2016 for many people.

I am lucky to have a holiday planned – and know I’m privileged to realise a teenage dream.

For now, I’ll

1)   Read books to remind me of how wonderful writing can be, books to inspire (I’m fortunate to have a pile by my bed!

2) Pick up pieces of writing started in class during splurge and never finished. Lose myself in wherever the imagination goes. Daydream and brainstorm to rekindle the story or poem.

3) Challenge myself to write a certain number of words in an hour, write a poem a day, try different genres, keep this blog active.

4) Try dictating ideas into the voice recorder on my phone and make sure I type it up later. Write to music or sit outside and write.

5) Go for a walk by the sea and be inspired by a sunset or sunrise…

 

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Mordialloc Sunset
Mairi Neil

We stand together to watch the sunset
to share this nightly miracle once more,
the silvery-white ball transformed to pink
until glowing orangey-yellow at the core.

Seagulls afloat upon the water blush
matching waves on tide’s inward rush
a fiery sun radiates tangerine across the sky
slipping seawards, sinking silently, no cry.

The sky aflame, from beauty there’s no turning
awestruck, we feel an inexplicable yearning
It’s the forehead and eyebrows of a giant
Heaven’s shapeshifter being fluid and pliant.

This sun settling now a misshapen balloon
disappearing quickly and gone too soon…
its remnant colours just splashes in mid-air –
was that brilliant display ever really there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appreciation of Local Writers By Mentone Public Library

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Today, I attended an Author Appreciation event, held annually since 2011 by Mentone Public Library, an anachronism in the modern world of libraries but a valued community asset in existence for over 90 years.

(Along with others in Mordialloc Writers’ Group I helped them celebrate their 90th birthday!)

Julia Reichstein (Media & Events Officer) and Tony Brooker (President), the dynamic volunteer duo keep the library relevant in the 21st century (the books are not computerised and operate on the Dewey system with many bought by request of registered members and therefore perhaps considered dated or not popular). They revived interest in the library by encouraging local authors to speak, promote their books, and talk about their writing process.

This year they promoted seven local authors, including local groups like The Blue Chair Poets and Mordialloc Writers and Glenice Whitting, and Amanda Apthorpeboth in attendance today:

JM Yates, the author of The Vine Bleeds, a story about the consequences and survival of domestic violence returned to receive her appreciation award.

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as did Danae Andrea Harwood author of The Writers Runway, who I snapped sitting with ex-mayor and councillor, and longtime Mentone Library and local writers’ supporter, Bill Nixon.

(Bill launched Mordialloc Writers Anthology last year.)

 

Thirty people, plus the volunteers, not only celebrated a successful year but heard George Ivanoff talk about his latest YA best-selling series and his writing process.

The opportunity to buy signed copies of author books also a popular aspect of the morning.

Before George began his presentation we heard from two talented emerging writers who have presented over the years and let us share in their writing journey from high school:  Joe Bosa and Jessi Hooper.

Murray Thomson MLA introduced the day by suggesting the collective noun for the writers, readers, and historians present may be ‘an exultation’. He quoted classical poet Horace – “My memorial is done: it will outlast bronze” and added that indeed monuments like the pyramids may eventually be reduced to sand but words can last thousands of years.

Murray had researched Jessi and Joe to give the audience a sense of who they were and their inspiration for writing. He asked for their favourite quotes.

Jessi quoted Anne Frank:

Whoever is happy will make others happy too… those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery.

Joe’s quote from George R.R. Martin’s, A Dance with Dragons:

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.

The future of local writing is in great hands!

Jessi read a short prose poem entitled Trapped Under Water and Joe read from a revised manuscript of a fantasy novel written in Year 11 about a magical high school.

When George was introduced to talk about his latest series, including his 100th published book, he commented on how his life has been interwoven with Joe and Jessi (six degrees of separation): Joe attended his old school and Jessi attends the same school as George’s oldest daughter.

Pointing out these connections important, as we learnt later in his presentation!

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George is an entertaining presenter – he engages with his audience, is generous with his writing tips, reads his work with enthusiasm and shares his love of all things literary whether it is children’s books, young adult novels or his fascination with pop culture, particularly Dr Who!

His latest series is about the iconic Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service – books that reflect our country’s history and allow readers to live the adventure.

The RFDS has a rich and vibrant history, starting with the dream of a Presbyterian minister, Reverend John Flynn. Ordained in 1911, Flynn initially worked in rural and remote Australia setting up hostels and bush hospitals for pastoralists, miners, road workers, railwaymen and other settlers. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas and his vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for people of the bush.

On 15 May 1928, his dream became a reality when a long time supporter, H.V. McKay, left a large bequest for ‘an aerial experiment’. This enabled Flynn to open the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service in Cloncurry, Queensland (later to be renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service).

George was also commissioned to write a factual picture storybook in a historical series Meet …  he had to write about the RFDS in a way to connect with young readers.

We were lucky he had brought that book along too.  He read a snippet to tease us but also to explain how he had to discover a ‘through line’ to connect the beginning and end of the story, a technique he uses for all his writing.

He has the main character, a young boy state at the beginning  about Dr Flynn ‘he saved my life…’ An explanation of Dr Flynn and the historical context follows and the book ends with the child explaining the how and why his life was saved because of the RFDS!

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George is an author and stay-at-home dad and in his own words 2016 ‘has been a great productive year’. He has a new series on the horizon and the theme of his talk today was Connection. (I told you all would be revealed!)

Connections with stories, to real life experiences and how his writing comes about. The RFDS series was his publisher’s idea. He had mentioned to Random House that he was interested in doing licence writing – he loves pop culture and has been influenced by X-Files – and he thought of TV and Movies.

However, his publisher did a deal with RFDS for four books. These would be different from George’s usual interactive You Choose Adventure books, which are totally imaginative and not realism.

The RFDS would have to be factually accurate regarding medical matters and locations, involving a lot of research. Fortunately, George and his family had a holiday already planned to drive to Uluru and so he was able to do research along the way. Publishers do not pay for research trips!

The tales of his holiday, research, and inspiration were very entertaining and insightful. We were engrossed – in fact, spellbound – especially of the process of exploring aviation plus medicine and its impact on rural Australians and turning it into an adventure series!

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The books each have a main medical ’emergency/adventure’: broken leg plus concussion in one, appendicitis and complications in another, premature birth and a snake bite in the third book and a rare genetic liver condition in the last book.

Too much research and finding out all things medical can be confronting – George confessed how  glad he was not knowing the dangers of a burst appendix when his oldest daughter had appendicitis, but now lives in dread his youngest daughter or even himself will suffer appendicitis!

Meanwhile, the holiday road trip, which turned into a research trip, gave George a lot of storylines and great ideas. He showed us holiday snaps he’d enlarged and explained how he’d been inspired.

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At Port Augusta in South Australia, he was able to visit the RFDS base at 8.00am on a Sunday. He chatted with staff, sat on a plane, lay on one of the beds, got the feel of being a pilot, doctor, passenger, patient…

He had flown in light aircraft before, knew they had smoother landings and take-offs than jets but these planes had passenger seats replaced by a mini-hospital. The series taught him how valuable it is to experience what you write about like visiting outback locations and sitting on the planes.

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At Leigh Creek, South Australia, George was fascinated by signs and unusual relics from the past. The sign on the male toilet ‘decapitated’, the KISS ice block in the freezer (who knows how long that had been there!), and the chalked sign outside the Leigh Creek Tavern with a quote from Dr Who, “Care for a jellybean?”Even the name of the cafe ‘Open Cut’.

All interesting prompts to trigger story ideas – especially the Dr Who quote – George admitted that one of his writing quirks is to include a Dr Who reference in all his stories. (Now there’s a challenge for pop culture nerds – you have  a hundred books to get through!)

The town has suffered from the closure of the mine and dwindling population and the SA Tourist Association is keen to revive its fortunes. They flew George and his publisher into the town to launch the book at the school.  Inspired by the location, they hope the book will lift the profile of Leigh Creek.

It certainly had the feel of the last place of civilisation, yet ironically, the only part of the town to feature in the book was the airport – a spot George didn’t visit – and it showed. His research of the airport relied on Google maps and he put a vending machine in the storyline where no vending machine exists! Oops!

(He discovered the blooper when they flew in for the book launch!)

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The next stop for a location was Farina and George held up more photos, including the inevitable selfie. Farina is a ghost town and the ideal setting for numerous stories. The minute they arrived, George knew a story must be set in the town among deserted, crumbling buildings.

They camped in a nearby campsite but when he explored he had the town to himself. The first building being what is left of the Transcontinental Hotel. In one disintegrating room, the drop into a cellar is dangerous. There are no signs, the town is out of mobile range, deserted – if something happened in this dangerous, isolated place…?

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When his daughters accompanied him, he spent the time saying ‘be careful’as they played chasie in and out crumbling structures. The story came to him of an accident in the town, but not of children being hurt – the book would be too short if an adult was on hand.

Instead, he thought about the adult getting hurt (falling and snapping a leg) and the children having to work out a rescue plan. Story writing is all about tension and building the reader’s anticipation.

The dry ground between the town and campsite baked and cracked – like walking on a sponge. There was an old abandoned car. He loves walking at night and so returned to the town at night and it was oppressively dark because of hardly any moonlight. He included his wander as a scene in the book – a connection with real life again! One of his characters likes to walk at night.

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The family continued on their holiday and the plots for the book series continued to form. The notorious Oodnadatta Track attempted without a four wheel drive. Three flat tyres later George knew he had to give characters the experience of flat tyres!

At last, they arrived at Coober Pedy famous for opals and underground homes and hotels. George wanted to set a story in this internationally famous town, especially when he discovered there was a drive-in cinema still operating and nearby in a carpark was an abandoned spaceship, disintegrating but still recognisable and huge!

(In the photo above George is the tiny black figure on the left.)

He discovered the spaceship was a prop left behind several years ago when a sci-fi movie was made. There are a lot of films and TV shows made in and around Coober Pedy, the landscape is interesting and intriguing. One side of the road there are stones with reflective minerals (mica?) embedded that sparkle in the sunlight. On the other side of the road, the soil is dull. It is a town of surprises and contrasts.

George set the book in the drive-in theatre and chose to make the story about a film event rather than opals and mining, which most of the stories set in Coober Pedy are about.

George read an extract, set at night, with characters scared at what seemed to be a haunted drive-in. Inexplicably, the string of Christmas lights behind him started to flash. We laughed – how spooky! Was he channelling the ghost town, Farina, or Coober Pedy?

Jokes aside, the point made by George important for writers – do your own research through experience if you can. Whether history, characters or location, it will enrich your imagination. If he had relied solely on the tourist information available, he would have written another opal mining story.

 

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The third book is set in WA in a town George visited in the past but his memory is hazy on details so he didn’t make the town a character.

The final book is based on a real-life story about a boy born with a rare genetic disease. The research involved many conversations on the phone with the boy’s father. George allowed him to read the first draft to ensure he’d got facts right.

The boy had to be flown by the RFDS from Adelaide to Melbourne for a life-saving liver transplant. The book focuses on the lightbox treatment the boy needed to stay alive; his exposure to UV rays for 6-8 hours a day up until puberty when that treatment loses its effectiveness and a transplant is the only option.

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The through-line linking the beginning and end of this story is a time travel reference. In the beginning, while he is in the lightbox, the son wishes he could time travel like the character in a book from the library. The father mentions this at the end of the story.

In the book about rescue from the ghost town, the family returns at the end to ‘lay ghosts of the accident to rest’.

In another book, the young girl stares into the eyes of the surgeon trying to work out who the eyes belong to and at the beginning of the story there is mention of the colour of eyes.

Links, connections, research hints and then George gave us a glimpse into his next 4 book series where the characters will travel through doorways into other worlds.

An entertaining and enlightening morning.  George Ivanoff  once again gave generously of his time and writing craft practice.

Julia announced that the local author events will resume in May next year – keep a look out on the library’s website – for what I am sure will be a great line-up.

Each year Julia writes and performs an amusing song about the ‘literary’ year. Accompanied by Tony on the ukelele, today was no exception.

Julia also handwrites her author appreciation notes – below is the kind message on mine.

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On behalf of local authors, I expressed OUR appreciation – well done Julia and Tony –

here’s to a great 2017!

 

Christmas, Community, Charm and A Tree

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A Community Christmas Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most were works of art with a story attached.

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

Some were spectacular!

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

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

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

A Sample of Decorations

 

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Mitchell Shire

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Whitehorse City

 

 

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

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

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City of Ballarat

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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City of Swan Hill

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Monash City

 

 

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

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

 

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Greater Geelong City

 

 

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

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

 

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 Bayside City

 

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

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

 

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East Gippsland Shire

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Cardinia Shire

 

 

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

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

 

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Buloke Shire

 

 

Artist Jo Malham from Donald:

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

PS. An artist and a poet – how lovely.

 

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Moreland City

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greater Dandenong City

 

 

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

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

 

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Corangamite Shire

 

 

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

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

 

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Glen Eira City

 

 

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

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

 

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Latrobe City

 

 

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

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

 

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Hobsons Bay City and Stonnington City

 

 

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

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

 

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Colac Otway Shire

 

 

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

 

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Alpine Shire

 

 

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

 

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Macedon Ranges Shire

 

 

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

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

 

 

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City of Greater Bendigo

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Hume City

 

 

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

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

Everyone Was Charmed By The Governor And Her Partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wyndham City’s ornament looks like a large silver jellybean

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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A Writer’s Best Friend Is Another Writer

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Glenice with poster of her book in background

 

Introducing Glenice Whitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy her presentation.

And we did!!

 

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Glenice in the centre of her fans:)

 

2016 Guest Authors at Readings By The Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maria reading from her novel

 

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

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Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit

 

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

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

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

My Last Readings

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

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

 

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Jennifer Scouller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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