I’m still coming to terms with the election result – as are about 50% of the population!
I was never confident of an overwhelming victory but I couldn’t believe that after six years of dysfunction, failed policies, three prime ministers and scandal after scandal of corruption and incompetence, and going to the voters with literally no policies or vision to solve climate change and social inequality that the LNP Coalition would be rewarded.
It was disappointing too that their lies were rarely challenged and the dodgy figures about unemployment – insecure work, underemployment, casual and contract work and the fact that one hour’s work a week is enough to move you from unemployment statistics – a shameful state of affairs for a wealthy country like Australia.
I’m a writer and writing teacher but how do I find the words to explain how saddened and shocked I am about the election result? Recommend strong verbs of course – many friends have already expressed their opinions:
The Liberal candidate in Isaacs, my electorate, was disendorsed for posting hate speech in an ‘appalling anti-muslim rant’.
Yet, as I scrutineered for Mark Dreyfus QC MP, I couldn’t believe the hundreds of people who still voted for the dumped candidate!
‘My goodness, are there that many racists living in Mordialloc?’ declared Nola, my fellow scrutineer.
Now the election is over, we have other similarly disendorsed Liberal candidates going to take their seat in parliament, no doubt under the auspices of the party that preselected them originally.
What happened to ethics and morality?
Election 2019 – A Failure For Fairness
We’ve just had Election Day when all through Australia
we turned out to vote to prove Democracy no failure.
Votes already cast knowing shocking deals done – later
some candidates forced to resign, one by horrible one.
But the men who removed Malcolm Turnbull as PM
not reduced in number – so don’t underestimate them.
Visions of Dutton as a leader still dance in some heads…
the folk on Manus and Nauru still toss in their beds.
The ‘silent majority’ with privileged excess in their bellies
believed Murdoch’s media and the crap on their tellies!
Despite what we heard – there was a rumble abroad –
not everyone realised that Morrison’s a fraud.
Plenty tapping at keyboards and scratching of pens
letters and online posts numbered multiples of ten
Passion and persuasion for society to include all
true social justice and ‘action on climate’ their call.
Lament environmental disasters, habitat losses
a wage system and laws overwhelmingly for bosses.
Seeds grow flowers and trees bear far-reaching fruit
school strikers and protesters cocked more than a snoot
at politicians and rich cronies who legislate inequality
the climate change deniers, those fearing collective solidarity.
Raised voices had courage, progressives give each other heart
so we must continue the fight until Morrison & Co depart.
Trickle down economics a failure, we must change the rules
implement a fairer tax system to fund hospitals and schools.
Labor’s policies seemed commonsense, natural and right
but when results were tallied on that fatal Election night…
How could this be? Morrison’s win dubbed ‘a miracle’
yet so little policy evidence to prove it empirical.
The nation is deeply divided although the LNP returned
with Labor’s bold reforming plan effectively spurned.
The outcome explored by journos and political pundits
while almost 50% of the population in bewilderment sit!
I weep for the planet, the suffering, and marginalised
I thought social justice and fairness an achievable prize!
Voters had one job to do and decisively blew it
but climate emergency means there’s no time to sit!
Progressives may reel from this election result
it seems to defy logic with the winners an insult
but the struggle must continue – no time for a pause
in tackling climate catastrophes and industrial laws.
‘It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’
The older my children become, and as I age, the intensity of love for them deepens. I think of them every day, confirming the feelings and wisdom my own mother shared with me in the months before her death in 2009, aged eighty-nine.
She talked about her fears for my brother, George who was undergoing treatment for Leukaemia and said,
‘Loving and mothering is a lifetime responsibility – your children should never die before you. It’s not right.’
I have close friends who have lost adult children. They confirm the truth of Mum’s observation and I know each day for those friends getting up and coping with daily life is a struggle and testament to their resilience to ‘continue and carry on with life’ the way their loved ones would wish. The lead-up and actual celebration of days like today must be particularly difficult and my heart goes out to them.
‘She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.’
Margaret Culkin Banning
When I decided to have a baby I was thirty-two and didn’t truly understand how profound becoming a parent would be personally or the effect on relationships with family, friends – and even strangers.
Born in the 1950s and part of Women’s Liberation in the late 60s and 70s, I was still expected to follow the ‘normal’ path of marrying and having children. It wasn’t my sole aim in life and I didn’t actively plan it but I went with the flow after meeting John and neither of us challenged the system, except I eschewed a white wedding and expensive reception and chose to marry in the garden of the house we bought together and party afterwards with many of the guests ‘bringing a plate’!
On reflection, I can say becoming a mother was the most exhaustive (and exhausting) change in my life – and continues to be – as long as my daughters and I remain intertwined.
I could write a lot about the picture of me in the early days of my daughter Anne’s homecoming – the congratulatory cards still visible, the dessert and glass of wine husband John prepared sitting untouched, me in an exhausted sleep all new mothers know well…
I salute my own mother for her guidance, values, and many examples of mothering. How she coped with six of us I will never know! I remember ringing her up and asking her once, after a particularly trying day with a baby plus toddler, ‘How are you still sane?“
I know that the deep love and bond I had with her is one of the reasons a loving bond with my daughters came easily.
There are similarities and huge differences regarding how Mum and I parented but not in attitude and determination to be loving and loyal whenever needed. We were both extremely lucky to be with partners we loved (Mum had Dad and I had John).
Partners who wanted children and were supportive, partners unafraid to share the household chores and unglamorous aspects of parenting and in my case, I know, a partner who cherished me and never stopped showing it.
John had been married before and so to a certain extent ‘knew the ropes’ regarding parenting so I was lucky. Although being present at the birth of both our girls, a totally new experience for him just as having me, a feminist as a partner, also a new experience!
In this picture, we are pregnant and ecstatic.
‘Say, what is the spell, when her fledgelings are cheeping, That lures the bird home to her nest? Or wakes the tired mother whose infant is weeping, To cuddle and croon it to rest? For I’m sure it is nothing but Love!’
Cheryl, now my ex-sister-in-law was a friend as well as part of the extended family in 1986. She produced the first of the next generation for our branch of the McInnes Clan in Australia in 1979 and the only ‘modern mum’ I’d observed firsthand.
She visited me in Jessie McPherson Hospital, Lonsdale Street, shortly after Anne’s birth. Into my ear, she whispered, ‘Welcome to the club.’
Her brown and my hazel eyes met as she squeezed my arm gently and with the still vivid memory of that miraculous moment when I held Anne to my breast for the first time, I knew exactly what she meant – becoming a mother, accepting the responsibility for another human being is transformational and understood by other mothers.
My first little ray of sunshine born after an emergency dash to Jessie Mac’s in Lonsdale Street at 3.00am, May 24, 1986.
John tailgated a taxi breaking the speed limit ( ‘they know the fastest route and where all the coppers and cameras are’ ). We hit no red lights and made the city in record time.
Three hours later Anne Courtney Neil arrived, three weeks earlier than expected but wide-eyed and ready to take on the world!
When I took Anne home from the hospital little did I know she had a hole in the heart – not discovered for almost twelve months, and then only by the extra diligence of a young doctor on work experience at the local clinic!
I still have cold sweats in the middle of the night when I think of the operation she had for ‘sticky-eye’ and a blocked tear duct when she was barely two months old, the eye specialist and the anaesthetist completely unaware of her heart condition.
There were the usual childhood accidents and illnesses too. The catastrophes that send mothers into a spin, fearful for the child’s wellbeing and welfare – Anne had no broken bones (Mary Jane delivered that excitement) but one day she bit hard and severed her tongue when she collided with a large wooden rocking horse.
I rushed to the local GP at the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets, in my slippers, wheeling five-year-old Anne in her sister’s pusher and carrying a protesting Mary Jane under my arm.
I’d stuffed a wet face-washer in Anne’s mouth to hold the tongue together and stem the bleeding (‘excellent response’ according to the doctor).
The trail of blood in the house and garden that greeted John when he rushed home after receiving a garbled message from his receptionist made him imagine a severed limb and he almost fainted. (The tongue does bleed profusely!)
However, he too praised my quick action racing to the surgery rather than ringing an ambulance or panicking. (That and delayed shock came later!)
Sometimes we amaze ourselves how we react and cope as parents.
Mary Jane’s birth in 1989, a more traumatic and dramatic story.
She arrived more than a week early and I barely got to Mordialloc Hospital in time for delivery sending the nursing staff into a flap. To this day she is known as ‘the baby born during the tea break’ arriving less than fifteen minutes after I walked through the front door.
John and Dr Ferguson arrived at the hospital just in time for delivery and I’m sure if there had been more traffic police on duty in those days, both would have been booked for speeding – perhaps even reckless driving.
Adding to the drama, Mary Jane breathed the meconium and amniotic fluid mixture into her lungs while in the womb and was born with the umbilical cord around her neck prompting a nurse to say, ‘Oh, she’s dead.’
The baby rushed to an incubator and the nurse reprimanded while everyone in the room paused for a moment taking stock of a miracle birth indeed! I went into shock and apparently kept asking John if I’d had a baby until they brought Mary Jane to me to be cuddled and fed!
Later, Mary Jane broke her arm in a ‘monkey bar’ accident at primary school but the seriousness of the fracture ignored by teachers who left her in Sick Bay while they tried to contact me or John and ‘ask what to do’ instead of taking her to a doctor or ringing an ambulance.
Our membership in the ambulance service and private health insurance on record and you can imagine the tongue lashing the administration of the school received from me.
Fortunately, a friend volunteering for reading duty noticed Mary Jane’s distress and demanded action; unfortunately, the delay and subsequent treatment at Sandringham public hospital during the upheaval of the Kennett years meant the arm was badly set and needed to be re-broken weeks later – this was done by a specialist at Como Hospital in Parkdale.
Sadly, Sandringham botched another operation when MJ was in her 20s, damaging her bowel when they discovered endometriosis during a routine operation to remove an ovarian cyst. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice??
Often at night, I close my eyes and recall the horror of seeing my daughter with multiple tubes hanging from her young body. Flushed, in pain despite high doses of morphine, and unaware of the emergency operation, she murmured through an oxygen mask, ‘What happened?’
The déjà vu of the multiple traumas she has suffered weighs heavily on my heart. I have often wished for a magic wand to reverse the hurts or give my daughters the happiness and pain-free world of fairytales.
Motherhood exposes your deepest fears and inadequacies but it also helps you gain courage and grow – as Sophocles said, ‘Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.’
Whenever my girls have been ill, in pain, troubled or suffering, I’ve wanted a magic wand to remove their misfortune or possess the ability to swap places and take away their discomfort. Instead, reality over fantasy, I’ve ‘gone into bat’ for them and fought school and government authorities, bullies, and anyone else who needed to be held accountable.
Like a lioness, I will fiercely fight to protect and defend. These skills and determination I learnt from own mother – she may have been barely five foot tall but her love and commitment to all six of her children taught me to be courageous and resilient regarding caring and coping as a parent.
‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.’
Motherhood indeed the most emotional and enlightened transformation for me. Everything I’ve read, shared, learnt and absorbed about other women’s experiences reveals none of our journeys is exactly the same or can be predicted.
There are similarities, but it is a unique life-changing event filled with joys and sorrows, calm and turbulent seas, problems and solutions, holding tight and letting go, embarrassing moments and moments of pride and satisfaction.
‘The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.’
Honore de Balzac
Around the world, mothers worry about their inadequacies, feel overwhelmed and many like me who became a single parent because our partner died carry guilt about not coping or spending enough time as the ‘default’ parent.
(John died when Anne was sixteen and Mary Jane thirteen – I think most will agree parenting adolescents is tough with two concerned parents, with one, I can assure you, it is challenging and at times very lonely!)
Frustration, financial stress, fear of failure or making mistakes – subjects often discussed between friends, family and in some cases counsellors.
Nurturing has never stopped from their early childhood…
From miraculous beginnings to challenging responsibilities, navigating hopes and dreams, disasters and near misses, parenting has been rewarding, scary, comical, confronting, but most of all fulfilling.
My life has had a purpose and I’ve experienced and continue to experience a wonderful mutual love.
I am so lucky my girls as young women still want to visit and ‘hang out’ with me, travel together, see movies, play board games, walk the dog, shop, discuss and debate, laugh and even party with me.
They are friends as well as daughters, and often the nurturing role has been reversed – especially when I had breast cancer and now as I age and have lost some confidence about decision-making for the future.
At the beginning of my writing career, at the launch of my first poetry book, I said children were the inspiration and reason I wrote and also the reason I didn’t write because motherhood is time-consuming.
Over the years, especially caring for John, I can substitute family instead of mothering but I wouldn’t really have life any other way. Loving and knowing John and our daughters have enriched me and made me the person I am today.
I hope I’ve helped add two more productive, caring citizens to the community. I’m grateful that feminism has wrought changes in society and many of the preconceptions about women and their destiny are no longer peddled – my girls have choices their grandmothers didn’t.
My Mum won a scholarship to college in Northern Ireland but her stepmother wouldn’t let her continue with study and ordered her out to work, then came WW2, the ATS and then nursing. Her stymied educational opportunities were what motivated Mum to encourage all six of her own children to study and seek suitable qualifications for what we wanted to be.
I was the first in my family to go to university and I only wish mum could have witnessed me returning to study at 57 years old and gaining a Masters degree in Writing and her two granddaughters earn Bachelor degrees.
Always my wish has been happiness and good health for both girls – to be whatever they want to be and find contentment and fulfilment in their choices.
We are so fortunate to live in Australia and have the privileges we do and I’m glad both daughters are aware they stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, that there are still hurdles to leap, and they will always strive to ‘go higher’ and seek equity for themselves and for so many others not as fortunate.
I am happy they will follow their mother as I followed my mother in fighting for social justice.
‘Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’ s secret hope outlives them all.’
The benefits of having a pet are well documented, and if that pet is a dog, one of the benefits is fun. Love and loyalty can be added to the laughter!
I wrote earlier this year about having to farewell Aurora, our beloved dog for almost 14 years and since that sad day, we have missed her companionship, affection and unconditional love.
However, we needed space and time for deep grief and because I wanted to carry out some much-needed maintenance on the house, I set a tentative date for welcoming a new member of the household as the end of May. I didn’t want any new member of our family subjected to a lot of noise and having a daily dose of strangers/strangeness.
Of course, as Rabbie Burns told us all those centuries ago ‘the best-laid plans gang aft agley’.
Centrelink ‘lost’ my pension application and worried about dwindling savings, I put major renovations on hold, plus my daughters never missed a moment in reminding me how empty the house was without Aurora – not that I needed much reminding.
I can’t remember too many periods in my life where I have lived without a dog and even wrote a special postas a writing teacher reminding people to include stories about their pets when writing a memoir or life stories.
SADS Saves Lives and Stands for NO KILL
Since 1985 SADS has saved thousands of dogs and cats from being euthanised — and from day 1 worked towards change from a culture of killing companion animals to a culture of saving them
SADS is an established leader of the no-kill movement — and successfully operate a Melbourne-based regional animal pound on a no-kill basis, demonstrating that a no-kill policy IS possible
SADS provides veterinary care for animals that are sick or injured — including palliative care for animals that still enjoy a good quality of life
In 2015, they saved 98.6% of dogs and 96.3% of cats. Many of these animals would not have been saved by other shelters.
The Yarrambat shelter is set on 33 acres of environmentally protected land with an existing permit for the holding of 190 dogs and 50 cats. It is fully owned by SADS and has enabled many more animals to be saved, cared for and rehabilitated whilst awaiting permanent adoption. However, the infrastructure is old and badly in need of redevelopment to provide better care for our animals and to comply with the code of practice for animal shelters. This property ensures that even the most traumatised and very large active dogs can be saved due to adequate resources.
In accordance with the philosophy and operation of Save-A-Dog Scheme as a “no kill” animal welfare organisation SADS honours its charter and saves all animals, both companion and otherwise, which come into its care, with the unavoidable exception of a very small percentage of animals which are deemed dangerous and therefore cannot be returned to the community. This small percentage is accepted internationally as integral when using the term “no kill”.
This save rate leaves SADS with some dogs and cats which are homeable but which do have characteristics which makes them unsuitable for some homes and therefore they do stay with SADS for a long time waiting for that appropriate person/situation to come along.
We decided to visit SADS with a list of possible adoptees from the website profiles – a list I immediately, ignored once we started looking at the dogs – and they looked at us – every set of eyes pleading to be taken home!
I fell in love with Norbet and Dala – who wouldn’t?
Norbet, a two-year-old, German Wirehaired Pointer X with ” a lovely personality”.
… true to his breed has boundless energy. He is searching for a home where his new human companion can channel that energy in the right direction with training and stimulation. He will not be a dog to leave at home alone all day and may live with another energetic medium size female. Norbet will be great fun and will certainly keep you well exercised! We are currently taking expressions of interest…
Dala, a two-year-old, Foxhound X Beagle “has the typical behaviour of a foxhound”.
… she loves being with people but once a scent comes her way that becomes her main focus! She has a very dominant personality and will need AN ADULT HOME WHERE HER HUMAN COMPANION HAS EXPERIENCE WITH CANINE DOMINANCE. She cannot be left alone during the day as she will become bored and possibly destructive.
It just so happened they were the two most unsuitable pets for me. Physically, I couldn’t control Norbet, a part wolfhound and Dala’s ‘destructive tendencies’ when left alone were a worry.
The shelter is an amazing environment full of caring staff and volunteers and I know Norbet and Dala will be well-cared for by the staff even if the right home isn’t found but I still felt awful that I couldn’t take them.
We visited Stonnington on Thursday of last week and if we could, would have brought home a truckload of homeless dogs!
Unfortunately (or fortunately!), Margaret, the manager was delayed and we couldn’t do anything that day except observe the dogs in their kennels and chat to the volunteer staff who were most helpful.
The Stonnington Shelter received the Citizen of the Year Award for a Community Group – when you see the volunteers in action you can see why – bless each and every one of them!
There was a puppy we were interested in – Xena, plus a young male dog, Russell who apparently was super friendly to all dogs and had adopted Xena when she arrived.
However, when we returned on Sunday, Xena had already been adopted and removed that morning so Russell was in a cage by himself.
The Shelter is situated in an ideal position for dogs – right next to a dog-friendly park. Prospective owners take the dog for a walk supervised by a volunteer and then in an enclosed yard you can play with the dog off-leash.
The last ‘test’ is when volunteers bring out another dog and you can observe how your chosen dog reacts and socialises.
The aim is to ensure you know what dog you are taking home and the Shelter is as sure as they can be of canine and person compatibility.
When we returned to the Shelter on Sunday after a chat with the Manager we ‘park-tested’ several dogs.
The redesigned Tooronga Park was re-opened in 1992 after the construction of the South Eastern Arterial Road and Freeway. A plaque records that ‘redevelopment of the park was made possible by the invaluable contribution of a committee of local residents who assisted in the planning and council staff who implemented their ideas.’
Well done residents and well done Stonnington Council for listening and following through on their promise.
The play areas for toddlers and older children well-maintained and fenced so that dogs on or off leash will not be a problem.
There is shade, a basketball ring, a cricket practice cage and concrete paths and grassy areas.
There are rubbish bins to recycle and free bags for dog poo
The first dog we ‘road-trialled’ was Molly, a four-year-old Labrador with that “wonderful labrador nature.”
… but she becomes very overexcited with very little stimulation! She is need of a lot of training and will not suit a home with small children as she is too boisterous. Her new human companion will need to be physically strong. Molly does not want to be left at home alone all day
Molly was adorable but very strong and although she would settle down after some training, I decided I couldn’t risk walking her on my own because of her strength and determination to reach another dog, even if it was on the horizon.
Friendly Russell (pictured above) was just that and he showed his love of sticks by picking one up and dropping it every few feet. But he was very attached to the lovely volunteer who was our guide – or perhaps it was knowing she kept treats in the bumbag around her waist!
We were taken with Russell, the three-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier X a “happy dog who enjoys the company of both people and other dogs.” His reference said,
He would probably like to live with an easy going female canine who likes to play. As with most of his breed, he will not settle in a situation where he is left alone all day.
After walking Russell, Mary Jane confided she had fallen in love with a puppy, Josie so we asked to take her for a walk too.
Josie a five-month-old (they think) Kelpie X Staffordshire Bull Terrier. She came to Stonnington via another pound and little was known about her history.
Josie was like Aurora reincarnated.
I remembered Anne had said, ‘Mum, a dog will choose us.’
How true that prediction because from the minute we walked Josie, and while sitting with her in the Reception Area until the Manager was free to discuss her adoption, we were enraptured!
Josie snuggled up to each of us – the girls left to get a lead from the car and prepare the back seat, I dealt with the paperwork.
We weren’t the only happy family to adopt.
In the Shelter, there are several older dogs – ten years old, maybe older. I don’t know all their stories but often older dogs have to be adopted because their owner has become infirm or moved into care and they can’t keep their pet.
I felt sorry for the older dogs, many probably grieving a longterm owner but after losing Aurora, I didn’t want take on a dog in its twilight years – some of the dogs may only have two or three years left in their life cycle.
How wonderful then, to see the perfect match for gorgeous little ten-year-old Maxwell, a wirehaired Jack Russell X who had recently arrived at the shelter and was still be assessed.
An elderly couple came in looking for a dog. The lady needed a walker and her aged husband walked slowly too. While we were walking Molly, we observed Maxwell strolling sedately, beside his prospective parents. Such a perfect match!
When we returned from the park with Josie, the elderly couple were leaving, the man’s smile like a sunburst.
‘You taking the little dog?’ I asked.
They both nodded. ‘He’s old like us,’ said the man, ‘not sure how long he has but then we’re not going to be around too much longer either!’
‘I could see you’re made for each other,’ I said.
‘Yep, we’ll be back when he’s been given the okay by the vet.’
Harley, a four-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier X Border Collie was ‘bursting with youthful energy, enthusiasm and the desire to be in the middle of the action all the time!’
He tries very hard to please but finds it difficult to sit still for more than a couple of minutes! Harley would very much like to live with another active youthful medium size friend to keep him busy. He will need a more adult home.
A young couple came in with their Staffy to walk and play with Harley with the aim to adopt a companion for their dog – from what we observed Harley was a perfect match but because they lived in an apartment, I’m not sure the Manager of the shelter will approve.
They may be disappointed but I’m glad the shelter is strict about adoptions and put the needs of the animals first.
When we were given the okay, we were told that if for any reason it doesn’t work out, we must bring the dog back to them.
Our Perfect Match
The trip home with Josie in the car, incident free, even although we were warned that she came via another pound and they had no idea how she travelled in a car. ‘Prepare for her to be sick because she was fed recently…’
They also just removed her stitches from desexing.
However, she was the perfect, uncomplaining angel. No scrabbling about, no whining – she snuggled into Anne in the back seat, occasionally stretching her head to peer out the window or respond to clucky and lovey-dovey noises made by Mary Jane and me when the car stopped at traffic lights.
Josie was walked around the immediate neighbourhood after letting her investigate every corner of the backyard and ‘nook and cranny’ inside the house.
Almost immediately, she claimed our house as her home.
We have adopted again and are gloriously happy – thank you SADS – a song from childhood springs to mind:
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
If you’re happy and you know it, then you really ought to show it;
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
You then include other actions like stamp your feet… nod your head… turning around…
We did the lot!!
Josie, our new canine companion the best therapy anyone could wish for and here’s to daily ‘happy dances’ as we grow older together!
Today, April 23, is Lover’s Day
A day to celebrate your significant other and let them know how much they mean to you. While the origin of Lover’s Day is a mystery, some sources believe that the unofficial holiday is based on St. George’s Day, a religious holiday celebrated in many parts of Europe.
It doesn’t actually say that ‘your significant other’ must be human.
I’m sure for many people, their pet gives and receives love and is the relationship valued as being the most meaningful.
Josie is now a ‘significant’ partner in my life and considering the horrific news from recent tragedies – whether it be Sri Lanka or Mozambique – I am deliriously happy to have her comforting and loving body sprawled beside me on the couch or walking beside me along the street.
The world would be a more loving and accepting place if we were like our pets – they don’t see our imperfections and their devotion awesome!
Last Saturday, I caught up with my two sisters in the city – Cate had come down from Albury for the annual quilt show at the Exhibition Buildings and Rita and I met her at Southern Cross to spend a few hours together.
The sculpture above an apt metaphor because with the disruptions to the rail system there were replacement buses for me and delays for both my sisters. Lots of comings and goings!
Ironically, I thought I’d be late but the connection from Moorabbin to the Arts Centre by express bus was seamless and I was the first to arrive at our designated rendezvous.
Cate’s VLine delayed by a signal failure outside Seymour and Rita’s train on the Lilydale Line sat at Flinders Street ‘forever’ before continuing onto Southern Cross.
First stop, of course, was a cuppa to catch up and plan our day – my sisters would go into the quilt show for a couple of hours and I’d go into the museum opposite.
They are both into a craft and excellent sewers and knitters. However, sister Cate hadn’t entered a quilt panel this year, so I opted to catch the latest exhibition ‘From the Heart’ at Museums Victoria which focused on the regeneration of communities after the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires.
At Moorabbin, I had got on a crowded bus because I was prepared to stand and so ended up close and personal with a bloke from Sydney who accepted the offer too.
It became one of those random meetings that turn into a happy memory.
He was from NSW and we chatted all the way into the city comparing Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne won! He hadn’t been here for 30 years but couldn’t believe how much it had changed – and he loved it.
‘I met my wife here – the only good thing about the place all those years ago. It was grey, grey, grey and boring.‘
A bit harsh, I thought but then he admitted being born and bred in the Blue Mountains and still living there.
‘I sit on the verandah with my coffee and listen to the birds and watch the sunrise or sunset transform the mountains and trees.’
The journey then became a mutual admiration society – we covered climate change, the troglodytes in the LNP, the need to change the rules and reintroduce fairness and the lack of good social interaction and communication in the age of people being constantly plugged in and tuned out.
He envied Melburnites because despite disruptions our transport system ‘still worked and your Premier finishes things.’ He was impressed by our replacement services.
I envied him living in the Blue Mountains and told him one of my never to be realised dreams was ‘to afford a writers’ retreat at Varuna.
We parted ways and as I walked towards Flinders Street and paused to admire the beauty of Birrarung Marr, I appreciated again, the joy of living in ‘the world’s most liveable city’ with many public gardens and parks, heritage buildings and great facilities.
We can explore or retreat to beautiful places with our children and friends to enjoy the outdoors if we don’t have our own garden.
There are so many delightful places the public can access to reinforce an important connection to Nature that nurtures happiness and belonging.
Melbourne Museum – An Undervalued Gem
I spent a relaxing two hours in a garden often overlooked and yet it is not only delightful but educational because it is part of the Melbourne Museum and alongside other amazing exhibitions it tells the story of our country from the perspective of our First Peoples and highlights the strong relationship they have with the land – a relationship developed over thousands of years.
Silence and solitude are invaluable, offering time and space to reflect and contemplate. And in the Milarri Garden, there are plenty of rest stops where visitors can take time out, similar to the benefits of visiting Mingary in the heart of Melbourne.
Milarri is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal community. It is planted with trees and shrubs used by Indigenous people for food, technology and medicine, and promotes an understanding of Aboriginal people and their culture.
Every sign naming the plants has the Aboriginal name too if known. Milarri is from the Woi-wurrung language and means ‘outside’. Wominjeka is a Woi-wurrung word for welcome.
You discover the plants by walking a pathway that wends its way to the Forest Gallery and you are advised to watch your step because the rocks can be uneven and slippery so always remain on the path.
Also, the museum being, child-friendly as a number one priority, there are signs warning against eating and touching the plants – some of them may be poisonous if consumed. There is a water feature with eels, fish, ducks and turtles and a sign warns that eels bite.
Sometimes, when I see these signs asking for behaviour, which I deem common sense, I wonder if respect has been thrown out the window. Fortunately, on Saturday, everyone I met or observed behaved impeccably!
When you walk through the garden, you leave behind the noise of the city, the irritations, any personal worries and concerns…
The garden seems soundproofed and it is easy to absorb the serenity as well as appreciate the knowledge held by the oldest living culture in the world.
Feed your spirit.
Near the entrance, there were two exhibitions reinforcing the wonderful gift our First Peoples want to share:
Sometimes we need to reinforce the positive messages and lessons learned in childhood. Those idyllic days when we played outside in the fresh air.
We need to take time from the busyness of our lives to reconnect with the earth and a ‘green’ place where we belong.
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!”
Places and experiences that provide comfort and joy and a host of memories – all valuable contributions to health and wellbeing.
Milarri Garden is one of many places for a writer to observe the changes wrought by each season and perhaps acknowledge the changes in our life or the lives of characters in our stories.
Every culture has folklore and stories and we are fortunate in Australia to reap the benefit of the richness of many cultures from our First Peoples to the various ethnic groups and races who now call Australia home.
In Milarri, there is a sculpture, Biamie the Rainbow Serpent, by Clive Atkison and Dominic Benhura. Clive is a Yorta Yorta artist from northern Victoria and Dominic is a Shona artist from Zimbabwe. They collaborated on the artwork in 1999.
For Clive, the snake is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, and the paved concentric circles represent harmony, strength and unity.
The sculpture reflects his respect for the wisdom and guidance of his elders.
There was also an area where paintings on the rock told a story of the trail and the animals to be found in the habitat.
When I meandered through the garden at the Museum, I was fascinated to read the Aboriginal names for plants I recognised as being indigenous to Mordialloc.
Bradshaw Park, Mordialloc is an example of grassy woodland consisting of a lower storey of native grasses, sedges, rushes, lilies and small shrubs.
Grassy Woodland has a middle storey of shrubs and small trees with a scattered dominant tree completing the upper storey. The dominant tree species at the time of European invasion and settlement would have been the Coast Manna Gum.
The Manna Gum, Wurun, in Wurundjeri was enjoyed as a food source by the Aborigines and early settlers. The sap dries into hard sugary drops that fall to the ground – ‘manna from heaven’!
The bark comes off the tree’s pale trunk in long ribbons and the wood used to make implements such as shields and wooden water bowls called tarnuksby Victorian Aborigines. the long thin leaves were smoked over a fire to lessen fever.
There are over 800 different wattle species in Australia and several species grow in Bradshaw Park. Wattle, karook, gum was an important food for the Boon wurrung as well as being used as a glue or cement. Taken as a medicine, the gum helped treat dysentery or was applied to wounds.
Wattleseed is high in protein and carbohydrate – the green seed pods were cooked and eaten, and dry seeds ground into flour.
Plants were used for many other things besides food. When collected, the long leaves of sedges, rushes and lilies made baskets and mats. Soaked and beaten to free the fibres they made string. The inner bark of some wattle trees also made string.
Kangaroo grass, wooloot in Gunditjmara, was common in Victoria’s low-lying plains but grazing animals quickly destroyed much of this. The Boon wurrung used the grass to make fishing nets, using the leaves and the stem to make string. The seeds can be ground into flour.
Common sedge, poong’ort in Djabwurrung were made into capes and worn around the neck to cure toothache.
Sweet pittosporum, bart-bart in Gunai/Kurnai language, has a sticky substance around its seed and this is used to relieve insect stings. The inner bark is used for string.
Even the humble pigface, gadwud in Gunai/Kurnai has fruit that can be eaten raw. New leaves are eaten raw or cooked and sap from leaves can be used to treat insect stings and small cuts.
The flax lily, murmbai, in Gunditjmara is also found in Mordialloc and the fibre from strap-like leaves can make string and baskets. The fibre in the leaf makes a strong cord.
The drooping she-oak, gneering, inGunditjmara provides hardwood for making implements such as boomerangs, shields and clubs. The young shoots chewed to relieve thirst and the cones can be eaten.
Usually, it was the women who collected vegetable foods and trapped small animals, while men hunted the larger animals. Depending on the time of year groups of hunters and gatherers went out each day to spend 4-6 hours collecting food.
Children went with their mothers to learn where to find plants, which ones to eat and how to forage. Finding food involved everyone, and all learned the skills necessary to hunt and gather. All the food was shared.
The First Peoples knew the land and it provided them with a variety of food to produce a well-balanced diet. They were not undernourished or deprived and had the kind of diet we are encouraged to follow today.
They ate fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish. The meat from wild birds and animals was lean and low in fat. Their lifestyle included plenty of exercise, particularly walking and of course, they got plenty of fresh air.
The Aboriginal people have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment. Their seasonal calendar encompasses seven seasons. Each season marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather coinciding with the life cycle of animals and plants.
For our sustainability and survival, we need to take heed of the knowledge our First People possess and value our environment. If some of the catastrophic predictions regarding climate change are correct, we may appreciate the medicinal, edible and practical qualities of many of the plants we have ignored or wantonly destroyed.
After the tragedy of the 2009 bushfires, acknowledgement of the importance of learning from First Peoples and allowing them to continue their stewardship of the land has been an important step.
If you can’t visit From the Heart you can access online a mini digital exhibition of the Victorian Bushfires Collection, Curious?
But you can improve your health and wellbeing and take a Milarri Garden Walk or hug a tree any time!
“Even the smallest landscape can offer pride of ownership not only to its inhabitants but to its neighbours. The world delights in a garden… Creating any garden, big or small, is, in the end, all about joy.”
The Federal Election has at last been called and now begins 5 weeks of intensive coverage of the event by the media – some people have election fatigue already, including me – because we seem to have been in ‘election mode’ ever since Malcolm Turnbull was deposed midway through last year.
Certainly, many people have wanted an election and we’ve been subjected to the current PM’s style, where his announcements regardless of the subject have always included an attack on the Opposition leader, Bill Shorten MP.
Slogans or Substance?
It is no secret, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in advertising before he entered parliament. He helped produce the three-word slogan ‘Stop the Boats’ and other soundbites that helped the Coalition win 2013 and 2016.
Therefore, as the respected journalist, author, and TV presenter, Geraldine Doogue observed the other night on the ABC’s The Drum, Australian voters, must take responsibility to seek out, scrutinise and digest the news and facts and make the most informed choice we can.
Will people do this?
There is compulsory voting in Australia but also fake news, misinformation, and selective reporting, if not downright peddling of misinformation.
It is imperative voters actively engage with the process.
The Social Media Factor
This is the social media age, the 24hour news cycle, headlines written for clicks regardless of facts, and a time where clever use of digital tools make the production of fake news and post-truth an hourly, never mind daily occurrence.
We have all been subjected to:
mass text messaging and
Scepticism and cynicism abound…
We’ll need more than luck to wade through the media blitz of the next few weeks.
I’m A Friend Of The ABC
I prefer the ABC and SBS, The Guardian, The Conversation and reading journalists with a track record I trust.
I completely avoid the Murdoch press, most of News Limited and despise ‘shock jocks’ because they make a mockery of reporting and journalism.
A discussion with a friend revealed shared nostalgia for some of the voices of the past like Andrew Olle and the days when a well-funded ABC investigated topics thoroughly and produced groundbreaking and effective exposes regularly and not just occasionally.
I imagine it was these voices on radio and television and in the newspapers that influenced me to write and at one stage want to be a journalist as the following illustrates.
Trying to ‘do a Kondo’ and clear clutter, I discovered a folder with some writing from days at Croydon High School in the 1960s.
In Form Three or Four, I was fortunate to have Mrs Walker for English. She was young, a recent immigrant from England where she had worked as a journalist, and she encouraged my love of writing.
I have a strong image of her chewing gum in class and apologising, ‘I’m trying to give up smoking, so please forgive me.”
My Fourteen-Year-Old Self
What is, as far as YOU are concerned, the ideal job?
I would like an interesting job where I could meet people, see places and do something different. I would like to spend my life as a journalist because I feel this fits the specifications.
With a wide scope of various fields, I think this job would be interesting. I would be able to meet people and also be able to travel. I enjoy writing and I feel this job could never be boring.
The job is reasonably well-paid and I would like to eventually become a freelance journalist, be my own boss and write for my own pleasure as well as other people’s.
To choose where to work and live, to travel and write about my experiences would be my ideal job.
First Day of First Job
My first job was as an assistant in a Jeweller’s shop on Saturday morning. I stepped over the threshold of the doorway with a feeling of apprehension about the four hours ahead of me.
It was a cold morning and I blamed the chill in the air as the cause of my shaking but to look back honestly, I was just plain scared. The owners of the shop were friends of the family and I was worried, not only in case I did not live up to their expectations but also in case I would do anything wrong.
My first task was to dust the shelves, as well as to keep an eye on the other assistants and pick up a few hints on how to serve. The shelves were clustered with valuable glasses and ornaments and I could barely trust my shaking hands to lift up the fragile ornaments.
Talking to customers came easily but trying to sell items and handling large amounts of money made me nervous too.
I came cheerily to work, set about my tasks in preparations for the flow of customers. Daringly, clattered around as I dusted, talked merrily to customers offering suggestions for gifts as I now had experience. Nervousness disappeared. Became self-assured.
Explanation & Reflection
I remember, Mrs Walker, putting to rest my romanticism about choosing journalism as a career,
‘You’ll, have to do what the editor wants – and that may be covering the local Cat Show – even if you’re allergic to cats!’
The first job I wrote about was with Finchley Jewellers’ – a shop owned by the parents of ex-Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs who was studying at Melbourne University in the 60s.
Our age difference and study schedule meant I didn’t see much of Gillian or her sister Carol and our paths haven’t crossed since childhood.
However, my interest in writing and reading quality journalism has never faltered and I was disappointed that this year, ill-health made me miss the A.N. Smith lecture in journalism, held annually at Melbourne University.
Arthur Norman Smith was a founder of the Australian Journalists’ Association, served as its first general president and for five years as its general secretary. Thanks to a generous bequest from the Smith family, the prestigious A.N. Smith Lecture in Journalism is presented each year by a leading authority on some aspect of journalism.
Today, I decided to post highlights from Sarah Ferguson’s 2015 lecture because I think they are most relevant as we go into this election campaign. You can watch it yourself on youtube.
Sarah is a Walkley Award-winning journalist and her documentary series on the Rudd/Gillard years The Killing Season broadcast in 2015.
The Killing Seasonon TV had 1 ½ million viewers and another ½ million watched it on iView.
It was the highest rating show in its time slot since 2005 and beat commercial stations.
It also was watched by the 18-24 demographic like other ABC shows.
Sarah answered that question by saying it was high drama with themes of retribution delivered with feistiness. It discussed an unresolved dispute between Gillard and Rudd that confused many Australians. Why did Gillard depose Rudd in 2010?
They were both good TV performers and the ABC technical staff highly professional.
I wonder if there will be funding available to do a similar expose of the leadership debacles in the Liberal Party?
Not according to this Staff Notice last year and considering the budget cuts inflicted on the organisation this year!
But what the public broadcaster and other news outlets deliver is not just about the ABC being starved of funds or even who owns the media and Sarah’s 2015 lecture was prescient.
Can we really handle the truth?
When The Killing Season aired on ABC TV, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott lifted his arms to the press gallery and declared “Thank you to the ABC”.
It was the ABC’s 4th landmark TV series on political leadership but will there be another?
Will our current and future leaders feel the same obligation of history?
Or will future leaders no longer trust their legacy to a media they don’t control?
While governments and major institutions found new ways to limit transparency – the media industry traded away its freedom to investigate for short term access.
Sarah asserted that there is a war on transparency underway and the media is colluding with the wrong side.
Freedom from Information- Australia’s War on Transparency
Sarah had recently returned from England where she had been living and working as a reporter, and researching and writing a book.
To lighten the mood before launching into her speech, Sarah commented on the dual citizenship saga embroiling Australian politics and said if she was deported she’d prefer to go to Essex, England her mother’s birthplace rather than her own, which was Lagos Nigeria.
She then talked about UK politics and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. The UK political scene was going through convulsions and it was having an interesting effect on the media in Britain and Australia.
Sarah attended the British Labour Party Conference – the first for Corbyn as party leader. He is from the ‘hard left’ – a throwback chosen because he was not a retail politician and as far removed from Tony Blair while still being in the same party.
The press described him as a ‘defrosted member of the Politburo.’ This view of Corbyn still colours the view many sections of the media portray of Corbyn.
The British public threw the spin of Blairism and the clones it produced out, and Corbyn promised straight talking, yet at the conference, Sarah observed, they still went for slogans. Albeit they were four words and not three, like Australia’s politicians.
Sarah elicited a laugh from the audience when she said one Tony Abbott slogan that never made it up on a billboard was his ‘Nope Nope Nope.’
(Except social media enjoyed memes of ‘dope, dope, dope’!)
Sarah considers politics better viewed through satire and how true is that of Australian politics!
After the British Labour Party conference, a satirist quickly commented. What is the only red thing Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t like?
The answer was the autocue.
Corbyn had delivered a wooden speech, obviously reading the autocue and when it said “Strong message Here” in bold and underlined – he actually read those words aloud with emphasis!
Below is the teleprompt in the ABC newsroom studio, Melbourne.
We have comedians like Shaun Micallef, Charlie Pickering, Tom Gleeson and Sammy Jay scrutinising policies and their effects on ordinary Australians better than many journalists.
They cut through the interminable spin and bullshit politicians serve up at the behest of their media advisors.
Sarah started with that story about Labour in the UK to lead into the question, what does this mean for Labor in Australia and Bill Shorten because the warp and weft of the political wings of the British and Australian labour movement share common threads.
New Labour of Blair is dead and buried yet this was inspirational to Kevin Rudd and his rise to power. In 2016, Shorten contested his first election as party leader and although coming close, he didn’t win.
Ferguson’s Observations in 2015 Still Relevant Today
Corbyn and his supporters are extremely distrustful of the mainstream media who disparage him at every turn. MSM makes fun of his clothes, his mode of transport – referring to his ‘Chairman Mao-style bicycle.’
But Corbyn is as equally distrustful of the BBC.
However, what Sarah observed was that Corbyn’s antagonism to the BBC was nothing compared to the then Tory PM David Cameron’s determination to go after the BBC’s blood, even although he is considered a small ‘l’ liberal.
This antagonism and disrespect of a public broadcaster’s role is the lesson Sarah wanted us to take from her story about British politics in view of the topic. “Freedom from Information- Australia’s War on Transparency”.
She reiterated the irony of Tony Abbott praising the ABC after The Killing Season was aired yet he’d assaulted the ABC’s independence and integrity over Q & A.
When it suited his politics he commended the ABC because The Killing Seasonexposed the machinations in the ALP for the leadership.
Would he say the same today after some of the documentaries and investigations have exposed his party’s shenanigans and failures?
Regardless of political viewpoint, the ABC should tell the stories important for Australians.
Sarah wants to tell compelling stories about and for Australians. She wants her political reporting to be incisive and would like to be a voice for the marginalised and those often forgotten.
Journalists should be able to ask questions of government and politicians just as there is an assumption you are allowed to ask questions of corporations.
But this ability/belief is under threat.
Will future readers accept the ABC has the right to tell their story without controls?
These changes have caused disquiet in parts of the community and there is a concern it could prevent any anti-government content being aired regardless of what politicians are in power.
More and more politicians and businesses are managing the media.
When Abbott was in Iraq he had his own media unit that fed stories to mainstream media.
Mike Rand, Australia’s most popular Premier lured an advertising executive to control his media statements.
Rand posted his own media and press releases on social media. This information picked up and repeated as if he’d been interviewed!
Lazy journalists continue to cut and paste and copy information without checking its veracity.
Already we have the respective party leaders addressing the public in videos. They carefully select the background and message and without any pesky journalists asking awkward questions can lecture/smooth talk/spruik whatever they want.
Will people check the truth of what they say or remain rusted on or anti the person depending on their politics. Will they be judged on content or looks?
In 2015, there was a discussion about the new digital tools for future reporting. Some of these tools came from the Gaming world – they are virtual reality tools.
Sarah asked, do you want a reporter going into a war zone and/or refugee camp behaving as if it is all amazing or should it be with an attitude of curiosity and asking hard, relevant questions?
Interestingly, when Mark Zuckerberg of FaceBook fame decided to feed news direct, he chose respected organisations like the BBC, The Guardian, New York Times etc.
There must be original compelling stories told in a way audiences can trust. This involves meticulous preparing and patient listening.
Interviewers must ask intelligent questions, imagine and frame questions that help us understand the humanity of subjects.
Key To A Good Interview
The latter two qualities must always be retained.
Sarah left the audience with two of her heroes:
A fearless Russian writer and journalist who gave us a great example of honest eyewitness reporting. He made detailed notes as he was travelling with the Red Army in WW2, writing about the Nazi extermination camp Treblinka and even of the rape of German women by the victorious Russian army.
His book about Stalin’s antisemitism and his disillusion with the regime was censored, ‘The KGB raided Grossman’s flat after he had completed Life and Fate, seizing manuscripts, notes and even the ribbon from the typewriter on which the text had been written.’ It had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union after Grossman’s death.
A writer who admitted herself to a mental institution so she could write with authenticity. An American journalist she was widely known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, in emulation of Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg.
A pioneer in her field, she is credited with launching a new kind of investigative journalism. She was also a novelist, industrialist, inventor, and charity worker.
I’ll add one of my heroes:
Andrew Olle (1947-1995)
Andrew Olle was one of Australia’s most admired broadcasters. He was respected by colleagues, opponents and the public for his fairness, quiet scepticism, calmness, gentle humour and lack of hubris. Starting out as a radio news cadet in Brisbane, Olle presented most of the ABC’s flagship current affairs programs including Four Corners, The 7.30 Report,Nationwide and A Big Country.
He also hosted election night coverage and the 2BL morning radio program in Sydney. His sudden death from a brain tumour at 47 caused an outpouring of public grief, including thousands of phone calls to the ABC, thousands more signing a condolence book and 6000 cards sent to the Olle family.
As a consummate radio and television presenter and interviewer he wanted light – a light shone on what the interviewee knew better than he. His ego was big enough to not care whether he “won” or not, he wanted his listeners and viewers to know more about the person and the subject they had just experienced. It was a unique softly, softly approach that won him so many hearts.
…Annette, his wife, recalls Olle saying he was “cursed with seeing both sides of any argument”. Again, of course, it was about getting balance and fairness exactly right as well. He was the last person to rush to judgement.
Here is a link to the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture given by John Doyle in 2005. It is well worth reading because again, it is an intelligent person sharing his observations and perceptions and being prescient about not only an industry but a world important to us all.
On Thursday night, I attended Underground, a play at the Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale – a great venue within walking distance of my home in Mordialloc, but also opposite the Parkdale Railway Station.
When I arrived home, I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my daughter.
‘What a wonderful evening! It made me glad to be a writer – so inspiring. An original interpretation… makes me want to write… keep trying different ways of telling great stories!’
‘Glad you’re so happy, Mum. Obviously, much better than your last experience,’ Mary Jane observed.
Yes, I’ve reached the stage where if I don’t like a play or film, or a book, I don’t force myself to see it through to the end and a couple of months ago, my friend Lisa and I walked out of the same theatre at the interval. We preferred sharing a coffee and chatting to returning for the second half!
‘Indeed,’ I answered, ‘but… this production was clever, well-acted, and focused. A fantastic retelling of a powerful story about a truly heroic and intriguing woman – who so many people don’t know anything about – you included!’
A Great Night At The Theatre A Much-needed Injection Of Joy
With my own writing in the doldrums, it was a change to feel happy and invigorated about writing. I wanted to talk about the story, the production, presentation, the acting, the stagecraft …
There is a wonderful feeling of elation when you watch a play or a film and it affects you that way. Just like the satisfaction of finishing a good book or short story.
You relish the experience, wish it hadn’t ended, want to prolong the ideas, emotions, and memories stirred. You’re ready for a discussion or to revisit a second show, a replay or reread.
There is no mystery as to why book clubs, and film and theatre appreciation groups thrive.
I missed out getting a copy of the programme – they ran out – but the lady next to me retrieved her folded copy from her bag and I snapped a shot with my phone camera.
The eclectic list of supporters thanked is interesting and indicative of the importance of this work in the wider community as well as the art world.
Professor Graeme Wake, a distant relative of Nancy who had joined efforts to see her honoured by New Zealand, said her death was a sad day for the country.
Anthony Crowley, multi-award-winning playwright
Michael Brindley, writer Stage Whispers
The Hon Tim Fischer, retired politician, leader of National Party 1990-1999
Uschi Felix -a versatile actress professionally trained in Germany and Australia
Josh Burns Labor candidate for the new Federal seat of Macnamara
Marisa Cesario, Programming Coordinator at Gasworks Arts Parks
Tamara Jungwirth, Director and CEO of Gasworks Arts Park
The Writer, Christine Croyden’s Note
Nancy Wake (1912-2011), now as The White Mouse (die Weisse Maus) left Sydney for Paris at eighteen and became a celebrated WW2 spy. She was one of only thirteen female special agents to survive the war.
My interest in her story began in 2015 when I wrote the book and lyrics for a musical The White Mouse, licensed by DSP in Sydney. In 2017, I spent six months as a resident with a theatre company in Paris where my interest in the French resistance and the German Occupation of France reignited. During this time I wrote Underground.
I describe it as a hallucinatory view of Nancy’s life.
Nancy was never keen on anyone messing with her story and hated all films, TV series and almost everything that was ever written about her, so I doubt she’d like my play.
However, I hope the small grains of truth contained within this fictionalised drama illuminate her complexity. Nancy Wake was (and still is) often referred to as a ‘difficult woman’.
She was not recognised for her efforts during WW2 in Australia until very late in her long life, despite her bravery and the admiration of the French for her contribution to their Resistance and subsequent Liberation.
In a culture where we are finally beginning to recognise women for what they do rather than how they look or behave, I feel Underground has something to say.
Christine Croyden, February 2019.
The above portrait is a rare picture of Nancy wearing some of the honours she received:
The George Medal,
the France and Germany Star,
the Defence Medal,
the British War Medal 1939-45,
the Croix de Guerre with Palm and Bar,
the Croix de Guerre with Star,
the US Medal for Freedom with Palm
the French Medaille de la Resistance
and she is an Officer of the Legion d’Honneur.
Underground has a lot to say and the execution by superb actors – especially Margot Knight – was impressive.
The technique of having an aged Nancy reflect on her life just before another ceremony lauding her war service, and having other actors portray the flashbacks on stage, sometimes with the older Nancy interacting, worked extremely well.
Margot Knight stayed in character throughout – her slower movements, facial expressions and word delivery never faltered. She was Nancy! Her memories a bit addled from age, grief, and her love of Gin, but with such clear and believable delivery.
Nancy Wake was in her 99th year when she died. Her life before, during, and after the war could fill volumes.
Christine Croyden’s attempt to capture the essence of this complicated human being deserves high praise.
The ‘White Mouse’ helped countless people escape death and torture in Occupied France. On the Nazi’s ‘Most Wanted’ list she earned the moniker White Mouse because of her elusiveness. after effective operations against the enemy.
When she managed to escape to England she trained as a spy and was parachuted back into danger despite knowing the consequences if she was caught. Her French husband, Henri was tortured and murdered by the Nazis.
Nancy earned the reputation of being strong mentally, physically and emotionally – legend has her killing a man with her bare hands and executing a German agent by shooting her in the back of the head.
Undergroundtells us the highlights of Nancy’s life focusing mainly on the WW2 era and the drama is enhanced by song and choreography.
The story of Nancy Wake’s exploits as spy and hero are well-documented with several online links containing excellent detail. There is some repetition and the usual discrepancies regarding dates and other information because most of the articles reflect the paucity of resources available.
Everyone agrees that for a very long time Nancy Wake was ignored/neglected in a way no male war hero ever suffered.
My Mother was a huge fan of telling the stories of women’s contribution because she felt ‘herstory’ important. It was Mum who bought me a book on Joan of Arc, The Maid of France, the French author Collette and Nancy’s book which was first released in the 1980s. Mum encouraged me to read widely and seek the untold or rarely told stories.
I read the autobiography and later when studying at university, bought a biography written in 1956 about Nancy by Russell Braddon who had been a POW of the Japanese. A prolific author, he suffered a mental breakdown several years after the war, which doctors attributed to his war experiences.
The effect of trauma and the horrendous violence people witness and become part of during a war and how it may change your attitude and personality, and most certainly your outlook on life is explored in Underground.
The stresses and effect of the journey of other characters and their relationships with Nancy included.
However, it is the price Nancy paid for her courage and persistence and the price she saved others from paying that you think about long after the play is over.
There was a TV series starring the brilliant Noni Hazelhurst as Nancy a few years ago too and a couple of documentaries worth following up.
Why Do We Do What We Do?
That question of WHYconcerning human behaviour is difficult to answer and because all of us are complex with varying degrees of experiences, different backgrounds and perspectives with various wants and needs, it is an eternal conundrum to be explored.
The ‘human condition’ a topic most writers of every genre are drawn to explore.
To dissect, and attempt to understand… Scottish poet, Rabbie Burns said, ‘the moving why they do it‘… It may be an unanswerable question.
… To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it…
from Address to the Unco Guid, or the Rigidly Righteous by Robert Burns
Christine Croyden has succeeded in tackling that bastion of male stories – heroism during wartime, with Underground. Succeeded shedding a little light on the motivation of Nancy Wake and her legacy.
The Allied authorities acknowledged Nancy’s exuberant spirits and physical daring but thought she was just ‘good for morale’ whereas the men and women on the ground who saw her in action formed a different opinion.
“She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men.”
one of Nancy’s WW2 comrades she Captained
It is a contemporary play with a powerful beginning which gives a nod to Nancy’s New Zealand roots when the aged Nancy performs the Māori haka – a memorable visual feast.
A creative way of declaring her birthplace and links to a proud warrior race plus the profound links between Australia and New Zealand through the commemoration of ANZAC.
Nancy’s pre-war career as a journalist is used to good effect too and employing poetic licence we hear Nancy describe the horrific events of the 1938 Kristallnacht while recounting her experience of going to Vienna in 1933 to interview Adolph Hitler.
Nancy witnessed the ill-treatment of the Jewish population and the emotional rendition by Margot Knight leaves you in no doubt why Nancy dedicated her life to fighting the Nazis.
The playwright has drawn on all the available information but Margot Knight gives us insight into the horror’s effect on a young Nancy who wrote about her visit to Vienna.
“The stormtroopers had tied the Jewish people up to massive wheels. They were rolling the wheels along, and the stormtroopers were whipping the Jews. I stood there and thought, ‘I don’t know what I’ll do about it, but if I can do anything one day, I’ll do it.’ And I always had that picture in my mind, all through the war.”
Nancy Wake went on to become the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman, eventually collecting bravery awards from France, England, Australia and the United States.
In answer to being overlooked, she said of Australian authorities, ‘they can stick their award and be thankful it’s not a pineapple’.
Australia was slow to acknowledge her contribution but New Zealand is still to officially acknowledge their ‘daughter’ despite the efforts of a relative Professor Graeme Wake.
Professor Wake who met up with Nancy in 1990 said:
When I met her she was always adamant she was a New Zealander, she kept her New Zealand passport right through to when I met her and I believe beyond…
She never lived much of her life in New Zealand and left as a small child, when she was taken by her parents to Australia and hardly came back…
I believe she made one fleeting visit as a youngster to see her father before she went to Europe …
She was a forthright person, very direct on her views, clear on her views. You knew exactly where you stood with her… a toughness of spirit which you can only admire.
So Many Stories Still to be Told
Other Nancy quotes:
‘I hate wars and violence, but if they come I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.’
‘I got away with blue murder and loved every minute of it.’
She is also reported to have said she hoped to go down in history as the woman who turned down 7,000 sex-starved Frenchmen!
Perhaps her personality and attitude came from a tough early life when her journalist father returned to New Zealand deserting his wife and six children.
She was certainly no shrinking violet or demure lady often portrayed as the norm.
Nancy was a nurse in Australia during the early 1930s but harboured dreams of a different life and when she inherited money from an aunt left for Europe as soon as could be arranged.
What would her life have been like if no world war?
Nurse, ambulance driver, journalist, spy, commando, war hero, would-be politician…
Underground is a great play but it sparks interest and shines a light on a host of other stories deserving to be told about Nancy and many others from that era.
The play is an inspiration for telling stories in an entertaining and memorable way and I hope it returns to Kingston and more people take the opportunity to see it.
The above meme is doing the rounds of Facebook and what Graham Norton says is such a no brainer you do wonder at those greedy people who employ tax consultants to minimise and avoid paying their share.
What kind of community do they want to live in?
One that is permanently gated with more police and security guards than teachers and doctors?
It is a timely reminder for Australians as the soon-to-be-announced (oh, please get on with it!) Federal Election is due.
If the Labor Party buys into the trope that ‘unemployed equals dole bludger’ or people unable to find a job are not worthy of help, then it is no longer the party of social justice. Bill Shorten’s Budget Reply better be decidedly different from Josh Frydenberg’s!
The ALP has baggage to ditch
forget rhetoric about poor versus rich
it’s about social cohesion
not fanning division
Jacinda Adern has the right pitch!
Limericks Bursting The Budget Bubble
The Budget was delivered by Josh
no surprises there, by gosh
and included a lot of tosh!
No addressing of climate emergency
global warming not treated with urgency
Josh sold his soul
for a lump of coal
condemning us all to Purgatory
And now the hard sell will begin
to politicians lying is not a sin
there’ll be semantics
the Truth always a victim of spin
The PM is a marketing man
considers winning in the can
to him not rash
hip pocket nerves all part of the plan
ScoMo always smugness and smiles
in Queensland, he travelled miles
to keep Nats sweet
and avoid defeat
he had a Treasury chest of guiles
Josh said the Budget is in the black
the economy on the right track
who’d have guessed
they’d rob NDIS
for that, they should get the sack!
Yet Julie wore a sparkly blue dress
at 1300 dollars it had to impress
red shoes clicked
her next job anybody’s guess
Mathias Cormann lonely without Joe
no cigars or smoke rings on show
as Dutton’s man
he’s now ‘also-ran’
a diminished powerbroker who must go
The Budget framed for election in May
when the people will have their say
about stagnant wages
refugees in cages
and prime ministers who never stay
The pork barrel has been rolled out
too late for those areas in drought
be gaoled over water
his incompetency never in doubt
Labor’s in with a chance to win
if they promise more than spin
Bill’s Budget reply
‘cos people’s patience is wearing thin
Social justice can be achieved
relief for all those aggrieved
a fair go reality
if economic parity
and a living wage guaranteed
Action on climate change a must
Australia’s pastures turning to dust
we need a government to trust
We’re at a point of no return
global warming a real concern
find a solution
destructive practices we’ll unlearn
To Neoliberalism we say goodbye
trickle down economics proven a lie
of tax evasion
and no more turning of a blind eye!
Maybe it is all the grim news that seems to pervade every news bulletin and many social media posts, combined with having time to clear shelves and files on the computer now I’m semi-retired, but virtual and digital worlds coincided yesterday.
I took a rest from deleting files when I discovered the first film review I ever wrote and searched to see if I still had the DVD. The review was an assignment for one of the units in my master’s degree, 2010, and the DVD was a bargain basement JB HiFi sale item – Road To Perdition.
Up until I studied for the Masters In Writing, my writing centred mainly on short stories and poetry – fiction writing. I also wrote reports for the Union of Australian Women and dabbled in life writing/memoir but never thought about being a reviewer of books, let alone film, which is not a genre I’d ever claim expertise in critiquing.
However, with one daughter having a Bachelor of Film & Television and the other a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in Media Arts, and both loving film, I have been ‘turned on’ to the medium and love its ability to bring stories to life.
I happily absorb all the knowledge shared with me and one of my favourite pastimes is to go to the movies with one or both of the girls and then enjoy a great discussion afterwards.
Reviewing Has Its Pitfalls
Writing my first review, particularly as an academic assignment was challenging but also interesting because there are many varied opinions about one film – like reading novels – you discover taste is extremely subjective!
There are of course necessary components and expectations of what makes a ‘good’ film just like the techniques required to craft a ‘good’ novel.
I wrote for a general online audience because as a complete novice, no way could I emulate Margaret and David of television fame, or Jim Schembri, The Age’s regular reviewer in TheGreen Guide. (Definitely, showing my age here!)
I followed the lecture guidelines and tried to cover all aspects of the craft and techniques of film-making, including sound and cinematography, as well as the narrative and acting.
The title of the film was intriguing and I searched the dictionary for the exact meaning of Perdition:
First meaning – (a) archaic : utter destruction.
(b) obsolete : loss.
Second meaning – (a ) : eternal damnation.
(b ) : hell.
In Christian theology, it is a state of eternal punishment and damnation into which a sinful and unrepentant person passes after death.
The definition of going down the road/path to perdition is taken to mean travelling towards something very dangerous or harmful.
For example: ‘It’s this kind of selfishness that leads down the road/path to perdition.’
It is an old-fashioned word rarely used nowadays but as mentioned in my opening sentence, it’s a word that suits recent times – and certainly suited this film!
Film Review: Road To Perdition
Perdition in some religions is the state of everlasting punishment in hell that sinners endure after death, or can mean hell as a location. Director Sam Mendes in his 2002 Road to Perdition, has a neat metaphor – not only are the main characters Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his son Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin) driving to a town called Perdition but they are also on the way to damnation, unless as in all classical tragedies, they find redemption.
The film’s Oedipal theme explores several aspects of father and son relationships and Tom Hanks is magnificent as the main character, Michael Sullivan. (This is high praise from me because I’m not enamoured with Hanks as an actor. I will compliment his acting in this movie. It was so good, you can’t recognise him as Tom Hanks!)
The story is about Mike Sullivan being transformed by tragedy to forge a new relationship with his son and to do this he has to destroy the relationship with John Rooney (Paul Newman), the only father he has known.
It is 1931 America, Prohibition is giving Chicago based Al Capone wealth and power and Michael Sullivan, Sr is an enforcer for John Rooney, an organised crime boss in an Illinois town populated by fellow Irish Americans. (Makes a change from the Italian mafia.)
Sullivan, an orphan raised by Rooney, is treated as a favoured son. The resentment felt by Rooney’s real son, Connor (a suitably brutal Daniel Craig), at this relationship, and his vicious murder of a disgruntled employee witnessed by Michael Jr triggers the unravelling of Sullivan Senior’s ordered life.
In his attempt to silence Michael Jr, Connor kills a younger son Peter (Liam Aiken) by mistake and Mike’s wife, Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Sullivan has to salvage what is left of his family; build a relationship with a son he barely knows, and stop him following his path of being on the wrong side of the law.
Road to Perdition, written by David Self, is based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, but is not just a pulp gangster movie, although the influence of The Godfather and The Untouchables is evident. (The latter movie with Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness is one of my favourites!)
An Irish wake establishes the culture of Rooney’s community whereas in The Godfather, it is a wedding, and Mike Sullivan’s perfectly executed campaign against Capone reminds us of Elliot Ness in The Untouchables.
However, the usual Hollywood clichés associated with gangsters are missing – there are no spats, loud suits, and hats strategically placed over eyes or laconic bad guys chewing gum, incessantly smoking, flipping coins, or firing wisecracks.
These are businessmen, ensuring illegal enterprises remain profitable; their world is not glamorous. The film shows the impact of the violence on the person who commits it, or witnesses it. Although there is a lot of killing, much of it happens off-screen.
It is a film of lost innocence because the 12-year-old narrator, Michael Jr not only witnesses a brutal slaying but is suddenly confronted with the truth that his father is a cold-blooded killer and his cuddly ‘grandfather’ Rooney is a manipulative crime boss.
Dialogue is sparse. Based on a graphic novel the film is told in scenes that are sometimes silent — superb showing not telling. Tom Hanks is brilliant as the inarticulate cold hit man struggling with personal grief, not apologising for the life he has led, determined on vengeance while saving his only son.
Stillness and stunning imagery are used to build the powerful emotions of Rooney and Sullivan coming to terms with the changed circumstances precipitated by sociopath Connor’s actions.
There are few speeches of explanation, rather dialogue such as John Rooney’s statement to Mike that, ‘It’s a natural law that sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.’
And later in a pivotal showdown, ‘There are only murderers in this room, Michael. Open your eyes. This is the life we chose. The life we lead. And there is only one guarantee–none of us will see heaven.’
Director Mendes says the film is ‘about the legacy that fathers leave sons and the secret worlds parents inhabit that the child never really knows.’
Camera angles are deliberately chosen to see events from Michael Jr’s viewpoint. The New York Times described it as ‘a truly majestic visual tone poem‘ and it is true that cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall creates a world where light struggles to penetrate the darkness, sinister shadows bedevil the night, and long corridors intimidate, fearful faces are half-seen, and a ballet of looks and eye contact produce tension to keep the audience engaged.
The opening scenes of winter snow and ghost-like crowds change in a seasonal shift towards spring, new life and light, but the characters must first survive the visceral chill of downpours and more than one hail of bullets.
Rain runs off the brims of fedoras, soaks thick overcoats, bounces on streets and windscreens. Weather as uncontrollable as the violence set in motion by Connor.
Darkness stresses the atmosphere of destruction, and there is no character darker than Harlan Maguire (Jude Law) a strange, sinister, sadistic hired assassin who hunts the Sullivans at the behest of Capone’s organisation.
In one confrontation, Maguire is scarred and the mercenary job becomes personal. His pursuit of the Sullivans provides an explosive climax and an opportunity for amazing cinematography.
There are many captivating moments that are emotionally-engaging, particularly between father and son, and I guarantee you won’t see the surprise ending coming!
However, true to the era and the story’s comic book origins women are mainly background ‘broads’. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s appearance is brief. She cooks meals, is silently supportive, and is murdered.
Made in 2002, the other female roles of an aunt, waitress, a prostitute, and an old childless woman are even briefer but not sure I’d warm to any female character playing a prominent role in such a violent world.
Despite the macho emphasis, Road to Perdition is impressive and entertaining. The careful attention to detail (especially historical aspects of costumes, dialogue and attitude), the quality of the acting (Hanks, Newman, Law and Craig deliver excellent performances), and the haunting musical score by Thomas Newman crafts a fine tale into a memorable film.
Perdition, Michigan refers to a made-up town but the film is set along the shore of Lake Michigan and the graphic novel was based on a true story of Bill Gabel and the Looney mob hell-raising in the Midwest during the Great Depression.
News of the World gave it five stars, ‘The greatest gangster film since The Godfather.’
For writers and storytellers (and students of Masters in Writing!), it is the special features on DVDs that add to the enjoyment of the movie. This DVD is no exception with:
Audio commentary by Director Sam Mendes
11 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
HBO Special: The Making of Road To Perdition
CD Soundtrack Promo
Photo Gallery (50 stills)
Cast and Filmmaker Bios
Finally, a quote from the blurb,
‘Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1999) brings his haunting vision to a hard-edged story of lost innocence, conflicted loyalty and ambition.’
I still find writing reviews – whether of film or book – challenging but as a creative writer, it is a good exercise.
The deconstructing and examining of the narrative, layers and impact, the characters and details can only help my own understanding of craft and technique of different genres and even stimulate ideas.
This is the cover of a beautiful book about the importance of valuing Australia’s National Network of Marine Sanctuaries that I recently presented to my Federal Member of Parliament, the Honourable Mark Dreyfus QC, along with a letter asking for his commitment to continue to support the sanctuaries.
The letter signed by 64 constituents:
Dear Mr Dreyfus,
LABOR’S COMMITMENT TO RESTORE AUSTRALIA’S MARINE SANCTUARIES
This book shares a message from your electorate in support of Australia’s world-leading National Network of Marine Sanctuaries.
Following the Coalition Government’s devastating cuts to Australia’s sanctuaries – equivalent to removing every second national park on land – we welcome Labor’s commitment to fully restore the National Network of Marine Sanctuaries that Labor put in place in 2012.
Thank you for your support in restoring our sanctuaries – so that they can do the job of protecting our marine life, helping to ensure we have fish for the future and benefiting our regions and local communities.
I volunteered for the privilege of approaching Mark after I signed online petitions and followed campaigns to protect our ocean.
The organisation that will keep you informed and who cleverly produced such a positive campaign is the Australian Marine Conservation Societyand they are always looking for people to become Sea Guardians to protect our ocean’s wildlife.
A community of scientists & ocean conservationists working to save our marine life, established in 1965, it is an independent marine-focused charity. For over 50 Years committed staff have been dedicated to protecting ocean wildlife.
Mark was thrilled with the book and was happy to commit to protecting marine sanctuaries.
He said the situation regarding our environment is critical – and the science confirms this.
When part of the Gillard Government, he represented Australia at several international conferences and is well aware the current Federal Government is not doing enough to combat climate change and protect our sea and landscapes. he fought hard for the resources of the CSIRO to be increased, not reduced.
I was thrilled when I saw the book too – as a writer, I appreciate the power of illustrations to enhance words.
This book is a beautiful tool, to showcase how valuable our oceans are – a tangible reminder of what we will lose if the government doesn’t protect our coastline and the sea from overfishing, pollution from stormwater run-offs and shipping, plus exceptionally harmful oil and gas exploration.
We must provide and ensure marine sanctuaries. This book showcases many wonderful conversation starters for discussions we need to have – thousands of reasons to step up now.
How to get involved with the Campaign to Save Our Marine Life
Like many people who care about the environment, I’ve been involved in physical and online campaigns. It hasn’t been a sudden, one-issue jolt, but rather a weary trek from campaigns to stop littering to educating people about the dangers of pollution and wiping out the habitat of unique flora and fauna.
Change Habits To Save Habitats
Bali’s beaches are drowning in litter
Debris piles where no butterflies flitter
Apocalypse fed –
but the solution is not storming Twitter
The main culprit named is plastic
a product we embraced as fantastic
but it resists decay
and won’t go away
The destruction of marine life tragic!
Fast food a convenience we craved
Marketing gurus constantly raved
Junk created ignored
As rubbish was poured
Into the environment, we should have saved.
Who profits from accumulated trash?
Is life on Earth worth less than cash?
Consumers fed lies
While pollution spreads like a rash!
What species destroys its own nest
Where standards should be the best?
‘Away’ doesn’t exist
Rubbish isn’t a mist
We create it, so must produce less!
‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ a catch cry
This must be real or we all die
The coral withers
Our PM dithers
Climate change deniers watch Earth fry.
To the tourists who boast loving Bali –
Has your behaviour increased the tally?
Of beach debris
Polluting the sea
Leave only footprints when you dally!!
Bali’s problem is really worldwide
from culpability, no one can hide
It starts with a ‘me’
I hope becomes ‘we’
From today let’s take the Earth’s side.
A plethora of organisations – many with a specific focus – campaign for various conservation and environmental causes. Over the years, I’ve spent time concentrating on one or the other, or spread myself between several.
My motto always to give what you can when you can.
I’ve rarely had much cash to spare but my writing skills and social justice passion come in handy!
The damage to all species, including humans can be through accidental or wanton destruction, industrial smog and lung disease, overdevelopment and lack of green spaces or the current emergency of climate change.
Belonging to the Union of Australian Women and always the relevant trade union covering my paid employment gives me a good grounding in old school activism.
Living in Mordialloc for 35 years it has been a constant priority to safeguard our beautiful bayside suburb.
Before the Internet and mobile technology, the art of letter-writing, collecting signatures with a clipboard, demonstrating with placards and letterboxing leaflets, door-knocking and street stalls were all valid methods of making a point and having your voice heard.
Activism Is A Label For Everyday Life
Attendance at Clean-Up Australia Day events – I went to one of the first held in Mordialloc more years ago than I care to remember, taking my young daughters along to learn from my example.
Volunteering regularly with a local environmental group. I joined Friends of Bradshaw Park and compiled an education kit for primary schools to encourage discussion about the importance of retaining and respecting local flora and fauna – again my daughters accompanied me on working bees to weed and plant.
Volunteering in schools to encourage care for the playground and environs. I gave workshops on the writing of poetry and short fiction around environmental issues. The fondest memory, a lovely book of pastel drawings by the children in daughter Anne’s class to illustrate a narrative poem I wrote about the then threatened Blue Whale.
Working with Environment Victoria to promote solar power and renewable energy. I’ve hosted a sign, letterboxed, helped establish a database of supporters, handed out information on polling day.
Attending and organising gatherings to hear speakers from groups such as Gene Ethics to the Australian Conservation Foundation. If you belong to a community group think about inviting speakers from environmental groups outside your comfort zone. Be challenged to think about deforestation, oil drilling, use of plastics and recycling…
Since a teenager, like many people, I’ve campaigned against nuclear power and in an ideal world, uranium would remain in the ground.
(Ironic, I know because I have benefited from chemotherapy as a cancer patient but as with energy sources, there are alternatives and there is no moving away from the fact the majority of uranium and byproducts are used or stored as military weapons, plus the world still has no solution to the dangerous waste created!)
The New Way of Campaigning
There is no denying we live in a digital world now and the power of social media is immense – and it is not all as negative as some people think but a far-reaching and effective tool if, as Agent Maxwell Smart said all those years ago, ‘used for goodness…’
I respond to online appeals that often begin with an email and a request to sign a petition. After research, the knowledge gained helps me frame letters or emails to newspapers, politicians and companies.
Also, importantly, to initiate discussions among friends and family. Transferring and sharing knowledge one of the most important actions in any campaign.
As many signs at demonstrations advise (I love attending these too ) there is no Planet B.
It was a privilege to go the extra step and arrange a meeting with my local member of parliament and gift this book, to remind him of what is at stake if the marine sanctuaries are not reinstated and extended.
For local communities, some icons like The Great Barrier Reef, and many endangered marines species, we are at a tipping point – in danger of reaching the point of no return!
The following information including beautiful photography is from the book to ask MPs for their commitment to protecting our oceans and marine life.
Australia’s Proud history of Commonwealth Protection of Sanctuaries
As with so many progressive policies in Australia, it all began with the Whitlam Government in 1973.
The world’s oceans are the last great frontier for science and discovery and Australia is responsible for the third largest area of ocean on Earth
There are many sanctuaries still to be finalised – the good work must resume not be wound back or remain at a standstill.
Located at the junction of three major oceans, our waters are tropical temperate and sub-Antarctic.
We have more unique marine life than almost any other country in the world.
More than 85% of us live near the sea
Healthy marine environments are central to our lifestyle, our livelihoods and our economy. Australia has a proud bipartisan history of marine protection.
We are a nation of caretakers.
For many decades, our leaders have acted with the foresight to ensure a sustainable balance is found between what we take from the oceans and what we conserve for the future.
This is Australia’s insurance policy against the known threats of climate change, overfishing, introduced pests and pollution.
This leadership has crossed political divides and resulted in the creation of the world’s largest National Network of Marine Sanctuaries – backed by decades of science and overwhelming community support.
Our National network of marine parks and sanctuaries will protect our greatest treasures, including Australian icons like the Great Barrier Reef.
The Finalised List of Marine Sanctuaries:
Great Barrier Reef
But until the following are included our special marine treasures remain at risk:
80 Mile Beach
Gulf of Carpentaria
Lord Howe Island
Great Australian Bight
Please make an effort to discover these treasures and fight for them to be protected.
THE CORAL SEA
The Coral sea – the cradle to the Great barrier reef – is one of the last wild places on Earth where ocean giants still thrive. And outside the sanctuary, the Coral Sea Marine Reserve created what is effectively the largest recreational fishing zone in Australia’s history.
THE PERTH CANYON
Beyond Rottnest Island, Perth’s backyard holds an underwater secret larger than the Grand Canyon. The Perth Canyon is one of only three places in Australia where the blue whale – the largest animal ever – known to feed.
As well as a popular holiday destination where people flock to relax, whale watch, fish and sail, Geographe Bay is a resting area for migrating humpback whales.
LORD HOWE ISLAND
Home to the world’s most southerly coral reef, World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island is a crossroads where five major ocean currents collide, creating a fascinating and unique mix of marine life.
THE GULF OF CARPENTARIA
A crucial part of one of the last intact tropical marine systems left in the world.
The Kimberley has some of the last intact natural areas left on the planet. Its incredible beauty is matched only by its enormous diversity.
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN BIGHT
A globally significant breeding nursery for the southern right whale and southern bluefin tuna. The cool waters of the Bight have exceptional diversity – more than 800 species have been identified here.
Currently, Greenpeace has an urgent campaign regarding The Bight. I visited the iconic Rainbow Warrior when it docked in Melbourne, and the crew explained it was here specifically to make Australians aware of the dangers of oil exploration in one of the last unspoiled ocean havens in the world.
Local people living along the coastline have warned of the devastating consequences of an oil spill – and international companies ALL have a less than clean track record and CANNOT guarantee that won’t happen
The seismic blasts used to locate gas or oil in deep water are louder than grenades. The noise loud enough to burst human eardrums and can cause permanent loss to whales, which are many times more sensitive to sound. For marine animals relying on sound to communicate, mate and survive, this will be devastating!
Furthermore, we should listen to the First Nation people living in the area – voices repeatedly ignored to our peril. What of their rights?
This book by Dr Virginia Marshall launched by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG in 2017 provides important information we can no longer ignore:
Aboriginal peoples in Australia have the oldest living cultures in the world. From 1788 the British colonisation of Australia marginalised Aboriginal communities from land and water resources and their traditional rights and interests. More recently, the national water reforms further disenfranchised Aboriginal communities from their property rights in water, continuing to embed severe disadvantage. Overturning aqua nullius aims to cultivate a new understanding of Aboriginal water rights and interests in the context of Aboriginal water concepts and water policy development in Australia.
Drawing on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Marshall argues that the reservation of Aboriginal water rights needs to be prioritised above the water rights and interests of other groups. It is only then that we can sweep away the injustice of aqua nullius and provide the first Australians with full recognition and status of their water rights and interests.
It is time to acknowledge past mistakes and work together to safeguard the future from a humanitarian as well as a scientific perspective.
There is a national and international scientific consensus on the benefits of sanctuaries. Sanctuaries protect crucial feeding and breeding areas to help ensure we have fish for the future.
Research consistently shows the number, size and diversity of marine life greatly increase once areas are fully protected, and there is growing evidence of ‘flow on’ benefits into adjacent waters.
Tasmania’s Maria Island sanctuary has seen rock lobster numbers increase by more than 250%, spilling over to boost fishing and combat destructive sea urchin spread.
Sanctuaries also ensure coral reefs are more resilient to devastating bleaching and cyclones – making them more important than ever before.
And it is not just Australia’s marine life that benefits…
Sanctuaries are tourism powerhouses supporting a range of growing industries in regional communities.
Long established marine sanctuaries are boosting tourism, fish populations and local businesses. They are an environmental, social, and economic success.
At Ningaloo Reef, 180,000 tourists visit and bring in $141 million each year.
Many of our treasured fishing destinations have been marine parks for years now.
Long-standing marine sanctuaries are working hand in hand with world-class recreational fishing in places like Ningaloo Reef, the Solitary Islands and right along the Queensland coast.
The establishment of our National Network of Sanctuaries has been one of the most evidence-based and consultative processes in Australia’s history.
Australians are enthusiastic supporters of marine sanctuaries, particularly once they have experienced them first hand. They express their support at public events direct to their local MPs and in the many thousands of submissions to government consultation processes.
Across the country, we hear the consensus: to be Australian is to treasure the big blue backyard that is our birthright.
It is our overwhelming desire to maintain the health of Australia’s oceans for future generations.
For our marine life, and way of life.
We all share a duty and an opportunity to continue our nation’s proud history of stewardship of the seas – a bipartisan legacy for future generations.
On Sunday, I was rewarded for being a volunteer with Open House Melbourne, by a free trip on the river, which left from Docklands. I learnt how important the Melbourne waterfront is to Victoria’s economy. With imports and exports, it is the busiest port in Australia.
The litter trap sign warns: If it’s on the river, it ends up in the river…
Economic gains come at a cost and fortunately, there are many more people aware of the importance of keeping our waterways and the oceans healthy – not just in Melbourne but all along our coastline.
On the way to catch the boat, I passed a sculpture by Mark Stoner: The River Runs Through It – the message and reminder of what was and is, poignant and confronting and I hope does what good public art should do – allow us to pause, consider, and think about our understanding of the artist’s vision.
Citizens in democracies are lucky because we have an opportunity to ensure we vote on government policies that matter by letting our politicians know what we care about.
The most important issue for me is that action is taken to protect our waterways and oceans and attempt to heal the environment as we face climate change.
Please feel free to use the information, perhaps get in touch and request your local member of parliament give a commitment too.
I’ve written many posts about my volunteering with Open House Melbourne and how it has enriched my knowledge and this week I was privileged to attend an event, which is part of a collaborative program between NGV and Open House Melbourne for Melbourne Design Week called ‘Waterfront: Reconnecting With Birrarung.’
The Yarra River was called Birrarung by the Wurundjeri people who occupied the Yarra Valley and much of Central Victoria prior to European colonisation.
It is thought that Birrarung is derived from Wurundjeri words meaning “ever flowing”. Another common term was Birrarung Marr, thought to mean “river of mist” or “river bank”.
Other Aboriginal terms for the river are: Berrern, Wongete, and Yarro-yarro
Water symbolises life
It is crucial to our health, the environment’s health, and all ecosystems on planet Earth and because of development and climate change, it is critical that Australia, the world’s driest continent, manages our water systems well.
Urban rivers are under pressure across the world, despite the vital ecological, cultural and recreational value they offer.
Open House Melbourne asked Melbournians to reconsider and reconnect with the river that runs through their city and consider the role design plays in reframing Melbourne’s relationship with water.
Waterfront: Cultural Flows
On Monday, March 18, in the Koorie Heritage Trust Gallery, Federation Square, I attended “an intimate conversation” with Rueben Berg, the first Aboriginal person appointed as a Commissioner for the Victorian Environmental Water Holder.
Australia’s Aboriginal peoples have tens of thousands of years’ experience in water management. With the appointment of the country’s first Aboriginal Water Commissioner, Rueben Berg, in late 2017, the value of that accumulated knowledge finally appears to be dawning on its governments.
As part of Melbourne Design Week—an initiative of the Victorian Government in collaboration with the NGV, Cultural Flows was co-presented by Foreground, Open House Melbourne and supported by the Koorie Heritage Trust.
There is consistent interest in water (and recently the Murray-Darling crisis made that interest skyrocket!) therefore water management is important to discuss, but we don’t often think of it in terms of design.
Yet, Design is important to function – it is an intensely cultural act – our waterways were shaped by Aboriginal Australians and then came the effects of colonisation and settlement, the latter detrimental to our waterways.
Tim Flannery (Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist, author and global warming activist) described Melbourne as a temperate Kakadu before greed and corruption destroyed the landscape.
Most of us even think in a blinkered way about rivers – in terms of sewers or using them to fish. A report released Tuesday warned the Yarra River’s environmental health is being put at risk due to litter, pollution and invasive species.
Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability rated the river’s health as “poor” in 18 out of 25 environmental indicators in its first State of the Yarra report, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the baseline health of the ecosystem.
Nearly 180 tonnes of rubbish has been collected from the river system over a four-year period!
Litter-cleaning programs removed 179 tonnes of litter from the river between 2014 and 2017, including 1.29 million cigarette butts from the river and its mouth at Port Phillip Bay.
The report recommends planning controls be extended further north-east along the Yarra River. Between 2013 and 2017, the Environment Protection Agency received 338 water pollution reports — the vast majority of which came from Alphington and further downstream.
It also calls for the creation of a chief biodiversity scientist to oversee monitoring of the river’s health. The outlook for frogs and fish was deteriorating in inner-city Melbourne and urban parts of the river system, but platypuses were assessed as being in a “fair” and “stable” state.
The report found industrial sites likely caused more pollution at inner-city sites but
warns against ‘inappropriate urban development’ as Melbourne’s population expands in the north-east of the city.
Rivers are much more than rubbish dumps and recreational play areas.
The current river protection zone should be extended from Warrandyte to the boundary of the Yarra Ranges National Park, the report said.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Government would consider the report’s recommendations and that care for the river was a “shared responsibility” of all Victorians.
Learning from the Wurundjeri
Melbourne’s first people have two moieties in their traditional group.There is Bundjil the eagle, creator of all that you can see on country – the hills and mountains, waterways, rivers, creeks and billabongs.
The trees that give shelter to various creatures, and wood and bark for the houses or weelams of the Boon Wurrung peoples. He also was called upon to settle disputes between people.
The other moiety is Waang the black crow.
He is the protector of the waterways, rivers, creeks and billabongs. He makes sure that fresh water would run and be in plentiful supply for our people and the birds and animals.
As the driest inhabited continent, the rivers of Australia have been the focal point of life for up to 60,000 years for Aboriginal Australia. They play an important role in Aboriginal social life and identity but by changing how, when, and where rivers flow, water resource development has affected the way Aboriginal communities interact with the landscape.
Yet, until recently, there was little Indigenous participation in water planning and management as well as limited capacity and understanding within water agencies about traditional rights or values.
Managing waterways is complex – and we are part of it. This land is a significant place and it is important to celebrate and appreciate the river and we can have much better outcomes if we do this in partnership with the Traditional Owners.
Important to remember that the land has not just been inhabited 200 plus years – what was the waterway like thousands of years ago?
Many of us have never heard of Cultural Flow or know the job of water commissioners and this free event was a wonderful opportunity to learn.
Rueben is a Water Commissioner in Victoria. There are four managing water holdings for the betterment of the environment. Our waterways are not free-flowing, there are chosen amounts allocated. Sometimes water is increased for the environment’s health to areas where there has not been enough for trees, canals, or wetlands to be healthy.
Irrigators have an allocation for agriculture but the natural environment also gets an allocation. These allocations must have environmental outcomes – not just for recreational purposes like swimming, although that is a factor in consideration.
Rueben, a Gunditjmara man from Framlingham a rural township located by the Hopkins River in the Western District of Victoria, Australia, about 20 km north-east of the coastal city of Warrnambool, studied architecture at QUT.
He played with Lego as a child and wanted to build things but when he began the university course, he discovered he couldn’t relate to the way it was taught.
He remembered having to watch a French film and then having to decide what architecture suited the characters. It seemed irrelevant and not realistic. That disconnect caused him to leave architecture and join the public service wherehe was designing houses for Aboriginal people with disabilities. Doing that meaningful work led him to the position he now has.
Diversity and Listening
No one has all the answers but we must consider heritage when we think about the environment.
Design must include
the significance of place
analyse the site before action
enhance existing characteristics,
the user experience very important.
Personally, Rueben has seen a positive change in his 18 months as a water commissioner. It has been an interesting journey – Minister Neville plays a strong role and Reuben’s presence highlights this. People thinkmore before decision-making.
There is a lot of goodwill but also fear about getting it wrong and giving offence. His message is you will cause offence but get over it and do your best. (What good advice – race relations for many people can be a steep learning curve.)
He alleviates fears and initiates conversations. Aboriginals are a diverse community and you’re not going to please everyone.
He has been positively received – inclusion not an abstract concept any more. The culture within the industry is that people want to improve. However, he is an advisor, and ultimately it must be the Aboriginal people on the ground who decide.
What is Cultural Flow?
This is water managed and controlled by Aboriginal people. Let them decide how it is used, the rights to use – even where needed for economic benefit.
When solely managed by Aboriginal people, shared benefits are recognised eg. recreational fishing and swimming.
Self-determination is a great idea but the handing over of control may be hard when it actually happens. Although there is consultation, also cooperation, there is still no dedicated cultural flow in Melbourne.
There are broad themes throughout Australia regarding cultural flow – water must not damage sacred trees so controlling allocation important, if too much water, also if draining natural wetlands consideration must be made not to expose Aboriginal remains.
The common thread is maintaining a living culture. When considering water allocation we must ask what are the Aboriginal values?
Protecting totem species – different ones for different clans
Ceremonies are held at certain times of the year, therefore may need water where the flow has stopped or is limited.
rejuvenation to encourage economic independence
Bolin Bolin Billabong, Bulleen
This is near Heidi and Italian Soccer Club. A large river red gum with a canoe scar is located at Heide Gallery in Bulleen.
It is a significant site but not connected naturally to the river so recognising the damage wrought by this disconnection water is pumped in to correct it.
The Ranch Billabong, Dimboola
In December 2018, Wotjobaluk Peoples marked the anniversary of their 2005 Native Title Consent Determination by returning water to one of their most culturally significant sites along the Wimmera River. Providing water was about recognising the past and honouring the present.
Barengi Gadjin Land Council and Wotjobaluk traditional owners turned on the pump that will fill the Billabong. Twenty megalitres from the Wimmera River will be pumped into the billabong and changes monitored to manage the site. The water is from the Victorian Environmental Water Holder’s Wimmera and Glenelg Rivers water for environment allocation.
Rueben explained that there is a fear of highlighting sacred places and exposing them to vandalism or people taking stones as souvenirs or to sell on eBay. (My initial shocked reaction that these things happen replaced quickly by sorrow because human beings are not really the best of Earth’s species.)
Rueben is careful of advertising much of the work they do, yet realises it is important for everyone to know and value a place and so preserve it. Aboriginals don’t want to go down the Uluru track where people have trampled on cultural and sacred significance.
Aboriginal people must be allowed to keep their traditional relationship with places and practice their culture and the overwhelming action/response needed is mutual TRUST and a determination that cultural flow will work.
Budj Bim, Lake Condah, Heywood
Formed by an ancient lava flow from what was traditionally called the Budj Bim volcano, the rich resource of Lake Condah – just outside Heywood – has sustained the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years.
The way the Gunditjmara people exploited the resources of the lake was sophisticated. They developed an aquaculture system not just to catch fish, but to grow fish. They were probably the earliest fish farmers in the world, one fish trap has been dated to 6,600 years old. Eels were caught and smoked and the Traditional Owners are developing the local eel farming industry to contribute to economic development and have an important education role.
Local Traditional Owners believe the area has global significance and are applying for World Heritage listing, a remarkable landscape, much older than manmade structures in existence.
In the late 1800s, Lake Condah was drained by European settlers for grazing land. In 2010 – following a native title determination – the lake was reflooded as part of a plan to revive the ecosystem around it.
From having no Aboriginal waterway officers there are now 22. Victoria is leading the way nationally and the current Treaty negotiations will give opportunities to have water rights discussions while respecting Aboriginal traditions in the knowledge that within different groups only certain people own certain knowledge.
Sharing that knowledge requires transparency and a reliance on stakeholders to navigate bureaucracy in good faith. Reuben must find out where and with whom authority resides within various local groups, develop a strong connection to the region, build relationships and discover who has access to the knowledge, and avoid conflict – this method has worked – so far!
The Aboriginal waterways assessment tool was imported from Canadaafter examining how their First People manage waterways. It is the intellectual property of our First People and the government accepts this assessment tool and doesn’t interfere. It is based on the relationships of Traditional Owners.
No tension yet regarding economic benefits, and there is always ongoing discussions when an approach is made and action is taken. Cultural Flow is referring to entitlement, it is not saying First People own the water but have an entitlement of access – for example, 4% of flow at a certain time
It is like a lease – you can sell some of the water allocations if water is surplus to needs; it will be used for other environments. The question must always be asked – what is landscape for the year and will allocation change?
The aim is to maximise benefits across the state.
In Victoria, the agriculture industry is generally supportive and the social licence of Aboriginal people recognised. They understand for the environment’s sake and the wellbeing of Traditional Owners, the balance must be got right. The Farmers Federation and Irrigators Council support Cultural Flow and are encouraging the establishment and use of frameworks.
International examples of cultural flow are NZ and Canada. Victoria is doing well compared to the national average.
We should move to use Indigenous terms and language – refer to places by two names, change the river names to include the Aboriginal name alongside the colonial name.
Reuben suggests we learn the original place name of where we live, where we walk the dog or picnic. What is it called in the original tongue and get into the habit of saying it as a daily reminder of the cultural significance of place!
It also shows respect.
We must get the environment right or nothing will work – look at the Murray Darling mess!
Water Commissioners can move water across the state – metaphorically and physically. It is like a grid. Water is a public-owned asset, and the government ultimately decides. So beyond Design – where the flow goes – is a political/cultural equation.
Traditional sites in urban Melbourne might be managed by Parks Victoria.
A part of the river may need more– water is requested – Aboriginal clans don’t have to intrinsically own the land – it is about partnerships. Not limited to having to own the land to request cultural flow.
Managing waterways is complex – and we are part of it. This land is a significant place and it is important to celebrate and appreciate the river.
Know The History of The Yarra
THE YARRA FALLS
Fresh water was the key to Melbourne’s location and to its development during the first 20 years of European settlement. In 1803, the Acting Surveyor-General of NSW, Charles Grimes, rowed upstream and declared it ‘the most eligible place for a settlement I have seen.’
John Batman had explored in the vicinity during June 1835, but it was George Evans and John Lancey in the ‘Enterprize’ who stepped ashore here on 30 August 1835 on behalf of Launceston businessman, John Pascoe Fawkner.
The Wurrundjeri – one of five tribes of the Kulin Nation – had inhabited the area for more than 40,000 years, hunting and fishing the bountiful wildlife.
The 30 painted and carved poles in Enterprise Park depict the scars they left in the river gums after making shields and canoes.
A reef rock running under the Yarra at this point prevented water downstream from contaminating the fresh water above. At low tide, there was a pretty cascade known as The Yarra Falls.
The river above the Falls provided drinking and bathing water for Melburnians until the opening of Yan Year reservoir in 1857.
The Falls was a natural barrier to river transport and the reef was blasted away in 1880 as part of the river widening and straightening works.
We can’t rewind the clock or reverse some of the poor decisions regarding our landscape and waterways but the current government in Victoria is making an effort and we must all play our part – especially regarding pollution.
The inappropriate development must be stopped and listening to the wisdom of Traditional Owners and working with them is crucial.
Rueben and other Indigenous water commissioners are aware that the environment is changing because of global warming and the various factors contributing to this change.
How water was managed in the past might not work and best intentions can be wrong but Aboriginals have inhabited Australia for thousands of years, adapting and managing and it is about enabling them to continue this stewardship.
Cultural Flow and self-determination must be supported:
Indigenous peoples are connected to and responsible for our lands and waters and in turn, Indigenous peoples obtain and maintain our spiritual and cultural identity, life and livelihoods from our lands, waters and resources. These cultural and customary rights and responsibilities include:
a spiritual connection to lands, waters and natural resources associated with water places
management of significant sites located along river banks, on and in the river beds, and sites and stories associated with the water and natural resources located in the rivers and their tributaries, and the sea
protection of Indigenous cultural heritage and knowledge associated with water and water places
access to cultural activities such as hunting and fishing, and ceremony.
While it is not possible to homogenise all Indigenous cultural water values into one perspective, as Indigenous values are regionally diverse and complex, there are some commonalities and distinctions from non-Indigenous laws that are important to recognise and understand.
Indigenous relationships with water are holistic; combining land, water, culture, society and economy. Consequently, water and land rights, the management of resources and native title are inseparable.
Aboriginal people have a wealth of knowledge around managing water resources within the Australian landscape and have much to offer in land and water planning and management.
We need their help to maintain our waterways.
Today, March 22nd, we celebrate International World Water Day — founded in 1993 to elevate the importance of water as a human right, focus attention on the critical need to safeguard our freshwater resources, and promote the sustainable management of public water resources across the globe.
Billions of people are still living without safe water in both the Global North and Global South, and that’s why The Story of Stuff Project continues to fight for clean, safe, affordable drinking water. That means we support keeping water in the commons and managed by public hands, not private corporations.
I pledge to use reusable water bottles because drinking my local tap water is more sustainable than drinking from single-use, disposable plastic bottles, and doesn’t promote water commodification.
I pledge to resist water privatization because water is a human right and a natural resource that should not be controlled by corporations that put profits over people.
Clean water for all is not only a basic necessity — it is a fundamental human right. Without water, there is no life.
Clean water and adequate sanitation are paramount for helping children avoid deadly diseases, ensuring girls can stay in school, creating jobs, and assisting economic, social, and human development.
Sometimes the stars seem to align, or perhaps it is down to the cliched six-degrees of separation, but several activities I’ve attended this week have all been linked to water, the environment and learning more about Australia’s First People :
their knowledge and links to the land, waterways and the sea that we must appreciate and honour
how the only way forward is to work together, building trust and sharing knowledge
how there is so much more to be done to Close The Gap and ensure true equality and improved outcomes in all areas of life for Indigenous Australians.
the importance of marine sanctuaries and healthy seas to ensure marine life isn’t destroyed and the health and integrity of Australia’s waterways are maintained. (more on that in a separate post!)
Today — on World Water Day … please get familiar with the greatest issues in the fight to ensure clean water for all.