Farewelling The Old Year

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

C. D. Wright  1949–2016


A Resolution to Stay Resolute
Mairi Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year

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

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

Let us hope 2017 is a happier new year.

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


Christmas – Let Us All Rejoice

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”


Recently, I celebrated and wrote about Eid and Diwali, major religious festivals at this time of year with similar customs to the Christian celebration of Christmas.

Over the next few posts I’ll share memories of Christmas, the celebration that is part of my culture and Christianity, the religion most familiar to me.

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.

Albert Einstein

As I finish my teaching term before the holidays, it is customary to exchange cards and gifts and share special festive foods in the lead up to Christmas.

Some schools and workplaces have Secret Santas or Kris Kringles, special Christmas parties and meals and even outings. It helps that we are heading into summer and annual holidays. The thought of a long break and perhaps an exciting time ahead certainly makes it easier to be in a jolly party mood.


I’m also aware of the celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light because several students are Jewish.

Just as Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God and the Light of the world, Jews celebrate the importance of light.

Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

Jesus “Christ” is known as the founder or central figure of “Christianity.” Christmas is a Christian holiday on December 25 that commemorates the birth of Jesus. Ancient Romans also commemorated Jesus’ birth by marking a division of the calendar still in use today. The years before Jesus’ birth are marked as B.C. (Before Christ), and the years after Jesus’ birth are marked A.D. (Anno Domini, which means, in the year of our Lord).

Christmas literally means the Mass (celebration) of Christ. “Christ” is a Greek word and title, meaning “anointed” or one set apart by God for a special purpose. “Christ” is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Based on the words of ancient prophets, the first century Jewish people expected the arrival of the Messiah promised by God as a great deliverer of the people.

When the world seems to be in disarray, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by happiness as people plan family get togethers, holidays, and special meals. Festivities and rituals brighten the mundane to give deeper meaning to communities and individual lives.

In a multicultural country like Australia where Christmas festivities and decorations last through to the New Year, schools and workplaces celebrate regardless of whether people are Christian – it is a time to reach out and spread goodwill.

Love and joy can be infectious!

A Christmas Triolet
Mairi Neil

Peace on Earth, my Christmas dream
Regardless of your religious persuasion
Togetherness, binding like whipped cream
Peace on earth, my Christmas dream
Love and kindness must reign supreme
To mark the joy of a global occasion
Peace on Earth, my Christmas dream
Regardless of your religious persuasion

Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Light will always banish darkness
No matter where evil has dwelled
Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Belief in humanity encouraged and upheld
To do otherwise is destructive madness
Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Light will always banish darkness

Let tolerance be your guiding light
To thoughtful words and deeds
The spirit of Christmas can unite
Let tolerance be your guiding light
Christian principles shining bright
Spreading Love’s promising seeds
Let tolerance be your guiding light
To thoughtful words and deeds

Houses are decorated as are shopping centres, public buildings and even streets. Although it’s only the beginning of December evidence of people embracing Christmas mode is everywhere. The staff at Mordialloc Railway Station have added some new tinsel to well-worn decorations and a house near Longbeach Place in Chelsea is into the spirit of the season.

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Today, as I walked down to Mordialloc foreshore for the annual Brunch for Peace at the Beach with the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, soothing Christmasy songs floated in the air. The nursing home on the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets prepared for a family Christmas party. Young people helped staff decorate several tables arranged under a marquee.

Hopefully, the music, planned festivities, and presence of family will trigger happy memories for the residents of the home, many of whom suffer dementia. Even if they don’t know what the fuss is about, the activity and presence of young people should brighten their day – it certainly brightened mine as I walked past.

christmas at nursing home on corner.jpg

Some people have the tradition of sending a letter to all of their family members and friends reporting on the major events of the year. Others have particular traditions like decorating the tree, attending Carols by Candlelight, or baking Christmas cake, plum pudding and sharing a meal with extended family. Others always holiday at the same place each year and prepare for Christmas away from home.

christmas tree 2012.jpg
we always have a ‘real’ Christmas tree, the smell of pine needles synonymous with Christmas

I was brought up a Christian and in my Scottish Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) childhood, celebrating the birth of Jesus made Christmas Day and the days leading up to it (Advent), exciting and special. The emphasis on the New Testament’s teachings about loving one another and peace and goodwill towards all mankind were the messages stressed in prayers and hymns.

Although I only occasionally attend a particular denominational church today, I still see Christmas in this light. Santa Claus, rampant consumerism, eating and partying to excess is not my idea of Christmas.

In fact, Scotland did not declare Christmas Day a public holiday until 1958. Christmas in Scotland was traditionally observed very quietly, the emphasis on religious observance not the Christmas festival.

Christmas Giving
Mairi Neil

Generosity heart warming and kind
Inspiring others to rejoice and give
For children the anticipation is exciting
Their joy and delight infectious at
Sharing gifts as well as receiving

Father Christmas  a benign fantasy figure when I was a child. My working class parents explained that he only brought to each child what the parents could afford. This explanation the same one I gave to my children while emphasising it is a season more about giving than receiving!

A great example of bringing Christmas joy to children while practising Christian charity is Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s “Give a toy to a child in detention”. An opportunity for us to show compassion and care – qualities our Government has lost in its shameful treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.


I teach adults from many different backgrounds and with a range of life experiences. Here is a poem one class wrote:

Class Acrostic Poem 2008

Coming together at Christmas
Happiness for families
Rituals rich in memories
Insights are gained playing inside games
Stirring the pudding
Tinsel and berries, togetherness and traditions
Merrymaking, mulled wine, and mistletoe
Acceptance of gifts and family idiosyncrasies
Sweets, sauces, and sugar plum fairies

More than families have idiosyncrasies looking at Melbourne City Council’s Christmas decorations this year – they’ve got into the craze of yarn art like Longbeach Place! The expertise, time and effort in ‘dressing’ these trees certainly shows devotion.

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The Council workers are also erecting a traditional Santa’s Village which was under construction the night I was in the city.

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The magnificent spire of St Paul’s in the background – a good reminder Jesus is the reason for the season.

Christmas Joy
Mairi Neil

Let’s celebrate another Christmas,
perhaps relive the happiness and joy
that those first Christians felt
when they heard of the birth
of that special boy.
The baby fulfilled God’s promise
from the East travelled Kings three
guided by the Star of Bethlehem
knowing that they would see
a host of angels singing aloud,
and shepherds leaving their flocks
Around the manger all would crowd
to witness the amazing miracle
of the birth of that special child
agreeing He’d been sent to Earth
To secure peace,
Also tolerance and Love
and a place for the meek and mild.

One of my lessons last week focused on Christmas and similar religious celebrations. This is always a rich subject for writers to mine, particularly if you seek publication.

Shelves of bookshops and libraries sag with specialised or niche books. You can start writing today and have something ready for next year’s season – or the year after!

  • Write your annual letter  to family and/or friends recounting the good and bad things that have happened to you this year that could be considered noteworthy. (This could be factual or exaggerated, poignant or amusing.)
  • Write a poem titled Christmas Is… (substitute  your special celebration/belief if it differs from Christmas)
  • List all the trappings, events, beliefs, ‘to do’ list that make your  celebration memorable.
  • How has the celebration changed for you since childhood.
  • Is there one particular year that stands out?
  • Write a memory of the happiest Christmas.
  • A Christmas that was a disaster.
  • Have you ever celebrated Christmas,Hanukkah, Ramadan,Diwali… away from home? With people who had a different custom?
  • Have you a favourite recipe to share that marks these festivities?
  • What difference has technology made to your celebrations – do you still post cards? Have you discovered old or new friends through social media?
  • Did you believe in Santa Claus? When did you stop? Were you honest with your children/grandchildren?
  • Did you ever take part in a school play – what part did you play?
  • What’s the best present you ever received? Why?
  • What’s the worst present? Why?
  • Have you ever regretted or been embarrassed by a present you bought?

christmas flinders street.jpg


Shining a Light and Celebrating Multicultural Australia


To encourage diversity and inclusion, Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and members of the Aumsai Sansthan Temple hosted  Diwali celebrations in Mordialloc at the Allan McLean Hall.

This Indian Festival of Light aims to bring joy, happiness and luck into your life and when I attended the event on Saturday, joy, happiness and luck (for those with winning raffle tickets) abounded.

The MC for the afternoon, Gabrielle Fakhri, Cross-Cultural Trainer and Community Development and Welfare Consultant, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land before introducing official guests. She also acknowledged the generous support of Victoria’s Multicultural Commission when welcoming the VMC Commissioner Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan. First appointed in 2011, his current term is from 2013 to 2017.

Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan (known as ‘Srini’), has worked in the IT industry in Australia, India, Japan and USA for more than 32 years. He brings a variety of skills, empathy, knowledge and experience in the areas of technology, community and business (including small business) as well as volunteering for a charity. He has successfully worked in cross-cultural business and social contexts, thanks to his proficiency in multiple languages including English, Tamil, Japanese, Hindi, Bengali and Sanskrit. He has been a long standing supporter of cultural activities in the community.

Srini, the VMC Commissioner with Mayor Tamsin Bearsley being careful not to ruin the lovely henna decoration on her hand!

Srini explained how Diwali was the biggest and brightest of all festivals – spiritually signifying the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

The celebration in Mordialloc of many faiths, one community, allowing new cultural experiences and everyone present to learn about others. He encouraged those present to enjoy conversations and broaden understanding of each other’s customs because this was the way to social harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Victoria celebrates cultural diversity and in a recent poll, 86% agreed that multiculturism has been good for Australia. Government at all levels in Victoria encourage people to practise their faith and culture without discrimination. As a commissioner, he is a link between government and community and is also privileged to advise the government on policy.


Diversity is Australia’s strength, and we are fortunate people in the community appreciate this, and become dedicated to fostering harmony and peaceful co-existence. He commended Mordialloc Neighbourhood House as being a community hub promoting social inclusion and peaceful cohesion.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

Margaret Mead,author and American cultural anthropologist.

This is the second year, Lisa Sun, the manager at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House has organised the celebration of Diwali aiming to break down cultural barriers and to increase understanding of other faiths and cultures. An aim close to my heart and encouraged by the City of Kingston Council with the Mayor and some councillors present.

Mayor Tamsin Bearsley and Manager MNH Lisa Sun
Kingston’s Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley and Manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Lisa Sun

A month ago I attended the Eid Celebration at the same venue and although Diwali is a traditional Hindu celebration, there were people of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim faiths enjoying the afternoon. A reclaiming of the multicultural society that makes Australia such an exciting and peaceful place to live.

Gabrielle pointed out the beautiful Rangoli of coloured powder painstakingly drawn on the floor by several women and explained this sacred welcoming area for the Hindu deity Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is common during Diwali and hoped everyone shared in the good luck.


Srini had mentioned that on 20 December 2013, the UN General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies a fitting juxtaposition for the spiritual celebration that is Diwali, a festival dating back to ancient times showing humankind has always recognised the importance of light. (A not surprising connection considering his CV!)

Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society…

… a global initiative adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.

Gabrielle focused on the inner spiritual light and introduced a representative who presented the priest Aditya Sharma from the Aumsai Sansthan Hindu Temple to bless the proceedings and encourage those present to light the candles on the rangoli. The representative from the temple, Srini and Tamsin were invited to share in the prayers and gift flowers and fruit to the deity. They removed their shoes out of respect before joining the priest at the shrine.


After the official guests had lit candles, members of the audience were invited to light a candle too. For many present this was the first time they’d been privileged to participate in a Hindu ceremony. Several faiths light candles at different times of the year. The meaningful rituals we share have more in common than we realise.

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After the all-important blessing, there was the first of several draws on the door prize raffles – just to make sure some people had a kick-start on the promises of wealth and prosperity!

audience llucky raffle winner
Lucky door prizes winner


The entertainment by an array of fantastic singers and dancers demonstrated traditional Indian culture and the increasingly popular global phenomenon that is Bollywood. The audience loved it all. The first two young women sang traditional songs in Hindi; one praising Lord Krishna and the other sang a song from a popular movie.

The performers on stage added to the colour and light of the day, traditional costumes jangling and glittering. The flexibility, gracefulness and energy of the dancers, the epitome of joyous celebration whether from the expert adults to the enthusiastic children demonstrating their talent.

choreographer acknowledged
Choreographer acknowledged

Sridevi Challapalli, the choreographer of the dance group who performed Muddu Gare Yasoda, a keerthana (hymn sung in the praise of God) written by the famous Indian mystic saint composer, Tallapaka Annamacharya, deserves a special mention for her talentThe songs praised Lord Venkateswara, the deity of Seven Hills in Tirumala, India where unbroken worship has been offered for over 12 centuries. Lord Vishnu manifested Himself as Lord Venkateswara. The song and dance adaptation a description of the mischievousness of Lord Krishna.

Sridevi runs the Sri Sai Nataraja Academy of Kuchipudi Dance, and two of the dancers are her twin daughters – their beautiful but elaborate costume and make-up takes an hour to prepare!

Sridevi Challapalli with her daughters
The girls displaying the red adornment – Alta









Another attractive dance display that left me gasping for breath was the energetic Saranya whose beauty and flexibility had the audience iPhone cameras struggling to keep up with her movements.

The costumes and expertly arranged hair of the dancers looked exquisite from the front or the back.DSC_1511-1.jpg





The classical and semi-classical dances all told stories, whether traditional tales or modern versions of love stories or everyday dramas. The dancers bodies and faces expressive and lively – you didn’t need to understand Hindi –  some stories cross all language and cultural barriers! The young boys strutting their stuff could have auditioned for Grease.

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The audience remained enthralled and respectful although plenty of mobile phone cameras worked overtime. Traditional Indian sweets were served with a complimentary bottle of water. Suresh had a stall with Indian clothes, jewellery and other small gifts. Another stall sold gorgeous sari length materials.

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Hinduism is one of the great religions of the world and is also one of the most tolerant.  Diwali, Festival of Light celebrated throughout the world at a time of year close to Christmas.  Like Eid, there are similarities of gift giving, sharing, aiming to love one another and joyous celebration of life as well as light, bodes well for communities, like Mordialloc, who live in harmony and appreciate the richness of many faiths.

There were several memorable highlights of the afternoon, Sridevi’s young dancers a treat with their enthusiastic interpretation of a classic story.

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However, the grand finale of two shy little girls singing Peter Combe’s Mr Clicketty Cane in English and then a final exhilarating Bollywood style dance of most of the youngsters in the room had me itching to join them on stage.


Memories of school concerts, kindergarten party pieces and fun family parties revived. What a successful afternoon. Special mention must be made of the sound technician who never missed a cue, the men who helped in the kitchen, and those stacking away the chairs when I left.


Community, Faith and Joy in action. What a great combination!


An Anniversary, a Book and a Celebration

KingstonmycityFinalCover copy

A wonderful launch! Thank you for a beautiful afternoon filled with love, laughter, tears and great local writing.

Cr Tamsin Bearsley, Mayor of City of Kingston

tamsin Mairi and Bill 2
Mayor Tamsin Bearsley, Mairi Neil, Bill Nixon AO

The Allan McLean Hall echoed with old friends catching up, and the forging of new friendships as over 100 people gathered to help Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrate 20 years and the launch of our ninth anthology: Kingston My City. Several past and present councillors attended, including our new mayor who wrote the above message in our Guest Book.

This slide show is a great record of the day:

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A resounding success with healthy book sales and hopefully a rejuvenated interest in local authors, the afternoon may encourage attendance at our workshop nights at the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, or enrolment in the classes on offer at Mordialloc, Longbeach Place and Godfrey Street.

In a brief history of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I mentioned the importance of belonging to a group or attending workshops. What I said resonated with several people who approached me afterwards.

In the digital age with blogging and e-books many people ‘just write,’ which is a pity because the quality of their writing, in most cases, would improve if they joined a local writing group or attended a class at a neighbourhood house. The feedback, sharing of ideas and support available invaluable, as is the role storytelling plays in creating a connection within our community, our work, our culture, and ourselves.

Mordialloc Writers’ Group had simple beginnings. In the playground of Mordialloc Primary School, (now Mordialloc Beach Primary), I chatted with some other parents with dreams of writing. I contacted Noelle Franklyn after I saw an advert appealing for stories for the Write Now radio program on local community radio 88.3FM. Our conversation revealed a desire from locals to have a writers’ venue nearby rather than travel to other suburbs and the city.

I approached the manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, and we rented a room for $5. Five participants at the first meeting put in a $1 each. We decided to meet fortnightly, and the rest is history. Even with inflation and fluctuating numbers we’ve survived and thrived at doing what wordsmiths do – we write – and have published eight other anthologies.

Mordialloc Writers' group anthologies copy

Fifteen of our members, including myself, have branched out to publish their books or be picked up by traditional publishers and sadly some of our members have died. To honour the writing legacy of the writers no longer with us,  Dr Glenice Whitting and Steve Davies read a selection of work from previous anthologies. Glenice read extracts by Mary Walsh, Margaret Vanstone and Tonie Corcoran:

Chill, by Mary Walsh in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Australia 1995, by Maggie V in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Boots, by Tonie Corcoran in Up The Creek… with a pen, published 2003

Steve read extracts from John West and Stan Fensom:

Old Diggers Die Modestly, by John West in Casting A Line, published 2000

The Second Engineer’s Fasle Teeth, by Stan Fensom in Casting A Line, published 2000

Anthologies are always a combined effort and Kingston My City couldn’t have happened without the editing skills of Glenice and the proofreading expertise of Belinda Gordon, who both contributed essays. My daughter, Mary Jane designed the cover. My contribution recognised too, and it was flowers all round!

The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.

Leo Buscaglia

The writers’ group gift of gorgeous orchids added to flowers from my daughters and sister ensuring the love and warmth felt at the launch will continue for weeks to come.

Before Bill Nixon, AO, launched the book, the other special guests, Making Waves, a spoken word choir performed three poems: Unity by Kevin Gilbert, an extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer and Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue.

These three pieces were chosen carefully to suit the day. Under the expert direction of Gaytana Adorna, the poems we read delighted the audience, many of whom had never experienced a spoken word choir. Many people said the performance added to their appreciation of poetry – I hope some may be inspired to join us because we could do with more voices.

Unity by Kevin Gilbert

I am the land
I am the trees
I am the rivers
that flow to the seas
joining and moving

encompassing all
blending all parts of me
stars in my thrall
binding and weaving
with you who belong

sometime discordant
but part of my song
birds are a whisper
the four breezes croon

raindrops in melody
all form the tune
of being belonging
aglow with the surge
to life and its passions
to create its urge
in living expression
its total of one
and the I and the tree
and the you and the me
and the rivers and birds
and the rocks that we’ve heard

sing the songs we are one
I’m the tree you are me
with the land and the sea
we are one life not three
in the essence of life
we are one.

Extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer



When it rains and it pours
We play trains –– dry indoors
While the water on windows is streaming

We will circle the track ––
Fast forward, then back
To the tunnels, where signals are gleaming.



Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

I invited Bill to launch Kingston My City with the following words:

 I know it’s a cliche, but really the words ‘our next guest needs no introduction’ is true! Bill Nixon has been a councillor and mayor. He is a creator, giver and most importantly a believer in ‘getting things done’. Helping many groups to start, he’s on several committees and boards. I’m not sure when he gets the time to eat and sleep!

Most locals in this room have met Bill at some time in their lives and several of the apologies reminded me to give Bill their regards. I can think of no one I’d rather launch our book considering the topic. He’s a legend, and may be one of the few people who have bought all our anthologies and read them because at a meeting a few months ago he confided he’d only just finished them all although they’d been on his bookshelf for years!

And so the book was launched with everyone invited to partake of refreshments from tables groaning under the weight of homemade delicacies. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a bakery. The hall buzzed with conversations, the flashing of cameras and the clatter of dishes as a team of writers turned into kitchen hands for the afternoon, ferrying food to tables and washing empty plates. Mordialloc Writers excellent hosts!

Currently, I’m negotiating with the Council regarding their website hosting our E-book too, but one step at a time. Over the next few days, I hope to make the converted book widely available.

Exciting times ahead for our small group because once we are digital we can rightly claim to be ‘international’ writers with our words able to be read by anyone, anywhere in the world. Power indeed as this infographic says and power we will use wisely.


The Race That Stopped A Heart

Oamaru 2013
Horses agisted at a friend’s place in Oamaru NZ

We’ve just had a history-making Melbourne Cup because for the first time the winning horse was ridden by a female jockey. As a feminist, I applaud Michelle Payne achieving her dream although I’m not a fan of horse-racing with memories more negative than positive.

I saw the ‘sport’ first hand in Adelaide when staying with cousins, one of whom had a passion for betting on the horses. His dream I expect similar to most punters – striking it rich. Ross took me down to the local track to watch a race. For Adelaide, little more than a large country town in 1968, the event was casual, without the fuss and glamour surrounding Flemington.

We stood near the finishing rail and a field of a dozen horses came roaring down the track towards me. I’d never been so close to thundering horse hooves; the beasts appeared like manic sweaty giants. The jockeys in bright-coloured silk garb grunting and breathing as heavily as the horses but also uttering the foulest of phrases and beating the flanks of the horses with their whips. Dust whirled in the air alive with expletives.

As a fifteen-year-old animal lover, I was not impressed. Ross didn’t win anything so we both left the racecourse underwhelmed and disappointed, albeit for different reasons.

Fast forward to 1970. The one and only time I ever attended the Melbourne Cup. The winner that year, Baghdad Note, a New Zealand Thoroughbred, ridden by Midge Didham.

Given most of his previous wins in New Zealand had been on wet tracks Baghdad Note was dismissed before the Cup as a ‘mud-lark’. Despite his solid dead-heat third in the Caulfield Cup and a fifth placing in the Mackinnon Stakes he was sent out by punters a 25/1 chance in the Cup. He duly won the race by ¾ of a length becoming just the third grey to win the race after Toryboy in 1865 and Hiraji in 1947.


The reason the day and the winning horse sticks in my mind not because I picked the winner – at 17 I still knew nothing about horses or horse racing.  I was only at Flemington because Nobuko, a Japanese exchange student and a school friend at the time, asked me to attend with her host family, the Dobsons.

It was exciting to see the 3200-metre race – finished in a blink of the eye – but the real drama happened a few feet away.  I didn’t expect the man in front of me to have a heart attack and collapse. The presentation of the cup and parade of horses melted into insignificance as St John’s Ambulance volunteers did their best until emergency services arrived.

Everyone over 40 seems old when you’re a teenager. The man who collapsed may have been in his late 30s or early 40s, or even 50. I was shocked because he looked younger than my Dad. He’d been joking, cheering and jumping around with a group of mates, six school teachers from Tasmania. They’d formed a syndicate to put money on ‘the big grey’ to win. Excited and egging their horse on, they were living life to the full and deliriously happy when Baghdad Note won.

But the 3-minute race resulted in one of them dropping to the ground in agony, fighting for air and clutching his chest before going into a coma.

A salutary lesson in how quickly fortunes can change.

In the kerfuffle following the man’s dramatic collapse, I can recall one of his mates mentioning a bet of $400.  At odds of 25/1 it would have netted $10,000. Even divided among six that was a lot of money considering the average annual wage in 1970 was less than half that amount.

The ambulance sped away to the commiserations of bystanders: “Poor bugger” “What rotten luck” “I’d have a heart attack too at those odds” “There goes his winnings on medical bills” “What a way to go” “Hope he gets to spend it”…

Almost half a century later Baghdad Note the only winning horse whose date of triumph I remember. The race that stops the nation stopped that poor teacher’s heart. I too hope he lived to enjoy his winnings.

Flemington on the day of the Melbourne Cup is considered egalitarian but going there would never have been on my working class family’s list of things to do. Instead, Mum and Dad’s sister, Chrissie indulged their gambling whim at the local TAB. They always bet according to the jockey or whatever horses Bart Cummings entered. (This Melbourne Cup the first without this famous trainer.)

For many religious people, gambling is a sin, if not a time-waster, however, the Melbourne Cup the exception. (My Presbyterian parents not wowsers but they frowned on most gambling.) It is also the day that fashion takes over the front page in newspapers, on billboards, television and now the Internet. Melbourne celebrates the Spring Carnival with style!

The Sexual Revolution of the 60s may have encouraged women to throw off compulsory hats and gloves but the second Tuesday in November 1970 was still about hats and fashion. No one in Melbourne had forgotten the scandal of English model, Jean Shrimpton.

1965:  Jean shocked the Melbourne fashion elite with no hat, wearing a mini and no stockings!

At 17, I wasn’t famous or a model. I had to have a hat. In fact, not just a hat, but an outfit.

A few months earlier, a nephew of my uncle’s decided to get married. Mum bought me a lovely white woollen coat, considered chic at the time, plus a wide-brimmed maroon felt hat. The wedding never eventuated (another story) but the outfit was deemed suitable for Flemington where I’d be rubbing shoulders with the Fashion of the Field entrants – well at least sharing the same air!

Unfortunately, Tuesday, November 3, 1970, was hotter than average for that time of year.  Even with my stylish coat unbuttoned I roasted in 24 degrees under a cloudless sky. To put the heatwave’ in context for that Spring:

  • The hottest day of 1970 was December 3, with a high temperature of 36°C. For reference, on that day the average high temperature is 23°C and the high temperature exceeds 30°C only one day in ten.
  • The hottest month of 1970 was December with an average daily high temperature of 23°C.
  • The longest warm spell was from November 29 to December 5, constituting seven consecutive days with warmer than average high temperatures.

In respect to Cup fashion, times have not changed. One of the delights of train travel during the Spring Racing Carnival is to forget ugg boots, Bermuda shorts, thongs, daggy jeans, singlets and all the other fashion faux pas of picture postcard Aussies and watch commuters transform into silk and taffeta delights and wearers of bow ties, sleek suits, even top hats. Strappy high heels, polished leather shoes, and modern-day spats accompany evening gowns and dinner suited elegance.  An incredible variety of Fascinators is indeed fascinating.

However, the carriages on the way home are often filled with sunburned, bedraggled racegoers their clothes and demeanours the worse for alcohol and high spirits.

Like many public events, people have their stories and memories of Cup Day. I think Victoria is the only place in the world that has a public holiday because of a horse race, but the race that stops a nation an apt catchcry. When I was at university in Canberra, public servant friends became excited about the race.

The Melbourne Cup. Photograph courtesy of the Victoria Racing Club.

In the 70s (and even today), many government departments hold a sweep. In Canberra, some generous person brought their television into work and for 3 minutes everyone downed pens and held their breath to see who would be going home richer. My friend Christine McCafferey from Townsville said it even happened up there.

I haven’t been in a sweep since John died, but for years the union office had one. He’d nominate horses for the girls and me – one or the other often a winner.

But for me Cup Day has a deeper significance. In 1983, that was the day John and I set up home together. We always celebrated it as our special day. The only time we were apart on Cup Day, the year I took the girls to Disneyland – John’s special treat to them when he got access to his superannuation. Too fragile to travel overseas, he stayed with a mate while we were away.

The closest the girls got to horses that year was a day spent at a friend of a friend’s property:

MaryJane horse-riding South Carolina 1997
MaryJane horse-riding South Carolina 1997
Anne horse-riding South Carolina 1997
Anne horse-riding South Carolina 1997

We were on Pawley’s Island South Carolina staying with a childhood friend of mine. John arranged for the delivery of beautiful flowers. The autumn floral arrangement stunning. Not surprisingly,  the girls more impressed by the pumpkin shaped vase and they insisted I brought the pottery pumpkin home to Oz. (Americans make a big deal out of Halloween.)

pumpkin vase

Another memorable Cup Day was a family holiday in Tasmania. We were staying in a bed and breakfast on the east coast halfway between Launceston and Bicheno and managed to buy a Melbourne paper. We picked two horses each, 50 cents or a dollar, each way. John and I choosing our ‘lucky numbers’, the girls picking horses because they liked their names or fancied the jockey’s colours. (We know nothing about horse racing!)

John returned from the general store and we packed the car ready for the day’s journey. I looked at the racing stub, ‘John why have you picked these horses?’

‘What do you mean, love. I just copied down the numbers.’

We double-checked he had the right race. However, he’d chosen barrier numbers!  I did say we were ignorant regarding horse racing!

Back to the general store and choosing the right horses – thank goodness we always put on the minimum. The drive to Bicheno to get decent reception on the car radio to hear the race fraught with tension. Would we find somewhere to hear the race? Because of John’s mistake we had nearly every horse in the field and the girls were sure one of our horses would win. Murphy’s Law dictated otherwise – the three winning horses not on our list!

The girls don’t remember the horse race as much as parking on a dune to hear the race. We watched the sea roll in on mountains of surf through a windscreen covered in seagulls. It was like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

I had bought fish and chips for lunch and one of the girls had thrown a chip out the window for a passing bird. Big mistake. I don’t know if any records were broken in Melbourne that day, but I’m pretty sure we saw the most squawking seagulls ever recorded on a car windscreen. Not to mention the hungry flocks attacking side windows and doors.

The final memorable Melbourne Cup Day was November 2010. I was recovering from pneumonia caused by the first dose of chemotherapy being too strong. I’d been in Cabrini hospital a couple of days at death’s door and didn’t know the date let alone care – breathing difficult enough.

My two beautiful daughters breezed in carrying a basket of goodies for me to share with the nurses. The girls wore cardboard jockey hats and whips, waved streamers and balloons. A burst of merriment and joy sorely needed by patients and the nurses who worked on a day others spent with family.

Celebrations are what we make them – whether whole-heartedly getting into the spirit of the occasion or adapting and grabbing the chance for enjoyment. And of course, the memories the special events trigger also an opportunity write.


Trauma at the Shrine

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss

This week there has been much in the news about war – it is the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered shortly after the dropping of the atomic bombs and in Australia, a government backbencher exhorted the government to start bombing Syria deeming the escalation of the ‘war on terror’ necessary.

I’ve been writing a series of stories about my family that may turn into a novel and in the research process I’ve attended lectures at the Shrine in Melbourne because one of the “characters” is  an uncle who fought at Gallipoli and later died in Alexandria of enteric fever.

Through reading factual accounts, novels and poetry you learn of the deep and abiding sorrow that comes from war. Why are some people so keen to fight? So desperate to invade or bomb another country? Whether it’s the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli or the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the mourning and grieving never ends and as writers we must try and be honest about that and perhaps make our contribution to world peace. We must try and put a human face on statistics.

This quilt block from an exhibition I attended in April needs no words.

receiving the telegram

And this one a sentiment that touched my heart as I write about our family’s loss in the “war to end all wars”.

a beautiful sentiment many shared_1024

Three days after Hiroshima, an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. It was  August 9, 1945,  74,000 people died. Most of the dead were civilians and much of the city obliterated. On a summer morning three days before, the epochal use of the first atomic bomb  on Hiroshima stunned the world. Tokyo and Yokohama and other cities had been extensively fire-bombed, but no one could have imagined the devastation of the A-bombs (I hope no human being will ever again wreak such widespread and long-lasting pain and suffering on fellow human beings).

This poignant expression of grief from a survivor, interviewed in 1995, 50 years after the bombings:

Like so many, Shima has always wondered why she lived and her daughter did not. Not a single photograph of Akiko survived, but Shima still carries her image everywhere, just below the surface, like the tiny shards of glass embedded in her scalp.” 

Watching television and reading the various reports this week reminded me how the loss and devastation of World War One also ran deep. And like all wars, the conflicting emotions and opinions about its necessity, its causes and consequences are still being debated today. Death in war always more senseless than the usual death by old age, disease or accident.

I often think of the effect of Uncle George’s death on his family – how do you recover from farewelling a 19 year old and welcoming home his rabbit skin vest, Bible and pipe? Never seeing his dead body, never visiting his gravesite – having to accept, along with thousands of others, your son, brother, husband, father is no more. 25000 dead in ww1 have no known grave!

“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that a part of us shall remain inconsolable and never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it is completely filled, it will nevertheless remain something changed forever…”

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

Some time ago, I attended a lecture by Jen Hawksley from the School of History and Politics at the University of Wollongong where she presented Bereft, a selection from her PhD exploring Trauma, Memory and Madness. A three minute summary of her thesis is here and well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E9hPito5Vc

There were ideas and facts Jen discussed that gave me the proverbial food for thought:

There was a callous use of language by doctors and others when describing the grief experienced by those who lost someone, especially the descriptions of mothers grieving their sons. Many of these women ended up in asylums and were treated abomniably. Many were  not just coping with the death of loved ones, but those missing, and also those who survived, but grieved for the way life was before.

We are not born all at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later; and the birth and growth of the spirit, in those who are attentive to their own inner life, are slow and exceedingly painful. Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth.”

Mary Antin

Parental bereavement is different to other grief. A language of mourning did/does not exist. We have no word in English for a parent who has lost a child, but we have widow and widower. Uncertainty and with the grief of losing a son, mothers retreated to their own world – many visiting spiritualists.

I have to be grateful my Granny was not committed or admitted to a mental institution. My father’s oldest brother was drowned off the coast of Texas in 1927. As a merchant seaman he was a victim of the economic war of the Great Depression and just like the young men of WW1, he left for an adventure overseas never to return. My Grandmother spent the remainder of her days seeking some word or sign that her John was okay. She went to many meetings of spiritualists who grew in number after WW1.

The rituals of funerals are missing for those whose bodies are never found, or for those buried in foreign soil without loved ones being there. Family can’t see the grave, don’t get the support of the community – all of this traditional support mechanism lost.  “The individuality of death buried under millions of corpses.” (J Winter)

Vietnam was the first war where the Australian Government brought bodies home. However, it makes a difference how popular or unpopular a war is – whether the public consider a soldier’s death a glorious sacrifice or not.  In the first and second world wars parents cloaked themselves with the comfort their sons were one of 40 million combatants and fought in a “just war”. The Vietnam War was controversial from day one and Vietnam Veterans suffered tragic ignominy on their return as Australian poet Bruce Dawe‘s iconic poem indicates:

All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,
they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them
they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,
they’re zipping them up in green plastic bags,
they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolness
they’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of
the deep-freeze lockers – on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut
the noble jets are whining like hounds,
they are bringing them
– curly-heads, kinky hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms
– they’re high, now high and higher, over the land, the steaming
their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific
with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east,
home, home, home – and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures
of earth, the knuckled hill, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness…
in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers
– taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming
surrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)
then fading at length as they move
on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
raise muzzles in mute salute,
and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs
telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
– they’re bring them home, now, too late, too early.

With a poet’s eye Dawe shows how worthless a soldier’s life is when war strips your identity, makes you insignificant even if  bodies are shipped home, not to a hero’s welcome or a society that respects their contribution, but ‘where dogs in the frozen sunset raise muzzles in mute salute,’

Jen Hawksley mentioned there are iconic photographs encapsulating WW1 that like propaganda influence our feelings:

  • the silhouette of a soldier leaning on his rifle by a cross
  • a row of graves
  • devastated countryside and a line of weary defeated soldiers
  • a group of women quayside waiting for soldiers to disembark

If these photographs are deconstructed, as we do with the volume of poetry from the war from Wilfred Owen, Sassoon,  McCrae, Hodgson and others a tear-filled ‘Why?’ rents the air.


Increasingly, we realise war is not even about soldiers – the greatest casualties are always civilians – just like the atomic blasts all those decades ago.

Returned men and women, damaged beyond recognition suffering the extremities of loss and bereavement. They do not get over it, or move on, or get closure. Survivors with grievous wounds
often chose suicide, others clung to another existence, a shadow of their previous life. There were soldiers who had accidents or illness and died without getting near a battlefield.

How to make sense of all of this?

  • the soldier full of grog and adrenalin coming back off leave and run over by a tram the night before heading for Gallipoli…
  • Clifford later died after 43 years in an asylum in Sydney. Aged 70 he was hit by a taxi on a day out. Irony was that his severe depression, which led to him being committed was because he had been hit by the tram and lost a limb.
  • Aussies bemused to be in Egypt referred to the place as Shit Sand Sin and Syphilis – many died from disease, accidents, crime… families at home refused to accept or were ashamed to announce these deaths as ‘heroic’.
  • Many families abandoned their soldiers if these damaged sons did not live up to expectations.


The sculpture, The Parents by Käthe Kollowitz in  Roggevelde German war cemetery shows the father being stoic and the mother prostrate at the gap in their lives when ‘boys’ died. As a mother and an artist Käthe captures the anguish endured by mothers on both sides of a conflict. This expression of broken-hearted and traumatised parents easily recognised.

The  extremities of bereavement could have been changed by knowledge during WW1 – parents wanted to know how and where and when their sons died. Photographs of the battle for Lone Pine show utter decimation – so many missing and official silence led to rumour and misinformation. Early dog tags were of compressed cardboard so decomposed with the bodies – so many bodies  lost and no official attempt at recovery for 4 years. Families never received personal effects and there were many suicides at home in Australia after the news of the large numbers killed and how they died.

And what of the non-military casualties? The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. Rarely are the deaths of those not in uniform recorded in official history.

War is beyond the ordinary person’s control – unless of course we can organise a peace movement:

A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war (or all wars), minimise inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, including ban guns, and often linked to the goal of achieving world peace.

Ordinary people standing together saying loud and clear that the loss in war is never over. The trauma continues for generations. The mourning too.

Bereavement exacerbated by ongoing pain, shame, stigma, confusion lasting decades. How many were ‘put away’ into asylums unable to come to terms with their grief. Unspoken family secrets. Violent alcoholism, domestic abuse from physically and emotionally damaged men and women trying to cope with the tragedy of their lives because of war.

In every process of remembering there is also forgetting. Anniversaries are celebrated, people’s contributions and sacrifices acknowledged, but we must never forget how ugly war is, the devastation left, the people’s lives destroyed.

There is a huge disparity between public remembrance ( the monuments, solemn artefacts) often misused for militarism and nationalism compared to the ambivalent stories of sacrifice and experience of survivors. The poems and stories that people write about their experience so very important for true understanding. We must share our stories and listen to others as they share theirs.

“The following poem brings us face to face with what is easily forgotten. However large or small the conflict, whatever weapons are being used, war means murder, and more often than not a painful and possibly slow death. The dead may be counted, but that’s just a number. What’s important is that each one is an individual, each one’s ‘body is susceptible to pain’, each one shudders, writhes, bleeds, and cries out. Each one could be oneself. The mind or soul may wander, but the body, the individual physical being of each one of us, inescapably ‘is, is, is’. It’s the same for all of us, tortured and torturer, killer and victim. We should not inflict on anyone the pain we would not want inflicted on us.”

Tortures by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin, and the blood is just beneath it;
an adequate supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just as they were, only the earth has grown smaller,
and what happens sounds as if it’s happening in the next room.

Nothing has changed.
It’s just that there are more people,
and beside the old offences new ones have sprung –
real, make-believe, short-lived, and non-existent.
But the howl with which the body answers to them,
was, is and ever will be a cry of innocence
according to the age-old scale and pitch.

Nothing has changed.
Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of hands to shield the head remains the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs fail, it falls, its knees jack-knife,
it bruises, swells, dribbles and bleeds.

Nothing has changed.
Except for the course of rivers,
the lines of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid those landscapes roams the soul,
disappears, returns, draws nearer, moves away,
a stranger to itself, elusive,
now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has nowhere to go.

Perhaps one day we will build an effective peace movement and there will be strong and immediate public disapproval when politicians take us into war, or as we heard this week a politician recommending we escalate our involvement in someone else’s war. We could instead follow the women who were involved in the peace talks in Northern Ireland:

Male negotiators sometimes worry that having women participate in the discussion may change the tone of the meeting. They’re right. During the Northern Ireland peace talks, the men would get bogged down by abstract issues and past offences. The women would come and talk about their loved ones, their bereavement, their children and their hopes for the future. These deeply personal comments helped keep the talks focused. The women’s experiences reminded the men that it was people who really mattered.’


Marking Milestones in a Memorable Way

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

The above quote is attributed to Mark Twain, but like all quotes circulating on the Internet, or repeated in books, unless you can go back to the primary source, you have to accept it’s authenticity on face value.

However, the profound and philosophical comment sounds like one we’d expect from Mark Twain. Unless you believe in reincarnation, the day we are born is indeed, the first day of our lives. What we learn, experience and do with our lives should, if we’re lucky, provide the answer to why we are here – unless of course you believe in predestination.

Many people believe they have a purpose in life. When they dedicate themselves to achieving this, their life has meaning and seems richer. Most of us will spend our  lives seeking purpose, trying out different  jobs, careers, relationships, developing talents and abilities to find our niche, and with luck discover a sense of fulfilment leading to contentment and satisfaction.

I may not have the definitive answer to ‘why’ I was born and I don’t believe in preordained destiny, but I do believe in making things happen. Knowledge and time can change ideas and achievements, which then allows me to make informed decisions and design aspects of my life, leading me closer to  answering: Why was I born? What meaning has my life? What legacy will I leave?

We can all find something to be passionate about, something we strive to do well, something we want to share with others. For me, it is writing, coupled with belief in community and driven by a desire for social justice and equity.

Yesterday, as part of the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I met other people passionate about a local community library, reading, access to knowledge, promoting local writers and retaining local history.

Mentone Public Library, established in 1925, celebrated its 90th Anniversary by having an Open Day, a ceremonial cutting of the anniversary cake, kind positive words from local dignitaries, councillors and politicians and presentations by local community groups. A tiny subscription library may seem an anachronism in today’s digital world and where public libraries are provided by council, but it is a testimony to the dedication of volunteers and local supporters that this library is still going after 90 years.

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Veronica Hahn, Mordialloc and District Historical Society


Dorothy Booth, Friends of Mentone Station and Gardens


Dr Graham Whitehead, City of Kingston historian


Blue Chair Poets (Sarah, Debbie and Yvette)

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Mordialloc Writers’ Group (Mairi, Glenice, Coral, Maureen, Belinda and Steve)

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Two emerging writers from local schools (Joe and Jessi)

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Entertainment by the Mordialloc Ukulele Group and circus performer/musician Shannon McGurgan.

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The founders and volunteers over the years who have kept this library thriving had purpose, passion, and acted upon their ideas!  Yesterday a celebration of community achievement as people shared and appreciated each other’s talents. New friendships were made, networks expanded.

At the end of the delightful day, the hard work of volunteer Julia Reichstein was duly acknowledged. There is usually someone in an organisation that goes ‘above and beyond’ their designated duties, or who is considered ‘a mover and a shaker’, Julia definitely fitted the bill on all counts!

A fitting end to a wonderful event. Mordialloc writers excelled, displaying the varied talents we bring to the group and the community. Our brief was 5 minutes each – a maximum of 750 words – and we made it!!

Some shared their writing journey, others memoir, others imaginative short stories – all entertaining. I explained a little of the history of the group because

I can’t imagine a world without reading or writing; or living in a community without a library. The love of words, the diversity and flexibility of the English language motivate and inspire my writing. I’m thrilled when a poem or story finds a home and a reader enjoys my words.

Happy Birthday Mentone Library!

Writer Anne Lamott said, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world … worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet, or excite you.”

Libraries are built on books. Schools rely on them and at any given moment there are millions of books on shelves around the world, in homes, in shops and in libraries like this. Books that share knowledge and experiences of life, that share poetry and prose from every genre imaginable, that entertain, inform, inspire and ignite imagination.

Communication, learning, community and living – all begin with story.

This community reaps the benefit of the care taken by the original owners of the land, the Boon Wurrung of the KuIin Nation – without a written language their oral histories and knowledge handed down through yarns, painting, song and dance are living books. Their wisdom helping us preserve this land.

But, in our culture, to write well you must read. A book is a friend and teacher. As a writer I create characters, places and events with words. As a teacher I share my knowledge and love of words to instil the passion I feel for recording stories, putting pen to paper, all voices equal.

Like the City of Kingston, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrated their 10th Anniversary in 2005. Reflecting on our beginnings, I remember how 5 writers met at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House in March 1995, put in $1.00 each to cover the rent and decided to meet fortnightly to workshop writing. Mordy Writers still meet fortnightly. And although numbers fluctuate they have increased over the years – as has the rent!

We decided to host regular public monthly readings on the last Sunday each month, but our foundation rules never changed:

  1. As a community based writing group we welcome writers in all genres, whether beginners or advanced.
  2. We are non-profit , our sole purpose being to encourage and support writers in their endeavours to publish, or just remain motivated to write.
  3. We produce regular anthologies, with any monies received going towards the next book. A collection of personal essays, Kingston My City, our ninth anthology, will be launched at our 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.
  4. We encourage the love of literature and the importance of creative writing in our culture.
  5. Our inclusive group abhors discrimination. Age, nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnic background or writing ability secondary to the desire to write.

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We have enabled 60 writers to be published. Several more to be added this year. We’ve nurtured several successful prize-winners. Glenice Whitting’s unpublished novel was listed for the Premier’s Award in 2004, as Pickle to Pie it later won the Ilura Prize for fiction. Sue Parritt workshopped her novel with us, published last year as Sannah and the Pilgrim.

Many others have been supported and encouraged to publish collections of poetry and prose including: John West, Stan Fensom, Dorothy Plummer, Bob Croker,, Fay Lucas, Jeff Lasbury, Bob Lawson, Gregory Hill ( a successful co-writer of two books now), Dom Heraclides and Steve Davies. Maureen Hanna and Coral Waight have books ready to be published and Lisa Hill’s blog promoting Australian and New Zealand literature won an award at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Plays have been written and performed, one of mine at Kingston’s Write Up Festival. Glenice and Greg were short listed for Varuna scholarships. Writer, Helen Merrick-Andrews developed a publishing business after her involvement in our second anthology. Readings By The Bay attracts writers from as varied locations as Frankston and Mt Eliza, Fern Tree Gully and Northcote, Bacchus Marsh and Oakleigh as well as local bayside participants.

Several of us are published regularly in other anthologies, online and other media. Alan Ward pursues his love of performance poetry in Germany where he is living for 2 years. Along with other ex-pats he posts his efforts on Youtube.

Grants from Kingston Council for professional development enabled the group to host workshops by authors Euan Mitchell and Arnold Zable.

Creativity has no boundaries, our members have ranged from 14 to 86 years, for Mordy Writers it’s not menopausal madness – the headline a local paper chose to use from one of my throwaway lines! Rather, it’s unpretentious voices attempting to make sense of and celebrate our social and geographical place in the world through the experience of life ‘bayside’.

Ningla- Ana, This our Land
Indigenous and Immigrant together.