A Traveller’s Guide To Aboriginal Australia

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(Warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that the content and some of the links from this blog include images or names of people now deceased.)

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NAIDOC WEEK 2017 – 2-9 July

NAIDOC – National Aborigines & Islanders Day Observance Committee organises celebrations every year in the first full week of July.

This year the theme “Our Languages Matter” emphasised and celebrated the role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity by linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Last year, encouraged by my good friend, writer, and award-winning blogger, Lisa Hill, I reviewed books in the ever-increasing catalogue of indigenous literature.   Lisa hosts an Indigenous Literature Week on her ANZ LitLovers LitBlog.

This year, I’ve just returned from overseas and missed the deadline but because of travelling, I decided to review Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia, A Traveller’s Guide.

The book is a treasured part of my home library.

Most people I know who travel Australia will not have read this 1988 publication. It was an expensive coffee table book years ago but well-produced with an intensity of detail and gorgeous coloured photographs of iconic Aussie landscapes!

Some of the information is confronting, but all of it enriching.  Adding to that important store of human knowledge. I guarantee it will change the way you look at the landscape of our continent and of many of the places you already know, and perhaps you may look differently at many of the debates around Aboriginal Land Rights, Australia or Invasion Day and the importance of retaining and teaching language and culture.

The book is –

A pictorial guide to Highway One, Central Australian and Tasmanian sites and places important to traditional and contemporary Aboriginal life; includes history, art, religion of particular clans, present communities and organisations, biographies; many archival photographs.

Trove entry

Here is a snippet about Hamilton near Geelong, the map showing many different language groups in that corner of Victoria alone – nine clans – how many of these languages left?

 

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part of page 276

 

To learn about the history of our country from those who have been caretakers for thousands of years, to learn about the spiritual places holding their sacred stories makes it a special traveller’s guide. A book worth reading again and again. To be read for understanding and appreciation, not for directions or entertaining experiences.

It is not a Lonely Planet guide or RACV road atlas!

However, it’s worth putting in the caravan, camper trailer, or four wheel drive if you’re touring  ‘grey nomads’ or a family that tours together. This is the history not taught in our school curriculum, or just beginning to be included.

Not necessarily bedtime reading (unless you have a big bed and plenty of elbow room) but sitting around the campfire or when having a BBQ in a campsite, you can share the knowledge and/or book.

The book tells of many nations, clans and groups adapting to life in temperate coastal regions, tropical rainforests, living by inland waterways or mighty rivers, travelling wild coastline and surviving the desert by trading with other clans.

the Mitakoodi people in the Cloncurry district used a small type of net which they obtained in trading from the Woonamurra people who lived to the north. The Kalkadoons acquired kunti (porcupine or spinifex grass gum) from the Buckingham Downs region to the south.

(Visit the Kalkadoon Cultural Centre located at Rotary Hill.)                              page 144

Sadly, some of the massacres and horrors detailed in this book have never been given enough national attention although a new map recording massacres during the frontier wars appeared in the news recently.

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Burnum Burnum’s Guide was published in the year White Australia celebrated its Bicentenary and a year the author, an activist but “warrior for peace”, mirrored the theft of Aboriginal land in 1788, by planting a flag at the base of the White Cliffs of Dover on January 26, claiming possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal ‘Crown’!

Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia is the first book ever to offer a personal, Aboriginal vision of this, the world’s greatest island.

Through over 300 stunning colour pictures and 150 black and white archival photographs, many of which have never been published before, and through the words of one of this country’s best-known and most respected Aboriginal people, this unique book takes the reader on a journey around the continent, an unforgettable journey that reveals an Australia rarely experienced by its white inhabitants.

Creation stories are told and although most Melburnians are aware of Bunjil the eagle it’s fascinating to read slightly different versions and explanations for Port Phillip Bay, Mornington Peninsula, and the River Yarra’s  twisting trail from Warrandyte.

This extract about ancient bones discovered in 1965 rivals the speculation about burial sites in Orkney and Shetland, where I just spent two weeks exploring.

I was 12 years old in 1965 but can’t remember hearing about this at school or university when I studied Australian history.

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(For updated information on the Frontier Wars, prioritising indigenous input,  a friend’s website created several years ago is an excellent resource.  I’ve known Jane since Aboriginal Embassy Days. Her research scrupulous and commitment to sharing information comes from the heart and not reliant on funding or becoming embroiled in politics.)

Jane and I knew Burnum Burnum in the 1970s although he was first introduced as Harry Penrith. We saw his transformation after seeking to get closer to his Aboriginality he researched his family and took his Grandfather’s name.

A member of the Stolen Generation, he could finally be himself – Burnum Burnum!

Here is part of the Foreword…

For me this book represents a lifetime’s work, a journey to find my own roots in this great country. I was born in 1936, under the family gum tree at Mosquito Point, by the side of Wallaga Lake. But, under the policies of the day, I was seized by government officials and separated (at 3 months) from my family. For the next ten years, I grew up on a mission near Nowra, before being moved to the Kinchela Boys Home, near South West Rocks, where I became the first Aborigine to gain a bronze medallion in surf life-saving. My sister was sent to Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Home, separated from me by more than 1600 kilometres…

This book is… an attempt to give the traveller a chance to view this extraordinary country as it was seen by the original Australians… Modern ecology can learn a great deal from a people who managed and maintained their world so well for 50,000 years.

… Australians are gaining a new pride in their real heritage, the one which covers 2000 generations. The story has an inevitable edge of sadness, as we understand the process and pattern of dispossession suffered after 1788. This material has been included not to provoke guilt, but to give a perception of the extraordinary differences between the original Australians and the invaders who came in 1788.

In most areas of early contact, they were greeted warmly by the Australians, who had no idea that these strange white people intended to stay…

In Europe, as people developed their civilisation from the caves to the cathedrals, they left clear evidence of their achievement for future generations to admire. In Australia, the land itself is the cathedral and worship is not confined to any four walls. Each step is a prayer and every form in the landscape – and everything that moves in it – was put there specifically for the people to use and manage…

I hope the reader will find no bitterness in the story; the past cannot be turned back… The challenge of the future is… an acceptance of the past, the first step to a positive future… no one people have a sole franchise on the ability to feel an affinity with this timeless landscape.

This book resonates more with me now than when I bought it all those years ago because of the special connection to Harry/Burnum Burnum. I’ve finished a personal trek myself, returning to my birth country (touched upon in a previous post).

My father was Scottish and my mother Irish, and I visited Scotland and Northern Ireland retracing their childhood influences, and my own.

Here are Burnum Burnum’s thoughts:

All around Melbourne, the spirit of my great great grandmother is written on the landscape. When I drive through eastern Victoria I do so with a great sense of reverence, dreaming my way through the landscape of my ancestors and my birth, I can feel the spirit of my ancestors in many places.

This book weaves a rich tapestry of people, places, flora, fauna, history, mythology, reality and Dreamtime.

Forever relevant, it will earn its keep on your bookshelf for generations.

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Manchester By The Sea – a Review

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Last weekend, I went to see the recently released, Manchester By The Sea, at the Palace Cinema, Brighton with my daughters, Anne and Mary Jane.

Anne has been a fan of the actress Michelle Williams since she was a teenager and has a collection of her movies. When one is released we always try and see it because the subject matter and execution of Indie films are usually more enriching than the Hollywood blockbusters and populist ‘bums on seats’ fillers.

It’s the difference between enjoying reading a lightweight novel, but the stereotypical characters and plot forgettable compared to a novel, where the characters live with you for a lifetime, the story challenges or introduces a different perspective on life.

I want stories that tug at your heart and soul before adding another dimension to what it means to be human.

And there are so many scenes in this film that are touches of brilliance; they add to an already memorable story and characters.

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Michelle Williams plays Randi, Lee’s ex-wife and doesn’t disappoint in Manchester by The Sea – she has been nominated for the best supporting actress award.  The few scenes she has, and a gut-wrenching one, in particular – engages the audience the way good acting should – a total suspension of disbelief.

We are with her, feel her love, anger, pain, sadness, joy, guilt and grief. The whole gamut of emotions.

The logline of the movie is simplistic  “An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.” There are many stories in the subtext of this screenplay.

This is a film about broken lives and how easily tragedy and change can happen to any of us. It is a story exploring the journey and stages of grief and the effects of sorrow – different for everyone – especially if it compounds on other bereavements.

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Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan has won multiple awards – and I can see why – this film is a powerful story, but he has done a wonderful job of showing not telling, the pacing and tension breath-taking and balanced like any good page-turning novel. 

His choice of casting excellent with Casey Affleck playing a broody, moody Lee Chandler struggling to come to terms with inner demons. The first few scenes in the less salubrious suburbs of Boston sets the tone of the movie and reveals Lee’s personality.

In modern parlance, he has issues. 

He’s grumpy, socially disconnected, drinks alone and has violent outbursts yet he’s young, physically fit, reasonably good-looking and a competent handyman employed as a janitor for a landlord too cheap to pay tradesmen and prepared to ignore building regulations.

For a minimum wage, Lee Chandler does everything from cleaning, plumbing, electrical repairs, moving furniture, clearing snow, and changing light bulbs while demanding tenants treat him as if he’s invisible, beneath them, or to blame for their maintenance woes. Who wouldn’t be moody and pissed off?

But we sense something more to Lee’s surliness and brooding aloneness, especially when after a bout of solitary drinking in a local bar, he explodes into an inexplicable verbal then physical assault on two strangers.

We are intrigued.

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A phone call leads to a mercy dash to a hospital over an hour’s drive away. The pace of the story picks up as Lee is catapulted into a family crisis.

Through flashbacks, we start to piece together the life Lee Chandler left – the familial bonds, the close-knit community, the love for his brother who has just died. The unravelling of his past explains his choice of a life away from the Massachusetts fishing village where his family have worked for generations.

And when the full story comes to light, it is one of those moments, if it was a book, you would place it on your lap, close your eyes and struggle to get your breathing and blood pressure back to normal.  

On screen, these emotionally engaging moments are powerful indeed.

All the important storytelling elements keep the audience engaged with the use of scenery as clever metaphors. The movie begins in winter and ends in spring.

There is a brilliant scene where Lee is arranging his brother’s funeral but because it is winter the burial (they are Catholic) must be delayed, the snow covered ground too hard and the cost of heavy machinery too expensive. When Lee and his nephew Patrick leave the funeral parlour unhappy with the reality Lee can’t find his car because they’ve both forgotten where it was parked. Their actions and dialogue removing the angst and sentimentality often seen in other movies but so believable.

Anyone who has been left numb by grief will relate to trying to cope with the bizarre situations that occur as you go through the motions of dealing with death and funerals, especially if there are fractured family relationships (Patrick’s mother is still alive but left years before), complications of  beliefs (Patrick is not religious), cost and tradition.

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Lee struggles with coming to terms with the unwanted burden his brother has placed on him – legal guardianship of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick. The relationship between Lee and Patrick, the adjustments and revelations provides much-needed and natural humour as well as penetrating insight into teenage grief.

The scenes where Patrick is trying to consummate a long-standing relationship with a girlfriend and even involves his Uncle Lee to keep an overprotective mother busy are hilarious.

My girls and I discussed the irony of wanting to see a film where one of the main characters is a teenager dealing with the death of his father. They were thirteen and sixteen when their father died.

However,  afterwards, as we discussed the movie they both agreed that the portrayal of Patrick’s reactions, the reactions of his friends, and scenes where his anger explodes are spot on and will deeply resonate with young people who have had to cope with a similar tragedy.

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There is a richness to this film with its multiple layers of stories and character development. Several scenes will haunt me for a long time because my life has been touched by grief – death by accident, death by illness and disease, the horrific shock of suicide and the natural process of ageing. It is strangely comforting to reflect that there’s a commonality with people from a different demographic and different country.

The actors convey real emotion and believability and as Lee Chandler tries to make a go of this new hand he has been dealt, we root for him and really want it to work so that he can be healed too.

(The film begins and ends with scenes on the family fishing boat showing a bond between Lee and Patrick although the events occur eight years apart.)

This story of broken lives reminds us how easily lives can be shattered:

  • a lapsed moment of concentration
  • a bad or rash decision
  • being in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • and good old Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will

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We can’t always distance ourselves from the past, we can’t always beat our demons but we can be open to love and just as chance tragedy can change the direction of your life so can a random spark of friendship and love.

Sometimes we just need a reason to reconnect with that healing journey…

If you go to see Manchester By The Sea, I’ll be interested to hear your impressions and insights.

Visually the film is appealing – Manchester Massachusetts, in the United States, is known for scenic beaches and vista points. 24 miles from Boston, at the 2010 census, the town population was 5,136.

Tonight I’m attending a fundraiser for Hidden Figures – a very different film! I’ll review that in a few days!

 

 

Can The Past be Put To Rest?

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

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

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from Guardian Archives

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

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

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

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

Sydney Morning Herald Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindy
Mairi Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mingary, The Quiet Place, May Save Your Sanity

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Like many others, I’m waiting (and dreading) the outcome of the American Presidential Campaign.
Like many others, I fear a Trump triumph.
Like many others, I have reservations about Hillary Clinton.
Like many others, I struggle to find a politician here or abroad to admire, or who gives hope for the future of a peaceful world.
Like many others, I despair at the suffering of wars and natural disasters, the world refugee crisis, global warming… so much to overwhelm, destabilise, destroy any sense of wellbeing or being in control.

So to chill out, I remember a wonderful find, a haven to be accessed physically, or if unable to transport to Melbourne, accessed virtually via the web.

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I stumbled on Mingary, the quiet place when I Googled ‘serenity’ for another blog post. Up popped a link to Mingary, ‘a quiet place’, a haven on the west side of St Michael’s Church, corner of Collins and Russell Street, Melbourne.

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I’ve received a lot of strength from my upbringing but classify myself as an agnostic and bookmarked Mingary as a place to visit. The idea of a calm oasis in the busyness of the city appealed to me. Somewhere to go, rest, recoup energy, reflect on life.

The website has photographs and explanations but if you visit physically (a must!) pick up the booklet prepared by Dr Francis Macnab, which includes his poetry.

In addition to his duties as a minister, Dr Macnab founded and is Executive Director of the Cairnmillar Institute which has been at the forefront of counselling, psychotherapy and trauma therapy for more than 50 years.

His commitment to psychological health is rich as he also runs The Big Tent Project which provides therapy for kindergarten children as well as his S.A.G.E project aimed at people 55 – 105 years of age.

Dr Macnab frequently puts pen to paper and has published more than 25 books and is an internationally renowned public speaker, having spoken at several international conferences.

He is the former president of the International Council of Psychologists and a one-time research fellow at Aberdeen University.

**Mingary is of the Gaelic language, which is regarded as the second oldest language in Europe. With origins in the Middle East, the Celts brought it along the Northern Mediterranean, through Western Europe to Ireland and finally to Scotland.

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This place is FREE in every sense of the word, non-denominational, spiritual, not religious, no sales traps or conversion techniques. You take what you want from the visit and can go into the foyer of the church, where there are explanatory brochures and booklets, notices of lunchtime concerts and lectures.

Mingary, The Quiet Place
Dr Francis Macnab

The gates are open.
You stand in the doorway, your foot on the Welcome Stone.
The walls reach out and enfold you with the softening lights.
The large table rock is held in position by two upright rocks – the need for more than one support.
The table rock itself has a deep crevice depicting life’s deep traumas.
Water flows down the rock and falls into the bowl of peace and quietness.

In the bowl are two small rocks –
The red rock is the gift of descendants of the Aboriginal tribe, the Wurundjeri, who once knew this place as theirs;
The green marble rock is from the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland.

Arising from the table rock is the wind of the dove, the ancient symbol of new life and hope. It is turning towards the east wall where a glow of light signifies the beginning of a new day – the hope of all who are going through times of stress or sadness.

As you leave, notice the granite rock at the doorway.
Water run gently over it as a symbol of the flow of life by which we are constantly renewed.

Let there be silence in this place.
In the silence there is strength. And there is healing.

Come in silence – leave in silence.

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**Iona means dove. It is the place of the dove. For many years thousands of people have travelled to Iona for reflection, learning and inspiration.


While I was growing up in a Christian household, I often heard the name Dr Francis Macnab. My Father was an elder in the Church of Scotland, and later when we came to Australia became an elder in the Presbyterian, later Uniting Church, at Croydon.

Mum and Dad were involved in the church in many capacities: Mum in the Ladies Fellowship, later the Women’s Guild (the name change could be the other way around!), and she also bottled honey and raised funds for the Ecumenical Migration Centre for more than two decades.

Mum’s faith was unquestioning but Dad struggled and sometimes lapsed in attendance, hence his interest in the work of Dr Francis Macnab who was unafraid to explore and challenge the traditional church regarding teachings, rules of behaviour, social justice issues, peace, dying with dignity, gender roles and the position of women.

Not surprisingly, Macnab a trained psychologist specialises in helping people cope with the pressures and stress of life, but also seeking to guide us towards a more equitable and peaceful society.

My father was often deeply troubled and struggled with inner demons and I wish Mingary had been available for him to visit, perhaps it would have helped him to sit in silence and reflect, absorb the serenity, contemplate.

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The Mingary Prayer
Dr Francis Macnab

Restore in us
A peaceful mind.
A strengthened spirit.

Restore to us
A new pathway –
a new hope, and a new purpose.

Restore for us
The courage to let go of what is past.
The readiness and strength to walk,
towards the future.

Restore in us
A union with the energy
of this sacred place
and a union with the
soul of the universe.

As we touch the Rock
help us draw strength from the stone.

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Needless to say, ‘the road to heaven is paved with good intentions’ and months passed, rushed trips in and out of the city.  Mingary forgotten – until the anniversary of John’s death in September.

I had to attend a seminar at the Hyatt Hotel, which happens to be opposite St Michael’s Church, host to Mingary. September 21 always emotionally challenging and despite fourteen years having passed, a switch inside clicked and nerve ends tingled: I felt on edge, teary, couldn’t concentrate…  sadness and grief weighed on my heart, a flat, cold stone.

I floated out of the Hyatt adrift on a sea of sadness, looked across the road and remembered Mingary.

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In the foyer of St Michael’s I heard wonderful orchestral music and joyous voices accompanied by the strains of a magnificent organ. A crowd of happy, engaged faces filed from the lunchtime concert expressing their good fortune at hearing one of Melbourne’s finest musicians.

An elderly man busied himself, and I interrupted his tidying and checking pews.

“How do I get to Mingary?”

Kindly eyes smiled. ‘Normally, you can go through that door,’ he pointed to a door blocked off ‘For Renovations’. Apologetic, he asked me to follow and pointed outside, ‘You go down the stairs, turn right at the bottom, walk a short distance and up the stairs round the corner.’

‘Thank you, ‘ I said and fled, suddenly embarrassed. I’d picked up a brochure about Mingary including details of counselling services. Was everyone seeking solace depressed? Would he think me mad? What did he see when he looked at me? Were my indecision, worry, and fragile emotional state obvious?

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Within moments I sat in the serene space of Mingary. I was not alone.

A young man sat in the corner shopping bags on the floor beside his chair. His eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer.

I too closed my eyes.

I concentrated on the trickling water as sounds of the city: footsteps, voices, trams, cars – all faded. Conscious of movement, I opened my eyes.

The young man stood up, stretched, walked back and forth with deliberate steps, moved his arms into practised shapes –  Yoga, Tai Chi poses? He then sat down and returned to prayer.

I examined the sculpture in the centre of the room, watched light dance with shadows, thought of the stone connecting the place with the First People and the stone from my birth country.

St Ninian came from Iona and the church we attended in Scotland bore his name. Memories of childhood and adulthood. Of being John’s friend, lover, wife, of the birth of my children, the death of my parents, and John, my ill-health, cancer, fears for the present and future – nano thoughts, nano seconds…

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He Restoreth My Soul

 

Breathe
Dr Francis Macnab

Breathe out the airs of grief and sorrow.
Breathe in the airs of healing and consolation.

Breathe out the airs of guilt and unforgiveness.
Breathe in the airs of freedom and release.

Breathe out the airs of uncertainty and anxiety.
Breathe in the airs of hope and courage.

Breathe out the airs of solitude and loneliness.
Breathe in the airs of self-soothing and restoring strength.

Breathe out the airs of being here.
Breathe in the airs that bring solace
and strength to the way you will live.

The young man left. I walked around the sculpture, touched the sacred stone, marvelled at the artist’s vision and talent.

I sat and contemplated some more.  I listened to the quietness and took the time to refocus.

Contemplation of birth, life, and death.
Counting blessings not depressings
Calmness about the future
Courage to accept the past
Celebration of the moment
A joy and gladness and thankfulness
for the vision of people like Dr Francis Macnab
Gratitude for my Father’s questioning, seeking and
acceptance of my freedom of thought
my Mother’s unconditional Love and acceptance
Love for John, his gift to me of Anne and Mary Jane.

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Restored. Renewed. Reasonable. Replenished. Refreshed. Refurbished. Revitalised. Relaxed.

Time can heal. 

I remembered an old writing task:

5 things that make me happy:

**Yes writing is on my happy list because I love words with a passion.

  1. Nature: Birdsong and watching birds cavort in the garden – especially the wattlebirds feeding on the grevillea and the magpies searching the ground for worms or carolling to each other from the electric wires.Birds with attitude.
  2. Clean sheets:- I love getting into bed between clean sheets, the smooth feel and fresh smell.
  3. Family: I’m happy when my daughters are – Mary Jane’s witticisms her infectious laugh; Anne’s smile lighting up her deep blue eyes and when she shares stories of her travels.
  4. Writing: I’m happy when the words come and I can finish a writing project.
  5. Friendship: I’m happy when I get a phone call from friends to chat, catch up over a coffee, drop-in for a visit, or walk along the foreshore.

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In these tumultuous times, it takes increasing effort to remain positive, even more, effort to remain serene.  In Life Stories & Legacies we did a writing exercise and discussed comfort and comfort zones. How much wellbeing is linked to what makes you happy:

What or who brings you comfort?  Why? In what way? How often?

  • A hug, (from whom? or who do you give a hug to?)
  • the low vibration of a purring cat,
  • the warmth of a dog
  • the chirping of birds
  • the smell of fresh flowers
  • fuzzy slippers and a favourite housecoat/dressing gown,
  • special socks
  • a favourite cardigan/jumper
  • a special rug/pillow
  • ice cream,
  • money in the bank,
  • Johnny Walker or perhaps a Vodka and Orange?
  • A cup of tea
  • A latte/expresso/flat white/long black
  • Horlicks/Ovaltine/Milo
  • Chocolate
  • a special song on the radio/record player/CD player
  • a special prayer
  • quiet time in a special place – a church, a temple
  • writing
  • reading
  • walking
  • a special friend
  • children
  • grandchildren
  • parents
  • grandparents
  • siblings

Why do certain things make you feel comforted?

  • Have you any advice for people who are stressed or may need comfort from sadness, grief, loneliness, or separation?
  • Can you recite a prayer, a poem, an extract from a book, a proverb – some useful mantra?
  • Have you always been able to find some comfort or was there a time when serenity was too difficult?
  • What colour represents comfort to you? What sound? What taste? What place or thing?

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Memories Enriched By Love

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I can’t believe it is seven years since Mum passed away, and as usual, on anniversaries of a loved one’s death or other special occasion, thoughts drift to the past.

I love my Life Stories & Legacies class at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh because each week I can conjure a memory and reflection as well as record family stories and history: growing up, studying, working, having my own children, and all the incidents, major and minor events,  coincidences,  and occurrences that weave to make the rich tapestry of our life.

This morning, my older sister sent me a message to say ‘thinking of us all today’ and as messages flew back and forth, we shared memories of Mum and her legacy – so different for each of her six children and fourteen grandchildren.

No matter how old you are there can be something special about a mother’s love – here’s a memory I had one day on the train going to work.

Shelter From The Storm
Mairi Neil

Bruised clouds sweep the sky
a gloomy ominous pall.
I remember your voice
a thunderplump is on its way.’

Nearing sixty,
I wish to be six again
to feel comforting arms
gather me close.

Cushioned against your chest
my anxious heart
working overtime
Pit pat, pit pat, pit pat

Until attuned to your
gentle breathing, and steady
ba boom, ba boom,
ba boom.

To relax, as your hands
usually burdened with chores
keep me safe
in rhythmic caress.

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Last year, in class we talked about childhood games and memories of the parks and places where we’d play. Children haven’t really changed but childhood has and oldies like me notice the change – the way we parented and the way new generations parent.

We were certainly left to our own devices for more hours in a much less structured day!

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Parks and Places to Play

My first nine years were spent in Greenock, Scotland. I can’t remember much of the first three years living at number 2 George Square, a tenement, in the centre of town, but the move further out to Braeside and starting school at Ravenscraig Primary, provides plenty of material and memories.

Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no parks as such for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’ as they were called) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with Dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van. We played on pavement and road rarely disturbed by cars. In those days it would be rare not to see children playing in the street.

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Yours truly with ‘the big girls’ wearing mums’ shoes

Our games were rowdy affairs: hopscotch (called ‘beds’), skipping with lengths of rope salvaged from washing lines, football (soccer), rounders – often with homemade bats, and the exhausting body-bruising but fun British Bulldog and Relievers (an equally physical game).

We also roamed the hill opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the road. The housing scheme stretched on a steep hill. Our house at number 35 Davaar Road in the middle of the street’s curve. Davaar Road the topmost homes in the scheme. Across the road from us, behind the last row of grey Corporation houses, the hill climbed high to view or walk to Gourock and the River Clyde on the other side.

This brae devoid of tall trees, but spread with scrub, granite boulders, and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgling television industry: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and his Merry Men (my favourite, Maid Marion), and whatever wonderful land Walt Disney invited us into when we wished upon a star on Sunday evenings.

Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under their chin and was shocked when a neighbour’s six-year-old asked if I wanted to see his ‘willie’. I shared Saturday night baths with three brothers, so couldn’t see the point!

A memorable part of the long summer holidays we spent collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn in preparation for bonfire night in November. We never forgot Guy Fawkes or the rhyme, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!’

The hills also experienced children roaming in hordes, buckets and jam jars in hand, seeking blackberries when in season. The taste of Mum’s delicious bramble jam a great incentive to risk getting scratched and clothes torn picking the hard-to-reach ones, which always seemed the fattest and juiciest.

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At the bottom of the street spread the farmer’s fields, where we weren’t supposed to go. His bull known to be a danger to life and limb. Of course, we incorporated a deliberate dare in some of our games.

There must be a guardian angel for stupid children.

The other reason the fields were off-limits was because the Tinkers (or Gypsies but now correctly referred to as Travellers) used to camp there.  Mum and Dad didn’t practise overt bigotry or prejudice against Travellers like some people. Mum, in fact, helped them whenever she could: letting them do mending and other odd jobs, and buying some of the goods they hawked (like wooden clothes pegs).

She often repeated a story of the ‘Gypsy Woman’ who knocked on the door when she was a little girl in Belfast. Her mother bought clothes pegs but also gave extra money and food. In return, for the kindness, the woman offered to tell her fortune but being a devout Christian Grandmother declined. Instead, the old  woman took Mum’s hand and prophesied that she would travel across the sea, not once but twice, and the last journey would be far away across a large ocean. Mum would also bear seven children.

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The surviving six of us with Mum 1961

 

You cross The Irish Sea to get to Scotland, so all of us knew the first part of the prediction was right! (It wasn’t until much later that we found out Mum gave birth to seven children and my older sister’s identical twin died soon after birth. Of course, the largest ocean was the journey to Australia by ship when we migrated.)

Mum also believed you don’t go ‘looking for trouble,’ stranger danger not indoctrinated like modern times and we were not made overly fearful, but we were warned to be careful and obey the limitations placed on us, ‘no visiting the Tinker’s camp.’

Again, rules we chose to ignore!

Unfortunately, as a consequence, for years a vivid nightmare recurred, of being terrified and running in fear of my life, yet unable to ask for comfort because I played in the forbidden fields.

Sometimes we live to regret not obeying rules!

I must have been seven years old and had wandered away from the usual gang of playmates, including my older brothers and sister. Always inquisitive, I decided to explore the fields at the bottom of the road. I discovered the remnants of an army camp – underground bunkers abandoned at the end of WW2 and no doubt used by the Travellers. Perhaps I’d heard the more adventurous boys talk about it – I can’t really remember. I do remember spending most of my childhood playing with my two older brothers and their friends because we were all so close in age – only 13 months separated me from George and 17 months separated him from Iain.

In the campsite, there were the usual discarded items: an old army boot, rusted tins, broken furniture, and piles of accumulated recent rubbish, including the ubiquitous empty whisky and beer bottles. Exciting finds for a curious child.

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An abandoned camp similar to the one I remember

 

I never heard or noticed a movement from a bundle of dirty, grey blankets.

Without warning, an unkempt man reeking of alcohol made a grab for me. I ran for my life and didn’t stop until I was home, safe behind the gate. Davaar Road was steep but my little legs pounded the pavement without a pause.

The drunk maybe didn’t mean any harm, my presence probably surprised him as much as he startled me. I vaguely remember him murmuring about a match. Perhaps he woke up craving a cigarette – the two addictions of nicotine and alcohol often go together. All I remember is knicker-wetting terror; the sound of panting breath and thudding heart in my ears.

The proverbial wild horses would not pull me into the farmer’s fields! I didn’t care if I was accused of being a scaredy-cat because I was after that encounter. The smell and fear of the abandoned army camp forever part of my nightmares.

A more pleasant memory is playing near the secret lake. We’d walk along the Aileymill Road, a country trail linking the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny seaside towns further down the coast.

The hedgerows home to Willow Tits and Warblers singing their delightful ditties, the Golden Ringed dragonfly patrolling and the final goodbyes of the Swallows and Cuckoos before they left for Africa.

Cotton Grass swayed in the breeze and the heather’s vibrant colours bright amongst scented summer foliage not found in our home gardens with their neat rows of dahlias and roses. The hedges camouflage for lizards and beetles darting at our feet and the hilarious attempts of the boys to capture them.

We fished for tadpoles, and hunted frogs and toads, in our secret lake. Logs and stones upturned along damp paths. Bumblebees buzzing and Blue Bottles humming and maybe a hare or deer spotted, fleeing our noisy play. Sojourns to the secret lake a highlight of the long summer holidays as we ventured further afield than allowed.

I revisited Braeside in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes, the secret lake had shrunk. More a puddle really, just as the farmer’s fields seemed a small tract of land with plenty of cowpats, but not a bull in sight!

However, the hillside and view to Gourock was still a scenic wonderland and looking across the sparkling River Clyde revived memories of delightful Sunday School picnics at Kilcreggan and trips ‘doon the water’ to Millport and Dunoon. Children’s laughter still echoed and with a deep breath and strong imagination I could smell Mum’s blackberry jam.

Vale Amelia Auckett – Artist, Writer, Film Maker

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On Thursday, along with my friend Barbara Davies, I travelled to San Remo to attend Amelia’s funeral. The journey, by public transport, took 2 hours and 58 minutes: first a train to Frankston, a bus  to Cranbourne and then V-line coach to San Remo.

Others attended from further afield: Gippsland, Healesville, and Ballarat. A measure of the lives Amelia touched; her influence and legacy, and the high esteem in which she was held.

Although she has lived for over twenty years in Parkdale, Amelia was born in San Remo and has strong family connections there.  Her sons John and Paul, felt it fitting she be buried where she was born and grew up – her life a full circle!

The wake held at Amelia’s childhood home which is now occupied by a niece.

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When Barbara and I stepped off the coach directly opposite the little wooden church of St Augustine, I gasped.  My eyes immediately drawn to the empty silver-grey hearse across the road. ‘Amelia must be already there,’ I whispered to Barbara.

Each grief reminds you of a previous one and flashes of other funerals and other hearses came to mind. Despite the warmth of a wonderful spring sun I felt chilled.

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The deep azure sky mirrored in the blue sea stretching to Phillip Islandpromised a day of brilliant sunshine. A day for enjoying the beach not attending a funeral.

As I watched the traffic speed by and cross the bridge I wondered how many gave even a second glance to the little church gleaming white in a new coat of paint, belying its 110 years of weathering the storms from the sea, and the countless upheavals of the hundreds of families in attendance over the century or more, of its service to the township.

Amelia was one of my writing students, first at Sandybeach Centre and latterly Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. For many years she attended Readings By The Bay, the public readings by Mordialloc Writers’ Group,  often referred to as ‘The Prom lady’ because Wilson’s Promontory, a place she loved, was the subject of so many of her poems and stories.

Asked to read some of her poetry at the service I, of course, included The Spirit of The Prom. I can recall the day she wrote it in class and the discussion we had about the Aboriginal spirit  Loo-Errn .

Spirit Of The Prom
Amelia Auckett 2004

I am the Prom
A sacred place
A place I love

Walking to Lilly Pilly Gully
On Christmas Day
Cicadas a symphony of sound
Piercing our ears

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos
Feasting on banksia seeds
Forest ravens dancing
Crimson rosellas a splash of colour

Mount Oberon, a guardian
Mount Bishop presiding over the Prom
Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and emus
Ranging free

Rocks singing
Wind bending the trees
Eleven rainbows viewed from Pillar Point
Within the space of an hour

I am the ocean
Its roaring sound
As breakers run up the beach
Then a soft sigh as they sink back to the sea
Oystercatchers scour the seashore

I am the silence
I am one with Loo-errn
The Spirit of the Prom

A kookaburra laughs

 

The Artist and the Nurse

Amelia was also a prolific artist and belonged to the Mentone-Mordialloc Art Group for several years and even mounted her own art exhibition. Her sons displayed many of her framed works at the church and invited everyone to take one or two pieces as mementoes.

A lovely gift to mourners who will now have a permanent keepsake – I chose a Prom painting but also one from Amelia’s time trekking in Nepal – another period of her life she shared with us in class.

When I went into the Tarkine wilderness, Amelia gave me the backpack she used when travelling ‘I won’t be needing it anymore,’ she said, ‘the Prom’s far enough for me to travel.’

 

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A gift from Amelia when I was going through chemo

 

Amelia’s son, Paul gave the eulogy and his voice reflected the pride in his mother’s achievements which include nursing, writing, painting, music and filmmaking. Her nursing career took her to Central Australia and Canada, and for 25 years she was the Maternal and Child Health nurse at Frankston, Victoria.

Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

When people look at me they see a Miss Marple type. A woman with wisdom gained over the years and a person with knowledge, a love for, and understanding of people. They are not surprised I decided to be a nurse when ten years old. After all, my mother was the Matron of the Deniliquin Hospital in NSW before she married at thirty-two. My eldest sister Mary was two years into her nursing training at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Victoria. Nursing was in the family.

At the age of sixteen in June 1945, I started a twelve months Cadet Nursing course at the Eye and Ear Hospital, East Melbourne. It was an eventful year. The Americans dropped an Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th and a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th. The cities were flattened, thousands of people died.

On August 15th 1945 the war in the Pacific ended when the Japanese surrendered. A large group of nurses, from the Hospital, including me, joined thousands of people in Swanston and Collins streets outside the Town Hall that evening, in joyful celebration. We hugged strangers, and each other, We danced, laughed and cried, feeling a great sense of relief. Shouts of, ‘The war is over!’ ‘Peace at last!’ rang out.

We look at older people and what do we see? Who do we see? When they share their stories, or others share them at milestone celebrations or funerals, it is surprising what historical events they have witnessed, what skills they have learned, and their achievements.

When she left an unhappy marriage, Amelia worked hard as a single mother in a time when divorce and single parenting did not have the understanding or support from society like they have today.

Always breaking new ground, she published a book and DVD on Baby Massage. This has been translated into many languages and is a standard fixture in Maternal and Child Health centres throughout Australia. She also wrote music and produced songs as lullabies and for relaxation. Her sons are proud of their mother’s many talents, achievements and unique gifts.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Amelia came once a week and massaged my bald head and shoulders. She meditated with me – a peaceful interlude encouraging calm reflection and relaxation, and to focus on healing.

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Claire from Ballarat told me how Amelia mentored her and other infant nurses. Claire helped update the baby massage book for Amelia when Infant Welfare clinics were rebranded. She said the baby massage book was revolutionary and innovative.

I remember using the technique with my daughters who were born in the 80s and how thrilled I was when Amelia joined my writing class in the 90s – although it took me a while to make the connection!

Amelia’s son, John has established a website for people to access Amelia’s work, including his mother reading two poems that he set to music. This recording was played during the service. No shuffling feet or rustling papers disturbed Amelia’s soft rhythmic tones as they filled the room.  The Prayer of Thanksgiving followed, accompanied by a whispering sea breeze through the open side door.

Staring at the pine coffin adorned with a gorgeous display of flowers in various shades of purple, Amelia’s favourite colour, it was difficult to comprehend I wouldn’t see her again.

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On the way to the cemetery, Amelia’s nephew Sam pointed out various places Amelia mentioned in her poems and talked with affection about her affinity with the Prom and her love of the natural environment.

San Remo cemetery is high on a hill with magnificent views as it overlooks the township and the sea. Prime real estate – the pioneers who chose the spot, chose well!

Amelia is descended from the famous Andersons of San Remo and was very proud of her connection to Scotland. Their graves are nearby.

 

On the way to the wake, Sam stopped at Amelia’s favourite beach and as I stood and listened to the lapping of gentle waves I remembered the stories Amelia told of growing up when San Remo was a fishing village, and how calm waters could also be treacherous. The sea claimed the lives of two of her brothers, including her twin.

 

Extract From Amelia’s Memoir

The beach was our playground. In the summer, June, Sam and I swam in the warm water, then lay on our towels on the warm sand, sheltered from the southerly breeze behind clumps of marram grass, in the sand dunes. We floated on our backs in the waters of the fast flowing flood tide, on the beach side of the sandbar, starting from opposite our house, then floated down to the pier. We would then walk back to our starting point and float down to the pier again, again and again. It was pure magic, like floating on air in another world.

Many years later, when our mother died, June and I stayed in her home ‘The Haven’ for a few days clearing the house. During that time we swam at the beach and floated down to the pier, again and again, capturing magical moments from our childhood.

As children we played houses on the beach, creating large rooms divided by very small sand walls, leaving gaps for doors and windows We gathered green lettuce seaweed and shellfish for make-believe food. In the cool weather, we took long walks around the beach, collecting shells and seeing sea anemones and small fish in rock pools.

I loved the space, the freedom, the sun, the blue skies, the glistening clear blue sea, the stormy days and the fun.

The Haven, an appropriate name for Amelia’s family home and after a scrumptious afternoon tea provided by the ladies of the church I was grateful Claire offered to drop Barbara and me home saving us a long wait (the return coach left at 7pm!) and a circuitous trip to Mordialloc.

Amelia never returned to class in July because she fell and fractured her hip but up until then, despite failing health she came by taxi every Monday morning and always gave me a hug when she left, saying, ‘Thank you for a lovely class.’

Hugs were a signature of any encounter with Amelia – I’ll miss them!

 

 

 

 

Honouring A Life Shared

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The Launch of Julie Wentworth: A Life Shared

On Saturday, I went to a book launch, in Ashburton,  with my close friend and writing buddy, author Dr Glenice Whitting. This time, the celebrity of the launch was Glenice’s cousin,  Julie Wentworth.

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Glenice and Julie

 

In July, I mentioned about preparing Julie’s book for publication.

The book is filled with highlights from her life, especially the years teaching yoga and meditation.  Her friend Mark, a teacher and librarian helped capture this amazing journey by recording and typing interviews with Julie whose health has deteriorated in recent years.

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Mark and Julie

 

Julie was given my name by a friend who published her first book.  She knew I had published the last few Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies to save the group money.

My passion for enabling people to tell their stories has led to editing and book publishing. Helping other writers like Julie meant  embracing digital technology – it’s been an interesting ride with plenty more hurdles I’m sure!

 I have to thank my daughter, Mary Jane for producing a cover to the exact specifications Julie wanted – simplicity itself!

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However, to witness Julie’s joy and pride holding the finished product of her labour, and see a queue of devotees lining up for her signature, a wonderful reward.

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To know each book sold provided money for Rainbow Cottage Children & Babies Home, South Africa, a fantastic bonus.

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Lily did the honours – the pile of books dwindled rapidly.

 

The celebration of  Julie Wentworth: A Life Shared was held in the Baptist Church hall where Julie held her Yoga and Meditation classes.

One day, a Friday, in the Ashburton class, (they’re very special yogis, that group), they are strong women, each one so busy and leading full lives.

All of a sudden I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, I couldn’t even read my notes, what I’d written for this planned class. And there was silence, and the class waited for me. And I was waiting and I thought, Am I going to drop dead here or just sit here and die? A strange feeling, a strange moment.

Eventually I said, ‘Come on, four by four, use it work with it.’ Then I just said to the class, ‘I’m sorry I don’t know what happened there; let’s move on.’ Which I did.

Then, two students phoned me and they said, ‘Julie we’d like to pay for you to go to the Golden Door, in NSW, a health retreat. They have this special offer. Would you have enough money to pay for your own airfare to Newcastle and back?’
‘Yes, I would.’

I did that. So generous, these yogis of mine. I was in a beautiful room. Walked around, did a few sessions, just relaxed and was still. Came back renewed, refreshed. How generous. The stairs of this Golden Door, seemed to go up to heaven. You opened the golden door and all you saw were the stairs. It has a good name, good people, good food, good activities. They paid for it. What a gift!

Light streamed into the room through large glass windows and our eyes feasted on a lovely garden. The tranquility and beauty an apt setting for the author’s memories and story.

The room soon filled with Julie’s friends (many of whom were past students) with the love in the room palpable. The pile of books dwindled and I joked about writer’s cramp as Julie signed one dedication after another.

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Julie’s previous book (written when 69 years old),  Love And Light: Yoga for cancer HIV/AIDS & Other Illnesses, a manual sharing her knowledge and teaching techniques, but this short autobiography reveals her amazing journey from gifted singer and music teacher to one of the most highly respected yoga teachers in Melbourne.

It includes personal details not shared before.

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When called upon to launch the book, Glenice praised Julie’s courage and determination.

Her courage to compete and win singing awards.

Dame Joan Sutherland wrote, You have great courage and obviously a great talent.

  • Courage to teach music while struggling with deteriorating hearing. 
  • Courage to leave a toxic marriage
  • Courage to survive cancer
  • Courage as a single mother to reinvent herself and support her son

Julie changed her name for protection, travelled the world to study and eventually established her own Yoga school.

In their darkest hours, Julie worked with those afflicted by Cancer and Aids.

Michelle, a palliative care nurse,  spoke about Julie’s inspiration, guidance, and support.

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Michelle

 

After a move into assisted living accommodation, Julie now faces her own health challenges with her signature courage and delightful sense of humour.

Mark spoke of the life’s lessons he’d learned from Julie, of visiting many of the sacred places overseas she mentions in the book. How she has taught him to appreciate silence.

He shared one of his favourite passages from the book:

It is one of the great losses, that people have forgotten how to just let the silence be, they tend to talk to fill that space.

It’s to do with feeling the vibration. Being aware of the good vibration or the bad vibration. You are more present. It’s the peace.

At the end of the day, when I pull out my hearing aids, I give thanks for the silence, the peace at that time of the day.

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It was a privilege to play a small part in bringing this wonderful book into ‘the light’.

All books were sold on Saturday and Julie hasn’t decided if she will have more printed.

What better recommendation can an author have than to know your book is in demand!

Julie often finishes her own meditation with a Metta from Jack Kornfield:

May I be filled with loving kindness

May I be well,

May I be peaceful and at ease,

May I be happy.

A wonderful prayer for us all!

Escapism Via Flash Fiction

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After class, today, chatting with one of my students who is a fairly new immigrant from Turkey, we shared how the sadness in the world saps our creativity.

Understandably, she is worried about her family and friends after the recent events in Turkey and with family and friends in the UK, USA, and Europe I too seem to be in a constant state of worry – as well as being concerned for my Turkish student and other Turkish friends!

It is too easy to tune into ABC24 and the plethora of social media news, too easy to become addicted or obsessed about hearing the latest updates, too easy to be stressed, too easy to focus on anything but writing!

I tend to be a worrier but also highly sensitive to other people’s woes – compassion a core family value, along with a sense of social responsibility and community.

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My writing can be therapy and escapism, as well as a way to try and make sense or understand the indefensible, irrational and the unfathomable aspects of human nature and behaviour. I don’t keep a journal but often scribble my feelings into notebooks or fashion a poem or short piece of prose.

Times of emotional trauma or physical upheaval make it difficult to concentrate and when local or global tragedies occur, focus on substantial creative projects wanes, or is lost completely.

Thank goodness for writing classes!

Regardless of how empty I feel, once I’m in the safe space of my writing classes with the lesson plan in hand I let my imagination loose for the 15-20 minutes of stream of consciousness writing that is the ‘splurge’.

Sitting beside my students, I can become a writer rather than the teacher.

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The skills of fiction and nonfiction are not mutually exclusive, and mastering or even flirting with one can have a transformative effect on the other.

Zachary Petit, Writer’s Digest

Today, we concentrated on the importance of opening lines. Not just because it is important to grab the reader’s attention but also as a way of jump-starting our imagination.

It never ceases to amaze me the variety and quality of the stories random splurges produce and today was no different.

A good opening line is a powerful thing: It can grab an editor’s attention, set the tone for the rest of the piece, and make sure readers stay through The End!

Jacob M. Appel

This is why it is called a HOOK – just like a fish at the end of the line, you want to keep your readers hanging in there!

Splurge – Try one of these story openings:

  • He’d always had the perfect golf grip. The one he used on the gun wasn’t bad, either.
  • Palm trees always reminded me of him/her. (You can substitute any other flora)
  • Parker was definitely not singing in the rain.
  • I think that after you lose your car keys three days in a row, you should just be able to stay home.
  • The devil always finds work for idle hands to do, according to Mr Smith our science teacher – and he should know.
  • My alter-ego came to life one summer in 1975. (Or another date!)
  • The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the flagged tile floor.
  • ‘Who is it, Madeleine?’
  • The crushed carcass of the car outside the corner garage revealed a truth Constable Thomson didn’t want to face.

 

Night Terror
Mairi Neil (flash fiction of 750 words)

The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the slate floor, but why is he in the kitchen now?

The clock in the hallway, ticked, whirred, and chimed the half-hour. Tim checked his Father’s fob watch on the bedside table: 3.30am.

How did Grandfather manage the stairs by himself – and why? Is Mum downstairs too? Tim held his breath, but no tell-tale cough announced his mother’s presence; no whistle of steam from the kettle on the range.

When Mum’s in the kitchen, there’s always the clink of china cups, although this is a strange hour for a tea party.

Another creak, low and sinister, followed by the scraping noise again.

Tim imagined the chair rocking back and forth in front of the wood-fired stove. The old man huddling forward, gnarled hands stretching towards the open oven door, willing the radiated heat to warm arthritic bones.

Mum must be there – who else stoked and lit the fire? Tim concentrated; listened for murmuring voices.

The morning ritual always the same; Grandfather and his crook legs and weak heart only make it downstairs by leaning on Mum’s arm and gripping the bannister.

Maybe they couldn’t sleep and Mum lit the fire to keep the old man company and now they’re absorbed in one of the story-telling sessions they seem to like so much. Always talking about the past. Tim often wished he had a time machine like the man in the book he borrowed from the library.

He burrowed deeper into warm bedclothes, his small face, a flat white stone in an inky river of shadows. His breath drifted in uneven puffs in the cold air and twitching his nose his eyes widened with remembering. If Grandfather is rocking in front of the fire he’d be smoking his pipe, a habit he said helped him count his blessings. But no pungent tobacco smoke wafted up the staircase to cloud the room.

An asthmatic cough from the room across the hall punctuated the night before fading into gentle snoring almost immediately.

And Mum is still asleep. Who is downstairs? A thief? Tim shuddered. Who could make an intruder leave?

So many homeless men living by the railway line. Men who cadged meals and money before stowing away on one of the frequent goods trains that crisscrossed the land. Desperate men with nothing to lose. Men fighting to survive bad economic times.

Has one broken in and settled by the fire? Tim’s eyelids flickered and he fought back tears. Troubled blue eyes stared at the dresser, found the photograph of his father, pale in the muted moonlight shining through threadbare curtains.

If only the mining accident hadn’t happened, Dad would make the intruder leave. Tim clenched his teeth.

He remembered the burly man at the door yesterday. His offer to chop wood for two shillings – the price of a flagon of sherry.

Mum confessed their poverty and offered a sandwich. The man’s hairy top lip twisted. ‘Only if there’s dessert,’ he said, menacing eyes staring too long at Mum’s chest before returning to her flushed face.

Tim sensed his Mum’s fear as she slammed the door, rammed the bolt across, pressed her shaking body against the entrance as if the oak panels needed help to keep the man out.

His ten-year-old hands fisted, but Grandfather’s restraining hand on his shoulder held him firm. He hated the old man for his whispered, ‘You’re too young, boy,’ but had a rush of pity when Grandfather added, ‘and I’m too old.’

Blood surged in Tim’s ears. He gripped the bedsheets, his racing heartbeat competing with the scraping and rumbling below. He must go downstairs and face the intruder, prove to Grandfather he was not too young, prove to Mum he could protect her.

The curtains billowed and a gust of even colder air swirled around the room. Tim froze. Perhaps it was a ghost downstairs. Dad or Grandmother visiting – they both had favoured the chair by the fire. The scraping noise accompanied by a rustling as if hands searched canisters.

An almighty crash followed the rattling of crockery. Tim cowered under the blankets until a shattering of glass and china was joined by grunting and snarling.

And his Mum spluttering, ‘Damn possums!’

Tim searched for his slippers and met his mother in the hallway as she recovered from a coughing fit.

They hurried downstairs. A tremulous smile playing on Tim’s lips as the stairs creaked and Grandfather’s chair scraped on the slate floor.

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It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.

Lucille Ball

Writing makes me happy.

Why not choose a first line and write a story – escape from sadness and tragedy for a few moments with some flash fiction fun!

Life is Absurd – If You Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry

 

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What a week ! Despite all good intentions and a host of ideas I’ve found completing a post for the blog elusive. I had plans to write about my mother in relation to St Patrick’s Day but in the planning I rearranged a class lesson and decided to do a post on all things green and Irish. However, I haven’t got around to editing and polishing the flash fiction and poems that exercise triggered.

My fingers moved too fast typing  this post and ‘flash’ came up auto-corrected as ‘flawed’.  Ha, ha – a Freudian slip or is my iMac confirming the truth of recent findings that computers are smarter than man and will soon be able to control us? Perhaps I should order a robot to write my posts!

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Meanwhile in the search through my files for a poem I wrote about my last trip to Ireland, I came across one written when I worked at Melbourne University. A bit of doggerel born from the time spent travelling on the train each day.

The hour long trip in the morning and the hour home again put to good use writing in my notebook, jotting down ideas often prompted by articles in the free mX newspaper, which had a section of brief stories from around the world titled Weird.

For a creative writer this was manna from heaven and indeed one such story on the lead up to Christmas inspired me to dash off a verse.  The nonsense produced actually fits in with the sense of unreality I’ve felt this week as the media promotes the likelihood of Donald Trump, not only being the Republican candidate for the Presidency, but perhaps the President of the United States of America.

In Australia, we elected Tony Abbott to a position of power so what people do with their vote never ceases to amaze me, but how do we explain Trump’s popularity and the scenes of hero worship and frenzied adulation?

And then I remembered Diana Duyser and her grilled cheese sandwich.

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Ode To A Cheese Sandwich

Mairi Neil, 2004.

Challenging the world’s non-believers
a goodly woman’s news did travel
displaying the Holy Toasted Sandwich
advertised as an E-Bay marvel.
Modern headlines scream of terror,
famine, war, pestilence and more
so the mother of God visited Florida
a lasting impression to make for sure!
The Blessed Virgin was desperate
she’d visited Earth before
statues wept, shrouds wrinkled
wraith-like she’d walked through doors.
But all that is so last century
modern Americans are much more cynical
Mother Mary had to choose a medium
observable without being mystical.
In the year of Our Lord, 1994
checked out of Heaven by God’s clerk
Mary traversed God’s own country
looking for somewhere to leave her mark.
Lo and behold, great tidings
Diana Duyser’s toaster was set just right
and miracle of holy miracles
she instantly saw The Light!
Without any theological training
or a holy life of note
she recognised the Virgin Mary’s visage
upon a sea of butter afloat.
In cotton wool and plastic wrap
two wonders of modern technology
for ten years the blessed sandwich
has defied all toxicology.
And so in December 2004
Golden Palace Casino’s gullible folk
made Diana $A35,000 richer
proving the silly season is not a joke!

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In 2004, I was also studying part time and achieved my Certificate IV in Workplace Training & Assessment. The course spanned 18 weeks – a much more intensive and thorough course than many on offer today – especially those in the scandalous private sector where charlatans have received government money because ideologically driven governments insist private does it better than public.

I was lucky the Sandybeach Centre was founded by a family of teachers who believed in public education. They gifted the centre to the community. My Cert IV tutor had relocated from Canberra and was one of the people who designed the course aiming to ensure people training others had the teaching skills to present and pass on that knowledge.

There were 18 students meeting each week and the insight into the range of skills and ideas for courses, as well as the range of personalities and backgrounds, led to fascinating lessons.

At our farewell luncheon I presented everyone with a poem on parchment, rolled and  tied with a bright red ribbon. The scroll, a little reflection to celebrate the end of what had been an intense course for some.

CERT IV – 2004

At Sandybeach for eighteen weeks
Eighteen students gathered to learn
With expert guidance from Maria
We experienced a pleasant sojourn.

Deanna taught us yoga breaths
Especially breathing through the nose
Encouraging meditation and calmness
Just make sure a handkerchief is close!

Esther explained website design
With a great example of how it’s done
Being first to do the ‘assessment task’
She was the perfect guide for everyone

A veteran of the corporate world
John’s mapping a new career
He enthralled us with statistics
Showing a water crisis is here!

Artistic Shelly displayed flair
We admired her icon painting
But if she’d gone into labour
Some of us would be fainting!

Toni was the second youngest
To be a teacher her ambition
Her presentation on computers
An excellent example of tuition.

Kamil was the youngest in the class
Yet his forte is knowledge of business
To actually gain this qualification
To Kam would be sheer B.L.I.S.S.

Softly spoken Paula’s desire
To train civil celebrants is unique
Her advice for aspiring celebrants
‘Get it right!’ before you speak.

There was a doctor in the ‘house’
Janos Bognar was his name
He shared his knowledge and expertise
The ‘mad cow’ debate to inflame!

Andrea is not demented
And she tested all of us
Her presentation and assessment
Completed with minimum of fuss.

Stefan tackled each session
Enthusiastically with a smile
His commitment to French food
Gave us a salad with style!

Gordon’s morning drive was impressive
His keen participation too
Flowery speech and tussie mussie
Made his presentation difficult to outdo.

Frank kept us entertained most sessions
Mr. Hospitality could be his name
We learnt what makes good coffee
and dealing with complaints is not a game.

Liz recognises signs of conflict
And has solutions that will work
Her triangular presentation
Helped us recognise a jerk.

If ever we suffer depression
Let’s hope Maralyn is on hand
With soft voice and caring manner
Our every symptom she understands.

Eve coached us all for life change
She made us think seriously about time
The quality not quantity
To have a balance just sublime!

Leanne loves outdoors
But suggests gardens need design
Her checklist incredibly helpful
To avoid a strangling vine.

Ann embodied the perfect presenter
Her cool style one to emulate
Customer service is her forte
Her training talent innate.

And last but not least is yours truly
A wordsmith of moderate note
The best thing about Cert IV
is the people about whom I wrote!

Mairi Neil

The celebration with classmates cut short because a close friend had died suddenly.  The funeral to be held in Castlemaine where she had relocated with her family to start a new life in the country and fulfil her dream of bringing her children up in a healthy sustainable lifestyle.

I left a city restaurant, caught the train to Castlemaine and met up with a group of friends, all in a state of shock like me. We’d become acquainted through Alida. I’d taught puppet and writing workshops at her home when she organised large groups of home-educated children. Her two young children had come to my Scottish country dancing classes. Before that they had briefly attended the same Steiner school as my daughters.

Alida had just turned 40. Why were we attending her funeral? As children painted her coffin and a quartet of strings played Mozart, we heard how she had died of a blood infection picked up after she cut herself gardening. Life is indeed absurd.

Alida – one of my angels. She supported me through John’s illness, encouraged me to write and insisted I was a good teacher, giving me opportunities through the home education network. She gave me confidence and the impetus to improve my qualifications. I should have been showing her my certificate not signing a condolence book. She left instructions for her funeral and it was unique like herself. Lots of laughter as children and adults painted flowers, trees and rainbows on her coffin and shared quirky stories about a truly remarkable and memorable person.

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And as this post visits random memories triggered by files on my computer I discovered a story I’d written about another bizarre episode in the Life & Times of Mairi Neil…

Hospitals Take Patience

When Anne was in primary school she ached to roller blade. Each school holiday we received a discount voucher to the local skating rink in White Street and each holiday I promised to go ‘one day’.

My childhood memories of roller skates were of expandable contraptions strapped over shoes. One size fits all. They usually slipped off, loosened, or stretched. Children were fortunate to reach adulthood with ankle bones intact. Skate design improved but I discovered eva in adulthood, risks of broken bones remain.

One Easter, I kept my promise and took Anne to the rink. I hired skates for us both so that I could demonstrate and help Anne skate, but the speed and antics of teenagers whizzing around made me change my mind. It was twenty years since I last roller-skated. One novice on the rink was enough. I returned my skates.

I showed Anne how to stand, glide and most importantly hang onto either my arm or the side of the rink. The first three encirclements slower than a snail on ice. Anne bounced back from falls, her patience, perseverance and endurance astonishing as she alternated between grabbing the side of the rink and me. Confidence and skill improved and she staggered solo.

Fourth time unlucky!

Clipped by a boy as unsure as herself, Anne fell. On the way down her left foot landed on my right foot. The slip-on canvas shoes I wore offered no protection from the wheels of the skate. Oh, the pain! So intense I was glad the general hubbub masked my expletives deleted.

I managed to finish the circuit and endure two more before suggesting we call it quits. Every step of the ten minute walk home excruciatingly painful.

After an uncomfortable night, John insisted I should have an x-ray in case I’d cracked a bone in my foot. (To match the one in my head his unspoken judgement.)

The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body.

We went to Frankston, the nearest public hospital and I limped to the reception desk.

‘Do you want see a doctor?’

I hoped the receptionist didn’t hear John’s mumbled, ‘No, we want to see a plumber.’

I managed to keep a straight face while explaining my injury.

Usual questions on personal and medical history were answered before she said, ‘Take a seat and I’ll arrange to have your foot elevated.’

However, a lady sitting at the adjoining window called me over to ask more questions of why I was there. I gave a detailed explanation, which she typed into a computer. My foot throbbed more and a headache developed to match.

At last sitting down I watched as moments later, three youths and an older lady helped a young girl through the doorway. She clung to the woman’s arm, hopping with an obvious swollen ankle. I discovered they were German tourists.

The receptionist deemed it necessary to repeat everything they said accompanied by an increase in the volume of her voice. I don’t think any of them were deaf but apparently your hearing and privacy disappears if your English is limited.

A twenty-something couple with two small children arrived next. They collected food and drink from the foyer vending machines and settled down to watch the television suspended from the ceiling. No reporting to reception – perhaps their TV was broken at home.

It was now 10.00 am. I turned to John, ‘The hospital isn’t that busy, hopefully this won’t take long.’

An orderly wheeled the young German girl away. She returned after having her ankle x-rayed. An hour had passed. The young children bored with the television offerings demanded more snacks.

John checked his watch for the umpteenth time. A pulse in his cheek throbbed as he stabbed at The Age crossword with his pen. I flicked pages so fast in the magazine I was reading they were in danger of ripping.

Anne and MaryJane were being taken care of by a friend but as is usual with emergency child care arrangements I worried. Stymied from voicing guilt and fears for the hundredth time, when a nurse called my name.

I hobbled after her, along the corridor, through double doors to a large area bustling with activity. Health professionals in abundance talked on phones, wrote on clipboards, chatted to patients and each other. People in various stages of treatment occupied three beds. A baby cried from behind a screen and a worried mother nursed a toddler being examined by a young doctor.

How long had these people been here? Was there another entrance to Accident & Emergency I didn’t know about?

The nurse directed me to join a couple sitting on a row of seats against a wall. The elderly man displayed an injured foot and his wife sat beside him holding crutches.

The nurse elevated my foot too and asked me to explain what had happened. She had difficulty finding evidence of ‘vital signs’ but at last announced she’d located a pulse in my foot. We both sighed with relief. She marked the spot with a biro, ‘to make it easier next time.’

She tried to take my temperature with a new machine that plugged into your ear to show body temperature on a portable screen. It didn’t work. She discarded the machine for an old-fashioned thermometer muttering, ‘so much for hi-tech medicine.’

Left alone, I introduced myself to my fellow sufferer and his wife. Fred said, ‘I’ve been sitting here since ten o’clock.’

I panicked. It was nearly midday. I shuffled back to Reception and told John about the back-log behind the scenes. He didn’t need convincing to check on the girls, ‘I’ll grab some lunch and return in a couple of hours.’

I resumed my conversation with Fred who confided a woman pushing a stroller knocked him over. ‘I just got the plaster off this morning and went to the local shopping centre. She careered into me from behind. Hit me good leg and sent me flying. I grabbed a parking meter to save myself but hit the kerb and the leg snapped.’

The woman didn’t stop to help or apologise but when Fred repeated what he said and how, I suggested her lack of response was through fear rather than indifference. His wife nodded in agreement. Righteous anger can be scary.

‘When you say good leg what happened to the other one?’

‘Oh,’ said Fred, ‘I broke that playing golf.’ He pointed to his left leg. ‘It was summer and the ground was dry and hard and I was wearing me winter shoes.’

I hid my ignorance – I didn’t even know there were special shoes for golf, never mind ones for different seasons!

Fred barely paused in his tale of woe. ‘I hit the best shot of me life, swung around but the shoe stayed put. I heard the lower leg and ankle crack.’ He shuddered with the memory.

Both his wife and I let out suitable sympathetic sounds and shook our heads. Some people attract bad luck!

I shared my mishap and laughed at our lack of sporting prowess.

A young intern approached. ‘Steven’s the name,’ he said with the false friendliness of a McDonald’s commercial. ‘What happened to your foot.’

I explained, yet again and wondered if a lie detector lurked nearby checking to see if this fourth retelling any different from the initial one hours before.

Steven attempted to take the pulse in my foot but couldn’t find it despite the biro mark. He expressed surprise at the foot being cold. I reminded him I’d been sitting for an hour in the path of the blast from the air-conditioner and two doorways. He didn’t acknowledge there may be a connection.

‘Are you a smoker?’

‘No.’

‘That’s odd, you have very poor circulation.’

He called a nurse and they both felt for a pulse. The nurse found it near the biro mark. Steven still couldn’t find it. He started to manipulate my toes and move my foot about. He pressed hard. Obsessed about my pulse he forgot about the injury. My not quite muffled scream brought an embarrassed apology and the original nurse over.

‘What’s the significance of this worry over my pulse?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Is it a sign of terminal illness? My foot was smashed by a roller skate. I just want to know if I’ve broken anything.’

The original nurse recognised fear. ‘It means nothing except they can’t find it!’ She dismissed Steven with a glare.

He wandered off to practise on another patient, the nurses returned to their respective posts and Fred and I pondered on the training interns received.

The German girl had joined us and another intern was using sign language and broken English to explain the intricate muscle, bone and nerve structure of the human leg. She paid great attention to his every word, mainly because she couldn’t understand it – neither could we.

He had examined her x-rays, which revealed no broken bones. That would have taken seconds to say. Perhaps he recognised she hadn’t been waiting the obligatory three hours or perhaps because she was young and attractive he wanted to delay her departure.

I wondered if Steven had bothered to order x-rays for me when as if by mental telepathy a young technician appeared with a wheelchair. He asked what happened and so for the umpteenth time I explained why I had come to the hospital.  I had a desire to begin the narration with ‘a tale as old as time… ‘

Half-an-hour later John returned in a mellow mood. Lunch had been delicious, the girls were happy. The x-ray a great advance in his eyes until I reminded him it was after 2.00 pm.

Fifteen minutes later a nurse came over and bandaged the German girl’s ankle and my foot. Steven reappeared and introduced himself to John, ignoring me.

He talked over my head. ‘I don’t think the foot is broken but I’m not saying it isn’t in case you come back and sue my ass off.’

Steven received my most scathing look.  John refrained from speaking. I thought how my Irish mother sometimes mangled the English language but then she had no great love of the English or their language and made no pretence of having studied it at tertiary level.

A nurse bandaged the foot that may or may not be broken. I didn’t tell her being a proud owner of a Ranger Guide First Aid badge, I could have done that at home.

We left Fred demanding loudly if they had misplaced his file while his wife shrunk behind his crutches.

I limped out to the carpark leaning on John’s arm reflecting that before being let loose as a General Practitioner, Steven needed a trifecta: to improve his medical knowledge, master a doctoring technique and find a better bedside manner.

‘You’ll think twice before roller-skating again,’ John said as he helped me into the car.

My smile, lopsided and fleeting as I vowed next holiday, the school’s discount vouchers better be for the cinema.

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A Stroll To Serenity – thank Goodness for Mother Nature

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It’s been a tough week – no make that a tough year, so far – and although I’ve become accustomed to putting a smile on my face and “faking it till I make it” my mind has difficulty switching off from traumatic events.

Energy is hard to find and inspiration for creative writing, a lost cause.

If my wee, Irish Mum was still alive, she’d suggest I’ve had a week of ‘not being able to get out of my own road’ .

A family member died suddenly, much too young at 48. The unexpected death leaving everyone devastated, especially her thirteen-year-old daughter. This tragedy occurred only weeks after the funeral of a cousin who found living with illness too difficult and chose to end his life. His close family still grieving his older brother’s death (another of my cousins) from a heart attack just before Christmas.

These tragedies feed the superstition that catastrophe happens in threes but this is just an urban legend  –  isn’t it?

Each death made past grief raw with a numbness descending. I had the line ‘what’s it all about?‘ from Alfie playing in a loop in my head.

However, lessons must be planned and presented, letters and emails written, an IWD presentation prepared and worried over, and this blog written – the cliche ‘life must go on’ indeed a truism.

Thank goodness then, for close friends, and nature’s beauty, to distract from the doldrums and reinvigorate a purpose for life and joy in living.

My dear friend,  Glenice Whitting suffered a home invasion and could laugh about it over coffee and despite inclement weather and a busy schedule, another friend Lisa Hill picked me up after work and we went for a walk in the park as a balm to troubled souls.

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Karkarook Park is located on Warrigal Road in Heatherton, nestled among an industrial estate and not far from several housing developments. The park is ideal for a relaxing stroll, providing an oasis of tranquillity. Traffic sounds diminished by evergreen native trees and an undulating landscape.

Karkarook, a tribute to those with vision and prepared to work hard to rehabilitate land owned by a mix of parties, including council, state government and private companies. To shape a place for the public to enjoy with recreational facilities such as: cycle and walking tracks, angling, BBQ and picnic areas, playground, canoeing and kayaking.

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View towards Warrigal Road, Moorabbin

 

“Karkarook Park is a recreational and environmental oasis, revegetated with indigenous plants. The 15 hectare lake is a good spot for canoeing, kayaking or sailing. Explore the park on foot or bike on 6km of trails. Take the dog for a walk. Or try your luck fishing for Rainbow Trout or Red Fin. “

Fisheries Victoria restocks the artificial lake with about 4000 trout a year.

Sanctuary
Peaceful, secure
Feeding, breeding, nurturing
Providing responsible ecological balance
Wetlands
© mairi neil

 

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Parks Victoria provides the following information:

The area around Karkarook would have been a rich source of food for Aboriginal people. “Karkarook” is an Aboriginal term meaning “a sandy place”.

After European settlement, Karkarook was used for flood retarding, market gardens and horse agistment. Through a partnership between Parks Victoria, Boral, Readymix and the community, the area was mined for sand, then transformed into the beautiful park you see today.

Flora and fauna
Karkarook Park is gradually being restored to a healthy environment. Over 500,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses have been planted, many by volunteers. As the park improves, birds are returning to make Karkarook their home. More than 110 species of bird have already been recorded at the park.

Karkarook is represented by the dragonfly, chosen to represent a healthy environment and metamorphosis (transformation). The information display is in the shape of a dragonfly.

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Successive councils and state governments, and the community have supported the concept of a Chain of Parks since it was first suggested and the recent development of Karkarook Park was an important catalyst project.

Kingston has a number of landfills and there are limited ways that land can be used after landfills are closed. The idea of a series of linked parks in the Heatherton/Dingley area has been around since the early 1970s when Sir Rupert Hamer’s  Liberal Government first established the Green Wedges in 1971 .

In 1994, this idea was formalised into a report by the former Melbourne Parks and Waterways (now Parks Victoria) and in September 2002 the Bracks Labor Government finalised new green wedge zones in a process to protect Melbourne’s Green Wedges for future generations.

But of course life is never that simple and environmentalists will tell you the battle in Kingston is unrelenting with the Planning Department forever wanting to rezone land. Fortunately, in 2015, the council made an effort in the northern part of the city for the first time. Kingston City’s C143 amendment rezones old quarries and landfill tips to green wedge and assures no more concrete crushers and similar inappropriate uses.

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Pathways form grey ribbons for relaxing walks

Other parts of the city are not so lucky and currently arable land and a part of the Green Wedge is under threat from The Cemeteries Trust, who want to remove the market gardens and build a cemetery. A chain of parks trail, agricultural activities, equestrian activity such as a riding school, or even environmental conservation such as a horticultural school – all of these preferable to a commercial enterprise involving a lot of buildings, concrete and cars.

The fight for sensible, sustainable environmental policies on going but as Lisa and I enjoyed Karkarook Park I welcomed the chance to reduce my stress level.

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Dusky moorhens
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Pacific Ducks
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Galahs foraging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bubbling residue in damp sand
Ephemeral evidence of
Mankind’s footsteps

© mairi neil

 

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A Stroll to Shift Mood
A Haibun by Mairi Neil

Determined summer
captive to ardent grey clouds
beams silver sunshine

We stroll sculpted pathways hoping to avoid the next downpour of rain. A Melbourne afternoon justifying the city’s reputation. It’s summer and we’re prepared for winter, but must shed our jackets when the brilliant sunshine ignores bruised skies and radiates heat.

On the gentle breeze
amidst a flurry of rain
a tiny blue wren flits

The park abandoned apart from a seagull susurration above the lake and Pacific Ducks waddling for the water as we approach. Galahs peck at the moist soil but keep their distance. Magpies rush for the cover of trees their movement enticing me closer.

Through a highland mist
the repeated haunting call
of a lonely moorhen

Three Fairy Wrens decorate dull brown branches with brilliant blueness. If only the elusive Hooded Plover skittering along the sandy hem of the lake would pause long enough for the camera to capture his glory. And sheltered from the rain we watch the mist rise and fall over the lake, dark blue-grey clouds sweep across the sky and a defeated sun struggles to assert its authority.

After the shower
the gulls aerial ballet
brightens the dull sky

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The rain arrived
sunshine
and left as the sun came out

 

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A walk always blows the cobwebs away and helps me put life in perspective, especially the curved balls occasionally pitched that hit their mark.

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Melbourne has earned the title of the ‘world’s most liveable city’.  Kingston’s part in The Chain of Parks and the protection of the Green Wedge contributes to Melbourne’s appeal – so here’s to future sensible, sustainable policies maintaining the lungs of our city.

And getting some writing mojo back!

Winds Of Change
Mairi Neil

I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind
I wonder at the foolishness of architecture
I hear the sighs of lovers and the curses of farmers
I see the cricket matches and the collapsed houses
I want to travel the world and display my power
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind

I pretend that I am always in control
I feel the power of Mother Nature’s other children
I touch the clouds and make them weep
I worry that there are places I cannot reach
I howl and keen in the eye of the cyclone
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind

I understand the flutter of a baby’s hand
I manipulate heaving white horses
I whisper soft sentences and rant furious prose
I try always for my poetry to be heard
I hope always for a memorable role
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind.

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Serenity restored