A Much-Needed Circuit Breaker

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The frog says it all! I return to work in two weeks, and although I’ve had a longer break than many people, it has not felt like ‘a vacation’, or in Aussie vernacular ‘a holiday’.

I seem to have spent my time fretting over not achieving what I’d hoped – clearing clutter. Attempts to make more space has literally just ‘shifted the deck chairs on the Titanic’.

The piles of paper seem to have grown along with the notebooks and scraps of writing I’ve kept ‘to put on the computer and finish one day.’ A day becoming more distant by the minute!

Add articles, photo prompts, postcards, interesting pamphlets and a host of other paraphernalia to be useful for inspiration for my writing classes and a little voice (belonging to a figure with horns) whispers ‘build a bonfire, build a bonfire’.  

This is part of a ditty we used to sing at the end of the school year and one I used in a poem submitted and accepted to an anthology about schooldays.

Last day At Primary School
Mairi Neil

“Build a bonfire, build a bonfire
Put the teachers on the top
Put the text books in the middle
And burn the bloomin’ lot!”

No more walking the dusty track
No more pushing in the back
No more jostling to be first in line
No more smell of gums and pine

No more of Mr Stuart’s tests
No more fear of ‘six of the best’
No more wearing same dull dress
High school promises something fresh

Class party with games and fun
Sporting trophies to those who won
Certificates too, I got more than one
Extra long recess in which to run

But soon it’s time to say goodbye
What’s this? Why do I want to cry?
Farewell friends inner voices sigh…
Promises to stay in touch a lie.

(The anthology, Do Nuns Wear Knickers? will be published by Melaleuca Press next month.)

Most days, I relate to the frustration, exasperation and sheer desperation of this graphic on Google!

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At least, I have mapped out term one lessons for two classes, and have a host of ideas and research ready to transform into lessons for other classes. ‘Not a complete time waster, then,’ the horned inhabitant of my mind is back.

I’ve also weeded and tidied up the garden and hard as it was culled bookshelves – so there, I tell myself. But the conversion of the shed to a studio is more tortoise than hare, and I’m so behind in the Blogging 101 course, I toy with admitting defeat – and that is not me.

Enter an invitation to walk away from it all –  for 24 hours – a much-needed circuit breaker, a breath of fresh air, reminding me a change is as good as a holiday, and all those other cliches!

Rejuvenation here I come I thought, never realising what an amazing learning curve 24 hours can hold and provide triggers for stories – imaginary and memoir.

You cannot fully understand your own life without knowing and thinking beyond your life, your own neighborhood, and even your own nation.

Johnnetta Cole

Kristine, a friend of fifteen years, moved to the other side of Melbourne eleven years ago. When I met her recently at a Climate Change Rally she reminded me I had never visited her new home!

Soon, I promise,’ I said, face reddening with embarrassment.

Kristine and me
Kristine and me

In the intervening years we had caught up, but mainly at my house. However, Kristine and husband John are now retired and I’m working part time. Flexibility of time offers less excuses.

Why don’t you visit and stay overnight,’ Kristine said, ‘we belong to a walking club. You can come on a walk, I guarantee you’ll love where we live now.

Yes,’ I promised, ‘2016, will be our year of catching up. I can get the train to Altona Meadows!

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

Alan Alda

 

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Mordialloc is 24km south east of Melbourne CBD and Altona Meadows is 17km south west – suburbs opposite ends of the city with Port Phillip Bay in common and the CBD in the middle. Altona and suburbs that side of the city synonymous with the huge Altona oil refinery and industrial off-shoots, and to me, not a desirable place to live.

How wrong and ignorant can one be? (I soon found out.)

A few years ago an introduced  bus service linked both sides of the city. A bus leaves from Mordialloc to Altona but a one-way trip takes 3.5 hours as it wends its way through suburbia!! (Hence me promising to catch a train, which takes 1.5 hours.) To spend a whole day discovering a different Melbourne via this service on my ‘to do list’ for ages.

As it turned out, my first visit to Altona Meadows became a comfortable car ride because Kristine visited another friend this side of the city last Thursday. They lunched in Parkdale and Kristine arranged to pick me up afterwards.

Conversation became a catch-up and sharing of ideas on how we’d spend our time. She explained more about the various local groups  joined since retiring: She walks, cycles, plays badminton and sometimes joins her husband for golf.

I love walking and swam regularly last year with a friend but felt seriously unfit listening to Kristine’s routines. The ‘Use it or Lose it’ campaigners have no worries motivating retirees in Altona Meadows!

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Kristine organises ‘walk and talk trips’ for the Altona Adventurers. This wonderful way to get to know and understand your own community as well as other communities within daily commuting distance, very popular. They travel by foot, bicycle, punt, train or tram. We are spoiled for choice in Melbourne.

We stopped by the Port Philip Eco Centre to pick up information from Ranger Bronnie about the penguins at St Kilda pier. Kristine aims to organise a ‘walk and talk’ tour in September and the Centre’s staff were more than helpful regarding maps, viewing times and even other places worthy of a tour along the bay.

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The EcoCentre is located in the St Kilda Botanic Gardens’ old Park-Keeper’s house. The original building, a 1966 brick veneer had an energy efficiency rating of less than one star. The concept of a local ‘environmental hub’ was initiated by the City of Port Phillip (CoPP) in 1998 and has now grown to be the independent, community-managed, environment organisation; the Port Phillip EcoCentre Inc. Local environment groups initiated the ‘EcoHose project’ to transform the house and demonstrate sustainable building and garden design and practices.

The EcoCentre was formally launched in St Kilda Botanical Gardens in December 1999. In 2003, it was retrofitted to a 5 star level – which was state of the art at the time. Since then, public awareness and design efficiency has moved along by leaps and bounds and the EcoHouse continues to be retrofitted to a 6 star standard with improved window insulation options installed across different windows, display of new lighting technologies in various rooms (LED and T5) and new stovetop.

In providing a focus for community groups and individuals to meet and share knowledge and resources, the EcoCentre builds networks, maximizing positive environmental action, with positive flow-on effects into the community. The EcoCentre initiates educational projects and provides meeting space, office facilities, a small environmental reference library and most importantly, an example of environmental action in practice.The Committee of Management meets monthly and sub-committees function and meet on a project by project basis.

The EcoCentre has been structured as a regional ‘umbrella’ environment organization to meet the Environment Australia criteria which enables tax deductible donations. This enhances the EcoCentre’s ability to attract external funding and sponsors and ultimately provide improved services to members and the community. City of Port Phillip has continued its support in the form of building provision and utility expenses and is a key financial sponsor contributing to operational costs. In exchange the EcoCentre is committed to supporting and furthering the goals of the City of Port Phillip.

Talk about six degrees of separation! I discovered the group most involved with the welfare of the penguins is Earthcare.

What deja vu!

Earthcare week ran from 9-15 sep 1996. It aimed to raise environmental consciousness in the local environment. Earthcare received a $2000 grant from the City of Port Phillip and made Earthcare week a great success. Throughout the week activities were held for local schools, plantings, library visits and guest speakers. School children also received an educational activity kit prepared by Earthcare about the local area.

I wrote a children’s book to be included in the education kit. This was later adapted for a similar kit for the Friends of Bradshaw Park for City of Kingston’s schools. It aimed to encourage responsible dog ownership, in particular disposing of dog poo correctly and ensuring pets didn’t harm local wildlife.

Told from the perspective of the dogs, Goldie, a city dog, shows Kevin, a new arrival from the country, tips and tricks living in an urban environment.

Local conservation groups wanted to raise awareness of the effect of dog poo on many of the city’s waterways (creeks and canals), and when swept into the bay through storm water drains. Indigenous fauna, especially possums and birds are also in danger from unrestrained dogs and cats.

Bronnie was thrilled Kristine and her Adventurers  planned a visit. She spent some time detailing the choice of routes on a map provided free by the city. A walk around Albert Park lake easy to incorporate into the trip.

She also advised Kristine to buy some red cellophane paper and cut pieces able to cover the torches of those participating in the sunset viewing of the little penguins. Attached by a rubber band, this paper ensures the penguins are not ‘blinded by the light’.

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While at the Ecocentre, we bought a book that provides an amazing resource for anyone interested in knowing and appreciating what’s available along the coastline of Port Phillip Bay. The rich cultural and natural history of the coast is explained in wonderful photos and well-researched text and presented in a fascinating, readable format. A handy guide for day trippers, backpackers and serious students to encourage exploration, respect, and conservation.

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Coastal guide book ISBN:9780992321703 tel: (03) 94320163

We were also gifted the latest book by Meyer Eidelson about the original inhabitants of the area – Yalukit Willam, The River People of Port Phillip. Meyer has written many resources about the Port Phillip area. A joint effort by several councils, scholars, researchers and most importantly, the Boon Wurrung Foundation and Koorie Heritage Trust this is a book I’ll treasure, especially as we near Australia Day.

The book is a reminder of the rich cultural heritage colonial powers discovered when ‘the Great Southland’ was invaded and acquired as part of the British Empire in 1788.

Unaware, of what the future would hold, the elders of the first people no doubt uttered a similar greeting as their descendent Carolyn Briggs, in the introduction of the book:

“Welcome to my country, the land of the great bay of the Boon Wurrung people, our beautiful home.”

Carolyn Briggs, Boon Wurrung Foundation.

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The weather had been mercurial all day, but when we arrived at Altona Meadows, the promised showers eased. Kristine took me for a walk to show the nearby wetlands and where The Friends of Skeleton Creek (another of her and John’s pastimes!) work to  conserve the area.

On the path you can walk towards Williamstown or Werribee. Across the water is Point Cook and further on, the much touted  Sanctuary Lakes. The houses are as big and glamorous as what you’d expect in Brighton – without the exclusive price tag!

This ‘Gothic’ house caught my eye and my imagination. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but there’s a dragon on the spire and one at the back. Do the owners love fantasy? The dark arts? Have they studied at Hogwarts? Writer’s notebook always handy.

Birdlife is prolific in the Altona area. I saw a magnificent Vee of black swans overhead choosing where they’d land. At Altona beach there were more swans than people because of the weather. The only place where I’ve seen more black swans is Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.

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Unfortunately, a longer walk planned for Friday didn’t eventuate because of heavy rain. Instead, Kristine drove to Williamstown and later Newport and I caught the train home – refreshed and replenished. Motivation and imagination on fire.

 

Newport and Williamstown, important links in my family history I’ll write about in another post. However, I discovered Kristine’s family had links going back further than mine and through the efforts of a local woman, Debra Vaughan, a permanent memorial on the foreshore at Williamstown ensures they are never forgotten.

 

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When Kristine moved to the west eleven years ago she discovered through family history research that an ancestor had been one of the young Irish female orphans brought to Australia at the time of Ireland’s Great Famine 1845-55.

Susannah Wright arrived at 15 years old to work as a domestic servant. One of many girls ‘rescued’ and sent to Australia to be wives, workers and breeders.The men of the colony and the government’s desire to populate the land considered a priority.

At least Kristine’s ancestor married a Mr Wright (in more ways than one) although betrothed to a different man. She eventually had eleven children.

A touch of serendipity occurred when Kristine went to her first memorial service after discovering her ancestry. When they asked if anyone was a direct descendent of Susannah Wright a man also raised his hand. Kristine met a cousin, she didn’t know about!

The Australian-Irish heritage Association provide information on all things Irish in Australia and also run writing competitions, including one specifically for women writers.

The Australian-Irish Heritage Association is an inclusive organisation which encourages and promotes an awareness of Australia’s Irish heritage. To this end, the Association creates opportunities for all to learn about, participate in and enjoy this distinctive heritage.

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In September, last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures to show Victoria was Australia’s fastest growing state.

For anyone driving from A to B – particularly in and out of the city, or across suburbs the statistics won’t be a surprise. Nor, are they a surprise for train commuters, and for neighbourhoods like mine, where access to free street parking is becoming rarer by the day.

And yet, the same report reveals Victoria is still the place to be, or where people want to be:

“Victoria has also benefited for a surge in internal migration, as relatively affordable housing and good job prospects make it a magnet for the rest of Australia.
In the past six months, 37,800 Australians have moved to Victoria from other states and only 31,900 Victorians have left.”

After experiencing a sojourn to Altona Meadows and traversing the city, meeting so many delightful people and seeing delightful sights, I can definitely agree Melbourne is the city for me.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

George Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pool Of Memories

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All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

This week, I asked my students to write about summer and gave them a selection of writing prompts. As I reflect on the lesson I remembered various summer activities and memories from childhood.

A few years ago some beancounter or councillor in the City of Croydon looked at the prime land taken up by Croydon Memorial Pool and decided rather than maintain the pool, it could be sold. The public outcry that followed the suggestion, retained the pool, which was built as a memorial to honour those who fought in the Second World War. I have an emotional attachment to Croydon swimming pool, a place that contributed to an idyllic childhood, although,  now living in Mordialloc and in close proximity to a beautiful beach,

Dad’s sister, Chrissie, met us at Station Pier when we arrived in Australia, on December 16th 1962, and the first piece of information she imparted to excite us about our future home was its closeness to a newly opened Olympic-sized swimming pool. Our journey from Scotland, on the month-long voyage aboard SS Orion, gave me my first experience of a swimming pool and along with three siblings, I attempted to swim. Accustomed to the joys of water play and poolside fun, the thought of continuing sessions on land did make our new home more inviting. (I suspect Aunt Chrissie realised this!)

Croydon, eighteen miles from Melbourne GPO and even further from the nearest beach, was considered ‘the sticks’  and for those living in the outer suburbs, summers were long and hot. A public swimming pool, therefore, considered a tremendous community asset for hundreds of children to spend hundreds of hours creating carefree memories.

The egalitarian pool open to everyone regardless of income or generation. Days spent there helped us enjoy adjusting to our new country and to cope with the culture shock of a sweltering Christmas, instead of sleet and snow.

Working class people rarely went on vacation, so the Croydon pool a wonderful alternative to driving the hour or two to the closest coastal beaches of Seaford and Edithvale. No freeways then.

That first summer, we attended the pool almost daily establishing a pattern of regular visits that continued for several years. Each day seemed like a holiday, especially with the crowd that our family and friends made. Fortunately, the entry cost minimal – there may even have been a discount for family groups, I can’t remember. I know we shared a locker, which caused ructions at times if people wanted to go home early and the keeper of the key resented getting out of the water! This sign should probably have been put at the entrance of the pool!

images-1Ignorant of skin cancer people lay smeared with coconut or baby oil, sunbaking on the grass or lying on the concrete surrounds. There were few trees in the early days with those planted still to mature. I recall many sleepless nights with painful burning skin despite mum’s home remedies of vinegar or cold tea compresses. No sunscreen then either.

A few exhausting hours playing at the pool made a walk home in the heat unattractive. We planned visits to coincide with Dad’s shifts or so someone else’s parents could pick us up. With no seat belt rules and few cars on the road, it was amazing how many kids could be crushed into Austin A30s, Morris Minors, Ford Consuls, FJ Holdens or Dad’s Vanguard Utility. We still arrived home hot and sweaty with the cooling benefits of the pool undone, but not as tired if we’d walked!

Mum and Dad were sticklers for ‘no swimming for an hour after you’ve eaten.’ My father’s older brother, John drowned in Corpus Christi in 1927, while serving at sea as an engineer. It was thought he took cramps because he went swimming too soon after a meal.

In addition, my father lived with a personal memory of a traumatic incident from his childhood when he nearly drowned. Therefore, our time at the pool regulated and rules enforced without compromise. Negotiated longer periods for swimming meant going mid-morning and leaving mid-afternoon. We may miss out catching up with chums and went hungry until we returned home; the only sustenance being a frozen Sunny Boy, or Choc Wedge, bought with locker refund money.

Our melting frozen treats held between soft wrinkled fingers, made us fly magnets. We’d sit on the kerb outside the pool waiting to be picked up, competing to see who could kill the most flies with our thongs. Mao Zedong would have been proud of us. Under his ‘four harms’ strategy 1958-62 he urged citizens to kill flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows, the four pests that damaged crops. The great campaign almost eliminated the common housefly as the Chinese swatted with zest.

We certainly shared their enthusiasm and aimed a death blow at every fly or mosquito we came across. Dad, who refused to wear thongs, laughed at us, saying, ‘ killing flies the best use for those stupid flip flops!’

Days at the pool hold magical memories: meeting friends at weekends or holidays, mixing with kids from different schools, swimming, diving, playing games and showing off our healthy physiques. Not everyone had the telephone connected, not everyone had a family car, opportunities for meeting and talking outside school hours were few.

Many romances started – and ended –  at the pool. The era of the ‘itsy bitsy teeny weeny’ bikini upon us, although bathers in the 1960s didn’t reveal the flesh of later fashions. However, Speedos were at the height of their popularity and once wet never left much to the imagination. Of course, ex-PM, Tony Abbott has made ‘budgie smugglers’ famous!

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I made my one and only dive from a diving board at Croydon Pool—the small diving board, of course. I lacked the courage to do anything but jump off the big diving board and I only did that once. Through adult eyes, how small those boards look, yet the climb to the top of the ladder and the panic of spluttering chlorinated spume after hitting the water and scrabbling to return to the surface, still haunts me. As does the sting of bellyflops.

Herald certificate 1964

I passed the Herald Learn To Swim Certificate by swimming the 25 yards across the Croydon Pool and even managed to get my Junior Certificate after doing a rather pathetic dive in old clothes from the pool’s edge. Never good enough to be in the school swimming sports, I do remember sitting on the concrete steps cheering my brothers until hoarse. At one stage there were five McInnes’s at Croydon High School and we were all in Surrey House so I would have been waving yellow streamers.

The houses at school named after English counties: Surrey (yellow), Ashburton (red), Guildford (green) and Kent (blue), a veritable chanting rainbow around the pool.

Not a water baby, I preferred the gentle introduction of a dip in the toddler’s pool where the water warmed quickly on a hot day compared to being pushed into the freezing water of the big pool or splashed unmercifully if you tried to ease gradually down the steps at the side.

On some days, Croydon Pool so crowded, that the only safe way to enter the water was sliding into the pool from the edges. Many times an accidental knock left me gasping because I landed in the pool before I was psychologically prepared for the water temperature.

The shallow end of the pool the spot for one of our favourite games – diving for pennies. If we were broke someone would unpin their locker key from their togs and we’d dive for that. We never seemed to tire of playing tag or challenging each other to underwater tricks or races across the pool.

The sensation and taste of chlorinated water bubbling up my nostrils still vivid as we dared to venture into deeper water.  I can recall the ache in lungs as I struggled to complete laps rather than be stranded treading water somewhere in the pool out of my depth. The sandpaper roughness of the sides of the pool and the pain of scraped skin another not so pleasant memory.

Everyone skylarked, even though attendants seemed to really have eyes in the back of their heads and order ‘naughty’ children to take ‘time out’ or ‘be warned’. When bikinis became fashionable there was more than one embarrassing moment as girls were ‘dacked’, or had their tops untied.

Those dolphins who could swim underwater for an amazing length of time played pranks that sent excited squeals and gales of laughter reverberating across the pool, especially if they forced their way through your legs when least expected to tip you over – and under.

Several generations learnt to swim, socialise and have fun at the Croydon Pool. Now more than fifty years from my childhood and many homes have backyard pools, multiple family cars, and the time and money to travel to beaches or resorts. Croydon is no longer considered ‘the sticks,’ but has been absorbed into Melbourne’s urban sprawl.

However, I hope others value their memories of days spent at Croydon Pool and ensure it’s always a community asset.

Today,  schoolchildren, pensioner aerobic classes, toddlers having their first taste of water outside the bathtub, and anyone else cooling off or exercising must be happy the pool is there.

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Photograph by Graeme Saunders

Aaah, summer – that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It’s a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends.

Darrell Hammond.