My Nose to the Grindstone and I’m Happy

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A new term, a new student, and returnees – the first day of the Writing for Pleasure Class at Mordialloc pure joy!

The above sign (doctored to suit the blog) necessary because the building works next door to the House still evident, and in fact there doesn’t seem much progress since before the holidays – although I’m sure there will be people more knowledgeable than me who will tell me that digging a big hole takes time.

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December 5, 2016
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January 30, 2017

The next photograph may show the extent of the ‘big hole’ better… and here is a link to my blog in October last year when the excavation started.

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The redevelopment of the block for apartments will take time – a good metaphor for many writing projects. A novel will take more time to write than a short story, an autobiography will be longer than a memoir – and whatever the writing project it will be better if you include learning the craft of writing techniques and understanding genres and your audience.

The seeming lack of progress could also be a metaphor for my personal enthusiasm for writing hitting the doldrums.

Passion, Purpose and Persistence.

This is what we learn and practise in class. And what we need to make sure we actually write!

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We support and encourage each other. Writing is perhaps the loneliest of all professions. Attending a class or workshopping with other writers who understand the desire and need to write, helps keep you motivated and focused.

Becoming a writer is a choice that can be satisfying, rewarding, and fulfil your needs or let you plummet the depths of despair, suffer chronic indecision, and crush your self-esteem!

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It is good to be around people who care and who understand the joys – and the dread – “what if people won’t like what I write or won’t read it?”

Writing takes courage.

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I had a long list of what I was going to achieve during the holidays – especially regarding writing projects.

However, the summer was hot and I seemed to be constantly clearing out accumulated clutter (who said we were going to be a paperless society?).

I caught up with friends and family, but mercurial Melbourne’s climate gave the garden a growth spurt unusual for this time of year which translated into extra weeding and tree branch trimming.

I spent hours researching and planning my big holiday next term on the Trans-Siberian Railway and visiting the UK; I read some delightful books, watched movies, made my daughter some clothes and became obsessed and saddened by the rise of Trump and the decline in compassion for others less fortunate …

In other words, I found any excuse not to keep up that very important mantra I recite to my students – write every day!

I even contemplated throwing in the towel and never writing anything again because nothing I have written seemed substantial.

I wasn’t making any headway with writing projects and I struggled to remain positive about what I wanted to write.  Who was my audience? Why would anyone read my short story, poem, novel, memoir?

Even as I began to write and get published, I hesitated to call myself a writer. There always seemed to be yet another goal to achieve before I could do so.

Real writers wrote novels; I wrote reviews of novels. Real writers published work in magazines you held in your hand; I published pieces online. Real writers made a living as a writer; I had a day job. Whatever I did, it was never enough, in my eyes. I had the arrogance to think that readers would care about what I had to say—the audacity to put fingers to keyboard in the first place—but not enough to say “I’m a writer.” That’s what some might call irony.

Everyone has bouts of impostor syndrome. But in a field that demands attention to meaning and nuance, using the word “writer” can be especially fraught—particularly for those of us who toil away without a bestseller or a byline or an agent. Of all the words I’ve written, “writer” has given me the most trouble.

JESSICA ALLEN

I realised I need to return to work and be in the company of others who care about words.

I’m happy to cultivate the all-important habit of writing every day.

Over the holidays, I discovered that more free time didn’t automatically mean I used that time to write. In fact, I did everything but write, was easily distracted by social media among other things, and in a perverse way welcomed the distractions, yet I’ve never been a procrastinator!

I was experiencing a massive crisis of confidence.

Rummaging through old notebooks and files, I found poems written years ago and snatches of stories. Many written before I started teaching and before I had anything of note published. Pieces I’d written when all I wanted to do was write and scribbled incessantly wherever I went.

A Meditative Walk – January 1, 1995

Mairi Neil

I hurry from the house upset
leaving the sibling rivalry,
the squabbling over toys –
the cross words…
Relaxed in bed, John solves
the crossword in The Age
he is on holiday–

do mothers holiday?

Too late for church services
I march towards the foreshore
and despite a recalcitrant summer
the beach park busy as a carnival
with children amusing themselves,
adults reminiscing the old year

perhaps airing hopes for the new.

Aware of the gloomy grey sky,
I stride towards the beckoning water
to meet a sea matching my mood –
tempestuous waves spewing shells,
seaweed, and driftwood…
white rollers leapfrogging ashore with
gulped plastic flotsam before
carrying our society’s junk seawards.

Humanity the beast amidst wild beauty…

I ponder poisoned fish
trudge amid food wrappers, bottles, cans,
plastic bags skittering along the sand,
to stink, smother, and spoil…
a discarded thong and wind-cheater
evidence of last night’s revellers

welcoming a new year with old habits.

The environment taken for granted
as the sea whispers and whooshes
the waves crashing to a breathless pause
before the wind reinvigorates the tide
edging ashore,
racing the shadow
of a cloud cauldron on the horizon,
a witches brew conjuring

a change for unpredictable Melbourne.

The wind lessens, my tread lightens,
the threatened storm dissipates
along with resentment and anger–
the sea is rolling, not turbulent
transformed clouds wisps of steam
the sun’s warmth soothing
the wind a refreshing breeze
and shells crunch underfoot.

A glistening treasure trove –

shells for Anne, some for Mary Jane
pockets bulging I hurry home
greeting fellow fossickers with a smile
a lone jogger pounds the sand,
an elderly couple strolls arm in arm,
an excited family cradles surfboards
braving the water with wetsuits and grins

the community enjoying the holiday.

A tantalising smell of sizzling sausages
drifts from the park as families picnic…
tiredness and tetchiness gone
I’m hungry to share my happiness
find the girls repentant and worried
John apologetic and dressed
keen to please and make amends–
we return to walk along the beach.

Shifting sands adapting to change

the children build a sandcastle
relaxing we watch the tide
mesmerised by the sea’s song
cricket and news on the radio ignored
the girls’ laughter infectious
echoing our childhood trips to the seaside
can contentment be personified?

I write down thoughts, memories, images…
a new year unfolds.

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I need to rediscover that joy and spontaneity.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of work – privileged to be doing something I love. Maybe my body and brain just needed a rest – I certainly felt exhausted at the end of the year.

If you want to be inspired and motivated, learn to structure sentences for different audiences, satisfy a creative urge to make up stories, or just record your life in a poetic way –  join me at Mordialloc, Longbeach Place or Bentleigh – or head down to wherever you can find writing classes in your neighbourhood.

I guarantee there’ll be fun and friendship too.

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Who Will Be In The Class of 2017?

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Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

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

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

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

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

And the practice apparently has proven health benefits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Degrees of Separation – 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandybeach To Mordialloc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction to the Class of ’05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Here We Come

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

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

Laura Leigh Clarke

 

Change Is Indeed Constant

 

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Tori’s parting gift to the class

 

Yesterday, a milestone in the Monday class, we farewelled Tori Dowd who has been attending for over a decade. Tori is what you would call ‘a personality’ or  ‘memorable character’ (we are writers after all!) – and she will be missed.

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Tori and me

Tori wrote us a thank you letter plus a card and gave us chocolates. Her mother, Lyn visited with lovely flowers to say thank you and goodbye. Niceties and kindness not everyone remembers and it was truly appreciated.

Lyn wrote:

Thank you to you very special people, Tori’s friends, who have been so inclusive of her at Writing For Pleasure.

To the staff at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House – thank you, one and all. Tori has been welcomed for many years.

With my love and thanks.

Lyn

 Ta Ta Tori
Mairi Neil

A sad Monday Class, farewelling Tori
Admin say the beginning was 2006
Tori a fixture from February to December
A decade of individuality in our midst.

Her wheelchair’s special controls
Enabled whizzing around the room
Two favourites were Barb and Kay
Between them Tori could zoom.

Each Monday, she arrived by special taxi
Most days a grin upon her face
Her greeting “a cup of coffee please”
The other students fetched with grace.

 

Tori’s special loves: her pet dog, Mimi
Watching romance on her bedroom TV
And we’ll remember her sweet tooth
How she looked forward to morning tea!

Chocolate being her favourite food
A love the rest of us also shared
Birthdays celebrated with gusto
Special cakes made because we cared.

But ‘all good things come to an end
Tori’s future safeguarded by sharing
Mother Lyn organised a move to Sydney
Where brothers will help with caring.

Future Mondays will feel strange
No yellow taxi stopping outside
No smiling drivers in coloured turbans
Strong hands the wheelchair’s guide

No teasing about forgotten homework
No whispered, ‘Mairi what can I write?’
No exclamations to Heather or Barbara
Or squeezing hands with all her might.

The dynamics of Mondays will be different
But with prompting poised pens will move
Poems and stories imagined and shared
Writing class mojo continues to groove!

 

Memories To Cherish

Each year as we published class anthologies, Tori contributed her writing, her words a wonderful reminder of who she was and her time with us in class. Although Tori could hold a pen, writing took great physical effort.

However, she was an example, not of disability but making the most of abilities.

Her time with us a reminder of our diversity, the richness it adds to daily life, and the fantastic safe spaces provided in community houses where all adult learners are welcomed to ‘write for pleasure and publication’.

 

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Tori has left her address and so we will now be pen friends in the old fashioned way – Australia Post can expect to be busy!

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Mondayitis or Monday ‘it’s us’

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Mondays, the start of the working week for most people and the school or university week for students. If you’ve been lucky to have an exciting or relaxing weekend, perhaps a glimpse of freedom from the shackles of timetables, it can be hard to get motivated to ‘rise and shine’ as my father used to sing.

Not only did Dad sing, but he’d put on a pipe band record at full blast, grab a mop or brush as his baton and transform into a  drum master leading his troops, albeit from bedrooms to breakfast table!

Along with my five siblings, I did rise ( not sure about the shine) and we’d follow him down the hallway tousled-haired and pyjama-clad into the kitchen to be greeted by the smell of toast and tea.

Mercifully, the massed pipes and drums of the Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Cameron Highlanders or any number of records from Dad’s collection would then be silenced.

Mondayitis never tolerated in our household – the ‘Protestant work ethic’ inculcated at an early age. Self-inflicted pain from youthful excess and late nights not an excuse for missing school or work.

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Yet Mondayitis is real, like the blues, and if you have a boring or depressing job, or the weather is cold and wet and the bed is warm, or there are a thousand distractions and reasons for staying home – going to the park, meeting up with friends, lying on the beach, curling up with a book… just Life with a capital L – the odd bout of Mondayitis can rejuvenate a jaded spirit.

But it can become a habit.  One of my brother’s high school mates actually thought the teachers wouldn’t notice a pattern to his absenteeism!

However, If you are fortunate to be free of permanent work and study commitments, and have a choice as to how you spend your week,  joining a club, group or class and having an enjoyable activity to look forward to does help. It is even part of a suggested  plan to cure Mondayitis!

As mentioned in other posts, you know the activity I recommend is a creative writing class.

“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”

 Amy Tan

This term at Mordialloc Neighbourhood we’ve had some fun changing the format. Many of my students have been coming for years to the Writing for Pleasure & Publication classes, which keeps me on my toes. There can be no repeat lessons.

So borrowing  cards my daughter made for her Diploma of Art Therapy, we do some flash fiction to start the lesson. An extra writing task added to activate the brain cells.

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Imagination, Ideas, Invention … I’m sounding a little like an Aussie politician at election time but three-word slogans aside – I try to make sure each class is as interesting and inspiring as possible.

I’m always looking for new ways to approach writing and encourage the pens to move.

There is a set lesson but choosing a random card and writing for ten minutes on whatever the picture triggers has produced entertaining and touching vignettes and the potential for some great stories.cards-for-prompts

Dennis chose the Batman card and wrote a witty dialogue between Bruce Wayne aka Batman and a new franchisee in Australia, Dingo Man! Needless to say, there were roars of laughter as he read his piece.

We had emotional memories of family and personal trauma, imaginative mysteries, childhood dreams, poems and essays.  A popular card is Shakespeare’s observation that All The World’s A Stage. It prompts interesting reflections.

I chose a card with a short verse and what looks like Jack climbing a beanstalk – perhaps the picture was intended as a metaphor for the words:

After Zen, Pick Up A Pen
Mairi Neil

‘Into the woods to get my wish
I don’t care how the time is now…’

What is my wish? I ask my heart
A jet flies overhead, I want to depart.
I want to fly – or is it flee?
To be somewhere else, to be really me.

Perhaps live in a cottage, grow veggies galore
Crimson roses climb to frame the door
The sound of the sea a whisper away
Soft sand or pebble beach, to walk each day.

No Internet to distract, banish TV too
Windows to Mother Nature will do.
Imagination unfiltered, pen unfettered
Past, present, and future, stories checkered.

Flowing words and thoughts, false or true
My mojo needs a seismic shift to renew.
But is there a need for woods, or fleeing by air?
Perhaps wishes come true from … anywhere.

I’ll make the time now – seize the day
Harness the words and what I want to say.
If positive encouragement rings in my ears
Dreams can be enough to banish fears!

I’ll take a notepad and pencil, or pen
Seek other dreamers with a writing yen
To say with words what drives the heart
I’ll join a writing class, no need to depart!

The last verse I added at home -a bit of advertising or perhaps convincing myself yearning can be suppressed!  I was putting into words my desire to return to Scotland – a dream I’ve nurtured for a long time.

Another piece of writing to come out of Monday class was in response to events next door to the neighborhood house.

Construction sites a constant in Mordialloc as so many houses are pulled down to be replaced with apartments or townhouses – even when houses have been renovated, as was the case with this house.

Farewell No 459 Main Street, Mordialloc
Mairi Neil

Monday morning
First day of term
A scene of devastation,
Dust swirling in the air
The chomp of a front end loader
Crunching bricks
Smashing tiles
Splintering wood
Demolition next door…
The hum of machines
An unwelcome background noise
As the classroom shakes
With the vibration of diggers
In moments the building flattened
A home – gone
A dream – forgotten
Years of living, loving,
Arguing, playing,
Holidaying, working
Birthing, dying
Reduced to dust motes
Lost in the wind
Continuous clattering, splattering
Crunching, munching
Clanging, banging
Until dump trucks cart away
history…
From the rubble
And mounds of soil
A family of mice
Scurry under the fence
Two ravens circle and swoop
To pick over the carcass
The silence deafening.

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Sadly, development is not always in the best interests of the community. This one, in particular, may well lead to the end of my class because those with disabilities struggle to access the house.

Once multiple units are built the few parking spaces in front of the community house will be reduced and those with walkers and walking sticks will not be able to walk the extra distance required.

Already one of my students arrives an hour before class begins to get one of the few disabled parking spots. Now that’s dedication!

Parking always at a premium will be almost non-existent as building works progress, roads are partially blocked, tradesmen park nearby, and more people compete for limited spaces.

Mondayitis will be the least of our problems!

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Life Doesn’t Have to Be A Gamble

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I don’t consider myself a wowser but have to admit to disquiet about where we are heading as a nation regarding gambling after a recent report ranks Australia among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

In the past, I’ve smiled at the jokes about Australians having a public holiday for a horse race when the Melbourne Cup is discussed.

I’ve bet on the Cup, bought Tattslotto and raffle tickets, and once when visiting my sister in Albury, even put a complimentary $2.00 in 5cent coins through a machine at their local League Club in an attempt to ‘join in the fun’.

That evening I had to beg my sister to take over my machine because I got bored – each time I thought I’d finished feeding the coins I’d win just enough to keep going! I honestly can’t see the attraction of pokie machines, yet poker machines still account for more than half of all gambling losses in Australia.

Here is an article from our local paper this month:

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The trend is similar in other cities, where disadvantaged suburbs are delivering the biggest returns to the operators of pokies venues.

On a Monday morning, as we sit writing our stories in the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House there is a steady stream of punters going into gamble at the hotel across the Nepean Highway, now named Mordy HQ, although previously called the Kingston Club.

View from the Window

Mairi Neil

The grey monolith of the Kingston Club dominates the streetscape
Seen through the green curtain of trembling palms, the bleakness softens.
Green and yellow flapping fronds a distraction from concrete geometry.
The garden bed of emerald bushes comforts the dull red leaves of the coprosma
dying under the weight of winter. Tiny shoots peek from the tanbark,
promising spring. I imagine white lilies and yellow daffodils dancing.
Still secreted beneath the soil, other seeds prepare for Mother Nature’s show,
Trained to perfection they absorb today’s bright sunshine.A rainbow line of cars gleam, duco washed and polished by weekend rain.
Last night’s downpour, a cleansing river whisking dusty debris, and leaf litter
Into the drains, to be carried to the sea and discharged into the bay
Fired like a cannonball from the stormwater pipe at Mentone.
A woman walks by, head bowed, hands thrust in jacket pockets.
A mother wheels a stroller down the ramp, her smiling toddler eager to play.
Pens scratch as we listen to meditative music of winter sounds in the writing class
Outside sunshine and serenity belies drumrolls of thunder and crashing cymbals.Beyond the window, I imagine the sea. A calm mirror today, wavelets daintily
Tripping to the foreshore. Dog walkers stroll, children shovel sand and laugh
Beachcombers search for abandoned treasure after hundreds of weekend visitors
Tourists, high-spirited revellers, and locals caught in metal detectors’ sweep.
The gamblers and lonely misfits in the grey monolith hope for luck too
Not by the blue sea, nor breathing fresh air, or soaking in the warmth of the sun.
Caught in the magnetic attraction of gaming machines they do not see
Dappled sunshine dancing on the window pane, or the palm trees tremble.

 

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Australia is ranked among the world’s biggest gambling nations.

Dr Piers Howe, a cognitive scientist at the University of Melbourne, believes Australians are among the heaviest punters on the planet on a per capita basis and are probably the biggest.

Our nation’s gambling addiction has deepened with average net losses borne by each adult member of the population climbing to $1242 in 2015.

New national data published by the Queensland government this month shows that total net losses rose 7.7 per cent to $22.73 billion in the 12 months to the end of June last year, driven by massive growth in online sports betting and casino gaming.

New South Wales is the country’s biggest consumer market for gambling, with average losses per head of population rising more than $100 to $1517.

Victoria was the second-highest gambling state with per capita losses rising by around $85 to $1250, although gamblers burnt cash at a slower rate than their NSW counterparts.

 

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The biggest beneficiaries from our national fixation are big ASX-listed gaming and casino operators and the state governments.

  • James Packer’s listed casino business, Crown Resorts, raked in a net profit of more than $400 million for the year to the end of June, on the back of solid returns from flagship casinos in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
  • Packer also owns the local operations of online sports gaming provider Betfair, which is benefitting from the digital gambling boom.
  • Woolworths is another big winner through its hotel joint venture with national pokies king, Bruce Mathieson.

“It’s easy to look at the release of these figures today as just statistics but let’s not forget that every dollar of ‘gambling expenditure’ comes from a real person and much of this from problem gamblers.”

Tasmanian independent MP Senator Andrew Wilkie

Crowning Glory
Mairi Neil

A glittering palace to mankind’s ingenuity
Or a concrete prison to addiction?
A private playground for the rich list,
Convenient bank for money launderers,
Or harmless escapism to chase Lady Luck?
The foyer a curiosity for snap-happy tourists,
Their wondrous delight as cameras flash
And children stare at magic ceilings
While colourful water fountains dance
To Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Verdi…

Beyond smooth marble surfaces,
Polished wood and gleaming brass,
The alluring world of gaming machines hums.
Amid baize Roulette and Black Jack tables
Serviced by smiling seductive croupiers,
Homes are lost, marriages disintegrate,
Unfettered,the leviathan shatters youthful dreams.
In private rooms high rollers
Win what they can afford to lose…

This is a place for saviours to seek sinners.
Priests have intoned ‘the poor are always with us’
As cries of ‘Bingo’ echo in church halls and
School fetes spin wheels to fund libraries.
Government coffers bulge and the
Community Benefit Tax manipulated ––
Everyone celebrates Cup Day and
Glue-stick legs and arms clamp onto the
2,500 metal machines hidden behind glitzy walls…

The cry of a child in the carpark
Bounces off Commodores and shiny Volvos;
Smothered between Land Rovers and limousines,
Jaded Mazdas, new Toyotas, ancient Fords.
Trembling hands swipe plastic cards ignoring
Mobile phone vibrations and merry ringtones
Self-control buried behind pale faces.
Glazed eyes focus with burning intensity
On spinning numbers and gaudy symbols;
Dry lips pray for luck
To a God abandoned long ago…

Security guards turf tipsy losers
Onto Southbank’s smooth walkways.
At the mercy of loutish thugs they
Stumble home to suburbia, seeking courage to
Face frantic family or exhaust-fumed garage  –
Perhaps Gamblers’ Anonymous?
The Yarra River reflects Melbourne’s progress
But at night this River Styx absorbs
The tears of the disadvantaged and
Washes away the writing on the wall.

Each night the news is full of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, jobless… and although maths has never been my forte you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how much better off society would be if we could get the nation’s addiction under control. If the casino and hotel owners thought of people before profits, and if social programs worked to entice people away from self-destructive behaviour.

A lot of ifs and buts in that dream…

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“As gambling becomes more popular it has less of a social stigma and it might be that social norms around gambling have made it more acceptable.”

I guess what we need to do is change behaviour and in some cases cultural norms. As usual, this must start in childhood – children learn what they live! Here is a modern nursery rhyme from my book of Nutty Nursery Rhymes:

Little Miss Honey
Lost all her money
Down at Crown Casino
She found being broke
Wasn’t a joke
Oh, how her tears did flow!

Little Miss Honey
Went to the bank
To ask for a housing loan
The bank manager said, ‘No,
To the Casino don’t go,
Gambling we won’t condone!’

In this episode of Not for Podcast, by Pro Bono Australia news, special contributor Rachel Alembakis, founder and publisher of The Sustainability Report, follows a group of responsible investors, consumer rights advocates and financial counsellors who are campaigning to get the major banks to cut the credit. Online gambling is under the microscope and discredited.

 

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A Hall Full of Harmony

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Harmony Day is a celebration of Australia’s cultural diversity held each year on 21 March.

On Sunday, I was fortunate to take part in a Harmony Day celebration organised by Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. Billed as ‘A Taste of the World‘ and supported financially by the City of Kingston, the event involved displays and performances from a variety of cultural traditions. There was food, music, and dance by immigrants who now call Australia home and homegrown poetry and song.

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Harmony Day is held every year on 21 March to coincide with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message of Harmony Day is everyone belongs. It’s a day to celebrate Australia’s diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

  • around 45 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was
  • 85 per cent of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia
  • apart from English the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Vietnamese, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish and Hindi
  • more than 60 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia
  • 92 per cent of Australians feel a great sense of belonging to our country.

These facts are taken from ABS 2011 Census Data

About 30 per cent of Kingston’s population was born overseas, with 22 per cent from non-English speaking backgrounds including Vietnamese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Greek, Italian and Chinese societies.

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Lisa Sun, the manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and many of the staff were ably supported by volunteers, including Gabrielle Fakhri who was a magnificent MC as always. Gabrielle travels an hour and a half from the other side of Melbourne to support Mordialloc Neighbourhood House’s multicultural activities.

This is the second year for a Harmony Day celebration and there were a greater number of performers and a much larger audience proving indeed that

From little things big things grow


From little things big things grow

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

The local MP, Tim Richardson and also Councillors Geoff Gledhill and Rosemary West OAM attended to show their support with Tim and Geoff presenting raffle prizes. Our elected representatives moving between several events in other parts of the city and left to attend even more.  A great effort that should be acknowledged!

As Tim mentions on his Facebook page:

Incredibly the more than 150,000 residents in the City of Kingston come from 150 different nationalities and heritages, speaking more than 120 languages. Our cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths in Melbourne, whether it is the celebration of the arts, food, creative arts, culture or history.

Local businesses donated prizes and I was lucky to win an organic facial from Endota Spa Mordialloc. Perhaps I channelled the luck of the Irish (thank you Mum) it being so soon after St Patrick’s Day because I rarely win anything.

Jaden Williams, the grandson of Boon Wurrung elder Carolyn Briggs offered Welcome to Country. As first people of the bay areas Boon Wurrung are proud  to share the history of their people and offer insights into their culture.

The opening act for the afternoon was the spectacular Lion Dance by The Hong De Lion Dance Association  formed in April 2008 by a group of passionate lion dancers with the aim to teach and promote the art to the community. The Hong De Lion Dance Association is a member of the International Hong Teck Association. The instructors have over 20 years experience in the art of the Chinese lion dance.

The next contribution came from Vivace Voices, one of the choirs at Kingston U3A. The choir was formed 12 years ago and has an extensive repertoire performing at concerts in various venues.

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The Pilipino group P.E.A.S.E.R., (Pilipino Elderly Association of South East Region) a voluntary senior citizens group founded in 1993 to assist elderly Pilipinos and their families had a strong presence and entertained a delighted audience with singing and dancing. They also had a well-stocked stall. The group was recognised for community volunteer work by Premier Steve Bracks in the International Year of Volunteers 2001, received Victoria’s Award for Excellence in Multicultural Affairs for Meritorious Service in the Community in 2004, and on Australia Day 2006 they were the City of Kingston’s Community Group of the Year:

… for making its own unique contribution to the broader community while still keeping the Pilipino cultural heritage alive.

Over the years P.E.A.S.E.R. has focused on the broader community.

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After the Pilipino Group, Vanessa Fraser sent the blood pressure of some of the audience sky high and had the rest of us in awe at her belly dancing expertise, energy and how easy she made it look! An absolutely stunning performance of a dance with origins in the Indian sub-continent, Middle East, Mediterranean and northeastern Africa.

We then had the first of several traditional dances by the Kingston Chinese Senior Citizens Club Inc. There was also an instrumental solo of a traditional Chinese instrument like a flute, a difficult instrument to master.

The upbeat dance music had toes tapping and hands clapping and the sound engineer and myself even had a jig. The joy, enthusiasm and desired harmony in the room palpable.

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When it was time for me to read some poetry and acknowledge the power and flexibility of the English language to contribute to harmony and diversity I had many hard acts to follow!

However, words can acknowledge and celebrate our humanity, our differences, our similarities, our needs, our sadness and happiness… and have the power to engage, encourage deeper understanding and appreciation of each other and events, even incite change…

I read three of my own poems:  a haiku, a short poem about asylum seekers, the acrostic poem Words Words Are All I Have and finished with the wonderful poem Unity by aboriginal poet/ author/ artist Kevin Gilbert.

Ningla a-Na! This our land
Indigenous and immigrant
Now sharing history

Seeking Asylum

Despair and desperation in their eyes
they plan to seek a new life
as far away as possible from strife

Seeking a safe haven is the prize
perhaps leaving behind children and wife
despair and desperation in their eyes

For many it may take several tries

Living on the edge of a knife
their only crime seeking a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes.

 

Words Are All I Have

Words are my business
Often they flow, or stay sealed like a time capsule
Remembering, imagining, creating, forgetting…
Depending on mood, knowledge, skill… the dictionary
So they can colour the page: language, meaning, interpretation… frustration

Why does the sentence not work
Or the words engage? Where’s the impact?
Rambling, nothing of substance… stuttering
Don’t start… don’t stop… less is more… Oh, decisions!
Structure? Be sensible, sensitive, sarcastic, serious, succinct, smart, strong

Alliteration can work
Repetition a crafty tool. Pizzaz needed
Especially metaphor and simile

Am I mad?
Losing it?
Laughing, crying, anxious, arrogant, scared… confident…

I squeeze the words from the pen

Hammer the keyboard
And shape the words and worlds to
Vindicate the term ‘writer’
End of story!

Unity by Kevin Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

Mairi Neil _n
Yours truly

We then watched a riveting performance of Korean drumming by Mordialloc’s St Brigid’s Primary School . Later, the teacher told me that next year they will also have Korean dance. How lucky  to have access to another culture this way from an experienced teacher and to see the children embrace it so enthusiastically!

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The local Aumsai Sansthen Temple again supported the event and the children gave us the delights of Bollywood, the three-year-old girl setting maternal and paternal hearts aflutter.

After the planned performances finished there were a range of activities to see and do encouraging people to move out of their comfort zone and dabble in diversity: Dressing up in Egyptian costumes and having a photograph with pharaoh, sipping Eritrean coffee, making Chinese lanterns, having a henna tattoo, face painted, tasting delightful delicacies, receiving a balloon animal, and joining in the singsong around the piano.

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There is so much to do in Melbourne every weekend, the March calendar particularly crowded with Moomba, the Labour Day weekend, the Grand Prix and of course this year Palm Sunday and Easter.

I had choices to make too  regarding ‘where to go’ but was thrilled to be part of this lively celebration of multiculturalism. What better way to promote harmony and acceptance  of our diversity than ‘A Taste of the World’ in your own backyard.

For me, it was also a chance to share my thoughts.To remind everyone that we all came from ‘somewhere else’ to this great country and yet the first people still welcome us although we invaded their land. What generosity of spirit to have and encourage.

While we celebrated, laughed and sang, thousands of others marched through Melbourne’s streets asking our political leaders to have a more humane approach to the refugee crisis engulfing the globe.

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Harmony Day in Mordialloc an example of the richness other cultures bring to an already talented community. Long may we continue to celebrate diversity and work to spread that welcoming and inclusiveness.

I look forward to a bigger and better bash next year.

Well done to  Mordialloc Neighbourhood House for initiating this event.

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Monday, Monday, So Good to Me…

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Today, I celebrated my last lesson for 2015 and it was with the class I have been teaching the longest – the Writing for Pleasure and Publication class, Monday mornings at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. As I write this, I listen to a favourite song from one of my favourite groups from the 70s – Monday, Monday by the Mamas and Papas.

This poem by a student has captured our Mondays well:

Monday
Heather Yourn

Monday grinned happily
Another fun morning ahead
with happy Mordy writers
splurging to music before
gentle teasing and laughter.
Chatting over morning tea
Then homework proffered hesitantly
unaware of their talent.
Monday wished those 2 1⁄2 hours
Could last all day

A hint of sadness tinged the air this Monday, because Amelia, a longtime student couldn’t attend. Health problems for the 86 year old beginning to affect her mental and physical capabilities and there is doubt about her attendance next year.

Sadly, times are changing for some of the others in the class, although we all put on a brave face.

Monday Class Xmas 2015

Tori will be leaving us next March after coming to the class for 15 years, starting when she was 20 years old. Her mother, Lyn made a special effort to visit today and share their plans for the future, which includes a move interstate. I compile annual anthologies for all my classes and surprisingly this year, Tori produced more work than she usually does – serendipity or synchronicity??

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At 35 years of age with multiple disabilities, Tori now needs a special machine at night to ensure her lungs and heart keep working while she is asleep. Lyn, who is an activist in the disability sector explained it is time  to put ‘succession plans’ into action.

She has been a sole carer for the last three and a half decades, and aware of the possibility of future health problems (she broke her ankle last year and it took 6 months to heal) she is working with her two sons and daughter who live interstate to renovate a house for herself and Tori.

Lyn gave us a large box of Lindt chocolates (yummy, yummy!) to share and a Christmas card, Tori had written. They both wanted to explain how important the writing class has been to their quality of life.

We are writers, but also a ‘family’ and have shared personal sorrows and joys, failures and triumphs. Most importantly we share a lot of fun and laughter. We were all touched to hear what a difference Mondays have made to Tori and I know Mondays won’t be the same without her.

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Various people have come and gone from the Monday class, but the people there this morning have been together many years. Even Michael, a relative newcomer has been attending for three years.

He came not long after his car accident and ABI (acquired brain injury). I remember his first day when he only managed to write four lines and had no idea about email or computers. Now he is an accomplished writer, with poetry his favourite genre  published online!

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Michael filling out an evaluation form – that cheeky grin promises something unpredictable!

Michael is accompanied by a carer and over the years they have changed, but we’ve been impressed with their writing ability. The carers participate in the ‘splurge’, the 15 minute stream of consciousness writing to prompts at the start of each lesson. At first some were reluctant, but I insist the one label we all share in the room is ‘writer,’ and if you join us, you write!

Many delightful words and talented pieces uncovered/discovered when people just write without self-editing or over-thinking.

I’m not sure if Heather (87) and Ceinwen (95) will be back next year, although both absolutely love writing. Heather lives in Mornington (over 30 kilometres from Mordialloc) and picks up Ceinwen from her retirement village at Patterson Lakes (12 kilometres from Mordialloc) to bring her to class. Even with the freeway the couple of hours roundtrip is a big ask as the pair of them struggle with arthritis and failing eyesight. Hip and cataract operations the norm nowadays for people of ‘a certain age.’

If they do decide to have Mondays off I’ll miss Ceinwen’s delightful reminiscing of Wales and England and detailed observations of Australia.

The Colour Green
Ceinwen Watson

How I love to walk across
The meadowland and fields of green
Sit beside the babbling brook
Green moss clinging to the rocks.

How I love to walk
Through country lanes
Spy green caterpillars on dock leaves
Amongst green hedges

How I love to walk along
The dirt road to the village church
Ivy sprouting tiny green shoots
Around the old oak tree’s shaded leaves.

I look for the four-leaf clover
To place in my Bible
A green reminder to keep me safe
During the coming year.

The tall fir trees in the forest
Perfumed pine reminding me
Robin Hood and his merry green men
Merged with Sherwood Forest

Today, beside the shiny green-leaved
Palm trees circling the lake
I feel settled and joyful
The retirement village and me
Reflected as one in the water.

 

When Ceinwen cut the delicious Christmas cake she’d brought, it was accompanied by a whisper that it may be her last Christmas with the class. A bittersweet celebration indeed.

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However, worrying about the future took a back seat as we played The Storymatic six trillion stories in one little box – which one will you tell?

This writing game I picked up in a shop in St Kilda by pure chance. It can be ordered online, but for a considerable higher price than the $14.99, I paid.

I usually save it as a fun way to finish the term. The box of cards offer characters, themes, settings, plot twists and objects – you choose several cards and start writing. There are several wild cards too if you become stuck, but we’ve never had to use them.

The cards are  fantastic prompts that’ll have you writing stories out of the ordinary. The stories written today were amazing and amusing.Our selections listed below. Why not extend your imagination and see what happens?

  1. office worker, blind date, glasses, forgiveness, pet is behaving strangely, person locked out
  2. nurse,class reunion, overly large gift,reckless enthusiasm, this time its bound to work, person who’d been stood up
  3. logger, stranger in town, lucky underwear, confession, no place to hide, person who knows something other people don’t
  4. superstitious person, police investigation, stairs, birthday, not enough money, person who’ll do whatever it takes to pay the bills
  5. firebug, first night in new home, fear of getting old, something wrong with water, grandmother’s ashes, man with a tattoo
  6. bad driver, a time machine malfunctions, gun, at last, love, a rumour is going around town, a person who can’t remember an important word
  7. rescued child, woods, ice, stuck, sudden return of forgotten memory, person who can’t wait any longer

I guarantee the combinations found in the cards will help you move away from cliched stories!

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After we’d shared our masterpieces there was a ‘show and tell’ of sorts. Last week Ceinwen had written a story involving a character receiving a telegram. ‘What’s that?’ asked 23 year old Michael.

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A picture’s worth a thousand words and here is Ceinwen with a telegram received on her wedding day during WW2. Afterwards, her husband Arthur became a POW on the Burma Railroad and was considered missing for 18 months, so it’s not surprising Ceinwen treasured this keepsake reminding her of a happy day.

Ceinwen also brought in an autograph book she received for her 12th birthday to collect signatures of famous entertainers and others from her time in theatre before and during the war. When in the airforce she was seconded to the entertainment unit because of her singing and acting ability.

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We had to explain to Michael, Tori and Sanna who George Formby was and why the signatures and little verses in Ceinwen’s book were a precious reminder of a bygone era. There is a resurgence of ukulele playing with a large group meeting at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House so some of Formby’s routines may be popular again.

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Michael filling out an evaluation form – that cheeky grin promises something unpredictable!

 

Our writing classes so much more than just writing – the stories we share of our real life adding to our understanding and appreciation of each other and history!

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The verses in Ceinwen’s book:

 

A Tragedy
She frowned on him and called him mister
Because in fun he merely kissed her
And then in spite, the following night
The naughty mister, kissed her sister!

Beauty and wealth remain but for a day
But virtue lives for ever in the mind
In her alone true happiness we find.

The inner side of every cloud
Is bright and shining
I therefore turn my clouds about
And always wear them inside out,
To show their lining.

I’ve heard from two past students that they will be returning next year, and I’m hopeful that it is not the final class for some of those present today. However, whatever happens in the future, I’m blessed to have wonderful memories of Mondays at Mordy this year and in the past. Blessed and humbled to know the beautiful greetings for Christmas and the warm hugs are genuine and heartfelt.

To Mairi – A Sonnet
Heather Yourn
As we contemplate the ending of a year,
spent each Monday with a group of friends,
under the guidance of a mentor dear,
who to our writing, her mastery lends.
We wonder at the plethora of work
of poetry, prose and stories short
most serious, but some do cause a smirk
and others incomplete by error thwart.
We’re filled with gratitude and deference
to one who weekly spends many an hour
in preparation for a splurge or homework theme
her indebted pupils to empower.
Your encouragement, while oft we fail,
We do humbly with this sonnet hail.

To be the subject of a poem – in a form recently taught – how wonderful – ’Tis the season to be merry indeed!

 

Shining a Light and Celebrating Multicultural Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Mead,author and American cultural anthropologist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lucky door prizes winner

 

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

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

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Choreographer acknowledged

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Respect and Gender Equity To End Family Violence

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Earlier this year, Janice Munt, the former Member for Mordialloc, and now an advisor to the Hon Fiona Richardson MP, Minister for Women and the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, addressed the Southern Branch of the Union of Australian Women meeting at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House.

Although only June, a cold snap in mercurial Melbourne broke records. Winter already taking its toll on members’ health, but the chilly weather suited the topic as we gathered to hear a sobering, informative speech about family violence and what the current State Government is doing about this tragedy.

Janice’s introduction forthright, “this will not be a light and fluffy speech – rather a plethora of facts and information, particularly newly released statistics from police.”

She rightly referred to family violence as the “most pressing, urgent and pervasive scourge” our community faces. We are well beyond crisis point, “the system having failed too many women, too many children, too many families.” 

Fortunately, since the Andrews Government announced the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Minister and her team have been working like women possessed consulting and researching people and groups touched by family violence. The consultation includes the large chain of public authorities impacted by family violence: hospitals, courts, schools, and all associated departments.

Janice shared the following shocking statistics from the Victorian Police:

  • 68,134 family violence incidents attended by Victorian Police in 2014
  • Children were present at 34% of family violence incidents attended police in 2013-4
  • Family violence incidents have increased by 8% between 2013 and 2014.
  • Since 2010, family violence incidents have increased by 72%
  • In 2014,  29 family violence incident-related homicides recorded in Victoria.
  • In 2013-4, family violence incidents represented 41.7% of all crimes against the person offences in Victoria.
  • Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death and disability and ill health for Victorian women aged between 15 and 44 years.
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15 (25% of women compared to 14% of men).

Statistics for the City of Kingston (the local refuge for this area being the largest in Victoria) are just as frightening with the following recorded Family Violence offences:

2011:     865
2012:     1025
2013:     1229
2014:     1331
2015:     1297

The National Community Attitudes Survey of 2013 indicated that attitudes that justify, excuse and minimise violence against women persist in a significant proportion of our community.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 people believe a woman is partly responsible if she is sexually assaulted while drunk or affected by drugs
  • More than 1 in 5 think the violence is excused if the perpetrator later regrets it
  • Up to 1 in 5 believe there are circumstances where women bear some responsibility for the violence
  • Nearly 8 in 10 agree it’s hard to understand why women stay in a violent relationship

The same survey measured community attitudes towards gender equality:

  • Up to 1 in 4 believe women prefer a man to be in charge of a relationship
  • Up to 1 in 4 consider men make better political leaders than women
  • Up to 28% of Australians endorse attitudes supportive of male dominance of decision-making in relationships, a dynamic identified as a risk factor for violence against women and children

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In 2009, the annual cost to Victoria’s economy of violence against women and children was estimated at $3.4 billion.(An estimate based on the National cost of $13.6 billion!) This cost includes all the associated services: police, courts, hospitals, refuges, counselling, relocation, housing, interrupted employment and schooling.

In Australia, on average women suffer a 19% pay gap and as we heard from Robyn Dale at a previous meeting, this is rising.

Robyn was the Director of the Union Research Centre on Organisation and Technology. (URCOT, Participation, Research, Innovation.) In 2004-5, URCOT’s research examined the extent and causes of gender pay inequity in Victoria and identified some options for addressing the continuing pay differential between men and women.

Robyn concluded that Australia still has one of the most sex-segregated workplaces, with gender discrimination built into their DNA.  Before Workchoices, it was estimated it will take 73 years to close the gender gap and there have been no real gains since Workchoices. Women’s pay has stagnated.

Not surprisingly one of the main supporters of Workchoices was our recently deposed Prime Minister, Tony Abbott whose attitude to women was often questioned by the media:

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Finances are commonly used to exert dependence; therefore, women risk and fear homelessness and destitution if they leave the family home.

The National personal Safety Survey of 2012 indicated:

  • 1 in 3 (34%) of Australian women have experienced physical violence
  • 1 in 5 (19%) Australian women have experienced sexual violence
  • 403,200 women (aged over 18 years) experienced physical violence in the last 12 months
  • 102,400 women (aged over 18 years) experienced sexual violence in the last 12 months.
  • 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner
  • A woman is killed in Australia almost every week by a partner or ex-partner.

 Sadly, these statistics have not improved in 2015!

In 2013-14, Victorian women comprised over half (52.9%) of all victims of crimes against the person, 79.2% of sex (non-rape) offence victims and 90% of rape victims.

Female victims of crime against the person increased by 4% in 2013-14, whereas male victims decreased by 1.5% in the same period.

The increase in crimes against the person (females) since 2012-13 includes:

  • 6.8% increase in homicide
  • 3.4% increase in sexual assaults (non-rape)
  • 7.9% increase in rape
  • 4.2% increase in assaults
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced partner violence: 16.9% cf 4.5% men

The shocking statistic that an estimated 67% of women have NOT been in contact with the police after their most recent incident of physical assault by a male should alarm us all.

Plus the horrific statistic that 27% of women who present to the Royal Women’s Hospital are currently being abused by their partner, many for the first time while they are pregnant. Women are particularly vulnerable when they are pregnant!

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A recognition that gender inequality is the leading cause of violence against women – the evidence base developed by the Victorian Health Promotion in 2007 and supported by the World Health Organisation, underpins approaches to violence prevention by governments and agencies in Victoria and nationally.

Janice dispelled some of the myths and misunderstandings about family violence by explaining:

  • It is women and children who bear the heaviest burden and it is men who are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Women are usually the victims, many of the statistics for men come from same-sex relationships. Pets are at risk too!
  • Gender inequality and poor gender stereotypes are the fundamental drivers of family violence. Countries (particularly Scandinavia and Northern Europe) with greater equality have fewer rates of family violence.
  • Victims don’t leave because they are fearful of the lives of themselves and their children. Statistically they are at the most risk when they leave a relationship.
  • We need to ask why the perpetrator is not held to account, what will be done to stop causing the harm, and if behaviour doesn’t change then, he should leave.
  • Family violence thrives under a cloud of shame and secrecy – it needs a bright light like the spotlight being shone on the RC church and its abuse of children. We must believe, not blame the victim!
  • The tragic death of a woman at the hands of her partner needs to treated in the same way as the tragic death at the hands of a stranger – it is murder.
  • Our societal attitudes towards women and children and our cultural attitudes towards violence contribute to our national shame. Our culture must change, not just the laws.

We all have a role – not just those who suffer or have suffered.

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The Andrews Government has put in place the Royal Commission to conduct a root and branch examination of our system. There is $40 million, set aside to hear from victims and service providers and a commitment to implement all recommendations. Already hundreds of people and organisations have put in submissions and Janice encouraged those present to do so or spread the word to others.

Extra emergency funding has been made available for duty lawyers, children’s counsellors, crisis accommodation and transport, service providers, crisis lines and support agencies. A Family Violence Index has been announced working like the Consumer Price Index.

All indicators for examination: police reports, hospital admission reports, impact on children from education reports, data about homelessness, court costs, working days lost, police referrals to family violence services, and the variation of community attitudes to family violence.

A baseline established of the real cost to the Victorian economy and ministers can go to Treasury and get funding for the relevant programmes.

The cause of family violence is a bad attitude towards women and support of gender inequality. When males treat females as inferior, or limit their capacity to live their lives the way they choose, it encourages some men to bully, using physical power to dominate and control.

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There is hope the royal commission will encourage the resourcing of a  world class prevention system in Victoria to stop family violence.

  • There’s been an 82% increase in family violence since 2010, but the data based on crime statistics offers an incomplete picture
  • High-risk groups(Aboriginal, rural, CALD) are not receiving the necessary services
  • The cost nationally anticipated to be $15.6 billion by 2021
  • Family violence a factor in 50% of substantiated child protection cases
  • Family violence connected to 35% of homelessness services
  • Family violence is 40% of Victoria Police’s work in crimes against a person
  • 284% increase in intervention order breach cases in courts over three years.

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Already these ten gaps identified:

  1. Poor data collection of the scale and breadth of the problem
  2. Lack of consistent and sufficiently resourced prevention frameworks and programs
  3. Limited understanding of the short and long-term impact on children and youth
  4. Poorly resourced and underinvestment in responses as demand for services grows
  5. Inconsistent and poorly tailored responses for high-risk groups and specific cohorts, including failure to be culturally responsive
  6. Weak legal consequences failing to hold perpetrators to account
  7. An inaccessible and complex justice system; victims don’t always feel safe
  8. Lack of integrated response model; insufficiently robust governance structures
  9. Barriers to sharing information
  10. Challenges to working with the Commonwealth Government

The Federal Government spent $30 million on an advertising campaign and wanted half of that from Victoria, but the Andrews Government’s Royal Commission will ultimately be of more benefit.

The needs are:

  • Talking about issues and solutions and changing attitudes
  • Integrated services, and better training for those responding, effective governance making systematic use of data to support decision making, sharing information to support early intervention, crisis response and perpetrator accountability
  • A one-stop “shop” for victims with access to multi-disciplinary professionals and services – strengthening and rolling out conventional risk assessment tools – an entire workforce in family violence system trained to identify and manage risk in a similar ways
  • Reform of court system so victim and perpetrator don’t use same door, same waiting area – innovative justice actively avoiding the re-traumatisation of victims
  • Affordable housing, with public and private, strategies for emergency accommodation. Victims must be able to leave violent situations quickly. Opportunities to use legislation to ensure third party organisations overlay their hardship criteria and policies with a family violence lens
  • Make perpetrators more visible and accountable, have early intervention strategies that converge policing, health and legal services for perpetrators. Strengthen and follow-up compliance with orders
  • Shine a light on bureaucrats, professionals must lay cards on the table and ensure responses are not public servants covering their arse
  • A whole new approach, not just more money and resources – a whole of government family violence education agenda. An integrated community care model with high-quality specialist family violence expertise
  • Good decent men have to speak up and challenge the misbehaviour and bad attitudes of other men in their circle – community education program for prevention – schools, workplaces, health centres, community sports centres
  • Acknowledgement of the spectrum of disrespect for women and that discriminatory societies breed family violence

No more defending the status quo!

The Government’s aware this is not working and will refuse to shy away from the problem – a bright light will be shone, and solutions found. The Royal Commission’s task to provide practical recommendations to overcome failures in the system.

  • Gaps addressed and opportunities to improve seized
  • Currently, the focus is on response to victims, not enough on holding perpetrators accountable and stopping them repeating violence
  • Focus now on the legal lens – but the impact is often to compound pain, trauma and fear
  • Currently, not using technology to its fullest capacity (warning systems, like mobile phone Apps etc.)
  • More needs to be done to free victims financially and lessen the impact of bureaucracy
  • Delivery of a tailored response
  • Currently, victims bearing the burden of complex system – ease of navigation must be improved
  • Need to mobilise the many loving, decent men to change collective behaviour
  • Educate men in ways to stop the violence
  • Gender equality at the heart of family violence solutions
  • There must be a change in behaviour and attitude – crude, sexist remarks against women one end of the spectrum, family violence at the other
  • International evidence shows that societies that have inequality built into their laws and cultural norms will have higher levels of violence against women and children.

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Janice affirmed that it is the job of government to help people understand the connection between gender inequality and family violence.

She asked the meeting to reflect on all those lost and the thousands of women living in fear in their own homes.

Daniel Valerio’s bruised, sad, little face gave us mandatory reporting in Victoria. Rose Batty gave family violence a voice. We must now examine our broken system and put forward practical measures to end the violence.”

The meeting was stunned by many of the statistics Janice shared and questions and discussion followed. This is an issue the Union of Australian Women has consistently raised and thought about. Members praised the Andrews Government for the decision to have a royal commission and voiced optimism that at last we may see the current broken system, fixed.

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A Triolet Can Be Child’s Play

d53f9f494a3bd30c67725c2d0dba4b23Before writing a serious post about Remembrance Day tomorrow, I’d like to share the lesson this week in my Writing For Pleasure classes at Mordialloc and Bentleigh.

I introduced another type of form poetry – Triolet – pronounced TREE-o-LAY. The form has 13th-century French roots linked to the rondeau or “round” poem. The triolet is perfect for line repetition because the first line of the poem is used three times and the second line is used twice. That leaves only three other lines to write: 2 of those lines rhyme with the first line, the other rhymes with the second line!

The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines.

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A template of the triolet would look like this:

A (first line)
B (second line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
A (repeat first line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
b (rhymes with the second line)
A (repeat first line)
B (repeat the second line)

The form was often used for light, humorous themes, but like all poetry it can be a vehicle for serious themes – melancholic or philosophical reflections. Especially if the repetition marks a shift in the meaning or mood of the repeated lines.

In class, we concentrated on the structure and had fun getting the rhyming scheme right. (For rhymes just Google the word you are trying to rhyme and choose a site like rhymezone, or download a free rhyming dictionary.) We laughed at Godfrey Street when Jan wrote her poem about Triolet being mistaken for toilet and one repeated line was about ‘the loo’.

It is a pure form, but can be tricky remembering where the repeated lines and rhymes go, so I suggest using the template until the rhyme and rhythm occur without prompting.

It is also important, like any good piece of writing, to spend some time choosing the introduction (in this case the first two lines) because that will determine the theme/mood and also the rhyme scheme.

For the construction of my first triolet, I chose as my first line: “Stand behind the yellow line” and decided to make my second line: Or under the train you’ll go. (A consequence of being too close to the edge – a message repeated daily on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. )

A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go
a
A Stand behind the yellow line
a
b
A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go

With more than half the poem already written, I simply brainstormed some rhymes and crafted other lines to fit the train platform situation. Then, I added a title.

Terminal Triolet
Mairi Neil

Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go
The painted stroke a warning sign
Stand behind the yellow line
a disembodied voice will  whine
as distracted passengers ebb and flow
Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go.

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Spring Joy
Mairi Neil

I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night
What makes it happy, makes it sing?
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
Constant, confident the music flowing
The Butcher Birds are in full flight
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night

image from birdsinbackyards
image from birdsinbackyards

And thinking of tomorrow:

WWI Noted
Mairi Neil

Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious
Mining emotions like a drill
Letter writing an important skill
Soldiers had more than time to kill
Words written to soothe the anxious
Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious

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Write a Poem You Say
Mairi Neil

Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected
Whether for the living or dear departed
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Sometimes it’s hard just to get started
Brain, heart and hand not connected
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected

The Triolet form can also be used to write a longer poem, perhaps beginning with a statement or observation:

Halloween
Mairi Neil

On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about
make sure you dress with special care.
On the last night of October beware,
perform some tricks for delicious fare
be extra polite and never shout
On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about.

Scary apparitions wander street and lane
Halloween is their special night
Imagination may drive you insane
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
It’s a night for real ghosts to reign
in the dark where there’s no light
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
Halloween is their special night.

Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare
werewolves, wizards and witches rise
Ordinary people may don a disguise
the ‘best pretend ghoul’ always wins a prize
‘Take off your mask’ the fearless dare
Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare

And of course, Triolet poems can be simple and poignant. This morning walking past the nursing home at the end of my street a memory was triggered:

Mordialloc Monday, November 9
Mairi Neil

The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam
As memory stirred of the terrible night
The ambulance left with flashing light
Resuscitation an unforgettable sight
Dad alone and prone, in nursing home
The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam

But here is an image I will always have of my Mother and a reflection on that memory:

Remembering Mum
Mairi Neil

I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration
I know you’d rather read than cook
I can see you sitting reading a book
Into another world with such a contented look
Did Dad envy the Mills and Boon destination?
I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration

I’m looking forward to the wonderful variety of Triolets the classes will produce next week – why not try some too and please share them with me.

Triolet can be child’s play it just depends on what you have to say!