Who Will Be In The Class of 2017?

creativity is as important s literacy.jpeg

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!


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!


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.

class anthologies 2002.jpg



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.


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


The Best Laid Plans …


NAIDOC Week celebrations are held in the first full week of July and are a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements. The National NAIDOC theme for 2015 is We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate to highlight Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea.

Like most settled places in Australia, Mordialloc has a shameful history regarding stealing indigenous land and for many years people believed the myth that the Boon wurrung, the local Aboriginal people had been wiped out. However, like most history written by conquerors this ‘fact’ has been proven untrue.

Aboriginal culture plaque

Yesterday, I arranged to meet my friend Fran, a fellow writer and local historian so we could attend one of the City of Kingston’s NAIDOC activities. The opening of Kingston’s indigenous garden by Boon wurrung Elder Aunty Caroline Briggs, including a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony was scheduled to take place at Attenborough Park alongside Mordialloc Creek, Nepean Highway, Aspendale on Sunday July 12 at 2pm.

Kingston Your City, the council’s newspaper, reported the garden’s indigenous plants are thriving, ‘including bush tucker and medicine plants displayed in an artistic array with the view to ‘linger longer’ and immerse yourself in the landscaped environment.’

The interpretive signs have traditional Boon wurrung language and express the relationship the Boon wurrung people have with the area.

traditional resources plaque plaque 3 aboriginal camp at mordy creek

Attenborough Park and Mordialloc Creek Reserve are significant Indigenous sites in the City of Kingston. Numerous shell middens and scarred trees have been found in the park and adjacent to the creek, a legacy of the Boon wurrung people, who are part of the Kulin Nation.

The Kulin term ‘Mordy Yallock’ means ‘near the sea’. This area was a favourite summer camp for the Boon Wurrung people who harvested eels, small marsupials and water fowl and collected shellfish along the shore.

This engraved tree, at Attenborough Park and others carved into significant sculptures and landmarks. The park continuously flies the Aboriginal flag, commemorating the Aboriginal reserve that was established here following European settlement.


Elders of the Boon wurrung tribe are believed to have lived out their last days in this area. Mordialloc Creek is on the northern point of Carrum Carrum Swamp, which forms a natural basin on the peninsula.

Named after early pioneer Thomas Attenborough, who settled in Dingley in the 1850s, Attenborough Park is also home to a group planting of large Monterey Cypress trees believed to be about 100 years old forming an important landmark. The trees are on the City of Kingston Significant Trees Register, due to their outstanding size and the contribution they provide to the surrounding landscape.

Mercurial Melbourne’s four seasons in the one day decided to just give us winter yesterday afternoon and non-stop rain. For someone like me who came from Scotland, and Fran who is Irish born, we assumed the celebrations would go ahead – marquees can be erected or umbrellas distributed. All the pictures above were taken by me using my smartphone, the rain constant, but not torrential.

The ceremony was to begin at 2.00pm, but as the title suggests, what was planned never eventuated. I arrived to find another woman walking up and down the path obviously looking for some sign of celebration. I approached her and she smiled with relief.

‘I thought I was going mad,’ she said, clutching the page from Kingston Your City detailing the event. ‘I’ve walked up and down this path half a dozen times – even walked to the high school in case it was moved there.’

Fran and I had also done the rounds of the park and rang the information line for Kingston Council, but to no avail. The other lady had driven from Dingley and was as disappointed as us and wondered aloud why the Council didn’t have someone present to tell people the event was cancelled.

‘They should have had a wet weather plan,’ said Fran.

‘You would have thought so,’ I said, ‘or at least made it clear in the advert that it would be cancelled if it rained.’

Our new friend introduced herself as Tatiana. We decided the best course of action was to seek the warmth and sustenance of a coffee in one of the many cafes in Mordialloc Main Street.

The next two hours were very pleasant as we discovered we had so much in common – three immigrants with a love and interest in indigenous culture as well as arts and crafts. Tatiana was Belo-Russian, born in China, but her family fled to Chile just after the Japanese invaded. Later, with her husband and two young children they came to Australia before the coup ousted President Allende.

We all agreed serendipity definitely at play and shared knowledge and life experiences. A member of the Handweavers & Spinners Guild of Victoria Tatiana showed us photographs of some beautiful bags she had made based on designs she had seen in South America, especially Bolivia.

Tatiana told us about the musk ox, which lives in the frigid Arctic. Its fur much warmer than wool or even alpaca. It’s a protected species in Alaska, and like bison, the American musk ox was once dangerously close to extinction. Fibre made from the musk ox’s undercoat is known as quiveut, or quiviut, and is extremely light and fine as well as being the most expensive ‘wool’ in the world. It’s also very rare, since it’s usually harvested by hand-combing the animals or collecting fibres from the ground after they’ve naturally been shed. These strands must be carded carefully to remove any coarse hair.

Before we went our separate ways, we returned to discussing the Boon wurrung, the environment, Australian history, climate change…

Mairi Neil

Try and imagine you lived long ago
when the Boon Wurrung gathered to meet…

Imagine their camp by Mordialloc Creek,
Corroborees celebrating plenty to eat.
Water unpolluted, no rubbish floating
Eels and turtles swimming with fish.
Kangaroos and possums in abundance
Bush tucker chosen to garnish each dish.

Plentiful food, their drinking water clean
E.coli unknown and oil slicks unseen.
The Boon Wurrung living off the land
Nurturing Mother Earth with great care,
No stripping the land or sea bare.

Long grasses to weave baskets
Seasonal plants from seeds sown
Living in harmony with nature,
Supermarket queues unknown!

Try and imagine you lived long ago
Free to travel everywhere, to and fro
Observing the Boon wurrung’s
Clever land management skills
Honouring all aspects of country
Conservation practised at will.

Today, imagination meets reality
Extremes of weather we often see,
Mother Earth weeps and begs
For urgent action, from you and me
No need to look in a crystal ball
Global Warming our wake-up call.

The day didn’t turn out how I planned, but I made a new friend, learnt a lot of information I didn’t know about Moorabbin’s history from Fran, and was introduced to the delights of another craft by Tatiana as well as hearing her migration journey.

We may not have witnessed the ceremony planned, but we valued the sacred ground, shared a love of Mordialloc and we did learn, respect and celebrate the value of shared history, culture and the desire for knowledge.

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

HAIKU by Mairi Neil

mordy beach storm clouds