May 252020
 

The Collaborative Writers’ Workshop

The wild wind raged across the open plain. It pushed through the cracks in the old cabin where Ali waited and shivered under a threadbare blanket.” So you like to write but need a supportive community to share your work with. Our workshop may just be what you’re looking for. We offer ideas, encouragement and support, and also share our own writing experiences.” Fridays, 9-10.50am, Old Eltham Courthouse.

April Edwards

May 252020
 

She sat on the seat, tired, but satisfied with her day long walk, her hands holding the bag of rose-hips. Proud of what she had achieved. Her family had been against her attempting this walk alone, but she had insisted she could do it, persevered, and was proud of herself. It had taken from early morning and now was close to sunset.

Admittedly the last part of the walk had been tiring. Her old legs trembled at the steepness of the climb, but they held up, or rather held her up, she reminded herself whimsically. She had done what she had promised her mother she would do. Although it had taken a long time, years, before she was free and able to start.

The walk along the riverside, before the track leading to the hill, was delightful. Sun streaming onto the river, the plop, plop, plop of fish surfacing, ripples racing to the river-bank. The glorious smell of the gum trees overhanging the river. The birds swooping down, as was their habit, ever hopeful of a beak full of breakfast, or perhaps lunch. After all, it was some time since breakfast! Kookaburras laughing at them, or maybe at her. She grinned at the thought.

As the track veered away from the river, she found a path had now been cut taking her towards where the paddocks had been. The walkway was planted on either side with bottlebrush, which were now in flower. The colours were glorious: red, pink, yellow. Birds and bees taking advantage of this native kitchen of plenty.

She had seen the remains of the house where she had grown up, now a neglected ruin, a Soldier Settlement remnant of times past. Had scattered the ashes of her parents, kept by her for decades against the day she would return, fulfilling the promise she had made to them to take them 'home'. Time had not obliterated emotions. She wept as she thought of them, of the love they had for one another, for herself and her siblings.

The entrance to their farm still had rose-hip berries by the front gate. As kids they had gathered them, wrapping them in newspaper to take home for Mum to turn them into jam, rose hip tea. A simple life, simple pleasures, pride in their ability to help their parents.

She had passed the farm where her girlfriend Joyce had lived with her six brothers. Joyce had been so spoilt, always with the prettiest dresses, matching bows in her hair, the first girl in the class to be allowed to wear lipstick, the belle of the ball when she made her debut. She had died very suddenly after giving birth to her first baby. The funeral, the biggest ever seen in the town. Her own eyes welled up, even now, as she remembered.

John, her son, dropped her off in town to begin her walk, telling her he would pick her up at the top of the hill. He would see her at the end of the day. Advising her to take care as she walked.

Starting she passed close to the railway station. How swish it now looked she thought. An express train ran into Melbourne. You could be there in seventy-five minutes John had told her. Some people who live here work in Melbourne. Amazing.

May 102020
 

He gazes out the window at a fluttering bird, its bright colours in stark contrast to the dark sky, threatening showers. It is a helpful distraction from his writing where he is hesitantly putting pen to paper.

‘How will I write this letter and what will I say?’ he worries.

Once more he is distracted by memories of her. Her beautiful, long flowing, golden hair blowing across her freckled face as she ran on the beach. He, chasing her and laughing at his clumsiness, tripping over the sand ruts. It was a glorious day, not too hot, and they had already had a swim and a picnic on the white beach. They had fended off the seagulls swarming them for scraps. Had breathed in the salty brine and seaweed smells. Pretty sailing boats of every colour were bobbing in the distance and the air was filled with the squeals of happy children jumping in and out of the waves. What a wonderful day it had been!

He had seen her across the bar of the Coogee Hotel. She, serving the customers and him, waiting for a beer. Their eyes locked as she came to serve him. She was dressed in a trim navy and white hotel uniform, he in his officer’s attire. Her eyes captivated him. Pools of amber. The smell of roses. It took three visits to the bar over consecutive days for her to be persuaded to go out with him.

‘I will take you anywhere, a meal, a coffee, a drink.’

She had finally suggested the beach, on her day off.

Her name was Juliette (like the Shakespeare play) and he had joked that he was her Romeo. Their banter was enjoyable and their sexual chemistry infectious. He didn’t want to spend any time away from her.

His fellow soldiers wanted him to be with them, but they only revelled in drinking, gambling and visiting brothels. While she worked, he visited the many sites of Sydney, admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. He rode the ferries around the harbour and soaked in the sunshine in this place that he might never see again.

But when she was free, he courted her, bringing flowers and gifts and taking her to interesting restaurants in the rocks or walks on the cliff tops. He found secluded pockets of sand in Vaucluse and Rose Bay, marvelling at the huge mansions which almost touched the shoreline. They caught the ferry to the zoo and wandered its paths, laughing at the antics of the monkeys and elephants. The waft of animal dung did not deter them.

She finally took him back to her apartment in Bondi. It was small and neat with purple and red scarves draped around the couch and windows. Scattered cushions of every colour on the floor and chairs. It looked very Moroccan. The furniture was sparse but practical. It only had one bedroom but that too was filled with many hues. A small kitchen and bathroom completed the space. It was light and cheerful, just like her.

They awoke the next morning, arms and legs entwined. It had been magical and memorable. The sunlight cast rainbows on the ceiling. Words were not spoken. Neither wanted it to end. He was being shipped back to Vietnam. The departure was imminent. They would write, they promised, but keeping up a long distance relationship from across the seas was impossible. The last time he saw her, she was waving him goodbye from the beach. Their favourite place. Shedding tears.

Ten years later, he re-reads her letter, in California.

My dearest Sam, I have finally tracked you down after months of searching. I know you would have built a new life since we spent that glorious month in Sydney’s Summer, but have thought of you often. I would not have disturbed you if this matter was not urgent.

You have a beautiful daughter, named Julie. She has your eyes and happy disposition and for the past 9 years she has kept me strong and enjoying life without you. But now she is gravely ill. She has kidney failure and despite all medical intervention, the only way to keep her alive is with a kidney transplant. I am not compatible, but you may be. I am hoping you can return to Australia to see her and possibly save her life. Please let me know what you decide but do it soon.

‘Much love, Juliette. XXX’

He picks up the pen and smells the roses.

Apr 092020
 

The last time she saw them she was standing leaning against the metal railing of the ferry. Her face turned into a ferocious biting wind, white crested waves crashing against the boat. Unable to focus on her destination for fear of losing sight of the land. Gulls circling in the grey sky like white flakes. Rain squalls blowing in between the small blue gaps. Leaving because staying had become an impossibility.

If she looked hard enough she could picture in her mind’s eye when this water looked like a coastal road in England on a busy bank holiday Monday. Solid with shipping during the evacuation from Dunkirk. Eight hundred and fifty boats. How did the three hundred and thirty six thousand men and women feel seeing those rolling white chalk downs, bitten by the sea, she wondered?

Living away so long away she realised everywhere had almost become home. Yet there remained a yearning love for a homeland that had forsaken her. Without the luxury of a comfortable past to reminisce about she still maintained many profound heart thoughts. The ache of hindsight leaving her with a craving for a journey that would lead her back home.

Now she would go home as a visitor, so wanting people to beg her to stay, not treat her with indifference. Always an outsider to be merely tolerated.

What was it Kate Winslett sang in the epic film ‘Titanic’? “Every night in my dreams I see you. Far across the distance and space between us.

Belonging there was never about blood and bones, it was being home on that island.

Ref: Mr. Google.

Apr 062020
 

The topic was at moments like these and the piece had to include the three words motorbike, whistle and footpath.

Gentle at first, then like the constant beat of a drum as it builds to a cadence – rain at last, on the tin roof. As it grows in sound and volume, water gushes down the gutters and the downpipes until the capacity is too great. The gutters overflow giving the sensation of standing close behind a waterfall without getting wet from the splashes.

Tanks, recently near empty, quickly fill under the deluge and soon brim over and add to the streamlets already snaking across the garden beds. Although sodden, the drooping mass of white flowers of the Dietes grandiflora continue to make a statement with violet tepals and yellow dashes of colour in their centres. Their role is to welcome visitors.

The large ceramic fish bowl situated in the corner, at the junction of two sleeper walls, is in danger of spilling over. Luckily the boarders, two red goldfish, swim safely below the surface.

The brick paving, under the spreading eucalypt branches laden down with heavy dripping gum leaves, is wet and slippery. The bricks remain dry in light rain, protected by the dense foliage, but today is different.

The neighbour’s dogs, with their persistent yapping, are drowned out. Usually they ramp up the noise when overcome with excitement at passing dogs but the rainstorm is too heavy and the dog walkers and their four-legged friends sensibly stay indoors.

The rain continues throughout the day, sometimes a cloudburst, sometimes just a sprinkle of raindrops. The water gauge creeps higher and higher and will need emptying before evening.

Small bubbling brooks course down the paths gathering pebbles and dirt, depositing them on paving around the house. The wind gusts, and rain spatters the windows, leaving pearl-like patterns that slowly drip, drip, drip.

Not only do humans rejoice but also the flora and fauna. Leaves, newly bathed, glisten and breathe as the remnants of summer dust are washed away. The birds delight in the worms coming to the surface making for an easy meal, the insects sheltering under leaves. In the near future, the welcome sight of green grass will appear.

Thoughts wander to the farmers desperate for rain to renew their pastures and feed the dwindling number of stock. The rivers that have run dry due to demands for water upstream. Fish left to flounder and die in polluted, algae– laden water.

My musings are interrupted by a motorbike mounting the footpath. A whistle blows but at moments like these the mail will only be collected after the life sustaining rain has ceased.

Mar 012020
 

One of the soloists of our
Writing choir is now silent.
Len’s was a clear lyrical poetic voice,
His words remained in our heads
Long after they were spoken.
As a serious writer and poet
His was a reality of many voices,
Some shared with the world
Of readers at large.
It was an effective voice for
The voiceless, giving speech to
Some of the tragedies
Engraved on his heart.
The words counted and savoured
Like pearls, with pauses
Sometimes highlighting them.
Len took the responsibility
Of telling a story or writing a poem
And ensuring he did it right.
He never wanted to be the loudest
Voice in the room, but his was
Always an exact and distinctive voice.

Dec 012016
 

Scarlet purses holding dreams
Dancing lulling the soul
Spreading vermillion bonfires
Burnt red mouths agape
Drinking the blood of the sun
Petals of pure excess
Lying bleeding on the ground

A brilliant yawn of fire
Appearing from a field of grass
A drowsy balm for each bitter smart
Holding a dream of every rapturous night
Over tired eyes which weep
Or are too tired to sleep
A meadow full of oblivion

Dec 012016
 

He sits in contemplation on an old oak Douglas chair, sometimes incorrectly called a Captain’s chair, with turned spindles for the back, a wooden panel replacing the cane seat. For warmth he’s placed a sheepskin off-cut on it. The chair is situated in the corner of his rustic workshop diagonally opposite the wood burning stove that transmits a gentle heat to every area of this special place.

Tools hang from the overhead beams. Clamps – quick release, metal and plastic, or solid metal – one under the other, grasp the edge of the wooden shelving. Chains with hooks attached, leather straps, all are suspended from nails on the front of the high Oregon shelf. Atop, old pattern maker planes, rebate planes and many more rescued from a skip at an education facility, sit side by side in an orderly row.

Above the beautifully crafted workbench, files – flat, round, coarse, fine – are lined up like soldiers on military parade. Hammers – claw, tack, ream – share the space with old wooden handled screwdrivers. Higher still are the metal hand drills secreting bits in their turned handles. Wooden and metal braces complete the picture in this space.

Old chunky wooden planes look similar to train carriages on the dusty window ledge, and spoke shaves, nine in total, ordered from smallest to largest, almost appear like crabs lying in wait. On a cupboard hoarding nails, screws, bolts, hinges and all manner of hardware hangs a red and black poster with the heading ‘Lost & Rare Trades.’

However he doesn’t notice any of this – his thoughts are elsewhere. Recently they, he and his wife, travelled down the Great Ocean Road visiting old haunts. Although winter cold was creeping in, the sun shone and the wind abated. The dark blue sea calmly rolled on its journey, only breaking into a mass of froth as it hit protruding rock ledges and cliffs. Little debris marred the beaches, reclaimed by the sea during high tide.

On the large bench in the middle of the workshop, he’s placed five flat wooden panels of differing sizes. Two of these are covered in diverse shapes and thicknesses of wood that’s been swept onto the sand after being set adrift from various vessels at sea. The panels display horizontal patterns, vertical patterns, patterns within patterns. Some of this water, salt and wind-affected wood is light, some dark, some deeply grained, some touched with worn colour. Each piece is cut, smoothed on the edges before being gently placed in position, arranged and rearranged – sometimes end grain, sometimes side grain.

Later, he’ll sit, soaking up the warmth, the quiet, taking time to contemplate his creation and how to proceed. In his mind he’ll picture the wall to be decorated and the overall affect he wants the panels to achieve. Only when he’s ready, will he proceed.

Dec 012016
 

There was a movie advertised in late August. It was to start screening on September 16th, slap bang in the middle of our overseas trip. I would miss it. It wasn’t one of those films that would have an extended season…it would have most appeal to the cult for whom it was created. Directed by Ron Howard…that said something. He wouldn’t be involved in anything not considered as worthwhile.

Perhaps it would be part of the screen entertainment on our flight. Alas…not a mention. Bus shelters in San Francisco and Vegas screamed at me with blazoned billboard posters advertising the show. But that isn’t what you do on a trip, not when Alcatraz and the Grand Canyon are begging to be visited. You don’t
go to the movies, especially when your husband hasn’t been part of the
cult. I let it go…there would be a DVD eventually. That would have to do.

On our return, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my film was still screening at selected cinemas. However, all was not coming together. None of my fellow culters were available. It wasn’t the type of film I could see alone. It needed to be shared with someone who understood. I watched its movement closely, watched it disappear from Palace Balwyn, watched it disappear from Kino in the city. Just one more chance- Palace Westgarth.

The extended Cup weekend holiday – everyone was going away including me. I was returning home on Monday evening, anticipating a quiet Cup Day. The phone rang – a fellow culter! Was I busy at 4.10 tomorrow? I certainly was not!

To our surprise, the cinema was quite full. Are there more of us than I realised?

It began.

I smiled and I didn’t stop smiling until the credits finally finished. For close on two hours, I journeyed through the touring years of The Beatles, remembering and reliving every song that they performed. I had been part of the hysteria, just as they had been part of my early teenage years. It was more than nostalgia. Their music and lyrics were linked with my life. Every mind blowing or catastrophic event was laced with their sound.

The film finished with their final live performance on top of the Apple Corps building in London in January 1969. I felt a certain sadness in watching that performance. The credits rolled to “Eight Days a Week”. No one moved. Then something happened that I have never before witnessed in a theatre. Everybody sang. They even added all the double claps in the right places.

Hold me … Love me …
Hold me … Love me,

Ain’t got nothin’
but love babe,

Eight days a week.

Finally, together, the entire audience applauded. It seemed irreverent to exit.

Dec 012016
 

I look at my hands. I see rough and weathered skin. I see fingers gnarled and twisted. I see fingernails chipped and bent. My hands, no longer young, no longer innocent with youth. Old hands speaking of my journey through life.

My life. So simple.

I was born to the land, to a mother and father also born to the land. My parents imbued me with their wisdom and respect for the natural rhythms held in the ebb and flow of the seasons. I live each day in harmony, feeling the pulse of my world, connected to all defining me.

So simple.

Inside this moment’s thought, I place my roughened hand upon my cheek and feel it transform into the silky smoothness of youth. With eyes opening anew I am standing with my parents on the hill above our home, watching the light of uncounted stars join the scintillation of the sunlight’s first slanting rays.

“Look down there son,” my father says, “See where the light sparkles as it touches the merest hint of evening held. Mark that place my son, that is where to plant for abundance in the coming season. Mark that place well.”

“Look into the sky my son,” my mother says, “See where the last vestige of the rays of our moon entwine with the sparkle of the belt of Orion. See where it reaches and touches our world. Take special care of that position my son, life’s love will always be there.”

So simple.

Passing suns within passing seasons are as passing clouds across my days. The hill where I am sitting is where my parents lie, and they mark each change in turn as is their way. I know they saw when my love walked her gentle path into my heart and into my life. I know they saw the dawning of my son and my daughter. I know because my love now lies alongside them, although in this moment, as with the next and the next, we are together always.

So simple.

My parents gifted me all. They gave this gift as a natural course, a gift given without conscious thought, but a gift given with total love.

This gift I now give to my daughter and my son, who with the light of this day fading, stand with their new born families surrounding me in love.

Once more I look at my hands and see they are again as they should be — old, so old. But now I see these hands full of the fruits of my care: they hold potatoes, tomatoes, zucchinis, and beans, gathered while the morning dew glistened. And I see them holding far far more. My hands are filled with the light and warmth of my parents — filled with future promise.

My hands encompass this gift.

In this my lingering twilight, my hands, my old hands, hear my smile.

As my sun sets this gift I have nurtured I now send to embrace the life of another.

Dec 012016
 

When I first left Australia, travelling to England, I sailed from Fremantle aboard the Italian immigrant ship Roma which was bound for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore, Bombay and ultimately to its home port of Genoa.

On arrival at Melbourne I travelled by train to Brisbane to spend a few days with my friend Gerry who was studying veterinary science at the University of Queensland. I stayed with him at a university hostel and when it was time to leave I invited Gerry and his friend Don to have lunch with me aboard the Roma. We arrived at the port of Brisbane, found the correct birth, but it was empty. The Roma had sailed an hour before we got there!

Panic stricken we raced to the shipping office only to have the shipping agents advise us the only option was to charter a private aeroplane and fly to Cape York and reboard when the Barrier Reef pilot left the ship.

This would cost a huge amount of money. When they realised it was not an option they had a more risky suggestion; that we drive the 90 kilometres to Caloundra and hire a fishing boat there to take us to meet the ship when it slowed down to let off the Brisbane River pilot. The shipping agents said they would try to organise a fishing boat for us and radio the ship’s captain of our intentions.

We raced back to the university to collect Don’s car, a 1938 ex-army Chevrolet, still liveried in its original drab green and, though in somewhat shabby condition, felt to be more reliable than Gerry’s car.

The atmosphere was tense as we battled the slow moving Saturday afternoon football traffic, but having cleared the city we began to make better time. As we relaxed a little we decided to stop and buy fruit from a roadside vendor — we had after all missed lunch aboard the Roma. Then our car refused to start.

From the faint ticking sound and the heat coming from beneath the bonnet we could tell the engine was overheated. For fifteen minutes we waited, anxiously eating our fruit, while we waited for the engine to cool. Then it fired up and the race was on again.

When we reached Caloundra and found the fishing wharf it was a huge relief to a see a powerful looking launch waiting, with its twin diesel engines ticking over, ready for a fast get away. We leapt aboard and off it ploughed down the Brisbane River.

My jubilation was short lived when I saw the huge swells at the estuary as the fast running river collided with the incoming ocean tide. The launch surged forward and effortlessly climbed the swell and surfed down the other side and I felt an adrenaline rush as we made for the open sea. We could see the Roma five kilometres in the distance. At the rate it was steaming it was clear we had missed the pilot exchange. Not giving up the skipper of the launch opened the
throttles. Eventually the Roma sighted us and slowed.

As we pulled alongside, passengers leaned over the ship’s railings, watching. A rope ladder was thrown over the side and I climbed aboard. I waved a final farewell to Don and Gerry whom I would not see for another seven years.

The day after this escapade the ship’s Captain invited me for a drink in his stateroom. Over the obligatory rum on ice he told me that in all his years at sea this was the only time he had been involved in such an escapade.

Smiling I thanked him for his part in what I now see as one of my adventures of a lifetime.