Oct 112020
 

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

Here are links to the various stories below.

Oct 122020
 

A lipogram is where a letter or letters are left out of a piece. In this modern take of Jack and the Beanstalk, the letter 'e' was omitted.

Mama said "Jack, no food to cram,
Cupboard’s vacant, no oats or jam.
Daisy cow has milk abounding,
but milk's for tots, so I’m sounding
a wish for us to not want alms,
by taking Daisy, with no qualms,
For transaction, to a farm.
A good amount should fill our sack,
I’ll pack your bag, now hurry back."

So Jack and Daisy took a trail,
to Wilson’s farm, without travail.
But in transit ran into a man,
who had a big brown bag in hand
"tis magic pods within this bag,
I’ll swap for cow, now don’t you lag,
For growing opportunity is nigh,
plant pods now, gains mighty high."

Jack sold Daisy, and with bag in hand,
ran back to mama, thinking grand.
Mama in a fit of hurt,
flung pods out into dirt.
Jack was hit with rod of broom,
and told to go up to his room.

Morning sun brought Jack no shadow,
a giant stalk had grown to block his window.
Jack thought profoundly of how and why?
as climbing up on stalk to pry.
A cloud surrounding stalk on high,
a land upon, with mansion nigh.

Within mansion a giant lay,
with brooding fowl not far away.
But fowl was not a kind to pluck;
'twas in fact a diamond duck.
Upon command duck did hatch,
a diamond with a mighty 'quack'.

Giant lay back to catch a nap,
Jack took watch by door through gap.
Jack snuck in, caught duck and ran.
Giant shouts out "gadzooks! a human?"
Duck in fright: "quack, quack, quack."
Giant in angst: "Bring it back!"

"Foh, fim, fum fud,
is that an odour of British blood?
I'll run and catch him, bring him back,
grind him up to garnish snack."

To stalk and down, Jack with duck did scurry,
"Mama, Mama, you must hurry!
Bring a bowsaw, bring it quick,
I now know that stalk is thick."

Putting duck in mama’s shawl,
Jack cut through stalk and it did fall.
Stalk is down! Giant is slain,
Duck is ours, no forward pain.

Mama and Jack, with diamond duck, according to a book,
now had a happy, highly long-lasting outlook.

Sep 052020
 

[Kay Rennie writes novels set in the Regency era and publishes them on Amazon under the pen name Lily Milner. She also has a website This is the first chapter of her current novel, due to be published some time in September.]

London 1818

Tristan Rigal was aware he was being watched.

London was just as he had expected, foggy and dismal, streets thick with mud as black as ink and the people surly. He had arrived on the crowded docks three weeks ago, and for a time he was just one of the anonymous throng blending into the smoke and clamour of the great city.

Much had changed in the few years since he last visited London. It was now dirtier, noisier and taller. New buildings rose out of the mist, their upper stories lost to sight in the fog. Crowds gathered in the gloom and then dispersed, wraithlike, along with horses and carts and recognisable landmarks. November was the worst month for the evil humours that plagued the city. A million coal fires spewed smoke into the air, and rainwater accumulated into deep pools of filth.

Yet for all this, London was still as comfortable as an old coat, and he looked forward to living in a better part of town, close to the more respectable clubs and gaming halls. For the moment he had enough gold to keep himself living at the level of a gentleman, for that is what he chose to be here. In Paris it had been different. There the underbelly of society was more to his taste, as was the wine and the pleasures of Montmartre.

One day when the London miasma unexpectedly lifted, he had been surprised to be greeted by at least three different people. A very well-dressed gentleman and an elegant woman both bowed slightly as they passed, but said nothing. Neither did they smile. He returned the bow, not sure why he should, but obviously they had mistaken him for someone else. Why disappoint them? Later that same day, though, he felt a tap on his shoulder when leaving his lodgings in St James’s Street. Instinct made him reach for the knife under his coat, but he soon saw it wasn’t necessary. This time the fellow had definitely taken him for someone else.

“John. You here in London? Why the devil have you not called? And Julia will want to see you.”

Rigal simply stared at him, not yet sure how to respond.

“I say, you look a little out of sorts. Is something wrong?” Again, the man was extremely well-dressed. If Rigal had not been wearing his multi-layered coat, the rather frayed jacket underneath would surely have shown the fellow his mistake.

“Yes, well no.” He quickly decided to play along. “Business brought me here. And it is tiresome. I need a diversion.”

“Ah, well I’m sure you know where to go for that.” The man’s lips curled and he raised one eyebrow. “But you’ve been away for a while, so you may not know that Madam Maxine’s establishment has closed. No doubt she will open somewhere else when things go quiet. Of course, there’s always Ma Bonnington’s. Go there. They tell me they have new talent.”

Rigal was quick to understand the type of establishment the fellow was recommending. Obviously, this John he’d been taken for was no saint. Briefly, he considered exploiting the connection, but no, it would be risky. He had decided to stay out of trouble, at least until the money ran out.

“Perhaps I should,” he answered, affecting a disinterested expression. “But I must leave you now. I have a pressing appointment.”

The fellow bowed. “I’m glad I ran into you. I’ll tell Julia you’re here. Are you staying in Grosvenor Street?”

“Yes. For the moment.” Grosvenor Street was a very respectable address. His apparent look-alike was obviously a wealthy man.

“Well don’t forget me if you decide to have a dinner party, m’lord.” And with that the stranger smiled and walked off into the crowded street.

Rigal stared after him in wonder. He had been mistaken for a lord, by someone who obviously knew the man well enough to ask for a dinner invitation.

That had been almost a week ago. When the November fog closed in again Rigal was glad of it. So far, he had not chanced his luck at the high-class gaming tables. For the time being he had decided to confine his social life to the less than salubrious inns in the stews. Although he was initially bemused by the fact that he’d been taken for someone of high rank and privilege, the idea did not sit well with him. If it happened again, what should he do? He could deny all knowledge of this Lord John, who was obviously well-known in London society, or he could play along. It would be a dangerous game, but who knew what might be gained from a simple masquerade?

He had not come to a decision when the strange events that follow overtook him.

Food at the chop houses was usually vile, but instinct told Rigal he needed to stay out of sight, so he chose to eat frugally and save money until the persistent feeling of unease resolved itself one way or another.

“Boiled beef, roast beef, haunch of mutton, eel pie, steak pudding.” The decidedly unwholesome choice was recited in nasal tones by the waiter, standing at his side with a filthy towel slung over his arm. He decided on the steak pudding and a tankard of beer. At least the beer was good, but oh for some traditional Rognon au Vin at his favourite eatery in Montmartre. French food was like manna from heaven compared to this English pap, but he would have to get used to it. He didn’t plan on going back to Paris anytime soon.

Eating in London was very much a communal affair, with the customers seated close together at long tables, and it was hard to eat without rubbing shoulders with your neighbour. Tonight, an old man with faded yellow side-whiskers slurped a bowl of soup, not caring that he occasionally splattered Rigal with droplets of the greasy gruel. The man continually muttered to himself in repetitive tones between mouthfuls. Rigal caught the rhythm, but whether he was listening to prayers or curses he could not tell. He gave up on the steak pudding when only half-finished and rose to leave.

The old man grabbed his sleeve. “Not finishing it? I’ll ‘ave it.”

“Take it, with my complements,” Rigal passed him his half-full tankard as well.

“May the Lord be with you, yer honour. Mind how yer go.”

So, he had been blessed, and cautioned. That was payment enough. Now it was time to find out who had been following him, and why.

It was raining when he set out to walk back to his lodgings – soft rain that fell in a forgiving mist, hiding the nastier elements of the district under a fine veil. The weather briefly reminded him of country life, when as a lad he had enjoyed walking through such light mists across the wooded Swiss countryside. Now his greatcoat protected him from the damp. It also hid the fact that he had his hand on his dagger.

The streets narrowed to alleys where gas light could not penetrate. At the end of one of these twisted laneways he stopped and hid himself behind the jutting facade of a ramshackle house where the roof dipped almost into the mud below. It was not in his nature to be someone’s quarry, and he had no intention of staying confined to the nastier parts of the city for fear of being mistaken for a wealthy lord at the gaming tables. He would sort this problem out.

Rigal waited in the shadows, aware that his boots were squelching in some unmentionable muck, but he held his position. The wall he huddled against was thin, and he heard a man’s angry shout and a woman’s cry from within. In little more than a minute a shadow slipped past. Soundlessly, he caught up with the figure and slipped his arm around the man’s throat. At the same time, he used his other hand to prick the skin of the soft under-throat with his dagger. No not a man, a lad, he thought. The figure was slight and did not resist his choking grip. He leaned forward and whispered in the shadower’s ear.

“Start walking. Over there to the middle of the alley, where I can see you.”

They marched two together into the open lane. Rigal was confident no-one would come to the rescue. In this part of the city murders were many, and to try to help a victim would have been foolish indeed.

Still keeping his knife at the soft throat, Rigal grabbed the lad’s long hair and pulled his head back. What he saw startled him. This was no assassin, nor was it a lad as he had assumed when he dragged the offending creature away from the wall. His shadower was definitely a woman, and young. God’s blood, had he mistaken a doxy from the stews for a cut-throat, a poor light-skirt looking to make a quick shilling in the alley? He was losing his touch.

Aug 252020
 

While I sat looking out of the window, daydreaming instead of doing anything, it struck me how dirty the windows were. Tried to count back as to when they had last been cleaned. Some time before I went into hospital two years ago. No wonder they were dirty. Must arrange for someone to clean them as it is a no no for me these days.

Easier said than done. Two window cleaners both declined the job as one side of the house is double story. They couldn't work there. Too dangerous. Moaning about this to a friend she offered the name of a fellow who would probably take the job. I telephoned him and he agreed. Yes he could handle it, he was not worried about the height. A date was arranged.

He arrived on time. An enormous fellow, at least six foot eight and huge with it, a bandana holding his hair back. He checked out the terrain. No worries I was told. I could hear him setting himself up. What a relief.

Then I heard singing. He was singing opera – La Traviata surely. Yes he was singing the part of Alfreda. And he was singing well, very well in fact. I sat and listened. Smiled. How extraordinary. An opera singing window cleaner. The singing stopped as he moved on to the next window, then the singing started again. He moved around to the back of the house. Then came a knock on the back door.

"What is the fabric you have on the dummy in the side room?"

"The violet fabric? It's pure silk."

"Where did you get it? It's almost impossible to buy something like that."

I could only agree. I told him one of my sons had been teaching at the International school in Malaysia and that he lived in the Indian area where there were many shops selling pure silk. He purchased some for me, sent it home.

My window cleaner and his wife belonged to a local opera company, made up of people who loved to sing. They are invited to functions to sing and perform and would dress in formal clothes, if possible period clothes, to give a glamorous edge to their show. His wife made their garments, but buying the fabrics was becoming more and more difficult. Shops did not carry the velvets, brocades, silks they needed. He thought the silk was gorgeous. His wife had had the good luck to buy some red velvet which she was making into a gown to wear when they sang La Traviata.

So here was the reason for the singing while he worked.

I suggested his wife try a shop in Little Bourke Street, up near Spring Street, which had a wide range of fabric, much of it exactly what she evidently needed. He had never heard of it, noted it down, went back to the kitchen window, started cleaning and singing.

Next thing I knew he was at the front of the house and then finished.

He knocked on the front door. Told me I needed to get a glazier to seal one of the front windows where the sealing was breaking down and then he was off. Job done, singing stopped.

What an uplifting day for me. Did he do a good job? The windows have never been cleaner and the singing was an unexpected delight.

I smile whenever I remember it.

Aug 172020
 

In the mid 1980s, I frequently visited a Korean company, Mando Machinery, who manufacture automotive power steering for the burgeoning Korean automotive industry. I must have visited at least ten times over a three-year period to reassure the engineers who make the capital equipment purchases that we had a high technology machine that was made for their requirements. One time, our technical meeting was brusquely interrupted by a person who spoke in rapid Korean and the meeting stopped immediately.

The leading engineer, our two agents and I were escorted out of the meeting room and wandered through a labyrinth of oak panelled offices. At the end of a long well-lit corridor, the leading engineer, knocked, paused and entered. A few seconds later we were enthusiastically invited in. It was an enormous oak panelled room with both central and spot lighting. Off to the left was a desk that could seat a whole family and sitting behind was The President of Mando Machinery Inc., Mr S. D. Park. I knew this because I could read his nameplate from across the room. No question about who was in charge.

He wore a three-piece dress suit, quite unusual, because most Korean companies favoured a uniform, a jacket with long sleeves. It would be buttoned up the front, opening at the top two buttons with lapels and sometimes with epaulets holding with some indecipherable symbol. The jacket never went below the waistline and trousers were the same colour and material. The number of pencils in the breast pocket apparently determined the status of the wearer.

Mr. Park rose and gestured for us to move to a smaller, low, 3×4 metre coffee table off to our right-hand side and we shook hands all round, intensely examined business cards, with much hum’ing and ar’ing. He then moved to one side of the table, facing the door, the favoured position of the person with most authority in any room. Quotations and industry journals were cleared to establish his power zone. He invited me to sit directly opposite, flanked by S. H. Lee and S. H. Hu, our Korea agents, S. H. In’l on a large long, well stuffed Chesterfield. The two other participants sat on chairs outside the circle around the table.

The person, his room and power were not lost on our agent. The two partners were petrified, sitting on proverbial eggshells, whilst I hopefully adopted a casual, comfortable but attentive position taught by Sales Techniques for Australian Dummies. We bowed and talked, although Mr. Park, the President, did most of the talking in very good English, including infernal joking about Australia only being an agricultural country, selling sheep and cattle, digging up coal and iron and no history of manufacturing.

This happened initially with every company that I called on an Asia. I found that counting internally to twenty, then back, again and again, helped to keep my irritation under control. Then I remembered that S.H Lee had told me that Mr. Park collected stamps and coins. In a lapse in the conversation, I dug into my right trouser pocket, and felt around to find the familiar shape of an Australian 50 cent coin. To the horror of our agents, I stood up, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and presented my closed fist down to Mr Park.

As he shrank back in his seat, I opened up my right hand and gently showed him the coin.

"Forgive me Mr. Park. This is Australia’s coat of arms." I said, showing him the reverse side. "We have an emu and a kangaroo", pointing to each one, "and neither of them can walk backwards. They can only move forward. That's what it is to be Australian."

Pausing for effect, I continued. "It's my understanding in visiting Korea and my long experience in its technology, that Mando Machinery has the same attitude."

Mr. Park enigmatically smiled and thoughtfully nodded, "Yes, Mr Bill, we have the same attitude, Korea must go forward, there is no other way to consider."

Handing over the coin, fortunately a new shiny one, he perused it keenly. When I indicated it was a gift, he gently slid it into the breast pocket of his immaculate waistcoat. I didn’t tell him that we sometimes eat the meat of those two animals!

The next hour brought Mr Park up to date with what we had offered. He would interrupt me to confirm in Korean that the company engineers understood what I had said. They always knew.

"Mr Bill, I will ask them what they think of your machine. It will be in Korean, please forgive me." The conversation was short with fast responses to Mr. Park’s sharp questions. I could feel our agents relax slightly; they had not said a word during this whole time. Then there was a nodding of the three heads and the conversation stopped when Mr Park raised his hand.

"Mr Bill", the company President said, suddenly leaning over the table and out of his comfort zone, "please show me your passport".

He admired the colourful coat of arms, flicking through every page, making note of every time I’d been in Korea. He then asked for his assistant to bring the visitor’s books for all of the time that I had visited Korea. They checked the well-kept books or diaries and determined that every times I had visited Korea, I had visited his company.

"Mr Bill, I understand from my people that you have never forced us to give you an order. Your company has always answered our many questions. You have convinced me that you can help us. Your business should be rewarded for your patience. We will make an order from you."

We had a cup of ginseng tea, and that was it, about two hours. Needless to say, I would always take 50 cent coins afterwards, when travelling through Asia; just in case.

Jun 292020
 

In January 2001, Barb and I saw the most exciting ice hockey game played between the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames in Vancouver, Canada. Hockey’s (they do not call it ice hockey) place in Canadian culture is closer to religion than to a simple sporting pastime. The sport is part of the national identity, a rite of passage between fathers and sons and, more recently, mothers and daughters.

For novices to the sport, the two teams have six players on the ice at any one time – one being the goaltender. In a regular match consisting of three 20-minute periods, teams try to play and shoot the puck into the opposition goal. Throughout the game, players can be substituted on and off the ice for tactical reasons. There are 23 active players rostered on a team.

Hockey has the fastest tempo in team sports. Endurance, agility, and speed (up to 32 km/h!) is the definition of this sport. And the pucks can reach speeds at 160km/h. As a spectator, there is an adrenalin rush watching the speed at which this game is played and the way that specialist players come on and off the ice within the period. Many of these players are only on for a minute or two.

To the novice, it seems like mayhem out on the rink, with the speed of action being breathtaking. It is a contact team sport, in which two teams of skaters use their sticks to shoot a vulcanised rubber puck into their opponent's net to score a goal. Hitting and physical contact is allowed but if the referee decides it is too violent then it becomes a two-minute penalty.

The crowd at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver erupted in the first period when Jonathan Toews opened the scoring for the Canucks following an assist from Mike Richards. The excitement in the arena cranked up a notch when Corey Perry doubled Canucks’ lead in the second period. But the Flames re-grouped with Wayne Jourdain scoring, and got a foothold back in the game. Then, with seconds to go until the end of normal time, Jourdain again silenced the crowd with an equaliser to take the score to 2-2 and the game to sudden death. The tension was palpable.

The Canucks went back on the attack. Seven minutes into overtime, Toews exchanged passes with Richards and slotted the puck between the legs of the Flames goalkeeper for a brilliant goal, delivering a win that produced joyous celebrations across the city and state. The streets of Vancouver were filled with ecstatic crowds who celebrated their team’s victory well into the night. The win sparked joy across the whole of British Columbia and Toews became a national hero. It was an unforgettable moment.

We were caught up in the celebrations and soon realised that these Canadians are madder than AFL fans at a grand-final. Talking afterwards to the Canucks fans, we asked what happened to the opposition. Their bellowed answer: "You missed the boat, Jourdain!"

Jun 082020
 
Current: 1975

A light rapping on the caravan door awoke me. Staggering out of bed, trying not to wake Jenny or the kids, I glanced at the digital clock on the way and groaned, it was only 3.15am.

I could see a shadow through the flywire and turned on the outside lights.

Archie the foreman was instantly illuminated and stood there waiting for me to come outside.

"The Marrs pumps have stopped," was all he needed to say. With that gem of information passed on, he turned and headed home to his bed. (The Marrs pumps are situated on level 10, six hundred metres below. They pump water from the mine 24/7 and if they stopped the lower sections would rapidly flood.)

I donned a set of overalls, my hard hat, a heavy pair of boots and reached for my electrician's issue butchers bike. The bike was painted black with a red electrical sign emblazoned across it. This was my main mode of transport to traverse the mining lease. I often carried electric motors or large parts in the basket as I peddled between mining operations.

Tonight I'm tired. This has been my third call out. Each one requires me to peddle 2km to the gate and raise the security to gain entry. Then find a headtorch and battery that is charged, before riding to the headframe to call the winder driver to pick me up when he has emptied his next load of ore. The mine works 24/7 and, as ore was the priority, I had to wait around until he completed the extraction operations. It stops and I signal 10 levels and away it drops.

When the cage is pulling ore it is travelling much faster than when hauling men and the drivers are supposed to slow the winder down. They never do and a quite a rapid descent is always guaranteed with much bouncing as the cage cables stretch then contract before it stops at your level.

In the eerie artificial light I walk towards the pumps. Cracking and rumbling sounds are all around. At this time in the morning all alone down here they tend to spook me. It's as if the very mine is alive.

I reset the pumps and wait for access to the cage again, before re-tracing my steps back to bed. Hopefully?

Past: 1974

In 1974, Warrego was in the midst of expansion and the main shaft was being sunk another 6 levels (360 metres). This entailed running and fixing steel wired armoured high voltage cables to the sides of this new shaft. At this stage, there was no cage access. The electricians were required to stand on the rim of a kibble bucket. This was a steel bucket three metres round and two metres deep fixed by three massive chains to an air winch set up on level 10 above. We were lowered on a steel cable connected to these chains, often with water constantly running over us from the workings above.

To service the winder we were tasked with fitting bells and controls to each new level. This often entailed hanging out into the shaft with a lifeline attached to you to fit off cables. Very tricky some times.

When we completed the preliminary works the winder was required to be halted while we disconnected the existing bell system and spliced in the new one. Three electricians working 23 hours straight completed this task and two of us remained to make sure it all worked when it was powered up again.

I was on level 10 when the winder began extracting ore once again.

Things seemed to be going well and I was just waiting for the cage to pick me up when a shadow fell across my headlamp.

It took a minute in my exhausted state to realise that it was fine dirt falling from the shaft. This was almost immediately followed by bigger stones then large rocks began to bounce out into the drive.

I found out later the winder had pulled away only half full and that the rest (three tonnes) came down the shaft.

I ran down the drive as crashing sounds followed behind me. I was soon passed by soccerball sized rocks bouncing off the walls and roof. Then an ear-splitting roar as an oxy bottle, its neck broken off in the melee shot past me like a torpedo. I managed to huddle into a switchboard cutout in the wall as a mass of detritus flew past.

I was finally lifted back out unharmed but shaken and rode my bike back to our caravan to tell Jenny.

"They nearly killed me", I said, before falling into a dead sleep. No call-outs after this.

Not for a few days anyway.

Future: 2020

A shadow will fall across Peco Wallsend, its glory days will be finished by 1998. It will become subject to takeovers by Pasminco and North Broken Hill and finally gobbled up by Rio Tinto. Court battles with the WA taxation office and the department of Aboriginal affairs will see the company delisted in 1988.

The mining operations will cease and the complete site be cleared away by 1999. The smelter will be refurbished in 2002 and come back into production briefly until 2004 when it will close permanently and be dismantled.

In 2018, we were in the Northern Territory once again and drove out to the Warrego site. All that remains is the headframe with two huge wheels sitting forlornly atop, still now forever.

The smelter has completely disappeared as have the works area, buildings and the powerhouse.

Such is the history of mining.

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.