Oct 262020
 

Stories by our members

Various stories and songs by various of our members.

Oct 272020
 

The sea was a deep aqua blue, more beautiful than a dark precious stone shimmering under the clear blue sky. I will always remember that colour of the sea on that boat trip from Abyiang to a nearby tropical island in the sun.

I remember my wife sitting quietly in the bow, having recovered from an earlier ordeal when she awoke as if from a sudden nightmare to a raging shivering fever. We were then staying in a thatched hut on Abyiang, the guests of volunteer teachers from Australia and Canada. The schoolchildren, upon hearing of her fever, brought us coconuts, telling us the juice would soon restore her to good health. True to their word my wife was soon up and about as if the fever was no more than a bad dream, much to our mutual relief. We had arrived the day before by boat from Tarawa, the most populated Island in Kiribati, as our intended plane trip was cancelled due to a breakdown. We negotiated with locals who took us to Abyiang by boat, finally trekking across the coral reef as our boatman carried our provisions.

We arrived both hot and exhausted.

Soon the weekend had beckoned and it had been decided to visit a nearby deserted island. The first glimpse of the island from our boat was of a pristine beach of endless white sand, crystal clear sparkling waters and a thick, almost jungle-like, foliage hugging the foreshore.

After our landing we hacked out an open space in the thick foliage to make up a rough camp space but were interrupted by the arrival of a local family. Oh dear! The island was not deserted after all. Worse still, discussions ensued as to whether we had suitably introduced ourselves to the spirit of the island by traversing it from one end to another.

The family finally departed amicably and we were left to explore the coral reef and its wondrous underwater sites. To our surprise the family returned again but this time with a number of large brightly coloured crayfish, which they had caught for us specially to be consumed for lunch. Furthermore, after learning some of us were to soon return to Australia, they performed a special ceremonial dance of farewell in the sand. A most elaborate and complicated dance performed in a wonderful spirit of friendship, extended so generously to strangers, ones to whom they could not converse nor were ever likely to see again.

The dance reminded me of the ceremonies that must have been performed to farewell canoes long ago as they set out to populate the many islands that make up what is now the kingdom of Kiribati.

Their history is recorded in the many dances and songs, words to exquisite harmonies lasting for several hours, never written down but handed down orally from one generation to another.

Oh, island in the sun.

Oct 182020
 

Grafted to a pause in the mountain,
Between gentle breasts of fertile earth,
A clutter of buildings surrounded a fountain,
Brash and excrescent upon a replat,
Down the slope from the concrete cross,
Planted where a skier had died, and,
Which cast its shadow our window across,
When the autumnal wan morning sun,
Balanced upon the mountain rim,
Before it commenced its alpine run,
As they lay abed and quickly made love,
She with demand and he with compliance,
In the non-marriage bed with the virgin above,
Before a day of boredom and chalk and talk,
In the classrooms of the school below,
Where the social aspirants’ progeny walk,
With the children of the rich and famous.

Across the valley where the Alps were cleft,
With the chiselled and ancient signature,
Of the deep and patient wedge of ice,
Where the dark reached up from the valley floor,
While the blue dipped low from the frozen sky,
Like blood from a wound a rillet trickled,
Out of the cleft and into the Rhone.

In an assertive statement of intention,
Into Autumn, with a rapid incursion,
A preliminary of a full invasion,
One blustery afternoon, Winter,
Plummeted the daytime temperature,
And drove flocks of birds from the heights.
They, like a storm descending,
In an angry squall of wings,
Protested their disapproval,
Then with a twittering haste they vanished,
Diving low into the darkening valley,
To the lake that was milky and green.

Then to gather forces and regroup,
Winter withdrew for a week,
Before, with ferocious renewed intention,
She launched her full-scale assault.
She smothered the land with a blanket of snow,
And adorned eaves and shivering trees,
With a tracery of coruscating icicles.

To disturb our Saturday morning,
While the village was yet awakening,
The army Suisse invaded our slopes,
Like flies on a wedding cake.
That herd of citizen soldiers,
A collection of farmers and clerks,
Were taught how to kill,
While honing their skill,
At other warring games.

Their foolish games of war and sport,
Despoiled and scarred the carpet of white,
And the staccato crackle of gunfire,
Was a cackle straight from hell,
That shattered the mountain silence.

Winter quickly protested,
Her hypertrophied clouds unravelled,
Trailing translucent buds of snow,
That wove delicate wafting gauze,
Which syncopated multi-sonorous noise,
That radiated from the centre of action.
The bellow of raucous voices,
Vainly ebbed and flowed,
As the storm intensity grew.
Ignoring the warning from Winter,
The High Command persisted,
Desecrating the mountain landscape,
Till, in a fit of indignation,
With the determination of the affronted,
Winter made her strongest protest,
And the fury of her heavy assault,
Finally drove them from the slopes.

Oct 052020
 

On opening his computer, over his breakfast cornflakes, our locked-down human friend checks his inbox.

  1. Dear Human, You are a vanishingly tiny speck dwarfed by even the tiniest object in the heavens. Do not be depressed, you can’t help it. Sincerely, The Universe.
        (replies) Well, that’s sad. You mean, like, I’m insignificant? (sniffles).
  2. Dear Human, Your slightest actions can cause chain reactions that propagate forward, like the butterfly flapping up a hurricane, eventually reaching all of space and time. So be of good cheer, Your insignificance … it's all relative. Sincerely, Chaos Theory.
        That’s really cool! I can change the universe. Here goes …
  3. Dear Human, Your 'actions' are merely the result of your brain’s chemical structure and its neurons firing or not firing at any given time. You can’t help it. Sincerely, Causality.
        You mean I'm not in charge? Oh no, that cannot be.
  4. Dear Human, Causality is lying. Also not lying. Also an entangled superposition of lying and not-lying states. Just like Schrodinger’s alive/dead pussycat. Best to avoid all observers, lest one collapses your wave function. Sincerely, Quantum Mechanics.
        Okay. Huh?
  5. Dear Human, We’ve invented lots of neat things to distract you from the void of meaning that is your existence. Cheer up, try a life drawing class. Sincerely, Art.
        Ooooh … sounds much more promising … let's get started.
  6. Dear Human, All existence is void of meaning. Sincerely, Postmodernism.
        Okay, so what's the point? I'm gonna end it all.
  7. Dear Human, No way. Your selfish genes program you to live. Sincerely, Evolution.
        Okay, then I'll descend into hedonism.
  8. Dear Human, You can’t afford it, unless you mortgage everything. Sincerely, Economics.
        Okay, that does it, I’m already bankrupt. Dear Reality, I’m computing a new simulated reality program where I’m in charge and everything works the way I like.
  9. Dear Human, Welcome to my creative club. Get started. Sincerely, God.
        Thanks but, um, look at your mess down here … too much to fix. I think I'll just stay locked down. (Deletes all messages, concentrates on the cornflakes.)

Lockdown can’t last. As the old song goes: Be like I, hold our heads on high, somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness. We may find, greater peace of mind, knowing there's a bluebird of happiness. And when he sings to you, though you're feeling blue, somewhere there’s a ray of light shines through.

Sep 282020
 

There are many stories of animals interacting with humans, but a brutal arrangement was evident in the early whaling practises at Eden, NSW.

Today the skeleton of 'Tom' the killer whale is a fascinating tale of trust and betrayal.

Tom faithfully returned to Eden each year as part of a killer whale pod who hunted whales with resident Homo sapiens. They blocked off the escape routes of migratory wales, who they then chased around the bay until the whales were thoroughly exhausted. Then, close to the shoreline, the pod thrashed the water with their tails to signal the whalers to harvest the whales. The pods share the 4 ton tongues (of no use to the whalers) and their lips.

An extraordinary event is recorded involving a young man and his family who perished in a small boat that capsized due to a sudden squall. His family tragically all drowned and the bodies were recovered except the father. Tom, aware of the body's location wedged under a rock entangled in seaweed, continually circled the area for days trying to attract the attention of the whalers. Finally he joined up the entire pod in a grand display, which led the whalers to the body. A few days later the recovered body was buried at sea witnessed by the killers.

But on occasions the over-enthusiastic killer whales became temporarily beached. One fateful day a stranger rushed into the water with his gun and shot it dead. The traumatised whales hastily left the bay, never to return. However, Tom (and a few of the other whales did finally return). Locals concluded that Tom must have persuaded the pod that the stranger was unconnected to the community of whalers.

The final betrayal occurred with a change in captaincy of the whaler boat, who decided he was not going to cut out the tongue for Tom. He ignored the warning from the crew "Tom is not going to like that, he’s likely to turn nasty and I don't blame him!" As they began to tow the whale to the shore, Tom grasped the rope in his mouth with such force it was as if a hand had reached out and shook the boat in fury. A tug of war ensued. The skipper ordered full throttle ahead until they witnessed an amazing sight. The rope had apparently caught around one of Tom’s teeth which finally gave way as it was dislodged and sank into the sea bed. Tragically the tooth cavity became infected with an abscess and, unable to hunt, Tom died of starvation. His body was washed up on the foreshore. It was decided to preserve his skeleton.

The missing tooth is evident, and even the jaw has markings that are the exact same size as that of the rope and harpoon lines. This can be seen today at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

If you want to know more, you can either watch this 10-minute video or read this website.

Sep 212020
 

Australian outback and outer urban lore includes many examples of human/kangaroo interactions, frequently involving collisions between vehicles and our national symbol at eventide or nightfall. Overnight roadside kills are so common along some highways, such as the Eyre across the Nullabor Plain, that road patrols carry out a daily carcase collection to reduce distress to overseas tourists unused to such slaughter. Injuries to drivers, even fatalities, have also resulted from collisions or attempted avoidances. Beneficiaries include eagle and other raptor populations … provided they can get out of the way of oncoming vehicles in time. Our national news recently featured a kangaroo inside Melbourne airport’s passenger terminal; being without her boarding pass, security removed her to greener pastures.

As well as airport encounters, there’s the thump variety. The one discussed below occurred on a sunny mid-afternoon along our stretch of the Strathewen Road, locally known as Hoppers Crossing. Here, the local mob have developed a frequently-used pedestrian crossing, where large male and female eastern greys, led by Qantas the Flying Kangaroo (over six feet of spring-heeled sub-orbital ballistic macropod missile) soar over the roadside fence, followed by 20 or more adolescents and juveniles through their ever-widening hole in the wire netting, straight across the road. There’s little point in trying to repair the hole, the juveniles being far too smart, simply moving it along to the nearest convenient location by burrowing beneath or through your best attempts at kangaroo impedance. Verily, our national symbol can be a pain in the fence.

If they would but pause, look left or right, then cross with care, or perhaps wear fluorescent yellow jackets. They do none of these things (sigh). Indeed, Jared Diamond has noted that one reason why our aboriginal first people never developed sedentary agriculture was their lack of domesticable native livestock which could be fenced in, rather than decamping overnight thirty miles from the would-be-herders. Anyhow, on this day it came to pass that Qantas, in total defiance of lockdown restrictions, came a-bounding joyfully down the hill, over the fence, down the embankment, onto the Strathewen road, thud, at full speed amidships into the Toyota bearing your correspondent and his young grandson Liam.

Thus it was that, whilst we have never run into a kangaroo, this one ran into us. The bemused beast bounced onto the pavement, hoisted himself groggily onto his haunches, shook his head and fist, glared at us and (no exaggeration) SWORE with repetitive grunt-snort, while his spouses/siblings/offspring/cousins and aunts joined in from the roadside. With the Toyota stationary (you might say, clean bowled, torpedoed, dead in the water), the grandson mirthfully helpless, and being without a camera, the macropedal curses went, so to speak, through to the keeper. And so it was that this Attenborough-standard kangaroo road rage vignette went unrecorded for future generations, although such events can happen at any time, anywhere in our fair shire. Happily, rather than dragging us out and beating us up, Qantas and his entourage, with a parting curse or two, completed their crossing, bounding onwards and upwards unto our neighbour’s broad sunlit uplands, whence they return at will, to and fro, over the road … an unpredictable long-period kangaroo oscillation, a multiple inelastic collision awaiting the alarmed and unalert motorist.

If there is a moral to this tale, it is this: always proceed with caution, can’t be too careful, and keep your camera and fur-remover to hand. And perhaps those ‘Beware of Kangaroos’ road signs should be modified to also read ‘Or You’ll Both Be Dented’. With all best regards, and don’t ignore lockdown like Qantas or the constabulary will getcha.

Sep 012020
 

Spring at last, and with it the blooming of the acacias, commonly known as wattles, true icons of Australia.

The first 'national' Wattle Day, symbolising the beginning of spring and our increasing awareness of nationhood, was celebrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on 1st September 1910. In 1913, Australia’s Coat of Arms was changed to include more relevant Australian symbols, featuring a spray of wattle as the background.

Early Wattle Day activities included planting wattle trees in school grounds, decorating streets with wattle blossom and wearing sprigs of wattle.

Nillumbik is blessed with several indigenous species of wattle and our landscape is spectacular at this time of year. Historian Dianne Edwards, in The Diamond Valley Story, tells us that in 1912 a special train brought nearly 1,000 people to Hurstbridge to celebrate Wattle Day.

During the First World War, the wattle became a symbol of home for those serving overseas, and a means of raising funds for comforts for the soldiers. Sprigs of wattle and Wattle Day badges were sold by organisations such as Red Cross. According to Edwards, wounded soldiers returned from the war were taken to Hurstbridge to see the wattles blooming.

In the mid 20th century, the tradition of Wattle Day waned, only to be revived at the end of the century. In 1988, the Bicentenary year, the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was officially gazetted as Australia's national floral emblem. In 1992, the Australian Government declared 1st September 'National Wattle Day'. In recent years, Wattle Day badges have been sold to support the CFA.

According to the Wattle Day Association website: "Wattle is Australian and represents us all. Unlike other national days, National Wattle Day excludes no one. Like our people, wattle has great diversity (with more than 1,000 species) and resilience, Wattle welcomes in the spring and is among the first plants to regenerate after fire, reminding us of the importance of renewal as it paints our national colours across our land …"

Since the revival of Wattle Day, thousands of people have come to Hurstbridge on the Sunday nearest the day – some even by special steam train – to celebrate spring and to enjoy the community atmosphere of the Hurstbridge Wattle Festival. Although the 2020 Wattle Festival has been cancelled due to Covid-19, the Hurstbridge community is celebrating Wattle Day by decorating the town with sprigs of wattle and imaginative scarecrows and other sculptures representing spring and community.

It was lovely to see the press report of these activities in Saturday’s Age. And you can experience the virtual festival online.

Aug 312020
 

I'll never forget the day, Wednesday, 25th March, when the Diamond Valley Bushwalking Club (DVBC) cancelled all of its hikes and rambles. The day before, the State of Victoria had declared Stage 1 restrictions. Nevertheless, friend Janie and I decided to continue just walking together and to find as many new walks as we could to present to the club when the pandemic was over.

Butterman's Track in St Andrews sounded intriguing. We drove to where the map showed a reserve on the edge of the Kinglake National Park. We met no-one on the 7 kilometre track and discovered a clearing in the reserve with a large ring of stones but no fire place or any signs of a camp fire. We both agreed that it must be the meeting place of some religious sect and that we would be the first to introduce the DVBC to this adventurous walk. Our first recce was completed.

Within the week, Stage 3 was declared. No sharing of cars plus social distancing meant that any walk we discovered had to have a lot of parking space. Nonplussed, we armed ourselves with flasks, sandwiches and maps and found a walk in Warrandyte, on the opposite side of the river from the well-trodden paths of Jumping Creek. Finding new walks was fun for the next few weeks.

By 11th May, with the spike over with, restrictions were eased and we had a road map for re-opening Victoria. At last the club was able to meet again, with a limit of 10 walkers socially distancing. 17 walkers put their hands up. The leaders of the Panton Hill Boomers Orchid Reserve read the Government's small print and discovered that, providing the groups had no more than 10, we could walk 100 metres apart. What bliss to be out amongst the pink heath.

We move forward to 28th June. New cases had been increasing daily in Victoria, as hot spots were declared in Melbourne. Stage 4 was announced as borders to Victoria closed. We decided to return to finding new walks, ourselves. It’s surprising how you can find narrow tracks even in well-known spots around places, like Banyule Flats.

It was disappointing to find that, despite all our best efforts, the numbers of new cases continued to rise (723 recorded on the 30th July). And face masks became mandatory. Four days later, the Premier was forced to declare a State of Disaster. This meant no visitors, a curfew and a 5 mile exercise radius. Luckily my friend and I live within a kilometre of each other and soon found a walk along the Plenty River in Montmorency which lasted around an hour. No new discoveries to be found in local parklands, so we poured over maps for the following week and found Brown’s Reserve in Greensborough.

Brown's was unknown to me even though I’ve lived in the same house in Briar Hill for nearly 50 years. Last century, Nurse Brown, who had never married, decided that her house and 6 acres of bushland were to be given to the Banyule Council. What a find, not only were domestic animals barred and the gate closed at sunset, but greenhood orchids were beginning to peep out. Here, right in suburbia, was an unspoilt piece of bushland. Our swag of new walks was growing by the week, until I read about the ‘don’t drive to exercise’ rule. They must be kidding.

That nonsensical restriction was overturned 48 hours later, common sense prevailing. Whatever happens next, the Senior Ramblers will be up for the challenge!

Aug 092020
 

At different times in our lives, we have been asked about our experiences. Whether for a job or for getting to know people, we chose the most relevant things to mention. Often the emphasis was on brevity – summarising experiences or jobs. But suppose you were asked to summarise your whole life in a few words. What would stand out?

In the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs, people were challenged to use only six words to describe their lives. Some of their responses were funny, others poignant, but they all showed it really is possible to describe a life in a few words. Below are some extracts from the book, complete in six words:

Followed rules, not dreams. Never again.

Found true love, married someone else.

Afraid of everything. Did it anyway.

Marked time till 55, reborn thereafter.

Time to start over again, again.

I live the perfect imperfect life.

Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends.

Always working on the next chapter.

Lived like no tomorrow; tomorrow came.

Glass half full; pockets half empty.

As the examples show, it is not always the 'big occasions' that end up being the most significant. Life's important lessons can often be summarised in a small number of words and these can say a lot about both events and people. How would you describe your own life — in six words? [Editor: email your six-word description and we will publish it.]

[Editor: this six words business is clearly quite a big thing. For example, see the Six words memoirs website.

Aug 022020
 

I wake up to the memory of yesterday's Coronavirus infections in Victoria, 428! Staring at the ceiling, I think that we are almost certainly heading for Stage 4 restrictions. Time for some decisive action, so I sit up in my nice warm bed and make a list. Then, I consider my options: medical centres, pharmacies, veterinary surgeries, greengrocers, butchers and supermarkets will stay open, even in such dire circumstances (we can't let the populace starve to death before the virus gets them, can we?) but pet shops will almost certainly not be open. That decided, I leap out of bed, figuratively speaking, more like a cumbersome roll, actually, and head for my shower.

For some reason, I'm sure some unforeseen disaster will prevent my shopping as panic sets in. I dress quickly and load Jess into the car. Jess is the second member of my two-people family, which comprises a two-legged person (me) and a four-legged person (her). She needs some new balls to tide her over any impending lockdown. Now, having seen Jess's reaction to others of her species, some feeble-minded wit, thinking they are hilariously funny and original, might think that she has enough balls for six dogs, but I'm talking about the toy variety.

On the way to the nearest pet shop at South Morang, I suddenly remember that I have forgotten to eat breakfast. I have had no breakfast! This is a truly disturbing indication of the severity of the situation! NO BREAKFAST! Never in the Frances Family Annals has such a thing been recorded, not that much has been recorded at all, of course.

I fed Jess her chicken drumstick at the crack of dawn when she woke me up with an unblinking stare, several centimetres from my face, but then I forgot, an hour later, in the excitement of the headlong rush to the pet shop, to fortify myself. This is concerning. Is it an indication of an increase in the speed of dementia, which I'm certain is waiting around some corner to pounce on me?

Anyway, despite my enfeebled and unfed state, we make it safely to Best Friends Pet Shop. I leave Jess in the car, since she would make short work of any other poor, innocent, furry customer, and I head inside, sporting my surgical mask. I feel silly wearing it. This is only the third time I've PPE'd up. The first two times my glasses fogged up, which is a bit of a deterrent. To my chagrin, I am informed that I have the mask on upside down, with the wire bit under my chin. It's amazing how much better it works now that I have it on the correct way up.

Three girls are hovering near the register, all anxious to serve me. Who knows, I might be the only shopper they see all day. Other customers might not realise the disaster they are inviting if we aren't allowed to even walk our dogs, let alone if they don't have enough toys to keep boredom at bay. Watch out chair legs, especially expensive velvet covered ones! Not that I need to worry: most of my pieces of furniture are Savers Specials.

I can't find the tough, pimply balls that Jess favours so one of the girls graciously consents to show me. But, horror of horrors, there's only one blue ball left. My baby will just have to put up with the only other inferior ball, a red one. Moved to guilt by my lack of ability to fulfil her needs adequately, as a responsible parent of a canine should, ("My German Shepherd, my responsibility", my car sticker reads), I lash out on a colourful rope ball, a rope pull toy and a bag of dried kangaroo liver pieces. In principle, I am opposed to feeding pets parts of our beautiful national symbol, but needs must. This situation calls for extreme action and selfish self-interest wins out over ethics.

I walk up to the register where the helpful girl eyes my mask suspiciously. "I'm smiling behind this", I say, pointing at the offending object, worn this time the right way up, and crinkling my eyes at her over the top. She is unimpressed. Hmm! No sense of humour. I make it out of the shop, pet trophies in hand, after handing over half the value of my house. Opening the car door, I toss the rope toy inside to a waiting Jess. She, too, is unimpressed and ignores it.

I sigh and head for the Bridge Inn Shopping Centre, to buy, what else? Mincemeat for Jess at the butchers there. I then head for Chemist Warehouse and spend the equivalent of the other half of my house on vitamins for me. Reaching home, I make a coffee and then unload my purchases. Jess has finally deigned to chew her new rope ball. Half an hour later, as I finish my coffee, having put my shopping away (I use my own bags of course), I glance at my girl happily gnawing away on her bed in the lounge room. To my annoyance, the brand-new tight rope ball has morphed into a strange creature with a round body and two hanging black legs. Jess's mattress is littered with little discarded clumps of dark material. It took all of three quarters of an hour for her to wreak this destruction. I point out to her that it's just as well I love her! I'm not sure this translated very accurately into canine. She stops her chewing, wags her tail and gives my hand a warm lick.

I glance at the wall clock. It's too late for breakfast, so I cook myself some lunch, chicken schnitzel and salad. Satisfied at last, I now feel up to dealing with the situation in the loungeroom. Jess has taken her strange rope creature outside. She wants me to play with her. I toss the soggy object a few times. Then I return indoors to gingerly pick the sad little remnants of her once beautiful rope ball off her mattress. And so goes another day in Stage Three lockdown. I wonder what 'unprecedented' events Stage Four will bring? Either way, even if the ball met the dust or rather the jaws, Jess and I are well prepared.

Jul 222020
 

When people I meet ask where I live, and I tell them, Wattle Glen, they invariably reply, “where’s that?” Few Melburnians seem to have heard of Wattle Glen. Rarely does it make the news, Wattle Glen is such a quiet and peaceful place.

For 45 years, we have enjoyed living on the side of one of Wattle Glen’s many hills, surrounded by trees. We are visited daily by a variety of native birds and sometimes by kangaroos and even the occasional echidna. In the morning, we are wakened by the kookaburra, who also announces bedtime in the evenings. Silence rules the night hours, and summer nights are cool, even when Melbourne swelters.

Wattle Glen is not the place for ‘keeping up with the Jones’, here we like to do our own thing. Houses tend to be individual, not conforming to suburban fashions. They are tucked into their environment rather than showing off to passers-by.

Over the years, we have rambled around the district, however these rambles have become regular walks during Covid-19 lockdown. The back roads of Wattle Glen are ideal for isolation. We pass few people along the way and, if more than three vehicles pass us, we say, “the traffic is heavy today”.

Our favourite walk is ‘around the block’, around 6 kilometres, where the streets have evocative names such as Silvan Road, Valley Road, Moonlight Road, and the houses occupy large bush blocks.

We see, perched on a hill, a white house with a verandah facing the sun. With lovely views in all directions, most houses around here have verandahs. Opposite is an aged care home, with its rooms at the back overlooking a ferny glade.

Next we pass an old cottage in its original state – probably a former orchardist’s house – surrounded by its wood pile, vegetable garden, ducks and goats – its inhabitants living ‘the good life’ in the bush. Further along is a ‘ranch’ nestling into the hillside, with a grassy meadow and pond in front.

Along the road a bit, you can buy ‘pony poo’ for $2 a bag – too heavy for us to carry up the big hill ahead. There are crimson rosellas along this stretch, and magpies warbling to cheer us on as we pant up the hill, while horses watch us from their paddocks and frogs croak in the gully. At the top of the hill is a kind of seat for us, where we sit to recover our breath. We are now half way. Continuing on, we pass meandering driveways leading who knows where.

It is an easier walk downhill to the more ‘suburban’ part of Wattle Glen, were houses are closer together, some clinging to the hillside. Here we can stop at Pepper’s Paddock Store for a takeaway coffee to enjoy in the park. The last leg includes walking along the main road, then up the hill to our own little haven.

I’ve told you about Wattle Glen, but please keep it a secret. We want to keep the place to ourselves.

Jul 142020
 

I am the proud owner of a lovely new red Mazda 2. Last week, I went out to my car to attend an 8.15am doctor's appointment. I thought that I'd get in early so that I didn't have to wait. Much to my dismay, my car would not start. I checked the gears, and all controls, to make sure that I had everything right, but it was not starting.

Worried that time was getting on, and not wanting to be late, I phoned a good friend to ask her to give me a ride to my appointment. A croaky voice answered the phone and I explained my situation. She just laughed – a lot. You see, two weeks earlier, she had been in the same situation with her car battery flat and had a 9.30am (much more civil time) doctor's appointment. She stopped laughing enough for me to explain that I really DID have an appointment, and my car really would NOT start. She had thought it was my idea of a prank! Anyway, although she admitted that she was still in bed, like the good friend that she is, she agreed to help me out. She picked me up from home, drove me to the doctors and then returned me home. We both couldn't believe that my two week old car would have such a problem. Had I bought a lemon?

Upon returning home, I called Roadside Assist and they arrived in around 25 minutes. A pleasant young man looked under the bonnet, hooked up some leads to the battery, and investigated. I gave him the keys so he could try to start it. I watched on eagerly. Then, he smiled and asked me if I had another set of keys? I did, so I went inside to grab the spare keys. Then it dawned on me: I had been using the spare key for my husband's car!! Of course it wouldn't start! That is surely the risk of owning two Mazda cars, that both have 'push button' start. Had it been a good, old fashioned actual key, I would have known immediately the error of my ways.

I sent the young mechanic on his way with a big smile about the silly blonde woman in Eltham who could not start her car.

Jul 142020
 

Wind blows.
Somewhere in an attic
A sad abandoned kite tugs,
Restless under the weight of bidden sleep,
Dreams of rumba rhythms and
Ay ay ay a conga combinations.
Tail twitch, cloth whisper,
High flying kite.

Rain falls.
A sail boat dry docked
in an old toy box listens,
Feels seas move round her desert moorings.
Imagines oceans to invest in,
Sirocco moons to move by.
Rudder twitch, cloth whisper,
Dream afloat boat.

Sun shines.
A broken doll catches a stray beam
Through a crack in the old shed door,
Dreams of new dresses, tea with friends
In rose scented summer gardens,
Anticipates the breath of kisses.
Wings twitch, cloth whisper,
Little ray of hope shine doll.

Jun 162020
 

Here is a stretch of pure white sand. There is no one else here, just me, on this beach of pure white sand. It is, perhaps, just a wee bit too early for other walkers. Or am I the first one who has ever walked here? What a fancy! But that is how it feels. I have taken a few minutes to walk here by myself before the holiday chaos begins – a little meditation time.

There are no other footprints apart from those of the birds. There are a few silver gulls, for once not squabbling amongst themselves as they often do, and a bevy of sooty oyster catchers, who sometimes scurry along as though they are being chased by tumbleweeds. My own footprints tag along behind me. They make deep hollows where the sand is smooth and malleable as silk, soft runaway slightly sun-warmed sand. These treads disappear quite quickly, sucked back into the earth – trickle, trickle down flows the sand back over where I have walked until only a slight disturbance can be seen, a small pitted indentation.

As I move down to the ocean’s edge, my footprints gradually gather stability as the sand becomes damper and dun coloured. Finally, there is a firmness to them, each curve outlined, each toe discernible. No one else can claim these footprints. They are mine, firm in the damp sand. Closer to the ocean, where the sand becomes a camel coloured hue, my footprints fade in the gently lapping tidal water. The sea is still a bit chilly. On the faraway horizon the point where sea and sky meet is, today, ill defined. The blue on blue is almost indistinguishable and a faint shimmering heat haze is already beginning to tremble, distorting this line. There are no clouds. The sun owns the sky. Today will be very warm, a good day for the beach.

She claims everything, the sea. If you build a sandcastle, she will finally claim it. She will eat it and swish her lips for more. Please do not forget your towel, a shoe, a spade or, heaven forbid, a favourite book! Anything at all that you forget, she will take for her own. On calm days this is a gradual possessing, little lick, licks. She will sniff, sniff around the forgotten like a dog wary of a stranger’s treat, getting closer and closer until finally she accepts the offering then, GULP! There you are – gone!

Just so with a footprint in the sand. Eventually an incoming tide will have mine, covering my tracks with a swill of water and sand. So that I might begin to wonder if I had walked there at all and, if not, how did I get there? But then, noticing my footprints in the firm sand out of reach of the sea’s still approaching tidal lips, I will realise that I had not been dreaming. I did walk there after all. What silly fancies I have sometimes!

But today the tide is an ebb tide and it is calm. It is a silver sand beach with an untroubled whispering, ebbing ocean – tiny little whispers of waves, or wavelets maybe is a suitable word for the water today. I like whispers, little whispers leaving frown lines on the beach where the water whispers in until, tired of whispering in, the ocean takes a little breath back a bit. Then in she flows, breathing out to whisper and build another frown of sand until, eventually, the beach is marked by continuous frown lines to show that the day has been calm with sea and tide, the ocean is only singing little whisperings and not being noisy and crass.

On stormy days, when the tide returns, cross and crass, she will bang and crash into everything. She will dash the driftwood and sea weed ashore in large heaps as if to say "Take it! Take it all ——– BACK! Have it all ——– BACK!" She will charge ashore with flotsam and jetsam (including your forgotten treasures perhaps), with a TISH and a TOSH, before rushing back recklessly to find some more of her unwanted.

But not today thankfully. Today the sea is just full of little whisperings and she only nibbles neatly at my footprints until finally they disappear. Now the sun is fully awake and the beach is warming up. The sea will soon be warmer. There are people arriving to pick a good spot for the day ahead. There is the gladsome noise of children. A dog is barking. There are kites to fly if the wind picks up, cricket to play, buckets and spades for sandcastle building and picnics to eat. There is the smell of suntan lotion and mosquito repellent. There is my family marking off our spot. My husband waves, breaking into my musings.

I had been marvelling as I walked along this sandy beach at the wonder of my footprints being chewed on slowly by the sea because of a whim of the moon.

Now it’s time for family fun. I wave back.

Apr 212020
 

If you want to go full blown karaoke, download the music without the singing.

Don’t gather round people
Whatever you do
Don’t go to the theatre
the footy, the zoo
the café, the bar
the cinema too.
If your life to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start thinkin’
Or you’ll all get the ‘flu
For the times they are a’changing. Come pollies and leaders
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
Keeping socially distant’s
For one and for all
The battle outside it is ragin’
But our doctors and nurses
They won’t let us fall.
Tho’ the times they are a’changin’ Come writers, musicians
And you who can act
Come all of the artists
Who gave what we lacked
The painters, the sculptors
The mirror’s not cracked
You’re all needed now more than ever
We’ve time now to look
And to listen to you
For the times they are a’slowing. Come men and come women
Throughout the land
Be kind to your neighbours
And lend them a hand
Without touching, of course
Because touching in banned.
Your old road is rapidly agin’
When you build up a new one
Make sure it is planned
For the times they are a’changin’. The line is not drawn
The curse is not cast
The other side’s waitin’
The virus won’t last
The present now
Will later be past
With the old order rapidly fadin’
A much wise order will be our new task
For new times are a’comin’.

Mar 312020
 

My parents never mentioned Spanish Flu, even though that virus killed more people worldwide than World War 1. Now here we are in another historical time and I am keen to keep a personal journal.

March 15th, Monday. Loved the U3A talk Professor Louis Roller gave at the Living and Learning Centre, Eltham. The topic was ‘You and your Medicine’, part of the 2020 Speaker’s Program. Jo Osbourne and I decided to attend, even though that afternoon we had our regular U3A Class ‘First Nations’. At the end of the talk, we had a window of 15 minutes in which to drive over to Diamond Creek, Senior Citizens Hall. A quick dash and we walked into the class, only to find that all U3A classes were to be cancelled as of midnight. What a shock! Only classes in the open air (bowling, walking) could continue, but how? We all sat around and discussed the next 2 weeks of term. A walk though Wattle Glen was suggested, as no-one wanted the term to end before Easter. I was already thinking ahead, that our Painting and Drawing Class could be en plein air in Wingrove Park; plenty of room to spread out and the forecast was for 29 degrees. Rather like Van Gogh and Gauguin, setting out with their easels along the canals in Provence.

March 16th, Tuesday. Surprised to have a breakfast call cancelling my Life Memoirs Class. What am I going to do with my 1,000 word story this week? Also a surprising phone call from my daughter Helen in Perth, to say that her proposed Easter trip would probably be off; Qantas cancelling many of their scheduled flights.

March 17th. Our weekly ramble with the Diamond Valley Bushwalkers is cancelled. Does the fresh air count for nothing? In this wonderful sunny autumn weather, surely we can be more flexible. It seems to me that civilisation has suddenly turned upside down.

March 20. Hurrah for ‘Tuning into Opera’. Our tutors Lyn and Tom Richards have come up with a plan on their blog. Now social distancing makes it impossible to meet, we can download the fine production of the Ring Cycle by Opera North, Leeds. The New York Met also promises to stream free some of their outstanding productions. Lyn has already worked out the days and times the operas commence (we are 15 hours ahead). Things are looking up.

March 24th. Over this last weekend I find we are at Stage 1 and we now have a National Cabinet. Japan has postponed the Tokyo Olympic Games. I am delighted to receive an invitation to a Life Memoir meeting this week. It appears that our leader Serena Sweeney has mastered Zoom. I will get to read my story after all, virtually. What fun, I have never conferenced a meeting on computer before. So this is the future, I am in awe of our resourceful seniors and it’s only taken a week to change!

Mar 312020
 

Scene

Two tenth floor balconies, eight feet apart. Two men doing their thirty day corona virus isolation.

Jack, returned from overseas. Girlfriend, Sophia, in hospital recovering from a leg amputation. She is a violinist who intuitively composes soothing music.

Mitch, released from jail and a year’s solitary confinement.

Both are disposed to talk. They are compatible.

Jack asks Mitch to help him get a feeling for the effect of isolation on the human spirit so that Sophia can compose soothing music for people in jail or in corona virus isolation or other challenging environments. Mitch agrees.

“What can I do?”

“You talk, I’ll type.”

“For starters. Lack of connection with people and life. Couldn’t see or hear or touch or smell people – couldn’t sense them, hear them laughing or crying or just making noises or breathing — couldn’t experience friendly pats on the back or hugs — couldn’t hear humanity’s sounds.

“Lack of contact with Nature – with the sky and clouds – with vistas of trees and horizons – with mountains and oceans and lakes and rivers and animals and everything that grows in the ground – with birds and animals, and especially with dogs and cats – with variable weather.

Is that enough to begin with?”

“Sure is. You’ve given us leads we can get stuck into.”

Balcony scene a week later

Jack, “I’ll summarise. We learnt a lot this week. People write and take lots of photos – and gladly share them. A girl doing a kindergarten course recorded twenty different sorts of sounds in different types of child care – and has sent them to us to use however we want. A scuba diver who is a professional photographer has sent us sounds – underwater, wind, seabirds, dolphins, whales, and a whole range of waves crashing onto shorelines down to wavelets coming into shore . A town planning student has recorded a wide range of city sounds – trains, buses, cars, crowds of people in shops, crowds on special shopping days, buskers, cathedral bells, building sites, vacuum cleaning and trolley pushing, sounds inside public transport. And lots more.”

Balcony scene ten days later.

‘Mitch, what do you think?”

“Played Sophia’s tape all through last night. She’s captured the wonders and joys and ordinarinesses of humanness. Had the best sleep ever. Didn’t dread waking up. I’m a person again.

I’ll try to get the prison authorities to allow everyone in solitary to listen to her tape as much as they like. If it could be played through the whole jail, if everyone released was given a copy to take away with them, if it could be sent to all Australian jails and remand centres, I reckon the rate of recidivism would be halved.”

“Mitch, I’ve had similar responses from one hotel housing Corona Virus isolationists – three isolationist homes – one busy childcare centre – two hospital emergency reception desks – a Centrelink office – a big retailer”. I’ll send copies for widespread distribution to the main Corona Virus oversight people.”

Friendships formed for life.

Mar 312020
 

Clara was finding it hard to keep calm. She’d just driven to half a dozen different supermarkets trying to find some toilet paper. She was completely out and was in the unfortunate position of having one of those unmentionable conditions whereby when you’ve got to go, well you’ve GOT TO GO!!!!!! Normally, Clara would have more than adequate supplies of this essential sanitary requirement but an unfortunate incident earlier in the week had prevented her from holding her usual level of stocks. It eventuated this way. George, her husband and ever-loving grandfather to Cora and Suzy, had been babysitting these delightful 2 year old twins when he had come down with a violently unpleasant tummy bug which had struck with astonishing speed leaving poor George stuck in the smallest room of the house for an inordinate period of time. It’s not clear whether the adorable Cora and Suzy were the source of George’s malaise – that is beyond the boundaries of this sad story. Anyway Cora, because of her own condition, took refuge in her bedroom (with ensuite bathroom) and left George to his own devices until he was able to recover. Of course, by the time he did recover, 3 days had passed and, by then the damage, as yet undiscovered, had been done. As Cora sound realised, all stocks of the precious commodity were gone with the exception of 4 sheets on the last roll in their ensuite. It was only when George had recovered some bodily composure once again that Cora emerged from her self-isolation to discover the sad situation concerning the toilet tissue stocks, or lack thereof.

As she made her despondent way home, Cora was scratching her head trying to figure out what could be done about the predicament she found herself in. As soon as she was home, she took stock of the various items which could be used as a substitute:

1 roll of kitchen towel
1 box of tissues
14 paper napkins
23 sheets of A4 paper in the printer
Last Saturday’s Age
2 old phone books
6 sheets of sandpaper in the shed????

As she totalled up how long this might last – 3 weeks at a pinch as long as her “condition” remained in remission, 3 days otherwise.

Ah, well surely supermarket stocks will have recovered by then she surmised, when she heard George calling out from the front door – “Hello, Cora, hello Suzy. What a lovely surprise.”

Mar 312020
 

STAGE 1 Sunday, 23 February, 2020: NGV 18th Century Gallery – Free Drawing Class

I’m sitting amongst several hundred would-be artists packed onto stools and even the floor, silently intent on drawing. Out front is our facilitator, enthusiastically discussing 18th Century painting techniques. He’s young, perhaps overawed by the size of his class and his microphone echoes so I can’t understand what he’s saying but luckily, he’s with a signer.

I’m inspired to draw a lily white marble statue, a woman who looks down dreamily from her plinth. Bad choice… eventually I leave.

Outside, St Kilda Road is packed with sight-seers and the sun is bathing the city in late afternoon’s liquid light. A busker soaks the air with her mellow refrain and I feel privileged to be here, beautiful Melbourne is its own masterpiece.

But there’s been talk of a virus up there in Wuhan city, China. They say it’s dangerous – very contagious, they call it ‘coronavirus‘. I rub shoulders with sightseers and a bell I don’t quite acknowledge rings in my blanketed distance.

STAGE 2 Thursday, 19 March 2020: A pleasant morning

Thursdays are good days, they’re my U3A days – I look forward to them, usually.

But today is different. A Coronavirus pandemic has been declared, there’s news of its spread overseas and warnings, lots of warnings about its containment in Australia.

Bad times are predicted. Our city is closing down, bit by bit, job by job.

On this Thursday I have an appointment, an interview and I think, ‘Stage 2 restrictions start in a few days – should I cancel?’ I don’t want this to be happening, I answer, ‘No.’

I’m driving down a near empty road to a vast community garden in Doncaster. My interviewee is waiting, cheerfully. We meet and throughout the sunny morning he provides insights into how multicultural gardeners grow food. This learning is fun but we know a bleak winter is coming.

STAGE 3 Sunday, 29 March 2020: Golden Promises

Yet another brilliant autumn day, a day that belies our invisible opponent. The virus is all around us now, in our supermarkets, on our hands, in the air we breathe, it’s taken over our news reports and seeped into every cold, dark, moist corner. We’re afraid to go out save to stock up on sometimes questionable ‘essentials’.

I was given a bag of jonquil bulbs last summer; there must be over 100 of them. It’s time to plant them. Their flowers will be lemon coloured, like those that grow wild in the fields up in Kangaroo Ground.

Pain and permanently blackened fingernails, such are the gifts of gardening. But there are benefits, too – when the purple Hardenbergia blooms then beds of lemon gold flower heads will dance in spring sunshine.

The fear of infection is here, the prospect of a dour winter is upon us and concern for our loved ones is real – this is a time like no other.

But it, too, will pass – I’m waiting for Spring.

Mar 312020
 

I scream, “go away“, but the beasts just close in and engulf me.

Their eyes, the first thing that alarmed me, wild, frantic, unblinking as they bore down. I was warned not to attend so early but disregarded the advice.

What could go wrong?” I told my friends.

Now the nightmare unfolds around me. I am first trapped in a narrow aisle then mercilessly trampled underfoot. Unlike in Pamplona at the San Fermin Festival and the running of the bulls, there are no Red Cross personnel here to help me.

The first wave has passed leaving me laying on the floor bruised and battered. A terrifying click clacking at the other end of the row strikes terror into my very soul. I know it is heralding yet another onslaught which is about to bear down on me.

The sound of a siren screaming and reflections of blue and red lights bouncing off buildings is was what I awoke to. A pair of paramedics are looking down at me but I can’t discern any of their features as they are fully garbed in white protective gowns, their faces covered with masks under a transparent shield.

We stop at the emergency entrance and the ambulance is met by two fully gowned orderlies with a gurney. I am gently transferred and wheeled into the hospital. There are red signs everywhere stating, caution corona virus patients must follow the red line. My carers disregard this instruction and follow a blue line and park me in a small cubicle in the casualty department.

After many hours a weary doctor attends. His diagnosis is eventually completed and I end up in a crisp white bed in the general ward, wrapped in bandages and fitted with multiple plaster casts.

Now with plenty of time to reflect. Visions of walking frames and walking sticks come to me, nightmares that will never leave.

I wonder if I really needed to call into Coles at 7.30am for that packet of tissues.

Mar 312020
 

Echoes from the past float over Victoria this Easter, a state in shock at the lock down caused by Covid-19. In 1919 the Australian troops returned unknowingly bringing the Spanish Flu with them.

Lexton is a small town in central Victoria, forty-five km from Ballarat on the road to Ararat and like many towns settled in the 1840s, has a hotel, general store, hall, football ground, church and school and a population of around one hundred and fifty.

At the time of the First World War the Naylor and Smith families were long established in the district. James Smith emigrated from Ireland, joined the Victorian Police Force in 1860, and settled in Lexton when he retired.

George Naylor, born in Tasmania in 1839, worked around the Victorian gold fields until he settled with his ten children in Lexton in 1880. In 1900 Tom Smith married Mary Naylor with both families very involved in local affairs. Mary also wrote a diary covering these years detailing the life of her family, those of her brothers and sisters, their families and the daily life of the town.

When the First World War was declared, George Naylor, Mary Smith’s unmarried brother aged forty-two enlisted. He said he went to the war so a man with a family could stay at home.

The Naylor family received the sad news that Gorge had been killed on the 4th February 1917, missing in action on the Western Front. The news devastated his family especially his father whose health was never the same after this news.

The war ended and the Australian soldiers returned home to a country with many families in mourning.

George senior’s health deteriorated after the loss of his son and in May 1919 he had a stroke. His two sons from Melbourne, Tom who had a Billiard Saloon in Chelsea and Jack a blacksmith from Epping visited their ailing father. Jack soon returned to Epping to see his family and arrange to spend more time with his father, but he never returned to Lexton.

The Spanish flu had started to spread to country Victoria when Mary Smith received the terrible news that Jack had succumbed in Epping. He was rushed to the Melbourne Base Hospital but died there after a few days illness. The loss of two brothers and a father in such a short space of time was a blow to the family with Jack leaving a sick wife and four small children. It was ‘too sad for words and leaves a blank in our lives never to be filled’ Mary wrote in her diary.

State borders were closed, the Exhibition Building in Melbourne was turned into a hospital, schools, churches and places of entertainment were closed and around four thousand Victorians died from the Spanish Influenza. Hidden behind those statistics are countless untold stories of the private grief of families and the long trail that grief left.

Mark Twain supposedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes“.

Mar 312020
 

Josh flew in the door, dumped his school bag, kicked off his runners and shouted, “MUM, MUM”.

“What one earth is it?” replied his mother coming into the hall with her arms full of ironing.

Jumping up and down with excitement, the words tumbled out. “Ben says it’s free, really, free. You must tell Dad. Quick before it isn’t free anymore.” He grabbed her iphone and thrust it at her, causing her to drop all the ironing.

“Josh, for goodness sake that’s enough. Now look what you made me do. Are you mad thinking I’ll ring your Dad at this hour of the day? He’d be furious.”

“Mum, pleeeese, it’s very important. It’s for you, he’s been thinking about getting one for ages.”

“What on earth are you talking about? You’re talking in riddles. Tell me what you mean.”

“I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t. If I tell it may not be free anymore. Everyone might get to hear about it. Ben says there’s two other free things as well. We must do something, really we must,” Josh pleaded, urgency in his voice and agitation evident in his wiry body.

“This has gone far enough. No more nonsense. Now help me pick up all this ironing and then you can go and clean your bedroom up.”

Sobbing in frustration he pleaded with his Mum. “What time’s Dad’s lunch. Can we ring him then?”

“Enough Josh.”

“Listen Mum, please just listen. If I tell you, will you tell Dad before it’s too late?”

“I suppose there’ll be no peace until I hear what you want to say. You really don’t give up do you? O.K. I’m listening.”

“Apart from Dad you mustn’t tell anyone. Ben heard someone talking. There’s a free Corona, that’s a car right? Dad’s said he wanted to get you a car but he couldn’t afford one. Well now maybe you could have one. That’s not all. He can get free Corona beer, that’s the sort he likes isn’t it? Since Mr. Jenkins cut his wages he hasn’t had much beer has he? And, listen Mum, there’s another free thing as well. Ben told me. You can get free money, it’s called Krona. I’m not sure how you spell, it sounds like Corona. Ben didn’t hear that part very well. But just think, a new car and some money to buy Dad’s beer. I’m sure it would be alright to ring Dad just this once. Maybe he could call on his way home and get one from the garage before every one catches on to the idea that it’s free. News about free things spreads like a virus.”