ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2011 winners

Kaye was privileged to have been asked to judge the entries to the ASCCA Writing Competition. Putting pen to paper takes a lot of effort and we would like to congratulate all winners. Why not read the winning entries?

Fushima Inari – Grant Nicol
Salvatore’s Travels
– Judith Joyce

Back to the Past
– Connie Vallis
That Word – ‘Travel’! – Fred Schinkel
Guardian of the Stadthuys
– Grant Nicol
The opened door
– Fred Schinkel
The shed door
– Catherine Saunders

The door to…
– Bruce Deitz
A cocktail of courage and kindness
– Barry Stephenson
Quiet courage
– Fred Schinkel
A song to remember
– Judy Young
Courage with love
– Elizabeth Barton
The keyhole
– Barbara Bartlett
Wave riding
– Bruce Deitz
Euchred
– Barry Stephenson
Big city life
– Bruce Deitz
A love poem in the making
– Meri Forrest

 Fushima Inari

I came to Kyoto in winter. The bullet train from Tokyo zipped along at over 200 kilometres per hour, passing snow-capped Mount Fuji on the way, and arrived at Kyoto station with typical Japanese punctuality.

Having spent several days in Tokyo’s neon frenzy, I wanted to immerse myself in ‘the other Japan’. Kyoto, the site of Japan’s imperial court for almost eleven centuries, seemed to be the ideal starting point.

Kyoto, in central Honshu, has been pivotal to Japanese culture and history since the late 8th century. It was the capital of Japan and residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868 AD. Originally called Kyo no Miyako, it became Kyoto (‘capital city’) in the 11th century. Kyoto suffered badly from battles between samurai factions in the 15th century Onin War and at least 28,000 houses were burnt during the Hamaguri Rebellion of 1864. The city was considered as an atomic bomb target in the last days of World War II, but, in consideration of its artistic heritage, was eventually replaced by Nagasaki. It was also largely spared from conventional bombing.

There are countless historic temples and beautiful gardens in Kyoto. However, I had limited time and decided to concentrate on just three of them. Getting around Kyoto by subway was fairly easy, but crossing streets in the bitter chill of winter winds was quite a challenge.

First stop was Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. The three-storey Zen temple was a beautiful sight, reflected in a lake. Previously a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it was given to the Rinzai Zen sect as a temple after his death in 1408. Large statues of Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu are stored on the first floor of the pavilion, visible from across the lake. The two top floors are completely covered in gold leaf.

There were two slight disappointments for me at Kinkakuji. Firstly, it was forbidden to enter the Golden Pavilion, although there was access to the temple gardens and the Sekkatei Teahouse. Also, I was not looking at the original historic temple. Kinkakuji has burned down and been rebuilt several times over the last 700 years. The last time was quite recent: the Golden Pavilion was set on fire by a fanatic monk in 1950 and rebuilt in 1955.

Second stop was the nearby Ryoanji Temple. Originally an aristocrat’s villa during the Heian Period, it was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. The rock garden in the grounds is possibly the most famous in the world, attracting hundreds of visitors every day. Low earthen walls surround a rectangular plot of pebbles with 15 rocks of various sizes laid out in small groups on patches of moss.

I contemplated the rock garden for some time, trying to fathom its meaning. Some say that it represents islands in a sea or a tiger carrying her cubs across a pond. Others assert that it conveys a more abstract, even mystical concept associated with Zen views on infinity. Nobody explained the meaning of the rock garden back in 1450, so nobody will ever know!

My third, and most surprising, visit was to Fushima Inari. This extraordinary Shinto shrine is not included in many organised tours of Kyoto as it is so huge. Inari is the Japanese god of rice, but is also seen as the patron of business and wealth. For over a thousand years, merchants and wealthy citizens have donated vermilion torii gates to the shrine, which now stretches for several kilometres over Mount Inari. Fushima Inari includes numerous smaller shrines with jumbles of miniature torii gates donated by the not-so-rich. There are also many statues of foxes, thought to be the messengers of Inari. The keys in their mouths are for opening the doors of rice granaries. The ancient shrine attracts millions of visitors at Japanese New Year, being the most important of thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari.

When I first passed through the giant torii entrance gate to Fushima Inari, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, although it was very cold. But after I entered the tunnel of torii gates, the weather changed and it began to snow. There were no other foreign visitors at the shrine, just isolated groups of elderly Japanese strollers, a woman carrying firewood, an occasional priest. It was an ever-changing scene from old Japan, a series of ukiyo-e woodcuts by Hiroshige come to life. Outside the torii gates, the fir forests of Mount Inari looked like ten thousand Christmas trees mantled with snow.

The falling snow was now a blizzard. My hands were numb and my Asahi Pentax camera was refusing to function. After walking for an hour, with no end to the torii gates in sight, I reluctantly turned back. I never reached the inner shrine higher up the mountain. By the time I re-emerged through the giant entrance gate, the weather had changed again. The sky was blue and the sun was smiling once more, although it was still icy cold. Even the camera was working again!

My visit to Fushima Inari seemed like a dream, coloured vermilion and white, divorced from reality. I woke from the dream on the bullet train back to Tokyo, knowing that in Kyoto I had experienced something quite special.

 

© Grant Nichol

Salvatore’s Travels

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a village hundreds and hundreds of miles away, a boy named Salvatore Passanisi was born.  The year was 1859 and the place was Augusta, Sicily, Italy.  Salvatore (Sal) grew up on his parents’ vineyard, learning from his father how to grow grapes right up to making wine and he was very good at this trade.

Even so Sal was not happy, he was bored with his life, and he wanted adventure.  From the vineyard Sal could see the tall masts of the sailing ships in the nearby port and he became envious of those who travelled on them.  For this is what he wanted to do, to travel the world and see all the wondrous new places.

When Sal turned seventeen he told his family he wanted to leave home and work on one of these ships. His parents were not happy with this and tried to talk Sal out of going, tell him life at sea would be very hard, but he would not listen and he became so miserable that they finally let him have his way.

The next day Sal went down to the dock and found that there was an Italian merchant ship which was bound for Sydney Town which wanted crew members. Within the week Sal was on board and heading out to sea.

All went well for a couple of days. It was all smooth sailing and Sal was very happy with the work even though the living conditions were a bit cramped. Then everything started to go wrong.

First they ran into a huge storm and the ship started to toss. As the wind became stronger the ship started rolling and pitching so much that the swells seemed as if they would engulf them all.  Sal and many others were violently sea sick, so much so that Sal though he was going to die.

Just as he was nearly getting his sea legs, the ship was then becalmed, they were going nowhere and this lasted for days on end. The food and water supplies started to run low so they were rationed. The food that was left was bad and full of grubs, and illness raged.

The long and uncomfortable trip was trying everyone’s patience and quarrels and drunkenness were regular.

Sal started to hate the cramped conditions on board and the lack of freedom. Most of all he missed his family, the vineyard and his friends. He started to think to himself, “Why did I want to travel, why didn’t I stay at home, why did I not listen to my parents”, and he longed to be on dry land once more.

When the ship finally reached Sydney Town Sal had had enough of ship life. So the first chance he got he jumped ship vowing never to set foot on a ship again.

He headed into the bush, to get away from the law as far as he could, so he could not be sent back aboard that awful ship.

Sal travelled up the Georges River for days until he finally arrived in Holsworthy district. When he arrived there he was befriended by William and Lucy Leane and they let him stay on their property. On the farm William had started a small vineyard. Sal took over the running of this and under his expert hands his vines became well known all over the district.

William and Lucy had a big family with many daughters. One of them was Mary-Jane, who was around Sal’s age. Sal and Mary fell in love and were married on 27 Oct 1887, in a little convict church in Liverpool, NSW.

For a wedding present William gave Sal and Mary part of his land to call their own.

Sal and Mary built a lovely stone cottage on the land and started a vineyard which helped to sustain themselves and their five children.

Salvatore was now very pleased that he had travelled from that faraway land, for now he had everything he really ever wanted.  He never learnt to speak much English and he never saw his own family again but none of that mattered for he was devoted to his very petite wife Mary.

And they (you guessed it) lived happily ever after until Mary Jane passed away in 1945 aged 89 and Salvatore died on 4 August 1948 aged 88.

The moral of this story is:
Sometimes travelling is good for your health, love life and your wellbeing

 

© Judith Joyce

 Back to the Past

August, 1969, 9am.  At last we were off, destination, Cooktown, a delightful coastal river port in North Queensland, situated at the mouth of the Endeavour River, about 330 kilometres north of Cairns and a long way from our home in Baulkham Hills. Transport was to be via our beloved, reliable E.H. Holden, carrying bundles of literature for navigation purposes, plus ideas for places to stop at along the way.

My husband, Keith, affectionately known as K.G., had long ago, at the age of ten, along with his family, finally left Cooktown, the place of his birth. It was 1940, the world at war, and threatened by a Japanese invasion, reluctantly they simply packed up and headed south to Sydney.

But now, at last, KG was returning with me and our sons on board. Keith Jun., aged 14, Glenn, 7, and Ross, 5. We had sparse money, so we’d sleep mostly in stationary vans, carry linen and blankets, a picnic basket for utensils and an esky stacked with food.  Unlike today, with no kids car seats or seat belts, we piled pillows onto the back seats as comfy boosters, and with a couple of spare tyres, a box of tools, and two large suitcases, the car was packed to capacity.

Arriving at Newcastle at 11.45, for lunch, we then travelled through Nambucca heads and on to Urunga, where we stayed the first night.

Travel time 9 hours, petrol, $5.72, overnight van , $5.

Next stop was Currumbin, then Bundaberg, where we experienced our first flat tyre, which to K.G’s disgust, cost seventy five cents to repair. Then on to Miriam Vale and across the Calliope river to Rockhampton.

At Calliope we stopped briefly to explore an ancient house on the banks of the river. K.G’s Grandfather’s – now deserted. Briefly, we went back in time, the atmosphere overwhelming. Then grudgingly we continued, eventually arriving at Townsville for a two night stay. Here we visited beautiful Magnetic Island, sightseeing via a hired jeep.

Three days later found us visiting relatives on the Atherton Tablelands, who farmed mangos  and tobacco. What fun enjoying The Curtain Fig Tree, The State Forest, Lakes Eacham and Barrine, the Tinaroo Dam, plus the magnificent Crater, an astounding geological masterpiece, situated on the summit of Mt. Hypipamee.

Next we headed down to Cairns, eventually arriving at the Peninsula Development road leading  to Cooktown. One which had to be seen to be believed. To this day I marvel at how we arrived at Cooktown with the car still intact.

All was okay ‘till we ran out of bitumen, when the road became rougher, rockier, narrower, and unbelievably dusty. Thus, when passing another vehicle, all windows were closed until the dust subsided. Unfortunately our car had no air-conditioning.  Fortunately traffic was scarce.

Sometimes,  particularly when approaching dry creek beds, young Keith would disembark, guiding his father safely through. To the younger boys this was exciting. To K.G. it was a hazard, especially when we punctured another tyre, leaving only one spare.  Back then, no mobiles phones, with which to call for assistance.

Despite all this, the scenery at times was exceptional. Once we stopped beside Black Mountain, a large mass covered in black rocks. We were curiously intrigued about this phenomenon.

‘Well’, KG explained; ‘The story goes, there was once a war between two aboriginal tribes, who used the black rocks as weapons, throwing them at each other until they all were killed. And that’s how the mountain was formed.’ It’s a good story! You better believe it!

Around lunch time we reached The Annan River, a sight for sore eyes, although being the dry season, it held little water. Nevertheless, being quite alone, we stripped off and indulged in its luxury.

It was now day nineteen, and rejuvenated after our dip in the Annan, it was all aboard for the last leg, and two hours later we arrived at Cooktown. Excited, overjoyed, exhausted. Amazingly, the Holden was in one piece, even after blowing the last spare tyre on the way in.

The old Sovereign Hotel (our big splurge) was a welcome treat for us all, where, after a hot bath and a meal we settled down, dreaming of spending the next few days exploring the town of their father’s childhood, where, on June 16, 1770, Captain Cook had sailed ‘The Endeavour’ into the mouth of the river, proclaiming the settlement ‘Cooktown.

Historically, it was here, many moons ago, that K.G’s father, Robert, a young tin miner from Calliope River, had, met and married his sweetheart, Dolly. They had six children. KG is the youngest.

Initially they lived in a hut out in the scrub, eventually moving into town, where for the princely sum of eighty pounds, they purchased an unlicensed hotel as the family residence. Unfortunately, just prior to our visit, during a  cyclone, it was destroyed.

But according to K.G., little else had changed. The town, its houses, post office, convent, schoolhouse, etc., were still as he remembered. Small, tranquil with only one main street.  Many hotels were still standing.

‘Grassy Hill’ overlooks the town, and from up here we were treated to a magnificent view of the river, the ocean and the vast countryside, feeling as though we were on top of the world.

Memorable treats were interesting visits to the ancient cemetery, reading gravestone names, some of them relatives of K.G.. And fishing off the beach and paddling in the river, truly nostalgic episodes for K.G. who recalled similar episodes during his own childhood.

But sadly on day twenty three, it was time to leave, accompanied by a large diary, diligently created by young Keith. The diary is still our prized possession.                                   

Overall statistics.

Total mileage … 5,910.

Petrol consumption … $ 128 .00

Repairs … $25. 00

Ave. Miles per hour …16.

Days travelled 45. Ave.

Petrol use … 46 miles = $1

Distance from Cairns to Cooktown – 206 miles. Travelling time – seven hours.

 

© Connie Vallis

That Word – “Travel”!

“There’s a little scene,” said Ozzie, “in ‘The Wind in the Willows’, just before the expedition to recapture Toad Hall.  Remember it?  Rat is busily preparing everything he thinks needed: “Here’s a sword for Badger; here’s a sword for Mole; here’s a sword for Toad; here’s a sword for Rat. Here’s a pistol for Badger; here’s a pistol for Mole; here’s a pistol for Toad; here’s a pistol for Rat.”  And so on and so on, as the little piles grew and grew.  Finally Badger interrupts declaring gruffly: “We four, with our sticks, shall clear the floor of all the lot of them in five minutes!”

“Mention the word ‘travel’ in our household, and that’s exactly the scene. Virgo wife immediately constructs piles of ‘necessaries’ for each of the family: ‘Here’s five underpants for Ozzie; here’s five underpants (giggle), I mean ‘panties’, for me; here’s five leopard-skins for Mick; here’s five knickers for Helen; etc, etc, etc.’ Driven to distraction at the sight of these growing piles, Badger-like, I protest that I, for one, won’t need a tenth of all that.”

“‘All very well for you who spent his first twenty-odd years living out of the contents of two suitcases! You know I wouldn’t want you to say: ‘We should have brought this, we should have brought that, and our holiday be ruined!’ ”

“You see what’s happened, of course?  The noble expedition to seek out new places, foreign people, strange customs, exotic grog and tucker, has been perverted into a ‘holiday’.  Admittedly I’m a Pisces and rather too casual (so I’m told) about Things That Matter, but I have nightmares of lugging eight lots of super-sized suitcases round marathon sized air-terminals, then guarding them obsessively on railway platforms, either against being confiscated as suspect bombs, or the depredations of ‘porters’ who descend declaring: “Monsieur has a formidable need of help with all that luggage, n’est-ce pas?” and, foot planted on the most valuable case, demanding a huge ransom.”

“Then comes the struggle to squash everything into the two taxis— one being grossly inadequate—which have magically appeared with drivers whom the porter ‘very highly recommends, monsieur’.”

“Then those stations and their ridiculous platforms, almost on the level of the very train-tracks, requiring what the French call ‘climbing up into the train’ or ‘descending from the train’— very apt, those phrases.”

Ozzie pauses reminiscently.

“Let’s take what you and I might consider a simple trip: say from Rome Central to Zurich.”

 “Our mountains of luggage unloaded at the station, and hovering porters summarily dismissed, we tag along in the wake of Child 1 who, because of his cheek and arrogance (very handy in Italy), has been sent ahead (like one of Caesar’s scouts) to acquire ‘information’ as to: platform number, departure time, cost of tickets, availability of valium tablets, and then rendezvous with the baggage-train (i.e., the rest of family) at the Waiting Room.  Twenty minutes later, Child 1 returns, his scouting in vain; not because of lack of cheek – heaven forbid! — but because the Information Official has declared cappuccino break and left, impervious to the insults of the multitude of those not-about-to be-informed.  Meantime we have spied what we think is the ticket office and Child 1 is dispatched in that direction loaded with thousands of lira (the gods be thanked for the introduction of euros!) to purchase ‘four, going-only, adult, second class tickets to Zurich’.  Wife 1 (and only) and Child 2 are appointed trustees of baggage-train whilst Husband 1 goes to consult the Arrival/Departure oracles (aka the Indicators). They indicate nothing.  Supposedly this is because it is more than twenty minutes before departure time of said train.  This is manifestly untrue.  Having waited another ten minutes at the Milan platform entrance where the baggage-train has been strategically positioned, Child 1 dashes up, waving tickets and yelling: “Quick, dad, it’s on platform 18, leaving in three minutes.”   Baggage-train alerted and loads apportioned, it gallops in wild disarray from platform 9 to 18.  There is no time to locate carriage or seat (irrelevant in Italy).   Wife 1 and Child 2 mount the ladder-steps to the carriage.  Husband 1 and Child 1 shoulder bags, heft them into the train door and scramble after them.  All present, items barely accounted for, the train lurches forward, depositing family willy-nilly into seats where it subsides gasping to await the arrival of Milan.  The whole ignominious manoeuvre has gone unremarked by other passengers.”

“At Milan, the same in reverse.  Suitcases are ‘descended’, counted and re-organised.  The baggage train sets up post hopefully at the adjacent platform entrance.  Not even the Italian passengers know from which platform the ‘rapido’ departs.”

“Husband 1 rushes after a red-headed signora with whom he has chatted during the Rome-Milan journey: hopeful she will be his Moses.  He loses her in spite of her fiery pillar of hair.  He speaks to the engine-driver — the locomotive being nearest the platform entrance, the rear carriages pointing in the direction of Zurich. The engine-driver declares loudly, gesticulating wildly, that he does not know where this train is going, ask the guard!  Husband 1 pelts frantically down the platform and finds a guard. The guard urges him to mount ‘subito!’, and not ‘preoccupy yourself on’ the carriage, the seat number or the destination: if the driver doesn’t know, how can he know?  And this train ‘departs here’ in one minute!”

Husband 1 tears back to alert the baggage train.  There is a repeat of baggage hefting, and seat-acquiring.  By this time Husband 1 has double hernia and is speechless with exhaustion.  He subsides painfully, consoling himself that Zurich is, hopefully, the end of the line and all, luggage included, can be descended at leisure.”

“Travel,” Ozzie sums up, “is not for the old or the faint-hearted.  A wife may see it as a holiday, or treat it as a shopping splurge.  Believe me, for a mere male it is a route-march, destination uncertain, time-frame unknowable, and cost prohibitive.”

 

© Fred Schinkel

Guardian of the Stadthuys

I am no ordinary door. I am more than 460 years old and I have been witness to history.  I am the entrance to the Stadthuys (town hall) in Malacca, Malaysia.

“Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hands on the throat of Venice!”  So wrote a Portuguese adventurer in the 15th century.  Malacca held the key to controlling the fabulously rich spice trade in the Orient.  It stood where the trade winds met, astride the maritime route that linked the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea.  The Dutch took Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, after a savage bombardment and a protracted siege. Thousands died. The Dutch wanted to annihilate Portuguese power in the East Indies, so they destroyed just about everything that was Portuguese. St Paul’s Church, where St Francis Xavier had often held Mass, was left with no roof, but the walls of the powerful Portuguese fort A Formosa were reinforced with a moat and drawbridge.

Shortly afterwards, the Dutch built the Stadthuys in the centre of Malacca as an office and residence for the new governor, Jan van Twist.  It was on the site of the Portuguese governor’s house, by then in ruins. The Stadthuys architecture was copied from the town hall in the Frisian port of Hoom. The walls were a metre thick, and I, the massive Stadthuys door, was crafted by a Javanese carpenter from hardwood timber with studded wrought-iron hinges. The Stadthuys is the oldest surviving Dutch colonial building in South-East Asia.  There are said to be secret tunnels and passages inside.

Over the years, I have guarded governors, colonial officials and thousands of lesser people who have toiled in the rooms behind me.  I have been opened to representatives of all the great seafaring nations who came to Malacca in search of profit through trade, piracy or plunder: Indians, Javanese, Chinese, Arabs, Siamese, Malays, Portuguese, Dutch and British.  I have welcomed sultans and ambassadors, goldsmiths and spice merchants, bakers and peanut sellers, fishermen and trishaw drivers, Buddhist monks and Muslim imams, judges and even prisoners.  Regiments of Dutch soldiers have paraded in front of me, watched by the governor on the balcony above me.

The whole of Malacca has been spread before me. On the Malacca River, sampans, scows and junks from a dozen nations have jostled for space. Traders from the Indies have discharged camphor, cloves, nutmeg and sandalwood as well as silks, carpets and porcelain.  On the endless tiled roofs of old Malacca opposite me, it was said that “a cat would take a year to make the circuit” (an outrageous exaggeration, of course!).

The pungent smells of Malacca have wafted through my timbers. Especially the aromas of Nyonya foods…mee hoon noodles, dodol, cincalok, laksa, satay celup and sambal belacan (the sun-dried paste made from rotting geragau shrimps and hot chillies that has come to symbolise Malaccan cuisine). 

In 1741, to celebrate the centenary of the capture of Malacca, I had new neighbours. The foundation stone was laid for a Dutch Reformed Church, Christ Church, to replace the aging bovenkerk on the hill behind the Stadthuys.  It was completed in 1753, using bricks imported from Holland, faced with local laterite. It is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.  A handsome clock tower was also built, right in front of me.  Malacca Square now looked like a typical provincial Dutch market-place. 

In 1824, Malacca was peacefully ceded by the Anglo-Dutch treaty to the British East India Company in exchange for Bencoolen in Sumatra.  I think the British got the better of the deal, but then I am very biased!  The Dutch monopoly in the Straits of Malacca was ended.  Christ Church was re-consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England.  I was now guarding the British governor and his family.

The British destroyed the walls of the old Portuguese fort surrounding me, leaving only the Santiago Gate.  It was an act of vandalism of which I certainly did not approve!

I was originally painted white like all the other Dutch administrative buildings in South-East Asia.  But the Dutch (and British) governors had not been very popular.  Local Malays and Chinese would demonstrate their contempt by spitting on me, often with red betel juice in their mouths.  I was a mess and had to be cleaned regularly.  So, in 1911, I was repainted in salmon red, together with the rest of the Stadthuys, Christ Church and the clock tower.  Malacca Square was now Red Square and has remained in this distinctive colour ever since.

In 1941, the Japanese army over-ran the Malay peninsula, including Malacca.  It was a terrible time for the Malaccans.  I was forced to watch executions in Red Square and decapitated heads were placed on the nearby river bridge as a fearsome warning to the locals.

Malacca is no longer an important port, having lost out to Singapore and the free port of Penang as a commercial entrepot. It is now known as Melaka, to conform with Indonesian spelling.  The Stadthuys is now a Museum of History and Ethnography, the premier museum of Malacca.  Behind me are exhibits of Malacca’s rich culture, from the time of Parameswara in the 14th century to the modern city of independent Malaysia. There are historical exhibits; Straits Chinese, Malay, Portuguese and Dutch costumes; cannons and weapons; even golden krises studded with jewels. 48,000 people visit the museum every year and thousands of tourists are photographed in front of me, the salmon red door.

But then, I am no ordinary door. I am more than 460 years old and I have been witness to history.   

 

© Grant Nichol

The Opened Door

“We talk,” mused Williams, “of doors opening to freedom – to new opportunities.  Too often, in my experience, they open instead only to further constrictions, additional limitations— physical, psychological, cultural, sometimes religious.”

Nobody spoke. “Williams,” we thought, “in one of his pessimistic, philosophical moods.”

Williams took our silence as an invitation to elaborate. “Let’s take the case of a young aboriginal we’ll call Gary.”

“Gary was brought to us from a dementia unit in another town. They had almost given up on him and now his general health required him to be close to a hospital.”

“He appeared a hopeless case: alcohol-damaged kidneys and advanced dementia.  The first few days he spent curled up in bed.  Then he emerged into the unit’s day-room.  Before long, he took possession of a chair opposite the entrance door of the unit—one of those key-pad security-door affairs.  This became his permanent roost.  He would go there soon after breakfast and return after lunch.  We came to accept this as Gary’s place and let him be.”

“He would sit for long periods of time, eyes fixed hypnotically on the door.  Only its opening and closing could break his obsessive stare.  When the door was open his face became animated; closed, the fixed, hopeless stare returned.  We became accustomed to this behaviour and thought little of it.  Perhaps, we supposed, he was waiting for one of those intermittent visits from relatives.  We had no idea when any such visit might come.  They just happened.  We felt for him, but we had no control over their frequency or timing.  Truth be told, they were usually at the most awkward times for us: one of us had always to be on hand lest that door be left open and a patient go missing.  And at times like meal-times, there was such demand on our attention we could hardly avoid being distracted.”

“Before long we noticed Gary sometimes moved close to the door.  More than once we found him, hand on the security pad.  We were able to distract him and gently lead him back to his favourite chair, but it was worrying.  Eventually one of the more experienced nurses, Julie, suggested we should release him into the garden area outside the unit.  ‘It’s worth a try,’ she said.  ‘I’m fairly sure his relatives aren’t the problem; they’re here too infrequently.  I think it’s the aboriginal craving to be unrestrained.  Any locked area must be like a gaol for him, and he’s had some experience of that’.”

“Set up a sort of free-range dementia unit?” quipped Smith, our group jester.

Williams ignored Smith’s sally and went grimly on.

“‘Short of confining him to his room which would probably set back his improvement,’ continued Julie, ‘the time’s coming when he’ll solve the key-pad.  It’s bound to be when none of us is about.  Besides, I think he’s one of those not inclined to wander far once he’s outside these walls.’ ”

“A few days later the Head of Patient Care announced we were to give the idea a trial.  ‘Julie, as it was your suggestion, can you be responsible for it?  But don’t neglect your other duties.  Heaven knows, the time we spend watching Gary is a problem.  And it just might work.  The rest of us will help wherever we can.’ ”

“Well, we waited, anxious and curious as to what would happen.  Next day Julie took Gary for a short walk in the garden.  She had arranged for morning tea to be brought for them both to a corner of the garden.  Gary seemed excited to be outside.  Nor did he object to returning to the unit.  Gradually he was allowed stay outside longer, then be on his own, though morning tea was brought him each day.  Julie began taking his lunch out to him and eating with him during her lunch break.  By now Gary had settled on a favourite spot, a corner far from the door.  Here he set up a camp space and was allowed to bring bits and pieces from round the garden.  There were a few problems we had to manage, but we were rewarded with a new Gary.”

“Gary’s improvement was not unnoticed by the relatives.  They insisted he be dismissed from the unit.  Eventually the Director of Nursing was forced to give in.  Gary managed for a while, but the grog got him again.  He was returned to us helplessly drunk.  He urinated round his room, too drunk to find the toilet.  For several days he lay in bed, just as when he had first arrived.  Sober, Julie took him in hand again.  Again there was the recovery, again we were forced to release him to the care of relatives.” 

“Did I say ‘care’?”  Williams shook his head angrily.  No one replied.

“Well, this occurred twice more.  On the last occasion the relatives were warned that should it happen again, we could not be responsible for his rehabilitation: the other inmates must be considered.”

“The inevitable happened. Of course we were roundly abused for not taking him back.  Occasionally, we’d see him around town.  If he were not drunk he would come and hug us or shake our hand.  We would shout him to a hamburger and coffee.”

“One day one of us happened to say: ‘Haven’t seen Gary round for some time.’  A week later Julie told us: ‘It seems Gary has gone off with relatives up Brewarina way.  I’ve contacted some of the hospitals to let them know we have his medical records if he shows up. I think that’s the best we can do, short of dobbing him to the police. Gaol would be the last place for him.”

Williams paused and sighed, frustrated.  “You see my point?  We opened Gary’s physical door only to release him into the cultural imprisonment of his tribal ties.  And for him this last state was, arguably, worse than the first.”

 

© Fred Schinkel

The Shed Door

“Who’s left that door open, again?” snarled Dad, striding down the garden path.

He disappeared between the hydrangeas and the wattle; I tip-toed after, keeping my distance. Dad in a bad mood was not a zone I wanted to be inbut the door fascinated me.

I heard the clatter as the door slammed shut. I peered through the branches.

“I don’t want any itinerant tom getting in and messing things up,” muttered Dad, drawing a large silver key from his jacket pocket.

Even from where I stood, I could hear the clunk as the key turned and the lock shot home.  There was something almost musical about that sound.  It was the kind of sound that started in your head and then slid down your spine to your balls.  I was hooked on it.

I scuttled into the undergrowth as Dad headed back up the path and then I went to look.

The door was unpainted wood, grey with age but not blown or warped.  It had a brown Bakelite knob and a brass-rimmed key-hole which looked out of place on the unpolished surface.  I ran my fingers along the smooth grain.  My hand touched the handle and I felt a jolt of excitement.  There was a faint click as I turned the knob but then I felt the lock resist.  I leaned against the door and it gave just a fraction.

Standing back, I looked at the shed. Like the door it was grey and weather-beaten. One cobwebbed and grime coated window hung like a dusty monocle on the wall away from the house. I stood on tiptoe and cupped my hand to the glass as I had done many times before. But I could make out nothing but a few pots of paint standing on the shelf alongside the window. I craned this way and that trying to see past the rusty lids and dried paint but the meagre light from the window seemed to be swallowed by the darkness inside.

“Oi!”

I must have been coiled like a tight spring because I shot into the air, the top of my head colliding with something just as hard and just as bony.

Henry staggered back.

“You little shit!” he slurred, rubbing his jaw.

“You made me jump,” I said, my eyes flicking from side to side.

Wham! He caught me with a sharp slap across the head before I could decide which way to run.

“You’re not allowed in the shed. Dad says.”

“Why not? You are.”

“Yeah,” He grinned.

He went on gloating about the shed, but I wasn’t really listening. My head hurt and anyway, I’d heard it all before.

I slipped away. “Perhaps I’ll be allowed in the shed when I’m older”, I thought. “Or perhaps Dad has something against me.”

I felt an ache that wasn’t in my head. It gnawed at my insides demanding an answer. What was so marvellous about the shed? I’d tried asking Mum but all she said was,“The shed is your dad’s territory and the kitchen’s mine.”

I just had to see what lay beyond that door.

It was Saturday afternoon and, like the number eleven bus, Uncle Geoff was more or less on time.

He always came on Saturdays to use our shed. Henry and Dad would be watching the footie and Uncle Geoff would borrow the key.

Later I heard him calling.

“I’ve finished, Col.”

Dad answered from the bathroom.

“Put it on my desk, I’ll be out in a minute.”

I waited till Uncle Geoff had closed the front door and then I strolled to the study. The door was open and I could see “it”.

“This is madness,” I told myself, even as I watched my hand stretch out and pick up the key. It felt warm, almost hot. I squirmed thinking of Geoff’s sweaty palms.

My head was floating some distance above my body as I ran down the garden.  I reached the door and stood heaving, forcing the bile back down my throat.  A shadow fell across me and a spurt of wetness caught in my underwear.  I froze. My eyes swivelled frantically trying to see behind me. I glanced up as another cloud passed in front of the sun.

Clumsily, I poked the key into the lock. It slipped in and stood gleaming.  I wiped my hands on my trousers and took the end between thumb and forefinger. Then came that delicious “thunk” as the catch was released. I placed my hand on the Bakelite knob and turned.

It was dark in the shed. The warm air was heavy with the smell of well-oiled tools.  The little light that came through the window hung in the air like a grey mist.  There were the paint pots piled in front of the window and I could just make out a number of biscuit tins stacked on shelves.

I opened cupboards and tugged at drawers revealing a grease gun, several pots of grinding paste and a stack of ancient spark plugs.

I stood up and gazed around the four walls.  My feelings of terror and wonder were fast being replaced by one of indignation.

“What was it all about?”  “Why the big secret?” “There’s nothing here.”

My stomach lurched as the thought hit me – perhaps it was all a joke.  Some warped joke the whole family had been playing on me.  That was scary.

I plunged a grimy hand into the pocket of an ancient mac hanging on the back wall and pulled out acouple of rusty nuts.  I grabbed the mac and reached for the other pocket.

That was when I saw it.

Paralysed, I let the mac fall to the floor.

As of its own accord, my head turned towards the door and then back to the wall in front of me.

“What the…?” “But…” the words flitted across my brain as a grin curled my lip.

There, in front of me, was another door.

 

© Catherine Saunders

 THE DOOR TO ….. ?

Acting entirely on impulse, I turned off the main road, drove a short distance down the side-street and stopped in front of a once-familiar home.  The road was now tarred, while kerbing and guttering bordered the narrow grassed footpath.  The house was recently painted and the once large vegetable gardens had been converted to well-maintained lawns on which there was children’s climbing equipment beneath large sunshades.

Although my knock was quickly answered by a young woman with a toddler following closely behind, I had time to look at the partially enclosed verandah where my bed had been.  In its place were children’s toys, a small tricycle and a kiddy-car.  I introduced myself and explained that my grandparents had lived in this house when I was a young child and would she mind if I strolled around in the yard to see how things had changed.  She was extremely pleasant and invited me inside but I said that I really didn’t want to impose, so she told me to wander around as much as I liked provided that I came in later to chat about old times.

The yard was as large as I had remembered it, but Pop’s prized vegetable garden was now much smaller and flowers replaced the abundant vegies that he’d cultivated.  The grapevines still bordered the brick path that led to the back of the yard and I walked slowly down the path, enjoying the shade and plucking a couple of grapes as I went.  Then I stopped.  There to the left of the path was a short narrow concrete strip leading up to the door.  I turned and stood in front of it.

It was ajar, as it always was when there was no-one inside.  Multi-coloured brittle layers of paint had peeled in shards and lay scattered in the doorway.  Layer upon layer of paint marked the years when Pop painted that door.  No other part of the building was painted, but each year Pop applied another layer, usually of a different colour.  Bright yellow had replaced a dull brown, which in turn was covered with brilliant green or fire-engine red – it all depended on what small pot he discovered in his shed.

I pushed the door wider and a sharp snap indicated that a long-rusted hinge had given way.  The wide bench seat still had some newspapers on one side.  As I picked up the dust-laden topmost one, it was so brittle that it crumbled in my hands, so I simply stood and looked at the remaining magazine with its date over seventy years long past.  Sticking out beneath the pile was the corner of a comic.  The coloured pages were faded, so I gingerly pulled the comic from the pile and the memories came flooding back of a little five year old sitting in the dunny and looking at the pictures.  As I looked around, I could once again visualise the small squares of newsprint hanging from the nail during the War years and the occasional softer wrappers that used to wrap the apples before finally, coarse toilet paper in rolls appeared towards the end of the war.

I recalled the pungent smell of the phenol which marked the early morning delivery of the weekly  replacement sanitary can while the “sanno-man” departed with the used can hoisted onto his thick leather shoulder pad.  A much more pleasant smell was after Pop had been there.  The sweet smell of his pipe always lingered and I remember watching enthralled as he pared his plug of tobacco and mixed it with the crushed tobacco leaves, grapevine leaves and molasses to make his own special blend during the war years when rationing forced him to grow his own tobacco and hang the leaves to dry in his shed.  Pop’s cardigan always had that comforting aroma of tobacco as I’d snuggle into his chest while he sat and talked to me in the shed.

Although his hands were work-hardened and calloused, they were always gentle as he’d pat me on the head or gently extract a splinter with his razor-sharp pocket knife.  His hand was always readily extended to grasp mine as we walked around the yard or when he’d say, “Come away laddie and gi’ me a hand to feed the chooks.”  I always had Grandma’s egg basket to collect the eggs but I didn’t dare venture into the huge fowl-yard without Pop because there was one rooster that regularly chased me, but Pop always picked me up and shooed the bird away.

On one of those special occasions when we had chicken to eat, Pop removed that rooster from the fowl-yard and, after watching him lop off its head with the axe, we all enjoyed our Christmas chicken dinner but I’m sure that no-one enjoyed it more than I did.  Always his tools were honed to the sharpest edges and I had the job of turning the huge sandstone grinding wheel as sparks flew from his axe, mattock or scythe.  Because of the grating sound of the stone against the steel this was one time when we didn’t talk.

As I turned to leave, I had a sudden, vivid vision of a young boy and his old grandfather standing in the garden and crunching on freshly pulled young carrots.  Rubbed against the trousers to remove the worst of the dirt, the occasional grit passed almost unnoticed, the taste was so enjoyable.  Another glimpse of the past revealed the two grubbing for new potatoes.  Taken inside, cooked and smothered with butter, there was only one things more delicious, and that was the plateful of hot chips, fried as only Grandma could make them.

Outside, I turned towards the door and closed it.  Looking at the peeling paint, I realised that I was seeing through a haze of tears.  Turning away, I realised that the old dunny door was one that opened a doorway, a doorway to memories long forgotten.

 

© Bruce Deitz

A Cocktail of Courage and Kindness

 

Nerrilyn and I were probably in our early fifties when we first responded to the very affordable Saturday evening “dinner and a show” promotion, at a Bombaderry motel.

It was all we could have wished for, a three course set menu, enjoyable light entertainment during the meal, then an overnight stay followed by a communal breakfast the following morning.

As we drove back to Sydney, we both agreed that this had been the perfect circuit breaker from our busy working lives, we felt completely rejuvenated by this enjoyable diversion. We went again about six months later, registered on the mailing list and thereafter we re-visited two or three times a year.

At the motel, the dining room provided a small stage for the entertainers. The guests, who numbered about one hundred, were seated at long tables.  It was nice to have a chat with those people sitting next to, or opposite you, during the breaks in proceedings. Many of the guests hailed from various parts of Sydney, others were locals who just came for the dinner and show and often there were pre-wedding groups having a modest fling.   

Over time we were entertained by many wonderful artists, most were virtually unknown but my goodness they were all talented and knew how to please an audience. One night the feature artist was Queenie Paul, who was then in the twilight of her great career, she got several well deserved encores.

Amongst all these entertainers was a man and wife duo who I shall call “The Offbeats”. I should mention that the lady had a marvellous singing voice.

They wrote their own melodramatic scripts, which were always fairly predictable and a bit risque. Sometimes another actor or two were included in their presentation and frequently during their act placards would be held aloft, calling for boos, groans or hisses. Now this may not sound very exciting but by the time the audience was into their second or third glass of Barossa Valley desensitiser, things would be really roaring along.

“The Offbeats” seemed to appear at the venue with some regularity and we always tried to be there to enjoy their comical masquerade.

On one such evening their act was entitled “Cleopatra, Mark Anthony and Bigus Dickus”. Cleopatra wafted round the stage in flimsy apparel, Mark Anthony stomped about in armour and helmet. They were supposedly in Egypt and spent much time bemoaning their isolation from Rome and wishing for news of the political situation.

Eventually Bigus Dickus made his entry to the stage. He was a slightly built boy of about fourteen, wearing the appropriate helmet and an oversize sword and shield.

Being an old friend of Mark Anthony he was welcomed heartily, doubly so because he brought news from Rome. During the rest of the act he was frequently questioned about his success in battle and his success in the boudoirs of the many conquered nations, there were also much inference and innuendo about his mighty sword and his great weapon.

Needless to say, this stripling of a lad was blushing like a beetroot and finding it difficult not to burst out laughing in spots when he should have been rather solemn, to his credit he managed to stay on course and did not fluff his lines.

During the break for desert to be served, I chatted with a slightly older lady sitting beside me, we agreed that the stage show was amusing entertainment. I expressed my surprise that such a young boy was involved in a play with quite blatant, racy overtones and wondered how his parents had approved his participation in it.

In a low voice, the lady informed me that she was actually the boy’s grandmother, she had volunteered to drive him to Bombaderry and take him home to northern Sydney after the performance, because his parents, who were delighted that he had been given the opportunity to take part in the show, could not attend.

Continuing, she explained that months ago her grandson had been diagnosed with an incurable disease and though he did not yet know it, he had less than twelve months life expectancy. He had also had a longtime wish to become an actor and appear on stage in public. At short notice, “The Offbeats” had made his wish come true, the family was full of gratitude to them.

The grandmother left as soon as the play concluded, we dallied for coffee, then filed out with others through the main entrance.

Outside, “The Offbeats” were loading stage props and sound equipment into their Kombi van, grandmother was standing nearby.  As for the lad he was flitting all around, bursting with elevated adrenalin, laughing and smiling. Handshakes hugs and backslaps were shared by the three entertainers until they boarded their vehicles and departed.

We were probably the only guests who knew there was a sad side to this scene of euphoria.

I sometimes reflect about the mixture of kindness and courage extended to this young man by both “The Offbeats” and his family. They bravely kept a secret for a little while, so that he could live his dream, even though they knew a nightmare may soon follow.

 

© Barry Stephenson

 Quiet Courage

It was a one-off phone-call, a voice from the distant past, and its kernel seemed to be: “Do you remember, sir, telling us once in class that it can takes great courage to love?  That’s so true!”

I remember having said something like that at some time, but couldn’t recollect what piece of literature we had been discussing. I was more surprised, I suppose, by the call and confused as to what lay behind it— some deep heart-ache, some personal problem perhaps resolved?   No prophet I; I could not divine the caller’s thoughts, nor provide her any pearls of wisdom.  I had too few for myself!

It was a brief conversation. As I put down the phone, still rather puzzled, I reflected that merely to live often requires great courage – for those battling dark despair, or those facing terminal illness or coping with the effects of serious injury, for example.  Indeed, I thought, there are many kinds of courage, and too many of these we hardly consider as such.

I was reminded of all this again just recently at a funeral.

The deceased was an elderly Hungarian woman I had become privileged to know. What a life of danger, despairs and enduring courage had been hers: courage that the eulogy barely acknowledged, let alone celebrated. 

One has, perhaps, to be aware of the background of the times and places in which she had lived to have any real appreciation of her courage.

She had been born in Hungary in 1923.  It was a country that had been part of the once mighty, now disintegrating Austrian Empire; a country which, because of its alliance with Germany in the Great War, was paying the penalty of conquered nations, a penalty made more severe by the vengeful demands of Versailles.  Civil war had soon erupted as it too often does in disintegrating countries, the situation worsened by Stalin’s egregious interference. Imagine being a child in such turbulent times: times of desperate poverty, unemployment, and terrible uncertainty.

Then, barely sixteen, her country was dragged into another world war, as an unwilling ally of Nazi Germany.  Towards the end of this war, deserted by its Nazi masters, it was assimilated forcefully by the Soviets.  In the midst of all this Suzanne married (life must go on) and had a child, a son born in 1947. 

Rakosi had by now imposed a harsh Stalinist regime on his fellow Hungarians and, following a revolt against his regime, the Soviets invaded Hungary, cruelly subduing it again.  Now 33, Suzanne was living in a country under a most repressive regime, a country in which she had never known real freedom or security.  In 1961 she had another child, a daughter.

In one of those strange twists of fate, she again met her first sweetheart who had been snatched away in the events of 1939-40.  He was now visiting Hungary from Australia, to which he had migrated immediately after the war.  It appeared that their love was as strong as it had ever been.  Now came a momentous decision: to leave family and country on the one hand, or risk staying in a relationship she knew to be shallow in a country she knew to be unstable and dangerous.  It must have required great faith and courage to take the step she did, to risk the attention, possible refusal and subsequent persecution of the authorities.  She succeeded in her application, however, and arrived with her young daughter in Australia, a country vastly different from Hungary.

Here at last, she remarried and found love and a measure of freedom.  A woman of her times and culture, her freedom was still quite circumscribed by our standards.  She was totally dependent on her new husband; she was in a strange land, a land very different from her native Hungary; she spoke little English.  Though she could fall back on her beloved Hungarian music and literature, read Hungarian language papers, and occasionally meet with other refugees, she remained almost completely dependent on husband and daughter for communication with this strange new people and culture.  Like many refugees, women especially, she never really fully integrated into her new country.

Courageous?  She would never have considered herself so: she had never joined the anti-fascist partisans in the early forties; she had never stood in front of Soviet tanks in 1956.  But she had endured: she had confronted great deprivations, times of terrible uncertainty and despair and tried to make the most of life.  And she had had the great courage to risk love again and, proud and courageous Hungarian as she remained, seen life through to its end.

Nor does our story of courage end here.  Over several years I had observed another concomitant courage — the courage of a devoted daughter’s attention to, and care for, her mother. This daughter, growing up in quite a different culture from her mother, freed from the shackles of the old European expectations of family and of women, must have found her own life circumscribed having to be her mother’s constant interpreter and advisor, and then, when the husband died, having to assume, what had, to that point, been his responsibilities.  More recently during the years of her mother’s illnesses, she had become her carer and constant companion.  And in all this, no respite — for who could speak with her mother, understand her needs, her way of thinking? Such constant devotion, such love demands great courage—not the spectacular, impulsive kind of courage we reverence, but the enduring, constant courage of living so restricted a life and facing a mother’s drawn out death, a courage that mostly goes unnoticed. 

 

© Fred Schinkel

A Song to Remember

 

“It’s a very ancient saying

“And a true and honest thought

That if you become a teacher

By your pupils you’ll be taught.”

Lyrics © by Oscar Hammerstein from ‘The King and I’

I’m a Teacher, a Singing Teacher.  So what do I learn from my students?  I learn a lot about singing.  But more importantly I learn a lot about people.  One of my most memorable students was Sally, a dark-haired, bright-eyed lady in her early forties.  Sally arrived for her first singing lesson.  She was a little nervous, but very enthusiastic.  As always, with a new student, I asked her a few questions about her musical background and her reasons for wanting to learn singing.

Sally excitedly told me: “I love singing.  It’s my dream to be able to sing.”

She had a clear speaking voice, very good eye-contact, and an easy-to-be-with personality.  ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘she’s going to be easy to work with.’

Next, as always with a new student, I demonstrated some breathing exercises.  She watched carefully, and co-ordinated the diaphragm breathing extremely well.  ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘she’s going to do really well.’

Then, still following my usual first-lesson format, we went over to the piano to do some vocal warm ups.  I played a note on the piano and asked Sally to hum the sound.  Sally hummed a different sound.  ‘Oh well’, I thought, ‘perhaps she’s a little bit nervous. ’ I played another note on the piano and said:  “Try this one, Sally.”  Sally hummed a different sound, then anxiously asked:  “Was that the right sound?”  I replied:  “Not quite, but perhaps you’re not used to hearing the sound of the piano. ” Sally simply said: “I’m not used to hearing the sound of anything, I’m deaf”.

So there we were – a deaf singing student, and a speechless singing teacher.  What was I to do?  I was just about to suggest that she might find another interest more compatible with her abilities, when her voice broke through my thoughts.  “Please help me, please help me achieve my dream.  I really want to sing.”  She continued: “I know it will be a challenge for me, it will be a challenge for you too.”

She was right! I never again did things as I usually did.  My knowledge of deafness was extremely limited:  I had studied the great composer Beethoven, who continued to write beautiful music even after he became deaf.  And I had one and a half deaf white cats: Goofey was deaf in both ears and Cotton Ball was deaf in one ear; she could only hear in mono. However this information did not equip me to teach a deaf person how to sing. Sally was completely deaf in one ear and had minimal hearing in the other.

During the year that Sally studied with me, we searched for alternative ways to describe and monitor sounds:  We drew pictures of sounds in the air:

Long sounds.
Short sounds.
Loud sounds.
Soft sounds.
High sounds.
Low sounds.
Wavy sounds.
Steady sounds.

We compared singing with speech, and walked the common ground.
We walked to the beat of words.
We clapped the rhythm of words.
We watched our music in the mirror.
We danced to the melody of words.

We focused on the vibrations of sounds: from the piano, from the PA speakers, and from our voices.
We felt the music in our feet.
We felt the music in our hearts.

Sally asked questions.
I asked questions.
We questioned the answers.
We questioned the questions…

It was a very slow process making voice/body connections.

Sally liked to sing Country and Western songs.  At first the songs were barely recognizable.  Then they gradually emerged, as she gained control of her voice, through visual and kinesthetic  monitoring.  Sally didn’t sing perfectly, but she was able to sing well enough to achieve her dream.

So, what did I learn from Sally?
I learned that the energy of your dream can transport you beyond the possible.
I learned never to assume anything.
I learned that courage can conquer.

I thank Sally for making me a better teacher, by challenging my basic assumptions about teaching and learning singing.

And I thank Sally for A Song to Remember.

 

© Judy Young

 Courage with Love

I would like to link courage with love.  Without courage one cannot love and without love one cannot gain courage.

In 1984 as a 2MBS-FM volunteer I met an elegantly tall, red-haired and bearded gentleman who stirred something in me which I had never before experienced.  Six years later Charles and I married.  We announced our engagement on Australia day 1989, but before our marriage we both underwent traumatic experiences which tested our love and courage.

Charles had a smallish lump near his throat which became larger.  I was worried.  He had no particular doctor so I took him to see my wonderful doctor who immediately referred him to a specialist.  One day surgery revealed malignancy!   In the bowels of the hospital he was measured for a six-week course of radiotherapy, having to shave that wonderful beard and being told that it would probably not re-grow.  Six weeks of losing weight, appetite and voice led to cure.  He may have been emaciated and beardless but he was still my Charles.

For some years I had suffered what I thought were “tension” headaches.  These became more frequent, one eye twitched and it became difficult to write.   A visit to my wonderful doctor led to tests and finally consultation with a neuro-physician.   MRI’s in 1990 were in the bowels of four hospitals only in New South Wales, one of them being in the same venue where Charles had been radiated.  In a dazed state of wondering, Charles accompanied me on that journey of exploration of my brain.  Three days later the neuro-physician rang, asking me to bring Charles with me to see her that afternoon!  Yes, I had a large benign left-sided meningioma which needed immediate removal.  She rang the neuro-surgeon whilst we were with her, arranging my hospital admission.  I went to work the following day, the only thought on my mind being “I’ll come out of this better than I am now”. 

Further tests and giving blood finally led to that early morning wake-up call in hospital.  Charles arrived and escorted me down those corridors to the flapping door, where he let go of my hand, waved me goodbye and I repeated “I’ll come out of this better than I am now”.  He waited the full 17½ hours, was ordered to go home and then returned to greet me when I awakened in ICU, having full reflexes and half a head of hair.  Two days later I was able to write my name, contrary to predictions!

When Charles proposed, he was a divorced father of two sons.  He wanted to marry me in the Catholic Church so he underwent the grueling procedure of an annulment.  We had been introduced to a caring, wonderful Jesuit who assisted us greatly in that procedure and blessed us on our engagement.  The aftermath of my surgery was therapy and recuperation, coupled with Charles’ recuperation.  He arrived at his home one night to find it awash, the hot water tank having leaked.  I oversaw the repair and installation of a new tank and whilst at his home I saw the postman delivering the mail.  I took a walk and decided to check his box.  There was a letter from Polding House! (Sydney Catholic Church Offices). Dare I?  Hands trembling I opened the envelope!  The Annulment had been granted!  No mobile phone, no SMS, I had to wait, as he was ensconced in a university lecture hall!

We rang the Jesuit and set the date for 29 December 1990.

The next five months had an upward slant.  Charles was gaining weight and felt the beginning of a prickle on his chin.  I ventured on to public transport and then took the obligatory further driving lessons, regaining my licence.  My hair was growing, my hairdresser gratuitously encouraging the growth and tutoring apprentices.  My darling mother, Charles and I were putting together our wedding and reception plans, along with various generous friends of professional status offering their floristic, musical and photographic talents to make our day very special.

29 December 1990 dawned a beautifully warm, sunny Australian summer day.  Charles had a beard, I had a full head of hair and we both felt wonderful.  One year and three months after our traumas began, we were clear of our tumours and starting our lives together as husband and wife.  Without the love and support of our families, the expertise of doctors and medical staff, our love for each other and the courage we found to overcome the traumatic challenges we faced, Charles and Elizabeth would not be here today to tell this story.

We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in the Blue Mountains, the venue of our first outing together.  Whilst we were getting to know each other we discovered that we had previously met – in Katoomba as children – holidaying with our respective parents and sisters, we had said “hello” and thrown snowballs at each other.

 

© Elizabeth Barton

    The Keyhole

Keyhole
Hard and cold
Viewing, opening, unhinging,
To enter my inner soul
Without a key.

Eye
At the keyhole
Observing, staring, glaring,
To accelerate my racing thoughts
Wicked intentions.

Iris
Sulphurous and green
Confronting, Alarming, panicking,
To flaunt my sanity
Evil and cruel.

Pupil
Black and dilated
Dissecting, eroding, destroying,
To accelerate my horror
Cold sweat.

Me
Out of control
Screaming, running, spiralling,
My terror exposed
Wake up!

 

© Barbara Bartlett

Wave Riding

 

Flat surf. – No fun.

Beach deserted, no one around.

The softly-swishing, susurrating sound of wavelets

Sliding lazily-gentle over sand,

Retreating gently in soothing rhythm

With the swaying palm-leaves barely moving

In zephyrs from the on-shore breeze.

No booming crash of storm-tossed seas,

Breaking thunderous walls of sound

And spuming wave-crests flying wild

Like wind-flung hair.

 

Thoughts turn to summer gone

When crowds thronged beach and rode the waves.

Somnolent bakers sprawled on towels

Bodies glistening with beaded sweat

While children cried with glee

As sand sang between running toes.

 

Out beyond the breakers, we’d sat board-riding

Legs dangling, rising and falling with the swell

Eyes alert for promising sets.

They come.  Seen from the distance a set of three.

Watch them rise, then paddle shore-wards

Hands digging deep and thrusting back.

Claim the wave and stand erect

Gleaming skin reflecting light.

 

Smoothly sliding, standing, speeding

Down the face as wave builds steeply.

Gather pace and curving, turning

Balance all that keeps from falling.

Dolphins join the joy of surfing

And surf beside the boarders riding.

Bullet shapes so sleek and fast

Effortless oneness with the waves.

Almost hear their joyous laughter,

They dive and disappear from sight.

 

The sound of surf builds in my ear

As wave  builds to curved claw of water overarching.

Duck my head and ride the tube

As salt-laden spray fills the air.

Out of the tube and down the face

As shore looms fast and rocks ahead.

Time to leave, so up I turn

Till board and I fly through the air

And part – no longer pair.

Sail through the air, enjoy the thrill

Till in the water landing, and still

The board and I are yet connected

Leg-rope pulled taut with suck of wave but board undented.

Ride the board and paddle gently

To wait for more – just wave and me.

 

Muted thunder of the surf-beat

Wind-blown crests of breaking waves.

Churning sand in wave-sucked water

Dumping those who body-surf.

I lie out beyond the breakers

Legs dangling, board-riding, watching – waiting.

 

© Bruce Deitz

 

Euchred

 

Written in memory of the many happy lunch hours spent playing cards with workmates

 

Lunchtime at the factory, the whistle announced

We rush to the lunchroom, on our tables we pounce

A pretty stiff breeze crosses yon window frame

Dont bother to shut it, it’s time for the game

 

Five Hundred’s the game to which we’re addicted

And there is no cure, once your afflicted

It’s a gentlemans game, same spirit as cricket

Though losers must pay, for a shared lottery ticket

 

Shuffle the cards, hurry up and get busy

Bluey and me, playing Lofty and Squizzy

Though Lofty denies any kinfolk in Nazereth

It’s widely known, he’s as lucky as Lazurus

 

After three games there was time for one more

If we won the next, we could call it a draw

I shuffled and dealt, with great alac-rity

Ten cards apiece, and three in the kitty

 

“Six hearts” said Lofty, but my partner bid higher

“Mizzaire” mumbled Squizzy, “my hand is so dire”

“Eight spades” I called, loud and explicit

Lofty looked worried, and thought for a minute

 

“Eight hearts” came the bid, from that old pipe smoker

“Ten no trumps” I bellowed, for I had the Joker

I picked up the kitty and oh it was sweet

It gave me a hand that no one could beat   

 

While winning eight tricks with such confident flair

I felt gusts of wind, playing tricks with my hair

When nine tricks were mine, I was counting my chickens

We would win this hand, by jove and by dickens

 

I held high my last card with a raucous “Ah ha”

About to deliver, a sweet coupe de grace

“Hold it” yelled Bluey, “I’ve no card to play”

“Misdeal” shrieked Lofty, “you beauty, hooray”

 

I glared at my partner with a look that kill

Just my luck to be stuck with a blundering dill

My mind was just seething with contemptuous thought

You MUST count your cards mate, or so I’d been taught

 

As I slowly arose, no pride could I muster

For we had been thrashed, like the great Colonel Custer

Oh euchred, yes snookered, eyes downcast I saw

That one missing card, windblown on the floor

 

©  Barry Stephenson

Big City Life

The lights turned red,
So there we stood,
Impatiently.

City streetscapes structured, ordered
Signposts stopping people, traffic.
Impersonal!

Shadows fall across the pavement,
And there within the crowd  I stand.
Alone!

There is no substance to the shadows,
Merely images upon the ground.
Inanimate!

Cold, unyielding concrete, all around.
Aloof, remote the people pressing close.
Dispassionate!

Earphones clamped to nodding heads
Living in a world of strident sound.
Withdrawn!

Workday ending, travelling home.
Bustling, pushing, friendless throngs.
Silent!

Home at last to empty flat
And stop to pat the neighbour’s cat.
Connection.

Then inside, ring the Pizza Place
And eat in silence.
Contemplating.

Flop in bed and watch TV
Till channel close, then restless sleep.
Dreaming.

To dream of things I’d like to do.
Unlikely now that time has passed.
Too soon.

Too soon the dawn is breaking,
Then out of bed to start again,
Routine.

Once more the trudge to railway station,
Back to work in isolation.
Separation.

Big city life had seemed exciting,
But here once more I brood,
Disillusioned.

                                                                                                   

©  Bruce Deitz

A Love Poem in the Making

 

Oh come hold me my darling

 Can’t you feel me sigh

when your strong arms surround me

Then anything I can try

Sing while you embrace me

And to the heavens I’ll fly

Sweet sweet as your kisses

Is the smile within your eyes

Come come to our chamber

 in paradise there we’ll lie

You darling were never a stranger

But half of my being and life

Laughing and crying together

Husband lovers and wife

Then came the quiet relinquishing

 Before the long goodbye

No regrets except in parting

To wait for you in the sky

Come then hold me my darling

 To comfort me as I die.

 

©  Meri Forrest

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