ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2009 – Winning Entries
Section 1: “Someone Who Inspired Me” – Prose
The Brief: Write about an inspirational person in your life; a parent, teacher, co-worker or friend or anyone who influenced your actions and thoughts.
“You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.” -Scott Adams.
First Place – Francisca Fisher – U3A Nepean Blue Mountains
© “By George … ask George”
Our Grandfather was a big, boisterous, slow talking and moving giant of a man with a great sense of humour and a loud belly laugh to match. He had blue twinkling eyes, bushy grey hair and eyebrows, and, a big handlebar moustache. He and Gran’ma seemed an odd pair because she was tiny, quietly spoken and genteel. Although we did notice that underneath her gentle demeanour lay an iron will that could not be brokered.
We children adored our Grandfather and he adored us. Life to him was a game; a game of story telling, of learning, of enjoyment, of fun and laughter. ‘Living life to the full’ was his motto, and for him this was the only way to go. He would laugh until his face was red and his eyes moist whenever we did or said something that amused him. Although, on some occasions, when we didn’t quite live up to his expectations, his eyes would lose their sparkle and we knew he was disappointed with us. This would sadden us more than a sharp rebuke or even a smack would have done.
Most of our spare time was spent at his and Gran’ma’s small farm on the outskirts of Lithgow. Our home was only a few kilometres away so we were able to visit our Grandparents after school and at weekends. School holidays were the best – we could sleep over then; sometimes we stayed for a whole week; we were always welcome. This is where we learned about the ‘little things’, about all that really matters in life.
Grandfather was there to watch us play ‘chasies’ round the house paddock. He would lift us up to see the bird’s nest and eggs in a small tree near the fence. He would allow us to climb the fruit trees and eat our fill and to pick flowers for our mother in his garden. We would help him to collect eggs from the hen house and look at the clucky hen and her chicks, which lived under the hedge. We watched him milk the two fat cows in the shed and we fed the pigs with turnips and pumpkin. He led the ponies, as we rode them up and down the lane.
At these times we children would pose all sorts of questions to him. ‘Why was the sky blue? Why was the sun hot? Who made the grass green, what colour was the water in the creek and why were there so many flies and mosquitoes to annoy us? And personal questions we asked too; how old are you? Have you always lived here? Were you ever a little boy? Why do you smoke a pipe? He would answer most of these questions in his own slow, easy manner. But sometimes he would say:
“By George, how clever of you to think up such a question, my grandchildren are so smart. By George…we will have to… ask George that one.”
And, next time we saw him, he would tell us a story to show us the answer, or give us a book to look the answer up. After some time we children began to wonder who George was. If we asked Grandfather he would tap the side of his nose with his index finger and then say mysteriously:
“Ahah, that’s for me to know and you to find out” and then he would have a good belly laugh.
No matter how often we asked him he would not tell us who George was. We children often discussed this mysterious person together; could George be his own name, maybe Grandfather needed time to think up answers to our questions. Did he have a brother or a friend called George who knew even more than he did? Was it Gran’ma who told him what to say? Eventually we asked our Gran’ma, but no, she didn’t know who George was and our father and mother didn’t know either.
As we got older and our questions became more mature and intelligent, Grandfather would often rely on the saying ‘By George… we must Ask George’. Then, the next time we met, he would ask us if we had thought about or found the answer to our question, and if we hadn’t, he would, in great detail, discuss the question and produce a book with the answer. With his eyes twinkling he would twirl the ends of his moustache and pretend he was the smartest Grandfather ever.
As we grew up, my siblings and I married and had our own families. Grandfather was no longer with us. How we wish our children could have known this wonderful man. He taught us all so much. He taught us to have respect for creation, each other and the animal world. He taught us how to love life, how to laugh and enjoy ourselves. He taught us patience by sometimes making us wait for the answers to our questions. He taught us how to look up answers in books. He taught us that he too, needed help sometimes to find the answers to the questions we were asking. But most of all he taught us that life is for living and loving and giving.
How we wish we had his strength of character, his patience, his resilience, his ready laugh and his sparkling, mischievous blue eyes. Above all we wish we had his ‘George’. We never did find out who George really was but…
By George… we would… Ask George… a thing or two today, if only we could.
Second Place – David Evans – U3A Nepean Blue Mountains
© Twenty – Twenty
It was the Variety Club Bash and in the Channel 9 car Angry Anderson was living up to his name. “I’m getting fed up with you, Ched,” he said.
His companion, Ched Towns, a regular guest on the Today show, was unruffled. “Why, mate, what did I do?”
“Nothing!” snapped Angry. “Absolutely nothing! I’ve had to do all the driving.” He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. “It’s about time you took a turn.”
So Ched climbed behind the wheel and they continued down that country road, both roaring with laughter, as Angry shouted instructions.
“Left hand down a bit! Slow down, there’s a bend coming up! You’re going to hit a tree—quick, gimme the wheel!” And so it continued.
It was a hilarious—and precarious—drive because Ched was totally blind.
I first met Ched while training for the Nepean Triathlon. My wife Lynne and I had taken our tandem out on the course and, when we stopped to make an adjustment, we were passed by another tandem ridden by a slim, fit woman and a big man whose feet were resting on the frame rather than the pedals. They pulled over to chat and it was the start of a friendship that saw me running with Ched every Sunday morning for the next two years.
The man was inspirational—nothing ever defeated him.
As a runner he was tireless and our regular thirty kilometres passed quickly as he joked and told stories about his exploits, and those of his wide circle of friends. A former grade footballer with Penrith Panthers, Ched earned the nickname of The Moth because he always tried to train on the brightest part of the ground. He hadn’t yet realised that he was losing his sight.
When he discovered the truth he became angry and pugnacious, and it was a year or two before he came to terms with what was happening to him. Eventually, with his wife Judy’s help, he accepted the disability but determined that his life would be successful in spite of it.
Ched became a local legend, but his exploits would never be limited by parochial, or even national boundaries.
He competed in many Australian triathlons, usually with Judy on the front of their tandem and was a regular marathon runner. Eventually he and Judy went to Hawaii to compete in the Ironman—a 4.2 kilometre swim, 186 kilometre bike race, followed by a full 42.2 kilometre marathon—most of it on lava fields that looked like a lunar landscape baking under the fierce, tropical sun. Added to that, race-day produced high winds that turned the event into a nightmare. Like many others they were unable to complete the cycle leg and withdrew, but nobody thought of it as a failure.
Ched’s next challenge was the Seoul Olympic Games. He wanted to compete but his triathlon ability was no help for he was unable to qualify as runner, swimmer, or cyclist.
Undeterred, he took up a new sport—javelin. He found a coach and spent a couple of years learning to be a spear chucker. A big man (he joked about being five feet thirteen-and-a-half) he discovered a natural talent for the event and threw an Australian record. Seoul was one of the big events of his life and he finished fourth—just out of the medals.
The Ched I knew was a family man and his love and pride in Judy, Kane and Carly was evident in his conversation. Nor did he let his blindness stop him doing the normal things we all do around the home: I was fascinated one day to watch him lay a perfectly straight brick wall using only touch.
A masseur at Penrith’s Governor Philip Hospital he used to run the five kilometres each way to work as part of his training regimen but he didn’t like people to know he was blind and insisted on wearing normal clothes. Judy worried about him and tried to sneak bright, colourful t-shirts into his running gear to make him more visible but she said he usually caught her at it. He preferred to be inconspicuous. Ched never had a serious accident on those runs but there were a couple of odd stories he liked to tell.
On one occasion he ran into a horse being ridden by a young girl. He apologised but, “How could I tell her I hadn’t seen something as big as a horse?” he said.
On another occasion he was running home across open ground near the Panthers’ complex when he crashed into a chain-wire fence. It hadn’t been there when he went to work in the morning so he assumed, correctly, that work had just begun on a new construction. Undeterred he climbed the four metre high fence and was about to continue on his way when a bystander said, “Why didn’t you just walk around it?” He’d run into it a couple of metres from one end.
Sponsored by Channel 9 Ched paddled a canoe across Torres Strait, walked the Kokoda Track and rode a mountain bike across the Simpson Desert. He also set a world record for free fall by a blind parachutist—he jumped solo from 13,500 feet. There was nothing he wouldn’t try and he rarely failed to complete what he started.
Ched died in January 2000. After learning to climb in New Zealand he flew to the Himalayas where he continued training in an attempt to be the first blind man to conquer Mount Everest. Tragically, he succumbed to altitude sickness. Had it been otherwise, I believe he would have succeeded.
When I visited Judy after his death I noticed that the personalised number plate on the family car was TWENTY-20. It was appropriate. This blind man could see further than anybody else I ever met.
Third Place – Margaret Standaloft – Computer Pals for Seniors Kensington Inc.
I was born in an era when most females went to work until they married and started a family and then they retired from the workforce to look after their husbands and Children. Right from an early age I decided that housework wasn’t for me but, what was the alternative, and then I saw “Adam’s Rib” with Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn and there and then I decided that I would be a career woman and rise to the top.
Katharine Hepburn was an attorney in the movie and pitted herself against her husband, Spencer Tracey in a court battle between a husband and a wife. I didn’t fancy taking up law, the closest to that would be the Police Force but unfortunately women had to be over 5ft 6inch tall and I missed that measurement by 3 inches.
Katharine Hepburn became my ideal and whenever one of her movies was showing I went along to see it. She was the epitome of an independent woman and that’s what I wanted to be.
By the time I left school I had decided on a career in banking and joined the local branch of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney as a junior. I was quite happy to put in my year as a junior but when the next junior arrived it was a male and I was told to teach him the job, but that I would still be making the morning and afternoon tea. I thought long and hard and decided that Katharine wouldn’t do that and flatly refused, saying it was the junior’s job and it didn’t matter whether the junior was male or female, they made the tea – and I actually got away with it.
With Katharine as my guide I then decided to ask if I could learn the tellers’ job; but shock, horror that was considered a man’s job. In those days we opened on Saturday morning and our particular branch only rostered on half the staff so I persuaded the teller who worked to teach me, and when it got very busy near closing time I went into the teller’s box and took deposits.
Then the bank decided to mechanise their ledger department and I was sent away to learn the ledger machines. This I felt was more like it and I thought Katharine would be proud of me.
The bank always held a Christmas party at their head office in George Street and once I was 18 I decided to attend. I was standing talking to a group of people that I knew from branches surrounding our own when a very distinguished looking man of about 50 joined the circle and started talking to us about our positions.
When he came to me I proudly spoke up and said that I was going to be the first woman bank manager. He didn’t actually laugh in my face but he said that he doubted very much if that would ever come to pass. I later learned that the gentleman was on his way to the top and indeed some years later he was assistant General Manager.
Some time past and I went overseas for two years, worked 6 months in the bank’s West End Branch, as well as Harrods, the BBC,Philips Electrical and Butlins Holiday Camps and Hotels.
I still held Katharine high in my estimation and in each of the positions I held I learnt as much as I could so that I would have a store of knowledge when I became a bank manager. On my return to Australia the bank placed me in their Travel Department issuing traveller’s cheques and letters of credit.
Then in 1968 women in certain positions attained equal pay and mine was one of those. The human resources department now told me that I could be sent anywhere in the bank and I said I would be willing if I got promoted – I knew that Katharine would have said the very same thing.
In 1970 I was sent back out into the branches to retrain in general banking and once that was completed I was sent as overseas clerk to one of the inner city branches, then out to suburban branches first as a security clerk then as accountant.
When I first went out into general banking I asked myself what Katharine would do to help her along, and decided on an Accountancy Course which I completed by correspondence. The bank had several woman accountants by this time but no women branch managers although some had achieved manager status in departments.
Human Resources offered me a job in time and motion but I knew that would bore me to death – and besides I wanted to be a branch manager. They tried to prove to me that their offer was the one I was best suited for and they sent me to do an intelligence test. Here they came un stuck because I was better suited to executive management.
Much to mine and Katharine’s delight I was made manager of the administration side of the money market, a position I held until our merger with the National Bank and the transfer of the main money market to Melbourne.
Now the bank sent me to various branches to relieve and to make reports on senior accountants that they had, had adverse reports about; a job I didn’t relish, but I hoped it would lead to branch management and sure enough I was made an assistant manager in a large city branch.
Now I was well on the way to emulating my heroine Katharine.
I had bought a house, I had a job I enjoyed and I could travel. I was sure I would be a suburban branch manager next, but that was not to be. Human Resources asked me to open an area operations centre to cater for the 32 branches within the city; and so the rest of my banking career I was managing a two tiered operation with over 60 staff .
Katharine had led me a long way from junior to senior management and never once was I sorry about my decision to make her my inspiration.
Special Mention – Barry Stephenson – Endeavour Computer Club
© The Wisdom of Bill
At age fifteen I started work in the assembly section of a large engineering factory. The factory produced sheep shearing machinery for various farm machinery distributors.
For the first time in my life I was really out of my element, acutely missing the company of all those boys I had known so well during my school days.
I recollect my amazement at how most of two hundred men seemed to suddenly disappear at lunchtime, leaving me to sit alone on a bench and nibble my sandwiches. Much later I discovered that there was a well patronised pub across the road as well as a cafeteria on the factory premises.
After a few weeks in the assembly section I was befriended by an older man named Bill. Bill was a bachelor in his fifties, who lived in a rented room in Marrickville, he had a Friar Tuck hairstyle, a prominent nose and walked with a limp, a legacy from polio. This man was to become my friend, mentor and role model and in one softly spoken sentence, he unwittingly taught me something I have never forgotten. It happened like this.
One morning there was a rush to get some shearing machines assembled for urgent delivery, well the assembly section wasn’t known as the ” Rushin Embassy” for nothing, Bill and I were working together as fast as we could ,when, to help speed things along we were joined by Paddy, the section leader.
I already knew that Paddy’s conversation regularly revolved around the problems his wife caused him and on this day his anguish over his wife’s antics was particularly heart rending. I couldn’t help feeling really sorry for the guy.
At lunch time I mentioned to Bill that Paddy seemed to have a serious problem with his wife, “Ah” said Bill, ” Always remember that there are two sides to every story, don’t condemn the woman until you’ve heard what she has to say about Paddy”. Bill obviously understood Paddy better than I did.
Over ensuing weeks Bill repeated the advice occasionally, particularly when reading excerpts from his daily paper. So nowadays, whenever I hear someone ranting about some apparent injustice, I think, “Ah, but there are two sides to every story ” and I think of Bill in his faded blue bib and brace overalls, sitting on a box eating his lunch.
I regret to say that two years later, the effects of drought caused a downturn in the demand for shearing machines, the factory workforce was drastically reduced, Bill, being a bachelor with no dependants was one of the first to be retrenched.
We kept in touch by letter for a while, but one day a letter was returned to me marked “no longer at this address” and Bill was gone from my life for ever.