Archive for April, 2018

Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia?

April 22, 2018

Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia? 

Anzac Day is one of those days that matters. It’s central to my being and even though I am far away, it’s a day, as is Australia Day, that causes me to pause and consider my home, my country, my nationality. I remember, as a child, attending Dawn Services at the Cenotaph on the Domain in Hobart, visiting the trees planted for the fallen of my family – handsome young men as you can see from the photos – who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign field far-far away.

As an Ozzie abroad you are more aware of your nationality than ever you are at home. You are defined by it: it makes you different, something of an outsider and so, to an extent, you cling to your Ozzie-ness even more. I think this is a common thing and might go a long way to explaining why exiles – be we self-exiled, or refugees or migrants – feel our nationalities more on foreign soil. To wit, I am more Australian here than ever I was at home.

And so, recent developments offend and upset me perhaps more than when I am at home because I feel a responsibility to be able to explain and, to an extent, excuse our behaviours, even though I am anything but connected to the idiocy that is our political land-scape, the callous treatment of the more vulnerable in our society, and the foolishness of our sportsmen. Actually, it’s because people here expect me to… I have become Australia– indeed my room at work is the warmest class-room around and was dubbed ‘a little bit of Australia’ by one of my wittier students.

And so as Anzac Day hoves into view I find I am quite angry. It’s not a matter of pride being an Australian abroad these days. It wasn’t under the embarrassment that was Tony Abbott but it isn’t any better with Turnball. I despair of the Greens and wonder about Bill Shorten too. I read about more tax breaks for big business, I read about big coal mines being subsidised, I read about the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. And of course the on-going stain that is Nauru and our reprehensible treatment of refugees.

Education is no better, health care is in decline. Home ownership is harder than ever; the under-privileged slip further behind, bullied by a vile Centrelink who pursue the poorest members of society over fake debt and bills. Young people have the invidious pleasure of huge debt if they go to university. Zero-hours contracts stalk the semi-skilled. Penalty rates are a thing of the past. We are one of the worst countries in the world in terms of standard of living for pensioners. And our Indigenous people moulder away in jail in numbers still hugely disproportionate to their numbers in society. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown inordinately.

What the fuck is happening Australia?

It may as well be England.

We are not the Lucky Country, we are no longer the land of the fair go. We have become a nasty country full of nasty people. A country that no longer cares for all, a country that is racist and sexist, and ageist and anti-youth as well. Indeed, how have we managed to be so anti-everything? So full of double standards and shut-you-down vitriol.

We used to be about fair-play, about having a go. We weren’t always about money and position and privilege. Or am I deluded? Am I remembering some imagined past that never really existed?

Yes, we’ve been an overtly macho society for years – the lone stoic stockman, the bronzed Ozzie surfer, the larrikin taking the piss out of everyone. It’s been a hard country for women, foreigners and the Indigenous inhabitants. But we were getting there. We were open to equality, to hard work and people being able to be who they wanted to be if they worked hard enough and long enough. Yes, our own American Dream. An ideal of equality, not of rank or status. Born of being a bunch of convicts I guess, a radical irreverence for position and rank – respect for the person not the title. (Something that certainly got me into trouble over here!!) And then hacking them down, because we don’t want no tall poppies here, mate.

So, because it is Anzac Day – a day that unites us, that reminds us of the debt we owe the past, we need to pause and consider what was fought for, what came out of that catastrophic slaughter over a hundred years ago so far away from home. Too many young men were sacrificed for the Empire, for an engagement that had no merit, that was certain death for those involved. Yes, members of my family travelled to Europe for the great adventure of war, but they didn’t come home. Yet, because we were in thrall to Mother England, to king and country, because we were young and naïve we signed up in droves and we died in droves too. Like thousands of other (mostly) young men: horrid deaths, many needless and then carrying home scars – external and internal – that were never healed. World War One was a brutal, pointless exercise, one that was meant only to last a few months and then to be the war to end all wars. Yes, we can laugh at that incredible irony now.

But out of the war, and especially out of what happened in Turkey in 1915, rose the Anzac spirit; the core of our character. We celebrate bravery and sacrifice; we thank those who laid down their lives for us, as we should. Those who fought and died, those who fought and survived, who protected us and make our country safe and fit for heroes. Our romanticism has it that Gallipoli was the event that turned us around: it was when we grew up, it was what made us into a nation. It was certainly a turning point. And it is right that we continue to acknowledge what happened, in that war and in the (too) many since.

But what has happened that we now are more like the England of WW1, when the gaps between the haves and have nots were appallingly wide and led to pointless sacrifices of young men who were mostly much further down the social ladder than those in charge, who remained at the back of the theatre of war, often not engaged in any sort fighting with bullets or gas or tanks? Why have we let ourselves become that sort of country? Why have we become callous and brutalised – uncaring of the suffering of others, unwilling to make a difference, unwilling to share the wealth of this great country.

Make no mistake about it, Australia is still a rich country, full of great things, good people trying to make a decent life: most of my friends and my darling daughter, her wonderful partner, and my gorgeous grandson are there. I count the days and months until I can go home. But I wonder, what am I coming back to, will I be horribly disappointed by what my country has become, will I regret coming home?

Consider the following:

*Why don’t big businesses care about their clients or employees; why is it all about profit?

*Why don’t the banks give a shit about their customers?

*Why do the politicians (on all sides, in all state, as well as Federally and locally) repeatedly sell out the population to the highest bidder?

*Why aren’t they, or government agencies, held accountable for their behaviour? Barnaby Joyce anyone?

*Why is it okay to hang sportsmen out to dry but not politicians, bureaucrats, CEO’s?

*Why is the media allowed to peddle lies and untruths and stir up hatred and division?

*Why are we not protecting our environment – the Great Barrier Reef, the old growth forests of Tasmania, etc?

*Why aren’t we investing in smart tech, looking at a clever future, dreaming big dreams, planning for a big future?

*Why are we accepting an increasing divide in our country between the haves and have-nots?

*Why do we pursue the under-dog so relentlessly and cheerfully keep on kicking him when he’s down – students, unemployed, pensioners, the disabled, refugees?

*Why do we remain so anti-women, why do we persist in out-dated sexist behaviours, advocating bloke culture at the expense of genuine respect and equality?

Australia is not a powerful international player, despite what various PM’s and others like to believe – there is so little about Australia in the media over here you wouldn’t believe it – but that doesn’t mean we should be sacrificing our national identity on some foolish belief that to be more like the UK or the USA is somehow a good thing.

We have people living it large on the international stage – usually our sportsmen bring honour to us – playing hard but fair, punching above our weight. Remember it was Australia that broke the longest running sporting record in history when Allan Bond with Australia2 finally won the America’s Cup after 132 years (no, we won’t go into what happened to AB…) Our celebrities do us credit – people love Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Kylie, Tim Minchin, Barry Humphries. We have world class creatives – Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Clive James, Germaine Greer, Baz Luhrmann: AC-DC just keep on rolling. Our celebs are seen as grounded, good people, not part of the up-yourself-don’t-speak-to-me-now-I’m-famous lot. We can be proud of them; they bring credit to us.

So, Australia, on this Anzac Day, nearly 100 hundred years since the end of WW1, what do we stand for? How do we define our character now? Would the fallen of WW1 be proud to lay down their lives for what the country has become? How would those who died at Gallipoli feel if they could see us now?

Somehow, I doubt they’d feel their sacrifice had been worth it. (Images from Private Collection)

Find Your Happy: be it at work or elsewhere…

April 14, 2018

Find Your Happy

I find myself, as the Easter holidays shuffle to their inevitable end, a happy person, despite the return to work – something I’m not as enamoured of as would be useful. I am happy because I have spent most of the holidays indulging my passion. Yes, I’ve been writing like a mad-woman, making up for lost time, living in my own strange worlds, playing with words, having a wonderful time. Actually achieving all the little writing tasks on my list.

I have, in no particular order; revised and submitted a poem for a competition; revised an old story down from over 4000 words to 3000 words for another competition; re-cast the opening of my PhD novel and had a lovely couple of days re-reading and lightly editing that – perhaps time to send it off into the harsh and brutal world of agents and small publishing houses again? And I’ve returned to my sequel to my murder-mystery – which could probably do with some revisions too. And written a couple of blogs – this being one.

In fact the original blog for this week was about being envious of people who love their work, who find their passion in their work, and wondering where mine went. But it wasn’t going well, it was turning into a big moan, an extended bit of self-indulgent self-pity. Not a good writing place to be. And, I have blogged on such things before.

Yes, I am envious of those who find joy in their job – it is the best way to be. But I am not without joy; in my life, or in my work. It’s just buried under a load of shit and cynicism from being in the job for too long. It’s better that people love their work, and especially those who work in my profession and my envy was about a former colleague (Rose, you wonder) who loves her work, who finds her passion in her job, which augurs well for a profession constantly under attack and struggling to attract newcomers.

If I think about it I can find joy in my work, and it’s important that you do too. Work matters: we spend an inordinate amount of time there; it pays the bills, keeps our world turning, gives shape to our days and brings a degree of self respect and self worth. Despite my frequent moaning about my job it has brought a great deal of satisfaction.

At the end of my career I will rest easy knowing I have actually done something positive with my working life: that I have added to the value of the world; that I have helped a great many young people along the way – either into books and the wonders of literature, or into becoming wonderful people. It is the best part of my job – young people becoming who they are, becoming good people, decent citizens: assets to the planet. Grades matter, but it’s all that other stuff that is more important, more rewarding. Just a shame that politicians and Ofsted don’t really get that bit about the wonder and importance of education…

And what if there isn’t enough joy at work – well you must find it or make it elsewhere.  Life isn’t just about bills, having things, and keeping your head above water, about paddling madly like the duck on the pond. But it isn’t about doing it alland having it all either. Despite the plethora of memes telling you to ditch the shit of life, most of us can’t just take off to the depths of the Brazilian rain forest, ride the trains and planes of the world living on beans and rice, or hide in some cabin in the woods for a year… Remember life isn’t a series of Face-book posts, memes or Instagram photos.

Joy comes from the small moments, the everyday things. You may be missing them being caught up in the drudge of your work or the nonsense of social media. Joy comes from family – you know that. Being with them, being in contact with them, having them in your lives. And friends too – just the same. And like me, hobbies or interests where your passion can thrive and keep you from going insane. Not to mention being outside. Get moving, be in the fresh air, feel alive.

Work is important, we can’t get away from that. And we need to give it some credit – it does pay the bills, it gives shape and meaning to our existence, it does reward us (even if not as much as we might like) it gives us friends (I’ve made some of my best friends at work, met my beloved there), it allows us to appreciate our holidays more, and it allows the rest of our life to happen.

But being happy matters too: it is not to be over-rated. Don’t subsume your whole life in a job that makes you miserable, don’t let the bastards grind you down, don’t let the ‘company’ own your very soul – once they’ve sucked everything from you and you have nothing left to give they willthrow you on the scrap heap. Most of us do have a sell buy date. But equally, don’t throw away a decent job on some vague belief that work doesn’t matter, that somehow it’s the other idiots you work with, that there is some magic perfection of a career somewhere, if only you could find it. Perhaps it’s you that’s the joy-sucker, not the job???

You know what to do: find a way to have both – a job that sustains you and a life that enriches you. You know it’s possible – it’s about being smart, about balance, about small joys every day. Go get it, find your happy. (Images from Private Collection)

The Magic and Relevance of Stories.

April 1, 2018

The Magic and Relevance of Stories: why they matter more than ever.

It seems fitting this Easter weekend to focus on stories, given we are commemorating one of the most famous stories of Western culture – the crucifixion – the death of Jesus. Whether you regard it as fact or fiction, it essentially a story (note how fixionsounds), one that has stood the test of time, and one that is simple but profound. A sacrifice for others, for the greater good. Lots of emotion, lots of suffering, lots of depth. But importantly a story that is told and re-told over the last 2000 odd years. Like the myths of the ancients, stories of Gods and heroes, monsters and quests, stories that have been told around fire-sides for aeons.

I grew up with stories – being read to, reading voraciously, loving certain things on the telly and movies too, which we now recognise clearly as belonging to the broad church that is story-telling. I went onto evolve that love of stories and writing – if not actually orally telling them – into my life. I trade in stories – it is my work, my hobby: my passion and it started at home, when I was very young. I grew up on Pooh and Paddington, the Magic Pudding, Anne of Green Gables, Katie Did, Little Women. Indeed, I wanted to be Jo. After all, I had the same sort of nonsense name – too long, too many syllables but usefully shortened to a boy’s name.

Mum used to tell me stories of the Tudor monarchs as we washed up before Bellbird was on the ABC at 6:40 every evening, just before the news. Now I didn’t care about the news but I loved Bellbird (about which I had long discussions with my Nan) and Mum’s stories enkindled a love and passion for history that took me through HSC and almost into university, and remains with me still. The first story of mine that reached an audience was an historical story set at the court of Elizabeth 1, based on time-travel staring myself and my then boyfriend. My English teacher, (Diane Patricia Peacock) God love her, took it upon herself to read it out loud, in instalments, to the rest of the class. I was allowed to absent myself from the event, so hived off to the sewing rooms where I explored my other great love, sewing, and made my first pair of stretch shiny jersey bikinis. But I have remained a writer and a lover of that period of time. If you love the Tudors, you must read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Halland Bringing up the Bodies– brilliant.

As a person of a certain age and a teacher, we deplore the diminishing reading activity of the young – most notably the teenage young. The stats on how much they fall away from reading when they hit secondary school is worrying and damaging to their success (and enjoyment) in English. Yes, reading does all sorts of wonderful things to the mind, the vocab, written and verbal expression; the empathy one develops.

But stories – reading, viewing or telling remain currency. Even if the young aren’t so aware of it. We all tell stories every day. It isn’t just Homer around the fire at the end of battle telling tales of the heroic and God-like, it is us too. We tell stories to make sense of our world, to know who we are.

How many of you sit around the dinner table at the end of the day and share your day? Not as many as should, and this, as we know, leads to problems with diet and obesity, with problems with socialisation, with the inability to interact effectively with others, to be able to socialise. How do you know about those close to you if you don’t talk, if you don’t share the stories of your day, of your life? These stories let us share our lives, be they simple accounts of the events of the day, or a funny incident well told. We learn about what is important, if there is a problem, if there is something to be celebrated.

When we tell stories we shape our experiences to make sense of them – we leave things out, we emphasize certain aspects, we show ourselves in different lights, sometimes we are the fool, sometimes we are the hero. We shape our experiences to suit our audience, to suit our purposes, to test the waters. We watch their faces, gauge their reactions and adjust our telling. And so we learn how to interact with people – how to communicate. We learn about others. And so telling stories is as important as reading stories.

Last year when I asked my year 13s what had been the high-light of their year several of them made much of my stories, my asides – especially the one about how I (along with select members of my family) had drowned a protected species with some glee after catching it in a possum trap, the same evil creature who had brutally and ruthlessly killed nearly all of our chickens and then started in on the turkeys too. My class laughed about how that was not what I had meant (where was their connection to A Streetcar Named Desire,Carol Ann Duffy’s amazing collections – Feminine Gospels?) and then had great fun tracking the connections from what we were meant to be talking about to drowning a protected species. It reminded us all that stories are everywhere and connections take us to odd, bizarre and sometimes amazing places.

We learn to tell stories from others. From books being read to us and stories being told to us. So as parents we must not forgo the responsibility and huge pleasure of reading to our children. And, more than ever, of reading ourselves, so they see us read and ape what we do and become readers, not just passive receivers of all sorts of messages. Stories are important because of the human factor. Stories are about characters – people usually – doing human things, regardless of the time or place. Stories of fictional people matter just as much as stories of real people. All imagined characters have a connection to someone’s real life, to the experience of the writer, even if not directly to her/him. Those experiences connect with us, explain things, help us solve problems, give us examples of how to prevail; help us to know ourselves and others better.

I am very pleased that all three of my children remain readers, despite their busy lives and interests that don’t necessarily allow for the, now, luxury of reading. I always buy books for my boy for Christmas and birthdays. Recently both girls were reading Animal Farm,while I was teaching it. We all had interesting conversations about the wickedness of those pigs and the wretched ending of poor old Boxer. See, stories connect us too. Do you wonder why book clubs are so popular? People like to share stories and to share their experience of stories.

You shouldn’t be surprised by the timelessness of Shakespeare, you shouldn’t wonder why he remains performed across the world and a staple on school curriculums. His stories are rammed full of human frailties, our weaknesses as humans, as well as our better parts. Witness Macbeth and his ambition over-whelming him; Lady Macbeth’s love that drives her to plan and execute murder of a king; Iago who is burned by jealousy and wreaks havoc on those around him; King Lear who is so full of himself that he doesn’t see where love and loyalty are until it is too late; or Petruchio and Kate who really know how to mess with each other’s heads in the pursuit of love; and wouldn’t we all love to feel the intensity of the madness of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love?

We love the Myths and Legends of old too for the same reason: so much tragedy, so many fools doing dangerous and fatal things – for love, for honour, for revenge. It’s good to read stories from other cultures too, it reminds us how much we have in common – so many stories echo each other – Pandora opening that silly box, defying her husband and ruining the world is just Eve taking the apple and being thrown out of Eden. The Phoenix can be found across the world of mythical beasts and there’s always a Dragon somewhere too; be it a dangerous Western dragon or a lucky Eastern one.

We are all story-tellers, every day we tell a story about something to do with ourselves. If we watch TV we watch stories. Even if we play computer games we are involved in stories. Young people may not read books as much anymore, or even go to the movies like they did, but they are involved in stories. We need to make sure they are involved in the right sort of stories, are accessing stories that help them make the right decisions about their lives and are not attracted by the dark stories out there that can so easily tempt them and take them to a violent and terrible future – one without stories of striving and struggle, of triumph and success.

Whatever you do make sure you are telling good stories, you are reading to your children, you are sharing good books with young minds. It matters, it really does. In these dark days of fake news and false facts one of the best places to find the truth and make good connections is in fiction, even if it is your own. (Images from Private Collection)