by Louise Crossley
At first glance, this middle-class, middle-aged mother of three may seem a
little dull. But, like the humble onion, I can make your eyes water when you
peel the layers away.
Just before you M-rate my article I had better mention that my intention
is not to shock or horrify, only to ‘sweetify’ (to cause acute stimulation to
the heart’s taste buds through eternal naivety, excessive idealism and corny
Okay, I’m not a cool potato, but my antics have elicited reaction. Like the
MySpace saga, when my daughter registered me in an attempt to make me a
cooler mum—it backfired.
I used MySpace to express my dork-status and sealed the deal with my song
choice—the very cool, Helen Reddy singing ‘I Am Woman’. Unexpectedly
though, I received dozens of friend requests from people who claimed to be
dorks too. Liberating huh?
Also, early last year I wore my happy shoes to work for three consecutive
weeks in an effort to cheer up the new grade preps who were missing their
mums. Recently, I was approached by a grade-one child who asked me with
delightful enthusiasm if I still had my happy shoes—this made the odd looks
from colleagues worthwhile.
The piece dé resistance is when I organised a ‘this is your life’ birthday party
for my parents. I was determined to concentrate on the edification my parents
deserved and not on my relatives in the corner rolling their eyes and tutting,
The truth is, I am too old to hide under the radar, so here I am!
The other day I watched Never Been Kissed starring Drew Barrymore. My
favourite part is when she waits vulnerably on the baseball field for a reaction
to her article—that’s what I’m doing now.
Don’t worry though, I won’t be literally waiting anywhere for anything.
I do however, want to come out of the closet, or should I say pantry, as a
meringue! The meringue is a perfect metaphor for me—too rich for some and
a sugar rush for others.
Sure, it would be easier to be subtle shortbread that melts in your mouth, or
ever popular chocolate mudcake. But we have enough of them—the world
That’s why, to all the meringues out there I say, ‘Don’t sugar coat who you are.
You’re sweet enough’.
Louise Crossley is a Professional Writing and Editing student at VU.
Editors & Designers
Youth, VCE & Community
Professional Writing & Editing
Western Futures Program
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students)
Youth Enquiries VCE
03 9919 8643
03 9867 8740
ESL Youth Courses
03 9919 8744
by Bruno Lettieri
A magazine or newsletter cannot just exist in a vacuum. It would accumulate
in hidden boxes and have no life, no ability to come up for air. It needs to
circulate in and around a vibrant readership. Does the magazine create its own
readership or does it attach itself affectionately to something happening, and
then help bind that thing together? Unanswerable? perhaps. But I’d like to
think Platform could be both instigator and attacher.
I know with great certainty that when enthusiastic language-loving teachers
carry it into classes and read from it, speculate with their folk about the
informing spirit of the bundled pages, and use it as an instrument to encourage
the best of their generous creative thinking, it becomes a lovely instrument
of possibility. We began with the hope that Platform would be read with long
pauses and wide lenses gazing out of train windows.
We imagine it could bring established talented writers and those putting ink
on paper for the first tentative time into an unexpected alliance, and that
some emboldened creative audacity could be released in that lovely chemistry.
And of course, there is that broad constituency of people who usually write in
role-directed ways who turn up in Platform in unfettered guise. Long may they
Platform gets released four times a year at The Terrace Restaurant, Footscray
Nicholson campus. It’s that attempt to draw an audience of teachers, staff,
students, and those loosely gathered under the awning of ‘interested in youth’
that makes me think of it as ‘Instigator’.
The magazine gives us something to build that’s tangible and creative. All that
writing from all those people who share something that’s a little unspoken but
very forceful, all that sculpturing into shape and recognisable form—gives us
something to weave a celebration around. We come into a space that’s a little
different from the daily rounds. The gathering itself, is made and hopefully
infused, with a sense of the importance of coming together when people bring
their goodwill, better social instincts and attentiveness to the stories of others.
Welcome to Issue 4. I know there are new surprises in it because we have urged
and begged and asked nicely of many good new people. It’s slowly working its
way into some of our neighbouring schools and toward new friendships and
Our last Platform release featured our own students in gentle conversation in
front of a real audience around the questions: What brought you here to VU?
What keeps you here? What makes it worthwhile? Questions I would eagerly
take to any person at any place any time. I have a profound faith that when
people are acknowledged seriously they will respond.
P4, as we call it in the backrooms, urges you to write for it, encourage others to
write for it. Please, put that wonderful imagination to full-thoughtful-curiouseager-to-communicate
What constitutes youth?
by Stephen Weller
When I think about youth—I think about my children.
When I think about my children—I think about myself as a parent.
And when I think about myself as a parent—I think about my own parents.
Yet when I think about my parents—I think of myself as a youth.
So, what constitutes youth?
Is youth a stage in life represented by age? Or is youth a state of mind?
If youth is a stage in life then what stage is it? Is it teens, adolescence, or the coming
If youth can be described as a state of mind, is this just a desire by the old to hold on
to the past?
And once we know who the youth are, what is to be done with them?
For those rightfully amongst the youth there seems to be an uncertainty as to when
it is time to act.
For those no longer amongst the youth there seems to be an insistence that the
youth must wait.
But surely given that youth are our future then why not let them have their time
If youth is the period between childhood and adulthood then let it be a time to be
Let the blurred boundaries between naivety and experience be a time to be
Bobby Kennedy described youth as: ‘the appetite for adventure over the life of ease’.
So why not let adventure triumph over ease?
Let us recognise the perspective that youth provides fresh from childhood.
Let us recognise the perspective of youth that is yet to experience adulthood.
Let us invest in our youth and celebrate this unique period of transformation.
So let us celebrate youth and put the hands of the future in those who will live in it!
Stephen Weller is the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) of Victoria University
My name is Chantelle Gordon.
I am 19 years old.
I use to go to Rosamond School in 1996.
I was a volunteer in SRC school council.
But my favourite sport is football because in
2002 I was in Auskick.
And my 14 words are:
Kathy is cool
Kathy is smart
Kathy will always still be a great teacher
We will miss you Kathy and I hope it’s a girl.
by Chantelle Gordon
Hello, my name is Vu.
I’m nineteen years of age.
I have two brothers and two sisters and my
My favourite TV shows are ‘Home and
Away’, ‘Two and a Half Men’, ‘How I meet
my Mother’, ‘Neighbours’, ‘The Simpsons’,
‘Futurama’ and Wrestling.
My favourite football teams are Hawthorn,
Geelong, Collingwood, St Kilda and Carlton.
My favourite sport is football, cricket, soccer
My Flower Power Story.
My name is Tu-Tu Halaseh.
I would like to be a football and cricket umpire.
I also love flowers.
My favourite flowers are daisies, roses and pink
They make you grow up everyday.
Flowers are very special for all occasions.
On a beautiful spring day, flowers bloom.
Freshly cut flowers are very, very special indeed.
All flowers are lovely.
I like white flowers, yellow flowers, and red
All these flowers are wonderful and beautiful
and I love to pick some.
by Tu-Tu Halaseh
My name is Glenn McDonald.
I live in Moonee Ponds.
I have a happy life.
I live with my mum and Nan.
My hobbies are watching rugby, race-calling
and going to the Sam Merrifield Library.
by Glenn McDonald
I am Deana Horvat.
I have a dog, his name is Jasper.
I have a pool in the backyard.
I have a mum, dad, sister and me.
I am 19 years old.
I will be 20 years-old on 17th October.
I go for Essendon with my mum and sister.
by Deana Horvat
I am Robyn Sherrott.
The school I came from was Ascot Vale.
Before I came here I was in the Annexe.
I play indoor cricket for a club called Footscray.
There are two dogs at home and their names are
Samson and Bain.
I like to ride a bike.
I also bowl on a Monday, my partner’s name is
Brett and our team name is RMB.
by Robyn Sherrott
Hi, my name is Lauren Joy Sherrott
I am 19 years old.
I was born at Bacchus Marsh Hospital.
I went to two primary schools, Coburg and
Aberfeldie. Then I went to Ascot Vale.
In 2007, I was school captain.
In 2008, I finished high school and moved on
Every Monday night, I bowl in a league called
the Terrorways. My partner’s name is Jessica
and our team is called the Girly Girls.
Thursday nights I go to Mooney Valley to do a
Hip Hop Class.
by Joy Sherrott
Page Page 45
My Idol success
by Jason Heagerty
I started to audition for ‘Australian Idol’ when I was sixteen years-old. For two months before the
2004 ‘Australian Idol’ had started. I practised the song choice that I wanted to sing. I watched
‘Australian Idol—The Journey Begins’ (2004 tutor) which is all about how to deal with fame. It
had about the success of Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll and the ‘Australian Idol’ 2003 Final twelve
and gave advice on ‘Australian Idol’ auditions.
I realised that I couldn’t afford to catch a taxi to the auditions and back so I recorded my originals
onto a tape using my ‘Australian Idol’ Karaoke CD-G’s I got from my Santa Christmas Wish
list (2003 model), and I performed my version of the Australian national anthem, ‘You Are
My Sunshine’ and also the Richmond Tigers’ AFL theme song. I sent it to the ‘Australian Idol’
Melbourne audition and then two months later I received a letter with the judge’s autographs:
Marcia Hines, Ian Dickson and Mark Holden.
I sang well, but I know I’ve got a long way to go to superstar stardom, so I headed back to
training. I was nervous at the start, especially when you go for it and then you don’t make it. But
I was happy and, well let’s say it was a silent cry, that means I wanted it bad but there are others
that are better than me, so I went back to practise.
After that I did my originals, but in the next stage I used a DJ software called E-Tag and did my
hottest remix version of ‘This Is Your Night’. The judges said I was getting better except when it
came to Kyle Sandlands. He didn’t like my performance. Marcia felt like saying yes but rejected
me due to wrong genre choice. Techno song choices are not a strong point for me unless I get
I moved on to ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ Kit-Kat Competition. I recorded my video clip of me
performing my version of ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua. I sent it by sms. I was the best in street ranks
and got 1242 votes, but didn’t win a trip for four to Queensland, but I was glad to give it a go.
On my 21st birthday I went to a Caroline Springs’ restaurant and had food, dessert and played
Xbox. Later that night I did some karaoke. I sang ‘Buses And Trains’ by Bachelor Girl. The
ladies that worked in the pub loved my singing and dancing and they thought I was hot, so they
gave me an encore. So, I sang ‘All I Have to Give’ by Backstreet Boys. I really enjoyed my first
karaoke night performances. I am looking forward to going in to the Centro Idol competition in
Footscray soon. I found out about it by looking at the window sign on my way to school.
Music is the best medicine to entertain yourself and friends.
Thank you to the students from VU’s Western Futures Program.
we only loaned him to you
by Kristin Henry
We only loaned him to you.
He was perfect up till then.
He was smart and he was funny,
there was nothing wrong with him,
since before he was born
when we curled our lives around his
to keep him safe.
For every new word he spoke
we made up songs.
We played each of his first steps together
Like a bunch of galahs I guess
but loved was the only way
he knew himself.
And laugh, he used to laugh.
Eyes full of tricks and spit.
He was a hell of a giggler.
But now he’s quieter.
We gave him to you
and this is what you do.
He’s started to jump at touches,
every day he’s smaller.
He looks surprised
like we lied
when we let him think he was beautiful
to everyone’s eyes.
We gave him to you
and this is what you’ve done.
He’s torn, we cannot find the spot
but we can see his childhood
You’ve made these holes.
We want them fixed.
We gave him to you perfect
you were supposed to be careful.
Kristin Henry’s previous anthologies include quick packer, slices of wry and others.
Page Page 67
by Robert Corbet
I’m not sure about my blood type
but I’ve got a birth certificate somewhere,
library card, Citylink, Friends of the Zoo
ATM, driver’s licence, I lost three demerits
for not having my seat belt on.
Medicare, dentist X-Rays, Vitamin C
I’m not allergic, broke my arm in Grade 5
one beer is enough, steer clear of whisky
a few more lines when I look in the mirror
don’t leap out of bed like I used to.
Reading the morning paper is depressing
mixed feelings about humanity
mortality and anxieties at arm’s length
lost and found, stray dogs
family, friends and aquaintances.
Gas and electricity bills, rates coming up
plastic bags, hard rubbish, green waste
I put my bins out every Wednesday
limited assets, no liabilities, creditors or debt
a few leaks I fixed with a bucket.
Power naps, late night TV, top tens
celebrity guests via satellite, sports reports
so many books to read, movies to see
Do you take a chance on something new
or go back to the classics?
Need time to think, smell the roses
make hay while sun shines
treading water, running to stand still
dreaming about places I’ll never visit
stories I’ll never write, people I’ll never meet.
Melway references, e-tags, short-cuts, dead-ends
junk emails, door-knockers, pizza delivery
dam levels, rain-shadows, long-range forecasts
night-time disturbances: bats, possums, burn-outs
thoughts falling asleep, forgotten next morning.
Robert Corbet teaches Professional Writing and Editing at VU.
by Hannie Rayson
Four days ago, my son was whispering, ‘Be brave, Mum. Be brave’. Minutes later he was
laughing and waving and then he was gone. The big steel doors at Tullamarine had closed
and I found myself sobbing in the arms of my ex-husband.
My son is fourteen years-old and he’s gone to Paris.
We drive back down the Tulla together, my ex-husband and I. We talk about the prices
of houses in Carlton. I am fighting back the urge to make him swing the car around and
retrieve our boy, to prize open the steel doors. ‘Sorry everyone, we’ve made a ridiculous
From Paris, Jack will take a train to Granville in Normandy. He’ll live with a French
family for three months and attend the local school. The family has two children, a rabbit
and a cat. From his bedroom window he’ll be able to see the English Channel. ‘We will
roast chestnuts from our tree,’ writes his French mother. She is the only one who speaks
English—Un peu—with the aid of a phrase book.
My son is travelling as part of a program organised by the Southern Cross Cultural
Exchange, now in its 18th year. In 2001 the nine-thousandth student will go overseas with
So I am the nine-thousandth mother to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, imagining her son
crying silently into his pillow. Lonely, homesick, scared. (Missing his mother.) Suddenly,
the phone rings. It is 2 a.m.
‘I’m here, Mum. I’m in Paris!’ He is trilling with excitement. ‘My God, it’s divine. I’ve just
seen the Eiffel Tower.’
My heart leaps.
In Melbourne, my son lives between two houses. He has four parents. Together we form his
personal polit bureau. Where other children just have to manage two adult personalities in
their nuclear family, ours has to go before a committee. Interestingly, there is rarely division
between households. When it comes to decision making, the differences occur along gender
lines. Usually the father and the step-father line up against the mother and the step-mother.
Here is an example. We go to Jimmy Watson’s wine bar in Carlton after the airport and
meet up with the step-parents. They are very pleased because in French they are called
beaux parents—the good parents.
I am told firmly that I must not let Jack know that I am missing him terribly.
My husband says, ‘You must set him free. He has to go with your full encouragement to
have the time of his life.’
My ex-husband agrees, ‘Don’t let him worry about you. You mustn’t do that.’
‘I don’t want him to feel abandoned,’ I say lamely.
Georgina, his step-mother, understands. ‘I think it’s okay in the beginning. Until he settles
As a mother I’ve never performed myself to my son. I’ve never pretended in front of him. I
have never ushered him out of the room when the news was on. My motto has always been:
Don’t protect, equip.
Once, I remember my neighbour came to the door and burst into tears. Her father had just
died. Jack was three.
I said, ‘Say you’re sorry, Jack.’
He looked bewildered, ‘I didn’t do it.’
Page Page 89
He has been party to the full gamut of life experiences. He’s been to hospitals and
funerals and law courts and weddings and the birth of two babies. He has learned that
there is no more significant human response both privately and politically than the
capacity for empathy. As a result he is insightful about the meanderings of the human
So now I must pretend, apparently. And crack hardy.
It’s not as if we haven’t been separated before. Last summer he lied about his age to get
into acting classes at NIDA. He was encouraged by his step-father who said, ‘Lying about
your age is a great Australian tradition. It’s not an act of deceit. It’s a show of pluckiness.’
Then, we all gathered at Southern Cross Station and ran along the platform waving and
waving as the train slithered off to Sydney.
I was fine then. But this is different. This is character building of a different order.
I ring my girlfriend. ‘Do you think I’ve molly-coddled Jack?’
Two days pass. I am living in a time zone ten hours earlier. He is having breakfast now, I
think. He is looking down at his plate. She is serving brains.
My ex-husband rings up. ‘I was awake all night,’ he says. ‘I was worried he might not be
The phone rings. So far Jack has sent two emails and made four calls. ‘You can ring me,
you know,’ he says, and I detect a little crack in his voice.
‘What are they like?’ I whisper down the phone.
He is silent.
‘Can’t you talk?’
I hang up and replay the conversation over and over. There in all the cracks is uncertainty
and strangeness and yearning. Perhaps I’ll have to fly over there at Christmas.
I lie in bed and wonder, who is not coping here, me or him?
‘Hey Mum,’ says the next email. ‘Remember moles from Enid Blyton? The cat just
I go to Safeway feeling quite chipper. I don’t know why, but the mole story has cheered
me enormously. I run into his best friend. ‘I got an email,’ she tells me. ‘It says, “I’m safe.
I’m scared. And I’m dealing with it.”’
I hug my husband in the toiletries aisle.
‘This is why we sent him, remember?’
Hannie Rayson is an Australian Playwright. This piece was first published in The Age ‘What
A son again
by Barry Garner
Thirty years between prayers is a long time, but I was mad at God for letting my dad die.
I was only thirteen when it happened. I prayed a lot back then. Begged God to make him
better, but my prayers went unanswered. At thirteen it’s hard to understand death and it
was even harder to understand God. All I knew was the man I idolised was gone forever.
Dad died on a Wednesday, sports day at Collingwood Tech. At the same time I was running
round the basketball court, my dad just slipped away. I had thought he’d get better. After all
I’d prayed about it. God was on the job, he’d fix it, he’d make Dad well again. But he didn’t.
I didn’t get to say goodbye. He was just gone.
I couldn’t believe that life could be so unfair. Dad was only forty-two, a hard worker and
a loving father. He loved the Goons, World Championship Wrestling and Al Jolson. Dad
loved a good laugh and lived each day for us, his family, or to quote him, ‘My Mob’. Why
would God take him? How could this happen to our family? What good was prayer when
God didn’t answer?
For years after Dad’s death I did my best to shut God out of my life. Like I said, I held
a grudge for almost as long as Dad’s life. But I refused to give in. Even when the need to
connect to something bigger than my own life swamped me, I wouldn’t pray. It was no use,
prayers didn’t get answered. God wouldn’t help me. God was a hard man.
It wasn’t till I met my wife eight years ago that I was encouraged to talk to God again.
Carolyn helped me see that God didn’t take my father, cancer had. She led me quietly and
patiently to her God, who wasn’t an ogre, but a loving father. This new way of looking at
God meant I, the fatherless, was a son again. Carolyn taught me that the peace and hope
that could come from talking to God is real. Is necessary.
I pray every day now, but these days I do it without demanding a result. I know that we
don’t always get what we ask for. That earthly bodies wear out and that for each of us there
is a season. I now see prayer as the path to God and trust him enough to listen.
Barry Garner studied Creative Writing at Sunbury.
Page Page 10 11
by Rhiannon Lacy
You were beating. Slow and steady. But empty. Hollow. Nothing but blood pulsed
through your chambers.
Then one dreary day, when the sky was full of blackened clouds, you fluttered a little.
A warm sensation filled you for a brief moment. As soon as you felt it, it was gone. Like
glimpsing a shooting star, you stored this feeling and remembered it, tried to recreate it
when you were alone. But it was a dull shadow. Not enough.
On a windy day when the trees were bent so low towards the ground they could
uproot, the feeling returned. You sensed it at a distance. It inched closer and closer until
its heat warmed your chambers. A faint laugh entered your veins. This time the feeling
lasted for a short while, long enough to exchange phone numbers. You fluttered once
That same evening the sensation arrived at seven-thirty. Its heat returned to your
chambers, flooding your valves, running through your veins until you were overflowing.
The feeling left early the next morning, promising to come back in the afternoon. That
promise was fulfilled. It stayed for the afternoon which became evening and turned into
the weekend. This pattern of return continued and became a habit.
You grew accustomed to the routine and soon the feeling remained, even when the
cause had left. Its imprint visible to the stranger’s eye. You were now alive, very alive,
content and happy.
You fell into a rhythm of comfort. The comfort of smelly socks lying on the bedroom
floor and the toilet seat left up.
Summer came and the air was filled with the smell of freshly-cut grass. It was then
that the feeling you had carried and tended to in the winter months through to spring
decided to stay. You soared through the clouds and higher than heaven. Pure bliss.
Not long after, on a heavily hot afternoon, the screech of tyres echoed through you.
Shards of glass sprinkled across the road as a grey haze settled in the air. You stopped. Still
and quiet. Then blood pounded through your chambers. Its rhythm growing faster and
faster. The smell of summer vanished and was replaced by fear. The feeling that had made
you full had gone. Your beating grew louder and louder. Blood flooded your chambers,
valves and arteries. Away. Then you broke, splitting down the middle, tearing in two
You had known the sensation for seven weeks. Seven weeks after it had gone you
began stitching yourself back together. The feeling had been shared for eighteen weeks.
It took eighteen weeks for you to seal the tear. You had seen each other at least three days
each week which had turned into every day. After thirty-seven weeks the scars began to
appear. It took you two hundred and fifty-nine days to mend yourself. But the scars are
still there, twisted into you. They will remain.
You are still beating, slow and steady. But empty. Hollow. Nothing but blood pulsing
through your chambers.
Rhiannon Lacy is a VU student.
Facing the future
by Martin Flanagan
For someone of her age and many experiences, Georgia Savage is almost unreasonably glad
of life. I know people who would be wrecked by what she has been through, but her eyes
continue to gleam like a child’s as she tells me what she has seen and learned. In the event
of her death, she once told me, I can find her by looking at the grass in the back straight at
Flemington during the Spring Carnival. Imagine a brush of sun-touched green with maybe
a rustle of wind in it. And that is why, the week before the season began, when asked to
speak in a pub on the topic, Facing the Future, I thought I would take Georgia along. I
wanted to say something green, something that had life, but was nonetheless real.
There were about eighty or so, mostly older, people in the pub. I basically told two stories.
I told how, a week after ‘September 11’, I spoke at a testimonial dinner for Bob Brown in
Melbourne. Afterwards, he and I had a talk about whether the human experiment could
ever achieve any sort of enduring stability for all the peoples of the earth, or whether it
would end in chaos and destruction.
‘I don’t know that it won’t end in chaos,’ he said. ‘But I choose to act as if it won’t.’
Bob Brown believes an act of defiance, within ourselves, is necessary if we are to resist the
logic of our times.
The second story I told was about meeting Rainsy Sam, the leader of the democracy
movement in Cambodia, in 2002. At the time we met, the number of his party workers
murdered for trying to establish democracy in their country was twelve. His wife told of a
legally authorised march they participated in—turning a corner, they were met by a line of
soldiers, rifles levelled. Her husband continued walking towards the soldiers, so did those
behind him. When he finally reached the tip of the barrel of the first gun, presumably
belonging to the commander, the military stood back and the marchers passed.
‘Where do you get your courage from?’ I asked.
Rainsy Sam told me that if you have a choice between right and wrong, take the right way
without hesitation, because if you pause for a moment your fear will get you. He also told
me, with a trace of regret, ‘I thought, that once people believe in you, you don’t have a
Martin Flanagan is a senior journalist for The Age. This piece appeared in his book, The Game
in Time of War.
Page Page 12 13
Four seasons of the heart
by Paul Mitchell
Below a steadfast sky
blood glistens on a dove’s beak.
I understand again
the wisdom of deceit.
Alone in thrilling rain
my umbrella folded
I watch the past fall
all coloured lights and lampshades.
Skipping through the thoughtless
forest of my life, I use the rope
to lasso mistakes
kiss each and every one.
Awake for luminous breakfast,
charcoal clouds retreat,
cereal stars are crumpetted.
I raise a toast and dance.
Paul Mitchell is a Yarraville poet and has two
poetry anthologies, Minorphysics and awake
despite the hour.
Waving goodbye to Granny
by Marlene Gorman
It was cold on the deck; the wind whipped around us as we stood at the rail of the ship. It
wasn’t supposed to be cold. It was July 12th, 1950, and it was summer.
I stepped up onto the first rail of the iron stopping me from falling into the chasm between
the boat and the dock. My Dad was holding on to the back of my coat.
We had come to Tilbury by train from Manchester that morning as we embarked on our
journey to Australia. I was feeling very excited by all this fuss. However, I could see that my
Mam was not happy.
‘What’s wrong, Mam? It’s going to be great on the boat.’
‘I’m feeling really sad because Granny hasn’t been able to get down here to see us off,’ Mam
Granny lived in London, not far from Tilbury, but she was not very well and no-one really
expected her to travel to the docks. We had had only six weeks notice to sail to Sydney after
Mam and Dad applied for passage to Australia together with my brother, who was big then;
he was seventeen.
Once we had been told when we were going to sail, we all went down to London to see
Granny, aunts and uncles. Granny lived on the first floor in a large three-storey house that
had been converted to flats right next door to Holloway Prison. Her other neighbour was
an empty block of land where a house had been blitzed during the war. There were a lot of
empty blocks on Holloway Road.
‘I’ll never see you again,’ said Granny. ‘I’m too old to come to Australia to see you.’ She
wept as she held me and Mam close to her.
‘Don’t be daft. We’ll earn lots of money in Australia and we’ll come back to see you,’ Mam
said as she held Granny tighter.
Aunt Daisy, the beauty of the family who lived on the ground floor, was asking my Mam
everything about how we were able to go to Australia.
‘Oh, it would be great if you, Fred and the kids could come too,’ Mam said.
We eventually said our goodbyes and went back to Manchester by train to a very hurried
selling-off of furniture and household goods as we were only given a small allocation of
cargo space for our skip. Mam sold off everything except linen and blankets; she also kept
her sewing machine.
There was a huddle of people on the wharf; not too many as we were a very small company
going to Sydney. Only six hundred passengers were on board the MV Cheshire, mainly
families as ten-pound migrants. Dad had said that I was free because I was only six years
I was looking at all the people and suddenly I saw Granny. You could not mistake Granny
as she always had a brightly coloured scarf on her head.
‘Mam, Mam, look it’s Granny. There she is!’ I yelled excitedly. ‘She’s standing near the big
green box—over there.’
We waved and waved and then Granny saw us and started to wave back at us. Mam, Dad
and Brian called out to Granny but I doubt she could hear us because just then the ship’s
signal went off to announce that we were sailing. The hawsers came off and were pulled
back onto the ship by the crew. Someone had thrown streamers out to the crowd on the
wharf and as the boat pulled away from the dock they stretched out in the wind until they
Page Page 14 15
We saw then, that Granny had taken off her scarf and was waving it at us. Dad waved his
hanky back until we could not see her any more.
We did not see her again. She died less than two years later after my Aunt Daisy and her
family immigrated to Australia. But I will never forget my last glimpse of England in that
cold summer of 1950.
We didn’t get rich but we have all been back to England several times. We just love it
when we arrive back home in Australia though.
Marlene Gorman is studying Professional Writing and Editing at VU.
A tough act to follow
by Angela Jones
He seems like a bright kid, which is why I suspect the education system has let him down.
He says he was initially at a mainstream school; he struggled and failed. I doubt he was
given the help he needed to cross the line. He then found himself enrolled at one of those
schools for kids with intellectual disabilities. The lack of stimulation would have bored him
to tears, that’s how I’m guessing he wound up working for Waverley Industries.
He is creative but not in the artistic sense; more that he enjoys creating new personas
for himself, which he tries on like one might a pair of shoes. A different persona for the
different groups of people he’s with. He seems unsure as to which group of people to be
friends with, unsure of who he is and who he wants to become.
Some would say that when he’s in the presence of someone he admires, he lies; he shows off
claiming to have done all these macho things and maybe one day he may do them. At the
moment I think it’s all a fantasy, one of his many personas he tries on because he thinks it
makes him seem cool and tough.
He needs his personas to give him that air of confidence because he feels or thinks that he’s
stupid. I believe this, because when a co-worker was telling him how to do his job I said,
‘He’s a bright enough guy, I’m sure he’ll work it out for himself.’
He was astonished and speechless when he finally spoke; he thanked me.
When he’s in trouble he puts on the pathetic look, which he’s mastered over time and acts
all hard-done-by, like the world owes him a favour.
Angela Jones studied creative writing at VU Sunbury.
Page Page 16 17
Coffee for Lucia was the remedy for every ill
by Enza Gandolfo
Lucia brews coffee when she is sick, when she is sad. She brews coffee for visitors and for
her men—she brews coffee several times every day—for breakfast, after lunch and dinner,
mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
Concetta drinks her mother-in-law’s coffee, thick and black, sweetened with two
sugars, all through her pregnancy. She craves it. It is the 1950s and there are no medical
warnings declaring coffee’s harmful effects on the unborn. It doesn’t appear to have any
harmful effects on Cia who is ten pounds at birth, a healthy and lively child; a child with
her own addiction to coffee.
‘There is no point making coffee,’ Lucia says, ‘unless it’s strong. No one wants to
drink dirty water.’ Lucia grinds the coffee beans each time she makes coffee. As each
bean cracks, the thick aroma invades the house. This is sacred coffee. The ritual is in the
making and serving.
Each time Lucia takes the espresso pot from the cupboard, fills the base with water
and spoons in the ground coffee—heaped spoon after heaped spoon, pushing the coffee
down until it is packed tight. Once the pot is on the stove, the gas low, Lucia opens
the draw of the dresser to reveal her collection of table cloths. Layer upon layer; each
one ironed and folded. Square embroidered tablecloths: pink flowers in every corner, a
bouquet in the middle. Or round white tablecloths with lace rims. Linen tablecloth in
green and blue. New Australian fine cotton cloths with floral prints. Lucia shakes the
chosen cloth and flings it across the table.
On a silver serving dish she places sugar-coated biscuits and thick sponge cake. From
the kitchen dresser she selects the miniature gold leaf coffee cups. As she places the last
cup on the table, the pot on the stove begins to hiss. The steam, dense with the coffee
essence fills the room. Lucia pours the coffee—black, thick, spitting—into the cups.
‘The coffee was better in Italy, stronger,’ she says.
Her family gathers around the table. They nod in agreement. Each one of them
adding spoonfuls of sugar and their own comments; for them, of course, everything was
better in the old country.
Only Carmela shakes her head, ‘No coffee thanks, not for me.’ Later as they drive
home, Carmela says to Alberto, ‘My mother tells so many lies. How often did she have
coffee in Italy—never.’
In Castellino coffee was expensive; it was a luxury. Mostly they drank water and wine,
if they had their own cows, they drank milk. On the occassional chilly December night,
they might grind chicory beans—cheaper than real coffee, but hardly the same.
The men drank coffee more often than the women. Usually, at Marco’s café in the
piazza. A quick, short expresso over a handshake as they leaned against the bar and
finalised the sale of wheat or land. Or a lingering one, spiked with a shot of grappa at
night as they played cards at one of the back tables. The women never went into the
In Australia, even the poorest Italian migrant can afford coffee. They buy imported
Italian coffee, packets of roasted beans from delicatessens in Carlton. Inclined as they are
to be nostalgic, coffee, becomes a persistent thread connecting them back. Each time they
drink it, they remember with affection a better coffee, in a better country.
It is not just this fabrication that torments Carmela.
‘My mother lies about everything.’
Carmela sits with Alberto on the steps of the veranda of their brick veneer home,
more solid than her mother’s weatherboard across town; a refuge from her family. He sips
his coffee and Carmela drinks tea.
‘Memories play tricks on all of us.’
‘How can you defend her, she treats you like dirt?’
‘I’m not defending her, Carmela, I’m just saying we all remember Castellino with
fondness as if things were better there—the air, the trees, the food, the coffee. We forget; we
forget the things we didn’t like, the reasons why we left or maybe now that we are here—
those things don’t seem so bad and we wonder if we should have left.’
‘I’m glad we left. I hated Castellino. I have no fond memories of it. I hated my mother’s
house—the stone walls, the narrow stairway; every time I climbed my mother’s stairs, every
time I opened that door—even after they’d left, even after you and I took it over—I felt
breathless, claustrophobic. There are no good memories for me there.’
‘Nothing Alberto. Nothing.’
Carmela sighs and leans hard against the wall. She closes her eyes and begins to talk,
Alberto is not sure if she’s talking to him.
‘I remember my doll, Yanna. I slept with her every night. I loved her. She was the only
thing in the whole world that belong to me. That was all mine. One night, Paolo took her
from me and threw her into the fire. She turned black, and half her face was burnt away.
My mother yelled at me. At me, not at Paolo. She was angry with me for getting soot all
over myself. As I pulled her out of the fire; she took her from me, pulled her out of my
hands and threw her back in the fire.
“It’s too late now to be crying, you should have looked after her. Anyway you’re too old
for dolls,”she said.
‘She never liked the doll because my father had made her for me. He had spent hours,
several nights in a row carving and shaping her out of a block of wood. He painted her
face—blue eyes, long curling lashes, a tiny nose and large red lips that always smiled. My
grandmother made me a dress for her, and we glued strands of wool to her head for hair.
She was a happy doll. I loved her. My mother knew how much the doll meant to me but
she didn’t care.
‘It was the same with everything I loved. I loved school and I was good at it. I could
read better than anyone in my class. My teacher thought I could have studied and become
a teacher myself. She came especially to visit my mother, to ask her to let me study but my
mother never said anything about that; never talked to my father about it; she just took me
out of school as early as she could get away with. I still remember the teachers. I wanted to
be like them. When I close my eyes, I am back in that classrooms. I can see the blue-green
slate; I can feel the chalk dust on my fingers, specks of it catching on my throat. School was
my favorite time of the day. Sitting in the classroom listening, writing, reading; that was the
happiest time of my childhood; they were the only happy times I can remember.’
Alberto took Carmela’s hands in his, ‘It is better to forget all this. You have a different
‘I can’t forget Alberto—if we had children maybe I could...I thought by loving my own
children I could...’
‘Carmela, don’t; there is still hope.’
‘My mother made me lots of dresses when I was young, a new dress for every festa. I
didn’t ask for them. I didn’t care about new dresses. “See how lucky you are, your friends
can’t afford new dresses.” She made those dresses for show, so people would think she was
a good mother. All that fuss over a dress—and over and over I would hear how much the
material cost, how special it was, how lucky I was to have a dress made from material that
came all the way from Vittoria. But I could see—she knew I could see how her face lit up
at the sight of Aldo or Paolo or Luciano—never for me—never glad to see me. The sight
of me was the memory of things to be done. “Bring the washing in, put the pot on, and do
the dusting, the bed.”’
Carmela straightened her shoulders and held them back, ‘I don’t remember her ever
kissing me or holding me. I don’t remember her ever having a kind word. There are no
Page Page 18 19
‘Carmela, please.’ As Alberto started to speak she turned to look at him. ‘You don’t
remember everything Carmela, none of us do. She must have held you, kissed you as a
child. All our mothers did.’
‘Not mine. She was too busy holding her sons. They were her favorites. She should
never have had a daughter. I took my father’s attention away from her. She hated it when
father came home and picked me up, throwing me up in the air, laughing with me as I
flew above his head. She hated it. I could see it in her face. Quickly she would find him
something to do—some chore to take him away from me. And then as I got older he
too started to distance himself, as I became a young woman he stopped touching me,
stopped laughing at the things I did. He stopped. She was at him until he stopped.
He became just as bad as her. He kisses me now, one kiss on each cheek like a stranger.
I could be anyone...he always takes her side in the end. He dotes on her, does whatever
she says, he thinks she’s perfect. I never heard him criticise her.
Carmela, Alberto thought, was about to cry, instead she took a deep breath catching
the emotion in her mouth, swallowing and then spitting out.
‘You don’t know what it was like with her; you can’t imagine that. I hate her you
know. She makes me so angry. She’s cunning. She knows how to be nice to people, she
knows how to put it on for show, but if you watch her, you can see what she is really
They sit, husband and wife, in silence. The memories of her childhood have been
haunting Carmela since her brother’s death, since the arguments with her mother over
Carmela goes inside the house, she takes a photograph from the shelf, a photograph of
her family—parents and brothers and herself. The photograph was taken just before her
wedding several years ago now—she takes it out to the veranda. She has a strong urge to
rip it up.
She’s been thinking too much about the past, she knows that.
‘Relax,’ the doctor said, ‘there’s no physical reasons why you can’t have a normal
pregnancy. It’s nerves. You have to take it easy.’
‘I have my period. I am bleeding,’ she says to Alberto and starts to cry. He holds her
but says nothing. He knows platitudes won’t help.
Every month’s bleeding is another barren month. Every month, Carmela grieves anew
for the lost child.
‘I just want to be like everyone else, like every other woman. I just want a child, a
child of my own. I will love my child. I will love her so much.’
Carmela looked at her mother in the photograph. A large woman, with full breasts
and her wide hips. Her belly protruding—stretched after the birth of five children.
‘Why can’t I give birth? Why do my children die? Why does life refuse to live inside
me? Why am I barren? I wish I could stop seeing her, I wish I never had to see my
‘But Carmela, it is not her fault. She is your mother. She wants you to have children.
And there is your father, your brothers.’
‘Do you think she wants me to have children? Do you think she cares? And my father
and brothers—they will always be on her side. They never understood what it was like for
me and they never will. Only Luciano and now he is gone.’
This piece is an extract from Lucia’s Story.
Dr Enza Gandolfo is a Lecturer in Professional Writing and Editing at VU and author of
newly released novel Swimming.
by Komninos Zervos
my family came, my family came, from kastellorizo
been living in the land of oz, for eighty years or so
they called them refs, they called them wogs, they called them
so and so’s
but they survived, the racist jibes, for eighty years you know
now my papou, he’s ninety-two, he watched the family grow
it grew and grew, and grew and grew, the greeks like sex you know.
my family came, the cazzies came, from kastellorizo
been living in, the land of oz, for eighty years or so.
from fish and chips, and steak and egg, they built their family
on good australian soil they built, they helped australia grow
and in their homes, their souvenirs, from kastellorizo
the hallowed map, the harbour view, the painted plates on show
and photographs, old photographs, that told a tale of woe
of poverty, and tyranny, under the bed they go!
my family came, the cazzies came, from kastellorizo
been living with, the memories, for eighty years or so.
their children grew, they went to school, they learnt the aussie
they changed their clothes, they changed their talk, they even
changed their names
but in the house, the parents taught, that cazzies they will stay
a cazzie born, a cazzie be, until their dying day
‘cos everything that’s greek is good, it’s always been that way
and cazzies are, the best of all, my old yiayia would say.
Page Page 20 21
my family came, the cazzies came, from kastellorizo
been living in, a time-warp zone, for eighty years or so.
at weddings and, at christenings, they’d sing the cazzie songs
we did the cazzie dances, and we all would sing along
and all the stories, you would hear, about this grecian isle
would put it on, a pedestal, a faultless pure lifestyle
but reality, as time goes by, gets twisted, warped and changed
and the longer, they had been here, the bigger the myth became.
my family came, the cazzies came, from kastellorizo
been living in, the past too long, for eighty years or so.
the myth of kastellorizo, so good, so greek, so great
to live by myth, in a changing world, simply does not equate
‘cos no man can, an island be, the proverb wisely states
and progress never comes to those, to those who sit and wait
and so we see, the culture clash, worship of myth creates
you can’t live in, another time, another mental state.
my family came, my family stayed, in kastellorizo
been living with the myth too long, for eighty years or so
the cazzies came, the cazzies stayed, in kastellorizo
they left reality behind, some eighty years ago!
Komninos Zervos is a Melbourne Poet
This piece was first published in komninos (1991).
by Brian Doyle
My daughter, age six, sleeps with her bear, also age six. My son, age three, sleeps with his
basketball and a stuffed tiger, age unknown. My other son, also age three, sleeps with a
can of anchovy fillets—King Oscar brand, caught off Morocco and distributed by the H.J.
Nosaki Company in New York.
He sleeps with the can every night, won’t go to sleep without it under his right cheek.
The can is bright red and features a drawing of King Oscar, an avuncular, bearded fellow,
apparently a benevolent despot. Every night after Liam is asleep I gently delete the can from
his grip and examine it. It’s a roll-key can, 56 grams, with ‘about six fillets (15g).’ Other
than the friendly visage of King Oscar, my favorite thing about the can is the word ‘about’,
a rare concession, in the corporate world, to ambiguity. I suppose it’s a legal thing, but still
it pleases me, for murky reasons.
I sit there in the dark, holding the anchovies, and ponder other murky things like:
What’s the deal with this boy and his anchovies? How is it that we are drawn to the odd
things we love? How came anchovies from Morocco to be swimming headless under my
son’s cheek in Oregon? What do we know about anchovies other than their savory saltiness?
What really do we know well about any creature, including and most of all ourselves, and
how is it that even though we know painfully little about anything we often manage worldwrenching
hubris about our wisdom?
Consider the six animals in the can. They are members of the family Engraulididae,
the anchovies, which range in size from a Brazilian anchovy the size of your thumbnail
to a ravenous New Guinea anchovy as long as your forearm. Anchovies don’t survive in
captivity, and they don’t survive long after being netted either, so we know little about
them—but that little is riveting:
* Their hearing is perhaps the sharpest of any marine animal, and the frequency
they hear best is, eerily, exactly the frequency of the tail-beats of other fish. Is their
unimaginably crisp hearing how they manage to swim in darting collectives that twist
as one astonishing creature? We don’t know.
* Their noses contain a sensory organ that no other creature in the world has. What’s
it for? No one knows.
* Sensory complexes in anchovies’ heads also form dense nets in the cheeks. What do
these nets do? A puzzle.
* Anchovies get their food by dragging their open mouths through the ocean in
mammoth schools, but what, exactly, do they eat? Surprise: no one knows.
Among the species of anchovy are, to the delight of meditative fathers sitting in
the dark on their sons’ beds, the buccaneer anchovy (which ranges furthest into the
open ocean), and the sabre-tooth anchovy, which has very large teeth and hangs around,
understandably, by itself. And I do not even mention the anchovies’ cousin, the wolf
herring, which grows to be a yard long, and has so many teeth that it has teeth on its
Thus the anchovy, fully as mysterious a creature as, well, as this boy sleeping with the
fishes. And what, really, do I know irrefutably about my son? Some of his quirks, a bit of
his character, his peculiar dietary habits, the lilt of his song, the ache of his sob, where his
scars are, the way his hair wants to go, the knock of his knees—and not much else. He is a
startling, one-time-only, bone-headed miracle with a sensory complex in his head and heart
that I can only guess at and dimly try to savor in the few brilliant moments I have been
given to swim with him. He is a sort of anchovy, as are we all; so I sing our collective salty
song—the song of fast, mysterious, open-mouthed creatures, traveling with vast schools of
our fellows, listening intently, savoring the least of our brethren, and doing our absolute
level best to avoid the wolf herring.
Brian Doyle is the author of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices.
Page Page 22 23
by Chris Beck
The shared experiences between people and dogs make for a life the dogless can only
dream about: a walk in the park, a run along the beach, a snuggle on the couch on a
rainy afternoon, the sharing of snacks, the laughing at each other’s jokes (sight gags), the
naps together (no fidgeting).
The fun and games—ball throwing, stick tossing, bird chasing, kite demolishing, shoe
chewing, sausage stealing—foster a connection second to none.
On that evening stroll he clears the area of any suspicious looking cats (and just to
make sure, the innocent-looking ones too). He investigates the bushes in the park and
runs through the puddles, checks out the trees, pokes his nose everywhere, all the while
checking you’re still there.
At the beach he swims towards you with pure love and affection in his eyes and just as his
nails dig into your skin, he licks your face to muffle the screams. And when Rover leaps
into the back of the car wet and covered in sand, avoiding the towel you placed carefully
on the seat, you sigh and roll down the window so he can feel the wind through his hair.
Rover sits attentively and listens while you complain about the loss of the corner shop
to multi-nationals and the madness of progress, when all he really wants is some positive
feedback about the hole he just dug in the front garden. Then you’ll scratch him in that
special place that makes his hind leg twitch. And you both feel better.
At obedience classes Rover stands to attention, rolls over, sits, drops, pretends to like
children and maintains a safe distance from an enticing, tasty treat for god-knows-whatreason,
while you stand in the shade because you feel a little faint. Then you both go
home and fight over space on the couch.
The help dogs offer can’t be bought. Rover comes up smiling with that daggy look on his
face, offering his arse to kick if you’ve had a bad day—though you never actually kick it.
He selflessly guards the house all by himself, bored out of his mind and busting to go
to the toilet, just so your stereo is still there when you get back from that all day outing.
And when you get home and the contents of the bin are strewn throughout the house,
you don the rubber gloves and cast an angry look his way. Five minutes later you offer
him a biscuit.
Rover barks every single time he hears the faintest glimmer of a noise, just in case you
didn’t hear it. And when there’s a thunderstorm he burrows under the house to dig a
shelter big enough for the whole family.
The rapport is spooky. When you’re sick, a concerned Rover sits at the foot of the bed.
When you’re sad Rover leaps into your arms and licks the pain away. When you’re feeling
sorry for yourself Rover brings you the lead. And when you bath him, you get soaking
wet—he makes sure of that.
On that visit to the vet, you feel that cold hard thermometer going up his bottom in
sympathy. And though he has a weight problem you won’t discuss it in front of him.
Being with a dog means it’s OK to let your freak flag fly. You can play stupid games
together and not feel stupid. But please remember that when you get drunk and dress
him up as Elvis (the Vegas years) he is stone cold sober.
The bonding of the beasts will go on for a long time yet. Long after the world has been
concreted and sold off to the highest bidder, because dogs don’t care about money or fast
cars, or revenge or power. They care about going for a walk.
Chris Beck has written for The Age and other publications. Chris teaches Professional
Writing and Editing. This piece was featured in the book, Dogs And Lovers.
The art of finding
by Margaret McCarthy
The art of finding is easy to master.
A five cent piece from the gutter,
Roads heading out of town,
A window seat on a Boeing 747,
An extra breath in my jumper.
In a city on my own,
A sweet lover,
A sour one.
Finding friends with
Discovering joints, politics,
Knowing more than I thought.
Finding myself in
A house of God,
Without Him in it.
I’ve found beach houses,
Hand written directions,
Hard rubbish furniture as near as new,
Expired bus tickets,
My own mother at a fair
But things I lost—
I found peace in crazy times,
Good in everyone.
I found out for myself
What no one wants to know.
I found a gold charm bracelet
On the footpath,
And took it home.
Someone else’s flattened memories
Along the path
Towards the stray cats,
Car seat, fire trap house of
My lost property life.
Margaret McCarthy is a Melbourne poet and
teaches Professional Writing and Editing at
VU. This piece has previously been published
in Eureka Street.
Page Page 24 25
Suitcase of foreign collections
by Alexandra Pelevaniuc
Composed of sophisticated and
She is a soft memory of luscious foliage and
botanical beauties, a dainty perfume of forgotten flowers.
She lands delicately and shimmers
in the midday sun,
Her full leather body ample enough
to carry documents is perfect for a summer stroll
Voluminous, her exotic spices line
the interior panels,
Compartments are incessantly
crammed with postcards and vintage wear,
A soft whisper slides on the sea
touching the lost corners of the globe,
Her vibrancy emerges with eclectic elegance,
Her ornament design is enriched
with admirable craftsmanship,
Attention to detail, only likened to
that found in Mother Nature’s timeless work,
Comes a goddess of eternal beauty
An envied species torn between east
Awakened form a silver mist,
She is an outlandish piece
of created bliss,
Just simply a feminine accessory for the arm.
Alexandra Pelevaniuc is VU student.
Sunday far away
Rickie always went to church, as did her husband, Moss. I never go. I abandoned religion
after the Holocaust. But I was visiting them on their remote farm, after my husband had
died, and I wanted to be with them. I asked if I could go too. Of course they said yes, but
Rickie warned me she always had to remember she was there for the service and not to
laugh when Eva played the organ and sang.
I remembered Eva. I had taught there fifty years before and now she would be ninety. It was
a tiny stone church, set in among the tea-trees, graced with a font Moss had carved out of
limestone. When we arrived we found only four congregated there—two older women, a
young mum with her son, and Eva, sitting there in a vintage 40s coat three inches shorter
than her dress wearing fingerless gloves. I greeted her with a kiss, and she said, ‘I have the
flu. I can’t sing today.’ There went my chance of hysteria.
We sat, this congregation of five, chatting while Moss waited outside to meet the minister,
who visited once a month on circuit. He hadn’t arrived; Moss came in to tell us, and one of
the older women said to him, ‘You will have to take it, Moss.’ So he did.
We sang a hymn, Eva peddling away on the ancient organ as she had done forever. Opening
the big bible in front of him on the altar, my friend turned the pages, peering intently at
‘Oh, I don’t like the look of that,’ he said and kept turning.
He found a passage on ‘Grief’ and read from it. I recognised the loving sympathy for me in
We sang another hymn and at one stage Moss said, ‘If my wife had thought to bring some
of my notes I might have had some help in this.’
‘Come off it, Moss!’ called back his wife.
He talked about the old history of the pioneering families who had lived there and of the
hymn-writers, and the hour passed away, with comments from the small congregation.
Back home, in our snug stone cottage beside the lake, Moss rang the minister who had
forgotten. I asked him later if he had explained his own part in it.
‘No,’ said Moss. ‘He wouldn’t think much of us if we couldn’t conduct our own service.’
Joy Barton is part of the Kerrie Campus Writing Group.
Page Page 26 27
by James Button
It has become a ritual. Clutching her
resumé Jennifer Mead, twenty, takes the
bus from her home on the city’s fringe to
the CES, or to an interview for a job. She
has done this for three years. This is the
story of one person’s unrelenting struggle
to find work.
Jennifer Mead, twenty, has been looking
for a job for three years. Every week she
circles advertisements in the paper, makes
phone calls, sends off resumés. At least
twice a week she journeys from her home
in the far northern suburb of Craigieburn
to the CES office in Glenroy. There she
takes a number and waits.
On Saturday mornings Jennifer’s father,
Alec, gets up early to buy The Age. He cuts
out ads that sound promising and puts
them in a pile, ready for when Jennifer gets
up. If she looks doubtful, he urges her.
‘You could do that, Jen, you’ve got those
She has lost count of the jobs she has
applied for, but knows it is in the
hundreds. Although she has her VCE
from Craigieburn Secondary College, and
completed basic hospitality and computer
courses, most companies don’t reply to her
Still, she has a sheaf of rejection letters
from: the Commonwealth Bank, Hungry
Jacks, Transfield, Safeway. At one point
last year she was getting a letter a day. One
letter from Drake Personnel arrived twice
within a few days. Jennifer smiles at that
now. ‘If I was working for them, that sort
of thing wouldn’t happen.’
In the afternoon her parents bring in the
mail. ‘Go on,’ they say, ‘open it.’
‘There’s no point. If it’s a letter it means I
didn’t get the job.’
Sometimes, to console her, her father takes
a rejection letter and throws it in the fire.
‘Watch it burn, Jen. Watch it burn.’
For a city interview, Jennifer has to walk
for fifteen minutes, ride a bus for half an
hour into Broadmeadows, and then make
a thirty-five minute train trip into town.
By then she has to prepare herself again, so
she uses the Flinders Street Station toilets
to redo her lipstick and brush her windblown
hair. The light is dingy, the room
She likes to arrive an hour early, to locate
the building. She’d hate to be flustered
at the interview. Once she knows where
to go, she finds a café. She never drinks
coffee—it might smell on her breath—or
Coke, which might make her burp. She
sips juice, reads her book and waits.
She has come so close to what she calls ‘the
magical job’ that fits her skills. She had
three interviews and a medical for a food
and beverage job at Crown Casino before
the axe fell. Late last year she got a second
interview for a clerical position with a
computer company on Southbank.
The interviewer asked what she expected
to be paid, showed her the desk she would
fill, and where she could park. He asked
questions that made her think, yep, for
sure. He was a bit daggy, which she liked.
They had a few laughs and even chatted
about his favourite music. Despite all her
knock-backs, Jennifer got really excited.
The job, she decided, was heaven-sent.
Then the letter came. When she collected
herself and rang the company for
feedback—‘to find out what I was doing
wrong’—the response was familiar: ‘Your
application was excellent. We just found
someone more appropriate.’
Although national unemployment remains
at 8.6 percent, and although Jennifer has
many friends who are unemployed, she
blames herself for her predicament. After
finishing her VCE in 1993, she was torn
between further study and work. She
worried that she might finish four more
years of study with no work experience.
‘I totally made the wrong decision. I am
still whipping myself. I feel like I have let
myself down so much.’
Job hunting brought unexpected shocks.
At seventeen she was shy about asking
street directions. She is more confident
now, but was appalled when one interviewer
lectured her that her neckline was too low,
her shoes and necklace all wrong. Jennifer
hurried home trying to cover her blouse.
For a year she worked casually as a room
attendant at the YWCA, but 6 a.m. starts
and requests that she begin work in a few
hours made the job impossible. She does
computer work for her parents’ home
businesses. She has good friends and a
bright ready laugh.
The fourth of five children, she was the first
in the family to do her VCE.
‘It was always going to be me that had the
job and went far.’
Both her parents have two jobs. Her father,
who does promotions for Workcover and is
a part-time masseur, is at a loss to explain
his daughter’s bad luck.
‘She’s a lovely kid. She’s got a great
personality, she’s got the skills. To her credit
she just keeps trying...we hate to see her
hurting so much, but what can you do? You
can’t actually buy them a job,’ he says.
‘Work For the Dole’, declared a newspaper
headline on the Meads’ living room table.
The proposal floated by Prime Minister
John Howard, put unemployment back
in the news. Jennifer likes the idea if it
gives her skills that would help her get a
permanent job. From what she’s read, she’s
not sure that is the case.
‘Still, I’d do it. I’d rather be out there.’
On Tuesday morning Jennifer calls a contact
in a CES office, who tells her about some
jobs that might suit her. Because she may
have to go straight from the CES to an
interview, she dresses in her best clothes:
a dark suit with a green blouse. She wears
platform soles to give her more height.
Beside the newspaper is her sketch book.
Her passion is art. Four of her pieces were
chosen for the walls of her old school, and
still hang there. But it never occurred to her
that art might lead to work or to further
The family lives right on the city’s edge. To
reach the bus stop, Jennifer walks across
vacant lots and treeless parks. The winding
streets full of new homes are empty, save the
occasional woman pushing a pram. There
isn’t a shop in sight, let alone an office or a
On the bus she meets a friend who is job
hunting with a stack of resumés in her
bag. Recounting her experiences so far, she
is laughing, optimistic. The bus trundles
down the Hume Highway. At the Ford
factory, the friend says she might stand at
the intersection and hand cars her resumé.
Jennifer sits back and says quietly, ‘I was like
that when I started, too.’
An hour after leaving home Jennifer enters
the CES, and takes a number. The office
is crowded. Jennifer waits twenty minutes.
In her hand is a piece of paper with the
job descriptions written down: lingerie
retail, and clerical work with a mechanic in
At 11:55 a.m. with her number next to be
called, a CES clerk puts up a sign: NO JOB
VACANCY REFERRALS BETWEEN
12PM AND 2PM. Jennifer groans. ‘I don’t
By 2 p.m. the jobs have gone.
Jennifer hears the news n the city office
of her case manager, Jane Norris, who has
access to the CES Computer. Ms Norris
works for Employment Express, one of the
private companies to offer case management
after the Labor Government introduced
one-on-one support for the long-term job
seekers in 1994.
On her desk, Ms Norris has some other
vacancies. A city jeweler wants a clerk;
a personnel firm wants part-timer who
qualifies, as Jennifer does, for a Jobstart
‘What about coming in for twenty hours a
week?’ Ms Norris asks.
Jennifer shrugs and smiles. ‘If it’s a job I’ll
‘Or a job with Melbourne Pathology. Is
Fitzroy too hard to get to?’ Ms Norris asks.
Page Page 28 29
‘No, no. I’ve got a great friend in Fitzroy. I
can probably stay with her.’
Although she manages 130 unemployed
people, Ms Norris has a special fondness
for Jennifer, whom she sees regularly.
She tries to keep her optimistic; their
conversation is playful. Ms Norris believes
Jennifer would appeal to most employers
face-to-face, but lacks the weighty resume
to get her in the door. ‘Jennifer, she’s a
bright girl, she’s punctual, willing to go
anywhere, do anything. She’s constantly
calling me up...I have absolute faith I will
find Jennifer a job.’
While Ms Norris makes calls and faxes
resumes on her client’s behalf, Jennifer
gets back on the train. She passes inner
northern suburbs that grew up last century
around workshops and small factories.
Further on are Glenroy and
Broadmeadows, which drew post-war
migrants in search of work at Ford and
other factories. The suburbs are like
geological strata, showing a city built
through work—until you come to the
outer suburbs, and no work.
On Wednesday, Jennifer gets a call from
Ms Norris, who has arranged an interview
with an engineering firm in the city. It’s a
job in the mail room. Is she nervous?
‘No, not now. I just take a deep breath and
go, “Oh well, we’ll see what happens.” I
don’t get really excited anymore.’
Still, the next day she puts on her best suit
and an orange shirt. Her younger brother,
Michael, carefully straightens her collar.
She grabs her resumé and hair brush and
consults the bus timetable.
Just before Broadmeadows the bus lurches
and Jennifer’s suit almost collides with a
huge chocolate stain on the back of a seat.
In the city she notices her shirt has creased,
She stretches it under a toilet hand dryer
and the wrinkles disappear.
Before the interview she sees Jane Norris
for a pep talk. ‘Ask to be shown around,’
Ms Norris advises. ‘Remember employers
are nervous too and like to be put at ease.
And good luck.’
The interview lasts fifteen minutes. Yet
Jennnifer emerges feeling positive. She
thinks she did her best. The interviewer
was friendly and smart.
‘She said, “I’m not going to ask stupid
questions like where you want to be in ten
At the interview, Jennifer was shown the
desk where she would work if she got
the job. The interviewer asked about her
parents. She and Jennifer had a joke about
how much they liked massages. She said
she would probably let Jennifer know the
At 5:00 p.m. Jennifer has not heard from
the company. After all this time she is
philosophical. What dogs her most is the
thought of having wasted three years.
‘I’ll be twenty-one in September, and I’ve
done nothing. It wasn’t supposed to be this
She’s thinking about more computer
courses, volunteer work. She’ll keep trying.
‘At this stage of my life I don’t want a
relationship, marriage, children, anything.
I just want a job.’
James Button was a journalist at the The Age
and a senior editor.
This piece was first published in The Age
How does your garden grow?
VU students get a taste for the real world.
by Pat Reid
There’s something special about working away in a vegetable garden. Maybe it’s getting back
in touch with nature, the soil under your nails and the dirt patches you get from working
on your knees. Not only do VU students from the Footscray Nicholson Campus get plenty
of therapeutic relaxation, but they develop heaps of great skills, giving them the confidence
to enter the workforce.
Take a short walk from the Nicholson Campus on Albert Street to find the VU community
garden. The block is 15 x 50 metres, with a possibility of future expansion. The garden is
impressive. Robust cabbages grow alongside silverbeet and spinach. The smell of coriander
and parsley drift through the air. VU School of General Education Programs and Services
teacher, Majella Grainger, greets me enthusiastically, introducing me to each student as we
wander through the garden.
‘For a lot of students, working in the garden is a first workplace. The garden is a simulated
workplace that enriches the development of skills they’ll need to gain work experience or
move into paid work,’ says Majella.
Students ranging from sixteen to fifty-five years of age who are enrolled in the Certificates
in General Education for Adults have a chance to become involved in this innovative
gardening program through Certificate I in Horticulture. This program helps to develop
their literacy and numeracy skills and employability skills.
A group of students finish planting a line of fruit trees. Melissa spreads mulch around
the tree bases. She says she likes working in a team and that Majella is a nice teacher.
Nicholas walks around, clipboard in hand, filling out the weekly checklist. He’s a bit of a
maintenance man, having fixed a leaking tap this morning. Down the back of the garden,
Joshua shovels compost into a wheelbarrow. He has finished the course, but loves coming
back to help out, saying, ‘I just like being here with the people.’ This once-vacant block of
land has now been transformed into a productive garden offering a range of innovative skills
and learning experiences.
Each week the students take on different working roles, such as team leader or filling in the
weekly checklist. They negotiate who’s going to do what and make everything accountable.
For example, the garden is established as a workplace, where students wear uniforms and
fill in time sheets. The students are encouraged to use skills in planning, organisation,
communication, design, construction and problem solving, while also learning the
importance of environmental education.
Majella stresses, ‘Environmental education is essential to the project and includes
sustainable gardening practices such as water conservation, crop rotation, garden waste
recycling and worm farming.’
Every month the produce is sold to students and staff at a market stall on the Nicholson
Campus. The students are involved from the very beginning with harvesting the produce,
calculating the sale price, keeping records and once the sale is over, working out how
much money has been made. Usually the stall generates approximately $90 per month.
The veggies are sold at a cheaper price than organic produce so you are getting a bargain
considering they’re chemical free and freshly picked.
Another inventive approach to this program is the emphasis on healthy nutritional choices.
Page Page 30 31
Students discuss recipes, cook the produce and get to taste different types of vegetables.
Majella believes when the students get involved in preparing the dishes, there is more of a
chance they’ll eat it. ‘And that’s why I think it’s unique what we’re doing here; because it
is a holistic learning environment…the garden offers an integration of so many skills.’
This program has been running for eighteen months now and continues to evolve. Over
seventeen sponsors are involved—VU, Burnley Horticulture College, Maribyrnong City
Council, Home Hardware (Footscray), Flemings Nurseries, Hanson and Shed Bonanza
are just a few.
‘We couldn’t have built this garden without these partnerships,’ says Majella. Recently a
student has gained regular part-time employment through Home Hardware.
In 2009 the Certificate II in Horticulture (Landscape) will begin to run over two years.
There are other programs coming into the garden, such as Western Futures, where
students come in to work on the herb bed; the VU Child Care Centre also tends a bed.
There is hope that an Indigenous food garden will be established at the back of the plot.
This would offer students the opportunity to grow traditional bush tucker, learn how to
prepare the foods and even use them for medicinal purposes.
‘Our vision is to set up a partnership with the Aboriginal community and it would
revolve around an Indigenous garden with bush food plants, storytelling and an
Aboriginal person representing the Koorie community bringing in hands-on experience
and knowledge,’ says Majella.
Further plans include a community café where the focus is on the garden becoming a
place for everyone in the community. A few locals recently came through the gates to say
‘hi’ and left with some free veggies. A café would not only benefit the locals but open up
opportunities for students to learn hospitality skills.
Majella says, ‘The garden has many facets, but an important aspect is to give students the
opportunity to be empowered, to give them the opportunity to share their knowledge
and skills, to build their self-esteem and, hopefully, a pathway for them into further study
Majella gathers her students together at the end of today’s session asking them, ‘What
have you achieved today?’
Andrew says he moved compost bins, making more room.
Shane adds cheekily, ‘I didn’t do anything. I’m innocent!’
Nicholas was the resource man.
Tony was everywhere.
Majella says, ‘The students have done it all. They created it. And within the group they
pass on their knowledge—so invaluable. They teach me and that’s the thing, we are all
Pat Reid is a Professional Writing and Editing student at VU.
The estate of the philosopher
by Paul Yeatman
Pondering the rising of the moon
So soon the sky turns to slate.
The streetlights popped.
At the lights the traffic stopped.
Over the encircling wall
The ball of the moonlight heaves.
The sound of the highway traffic slows.
We should’ve spent the fifty grand
We planned to buy across the park.
Someone parked across the road.
The air conditioner’s gentle hum
The thrum of the fountain’s pump.
A buzz of voices.
We had so many choices.
The agent showed us plots with a view
A few were over by the lake.
At least we’re in this blessed town.
The double story was the pick
They’re thick on the ground over there.
I could’ve made a stronger stand.
She’ll be home soon.
The moon is getting higher.
Somewhere ACDC’s screaming.
The double garage is what sold me
You see we need two cars.
We both work.
But on weekends we go berserk.
This is the life
The wife and I have made it.
That new house smell.
All our friends think we’ve done well.
Excepting I don’t like this street.
It’s neat but too many kids around.
White standard roses.
At least we’re away from those damned
We can’t decide on televisions.
Decisions—LCD or plasma?
A car door.
Is that her returning from the store?
This is the life
The wife and I have made it.
I wonder what the poor people are doing
Think I’ll have another glass.
All class the houses ‘round here are.
A shooting star.
I’m pretty sure that that’s her car.
After the TV we’ll get the pool
It’s cool to have one in the yard.
We’ve got good stuff.
I feel sorry for those who do it tough.
This is the life
The wife and I have made it.
I wish we had more time together.
It’s nice to have a quiet think
And drink while waiting here.
A bit more dough…
I’d rather watch a TV show.
I’m sick of waiting every night
Half tight, waiting for her to come.
This second job will have to stop.
Paul Yeatman is a Melbourne writer and
Victorian school principal.
Page Page 32 33
by George Athanasiou
She’s a beautiful girl
Her face picturesque, drenched in an ocean of
That makes up the strands of her hair
Her endearing face untainted by make-up
Her eyes small, gazing, sharp and penetrating
Warm and glowing like a couple of campfires
Glistening in the darkness from a distance
Like beacons of light
Paving the way to the depths of her soul
She’s left the windows open again
But it’s warm inside her mind
The lights are slightly down low but she’s
While he writes
Drawing from her
Sculpting words into an exquisite work of art
He knows she will always have a place in his
After all she’s always been his favourite
As he’s tinkering away at her
Whether she’s out at the cinema watching a
film on her own
Or staying at home tonight
Drenched by the same picturesque ocean of
That makes up the strands of her hair
She knows what to wear too
Today she’s wearing a smile
The likes of which he hasn’t seen in a while
Ever beautiful in appearance
As her image penetrates the very depths of his
He can see inside her personality
As warm and as inviting as the sun drenched
sands of the beach in summer
Blue skies on a cloudless clear day
Beautiful in every way
Her face picturesque, drenched in an ocean of
That makes up the strands of her wavy hair
Like the waves of the ocean
Gently caressing the shore and the sand
As it desires more water
To quench its thirst from the heat of the sun
The sea breeze quickly alleviates its pain
Just as the sun and the day give in to the moon
On a clear night littered with stars.
George Athanasiou is a Professional Writing
and Editing student at VU.
by Tom Petsinis
I shake the tartan tin awake,
Struggle with its lid, rust-sealed, tight.
Arising from the nest of nails,
You take me by heart,
Remind me with half a smile:
Luck’s never found looking up.
A boy, eyes glowing still
From last night’s thunderstorm,
You prospect the village,
Thinking as your pockets fill:
They’re also from grandfather-God,
Like silver rain, lightning bolts.
Some go back fifty years
To Fitzroy’s blue-stone lanes;
Others, extracted with joy
From hardwood boards and beams,
You tapped lightly on a brick-
A chiropractor of crooked spines.
Sitting on a home-made bench,
Tin on knees, you’re looking for
A tack to close my gaping sole,
A brad for Mum’s curtain rod,
A grey clout to keep evening light
Slipping our corrugated fence.
It’s a decade since you died,
But they remain, a legacy of sorts,
Set by your galvanising touch.
I see you in the shape of my hand
Rummaging for the nail
That crucifies father to son.
Tom Petsinis is a lecturer at VU.
This piece is from the collection,
My Father’s Tools (Arcadia 2009).
Available in VU bookshops.
Page Page 34 35
If only for the moments
If only for the moments,
I walk this weary tread.
If only for the moments,
I crawl out of my bed.
If only for the moments,
I had all trace of tears.
If only for the moments,
I silence all my fears.
If only for the moments,
I say the voices are quiet.
If only for the moments
I hide when they run riot.
If only for the moments,
I cross over the bridge.
If only for the moments,
I stay back from the ridge.
If only for the moments,
When I hold my children tight.
For those safe and happy moments,
I hang in for another night.
Fiona.L.Browning is a Professional Writing and Editing student at VU.
by Helen Garner
I’m on my way to get a view of the Leonid Meteor Shower, whatever the hell that is.
I couldn’t give a damn about the science. I just want to witness a heavenly spectacle.
Apparently it’s on at 3.30 a.m. I’ve brought my alarm clock.
I peel off the highway at Werribee and head west across the stony, wind-scoured, volcanic
plain. Under tremendous pale cloudscapes, I cruise along back roads that run dead straight
for miles, hitting up against each other in a series of dramatic T-intersections. Out here,
whatever the weather, the world is always beautiful, full of wonders and surprises.
Once, when my daughter was a teenager, we spotted, 100 metres ahead of us on this road,
a mini-bus packed with men in uniform. Back then I drove a Renault 16. It was summer,
and over the grassy plain a warm wind was blowing. In our fluttering clothes we felt
sophisticated and sexy. As we caught up with the bus, we fluffed our hair, stuck our elbows
out the windows and adopted lithe bored poses. I pulled out to pass. We glanced casually
up at the bus. They weren’t soldiers. They were middle-aged Japanese tourists in floppy
When she still had her P-plates, I let the girl drive one of the empty stretches of this twolane
blacktop. In broad daylight she nearly wiped us out. She over-corrected after a small
bump, and suddenly we were zigzagging from verge to verge in wild sweeps. It took her fifty
metres to get the car under control. She pulled off the bitumen. We threw open the doors,
leaped out on trembling legs, and hobbled about on the gravel as if we’d been stabbed,
cursing and screaming and crying with laughter.
On our way home, the next night, we flew over a small rise on the loneliest stretch, and
picked up in our headlights, in the middle of the road, a figure with its arms out in a big
curve, its legs capering, its face split by a manic rictus. It was a man dancing.
And once, on a blazing day of forty degrees, I stopped for a hitch-hiker who was plodding
along at least ten miles from a dwelling or shop. He opened the car door and hopped
in, smiling. In his hand was a still unbitten banana Paddle Pop, its hard yellow surface
glistening with tiny points of ice.
Anyway, this is now, and I’m bumping along a rutted track to the piece of land that once
was mine but belongs these days to my sister. Here are the collapsing sheds near the gate,
here are the big purple irises. Here is the verandah neatly stacked with wood. Here is the
steep gully with the black dam at its very bottom, while the late sun still brightens the
It’s daylight savings but the evening is cold. I light a fire in the wood stove. Now—what
about these blooming meteors. The Bureau of Meteorology said to look to the north-east.
Clouds cluster more thickly there than anywhere else in the sky. I light the candles and
crack open the flagon of sherry.
At three a.m. the alarm goes off. I sit up and look out the window. Yay! Stars! It’s bloody
freezing. I pull on, over my pyjamas, every rag of clothing the shack contains, drag on my
boots, boil the kettle, and clump out on to the grassy hill. And there I stand for an hour,
holding a hot water bottle to my chest and staring doggedly to the north-east.
What a sky! The slow beat of the big bodies, the colossal lacy field of the small. What am
I looking for? A peppering? A cataract of light? Should I expect a sound? A roar? A sharp
patter? All around me, on the ground, I hear only the usual tiny clickings and rustlings,
the rhythmic frog choir in the dam. A mating koala lets out a discontented, guttural rattle.
Come on! What’s the hold-up?
Page Page 36 37
A long fast streak of white rips across the sky. Oh! A second white bolt bursts straight up
from the horizon. And here comes a third! Yaaaaaaah!
They were fast, all right, but were they meant to be so small and colourless? I wait and
wait. Nothing more happens. My feet are cold. My neck starts to hurt. Then a sheet of
fine, grey-brown cloud materialises briskly across the north-eastern sky and blots out
everything. Can I go now?
I crawl back under the doona, berating myself. I should have crossed the Divide, or gone
to a desert. What a flop I am. I picture vast tracts of North African sand strewn with
spread-eagled, ecstatic nomads. I imagine Arctic fishermen pausing from the flensing of
enormous seals and gazing up into a sky torn by roseate fireballs with trails of fluorescent
turquoise. I envy every Arab, every Eskimo.
As I doze off, though, I remember that even in this misty gully, three heavenly objects did
pass overhead. Three. And I saw them. The famous meteor shower may have gone about
its celestial business without consulting me, but it did not entirely escape my vigilance.
Helen Garner is the acclaimed author of The Spare Room and many others. This piece was
first published in The Age (2001).
by VU’s Creative Writing Class, Altona Meadows
Black’n’white TV days
A delicate crater moon
The flag begins to wave
A full moon
Connect to the world
In the lucky country
At a suburban pokies venue
Dad is lucky
Standing figure silently weeps
Young fat child
Who is going to look after
Protected in the bay
Unruffled feathers glide
What did I do to deserve
An absence of dreams
Evening clouds caressed by pink
In the car
Kids laugh over Nintendo
On a park bench
So little has changed
Library at closing time
Morning walk in the woods
Playing ball with the dog
Among the trees
Battle of Birds
Thrush chases crow
Speckled brown ruffles sleep black dappled
Empty church grounds
Inside the lead light filled church
He kneels, head bowed in prayer
Rookus are three-line poems. The form is the invention of Melbourne poet, Myron
Lysenko, and draws from the Japanese Haiku.
Page Page 38 39
Death of a patriot
by Megan Green
it’s no right, what they did to ye
i fought, with impassable madness
to avenge yer slaying
blood and duodenum wis spilt, aye,
an’ fer the days of my remainder, i be at war with the English
ye have gone from me now,
i canna describe the plague that rots at ma disposition
thay took our lands and hooses
and i stood
at the place where only remains the blood of ye
no longer shall thay circumscribe
our souls for the crust thay call King
gothic limbs shall no prevail
seeded navels of our own kind linger still
bring forth generic survival
of the generational kind
ma love, ye must not fret, for implanted is ane, not of his line, bot of mines
bot ma heart knows no falter
let it be foresaid, that i, fought, no for na maner of revenge
bot in case thay took from mines, soul an’ breath, from mines ayre, laid buried
in an ither
thay think thay have won
becos i bleed aneath thaim
a condemmed man
man Claidheamh-mor cannae save me
bot, lass, now, gratefully, i lay down aside ye
Megan Green is a Melbourne writer and editor.
Grandfather’s last lesson
by Cam Black
By the time he was in his late eighties, my Grandfather was very ill: problems with
digestion, breathing, and his mobility hindered by very bad arthritis. Physically he had
become a shell of what he had been. But his mind, his imagination, never slowed. And he
never stopped talking to me, telling stories, teaching me new ways of looking at life.
Of all the lessons he taught me, I remember none more so than his last.
I remember that day he had me to drive him to our favourite lookout—the high cliffs
overlooking the bay around which our town sat. When he’d been stronger and healthier we
would go there regularly to sit high up on the edge of the cliffs and he’d tell me about the
tanker vessels we could see in the distance and his time as a seaman. He’d point out birds
flying by, and sea creatures far below on the rocks and swimming in the shallows, and tell
me strange tales of how they got their names—tales that I knew were fantastic, but which
somehow fit each creature they were about. And sometimes we’d go at night to watch stars
and planets, the occasional satellite, and the stories would continue.
The day of his last lesson I drove him out to the lookout and helped him up the short track
to the cliff edge where we sat in silence and just looked out over the bay for a while. It felt
good being there with him again. I’d been up here a lot by myself, but I hadn’t realised how
much I’d missed him being there with me.
‘You remember how old you were when I first brought you here, lad?’
‘Yeah, Gramps, about five or six. I thought we were so high up I could see across the world.’
He chuckled, a slightly wet wheeze of a noise I tried not to think about. ‘I know what you
mean. I was about the same age when my old man first sat me down here to look out over
the world. I remember watching the birds fly past and thinking we were high enough that
if I jumped off here I could fly with them and head out over the bay, out over the sea and
never touch ground again.’
I sat there imagining my grandfather flying out over the sea, free as a bird.
‘That’s why I worked the sea later, out there on trawlers hauling all sorts of strange creatures
up from the deep. But I never did stop imagining myself up in the clouds with the gulls
that followed us around. Even remember the first time I saw an albatross way out at sea,
days from land, way up above us, and gliding along all peaceful and calm with wings that
seemed wide enough to encompass the sky.’
I looked at him, his aged familiar profile staring up at the sky with a dreamy look on his
face, picturing himself flying across the world and loving him for the imagination he always
took the time to share with me.
‘Life’s a funny old trip, lad.’ He continued, still staring into the sky. ‘It’ll twist and turn on
you, take you places you’d never expect, and they’re not all gonna be happy. But remember,
whatever she throws at you, life is to be lived; you grab whatever it is and you squeeze all
you can out of each little twist and turn. And if it’s a bum turn, you get all you can from
it; look at it from every way you can and remember it for later, ‘cause there’s always some
beauty to be found anywhere, no matter how bad it may seem at the time.’
He turned to me then, the light in his eyes bright, put a hand on my shoulder, smiled and
flipped me a wink. ‘Time to fly, lad.’
I sat there for a while thinking about what he’d said, then pulled out the binoculars we
Page Page 40 41
always brought up there with us, the one’s he’d given me so many years before, and
looked down from the cliff edge at his body. He’d made it out past most of the rocks and
had slipped into the water. His blood stained some of the rocks and was a dissipating
cloud in the water in which many small fish were starting to collect. Some of the more
adventurous ones were beginning to nibble at him, and I thought of how he’d appreciate
that—how fitting to return to the sea from which he’d drawn so much of his life.
I sat there for a long time, until long after it was too dark to see him down in the water,
watching the stars come out and thinking. And I knew that I’d never forget, at that
moment, how young and graceful and free, how beautiful he had looked, the day my
grandfather finally flew.
Cam Black is a Melbourne poet.
by Initially NO
I was once given a teddy bear
Whose name was Fudge.
I didn’t much care for the bear.
But I took him with me
When I left that place
Because the fellow
Who gave him to me
Wanted to stick marshmallows
Up Fudge’s behind
And get him to cross borders
And stuff. And I thought, stuff that
You’re not doing that to Fudge.
So I took the bear with me
When I left that house
And put him in the cupboard
Of my new home.
Bit cruel, sticking him in there
All squashed in. But anyway…
Wasn’t until sometime later
That I took him
To a nearby opportunity store.
They looked at Fudge
And said there was
Something spooky about the bear.
And I said, don’t judge him for his past,
Some things are best left sewn up.
They sold him eventually
Inittially NO is a Melbourne Poet
To a person who was really sweet.
And had lots of other teddy bears
For Fudge to meet;
All of which got to travel overseas
With things stuffed in their behind
To be checked by overbearing
Eventually, Fudge got caught
Trying to take some smarties
To far-off countries.
And got barred
From ever using his passport again.
He ended up in a police locker.
Jammed in so tight, quite a shocker.
My cupboard had nothing on that.
By then he had lost some of his stuffing
As well as his transportation job
And the poor bear felt like
He had been robbed of the good life
He might’ve had
Just doing the marshmallows,
For the first fellow
Who thought of the possibilities
Of using the bear’s behind
For work…of a scary beary kind.
Page Page 42 43
by Elan Hunter
To my Queen,
My safe haven in the dark
Your castle light has dimmed now,
But you have ruled your kingdom well.
Your people will march forward
With strength, honesty
And a pride
That allows us to bow
To no other but you.
Dedicated to Ruby (Rene) Linda Barnett—my GG.
Elan Hunter is a Youth Studies student at VU.
by Lorraine Jane Allport
Shall imply, you know not I, what I have
Trial and tribulations overcome
Times a living hell, stories I could tell
For I am not weak but strong
Now know, where I belong
Do declare, you have not been there
Scantily, came charity
Lies and deceit, time to retreat
Feelings denied, found places to hide
Quite bizarre, how shallow you are
Interjection for protection
Cried, while human right denied
Victim from abuse of power, left to cower
Hails, free will now prevails
Talk not to me of humanity, compassion and
Do declare, I have been there
Lorraine Jane Allport studied Creative
Writing at VU.
To my queen, rest now
Knowing you have done all
You came here to do.
But always know
…I loved you madly.
Pulsing blue lights in the third
A short story by Michael Seebach
Pulsing blue lights, the energy rises from the ground almost electric and spreads, nearly fifty
bodies bounce into the air and crash at the proper climax. The techno beats resonate loudly
throughout the club floor as Paul Van Dyke’s latest hit pounds out of the wall speakers. A
peppy set of lyrics echoes out by a woman in the sexiest come-hither voice that’s possible
through a synthesizer:
‘I’m still alive.’
‘I’m still alive.’
‘And I’m not gonna apologise oooh no!’
A soothingly rhythmic piano solo is thrown into the ensemble, syncing with the
electronic beats so beautifully David forgot where he was, if only for a moment. It was
dark in the bar area. David stood with his sixth glass of water for that night. Only the dim
blue and green neon wall, showcasing the shelf-full of drinks he was too young to order,
provided what little illumination there was. He leaned against the wooden bar counter—so
shiny he could see his reflection in it—and watched the lone bartender, in her black blouse,
cleaning glasses, and talked to the waitress in a white tank-top and black mini-skirt. The
nagging voice in his head was the only thing keeping him from enjoying himself.
‘You’ve got a test tomorrow!’
‘I’ll do fine.’
‘You don’t belong here!’
‘Shut the fuck up.’
David snapping out of his daze noticed that he’d been staring at the bartender for far too
long and turned to survey the rest of the area. More blue light lined the low wooden ceiling
showcasing blue leather coaches stretching from one end of the wall to the other. Several
college students, mostly women with a few men peppered in, were lounging, alcohol in
hand, talking, flirting. Their clothes and skin having all the light sucked out of them from
the environment; he could only see these people in shades of grey. Only their eyes with the
faintest of twinkles and their drinks showed any sign of colour: blue eyes; green drink; red
eyes, yellow drink; green eyes; blue drink. Such beautiful grey faces with eyes giving him a
thousand promises of unfathomable pleasure and unspeakable pain.
‘I don’t belong here.’ David took another glance once again at the lines of alcohol,
mocking him as they sat on the shelf. I could use some liquid courage right about now he
‘Hey, produce guy.’
He nearly spilled his drink.
The girl from the cosmetics section. Her tanned skin showed off trances of Latin heritage
barely visible in this dim part of the club. Her short black hair was in a wavy mess covering
half of her face, beads of perspiration dotted her cheeks and nose, along with her pink lips
pursed only scarcely showing a straight set of pearly whites.
David smiled. ‘Hey, cosmetics girl.’
‘How was the floor?’
‘A bit crowded, came back here,’ said David. He tried desperately to keep the
conversation going. ‘You looked like you were having a good time!’
‘Yeah,’ she said with a laugh. ‘I had a bit too much to drink though!’
His eyes slowly moved down to her body. A pink T-shirt and a skirt that would barely
pass a high school dress code covered the petite figure. He’d never seen this much exposed
skin from her before. The legs, tanned, tight and athletic. I bet she’s a swimmer he thought.
David could feel his hands trembling. A thought crept from the depths of his consciousness
and he strangled it to death before it had time to manifest. David couldn’t help but keep
Page Page 44 45
‘That’s alright,’ said David trying to sound nonchalant. ‘I hear the drinks here are
‘I know!’ Her interest seemed to peak at the comment. ‘I’ve already had two hits of
that vodka-tonic already, how about you?’
‘Oh, not much,’ he said with a shrug. ‘I’ve had enough tonight.’
She inches closer.
‘Hey I was wondering,’ she paused. ‘I was wondering if you could give me a ride back
tonight, maybe your place?’
David’s heart stopped, he could feel the blood thinning in his veins. His mind became
strained and shut down. All he could do was stand there. His entire body was working
in a burst of chemical overdrive, nerve endings firing, his heart pumping more oxygen
to the brain. All this work concentrated the cellular level towards nothing more than
keeping the glass in David’s hand and processing the question. No, let’s go to a hotel, was
all he wanted to say. I don’t want to go home, and I don’t want to go to your place either.
The thought returned: a path of clothes, socks, pants, skirt, and the pink shirt leading to
David saw those lips again, pouting and green eyes giving an invitation he didn’t
deserve. No, I can do this he thought; people do this all the time here. Why should I be
left out of all the fun? Everyone here calls you the ‘nice guy’ and now you can prove them
all wrong right here, tonight, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Am I feeling
guilty he thought, stuck in a sea of panic? David opened his mouth but nothing came
out. The voice that he’d tried to block out all night returned to reap its vengeance.
‘You don’t deserve her.’
‘God, just go away.’
A whole thirty seconds had passed, his mind screaming for him to say something,
anything. His heart rate slowed, his subtle exhale filled the space between them.
‘I…no,’ David finally answered. Her mouth opens; she’s surprised. David could see
the muscles around her face begin to tighten and those eyes lost all the charm that went
into finessing an answer.
‘Sorry,’ he continued. ‘But I have to be at some place early tomorrow.’
‘Some place important.’ She looks down; her left hand begins to fidget with her index
‘Well, I’ll tell Chad.’
‘Thank you.’ David tried once again to turn on the smile. ‘I’ll see you at work!’
‘Yeah, I’ll see you.’ She was already making her way towards the bar counter.
David squeezed his way through the crowd on the dance floor, he couldn’t hear the
music anymore. He stepped into the cold empty street, stars in his eyes. The haze was
still blurring his vision from being in the club for so long. Maybe I should go back, he
thought? No, I blew it. Besides, I need to review that test anyway. I know the material
backwards and forwards, but one more go at it won’t hurt. That is what’s important, that
test. I need to make an A on it.
David tried to forget what had happened at the bar and
began to make his way to the parking garage, pounding the
memory out of existence with every heavy step. He knew it
was going to be a long ride home.
Michael Seebach is an American writer.
by Katherine Hubbard
When he fell from the
Bough of the apple tree
That’s when Johnny’s mum
Decided she loved him
Whilst he flapped like a fish
In the moment between heaven and earth
That’s when her womb contracted
For only the second time
As she lowed like a cow,
Like an animal
The St Christopher she never believed in
Became human, made flesh between her breasts
So she prayed to him and all the saints
To grant her one last wish
She brokered that deal in the back yard
Her nail varnish now in ruins
Chastising the make over
In front of the tele
When she should have spied his misdemeanour
And run yelling
But she was watching the man on screen
As she lined her fingers purple
He was selling her a machine to clean
The house from the inside out
As he intoned like a guru, like a lover
She forgot her own suburban squalor
Katherine Hubbard is a poet and actor.
So now she barters with God
Have my eyes, scar me
Deform my limbs so he can live
But live well
Not dribbling on a feed-cup
In a recreation centre cell
Nor lying staring out from a wheelchair
With tubes up his arse and nose and nothing
Going on upstairs
Spare me that, selfish bitch I am
I cannot deal with an idiot son
Stick me out to pasture
May the sun harden me to alabaster
But don’t mark him God
I just don’t know how to do the endless
Self sacrifice, change my stockings for tights
Be all mother but no woman
Stop the bourbon on Friday night
The jiggle of breast in a good light
I don’t know how to be it, her, she
The one with no name but
The one he calls me
Spare my soul from that identity
Which knows no other
Than the one born for man
Page Page 46 47
This I know
by Antonia Dingey-Attard
Love endures all, but
Sometimes love is not enough.
In the quiet moments of the night
As I lie in my bed alone,
I cry because I am sad.
THIS I KNOW.
I love my children, my parents and my dog.
I love spending time with friends.
I love the feel of freshly washed hair
Blown in the wind.
Slipping into clean sheets of a newly made
BBQ’s on a hot summer’s night.
The smell of fish and chips.
I love an old song on the radio, watching
Classic black and white movies on TV.
THIS I KNOW.
Antonia Dingey-Attard is a VU student.
I am person known to be friendly,
Warm, capable, pleasant and kind.
There is always a smile on my face.
This is how others see me.
This is a part of who I am,
The person I strive to be.
THIS I KNOW.
Deep in the recesses of my mind,
In the darkness of my soul,
In the stillness of my everyday
I face the loneliness of my life.
Vulnerable, cold, weary and
Troubled. I am broken and afraid.
This is part of who I am,
The person I do not want to be.
THIS I KNOW TO BE ME.
by Cam Black
a fight in my street this morning
on the walk to the tram
a difference of colour
four of one
one of another
loud exclamations by all in
i could not understand
i crossed the road
the weight of my presence
Cam Black is a Melbourne poet.
Army of G
by Raymond G Leavold
Need to be
Come back to me
Everything that I’ve lost,
All the flakes of skin,
The nails I’ve picked off,
Make me a new person:
Raymond G Leavold is a writing student.
enough to end the
four indian mynah birds flew
in different directions at
small common blackbird
did not spare me a glance
as he took the exit
but i was there
The old one,
Make me three more,
There’s enough to go around,
Give me the hair & nails
When I’m dead,
& I will give you
Page Page 48 49
Once in a lifetime
by Carolyn Garner
I didn’t have a hope. I wasn’t that good of a driver and you weren’t looking. You were just
lost and afraid. I slammed on the brakes but you were no match for four angry wheels.
I could hear you crying while I sat motionless, imagining you twisted out of shape
underneath one of them. What would I do then? Reverse? Go forwards?
I got out. Holly followed. ‘Shouldn’t you move the car Mum?’
I became aware that traffic was banking up behind me. Mean, impatient faces glaring as
they drove around my own killing machine. Bugger the car! Bugger the traffic!
Miraculously you had made it onto the median strip. Each appeal was a thorn in my
flesh. Your leg was raised up in the air like you were asking a question.
‘You did this so why aren’t you helping me?’
But I didn’t know how to pick you up without doing more damage. So we just stood
there. You and me and Holly.
Suddenly someone stopped. Someone with a kind face.
‘Can I help?’
She picked you up, popped you in her car, drove you to the vets. I followed gingerly,
feeling guilty as hell. They’d already taken you out the back by the time we arrived. I
spoke to the receptionist, left my number. I had to know your future, if you had one.
I cooked tea on auto-pilot. They rang about an hour and four cigarettes later. They had
traced your family. You had a broken pelvis. But best of all you were going to be okay.
I think about you often. I hope that you are better and happy and well-loved. Then I
pray that neither you nor I will ever be in the same situation again. Once in a lifetime is
Carolyn Garner studied at VU Sunbury.
The sound of silence
by Sherryl Clark
The child was screaming. Again. And she could tell by the way his screams echoed that he’d
been put outside again. In the alley.
It was dark in the alley, and overgrown with weeds, littered with rubbish and sometimes
She stood by her back door, listening. Every now and then she heard him shriek,
‘Mummy, let me in,’ but the door to his house stayed shut.
The sound of his screams frayed at her edges. She pulled her cardigan closer and
hunched her shoulders. She wanted the sound to bounce off her, but it soaked in, like
blood into an old sheet.
She opened her back door. The screams were louder; they pulled her outwards, towards
the fence, making her stumble on the broken footpath and bang her head on the clothesline
The old fence was made of palings hammered onto a frame. The nails protruded, as if
the wood was squeezing them out, a millimeter at a time. Her fingers touched the rough
palings, caressing the splintered edges, as she listened.
His screams had subsided into loud sobbing. He knew, and she knew, that he wouldn’t
be allowed back inside until he’d been quiet for at least five minutes. Maybe longer, if his
mother was on the phone or in the shower or watching a good TV show.
She pulled one paling aside. The window opposite blared with yellow light; the kitchen
with its dark brown cupboards was empty. Dishes piled on the sink and benches, a
container of margarine and a dirty knife lay on the laminate table.
The boy stood next to the door, as if to make sure his sobbing carried straight into the
house. Why didn’t he stop? Why didn’t the mother come?
It was pointless wondering. It was always the same.
She pulled the other two palings away and bent sideways, struggling through, catching
her cardigan on a nail and pausing to carefully unhook it.
The boy stared at her, but kept sobbing.
‘Hello,’ she said.
The sobbing died down into crying. Crying was much better.
‘I’ve made hot cocoa and biscuits,’ she said. ‘Do you want some?’
His eyes widened but he didn’t reply.
She held out her hand. ‘Want to come and visit me for a while?’
He kept crying. Why did he keep crying? Didn’t all children like hot cocoa and biscuits?
What was the matter with him?
She stepped forward and he shrank back against the door. He kept crying.
‘I won’t hurt you,’ she said crossly. ‘I just want to help. Don’t you want nice hot cocoa?’
She grabbed his hand. ‘I’m your friend. I live over there, behind the fence.’
He shook his head and tried to pull his hand away. He began the ungodly shrieking
again, all of a sudden, as if the noise was in a bottle inside him and he’d popped the cork.
She felt a shriek of her own surge up her throat and let him go, clapping her hands over
her mouth. The shriek came out as a stifled howl.
She reached out and shook him hard. ‘Look what you made me do!’ Then she scrambled
back through the fence, panting, gasping, ripping her cardigan on the nail, staggering across
the yard and into her house, slamming her door hard. She sank to the floor, held her breath,
‘Good boy,’ she said.
Sherryl Clark is an award-winning writer, and teaches Professional Writing and Editing at VU.
This piece was first published on everydayfiction.com.
Page Page 50 51
by David Weaver
It was the loneliest Christmas imaginable, and my mother said that it would be much
better by next year, but this was now and she didn’t understand.
When I asked Ruth to marry me I really meant it, and even though she’d told me to drop
dead I knew it wouldn’t take long to change her mind.
‘You’re the ugliest person in England and your ears stick out, so why should I marry you?’
I slunk away to a secret place to lick my wounds, and everywhere I looked she was
lurking in some quiet corner, laughing at me from the dark shadows.
I remember she had long blonde hair sweeping past her shoulders, a cotton print dress
and pink shoes, and the crowning glory was the beautiful matching pink ribbon tied in a
big bow on top of her head. She smiled a lot and once held my hand as we sat on a coal
barrow in the dusty yard with the smell of horse muck mingling with the hops from the
brewery. How could I not want to marry her in such a lovely place? For these were our
roots, this was where we belonged together for the rest of our lives.
The air raid was no worse than the ones before it, just fear piled on top of fear—all that
waiting, waiting. The next day Mum told me the bomb had killed her instantly, and
there was no pain. That the explosion was so intense there was no chance for her or her
family. Eight dead from a single bomb, but I had to see if it was true for who but a fool
would believe it.
Mum walked with me, talked to me, and tried to explain to me about death, until we
arrived at, what had once been, Ruth’s home. I searched through the rubble, looking
for anything that would remind me of her, until I found a burned piece of pink ribbon
shaped in a bow. I kept that bow hidden in my pocket and would take it out sometimes
when feeling lonely. That’s until I fell in love again. For let’s face it. What boy of twelve
has a pink ribbon in his pocket for another girl to find?
David Weaver studied Writing at VU.
This piece is dedicated to the Freer family.
Surfing with my brother
by Paul Bateman
My brother takes me surfing. I don’t want
to go, but he’s insistent. My brother James is
‘Bugger work. You work too much. A surf
will do you good!’
By work too much, my brother means
think too much, worry too much, and
goof around too little. My brother wants to
hear that I’m lying on the couch, watching
television. That, says James, is a proper day
I’ve seen James stand before the wall of
books that line my apartment, eyeing
off each volume with a look of deep
suspicion—like he might want to fight
them if that meant I’d leave the house.
‘Have you read all these?’ he asked me once,
and grunted when I said I had.
James would rather surf. Every Sunday
for most of the last three years, James has
strapped a board to the roof of his car
and headed east to Phillip Island, south
to Gunnamatta or west to Torquay. That’s
quite a commitment for someone who
works six days a week; James is a real estate
The business of buying and selling things
would pretty much kill me if that was what
I had to do in order to make a living: if my
heart’s not in it, my head won’t stay. James,
however, does alright. He’s what others call
A prospective home buyer once rang James
with no real idea what he wanted in a new
home: Two bedrooms? Four bedrooms? A
backyard? A garage?
James cut him short: ‘I’m busy, mate, call
me back when ya know what ya want…’
And the buyer did.
‘Trust me’, said James, ‘he needed to be
James will leave the office early to catch
some waves before day’s end, explaining his
departure with the following advice: ‘tell em
I’m on a course.’
‘Yeah, a golf course!’
The line comes complete with a generous
laugh and a look of childish delight. Most
of all, it’s completely untrue: his mobile
phone is never off; there’s always someone
in his ear.
My brother’s a dog; that’s what I tell my
mates. When he’s happy, he wags his tail.
When he’s not happy, he barks and growls.
He’s as loyal as a dog, as buoyant as a dog
and as smart as a dog—in as much as he
follows his nose and leads by his nose.
Whatever else his faults, he’s not neurotic.
The Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, has
a poem called Another Dog wherein he
describes a night spent trailing a mutt
through the streets of a sleeping city, ‘for no
better reason than to know where dogs go
in their tour of the night.’
‘A thousand times, by my count, he stopped
to pee in odd places,
then went on with the air of
someone expecting a telegram.
He passed houses, crossed corners,
parks, villages, countries,
while I followed behind him to know
where dogs needed to go.’
‘The dog,’ says Neruda, ‘leads the way and I
at his heels…’
So it is with me and James.
We cross the Westgate Bridge, surfboards
on the roof, thongs on our feet, and the city
fast retreating in our rear vision mirrors.
Chimney stacks and factories arrange
themselves below us and gusts of wind
batter the car.
‘The Geelong Road,’ says James, ‘is officially
the world’s most boring road.’
A fact he imparts with such authority that
I believe it must be true—that somewhere,
maybe Oslo, a committee of learned
types has made this strange and binding
I tell James that the earth beneath the road
is thousands of years old, the product of
wild and ancient volcanic activity.
‘I can’t get my head around that’, he says
candidly, and then having so decided seems
to let the thought drift loose as though
freeing a balloon. He shrugs and it’s gone.
Page Page 52 53
I talk about work, about the things I’m
writing and things I wish I would write.
He listens in a half-hearted sort of way,
fiddling with the stereo and announcing
the towns on the road to Torquay in a
loud, theatrical fashion: ‘Ava-lon! La-ra!
He makes me laugh, which stops me
talking, which was probably his intention;
I can’t switch off the way he does.
Thoughts blow about inside my head and
the weather there is often grey. He knows
this. I think he wants to break the pattern
of my thought and speech.
‘All good?’ he often asks, in reference to
nothing, ‘all good?’
He’s trying to tie me to the moment at
I used to worry how I fare in my brother’s
estimation—I’m older than him, more
earnest and cerebral—but recently a friend
of mine saw James and me among a crowd
of mates. She said that whenever James
told a joke, it was me he looked to for a
I mail things to James that I’ve had
published in books and magazines and
he rarely ever reads them. Most of the
time, he can barely recall where he put the
envelope. It drives me nuts.
Yet I can ring him as I’m writing and
read him what I’ve got and his response is
always honest and rarely off the mark. His
entire and utterly trustworthy school of
literary criticism is contained in one of two
words—‘yep’ or ‘nup’.
By ‘yep’, he means that he can see what I’m
saying—literally see it, in his mind’s eye.
‘Nup’ means he can’t see it. ‘Nup’ means
I’ve got to go away and rewrite the thing in
a simpler, clearer language until it’s put to
him again and I get myself a ‘yep’. Could a
writer have a better friend?
We arrive in Torquay.
‘This’ll do’, says James, steering the car
into a space at the edge of the town’s main
beach, ‘let’s get into it!’
Out beyond the bonnet of the car, beyond
a broad expanse of dense and yellow
sand, the surface of the ocean wobbles
in the sunlight. Rolling rows of big lefthanders
build up slowly, hold up high then
throw themselves upon the shore in long,
James gets busy with the boards—waxing
them, attaching ropes and inspecting the
fins—while I look on, wetsuit in hand, my
eyes adjusting to the light.
Much of the day will be spent like
this: he taking charge, energised by the
physical environment, ploughing without
reservation into the surf or things to
be done; me in thrall of his energy, his
effortless joy and ways.
We paddle out, beyond the breakers, to sit
astride our boards and read the patterns of
the surf. Now James does all the talking:
enthusiastic observations on currents,
swells and tides; cautions on the strength
of the rip, the placement of rocks and the
likelihood of ‘dumpers’.
The waves roll in. We let them pass. We’re
like new batsmen at the cricket crease,
watching intently, sizing things up.
‘Right’o’, says James, eventually, ‘Get on
this one, Tiger…’
I drop flat to the board, nose to the shore,
and dig my hands into the water. The sea
inhales and sucks me in, the back of my
board rising fast. There is one second of
perfect equilibrium—a balance between
wave and board—and then imagine, if you
can, that the wave exhales and spits you
I’m up, momentarily, but too late; the
board nose dives, arrowing forward hard
into the water, then snapping back just as
fast from beneath my feet. I’m dumped—a
tangle of sprawling limbs hammered under
crashing surf, the leg rope tearing at my
There’s a story about a student of Buddha,
who is burdened by all sorts of existential
questions and concerns. The student sits
before the enlightened one and asks him
how he, the student, can be truly sure
that anything is real. Buddha smiles and
without warning slaps the student across
‘Ow!’ exclaims the student, grasping at his
‘That’s real,’ says Buddha.
I emerge from the foaming tumult spitting
and spluttering. James is out the back, sitting
on his board and laughing uncontrollably;
‘that woke you up!’
Yes, mate, it did. The sea has smashed my
conscious self with a single burst of force.
There’s water slapping back and forth in
both my pounding ears. I’m short of breath,
shaking with adrenaline and I can barely
keep from squealing. I feel alive.
James is yelling: ‘Go again, mate! Go again!’
And so I do: waiting, paddling, breathing
hard, pushing down upon the board and
lifting to my feet. I slice through the water,
a ‘goofy foot’—left leg back, right leg
forward—riding the white wash far into the
James and I surf until late in the afternoon:
sometimes together, both of us paddling for
the same breaking wave; sometimes apart,
me watching him or him watching me
negotiate a rolling wall of hissing, tumbling
He’s good. He catches more waves than me
and does more with them. From behind
the wave he’s chasing I watch him sink
from sight then reappear on the other side,
charging upright to the shore.
Coming on sunset, I call it quits. I’m tired
and I paddle in. The cliffs that shoulder the
right side of the shoreline are bathed in the
last light of day, a swathe of salmon and
orange that softens the rocks and turns to
silhouette the two or three people perched at
their heights, high above the sea.
Back on the beach the sand has grown cold
and is streaked with water marks—damp,
abstract patterns left by the receding reach of
the sea. The tide is going out. The car park’s
half empty. Night is coming on.
My brother’s the last man standing; a lone,
lumbering fellow with an ocean to himself.
Some of us, wrote the American mystic
Thomas Merton, persist in misunderstanding
life, ‘analysing it out into strange finalities
and complex purposes’ and thus, inevitably,
‘involving ourselves in sadness, absurdity and
But it does not matter much, he said,
‘because no despair of ours can alter the
reality of things, or stain the joy of the
cosmic dance…indeed, we are invited to
forget ourselves on purpose.’
Fellow human, he wrote, ‘cast aside your
awful solemnity and enter the dance.’
My brother would probably no more read
the thoughts of Thomas Merton than fly to
the moon but, if pressed for his opinion, I
think he’d take what Merton said and say
it in reverse: ‘Enter the dance and your
solemnity will be cast aside.’
Life begets life. Go for a surf. Get out of the
house. See what you find.
There’s time enough before we go for a salty
pile of fish and chips and a stubby of beer
caked in melting ice. The boards are back
upon the roof, our wetsuits in the boot.
My brother flicks the headlights on and rolls
the car, in no real hurry, past the surf club,
over some speed humps and on to the road
that will take us home.
We listen to the radio, we listen to
cassettes—mangled, dying, dated things that
breed within his glove box—we talk a bit
and then we don’t, each to his thoughts, the
two of us in silence, gliding in a gleaming
line of ever-growing traffic.
Travelling over the Westgate Bridge we stir
again and lift our concentration. The car
shifts a gear and growls. The city shines like
a welcoming flame and I have within me an
optimism born of what we’ve done.
Brother, I want to say, I know now why
you surf. I know who you are. Creature of
instinct, impulse and sensation, I understand
your love of nature, its mystery and power.
I see reflected in your self, salt and sand and
sea. I love your gift for living.
But I don’t say these things. My brother is
whistling, tapping his fingers on the steering
wheel and nodding his head to a tune on the
I look from the car, high on the bridge,
to the towering sweep of the city; to the
harbour and its giant ships laden with
containers; to the lights of the bay strung like
diamonds far into the night.
‘How good’s this?’ I ask my brother, ‘how
bloody good is this?’
And he says, ‘yep’.
Paul Bateman is a Melbourne Writer
This piece has been published in The Age.
Page Page 54 55
Neither good nor bad
by Lauren Ham
I try, find the inner strength, though i am weak, still. I talk, not really saying much, not telling
you much, in the end. I just ramble and words dribble out, sounds springing from my open
mouth. Still no strength, still I try, put the blood stained towel in the wash, go get another clean
cloth to dirty. You don’t hear me, my fault. All my fault. In the end, my fault. But I am who I
by Lauren Ham
When it’s good it’s like I’m flying
Manic, or sane but, I’m here ain’t i ? But when it gets bad, the negativity consumes me until i am
trapped in my own little bubble. When the depression holds on tight and chokes me with both
Nothing else matters.
Happiness doesn’t exist…it’s overwhelming.
Lauren Ham is a Community Services student at VU.
by Tom Clark
I am that sorrow
you dreamt of yesterday,
oh pillow friend
of my steaming eye.
My childhood was filled
with all dreams
in the long run, filled as
your two cupped hands poured on.
Tom Clark is a lecturer at VU.
I invite all friends
to partake of mine without
here each one as one.
Since one is all,
this, then, is my call:
does your sorrow last? Weep in me!
Foreign leaves must fall.
Walking over the mountain
by Clare Boyd-Macrae
Each Friday morning I spend an hour at my son’s school, working with a little boy called
Joel. He’s a sweet kid, no trouble. He has a soft face, big dreamy eyes, long lashes that curl.
When I praise something he’s done, some effort he puts in, he rewards me with a slow,
Joel has trouble focussing, keeping track. He wanders off, not physically but in his head. I
have to keep saying to him, ‘Joel, try and ignore what’s going on over in that other corner
of the classroom, just concentrate on this, this paper right in front of you, what we’re doing
here, Joel, can you hear me?’
Slowly he turns to me, and then looks down at the sheet in front of him and we work on
another sentence, spelling, punctuation, and then he drifts off and I remind him, and the
process starts all over again.
Joel’s letters are legible but big and ungainly. He forgets things like capitals and full stops.
He takes a while to think of things like, ‘four words that rhyme with best’.
We work on reading and writing, on Joel’s skill with words. Without words, without being
able to manipulate and understand them, Joel will be powerless as he grows up. He will also
be cut off from a whole world, a whole universe of delight.
‘Okay Joel,’ I say, ‘this morning, we’re going to make up some sentences with certain words
in them. Here’s the first one. Sing. Can you write a sentence with the word ‘sing’ in it?’
He looks at me, looks away, looks at the other kids on his table who are playing a math
game with dice.
‘Joel,’ I gently tap the worksheet; he studies it and chews the small orange rubber on the
end of his pencil.
‘Sing. What do you think Joel, what’s a sentence with ‘sing’ in it?’
Suddenly his face clears and he writes laboriously, ‘I sing’.
Hmm. ‘Yes, that’s a sentence, but let’s see if we can write something a bit longer. Could you
add a couple of words to that?’
More thinking, then he adds, ‘a song.’ I sing a song.
‘Okay. Let’s do the next one. A sentence containing the word ‘walked.’
The same process, the same result: ‘I walked’ is Joel’s sentence.
‘Two words aren’t really a sentence Joel,’ I say. ‘Here, I tell you what. The next word we have
to include is ‘over’. Let’s try and do two things at once, let’s write a sentence with ‘walked’
and ‘over’ in it.’
My own attention wanders while I am waiting for Joel. I look around the room: the
tall, grimy windows, the tattered blinds, the bright projects that cover the wall, the two
computers in the corner. I watch the kids, some working away, others daydreaming or
chatting while the teacher’s back is turned. The teacher goes from group to group, checking
on their work. A full minute passes before I look at Joel again and see him suddenly put pen
He writes ‘I walked over the mountain’. Then he looks to see my reaction. I’m excited.
‘Yes, that’s it. Well done! That’s a sentence, that’s a good sentence.’
I want to throw my arms around this dear and struggling little boy and infuse him with
my own passion for words, for language, for the sound and rhythm and magic of it, for the
world upon endless world it opens up.
Page Page 56 57
Why is it so important to me that Joel should read with ease and delight? I’m not talking
about literacy here, vital as it is. I’m talking of something more. I want Joel, like any
child, to catch a glimpse of the boundless possibilities that multiply almost magically
when words and imagination are powerfully linked. And I fear the flattened world that
will come if children lose the ability to see print on a page and let their imaginations do
the rest. Or pick up a pen and let their minds soar, until they produce something that is
I want to say to Joel, ‘Imagine this. I walked. I walked over… I walked over the
mountain. I walked over the mountain and down the other side. I walked over the
mountain and into another country, into another world where everything was different.
I walked into a new world where waterfalls leapt and glistened and grass glowed and
trees shimmered and people walked with a spring in their step. I walked, and found a
nightmare world where I was no longer loved. I walked over the mountain and I was
on the other side of death, but I no longer felt fear, only calm, and certainty that all was
well. I walked over the mountain and, well, the sky’s the limit Joel.’
My younger son gets into trouble most mornings because he is reading instead of getting
organized for school. He’s miles away. He has walked over the mountain. This is what
I want for Joel. I want him to drive his parents mad with his reading instead of making
his lunch and brushing his teeth in the morning. I want him to look at words in a book,
or at a blank page and no longer feel the tyranny that lack of comprehension brings, the
weight of the unwanted pencil in his hands.
I want him to write, ‘I walked over the mountain’, and tingle with excitement. What will
I write next? What will be on the other side of the mountain today? I want his mouth to
water with anticipation, as he views the endless worlds opening out from his mind and
his hand, like mirrors opposite each other. Except that here all the worlds, all the views
are different. They are whatever you want them to be, but at the same time they are never
quite what you expect.
These are the fears and hopes that keep me reading with my own kids and kids like Joel,
who may never know the joys of the world on the other side of the mountain. Maybe it’s
a hopeless battle, against massive forces way too powerful for me with my puny pen and
paper and bound books. But I keep turning up Friday mornings, dreaming that one day I
will get there and find Joel ignoring his teacher because he is so deep into a book. Or that
his face will light up and his hand will tear across the page: ‘I walked over the mountain,
and you will never believe what I saw there.’
Clare Boyd-Macrae is a Melbourne writer who studied Professional Writing and Editing at
VU. This piece was first published in The Age.
by Marie James
I only entered the bookshop to buy something new to read on the train.
The shop was one I’d never visited before. I had chosen it only because it was on the
route from the dental clinic, where I’d spent my afternoon, to the train station. It was
long, rectangular and the shelves blocked the back wall from view. The shop was filled with
people, all clustered around the bestsellers shelf. The teenage assistant stood behind the
front counter. Opposite was the wide door and the shelf of new releases. Just inside the
door stood a large display for an author who would be appearing at the store during the
At first I took no notice of the display, my eyes already scanning the new release shelves
for whatever caught my attention. But then something about the display registered in my
mind and I looked again.
The title on the stand looked familiar: ‘Flashing Lights’. It was more than familiar. That
title was mine. The author’s name wasn’t.
Though it had been four years, I still remembered quite clearly, Danny holding my
manuscript and saying, ‘Thanks, Ben, I better read the rest of this and see what happens.’
They were the last words he ever said to me. One day he was at school, the next he
wasn’t. I’d heard that he had to leave suddenly to see his grandparents in the country
because his grandfather had suffered a stroke. He never came back and neither did my
It was the best piece of writing I’d ever done and I’d spent seven years trying to make it
perfect. When I’d shown it to him, there was still a lot of work that had to be done, but he’d
been impressed with it anyway.
When Danny disappeared with my manuscript in his bag, everyone told me not to
worry about it. Surely he would read it and send it back through the post. He was that kind
of guy, Danny. He could be trusted and everyone was impressed by him. He was good at
anything he put his mind to, whether it be football, art class, or academics. I, on the other
hand, had always been shocking at sports, couldn’t draw a straight line if my life depended
on it, and was only ever an average student. My manuscript was my one claim to fame, and
even that wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.
Initially, like everyone else, I thought the best of Danny. Of course he would send the
manuscript back. He had to. But soon three months had passed and I was forced to declare
the manuscript missing-in-action.
With all the old memories swirling around my mind, I saw my hand reach out to grab
a copy of the book on the display, but couldn’t feel the movement. Everything in me was
numb. I felt the heat drain from my face and the book felt unnaturally heavy as I hefted it
in my hands. The cover was a strange blur of blue and red (I’d always pictured bright green)
and a hardcover (I preferred paperback).
My manuscript wasn’t missing anymore.
The crisp thrup of pages as I rifled through them sent the smell of fresh ink and new
pages into my head. As I closed the book with a forced calmness, a finger caught on a page.
A thin line appeared in my skin and it became red with blood. I clenched my fist to numb
My eyes travelled up and over the wall display, focusing this time on the large,
professional photo of Danny in the centre. Much to my dismay, he was no longer the greasy
haired, patchy, stubble-ridden, bottle-blonde boy I remembered from my Year 12 math
class. Now, his hair was well-washed, a natural brown colour, and he had a neatly trimmed
I turned to the teen behind the counter and laid the book down in front of her, with
Page Page 58 59
a fifty lying on its mis-coloured cover. She rang up the purchase and handed me my
I picked up the book before she had the chance to put it in a bag and she said, ‘He’s
here today, you know. Why not have him sign your copy?’
She pointed towards the other side of the store and I turned reluctantly.
I was wrong when I’d entered the shop. The crowd surrounding the bestseller shelf
weren’t gathered there for the novels, they were there for the man behind the table. He
was sitting, blue pen in hand and surrounded by copies of my book.
Almost without thinking, I was joining the end of the line stretching out in front of
Danny’s table, book clutched tightly against my stomach.
The queue stretched until it looked a mile long. I took a slow, deep breath and reassessed
the people surrounding me. A lot of the people were just standing around
watching, but most were, like me and the elderly woman up front who appeared to be
trying to chat Danny up, in the queue itself. I heaved a sigh; the line wasn’t shortening
The man standing in front of me couldn’t have been older than I was. He was
bouncing on his toes and had his nose stuck in the book. His beer-bottle glasses were no
more than an inch from the page. As I watched, he gasped and quickly turned the page.
That was my book the guy was excited about. And he was standing in line to get it
signed by a fraud. The injustice of it all was a physical pain in the pit of my stomach.
The young woman in front of the man was trying to see Danny around the middleaged,
skirt-suit-wearing woman in front of her. Both of them were holding their books
like a life-line.
The queue moved slowly, with people shuffling their feet. I took to counting stupid
things, like buttons on jackets, to distract from the wait between then and Danny’s black
The young man in front of me continued reading and gasping, the pages turning
faster and faster. I glared at the back of his head and resisted the urge to yell in his ear. I
let my anger simmer, so it could boil over for Danny when I got to see him. As soon as
Danny mentioned the characters, Roy and Melanie, or anyone else beginning with an ‘R’
or an ‘M’, I’d have him over his table and on the floor before he knew what had hit him.
The picture was so appealing, I almost grinned.
Finally I was there, the front of the line. The young man shook Danny’s hand yet
again and stumbled away.
I took another slow, deep breath and approached the table. I set the book down in
front of him but kept it in place with my hand.
Danny’s blue pen was poised to sign, but when I was not forthcoming he looked up.
For a moment, he didn’t seem to recognise me, though I hadn’t changed that much.
His gaze travelled over my face, frown creasing his forehead, before his eyes widened.
‘Wow. I never thought I’d see you again.’
The anger rumbled in my chest. ‘No, I guess you didn’t.’
‘What have you been up to? Still writing?’
I wondered why he was bringing up writing at all. If I were him, I’d have avoided the
topic at all costs. Surely he knew that I knew what he’d done. I was holding the book
I said, ‘Yeah.’
A small frown appeared on his forehead. ‘You all right, Ben? You look a little pale.’
‘Do I? Tell me, how did you come up with the story?’
I couldn’t wait to see how he got himself out of this one. Alluding to the topic was one
thing, but addressing it directly was quite another. This was my book and I wanted him to
admit it. If he didn’t, I’d just have to call him on it, here in front of all his fans, and then I’d
It sounded like a good plan to me.
‘Well,’ said Danny, who appeared startled, ‘I was just driving home one day and it hit
me, you know, how one moment can change your life.’
I nodded and felt the anger surge.
Danny said, ‘So, I thought about two very different people and how the same trauma
would affect both of them. What would their relationship be like? Would they blame each
other? Would they be able to connect at all? I got to thinking, and eventually I came up
with George and Tiffany.’
‘Wait.’ I held up a hand. ‘Who are George and Tiffany? There’s no George or Tiffany
anywhere in the book.’
Danny stared. ‘George and Tiffany are my main characters. The guy in line before you
thought they were great. Apparently he was freaking out about their head-on collision while
waiting in the line. I wish I could find out what he thinks about the hospital scene, and the
chapter about the car ride through regional Victoria.’
I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. A string of words rattled around my head in an endless
loop. George. Tiffany. Collision. Hospital. Car. Victoria.
I snatched the book up from the table and almost dropped it in my haste to read the
blurb on the back cover.
Two cars colliding in the middle of a June night will change the lives of George Stanley
and Tiffany Morgan forever. Overcome by guilt and rage, for themselves and each other,
they must try to steer their way through months of loneliness. But fate is conspiring against
them, and George and Tiffany learn that through loss comes life. This is a riveting love
story that will stay with you the rest of your life.
I looked up at Danny. ‘Love story? I don’t understand. This isn’t a love story! It’s a
fantasy adventure! What happened to Roy and Melanie? What about the centaur? What
about the parallel universe? What did you do to my book?’
Danny’s eyebrows were up near his hairline. ‘Your book? What are you…?’ Realisation
flashed in Danny’s eyes and he laughed. ‘You think this is your ‘Flashing Lights’? No, no,
no. I’m sorry, Ben. You must think I’m a real prick. I couldn’t send your manuscript back all
those years ago—my grandmother’s cat discovered a taste for paper and destroyed it. I knew
you had a copy on your computer, so I just put it through the paper shredder. I didn’t think
you’d like getting it back in the state it was in.’
The explanation was so…normal. Could it be that simple?
‘But…what about the title? “Flashing Lights” is mine.’
Danny laughed and shook his head. ‘Oh, Ben.’ The sympathy in his voice made me feel
small and stupid. ‘Didn’t anyone ever tell you? You can’t copyright titles.’
Marie James is a Professional Writing and Editing student at VU.
Page Page 60 61
by John Clark
Another of the ‘Parramatta Poets’ and perennial Hawthorn rover. The image of Platten streaming
away from the pack bouncing the stitched icon on his own bow-wave carries with it the picture
four seconds later of Jason Dunstall surfing through the rich loam with a mark on his chest and
the opposing fullback pleading insanity.
Are we there yet?
My father and I would sometimes go out,
Looking for ideas,
Now and again we’d bag one,
But most of them
Would get away.
They can smell embarrassment
A mile away.
He never talked about ideas,
He told stories,
Which would sometimes illustrate an idea.
The idea they would sometimes illustrate
Was that he didn’t talk
Courtesy of John Clark, from The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse, Text
Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, 1994 and 2003.
Sharon’s dead. That was how the day started. It was like I’d heard the shortest Chinese
whisper in the world. Girls huddled in clusters, arms encircling each other, seeking to
ward out the words. Boys stood alone or in pairs—silent stoic statues. Teachers hovered,
shepherding their charges towards their common rooms. I heard them as they walked past.
‘Such a waste of a young life.’
As I stood, stunned, in my locker bay, the words besieged my mind. Sharon was dead.
Forty-eight hours earlier we had all been celebrating. The first musical ever to be staged at
our school had concluded its fairytale run of three glorious days. Sharon was in charge of
the stage crew. She was a tiny, bubbly fountain of cheek, and one of those kids we junior
kids looked up to. It would be wrong to paint a picture of Sharon as the perfect student,
because she was far from it. She was always late to class, more often than not wagged last
period on a Friday, and had a running date scheduled with Miss Smith for lunchtime
detentions. But she was fun, and lovable and always looked out for us younger ones.
Being a super-nerd, I wasn’t much into sports, which Sharon loved, so I didn’t get to know
her until she was made Captain of my house. But she apparently knew me. She made
herself known to me at the swimming carnival. Some smart arse had put me down to do the
1500m, and five minutes before the race there she was dragging my sorry butt to the pool.
‘But I can’t swim that far,’ I implored, ‘I never signed up for this race. I can’t do it.’
None of it mattered. Before I knew what was happening I was standing on the block, with
four other kids and Sharon standing behind me, cheering for all she was worth.
I sometimes wonder if fate brought us together that day. Somehow, with Sharon walking up
and back with me, I finished the race. I was dead last, and held up the whole carnival with
my lousy time, but Sharon didn’t care. I’d done it. As I staggered up the steps, Sharon was
waiting for me with a towel. She smiled and thumped me on the back.
‘Way to go Little Shot!’ she said, and then repeated the whole process again with another
unwilling aquatic hero.
From that time on I knew I wanted to be like Sharon. Whenever I bumped into her at
school, she would give me a flash of her ever-present grin and say, ‘Hey Little Shot.’ I
wanted to know why she called me that, but with her in year eleven and me in year eight,
just her noticing me was one of those ‘oh-my-God-she-spoke-to-me,’ kinds of things which
left me incapable of a reply.
When the play was announced and Sharon was made stage manager, it was only natural for
all of her protégés to sign up to help. For over four months we worked with her, painting
scenery, making props and laughing as she goofed around with staff and students alike.
The week before the play she called us all together and announced that she was assigning a
couple of assistants to help her run the communications centre. As this was before mobile
phones, it meant manning the walkie talkies and carrying notes to the actors during the
performances. It seems inconsequential looking back now, but being picked for the job
made me feel so important, and for a chubby, A-grade nobody, that was a rare thing. .
On the final Saturday night, Sharon was even more vivacious than usual. As soon as the
lights in the gym went up and the audience left, she went into full party mode. Even though
teachers and parents there, Sharon managed to down a couple of UDLs and danced herself
silly. It was the era of Boy George and Bon Jovi and the girl got down. God, I so wanted to
be like Sharon. Just before she and a group of year elevens left for their own party, she came
up to me. She signed my program, gave me a hug and said, ‘Later Little Shot.’
Page Page 62 63
The next morning I read what she wrote on my program. ‘Always remember, the big shots
are the little shots that keep on shooting’.
It’s funny how we remember some events so well, and others so dimly. When I arrived at
school the next Monday, I didn’t see, at first, the boy statues, or hear the sniffs and the sobs
of the crying girls. It wasn’t until I bounced happily into my own locker bay full of shellshocked
kids that it dawned on me something was wrong.
‘Sharon’s dead,’ said one of my class mates. ‘She committed suicide Saturday night.’
I didn’t get to go to her funeral, or say goodbye. I didn’t understand why she felt she had to
kill herself. It was such a short life and so many around me said it was such a waste.
A couple of years later I got a glimpse into Sharon’s world, when I too was engulfed in the
black endless hole of depression. Only, back then, I didn’t know it was depression. What
I did know, was that I was a bloody good actress. My family was oblivious and no one at
school seemed to notice. Not even my friends could tell something was wrong. All they
could see was me, the eternal nerd, hiding behind her books. And I couldn’t tell anyone
what I was thinking, or feeling, because all I could think about was Sharon, and nobody
talked about Sharon.
Then one day, it all became too much. Even now, I don’t really know what made me go
to the cemetery. All I knew was that I wanted to be with Sharon. I remember finding her
tiny bronze plaque amidst dozens of others in the flower garden. I sat on the grass ripping
petals off a rose—terrified that maybe I was like Sharon. As I sat there sobbing, I relived that
terrible day. I saw the huddling girls, the stoic boys and heard the teachers say Sharon’s life
was a waste. Though part of me wanted to let go, I knew I couldn’t. The hole was terrifying,
but there had to be another way out. I said goodbye and the next day went to a trusted
teacher who helped me get help.
Sharon didn’t get to be a big shot, and maybe I never will. But whenever things get hard
again, and I feel like giving up, I remind myself that big shots are the little shots that keep
Fiona Browning is a Professional Writing and
Editing student at VU.
A note from the author:
Youth depression is a real illness and help is out
there. If you, or someone you know, needs help
but don’t know where to start, try Youth Beyond
Blue or call Life Line on 13 11 14.
No one has to go it alone.
Youth, VCE & Community Education (TAFE)
by Judith Wright
How write a honest letter
to you my dearest?
We know each other wellnot
You, the dark baby hung
in a nurse’s arms,
seen through mist-your eyes
still vague, a stranger’s eyes;
hung in a hospital world
of drugs and fevers.
You, too much wanted,
reared in betraying love.
Yes, love is dangerous.
The innocent beginner
can take for crystal-true
that rainbow surface;
the slime-dark bottom
the bull-rout’s sting and spine
stuns your soft foot.
Why try to give
what never can be givensafety,
a green world?
It’s mined, the trip-wire’s waiting.
Perhaps we should have trained you
in using weapons,
bequeathed you a straight eye,
a sure-shot trigger-finger,
or that most commonplace
an eye to Number One,
Judith Wright is a Melbourne writer.
a fibrous heart, a head
sharp with arithmetic
to figure out the chances?
You’d not have that on.
What then? Drop-out, dry-rot?
Wipe all the questions
into an easy haze,
a fix for everything?
Or split the mind apart—
An old solution—
shouting to mental-nurses
your coded secrets?
I promised you unborn
something better than thatthe
chance of love; clarity,
don’t throw it in. Keep searching.
Dance even among these
poisoned swords; frightened only
of not being what you are-
of not expecting love
or hoping truth;
of sitting in lost corners
I promised what’s not given,
and repent of that,
but do not. You are you,
finding your own way;
nothing to do with me,
though all I care for.
I blow a kiss on paper.
I send your letter.