Issue 4 2010 - Learning and teaching portal - Victoria University

tls.vu.edu.au

Issue 4 2010 - Learning and teaching portal - Victoria University

Platform

Issue 4

October 2009

Closet meringue

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

embellishments).

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,

‘Trust Louise’.

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

needs variety.

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.


Managing Editor

Bruno Lettieri

bruno.lettieri@vu.edu.au

Editors & Designers

Megan Green

greenmegan@bigpond.com

Martina Michael

martinamichael@bigpond.com

Acknowledgements

Maree Wheelens

Youth, VCE & Community

Education

Susanna Bryceson

Coordinator

Professional Writing & Editing

Paul Kinna

Western Futures Program

Stephen Weller

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students)

Victoria University

Sam Romijn

TOTeM Project

Sara Ireland

Photography

www.chameleonphotography.

deviantart.com

Microsoft Corporation

Clipart

Enquiries

Youth Enquiries VCE

Susheel Chand

03 9919 8643

TOTeM Project

03 9867 8740

ESL Youth Courses

03 9919 8744

Submissions to:

bruno.lettieri@vu.edu.au

Editorial

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

dance here.

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

alliances.

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

effect.

Page 2


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

of age?

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

now?

If youth is the period between childhood and adulthood then let it be a time to be

celebrated.

Let the blurred boundaries between naivety and experience be a time to be

championed.

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

Page 3


Western Futures

Platform,

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

parents.

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

and basketball.

by Vu

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

flowers.

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

roses.

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

to Uni.

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


Western Futures

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

advanced equipment.

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.

Page 5


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 games.

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

spilling out.

You’ve made these holes.

We want them fixed.

We gave him to you perfect

and you...

you were supposed to be careful.

Kristin Henry’s previous anthologies include quick packer, slices of wry and others.

Page Page 67


Audit

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.

Page 7


What matters

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

mistake.’

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

this organisation.

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

in.’

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

heart.

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?’

‘Absolutely not.’

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

warm enough’.

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?’

‘Not really’.

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

caught one.’

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

Matters’ column.

Page 9


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


The heart

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

more.

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

uneven pieces.

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.

Page 11


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

choice.’

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

winter

Below a steadfast sky

blood glistens on a dove’s beak.

I understand again

the wisdom of deceit.

autumn

Alone in thrilling rain

my umbrella folded

I watch the past fall

all coloured lights and lampshades.

spring

Skipping through the thoughtless

forest of my life, I use the rope

to lasso mistakes

kiss each and every one.

summer

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.

Page 13


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

said tearfully.

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

old.

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

finally broke.

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.

Page 15


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

cafés.

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

Page 17


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?’

‘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

life now.’

‘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

good memories.’

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

like.’

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

the money.

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

mother again.’

‘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.

Page 19


Kastellorizo

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

homes

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

ways

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).

Page 21


The Anchoviad

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

tongue.

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


Love story

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.

Page 23


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.

Finding myself

In a city on my own,

A sweet lover,

A sour one.

Finding friends with

Easy conversation,

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,

Squashed jewellery,

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

organic charm,

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

and west,

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.

Page 25


Sunday far away

Joy Barton

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

one.

‘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

his choice.

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


Maybe tomorrow

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

skills.’

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

applications.

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

smells.

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

Page 27


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

study.

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

factory.

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

Airport West.

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

believe it.’

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

subsidy.

‘What about coming in for twenty hours a

week?’ Ms Norris asks.

Jennifer shrugs and smiles. ‘If it’s a job I’ll

take it.’

‘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

years.”’

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

following day.

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

way.’

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

(1997).

Page 29


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

or employment.’

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

learning.’

Pat Reid is a Professional Writing and Editing student at VU.

Page 31


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.

Colourbond glows.

The sound of the highway traffic slows.

We should’ve spent the fifty grand

We planned to buy across the park.

Regrets flowed.

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.

Money’s down.

At least we’re in this blessed town.

The double story was the pick

They’re thick on the ground over there.

Fifty grand.

I could’ve made a stronger stand.

She’ll be home soon.

The moon is getting higher.

Pergola dreaming.

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

bulldozers.

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.

Backyard delight.

I wonder what the poor people are doing

tonight?

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.

Fantastic weather.

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.

Blasted shop.

This second job will have to stop.

Paul Yeatman is a Melbourne writer and

Victorian school principal.

Page Page 32 33


Beautiful Girl

by George Athanasiou

She’s a beautiful girl

Her face picturesque, drenched in an ocean of

curls

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

thinking…

While he writes

Drawing from her

Sculpting words into an exquisite work of art

He knows she will always have a place in his

heart

After all she’s always been his favourite

sculpture

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

curls

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

mind

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

curls

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.

Page 33


Nails

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

by Fiona.L.Browning

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.

Page 35


Meteor Shower

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

cotton hats.

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

opposite ridge.

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).

Page 37


Rooku

by VU’s Creative Writing Class, Altona Meadows

Black’n’white TV days

A delicate crater moon

The flag begins to wave

by Dave

Midnight

A full moon

Shadows

Computers

Connect to the world

Skype

by Sylvia

In the lucky country

At a suburban pokies venue

Dad is lucky

by Rob

Foggy shore—

Standing figure silently weeps

Floating garland

by Angela

Young fat child

Who is going to look after

You?

by Abi

Sea water

Protected in the bay

Unruffled feathers glide

by Louise

Same self

What did I do to deserve

An absence of dreams

Evening clouds caressed by pink

In the car

Kids laugh over Nintendo

Mid-life crisis

On a park bench

So little has changed

by Halyna

Library at closing time

Stacking shelves

With books

Morning walk in the woods

Playing ball with the dog

Among the trees

by Doreen

Battle of Birds

Thrush chases crow

Speckled brown ruffles sleep black dappled

victory

by Elena

Empty church grounds

Inside the lead light filled church

He kneels, head bowed in prayer

by Lee

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

myn love,

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

i swore

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

suppose this

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.

Page 39


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.

Page 41


Fudge

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

Border-crossing officialese.

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


Queen

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.

Declare

by Lorraine Jane Allport

Shall imply, you know not I, what I have

become

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

equality

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.

Page 43


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

thought.

‘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

smiling.

Page Page 44 45


‘That’s alright,’ said David trying to sound nonchalant. ‘I hear the drinks here are

really good.’

‘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

a bed.

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

finger.

‘Yeah.’

‘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.

Page 45


Mother

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

The mother

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

bed.

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.

Page 47


mediator

by Cam Black

a fight in my street this morning

on the walk to the tram

a difference of colour

four of one

attacking

one of another

loud exclamations by all in

languages

i could not understand

i crossed the road

to help

the weight of my presence

Cam Black is a Melbourne poet.

Army of G

by Raymond G Leavold

The fragments

Need to be

Reconciled,

Come back to me

Everything that I’ve lost,

All the flakes of skin,

The hairs,

The nails I’ve picked off,

Complete me,

Make me a new person:

Raymond G Leavold is a writing student.

enough to end the

melee

four indian mynah birds flew

in different directions at

my approach

the harassed-looking

small common blackbird

did not spare me a glance

as he took the exit

thus opened

but i was there

nonetheless

The old one,

Make me three more,

There’s enough to go around,

Give me the hair & nails

That grow

When I’m dead,

& I will give you

an army

from everything

I’ve shed.

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

definitely enough.

Carolyn Garner studied at VU Sunbury.

Page 49


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

needles.

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

arm.

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,

listened. Silence.

‘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


Ruth

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?’

she’d said.

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.

Page 51


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

always insistent.

‘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

off.

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

agent.

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 natural’.

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

told.’

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.’

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

pronouncement.

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!

Co-ri-o!’

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

hand.

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

response.

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,

consistent curls.

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

out, violently.

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

ankle.

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

the face.

‘Ow!’ exclaims the student, grasping at his

stinging cheek.

Page 53


‘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

shallows.

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

sea.

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

despair.’

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

radio.

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

am.

Insight

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

hands.

Nothing else matters.

Happiness doesn’t exist…it’s overwhelming.

Lauren Ham is a Community Services student at VU.

Autumn oud

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

discrimination, bringing

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.

Page 55


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,

heart-stopping smile.

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

to paper.

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

uniquely theirs.

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.

Page 57


Flashing lights

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

week.

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.

Daniel Taylor.

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

manuscript.

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

the stinging.

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

goatee.

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

change.

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

anytime soon.

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.

I glowered.

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

eye.

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.

‘Ben?’

‘Hello, Danny.’

‘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

after all.

I said, ‘Yeah.’

Page 59


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

flatten him.

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


John Platten

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

About ideas.

Courtesy of John Clark, from The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse, Text

Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, 1994 and 2003.

Page 61


Little Shot

Fiona.L.Browning

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

on shooting.

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.

www.beyondblue.org.au

www.lifeline.org.au

No one has to go it alone.

Page 63


Youth, VCE & Community Education (TAFE)

Letter

by Judith Wright

How write a honest letter

to you my dearest?

We know each other wellnot

well enough.

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;

surprise, surprisepaddling

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

of self-defences,

an eye to Number One,

shop-lifting skills,

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,

charity, caritas-dearest,

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

ill-willing time.

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.

Page 64

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines