Monthly Archives: December 2014

Magical Melbourne

Last week I arranged to meet a university friend downstairs at The Moat Bar & Café.

The Moat Bar and Cafe courtyard

Situated in the basement of the State Library of Victoria The Moat is the perfect place to linger over a latte and discuss our works in progress and the latest books.  But I could not leave it at that. I grabbed the opportunity to catch an early metro train which would give me enough time to visit and enjoy some of the more familiar Christmas sights Melbourne always offers at this time of the year. My favourite pastime is people watching. On the 1.30pm train from Carrum tired mothers with dangling Christmas tree earrings, one hand rocking a pram, chastised excited toddlers running up and down the carriage. Teenagers, eyes glazed or closed listened to music that I could hear without the benefit of ear phones. Others fiddled with iphones or made loud phone calls to friends, ignoring the friend sitting next to them. I talked to an elderly lady with a wheely walker who explained in great detail the responsibility of belonging  to Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘They saved my life’, she said, ‘but the damage to my health was done.’

fed square

Across from Flinders St Station is Federation Square. People relaxed in deckchairs dotted amongst a forest of Christmas trees, or watched the cricket on the big screen. There is always something happening at Fed Square ranging from celebrations of the Melbourne Cup Carnival to demonstrations of Tai Chi. The next big event will be a huge New Year’s Eve party complete with fireworks.

long view st PSt paul   organ

Across from Federation Square is St Paul’s Cathedral. As soon as you enter you leave the noise of the city behind. Everyone whispers and there is an overwhelming sense of peace.  Many a time I’ve quietly taken photos for tourists but this time I found my services were no longer needed. I have been made redundant by a camera mounted on a long pole. Visitors are now able to take a long distance selfie.

St_pauls,_melbourne                tuk trishaw

I always love to see the decorated carriages and plumed horses  clip-clopping their passengers through the busy CBD. Although I have to admit that the cycle rickshaws  are much faster.

flowers     st paul 4  girls choir

I can never pass the flower stall outside the Melbourne Town Hall without admiring the display and breathing in the perfume of roses. Next was the Christmas tree in the city square before listening with joy the talented young singers of the Victorian Girls Choir

myers windows  myerwindow 2 buskers

To visit the Myers windows every year has been one of my a traditions and they did not disappoint. This year the windows tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Father Christmas thrown in for good measure. By this time I needed a break so I found the nearest public seat and enjoyed watching the buskers in the Bourke St Mall. My feet were tapping to the Pierce Brothers’ rendition of Blind Boys Run. It was such a spirited rendition and so joyously full of life that I bought their CD.

library front   library

A visit to our State Library is a must every time I go into town. This time the free exhibition covers Bohemian Melbourne complete with photos and videos records of those times. I spent an hour wandering around the exhibits before hurrying to meet my friend around the corner at The Moat, under The Wheelers Centre– the home of books, writing and ideas .

The Moat Bar and Cafe interior                                   The Moat Bar and Cafe interior

By the time I reached The Moat I was well and truly ready to sit and talk at a table for two beside a deep windowsill filled with books. Here you leave a book and take one you’ve always wanted to read home with you for no cost. I felt as if I was in Aladdin’s cave.

On the one hour train trip home all passengers were off-loaded at Moorabbin Station because the PSO’s (Protective Services Officers) said our train was faulty. During the next fifteen minutes everyone was talking to each other and laughing and joking. After piling into the replacement train the camaraderie continued with fellow travellers vying with each other with yarns of horror train stories. I laughed so much I nearly missed my stop. At Carrum two PSO’s were patrolling the platform to see that all passengers were safe. They even escorted me down the ramp to the car waiting below.

Another magical Melbourne excursion filled with laughter and fun



Recording Memories: Tales of days gone by.

Carrum is an old seaside holiday destination for Melburnians. Over the years it has gradually been overtaken by suburbia. Run-down holiday shacks have been replaced by up-market units, trendy coffee shops and large marina.

old style       trendy     lights 2

Yet it still seems to retain an old fashioned sense of community. It seems residents can’t escape the affect of sun, sand and sea.

beach             beach 2      pier

For many years I worked at a local retirement village where the majority of the residents are inspiring women.  Women who achieved many accolades during their working life, women who overcame cancer and now laugh about it, women with incredible stories of perseverance and sacrifice. They battle on, often overcoming insurmountable odds, still giving, still caring for others. They believe in the old adage, ‘Today’s tragedies are tomorrow’s funny stories’. Recently I’ve been encouraging them to grab an exercise book and record the family stories when they pop into their minds. Hopefully one day they will turn them into a book to pass on to their family. So often these stories are forgotten and the younger generation may never know the stories behind so many old pictures. Luckily for me my father loved to talk about the past. When I look at a photo of his brother I know that Wally had a permanent limp. He shot himself in the knee trying to climb through a barb wire fence while on a rabbit shoot with his mates. The stories behind the photograph bring the person to life.


Christmas morning 2014. A wonderful day ahead of celebration and friendship. My mind travels back to memories of my sun-drenched childhood in Parkdale. Mum loved to sing and every morning began with the same song.

Wake up Chickabiddy, the morning is bright. The birds are all singing to welcome the light

The curtains are flung open. Pretending to be asleep I try to breathe deeply, evenly, but Mum yanks back the sheet. I lie like a snail without its shell and shiver in spite of the heat before desperately trying to recover my protective sheath. A tussle ensues that ends with Mum tickling and me laughing and screaming, ‘Mercy. Mercy.’

‘Come on lazy bones,’ Mum says. ‘It’s Christmas tomorrow.’ I plant my good-girl smile on my face and brace myself for the work to come. Tomorrow the family will be here to feast, drink, yarn, fight and make up.

The first rays of light sneak through my window and leap out of bed. Has he come? What if Santa has been too busy to visit? What if he couldn’t find the chimney  of the little two-bedroom home tucked amongst so many others? Maybe he missed seeing the candle in the window telling him that a child was anxiously waiting? I run to the lounge room door and turn the knob. It won’t open. Santa has done it again, tied the doors on the inside so I can’t get in. I’m dancing on the spot, legs crossed with excitement. Through the wavy glass door panels are distorted shapes and bright colours.

I run into my parents bedroom and jump into the middle of their big double bed. ‘Wake up Chickabiddies,’ I yell, bouncing up and down. ‘Get up lazy bones’. Two sleepy heads don’t move and I poke, prod and tickle any part of the inert bodies I can lay my hands on. Finally, Dad emerges in his striped pyjamas. Mum, in her frilly nightie, grabs my hand and we hurry to the tied doors. Dad eventually opens them and I run to the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle-piece above the fireplace. Mum’s long silk stocking is bulging. Dad’s big grey woollen sock is lumpy and my white lacy sock is overflowing with sweets. Peppermint sticks, sherbert bombs and orange-coated chocolate jaffas tumble out. I cram my mouth to overflowing.

Underneath our tree is my favourite doll. I hardly recognise her. During the year I had combed her hair so many times that she lost her Shirley Temple curls and ended up a tangled mess that only my kindergarten scissors could fix. Now she has bouncy blonde curls, a pretty blue dress, little white knickers and a beautiful pair of tiny white leather shoes. I hug her to me and understand why she had to go away for a while.

The candle is still burning on the window ledge and Santa has taken a big bite out of the Christmas cake and drunk half of the lemonade . ‘Why didn’t he drink it all, Dad?’  ‘Maybe we should leave him a bottle of beer next year,’ he replies

Mum’s parents came from England so we always have a hot Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Mum says is tradition and wipes the perspiration from her brow as she opens the oven to check the roast pork and turkey.  A plum pudding bubbles happily on the stove. Aunty Olive is busy making brandy custard.   She keeps sampling the brandy in case it has gone off. Aunty Mary is whistling while shells the pea s to prove that she isn’t eating any. ‘Run outside and play with your cousins under the sprinkler.’ she says with a smile.

The men sit in the back yard under a beach umbrella and sip beer. Occasionally one will half-heartedly call, ‘Want a hand?’ as his wife hurries by, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. At one o’clock we are called inside to find our places before laden tables. The adults sit around the formal dining-room table and the kids are put at a rickety card table. I yearn to be big enough to sit with the adults.

For many years now I have sat at the dining-room table, but this year instead of roast pork there will be prawns, salmon and salads followed by fresh strawberries and ice-cream. Over the years a cold Christmas dinner , more suited to the hot Australian climate, has become our tradition. I have wonderful memories of two small boys curled up like snails trying to ignore my bright ‘Wake up Chickabiddies. It’s Christmas tomorrow and the family are coming to feast, drink, yarn, fight and make up.’

Okay, so I’ve written down my memories of past Christmases and tomorrow I’ll record my thoughts and feelings about today. Why don’t you do the same? After today has settled down, jot down some of your memories of this special day of days.   One day your family may want to bring to life the faces and people captured in faded photos.

Christmas in Australia

Beach bauble-

Christmas in Australia is hot, darn hot. It’s time to don the bathers and jump into the swimming pool, or sit outside under the umbrella with a cold drink beside you. It’s time for tiger prawns, King Island crayfish and salads. It’s a of family gatherings, with what we hope will be great food, great wine, combined with sharing, caring and giving.

santa blog

Most families decorate their homes with twinkling lights and a life sized figure of Father Christmas who waves, climbs ladders or is stuck halfway down the chimney with just his legs showing. Our neighbours opposite have tied a huge blow-up Santa to the railing of their second story balcony.  When inflated, instead of having the usual cheery Santa grin. he has what we now call a bemused Homer Simpson look.


I can imagine the designers overseas thinking that the popular TV character would be an excellent model for their latest Christmas decoration. Later that day we noticed that ‘Santa Homer’ seemed to be clutching the railing and had a distinct lean to the right as if he had indulged in too much Christmas cheer. By the morning he was totally deflated and hanging over the balcony railing. Obviously the Christmas wine had been too much for him.

Every afternoon our neighbours pump Santa up ready for the evening festivities. Every morning Santa is lying over the rails obviously the worse for wear.

We can relate. We don our party clothes each night and set off in happy anticipation. the next morning, in tatty tracksuit, strong coffee in hand we slump in our deck chairs recovering from the night’s entertainment. If only someone could come along and pump us up so that we can be ready to party again. If ever I need a laugh to carry me through the rest of these hectic holidays I’ll just glance out of my window at the ‘tipsy’ Santa homer. If he can manage to survive and come up smiling, so can I.


I asked my writing friend Mairi Neil for a Christmas poem. She sent this acrostic poem for you to enjoy.


Caring for others and sending greeting cards

Happiness to spread around and love within our hearts

Ringing of bells in churches, and on Santa’s sleigh

Icing on Christmas cakes; fruit for puddings to weigh

Sleeping peacefully on Christmas Eve awaiting Santa’s call

Tinselled trees, fairy lights, decorations from kitchen to hall

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers wishing Merry Christmas to all!

Acceptance of gifts, sharing, and giving to please

Spiritual peace celebrating Christ’s birth, Christmas is

all of these.


© mairi neil 1994, small talk poems for children, Employ Publishing Group, St Kilda.

Love, not Fear: Hope, not Despair

The train to Melbourne is packed with Christmas shoppers. Men busy tapping on laptops, women chatting, children laughing. Santa is coming and the city is celebrating. In Federation Square there is an abundance of red bows, ribbons and green Christmas trees. But the images that fill my mind are not of peace and goodwill but of a sea of flowers in Martin Place in Sydney.

flowers martin place

This morning, as I watched the scenes unfold on the TV I remembered how years ago, when something bad happened there was always Mum, with love in her heart, ready to kiss the pain and make it better. How I wish that simple act of love could be applied to the world. In the train I find myself reciting the Global Peace Prayer

We are one global family

All colours, all races, one world united

We yearn for peace, and the healing of our planet

Peace for all nations

Peace for our communities

Peace within ourselves

Let us connect heart to heart

Through our diversity, we recognise our unity

Through our compassion, we recognise peace

Love is the power to transform the world

Let us send it out. Now.

Will my heartfelt nondenominational prayers to the universe help? I like to believe that like a pebble in a pond, the ripples will spread and people of all nations will begin to find their voice. I imagine that tiny ripple becoming a tidal wave that washes away injustice, hatred, anger, fear, misunderstandings, terrorism and war. That what happened in Martin Place will never be repeated. I know. It is naïve. all I know is that I have to believe that attitudes, beliefs and people can change. That peace is possible.

Christmas Cheer

Christmas is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may flow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace. (Agnes M Pharo)

Once more unto the breech dear friends: William Shakespeare

This is my fourth attempt at writing a blog. I’m hoping this time I will have the dedication and the passion to sustain it for many years. Hell, I’ve completed a PhD in creative Writing. Surely I can commit to, and sustain writing a blog.

I began my first blog with bigpond to record my writing journey. All went well until I found it easier to jot crazily disjointed snippets and observations into a handwritten journal. Unedited, rambling words tumbled into those pages and the pages of eight more until this mature aged student graduated in 2013.

The second blog was to be a personal account of dealing with two hip replacements and hopefully be a font of knowledge for those contemplating the same operations. I talked about the joy of being pain free and once again walking, swimming, kayaking and travelling. I was so busy making up for lost time that I forgot to blog. Instead the Arthritis Magazine printed a two page article titled The Happy Hippie.

The third was designed to be a marketing tool when Ilura Press launched my debut novel Pickle to Pie. I was so busy dealing with my German ancestry that I forgot to blog.

I started a fourth blog titled Ayers Rock to Uluru. I was going to write every night and record my thoughts and experiences as I travelled from Melbourne to Uluru. It had been forty years since we camped at the base of the rock and I wanted to write about the differences between then and now. Great idea. I started out with enthusiasm, convinced that this was the perfect way to document the journey.  Five posts later the blog was abandoned and a handwritten journal was thrown into the bottom of my bag. Both replaced by my iphone tape recorder.


So why do I believe that I can do it this time? Because over the years I have been inspired by the passion, dedication and commitment shown by writing friends. The majority of them blog. Fellow PhD-er Carol-Anne Croker charts her bi-polar journey and is an ambassador for mental illness. Mairi Neil has commenced Up the Creek with a Pen writing about health, research and giving back. I would like to reveal their writing journeys, and the stories of other Australian writers in my blog. As the old political jingle proclaims ‘It is time’. The joy and passion have returned and I can’t wait to get started