Unmasked on a Tram


 

I should be home by now. Work at the clinic has kept me late. I tear off my mask, race down the stairs, tear across the road, chase the tram and leap aboard. It’s peak period and the tram’s pretty full. I find an aisle seat, sit down and breathe. I reach into my bag – no mask. All around me everyone wears the mask of the good citizen.

My breathing feels like an offense. I turn my back on the person at whose side I’m seated. Facing the aisle now, face turned down toward my shoes, breathing surreptitiously, I’m disturbed by a voice: 

Excuse Me. 

I turn to the voice, which comes from behind a mask. The voice sounds again: Why aren’t you wearing a mask? 

 

 

When I tore off my mask, I ripped the hearing aids from my ears as usual. This happens: masks and aids are both secured behind my ears so the removal of the one often occasions the other. The speaking voice isn’t hard to hear however. My interlocutor is her own megaphone. Humbled, I reply, I’m afraid it’s not with me. I must have…

 

My reply is cut off. You have to wear a mask. It’s the law. I’ll give you a mask.

My antagonist-turned benefactor gropes in a handbag, gropes some more, shuffles contents without result. A second woman, seated facing her, opens the bag on her lap and produces a ziplock full of pristine masks. 

I always carry spares. WE’RE BOTH WORKERS IN HEALTH! Take a mask.

I take a mask and fit it. Thank you, I say. Her fellow-worker-in-health resumes operations: You never answered me, WHY don’t you have your own mask?

 

The questioner and her mate look about 55-60 years old. Wide faces, good complexions, fair skin, hair well-groomed. All is handsome but smiles are lacking.

 

 

A tramful of now very interested passengers gazes in our direction as I lean towards the workers-in-health and speak slowly and softly, enunciating clearly but confidentially: Have you never made a mistake? Apparently not, for my sweet reason evokes not compassion but derisive snorts. 

 

 

Conversation takes an abrupt turn as the women address a second malefactor. WHERE’S YOUR MASK?

The question is not directed to me, but beyond me, to one not yet seen. I crane and glimpse the smaller form of an adult male of Chinese appearance. This person declares: I DON’T HAVE TO WEAR A MASK.

YES YOU DO. IT’S THE LAW.

I DON’T HAVE TO.

 

 

The workers in health decide greater volume is required to help their quarry’s understanding: 

IN THIS COUNTRY WE KEEP THE LAWS. MAYBE BACK IN INDIA YOU DON’T HAVE TO. HERE EVERYONE HAS TO WEAR A  MASK!

 

 

It’s time for me to rejoin the conversation: In this country we don’t accept racism, not even among Workers in Health.

 

 

A young man strides down the aisle and joins us. He looks like he’s in his early twenties, slim, elegant in his black suit. His voice is another that needs needs no megaphone: YOU TWO ARE MISTAKEN. THE LAW DOES NOT REQUIRE EVERYONE TO WEAR A MASK. SOME PERSONS ARE EXEMPT.

 

 

Health’s blood is up. Health is not ready to yield: What’s his exemption?

Blacksuit offers further legal advice: YOU HAVE NO LEGAL RIGHT TO DEMAND THAT INFORMATION. THIS IS NOT HEALTH CARE YOU’RE PRACTISING HERE: YOU’RE JUST PRACTISING BIGOTRY.

 

Health falls silent. The Gang of Two turn to each other and shrug. Two stops later the mask refuser leaves us. Health loses one pitbull a few minutes later. Now alone, the remaining worker in health suddenly finds her kindle demands her attention. For the next twenty minutes she does not look up or across the aisle. When I descend she’s still silently absorbed.

 

 

Once home I open my backpack. There, with my hearing aids, is my mask.

 

 

 

Whittawer

Reading Maggie O’Farrell’s acclaimed ‘Hamnet’ this afternoon, I was intrigued to come across an unfamiliar word. I like it when an author teaches me a new word; this one was whittawer. I reached for the nearest dictionary, The Concise Oxford. Whittawer did not appear.

I wasn’t surprised. The word looked archaic.

Next, I went to the Chambers Dictionary, a chunk of a volume, the fullest dictionary of its size that I know. Chambers offered saddler.

Later, a larger Oxford improved on the Chambers with, a person who makes whitleather. In later use also: a saddler or harness-maker, (from white plus tawer, i.e. a tanner who treats animal skins with alum or lime, which required an apprenticeship of at least seven years).

I put the dictionaries aside and I returned to ‘Hamnet’, where Hamnet’s twin laments his death of the Black Death at the age of eight years. The dying of the child and the grief that follows occupy much of pages 200 to 300. The death and the grief constitute the emotional heft of the novel. Both are particularised minutely. What might take a telegram, (Hamnet Dies, Judith cries), goes on and on, with awesome tread. For this reader not a word is wasted. The pace is meet. A death is one of the two great facts of all that lives. And every death is particular. 

I looked up, seeking perhaps, respite from sorrow. There lay the Concise Oxford, the volume seventy years old, splitting now at its spine. Mum bought this book for her firstborn, Dennis. (She presented similar volumes to each of us three children who followed Dennis into the world of books and new words. To each of us Mum said, Look it up in your dictionary, Darling. That way you’ll remember the new word.) 

I held Dennis’ Oxford in my palm. I had plucked that volume from Dennis’ large library of brainy books after he died at the age of sixty-three. Dennis’ Oxford is of singular construction, with a little demisphere of space excised from the page margin, in twenty-six places, creating a small lacuna for each letter of the alphabet. Mum’s four kids were guided by this ‘thumb index’ into the right spot in our dictionary for every word we sought. Today, in my search for whittawer, my thumb followed Dennis’. It led me back to that gigantic love of that son for his mother. At the physical tip of a bodily extremity I sensed my brother.

I returned to O’Farrell’s story. She gives her reader the bewilderment of the sibling, bereft: Judith puts out a hand and touches the cheek of her twin. Tears course down her face, chasing each other… such enormous tears, like heavy pearls, quite at odds with the lightness of her frame. She shakes her head, hard, once, twice. Then she says, ‘Will he never come back?’

And later, the child’s search for a self-concept in a family transformed by absence:What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin and is no longer a twin? If you were a wife, Judith continues, and your husband dies, then you are a widow. And if its parents die, a child becomes an orphan. But what is the word for what I am?

I don’t know, her mother says.

(Judith): Maybe there isn’t one…

Fourteen years have passed since I succeeded to Dennis’ Concise Oxford. The thumb indices admit the edge of the pulp of my thumb. Fourteen years, and notwithstanding my wide collection of dictionaries, I still lack a word for ‘surviving brother’.

Darling degraded

My RFDS plane discharges me onto the edge of the strip at Wilcannia on its way to Ivanoe. At 9.00am the heat rises to greet me.

A ute sits on the verge. A not-young man says, get in.

I do that.

The man starts the motor and accelerates along a too-narrow, not too smooth dirt track that runs parallel to the field. Grasses grow long between the wheel tracks. We take a right-angle bend at speed, then hurtle along a second margin. In this way we follow a grass and dirt track along all eight sides (yes, eight; don’t ask, it’s complicated) of the airfield.

I ask why?

Checking for ‘roos.

I realise the aircraft has not taken off.

They wait until I give them the all-clear: no ‘roos.

One kangaroo can destroy an aircraft either taking off or landing.

I ask: does your drive-by scare the ‘roos away. (It certainly scared me at first. Presently I realised the man and the vehicle know that track well. Both handle it well.)

Yep. When I arrive the ‘roos leave.

We stop where we started, and the man commences the rural ritual of unlock the gate, drive through the gateway, stop, lock the gate behind you.

The man who drives me from the airfield in Wilcannia looks about sixty-five. He’s happy to talknow.

We introduce ourselves – Howard, Mick.

I ask: Have you lived in Wilcannia all your life?

No, just since 1994. Before that we moved around a bit – Biloela, Deniliquin, Narrandera…

Narrandera! I grew up just near there, in Leeton.

Really? We sent our boys to school in Yanco.

The Ag?

Yeah. 

My oldest friend went to school at the Ag.

Big smiles, a slow silence as we contemplate the Ag, as Yanco Agricultural College is known.

We exchange pleasurable recollections of the area.

What do you do in Wilcannia?

We farmed here. We ran sheep and cattle. Sold most of the property and shifted into town. 

Did you do any cropping?

Opportunistic cropping, yeah.

You mean when there’s rain?

When the river flooded. Doesn’t flood any more…

The Darling?

Yeah. It’s flowing, just trickling really.

Can you catch fish in the water you’ve got?

Yeah! Yellow Perch, Murray Cod!

Those wonderful eating fish of my pre-carp childhood. An enthusiasm shared.

The man has pleasing features. His face creases readily into smiles that engage his eyes, his forehead, every suntanned wrinkle.

When he speaks of the river he looks sad. When he speaks of his Darling you want to throw your arms around him to comfort him.

What’s the cause of the Darling’s problems?

Overuse of water. Cotton farmers over-using water. It’s cheap. Some of them steal water. It’stragic.

What is it from a farmer’s perspective that’s tragic?

All that water brings up the salt in the soil. It ruins the soil. Everywhere, everywhere in the world where they’ve farmed cotton they’ve turned farmland into wasteland.

The Mississippi Delta is ruined. Former cotton country in Russia, ruined. Here it’s just greed. There’s so much money in cotton, soooo much…

You know, we are the food bowl of the world. We’re destroying it….the Murray Darling.

I ponder the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. When I returned to there after decades of absence I was shocked to see the miserable river flow, orchards at Wamoon that flourished when my parents’ friends farmed them, turned to salt.

The farmer resumes, shaking his head: It’s just greed.

What about rice? That uses lots of water, doesn’t it?

Yeah, but rice is a staple!

He sees no moral equivalence. Rice is food, cotton is greed: There’s so much money, so much…

The farmer’s voice breathes ‘greed’ and ‘soooomuch’ in tones of baffled wonder. The former lies outside his moral universe, the latter beyond the scope of his reality.

We arrive at the hospital whose livery he wears. His shirt reads Security but he’s also the hospital rouseabout.

He takes me to the Staff Tea Room. From its verandah you could reach out and touch the great gums. We regard them quietly.

The face smiles again. He glows. We glow together.

A Poem for People who don’t enjoy Poems*

Seventy years had passed before the Prussian-American Charles Bukowski entered my life. (It happened by the beach, at the southernmost tip of our continent: Wamoon was the place’s ancient name.) It was my birthday and an author friend drove three hundred kilometres to present me with the book. I asked him to stay the night. He limped down to the ocean, immersed himself to the waist, then drove back home where he was writing five books at once.

I learned Bukowski belonged to the Dirty Realist movement in Los Angeles. I wasn’t surprised. He had authored over sixty books (five at a time?), one of which was titled, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. On account of that title, the FBI kept an eye on him.

Here’s the first poem to take my eye, ‘Are You Drinking?’

washed up, on shore, the old yellow notebook

out again

I write from the bed

as I did last 

year.

will see the doctor,

Monday.

“yes, doctor, weak legs, vertigo, head-

aches and my back

hurts.”

“are you drinking?” he will ask.

“are you getting your

exercise, your

vitamins?”

I think that I am just ill

with life, the same stale yet

fluctuating 

factors.

My doctor mind interrupts, interprets.

‘Washed up’ – is he depressed?

‘I write from the bed’ – probably depressed.

‘will see the doctor’ – THE doctor, one known to the speaker, one who knows the speaker: is this patient a regular?  a recalcitrant? An incurable? 

‘weak legs’ – alcohol and nutritional neglect will lead to muscle wasting, thin weak legs below the large belly groaning with ascitic fluid;

‘vertigo’ – alcohol again, damaging the back end of the brain;

‘head-

aches’ – the hyphen, why the line change? Who 

knows?

‘and my back

hurts’ – who, in this human herd, has a back that doesn’t hurt? Or a head that doesn’t ache?

‘vitamins’ – often critical and urgent when an alcoholic comes to medical care; nutritional neglect can lead to vitamin B deficiency, with brain damage resulting.

All these items, concrete and specific: Charles writes from personal knowledge. Nothing abstract here.

I read on:

even at the track

I watch the horses run by

and it seems 

meaningless.

I leave early after buying tickets on the

remaining races.

“taking off?” asks the mutuel

clerk.

My wordlover’s mind wonders – mutuel – is this a typographical error?

The dictionary assures me it’s not: this office bearer at the race track checks bets, sells tickets, pays out cash where due. In Australia he’d be a turf accountant, a bookie’s clerk

‘‘… if you think it’s boring

out there”, he tells me, “you oughta be

back here.”

And now, in this moment in the story, in a poem that doesn’t bother to rhyme, that refuses all song, that wastes nought by way of capital letters and punctuation, reserving them for the speech of the doctor and the clerk, now the engine of strong feeling fires:

so here I am

propped against my pillows

again

just an old guy

just an old writer

with a yellow

notebook.

Listen as the engine roars in to high fear: I’m intruding here with bold print:

something is

walking across the floor

toward

me.

Feel Bukowski’s fear. Something which has the power of motion. Some thing, some beast, some force, some terror.

Feel the poet alert, listening, paralysed in his fear. Feel his tension rising, rising, as the something comes nearer and nearer. What does he fear?

What fear is this that drives the poet to drink, that send him again and again to the doctor, what fear is it  that dulls even the power and the thrill of ‘the horses that run by’? 

oh, it’s just

my cat

this 

time

‘this’ 

A space, a breath, a moment grabbed from the fearful something that surely will come –

time’

The fearful something came for Charles Bukowski on March 9, 1994. He was 73 years and seven months old.

Drawn Toward the Portals

I’m seventy-five. Seventy-five, a thankful number, and a thinkful one. Anyone who reaches this stage knows – with me – that we are closer here to the exit than the entry. Anyone who follows my writing will note how my mind drifts toward death, dying and the dead; toward memory and memorial.

A friend observed thirty years ago, ‘You know Howard, all this writing you are doing is a just means of coming to terms with your mortality.’

I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. 

I smiled the kindly smile you give to the clueless friend who means well.

I know now my friend was right, dead right.

When I was a child the fact of death frightened me. To be annihilated – unthinkable! Literally, I was unable to think what the world could be like without Howard Jonathan Goldenberg. In my adult life I’ve experienced a similar disability of thinking: I find myself simply unable to think of an afterlife. I don’t deny the possibility, I just can’t relate to the concept.

So I live this life as if it’s my only one. I think now that death is a good idea. I don’t feel frightened anymore of annihilation. It’s my loved ones who fear my death, especially the grandchildren. The more I love them, the more they love me, the more vulnerable I make them. That’s a dilemma for me. I have felt at times, almost irresponsible, for becoming close and precious to children whose frailty I know so well. For myself, I can reflect how this planet, our species, did alright before Howard Jonathan Goldenberg arrived; once he’s gone, there’ll be one polluter fewer.

But just as the exit has always exercised my mind, the opposite portal called me irresistibly. As my own life ebbs, at the opposite portal an opposite tide of new life always rises. That portal has admitted nine grandchildren into life, into my life. The nine have broadened and deepened my late years. Those years feel more intense, more vivid, more life-stained than the years before.

I used to work at the portal that admits newcomers to life. I delivered babies. I was the intimate outsider, the guest who was invited to attend the birth of a family. Looking back, gazing over my shoulder towards that portal, that screaming gateway, I see blood and shit and tears, I see babies who gasped and roared, I see other babies who had to be coaxed into breath, I see some who would never breathe. I see women shaken, transfigured by the sudden knowledge of their enormous power. I see placentas stuck, I see the lifeblood ebbing, I feel once again the terror…

Two portals long have drawn me, twin doorways of universal truth.

My day starts with prayer, followed by some tablets to lower my blood pressure washed down with strong coffee to raise it. I plug in my hearing aids, I put on my specs, I stretch my shrinking spine and try to stand straight. These small acts, the adjustments of a seventy-five year old, as he moves ever backward, ever closer to the portal marked Exit.

I remember a book my wife’s father gifted me, an anthology of sorts, with odd bits of writing. One story ran something like this: 

A man went for a walk in the high mountains. Entranced by the grandeur that he saw all around, he jumped when he heard a loud roar from behind him. Looking back, he saw a snow tiger. The giant creature would very soon overtake him. The man ran, and as the tiger sprang the man reached the summit and leaped. 

The man looked down at the valley floor far below. Turning in mid-air, he reached and just managed to grab an overhanging branch of the small sapling that grew at the edge of the fall. The man swung from the bough, his fall broken. Looking up he saw the slavering tiger regarding him. Looking down he saw the unbroken fall. The man heard a groaning sound. Looking behind, he saw the sapling slowly coming away from the peak. Swinging, he looked at the cliff face, and saw, just beneath the sapling, some strawberries growing there. The man’s free hand plucked some strawberries and he ate them. How good the strawberries tasted.

Suspended between the portals of truth, a seventy-five year old enjoys the taste of strawberries.

An Air Fryer by the Urinal

The box sits there, unopened, apparently intact, inscrutable, pristine, just sits there, outside the urinal at a truckers’ rest stop off the Refugee Road to Victoria.
The word at the top reads ‘Mistral’. I know what mistral means; we learned about it at school in Form Four Geography. Mistral is the name of the strong wind that blows cold, dry air on Mediterranean coasts.
But ‘Air Fryer’ is a new concept. What’s an air fryer for? Who would wish to fry air? The last time the air fried, we had those horrible bushfires that tore through this area and along our East. Pausing in passing, I examine the box. The lid opens readily, revealing an unfamiliar contrivance, presumably the device for frying air. Resting atop the device in the box, I note a number of smaller packages, gift-wrapped, addressed to Dear Colin and to Granny Nancy. I retreat hastily, conscious of invading privacy.
The air outside the urinal is heavy and stale.

Back to the car where Annette and Nana await. It’s 6.30pm and at midnight they’ll close the border. We’ve driven the refugee road now for four hours, racing from Sydney where we’d barely unpacked, only to hear Mr Andrews speaking upon the radio at 2.00pm. He said he’d let us return to Victoria, and we wouldn’t have to quarantine, but only if we crossed from New South Wales before midnight. After that hour we’d be required to isolate at home for 2 weeks.
By 2.15 we’d decided to leave. Kisses, hugs, sad looks, big squeezes with Ruby, whose eighth birthday celebrations have been twisted and shrunken beyond recognition. Nana and this household haven’t seen each other for fifteen months. During that time, all fear they’ll never see each other again. Covid, easily caught, kills old girls of ninety-four with diabetes. But no, Nana arrives in Sydney alive, she embraces her Sydney family, faces awash with tears. An intense forty six hours follow, rich with longing requited. Then Mister Andrews says come home quick. And we do.
And somewhere two hours north of the Victorian border, a refugee with a full bladder jumps from a car and dislodges gifts chosen with love for Colin and Granny Nancy. The urinator races from urinal to vehicle and hurries south to beat the deadline. I’m hoping he or she crossed the border in time and – unquarantined, a Magus ungifted – spends a joyous Christmas with Cousin Colin and Granny.

Jesse at Eighteen

The mother whom you are about to bring into being feels a pain in her belly. Your birth was due a couple of days ago but it doesn’t occur to the woman that she might be in labour. She phones her father, a doctor, soon to become a grandfather.

Dad, my tummy hurts. It’s been hurting all day. Could it be gastro?

Darling, you are pregnant. You have reached full term. Unless you have diarrhoea you’re probably in labour. Go to hospital.

The date is November 11, a date already doubly and indelibly significant for Australians. It’s the date you create a mother, a father, three grandparents, a great-grandmother, uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great-aunts. It’s the date you change our world.

All day you knock at life’s door. Day becomes night. In the Delivery Suite your mum-to-be squats and strains. In an adjacent waiting area, dimly lit, your yogi great-grandmother-designate squats and bears down, trying to birth you at a remove. The soon-to-be grandfather consults his wristwatch. This climactic second stage of labour has become prolonged. He knows a lengthy second stage imperils a baby. He sends a message to the obstetrician: Would you like an extra pair of hands in case the baby needs resuscitation?

The specialist says yes.

I enter and not long after, the door of life opens to you. You and I meet. You need no resuscitation. I hold you and I introduce you to the mother whom you have brought into being.

Thirty-six hours later I’m gazing at you, just a baby. You lie inside my pink cap. I’ve seen hundreds of babies, I’ve delivered hundreds, every one of them a miracle, every one of them scrutinised for irregularities by a clinical eye. You are no less imperfect than those hundreds. You are skinny, you look like an empty sock, your face isn’t quite symmetrical.

But some event or process, something visceral, something cosmic perhaps, is taking place and I am transmogrified: I am a grandfather; I love you. What is this joy? Your fingers curl and close around my finger and you grip me. 

On the eighth day of your life you rest on the lap of your great-grandfather, I remove some skin and bring you into a Covenant. A drop of wine pacifies you. Your tribe jubilates. We know our long back story. Behold you! We see you and we behold our futurity.

Years pass, your parents send you to this grandfather to learn rituals, traditional melodies, ancient texts. At thirteen you are barmitzvah. Once again your clan rejoices and this time you can share it. You sense the power, the force field of love that is your extended family, the depth of our feeling. Profoundly you know belonging.

Life takes you through ups and downs. At eleven you walk with me, up, down, up and again down, to a distant lighthouse. A boy who buries strong feelings, you struggle and you achieve. You declare, I love you Saba. Later you say, I’ll bring my kids on this walk. And you add, I love you Saba.

Six years later, life is still up and down. We do that same walk again. This time it is the boy who stops and waits, and allows an aging Saba to catch up. Your words are few but they have not changed. The miles, the steeps, the struggle weld us once again.

This week you sit your last school examination. Your schooldays are behind you. We behold you, the first of your generation. Eighteen years have passed, enriched and intensified by your being. Eighteen years ago you gripped me, never to let me go.

A River Flows Through

A river flows through my childhood. I dwelt in that particular suburb of heaven which is a country boyhood. When I was nine-and-a-half years of age I was kidnapped by my parents and brought to a city where I have sojourned for 65 years. Very quickly I learned to embrace my new home. Over time I have learned to forgive Melbourne for not being Leeton.
Every so seldom work calls me back to that riverine land. For the past three weeks I’ve been working in the blessed town of Cootamundra. Wide streets, unhurried citizens, verdant gardens, wide skies, a community without traffic lights, have nourished and refreshed me these three weeks. Road signs direct the motorist to nearby downs: this way to Tumut; close by is the drowned township of Talbingo; only two and a bit hours to Albury, where abides my oldest friend; down the road is Gundagai; turn right for Junee, railway junction to the entire state. Leeton (Leeton!) is not far; and down that road lies Wagga Wagga Wagga, so great they named it thrice.

The river flows through these parts. Its strong current could seize a body and drown it. It seizes me still and flings me backwards. Nostalgia is the practice of rejoicing in grief. It’s probably a malignant habit. But it reflects a truth, the truth of country, of homeland, a truth known to every territorial animal, including the human.

Sitting in my surgery I meet old farmers of a third or fourth generation on this land. Their attachment to country runs deeply, deep in struggle, deep in memory of drought and flood, in struggle to sustain family and to flourish. Their love runs deeper than mine, which is of the surface. Theirs is rooted in the earth. In Malaya they have a word for it:  bumi putra – sons of the soil.   

Wars have been fought here over territory. The professor of law who sits in my surgery tells me the local Wiradjuri fought the tribe that gave Canberra its name. The same professor declares, of course epidemics killed most Aboriginal people. The settlers spread them intentionally. They gave blankets to the indigenous, smearing them first with smallpox.Incredulous, I ask for proof.I can’t prove it. It’s part of Aboriginal narrative. Marcia Langton quotes it. Other historians too.


Drinking my morning coffee at Dusty Road Coffee Roasters I fall into conversation with a tall, pear-shaped woman of about fifty. She tells me she teaches in schools for the Red Cross.Do you teach the kids First Aid?No, cultural diversity. In particular, to accept and welcome migrants of all colours, from all places.Can you teach kids not to be racist?Yes, that’s not too hard. You can’t teach adults, though.I digest this for a while. The woman speaks again: Cootamundra Girls’ School was created to train stolen girls to be domestic servants. They were stealing girls as late as 1970. None of the girls came from this district. They were brought here as aliens. The old girls held a reunion here recently.The occasion brought together old friends, survivors together of loneliness, of seizure from country. On pain of physical punishment those girls were forbidden to speak in language. Coming together with old friends was somehow joyous.I ask our informant how long she’s lived in Cootamundra. This isn’t my country. My father’s people are Gunditjmara from near Warrnambool. My mother’s mother came from the Netherlands.The woman leaves us to go to her work, making non-racists.

The professor takes me to see the old girls’ school. It sits near the middle of town, a vast nondescript brick edifice on spacious grounds. Insignia on a placard inform us that a Cadet Corps uses the property. No sign of indigenous occupancy, no word or name to be seen , no-one would dream this is Wiradjuri country. The professor speaks: Many Indigenous people stay away from Cootamundra. Folk memory of this school is unbearable to them.I look around for signs of First People. Nothing here, nothing anywhere I’ve been these past seventeen days. I’ve run main roads and side roads, run to the cemetery, past the churches, past the handsome two-story buildings that house the banks, past the hospital, past the imposing old railway station, past the Council Chambers. I’ve lived across the street from the old Masonic TempIe. This is a town which honours its pioneer past. It honours the birthplace of Donald Bradman and preserves the little house that was his natal hospital. I haven’t noticed an Aboriginal Medical Centre, nor a Cultural Centre.

Until now I didn’t even notice the silence or the absence. So easy, so very easy, not to see, not to know, not to look or ask.

And this is Naidoc Week. 

The river that flows through my childhood flows also through the entire time of European settlement. Those times are the recent shallows. The river we all claim, the river that claims us flows through all time and song and dance and story.

Book launch invitation

dear all
this coming sunday evening i’ll be participating in a virtual book launch
i’m writing to inform you of the event and to invite you to attend
my invitation comes without a hint of obligation or expectation but with my commendation of a really worthy book that tells a remarkable story
i read it and i was moved
it speaks to us in times that challenge human decency and threaten our liberty
it’s story to remember
i found it inspiring
come along

Click HERE to register


sincerely

howard

On the eve of Rosh Hashana

A year has passed – what have we learned?

We had more than we needed

We could get by with less

We need things less than we believed; we need people more than we realised

Compassion

The reality of mental ill health, its ubiquity

A year has passed – what have we lost?

Money mainly;

time with loved ones;

the pleasures of socialising; leisurely time in coffee shops

Many  – too many – have lost jobs

Too many have lost loved ones

Almost all of us have had to borrow from our future

For boomers of my generation it’s the end of the free ride, it’s a long farewell to our plans for retirement

A year has passed – what have we gained?

A guilty sense of responsibility for a planet despoiled

Humility as we saw so many so much worse off

Appreciation of the good we had

Understanding without judgement

Neighbours – they were there all the time and we never knew them 

We know our loved ones better.

Desiderata – we have learned we can go slowly amid noise and haste 

Can we be better?