I came second!

November 12, 2018 at 7:00 am | Posted in Australia, History, Nature, Philosophy, Poetry, Reflections, The Red Centre | 15 Comments
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I recently entered a poem in a writing competition. The competition was the Alice Sinclair Memorial Writing Award, run by the Lake Macquarie branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) to which I belong. It was open to all writers throughout Australia.

I was very happy to be told I had gained second place in the Poetry section with my poem, “Tosca – Northern Territory”. It is about a special place in the Red Centre of Australia, where I have camped several times and gone rabbit shooting too. While there, I’d sit at the entry to a shallow cave on top of a rock outcrop, and feel the majesty and vastness of the land. This is where the poem originated, and where I always return when I see the red dust of Australia’s ancient Red Centre.

I received my award on Saturday at the FAW meeting. Here is part of what the judge’s report said:

The poem is “a tightly written, image-rich poem that brings the reader into the moment of perception with visual imagery while also creating a satisfying link to history and tradition”.

Here is my poem. Read it slowly, and see if you can feel the country, its immensity and its beauty.

 

Tosca – Northern Territory

 

Linda Visman

 

Rocky red hillside, broken and rough, lies beneath my feet;

grey-green weeds and shiny, baked mudstone around;

endless, pale blue summer skies above

this overhang in which I can lie but not stand;

 

its pebble-studded roof, blackened by countless Dreamtime fires,

slopes down a body-length inside to a floor

scattered with twigs, leaves and droppings

– wallaby or goanna – or drought-defying rabbits.

 

A perfect lookout this, for those now gone – and for me –

across a sweeping panorama of hard-packed red sand

broken by low-growing stands of grey mulga and gidgee,

spiky domes of spinifex, and shallow gullies

gouged by seasonal downpours.

 

Distant caw of devil-crows mournful on the breeze;

taste of sunburned dust on my tongue,

coarse and dry in my eyes and on my skin,

a red-orange pigment dusting everything with its brand,

burning into every pore and crevice of mind and body.

 

Near the top of this hill in a thirsty landscape,

down between and beneath the sheltering rocks,

lies life – a native well, seeping just enough water

to keep a small band of travellers from perishing of thirst,

 

Or to sustain the miners who extracted turquoise wealth

then left a football-field-sized white talc scar down on the flat.

A tin can, string attached, lies hidden behind a rock

– slake your thirst, then replace it for those to come.

 

The ground that appears devoid of life by day,

at night sparkles everywhere with its own stars

– thousands of spider eyes reflected in the moonlight;

and all around in the cool of evening after day’s dry heat

wafts the pungent smell of the gidgee tree.

 

In this country the spirits of the past remain,

not only in ancient, fossilised trilobites and ferns

trapped within the baked mudstone of long-dried seabeds,

nor the deep diamond-studded night-time vault

where earth and plants, man and animals were born.

 

The Dreaming lives on in every leaf and twig,

every crow and crested pigeon, every spider, ant and lizard;

in the gales and cooling breezes and every drop of rain,

in every rock and every speck of seeping red dust.

 

How fleeting am I in this eternal place, and how tiny in its immensity!

 

(c) Linda Visman, 2018

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Old Jack

August 15, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Australia, History, War and Conflict, Writing and Life | 16 Comments
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Over eleven years ago, I wrote the story of what happened when I almost met Jack. I had forgotten about it until I was just exploring some of my writing folders. Now I think it is time to publish it, in honour of that old man I almost met.

 *     *     *

 

I first heard about old Jack from my next-door-neighbour, Eileen. It was an early February evening (2007), and we were out on our respective front verandahs, chatting across the fence about the day.

 

“I went to visit old Jack today. You write, don’t you, Linda? You’d probably find Jack interesting. He wrote poetry when he was a Japanese prisoner of war, and he tells some fantastic stories. He’s ninety-nine, and he’s still got all his marbles. He’d like to be involved with a writers’ group. Do you belong to one?”

 

“Yes, in Toronto. What’s his name again?”

 

“Jack. Jack Mudie. He turns a hundred next month. He’s a lovely fellow. Still lives at home. Got plenty of spirit too, even though he’s blind. I went with Vicky – that’s his carer – to see him before I leave. I want to let all the clients know I’m going. Not just walk out on them. The new people don’t care, but I do.”

 

Eileen had resigned her job as Regional Director of what had been a local community aged care programme. It had been taken over by a large interstate organization six months previously. Despite promises to the contrary, staff workloads had increased, while wages and conditions were gradually being eroded. The emphasis was now on profits, rather than on serving their elderly clients. Eileen had had enough.

 

“Old Jack, he wrote a diary too. When he was a prisoner of war.”

 

“A diary? Wow, that’s wonderful. Has he done anything with it? Has it been published?”

 

“No. He wants to. There’s nobody to write it out for him.”

 

“How come? You’d think there’d be lots of people interested in transcribing a POW diary.”

 

“His family don’t know much about it. But Jack did go to the War Memorial or the Archives or somewhere in Canberra and ask if they could get someone to transcribe it for him. They told him it could be done, but it’d cost him thirty thousand dollars.”

 

“You’re joking! Thirty thousand to transcribe a war-time journal?”

 

“Yeah. They said that’s what it’d cost. Awful eh?”

 

“Sure is. I suppose there are quite a few diaries around now and they’re not so scarce as they were. And they’d have to employ someone to do it. Still, I can’t understand why they couldn’t do it for nothing. It’s part of the country’s history.”

 

“Yeah. The family haven’t done anything about it. Don’t know why. But Jack would still like someone to do it. They just don’t know who. Or how.”

 

“I’ll do it!”

 

“Would you?”

 

“Sure would! I’d hate to see all that lost!”

 

“Apparently, it’s written in really tiny writing. He didn’t have much to write on. And he had to keep it hidden, of course.”

 

“Yes. He’d have been killed if it was found. A brave man, by the sound of it. I’d love to meet Jack and see if he’d like me to transcribe his diary.”

 

“All right. I’ll ring Vicky, his carer, and let her know. She’ll talk with Jack and see what he thinks. I’ll take you to see him, probably in the next week or two. I’m having a couple of weeks’ holiday before I start my new job.”

 

“Great! I’ll see if he wants me to take him to the Writers’ Group too.”

 

Eileen couldn’t take me to Jack’s place in the next two weeks, so she gave me Vicky’s mobile phone number, so I could arrange with her about going to meet Jack. Eileen said to call Vicky at about ten o’clock on Monday morning, as that’s when she was at Jack’s place.

 

I was really excited about meeting Jack. A little apprehensive too, because he would be entrusting me with something very precious. Would I be able to do him and his diary the justice they deserved? During the time I had to wait before ringing Vicky to organise the meeting, I decided to see if I could find out anything about Jack. I did a Google search on his name and got several hits. The Hunter Military History website briefly mentioned that Jack “survived three brutal years as a prisoner of war in Japan“ (I couldn’t find the actual Forum entry). I also discovered that Jack had been awarded an OAM (Order of Australia Medal). “Mr. Jack Mudie was conferred OAM for service to furthering relations between Australia and Japan through the development of the Prisoner of War Memorial” (Website of Volunteers for International Exchange).

 

Australian soldiers after their release from Japanese captivity in Singapore, 1945

Australian soldiers after their release from Japanese captivity in Singapore, 1945

 

A “Catholic Weekly” story “To forgive is not to forget”, told of a 1991 Anzac Eve reconciliation service at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. The centrepiece of the service related to the “comfort women” who were enslaved by the Japanese during the war to serve their soldiers. One former comfort woman was there to accept the apology of “the ordinary Japanese people” through a Japanese Catholic film director. Tom Uren, former Labor Minister, also spoke of his experiences as a POW of the Japanese and how much he’d hated them. Then, when he was sent to Japan, still as a POW, to work alongside the ordinary Japanese people, he realised they were as much victims as he was. The story records “Jack Mudie, also a Japanese POW”, as having attended the reconciliation service. It seemed to me that Jack’s involvement with reconciliation, after his wartime experiences, showed him to be quite a remarkable man. This made me even more keen to learn more about him.

 

Other websites mentioned Jack’s visits to Japan, and visits of Japanese people to his home. They told of his POW poems, some of which (nineteen, I think) have been translated into Japanese and published as a book, “And Gumtrees Nodding Under Azure Skies” Other references to Jack’s poetry mentioned that Lt. Jack Mudie was at the Naoetsu P.O.W. Camp in Japan from 1942-1945.

 

There was a further reference to Jack in the English Speaking Union of Japan’s Newsletter No.31, October, 2001:

“Mr. Muramatsu …  talked about his reunion, after over a year, with Mr. Jack Mudie, who as a young lieutenant of the Australian army, spent much of his time during the Pacific War in a POW camp in Naoetsu, Japan. One of many poems he wrote during the internment was read by him. It was a moving poem about the hard-working Japanese women there, filled with his kind words and full of humor and warmth despite the adverse circumstances.”

Another site, relating to war books, gives details of Jack’s poetry book.

As I discovered more about Jack’s background, it became more important to me that I meet him and transcribe his wartime POW diary. I went with my husband, Dirk, to buy a small second-hand laptop computer that I could use. We also found a cheap scanner at the market. I wanted to be able to scan the diary at Jack’s place if necessary, so that he wouldn’t need to let it out of his possession. Scanning and enlarging it might make it easier to read too. I re-checked our tape recorder and microphone, and bought some new audio tapes. If Jack wanted to talk, and was happy to be recorded, I’d be ready. Both Dirk and I, and Eileen too, were really excited about the project.

 

At ten o’clock on the last Monday in February, I called Vicky’s mobile number. When she answered, I explained who I was.

 

“How’s Jack?”

 

“Oh Linda, I’m afraid I’ve just called the ambulance for Jack. He’s not very well at all. They should be here soon.”

 

“Oh, no. I hope he’s going to be all right.”

 

“I don’t know yet. Can you call me back, in about half an hour or so?”

 

“Yes, I will. Thank you.”

 

I waited anxiously during the half-hour Vicky had requested. When I called back, Vicky said Jack had gone to the hospital. She didn’t know how he’d be. I hoped he’d come through all right.

 

“I was so looking forward to meeting him today.”

 

“Yes. He was really looking forward to meeting you too. Look, can you call me again next Monday? I’m here every Monday. We can organise something then.”

 

When I saw Eileen a couple of days later, I told her Jack had been taken to hospital on the very day I’d called. She was upbeat about it.

 

“Don’t worry. He’s tough. They usually just get taken in for a couple of days to rest and get their strength back and then are home again as good as ever.”

 

So I waited again. Eileen was due to start her new job on Monday, the day I was to call Vicky. I asked her on the Saturday if she’d heard anything about Jack. She hadn’t.

 

On the Monday (March 5th) I called Vicky’s mobile number. It rang for a long time. There was no answer. Maybe she had the vacuum cleaner going and hadn’t heard it. Jack’s hearing wasn’t too good, Eileen had told me, so he probably wouldn’t have heard the phone either. Fifteen minutes later, I called again. This time Vicky answered.

 

“Vicky, this is Linda. I’m calling about Jack. How is he?”

 

There was a few seconds’ silence at the other end.

 

“I’m sorry. Jack died last Monday.”

 

Oh, no! Tears burned in my eyes.

 

“The funeral was last Friday. I didn’t have a number to call you.”

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry! You must be very upset.”

 

“Yes. I was close to Jack. He was a wonderful man. Look, I really don’t know what will happen about his diary, but Jack has a lovely family. I’ll be in contact with them again in a couple of months.”

 

“When everything’s settled, will you tell them, if they want to have Jack’s diary transcribed, I’ll help in any way I can?”

 

Vicky said she would. I gave her my home phone number, so she can call me if anything eventuates, and said goodbye. I went to tell Dirk, tears in my eyes. He hugged me. I felt like I’d just started to get to know Jack. All week, while I’d been thinking about him, he’d already been gone. Now, he was a friend I would never meet.

Linda Visman, 6th March 2007

………………………………………………………………………………………

Post Script:

After I’d written the foregoing story, I subscribed to the “Newcastle Herald” website service, so that I could purchase past articles from the newspaper. I searched for any references to Jack Mudie, and, among other, irrelevant items, I found two short articles from 2006. There are probably other, earlier stories in their regular archives too.

 

Those two articles however, were enough to give me an even better picture of Jack Mudie than I already had. Here are some extracts from those articles:

1. Author: ANITA BEAUMONT   Date: 06/09/2006

JACK Mudie remembers the barbed-wire fences, the cruelty and the starvation suffered at Changi prisons in Japan during World War II all too well.

The former lieutenant and Coal Point resident, 99, was one of 21,700 soldiers captured in the Malayan area in the war. Of those, about 7500 died.

Mr Mudie fought against the Japanese Army in Malaya and Singapore, and spent 2 1/2 years in one of their camps in Naoetsu, Japan.

“I saw and experienced a lot of cruelty and starvation. I came back a physical wreck,” Mr Mudie said.

“On one occasion a few of us were pulled out of the sleeping quarters to provide entertainment for the Japanese soldiers. We had to crawl around like dogs while getting belted along until we collapsed . . . I lost about three kilograms that night.”

He wrote poetry as a distraction from the conditions.

He also kept a detailed diary that was later used as evidence against eight Japanese soldiers indicted for the death of 60 soldiers

2. Author: IAN KIRKWOOD   Date: 14/08/2006

Jack Mudie survived three brutal years as a prisoner of war in Japan, but his saddest memory is returning to Australian soil.

“I was standing on the wharf and all around me were these people hugging and kissing, being reunited with their families,” Mr Mudie recalled yesterday.

A lone friend on the wharf had to tell him his parents had died while he was away. Their house had been sold. His possessions had been given to charity, a “fair bit” of money in the bank had been frittered away. He had been given up for dead.

Mr Mudie, who enlisted as “an old man of 32”, was captured in late 1941.

The retired primary school principal says he has made his peace with the Japanese people, but “not their soldiers or their military”.

He says there is “no room for hatred” in his heart, at least partly because his eldest child, Lynette, now lives in Japan with her Japanese husband, Kenji Kise.

 

Additional note, 15th August 2018:

I never did hear from Jack’s family, which saddened me. I don’t know if his diary was ever transcribed as I can find nothing about it online.

 

References for original story:

Website of Volunteers for International Exchanges:

http://www.max.hi-ho.ne.jp/yoshi-ko/indexe.htm

 

ESUJ Newsletter Oct. 2001:

http://www.esuj.gr.jp/news/eng/archives/0031.htm

 

The Catholic Weekly May 13 2001 story: http://www.catholicweekly.com.au/01/may/13/story_13.html

 

Jack’s Book of Poetry:

Author: Mudie, Jack

Title: Aozora no shita de yureru Ukari no ki ni = And gum-trees nodding under azure skies : nineteen poems made by Lt. Jack Mudie at the Naoetsu P.O.W. Camp, 1942-1945

Publisher: Joetsu-City, Japan. Hiromu Jagi

Year: 1999

Notes: In Japanese and English. Translated by Hiromu Yagi.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday’s Child – Introducing my Main Character

January 15, 2018 at 11:58 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, divisions in society, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, historical fiction, History, Reading, Social mores, Society, War and Conflict, Ways of Living, Writing | 4 Comments
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I would like to introduce the main character in my new Young Adult novel, Thursday’s Child.

It is 1961, and Victoria (Tori) Delaney is in her second year of high school. Her class has been discussing social issues that affect Australia. Her teacher, Miss Bradshaw, has given the class an assignment to complete for homework.

Choose an issue that you think is important and write a one to two page essay on it.

This is what Tori writes:

*         *         *

Why are girls and women treated as if they are not as good as boys and men? Why are they not allowed to do the same things as they are, or given the same opportunities?

It surprises me that women are even allowed to vote. I am sure that if it hadn’t been for the Suffragettes, they would still not be allowed to. I think it is very unfair that we are treated as if we are inferior. Women have often shown that they are just as good as men, the most obvious way is when they had to step in during the Great War and again in the last war.

Women who had never even lived in the country joined the Australian Women’s Land Army so that farming could carry on when the men went off to war. They did everything that the men had done. They drove tractors and did the ploughing, the reaping and the carting of the crop. They cared for the animals, shore the sheep and milked the cows, as well as butchering them for meat.

Some women took over jobs that needed specialist knowledge and strength. They became mechanics, drivers, engineers and aeroplane builders, as well as producing guns and ammunition.

The Australian Army, Navy and Air Force would have found it harder to keep going without the women who joined the special Women’s Services. They drove jeeps and big trucks, piloted planes to be repaired and returned to service. They became radio operators and even observers and anti-aircraft gunners.

It was mostly the women at home who made the men’s uniforms, who went into danger to nurse the sick and wounded, and who took over from the male doctors when they joined the forces. And many of them did this as well as raising families, often on their own, and worrying about their husbands and sons who were fighting or imprisoned.

When the war ended, the men returned home and, of course they wanted their jobs back. Most women were happy to go back to the home life they’d had before the war, but more than a few thought they had earned the right to work at jobs they had done well for many years. They didn’t want to go back to being under men’s thumb again.

They had kept vital industries going, kept the country fed and the forces clothed and supplied. They had learned new skills, felt they could contribute something to society. Now the exciting days of responsibility and self-respect were over, they didn’t want to go back to household drudgery and lose what they had showed they were capable of. It must have been really hard for them

Many women and even girls like me resent that they are not treated as equal to men, and are not satisfied with a life of pandering to them. What hope is there in that?

 

Tori will tell us a bit more about herself in the next few posts.

If you wish to purchase Thursday’s Child on Kindle, click here to pre-order. It will be available for download on the 1st of February.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Photo Challenge – Unusual

July 21, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Posted in Australia, Culture, History, Photography, Special Occasions | 5 Comments
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Something unusual, or at least unusual to me. That is the topic of this week’s Wednesday Photo Challenge. I had a quick look through my photos and found my writers’ group Christmas party from last year.

The function was held in the common room of a retirement village – that is itself is probably unusual. But an item they have in that room is one that many people, especially young people, have never seen, and may not have even heard of.

It was a pianola, and it gave us a lot of fun and laughs whilst we early birds waited for everyone else to arrive.

A pianola is a piano with a special ability. Rolls of heavy paper are punched with the notes of particular tunes and can be inserted in a section above the keyboard. Then someone plays it by pumping a foot pedal. The quicker one pedals, the faster the music plays. The strip can be seen and often has the words to the tune alongside the punched holes, so that people around the pianola can sing it.

 

Pianola 01

Here is my husband loading one of the punched rolls into the pianola, while a friend checks what tune is held on another boxed roll.

 

 

Pianola 02

Several members of our group and their partners enjoy a singalong whilst my husband pumps the pedals.

 

Pianolas used to be popular entertainment for get-togethers of family and friends and other social events in the days before TV. They were aimed mainly at people who couldn’t actually play the piano, or who didn’t play well enough to accompany the songs that were popular at the time.

 

Have you seen, played, or even owned a pianola?

 

 

Wednesday Photo Challenge – Bridge

July 9, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Australia, heritage, History, Photography, Tourism | 6 Comments
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I am having another go at the photo challenge, and hope that my photos will upload and present themselves as they are supposed to do this time. It has been frustrating to miss the last challenges due to difficulties that wordpress has not been able to resolve for me.

The challenge this week is to post a photo of a bridge – either a physical bridge between two sides of a landscape, or a metaphorical one where a person or event has allowed you to move from one position to another.

My photos are of a different kind of bridge. The old Catherine Hill Bay jetty was a bridge between the coal mine and the colliers that carried their product to other places along the NSW coast.

 

IMG_9727

The jetty is crumbling now and under threat of being pulled down for safety reasons.

IMG_9737

It is an icon of the coal mining and transport industries of NSW and it is a pity nothing was done to save it after it ceased operation with the closure of the mine.

IMG_9755

Catherine Hill Bay – Catho to the locals and those who love it – will not be the same without the jetty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does the future hold?

September 22, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Posted in Australia, divisions in society, family responsibilities, Health, heritage, History, Mental Health, Politics, Religion, Social mores, Social Responsibility, Society, War and Conflict, Ways of Living | 10 Comments

 

I sat down tonight and just began to write. This is what came from my pecking at the keyboard:

 

All the news on the TV is bad. Nothing is positive. All we have is hatred, violence, intolerance, war and war-mongering, people being treated as cannon fodder. It is not a good world to live in – apart from local communities which support and nurture their residents.

 

One always must come down to the place where you live, where your family belong. Here in Australia, we have a reasonable lifestyle, though it is gradually and by stealth becoming more difficult for the ordinary person to make ends meet.

 

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it seems we had a golden age, though things began to change in the 1980s. There was a decent level of employment, and when one talked about employment, it related to full time positions, not to those who work only a couple of hours a week so the government can ‘cook the books’ to make itself look better. The government wasn’t working too hard to transfer financial benefits from the less well-off to the rich. We actually welcomed refugees and gave them a safe place to make their home. After Vietnam, we were not a part of any major violence in other countries. We were trying to preserve our environment and even make it better.

 

We raised our children to be tolerant and considerate of others. In Australia, education was free and available to all who wanted to improve themselves, whether through the university system or through trades with the TAFE system. We actually believed that money flows from the people upwards, to the owners of industry – who even had socially progressive policies. And so did governments, who realised it was financially better to support the poor and benefit from the taxes they paid than to demonise them.

 

But now, everything is focused on money, on the financial gains that can be made from those who have the least. A social conscience is seen as a weakness rather than a strength. The focus is on  so-called ‘trickle-down economics, where all the wealth goes to the rich but does not, in practice, benefit anyone on the lower economic scale.

 

Education, health, income support, in fact any formerly government-run social enterprise, is being privatised to companies only interested in making money, not in improving the lives of their clients. The environment upon which we rely has become the resource, with destructive mining practices instead of conservation.

 

Refugees are seen as a threat, rather than as people in need of assistance. Their presence is regarded as a negative that will destroy our society. But we have, through history, seen the great benefits brought to many nations through new blood, new ideas, new ways of thinking, and from the efforts of entrepreneurs who are happy to be safe to pursue their ideas and to develop new ways of doing things that benefit all of society.

 

The poor are seen as bludgers on the common purse. They are treated as if they have nothing to offer. But so many of them have, in the past, brought freshness and enthusiasm to the workplace when they have been given the chance to work. Now, however, they are relegated to a cycle of poverty from which there is little chance of escape.

 

The selfish and heartless policies of too many modern government have led to intolerance of those who are different, to violence against a society that has become indifferent to their frustration, to hatred of the unknown. Here in my country, they have resulted in the loss of the tradition of a fair go that so many Aussies prided themselves upon. Now, the mantra is, ‘if you don’t do what we say, then get out!’

 

I despair at our modern world. Our hopes for a brighter future for all have been shot to pieces. I see that my grandchildren will have to fight for the human rights we once took for granted – unless they become brainwashed by narcissistic and power-hungry leaders to believe they deserve to be the dregs of society. Dregs who are not entitled to the benefits the rich accrue unto themselves.

 

I wish I could be more positive. I know things go in cycles – what was once seen as normal becomes abnormal, what was once a moral value becomes something to avoid, what was once ‘good’ becomes ‘bad’, and vice versa. I hope that what is now negative changes to become positive.

 

So, I hope that my grandchildren will not become that which is acceptable today. That, at least in their local communities, something will happen to show them it is better for them to respect others, to help those less fortunate, to bring out the best in people rather than the worst, and to strive for a world that sees real justice for all instead of the false and negative world we see today.

 

What do you think of the world today? Do you have concerns for the present and the future?

 

(c) Linda Visman

I wish you could tell me, Mum

May 23, 2016 at 5:00 am | Posted in Australia, Family, Family History, heritage, History, Love, Memoir, Polio epidemic, Reading, Reflections, Writing and Life | 29 Comments
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Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday.  Sadly,  however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.

I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.

For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.

I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.

A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.

 

Agnes Thompson 1941 front

Mum aged 21, 1941

 

I wish you could tell me, Mum

 

What’s your story, Mum?

I wish you could tell me.

Dad told me his when he was still here,

when I could finally visit from far away

But you had already left us then.

 

We often talked about you, Mum.

He’d tell me of when you were young.

Like how beautiful you were, how popular,

and how, even before he’d met you,

there was never any other girl for him.

 

His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,

And how the joy of it made his heart sing.

Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,

through wet, coal-blackened streets,

and for miles over cold and windy moors.

 

He’d remember how you both loved to dance,

as if the two of you were one,

Still gliding and twirling when the band

And everyone else was exhausted.

 

Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.

The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.

He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain

whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.

 

He said how wonderful it was later,

to assist in the births of your three daughters,

at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.

He told me what a great home-maker you were,

always making the best out of very little.

 

But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?

Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate

to a country free of class and arrogance,

but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.

Did you want to go as much as he?

Or did you go simply because you loved him?

 

It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,

but oh, how difficult it must have been

to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,

to go to a new country; a strange land.

 

Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced

the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.

A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced

the solid security of your old stone terrace.

 

Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.

Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced

soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.

Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.

 

How did you adjust to the changes?

What fears and insecurities did this bring?

Oh, what did you really think, Mum?

 

Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:

my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.

And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,

denied even the comforting presence of your husband,

as you fought, alone, for life.

 

Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?

Is that when you began to think you might lose us;

had to always know where we were, so you

could feel some measure of control in your life?

 

Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children

and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?

Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,

And there was no money to even buy food?

 

I remember that awful time, Mum.

I was only thirteen and could only guess

at the fears that burdened you.

The responsibility you had to take alone.

 

Dad, crippled and unable to help,

your father taking away the mother

that you needed then

more than you had ever done.

 

What I do know is that you kept our family going.

That it was your strength, dredged from

some deep, unknown place within you,

that fed and clothed and housed us.

 

It took its toll on you, I know,

but I thought of you as strong, Mum

in those desperate times.

But what did you think and feel then?

 

Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,

to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.

You were by his side, his partner in all ways,

as he set up a steady business

– concreting, of all things!

 

And how did it make you feel, Mum,

When, after so many years,

he took you dancing again?

 

The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,

With three daughters and one son married.

I remember the light in your eyes and your smile

as you welcomed my son,

your first grandchild, with more to come.

 

But as time went on, I realised that something

prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.

Not just because mine were always far away,

and you didn’t like or trust their father.

 

What was the barrier, Mum?

Did losing your own mother close your heart

against the awful possibility of hurt?

Was there something inside you that said,

‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?

 

We grew apart – not only because of miles.

I saw you too seldom and we could not share

the things that mothers share with

daughters who are also mothers.

I missed that, Mum. I still do.

 

Dad and I nursed you at home,

night and day, until you finally left us.

Was it a relief to go; to give up

the burden that life had become?

 

Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.

He always loved you – there was never another.

He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,

when you asked, ‘how old are you?’

 

He re-lived the days of your courtship

and listened to the music you’d loved together.

I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,

twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.

 

But I want to know more than that, Mum,

because I think that many parts of me –

my insecurities, my fears, my depression –

have come from you.

 

So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.

I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.

 

But you’ve been gone now for many years,

and I must rely on fragments of memory,

and find you in the words of the man

who loved you.

 

But I wish you could tell me, Mum.

 

Agnes&Ern Thompson 1974

Mum & Dad dancing, 1970s.

 

 

In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;

born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.

I wish I had known you better, Mum.

 

Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;

born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.

I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.

 

(c) Linda Visman,  May 2007

Edited 7th May 2016

 

 

Anzac Day 2016 in Wangi Wangi

April 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Posted in Australia, History, Reflections, Society, Special Occasions, War and Conflict | 14 Comments
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ANZAC means Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

As we do every year, today we celebrate Anzac Day here in Australia and in New Zealand.

The landing by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915 was Australia’s first major action of the Great War. These soldiers quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day.

When they landed they faced fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers died in the campaign.

Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.

I have written before on Anzac Day – herehere and here.  And Here is more background.

Here in Wangi Wangi, NSW, there was a dawn service. At 10 o’clock we had a parade down Wangi’s main street, consisting of past and current servicemen and women, school children, and members of various public services and voluntary organisations. The R.A.A.F. provided the armed service contingent this year.

The large and growing contingent of vintage army vehicles is a always popular drawcard for everyone. It ended at the memorial in front of the RSL (Returned Services League) Club, where a half hour ceremony was conducted.

We also had a flypast by three BAe Hawk fighter jets from the RAAF base at Williamtown, Newcastle.

I took photos of the parade and the later display of vehicles, but I could only get one partial shot of the people conducting the ceremony as I wasn’t tall enough to see over those in front of me. Here are some of the highlights of the morning.

01 Hardware sign

02 RAAF lead parade

03 salute

04 K9 unit

05 Wangi school

06 Full tracks

07 Jeeps

08 Ambulances

09 Old blitz trucks

10 Half-track truck

11 Crowd heads to the ceremony area

12 Ceremony blocked by crowd

13 Part of vehicle display

14 Looking to lake

15 Looking from jetty

16 Flags

 

Lest we forget

 

I have heard people who are quite opposed in their views about occasions such as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and others. Do you think they really commemorate those who served and suffered for a righteous cause? Or are these occasions really glorifications of nationalistic pride?  I would be interested if you could share your views.

 

(c) Linda Visman,  25th April 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving High School – Hopes for the future

December 14, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, high school, History, Memoir | 9 Comments
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The Leaving Certificate exams were held In November 1965. These were the culmination of twelve years of schooling, and the results would determine much about our future. It was important therefore that we put everything into them we were capable of – at least that’s what I thought.

About October, the school held its end-of-year assembly and prize-giving. I won the senior public speaking prize for my Anzac Day speech -a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of VersePalgrave’s Golden Treasury of Verse. I also won the French Consulate prize for French – I don’t know whether it was just for our school or for the region. That prize was also a book, a history of life in France, La vie Francais a travers les ages. I kept and read both of those books for many years. In late 1989, just before leaving New South Wales for nine years to teach in remote areas of the Northern Territory, I boxed up most of my books so they wouldn’t get damaged and left them with a friend. Soon after that, the friend left the area and I never found him again – nor did I get my thirteen boxes of books back!

Before the exams, we had a week’s break from school for study. We called it StuVac (study vacation). It was our final opportunity to catch up on, go over, pretend, go into a panic, or hopefully understand and expand our knowledge of the topics we hoped would be covered. Most people know the stress that final exams can put onto a student. In those days, any assessments we received during the school year did not contribute to our final result. They meant nothing – the examinations were everything. Some students, not as motivated as others, took the week as if it were an ordinary holiday, or only did a minimum of work. Others, including myself, were determined to do the best we could. Some wanted high grades, whilst others just wanted to pass well enough to get that precious certificate. I set up a study regime for myself and spent many hours every day working to achieve the best grades I could.

Our last day of school before StuVac was ‘muck-up’ day for our cohort of students, a day to let off steam before the intensity of cramming and exams. The principal, Mr Stacey, had made it clear before muck-up day, that there was to be no vandalism, no damage done to any property and that we had to clean up afterwards ourselves. If those rules were broken, he said, our school references would be withheld – references that we needed to impress prospective employers.

img166

Gangsters at DHS

 

On the day, everyone dressed up in whatever we felt like, and did things like flour- or water-bomb teachers and other students. The science students made and released rotten egg gas – a staple. Dirk, who became my husband forty years later, was in the same year as me. He remembers more of the day than I do and told me more about what went on. One group dressed up as gangsters and their molls and drove around the school in a student’s 1940s car. Some of the boys picked up a teacher’s car – a Mini Minor – and carried it down to the end of the sports field and set it down sideways between the goal posts. They did return it to its place before leaving the school though, I’m glad to say. Some students held an assembly where ‘famous people’ made speeches, including an occasional satirical comment about the teachers. It was all good clean fun.

img167

‘Famous’ figures of fun

 Examination week came during an early summer season. We wrote them in our school’s assembly hall, which was next to a grove of trees. That year was a great one for cicadas and their strident noise almost made it impossible to hear the moderators give us our instructions. But once I began, all sound seemed to vanish as I concentrated on my exam papers. It’s weird that I don’t remember any of those papers now. The only thing that immediately comes to mind when I think of those days is that almost overwhelming noise of the cicadas.

Nowadays, students in this country who have finished their exams have what has become known as Schoolies’ Week. Many go off for cruises or to popular tourist spots, like the Gold Coast. Most have, after their six years of high school to our five, turned eighteen. They are legal adults, and in many cases the focus of their newly-won freedom seems to be an orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol. When we finished school, we were seventeen, still legally children, even though most kids our age had already been out in the workforce for two years or more.

On the last day of our exams we said goodbye to Dapto High school. Those who already had jobs to go to, started as soon as the exams were finished. Dirk began his on-the-job training at Port Kembla Steelworks as a metallurgist. Valerie and I among others were hoping to go on to further education, and we had our last summer holidays to enjoy. Val and I would occasionally visit each other’s homes and go for walks, where the topic of conversation often turned to our hopes for the future.

Val wanted to be a Maths teacher. As French had been my favourite Parlez-vous francaisesubject, I had decided I would teach languages. When we talked about the exciting possibility of overseas travel, my destination would always be France. I wanted to speak the language properly and see the country I often read about. Val previous results just about guaranteed her a place at university, but that was a prize I had never thought I could reach – nobody in my family had even aspired to those heights. So, although I tried to be optimistic, I didn’t know what the future really held.

Then, in January 1966, I received my hard-earned Leaving Certificate. My results were good enough to earn me the choice of any one of three scholarships to university. After discussing it with my parents, I settled on the Teachers College scholarship that was tenable at university. The nearest one was the University of Sydney, the oldest and most prestigious in Australia. There, six weeks later, I would begin my studies to become a teacher of French and German in the public education system.

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

High School P.E. and Sport

November 30, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, high school, History, Memoir | 5 Comments
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Academic subjects weren’t my only focus at school. Sport is a regular part of school in Australia. It is part of the health curriculum, occurs within normal school time, and is for everyone, not just the better athletes. As such, all years and class groups (up to fourth year in my day) participated in a physical education lesson each week.

Girl with vigoro  2In my Catholic primary school, the nuns did the best they could to teach us games and a few skills. I remember playing ball games, and loved a game similar to cricket, but with an odd-shaped bat, called vigoro. However I do not remember the school ever having any sporting interaction, or any other interaction for that matter, with other schools. We also never went swimming – it’s probably pretty obvious why, I suppose.

However, at Dapto High, as well as our weekly forty-minute P.E. lesson, we also had an afternoon of sports – on Thursdays then for us, as well as for most schools in the region. The only time P.E. or sport would be called off was in heavy rain. All kids had to participate unless they had a note from a parent to say why they couldn’t. High schools had boys’ and a girls’ P.E. teacher, and kids were segregated by gender for all sporting activities.

I was reasonably athletic and co-ordinated, though certainly not outstanding, and liked getting outdoors as a change from the classroom. We all hated our girls’ P.E. uniform, though it was much better than our regular school uniform. It was a square-necked, sleeveless plain cotton tunic with no pleats in school colours of maroon (the actual tunic) and gold (two strips of braid near the bottom), with a white shirt under it and a cloth belt that few wore. The tunic came to less than half-way down to the knee, and we wore maroon bloomers under it for decency. Footwear was the ubiquitous white canvas tennis shoe of the times (called a sandshoe) with short white socks.

Girls softball team 1964

P.E. lessons in the cooler months covered track and field or ball game skills. In summer we were expected to go to swimming lessons. In the track events, I was a sprinter and not a stayer. I enjoyed the field activities: long jump, though not so much high jumps; javelin, discus and shot putt. The ball games – captain ball and tunnel ball – were fun.

On sports afternoons, we were allowed to choose one of the activities available. In the winter months these were usually football (rugby league) or basketball (what we then called International Rules) and soccer for the boys, and hockey, basketball or netball for the girls. In summer, the options were cricket, tennis, squash or swimming for the boys, and softball, tennis, squash or swimming for the girls. Athletics was also available for both boys and girls.

I loved hockey and softball so usually chose them. In Australia kids were expected to be capable swimmers by their teens, and students were encouraged to learn and be tested for life-saving medals at various levels. However, I couldn’t swim and had caught my mother’s deeply ingrained fear of the water, so I completely avoided the sport of swimming.

In fourth year at Dapto High, the choice of summer sport for girls was broadened with the addition of cricket as an option. We were a cricket-mad family, and played whenever we could – just ours and Mum’s brother’s family – at the park, the beach, or in the back yard. When England and Australia played a Test match, the radio was on for us to listen to the play. So, when cricket was offered, I jumped in with both feet, even though the teacher who took us was the Economics teacher I didn’t like. That didn’t matter – I could play the game and I loved it.

 We were actually the first high school in our region to allow girls to play cricket in the first summer at the start of 1964. Because we could only play within the school, and there were not a great many girls who took on the game, we were limited in our competition. However, skills grew and, with the start of summer at the end of 1964, a few other schools had had started up girls’ teams. Me and a girl called Isabel were the stars of our team. When our school’s team (with me and Isabel in photos) was featured on the sports pages of our local rag, The Illawarra Daily Mercury, we said we’d play any other girls’ team that would accept the challenge. We couldn’t play the boys, of course. No school accepted that year.

 Mercury picture Linda playing cricket 1964

Team games were my preference, as I had very little chance of doing well against the more actively sports-involved girls. I never made the school softball team, and only once was selected to play hockey in an annual inter-school sports competition with Arthur Phillip High in Parramatta. It was even held at that school the year I was involved, and we were billeted with the families of students there.

In Fourth year, I gained my hockey umpire certificate. I also joined the school hockey team that played in the regional Saturday (not school) hockey competition. I almost always played the centre forward position, which I loved. It sure was a change for me to play with some of the more popular girls of the school – the only time I really interacted with them.

Each summer there was a swimming carnival. I don’t remember ever going to one. Each winter, we had an athletics carnival, where I competed in several different events, but was never placed. One of the features of school sports carnivals was the cheering for the representatives of your ‘house’. When each student started at the school he or she would be assigned to one of four houses on the basis of their last name.

Clive Churchill medal for GFman of match

Clive Churchill, with the medal in his name that is awarded to the man of the match in the Rugby League Grand Final each year.

 

The houses were Bradman, Landy, Konrads and Churchill, named for Australian sporting heroes of the time: Don Bradman (cricket); John Landy (long distance running); John and Illsa Konrad (swimming) and Clive Churchill (rugby league football). Their colours were red, yellow, blue and green. I belonged to Churchill – surnames from S-Z, but I only recall that it was green, not which belonged to which other house.

The houses competed against each other for points, and the champion house was the one whose athletes got the most at the end of the comp. So we had to cheer them on with silly war cries screamed out as loudly as we could.

Altogether, my academic studies and the sport made school both challenging and satisfying. There were a few other aspects that I found a bit more difficult to get into.

 

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

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