Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dying to Know

“I’ll be dead.”

My neighbour holds her wine glass and continues: “I don’t care, because I’ll be dead.”  

We are chatting about her funeral, eulogy and how she would like to be remembered.   I haven’t even asked her about her thoughts of coffin verses shroud.  Priest verses celebrant?  Home burial? 

Whilst it’s true that funerals are ‘for the living” it seems my friend can walk out of her life without a care in the world or a backward glance, but it’s not for me.

Us ‘deathies’  who work in the funeral business, love to discuss other’s funeral plans and we enjoy asking the big questions of life, and death. 

We are the death whisperers.  We are the people who give you permission to think and plan.

The thing that makes us human is that we know we will die one day. It’s what urges us on to live, knowing that the death stopwatch is ticking every second.  Having frank conversations of your own death, can give you an unexpected calmness and confidence.  These days anything goes, and new professions are being born such as funeral planners, and death doulas, or palliative carers.

‘Dying to Know Day’ is an occasion to create social and cultural change about death and dying.   The aim is to promote resilience and well-being in response to end-of-life issues, and to encourage people to build their death literacy.  It’s not morbid, in fact quite the opposite!

It’s a breath of fresh air - opening a window in your life to plan and discuss your own thoughts and wishes  with your loved ones.

Just as talking about pregnancy or chocolate won't make you pregnant or fat, chatting about death won't kill you!  

Discussion on death, dying and funerals is the new black, with Death Cafes being held regularly in Brisbane and internationally. Death Cafes are not grief workshops, nor are they support groups.   A Death CafĂ© is where people, often strangers, meet to have open and frank discussions about death, dying and grief, within safe boundaries.   Of course there’s cake too, as we celebrate our own lives.

It seems society has turned a cultural philosophical corner but there is a long way to go; we are all on the same train, with some of us getting off at different stations. I urge you to sit down with your family and have a cuppa and that special chat.  Talk about your Wills, chat about end-of-life wishes, and especially discuss and make your Advanced Health Care plan.   You don't need a terminal illness to begin these conversations, in fact, do it whilst you are well and healthy.  Making your Will, organising your Power of Attorney, and Advanced Care planning are all part of your life, and your future. 

Last month I put on my big-girl-pants and bought my own grave, and I couldn't be happier.  It occurred to me that I didn't want to be scattered, as nice as that sounds; I wanted a grieving place for future ancestors to come and visit and point, saying: “Look, they've spelt her name wrong.”

Having my grave chosen and paid for has given me added freedom to live my life.  I've made peace with my own mortality, and it gives me great comfort to know that it’s sorted.   

You'll find me gently resting somewhere in an historic cemetery, high on the hill and under a huge tree (great for photos!) with city and mountain views.

I'll be pushing up daisies, after I've kicked the bucket, how good is that?  The trick is not to fill it too soon.

My sons are relieved as that’s one less thing to worry about; they can sort out my funeral and it better include champagne!

Oh, that’s right, I’ll be dead.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Anzac Day

On Anzac Day,
They stand, soldier-stiff,
row upon row,
Faceless yet united with a common base.

They wait, patiently,
regimental in their ranks,
White-washed with intent.

They sit, helplessly organised,
Mustering the courage and teeth gritting determination,
Not to stand out, not be heroic,
But to simply do their job. Their task.

Also, chairs.

Tomorrow when the Silence comes

Tomorrow, when the silence comes
In shadow and sunshine
to sit thickly on young shoulders
We will remember them.

The Johnnies and Yemats
The Harries and the others
Who came for adventure and
Stayed to claim their lives.

Tomorrow when the silence comes
We will breathe as one,
As our fathers, sons and great greats
Gently stand beside us in life.

The crowd will cough a little
And shuffle as memories settle
In bright sun. Heads bowed
We will remember them,
When the silence comes tomorrow.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - sunglasses included.

The three women leaned over the table and peered at me through their black sunglasses.  I could see my startled reflection and adjusted my own sunnies over my nose.
“Would you describe this as fine, medium or thick?” The women exchanged glances, chewed their lips politely and blurted “Medium.  Definitely medium.”
I mentally punched the air, I was winning. I thought they’d say thick, for sure.

Yesterday I read on Facebook, that my local beauty parlour was looking for test dummies…er… models, for IPL Hair Reduction training. I quickly suggested that they could use me, goodness knows there’s enough unwanted hair to around.  
A quick phone call to me: “How about we do a half-leg’ the girl suggests.  “What do I do the other half a leg?” I pondered. “We already have an underarm. Perhaps….” (she pauses for quite a long time) “perhaps we could do a bikini leg?” I have to stop and think about this, for about 2 seconds.  Yes please, I find myself yelling.  After all, don’t my two sisters constantly barrage me with suggestions for whipper-snippers, waxing and everything else that involves pain and excess hair in my nether regions?

When I arrived at the Salon, I was given a small parcel. “Just pop this on please.” I hold the small white package up to my face; I have no idea what I am looking at. “Once you have on your disposable g-string, I’ll be back” and she closes the door leaving me still holding onto my mystery object.  
Now this is embarrassing!
After working out the front and back and which goes where, I lay on the narrow table. 
“I’m ready,” I lie.

And so my life has come to this, being peered at by three strangers, wearing sunglasses and discussing my fluffy bits. I go to a happy place, and close my eyes.
“Just move your leg to a right angle” and I die of shame. Soon the first laser treatment begins.

“How would you rate that on a scale of ten?”  Is she kidding me? 
“About a one” I say, but then again, I’ve had two natural childbirths, so anything you throw at me is always measured against that standard. This is nothing!
“Turn it up ladies” she commands, and the trainee dutifully turns the dial. 

“How about now?” she asks in what I swear was an Austin Power’s Mini Me voice.  Mentally I do the finger quotes  – “L A S E R S

 “About a 1 and a half.”  I feel strong and powerful!  The girls exchange glances and then the words: “Turn it right up!”  I am worried now; perhaps I shouldn’t have been so strong, so stoic.  I imagine the laser setting fire to my nether regions and burly firemen breaking into the chandeliered beauty parlour.

“What’s happening?  Where’s the fire?” 

The three young women would all point to my exploding pubes, as the firemen douse the flames.
I return to my happy place and leave them to work on my bikini line.

In her enthusiasm, the new trainee rushes the job just a bit: Flash! Flash! Flash! It feels like cracker night in my undies.
“Just slow down, make sure you don’t leave any lines, you must get it all.” she commands, and I imagine my bikini line looking like a zebra, complete with black lines in a natty pattern.
I sigh.
One way or the other I’ll be the talk of the beach, but I doubt anyone will even look me in the eye; they’ll all be staring at my you-know-what! 
After 15 minutes I’m done, and after dressing, I stroll out into the sunlight, to the other world of normality, and begin to skip.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

What's the Story, Morning Glory - Drawing

This was first published here.


Tony had no idea why he was there.

Really, it shouldn’t be like this.

What started out as a simple idea to consult a professional relationship counsellor on his impending marriage with her had somehow ended up with him in this field, with two other people he could only describe as nutters.

At the very least, they were mixed up. Emotionally unstable. More so than him. He just wanted a simple answer to his simple question.

“How do you know?”

How do you know when she’s the one? Should he settle down with her and learn to love her laugh? The way she wipes his mouth between courses? Could he truly be happy and sleep well every night for the rest of his life? With her laying stiffly beside him? He doesn’t even like redheads; normally.

The morning sun glared in his eyes. Turning his head slightly, he stared at the other blokes, who were busy sketching. Like that would help. He squirmed uncomfortably on his chair; it was digging into his back. Stupid camping chair!

He felt embarrassed to be there, and had no idea that the early morning bus trip from his new home would end up with him clutching a stick of charcoal and a notepad.

He drew a stick figure. Named it after her. Drew a big sun with arrows shooting out of it.

Nearby a conga line of cows were walking up the paddock; the soft dull bell, the sharp farmers whistle.

He slapped the back of his neck. Insects. A trickle of sweat rolled down his chest. The arms of his leather jacket creaked with each movement, it had always annoyed him. The other men said nothing, just bobbed their heads up and down as they took in each curve of the hill, each rise of the tree line.

He drew a square house, even though he could see none. Their happy home, together. The kind you drew as a kid, without lifting your pencil; with a big cross in the middle. A big, black cross.
The charcoal snapped.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Life, death, and bubbles in between

Yesterday I chatted about death, dying, and funeral photography. I celebrated end of life traditions and cultures that shape our memories with Golie, a stunning, intelligent PhD student who shares my curiosity of preserving moments of time, fragments of grief, and the beauty of the human spirit.
Calling into the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne to toast to our future King, the third in line, a baby in arms: “A bottle to wet the baby’s head” I exclaim, to the confusion of the young attendant and his mate.

‘What is it today with saying that?” he demands. “Everyone’s been saying that all day long, I don’t get it,” and clearly, he doesn’t. “It’s beautiful that so many of the community want to share this special day” I explain, “You don’t really wet the baby’s head, it’s just a saying,”  and I leave him clearly muddled.
It’s hard to pass on a generation of tradition if the kids are plugged into Ipods and earplugs. They aren’t interested and it’s a worrying trend. How can you ignore the past?
Once home I send my friend a dit. Come and share champers, wet the baby’s head!

Within five minutes she tramps up my stairs, flashing her trademark smile. “Thought we should wet the baby’s head” she says, explaining that her message bank service wasn’t working but she had a hunch I’d open champagne. How well she knows me.
A good day is when you celebrate life each day. A great day is when you can reflect equally on death, and the continuation of life and royalty, with bubbles.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On royal Births, and death bombing

With the world waiting for the birth of William and Kate’s baby, I wonder if the young prince will stay overnight in the maternity hospital with their new baby, once born. It reminds me of my own birth experience at Boothville Mother’s Hospital, Windsor. Since closed, it was run by the Salvation Army as not only a “home for single mothers” but also as a natural Birth Centre for low-risk mums-to-be.

In the late 1980’s – long before social media existed, Boothville was welcoming new dads into the labour room and encouraging them to stay the night.  It was the only way dads could become involved in the care of their child, and help as added support to the new mother.
When my own husband would visit me at 6am and then reluctantly return to our empty house, I said to my doctor: "Help! He’s exhausting me."
The hospital was under constant threat of closure due to low patient levels, and Dr Charles Elliott suggested I push for a family room to be added to the hospital, as a way of attracting families.

As hospital closure loomed over our heads, we passionate supporters began a five-year marketing campaign and a relentless promotion to engage the public and tell the story of “Brisbane’s Best Kept Secret”.

On the Private Hospital Board with me were two young women and now lifetime friends; Christine Jackson and Fiona Guthrie.  Together we well-intentioned birth consumers began what is now taken for granted in some hospitals: the father stays overnight, bonding with his new family. Two special family rooms were created, and many young couples made memories and a healthy, loving start to their family life.

Recently a young friend delivered her second child at the Royal Women’s Hospital, and her partner stayed overnight. I wondered if she knew the story of my own husband, and what an ongoing  effect it had on her own relationship, 27 years later!  If the London Paddington Hospital has no family room perhaps Kate might just Skype Wills from her bed?

I understand that a special reclining chair has been requested so that William may rest, no doubt exhausted from his own shouting of Push Latey Katie, push!  Giving birth has evolved to become a social gathering of friends and family with Twitter updates and the obligatory selfies for Facebook.

With television shows such as Call the Midwife, or reality show, The Midwives, it’s easy to see how birthing has evolved from an isolated young mother and her doula, to a more social occasion, shared with birth photographers, support people, and friends.

At the other end of the spectrum of birth, is death. Will we see a rise in death- support people as we age?  The days of dying alone or with only close family may be limited.

I heard author Jesse Blackadder  telling of a ‘third person involved with assisting and supporting my mother’s passing’. 

It seems this friend became involved and helped family to bury personal grievances before they buried their mother, so to speak.  She gently allowed each person to spend special time with their mum, before she passed. Sometimes families need that extra person.

As ageing Baby Boomers are used to creating their own traditions, death might become a passive spectacle, viewed with bored family texting Facebook updates: “No change yet, breathing still regular”.

A new tradition may emerge: Death-bombing. Just like Photo-bombing, described as: “An otherwise normal photo that has been ruined or spoiled by someone who was not supposed to be in the photograph.”

Death-bombing might be the art of overstaying your death-watch welcome, witnessing your loved ones passing, all in the name of being social.  Added family members might have good intentions, but their very presence disallows others to have quality one-on-one time to whisper messages and make memories with their immediate family.

Sometimes death demands privacy, not an audience, with many oldies refusing to go until the family leave the room.

It’s a time that can never be re visited, so perhaps a neutral Death Warden; aiding and directing death-bed traffic, to ease family congestions and smoothing the path towards the Light, might be the birth of a whole new industry.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Forever Winter

I have a confession to make. I am glad its winter and my swimmers can go back into the drawer until next summer.  Not that it was much of a summer, mind you; and not that I am much to look at in my togs, either.

But it’s not my choice of swimwear that‘s the problem, or how I look in it.

It’s my lack of ability to tame my…well… my more personal and yet oh so public areas of my body. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried bleaching, waxing, creams and razors (I may have lied about the waxing, I’m simply not that brave!) and still it persists, like a scene from George of the Jungle. And like George, my husband emits a similar howling cry when he sees me. My sisters have threatened to whipper-snipper me one day, but as I have patiently pointed out to them over the years, if it offends you, don’t look.

As a teenager I plucked my eyebrows, and they have never grown back. How does that work? I have also been shaving my legs since Adam was a boy and my regrowth grows stronger and more virulent each passing year. How does that work? 

Let’s not mention menopause when my chin suddenly sprouted enough hair to rival any adolescent boy in long pants, and my morning routine consisting of standing in front of my mirror until the foliage subsided, and the sink became blocked. Tweezers became my closest confidante.

You think I exaggerate?  Women of a certain age have all sorts of mysteries to them.  Once, a friend of mine wore a dress to a shopping centre, feeling very girly and fresh. She even rang me with excitement, as it was unheard of for her not to be in her beloved jeans or trousers. She told me that as she walked along, she  noticed a slight discomfort. What’s this?  After a mere 5 minutes of window shopping, her pain increased “down there” and she hurriedly made her way to the shopping centre toilets.

Once inside, she peered down with dismay, to see her hairy-bits had actually formed a knot, yes, I‘m serious. Tangled beyond help, she had to sit there and unravel, and trust me, you don’t want to know the rest, suffice to say, she’s never worn another dress since.

But I digress. It’s not just the taming of the wild things; it’s the cellulite legs and general lumps and tummy rolls that I won’t miss seeing. Winter becomes a time of snug trackies and long shirts covering all unnecessary flesh; with dinner parties and stews and casseroles, duck fat potatoes and hearty roasts and chocolate cake. Hang on! Isn’t that how I got my lumpy legs and rolls in the first place?

Still doesn’t explain the excessive hairy bits though. 


Friday, May 3, 2013

The Lightness of Being.

“Cheers mum” and we adult children raise our flutes high and toast our dear mother. After a passionate rendition of singing Happy Birthday, complete with hip-hoorays, her casket is wheeled to the waiting hearse; we watch as mum is taken for private cremation.

She wanted to make 93 and so she did, in her own way. After a horrific fall that saw her hospitalised since January - the third fall in as many years - we gave her a very pretty, symbolic, old ladies funeral: can’t ask for better. In fact, it was perfect.

Crystal bowls of her favourite chocolates for everyone to share, stunning posies of native flowers, old friends, familiar faces, a gentle priest and enough great-grandchildren to almost fill the small wooden church. Genuine tears to be sad at our loss, plenty more laughter to remind us that life does indeed go on, at a cracking pace too. Even champagne!

So how are we all coping?  Somehow I have changed. There is lightness now in my life. For the first time I have had to rely on myself.

Although dad has been gone for 9 years, I still miss his booming hello at the end of the phone line; and now there is no smiling mum asking me what my latest project involved. It’s just me now and I like it.  

I now sleep at night, not worrying about her latest injury. What did the doctor say?  Does she need to be moved to a Nursing Home? When was the last time her back was rubbed?   What needs to be done?  Her needs.   Gently caring for our elderly mother has been a loving blessing which was in danger of becoming a chore. And yet it never did. But still, now I can relax, and enjoy my life a little more. I was a good daughter; in fact we were all dutiful, obedient, caring children to our parents, returning the unconditional love shown to us. We not only did our best, but far and beyond that. And we happily exhausted ourselves.
Now, newly orphaned, there isn’t the distress I thought I would feel, only a calmness.

A lightness of being in my own skin, for the first time.

Like a modern day Gulliver, the family ties that gently wrapped loving arms around me, and gave me a stable, solid grounding; from tropical Cairns and Rockhampton, to Toowoomba and beyond to far flung Wollongong, have unravelled; as old age and death claimed the matriarchs, aunties and godmothers in my life. Three old girls dead in four weeks.  I drift through the days and nights, float through sleepless weeks, unweighted. The lightness both disturbs and comforts me, as I put into place life lessons learned from years of conversations and hands-on experience. I have to trust that I know enough. I need to believe that I can do this Living, without their voices on the end of the phone. Without loving arms surrounding me with joy. Without approval or judgement.

It has to be enough.

Now I am making my own decisions. Missing their opinions and helpful advice, yes, but gladly standing on my own two feet and looking forward to my own life, with confidence.

They say funerals are for the living, and it’s true. We created a memorable Service, which incorporated everything she wanted: The Lord’s Prayer. Traditional of course. Forever and ever, Amen.

The Magnificat. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

We gave mum what she wanted, and more. Now it’s our turn to live our lives with the same grace and integrity shown to us.

Living with such lightness, demands my feet be grounded. If I am ever in danger of floating away, my memories will form a rock steady base, and with both feet planted safely, my eyes look to my own horizon.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mum's Passing - Thoughts.

March 19 2013
Thanks everyone else who has taken the time and care to comment, it's beautiful to be cared for by my Facebook family, hugely appreciated. Home now for a glass of red, my sister is showering, then back to hosptial, but not for me. I don't want to do it, I photograph too many dead people to want to see my mum like this. Over it. It was enough to hold dad in my arms as he went, I don't want to do that with mum.
I've said my goodbyes to her, and I am at peace with that. Candles are lit. x

At noon today we thought she would be gone by 1pm. Instead, her breathing regulated, her hands warmed up (!!) and here we are all those hours later. Death is a meanie, taking it's time, teasing and haunting us, every, single, fecking, day. We could still be having this conversation tomorrow! *faints.

Mum says in her halting, stuttering, breathy voice:"I must firmly tell my daughters; Family first". The irony made me weep. *sighs

Only 8 weeks ago today, my *almost 93yo mother, had sparking blue eyes, full of cheek and wit, rasing her wine glass and hugging her many grandchildren. Tonight, we keep virgil over her bed, as she sleeps peacefully snoring. Yoh Wah (*goodbye) Bunty, thanks for everything. I will miss you every day, and will never look at a telephone again without wanting to ring you at 5pm.

Worth sharing: "Go to sleep and rest your eyes. A clear conscience and no regret is what helps you sleep the sleep of babes. You have done what can be done. Believe me do not be afraid of death or the things left unsaid. Instead be able to celebrate life joy and happiness for these are what lives are for."

March 20 2013
The wind howls around the house, and cries through the trees: Where is our mother? Where is our mother?

RIP Pearl Warby, our Mother of 3 girls and 3 boys. Reader, gardener, opera lover, wife of a soldier, daughter, sister and mother to us all. Bless you and keep you in His loving arms. Toujours gai - and always a Lady. Yow Wah *goodbye

My 2 sisters are back home, red eyed, happy with grief. Phone calls are made...softly...gently.. We fresh ophans sit and raise our glasses of champagne, toasting our mum.

Playing The Lark Ascending for mum. (*And the lark just rises, going up, and up, and finally, it's out of sight) Having a quiet weep. She always wanted this for her funeral. Today we carefully ironed her beautiful purple blouse we all love, bought fresh white pretty knickers for her, and took her clothes to the funeral arranger. This afternoon we met with the always amazing Fr Cameron and planned her Service. Have to say, it’s going to be beautiful.

Flowers have started to arrive. Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughtfulness, with your loving Facebook posts, your beautiful Twitter messages of support, your phone calls, Sms’s and so on. Please know they are all read, noted, and enjoyed. Bless. X

Mum and I loved Archy and Mehitabel: we would often quote bits to each other. Please enjoy.

Happy Birthday Eve my darling mum, tomorrow we send you off with Grace and dignity, style and love. If you could see the waxing moon over Mt Archer, if you could feel the gentle night wind on your cheek once more, and know that your life was charmed, difficult, original and amazing. If you could only know, once more, the feel of my arms around you. I wish! Sleep now my darling girl, sleep now, brave girl. I love you. X

Please bear with me if I indulge in a little 1am quiet sob for my mum, whom I will never know. A private, reserved woman. The stranger in our midst. Yah wah mum. *goodbye


My aunty has my mother’s ears, and her own, twisted, paralyzed hands. She moans softly, Mum, mum. I am here.

Like a modern day Gulliver, the family ties that gently wrapped loving arms around me, and gave me a stable, solid grounding; from tropical Cairns and Rockhampton, to Toowoomba and beyond to far flung Wollongong; have unravelled, as old age and death claimed the matriarchs, aunties and godmothers in my life.

I drift through the days and nights, float through sleepless weeks, unweighted. The lightness both disturbs and comforts me, as I put into place life lessons learned from years of conversations and hands-on experience. I have to trust that I know enough. I need to believe that I can do this living, without her voice on the end of the phone.

Without aunty laughs and arms surrounding me with joy. Without female approval or judgement.

It has be enough.


She actually said: i love you, i love you, the naughty one. Sigh. X

Glad i am here, although i DID say no more death bed scenes. Still, who are we to write the script?

All a part of life & living, this dying business. Sitting cross legged in hall with a cuppa trying 2 get internet

Chatting to nurse Wendy. 'What was your husband like?' to mum. He was a beautiful man, she says. I cried, hearing that.

Mum glances to her right. 'Who's that?' she asks, nodding to the corner of the room. I nudge Carolyn. 'Is it a man or a woman mum?' I ask

She can't tell me. She looks around her room. 'There's 1,2,3 of them' she says. I stare and smile at nothing but curtains and the sink.

Carolyn suggests it might be mums angels, but mum isn't convinced. Yet she still counts them loud. One. Two. Three.

Mum is snoring. So sweet x

Sitting in the hallway playing solitaire, missing my pillow. Glad i am here though. Might make a nest in mums big chair. Goodnight x

Gawd i am freezing! Thin white hospital blanket, brrr. Mum still snoring.

Good morning Groovers. Sis and i at hospital with mum, starving for Maccas breakfast, lol. Long night. Long day ahead. the morphine is making her confused.

Think she "saw" 3 people in the room last night. Kept asking the time since 4am, witching hr

We will go soon, once witching hour has passed, come back later and do it all again.

Sending warm thoughts to you today..."thanks, i will wrap them around my shoulders like an old friend x

"I'm just a patient, who doesn't know: what's it all about?" says mum.

Remember family, says mum, then drifts off with a smile on her face. I wonder what that memory was?

It’s a restless wind in Rocky tonight, yachts jerk, trembling on their anchors, trees shake their manes with impatience, doors rattle.

It's a restless night tonight, the wind slaps the blinds and spanks unseeing windows.

Be able to celebrate life joy and happiness for these are what lives are for.

I am at home, listening to the wind shiver around the house. Sisters at hospital. Tired, bedtime xx

Back to sleep 4 me, mums candle went out, big wind here, think she is gone, dunno

RIP my darling mother with the laughing blue eyes, I shall always be grateful to you.

she was always a lady with a wicked sense of intelligence & humour. At peace now. Bless.

I am an ophan, the person who supported me & believed in me, listened to me, is gone. So non-judgmental & loving...

With life, comes death. My mother is teaching me gently, still.

she was our matriarch, much loved we won the jackpot with our parents. Marvellous lives x

I think what I'll miss most is her unconditional support, always interested in whatever funeral I'd film, supportive x

Mum's funeral notice in paper, looks good.

Magpies & crows having animated conversations #Rocky

Such a perfect circle.

Thanks Twitter buddies, give me strength to read the Eulogy (my part) & send her off with dignity.

We want happy funeral, she had a great life. Warby-time is over. Bless

So it is done. We orphans gave mum a dignified, memorable, creative Service. Yoh Wah mum. *goodbye #funerals

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tonight's the Night!

It was all he had hoped for here and now.  As he watched her dance en pointe, his breathing slowed until he heard his own heartbeat; keeping time to Swan Lake, Act Three. The audience shuffled quietly, expectantly.
White noise filled his head, a gentle roar that grew in depth. The world held its breath, waiting for his cue.

This was it!
It had taken him his whole life to reach this moment, and he savoured every sweet note, every heart thump, every smile, rehearsed or not.

She was beautiful!
Tonight, after they danced, he would ask her. A thrill surged through him as the violins shivered in tempo.

This was it!
A final deep breath, the roaring in his ears now replaced with the familiar strains of chords and notes, his cue; his moment; his spotlight.

This was it!
Arms up – soft – and away; a spring step, lightly, lightly; feet extended, and a springbok leap.

The rest of the ballet passed in a blur; a delightful, happy blur, as he danced like the man possessed he had become.  Obsessed with movement and allowing his body to change and reach out, dance had become his whole life, ever since he saw her, at school , gasping with the beauty and delight at the retired ballerina’s graceful performance.
If only the U13 rugby kids could see me now, he mused, waiting for his final lift with her. That would silence the critics, his father in particular, and those bullies who waited for him behind corners, around trees, in the boys loos. If they could only see his body now; strong, sinewy, complete muscle definition. A man. A dancing man, yes, but this costume leaves nothing to the imagination. He was perfection. Perfection in lycra and tights.

He stiffened for the final lift, smile bright. Tonight is the night. His night. Music swelling, she leapt towards him, took flight; arms extended.
She was so beautiful!

He shivered in anticipation of her answer. Smiling, her perfect body taut with energy, sweat beaded her brow. 
Now was the time!  His career highlight, the audience, her, his spotlight, their triumph.

Reaching out, he carefully placed one hand on her left thigh.

The other hand under her waist and ribs, careful not to bruise or hurt her.  She was safe in his capable arms, his strong hands, his gentle touch.

Already the audience began to applaud.

His heart thumped in time to the final chorus. Soon they would walk on stage Pas Marche and bow together. He closed his eyes, filled with passion and joy.  He dipped her head towards the stage, as they had rehearsed for the past three months. He could do this movement with his eyes closed.

She never saw it coming, the blood leaving a small trickle, as he stood, in the spotlight, frozen.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Washing Day

“Lift your boob mum, there you go.” My sisters and I take turns in showering her; it’s a loving chore we grow to love and dread.  We wash her with great care and tenderness –and at times great dollops of humour - to get the job done.

Mum is 93 years old; a widow for nine years, a soldier’s bride, and the mother of us four rowdy adult kids and enough great-grand children that we gave up counting them.  She reminds us, “I started all this mess!”

Old age ain’t for sissies. Undressing her is an art in itself; gently removing her trousers and shoes, unbuttoning her floral blouse, being careful with her arthritic bones.  “Here mummy darling, just move your arm a bit.” We speak to her like a toddler, our own living doll to play with.

She prepares to stand, and then walk to the bathroom across the hallway, using her walker.  Osteoporosis has left her weak and vulnerable.  Our mother is a very intelligent, but physically frail woman; small confusions are beginning to cloud her memory.

Crosswords keep her mind busy. Use it or lose it. Her extensive classical music collection seems to annoy her now. She brushes the suggestion of which CD to play, with an impatient wave of her hand. “I’ve heard them all!”

We dutiful daughters have taken over the task of showering her after she became agitated with the daily rotation of the different home visit Nurses.  No matter how cheerily they would arrive to care for her, it became too much. “So many new faces” she would say, and blush with shame. She’s a proud, private woman. This has added another hour to my live-in sister’s daily care of mum, and my siblings and I visit them both when we can, travelling the 700kms to help with home duties. Respite for my sister, new challenges for mum.

We adult children do this because she is our mother, and that’s how it is. We have become her personal hand servants, but it’s our choice and we are up to the task.  The years of her love are returned, with gratitude and respect.

I know every inch of my mother’s soft body. Every curve of her dowagers hump, every unidentified lump, every wrinkle and fold where once smooth skin lay pale, unseen.  We inspect her for bruises.  Her delicate, paper-thin skin demands our full attention. I hold the shower curtain half closed for modesty so she can wash herself. Gripping the handles we have installed with trembling hands, the fear of slipping and falling frightens us the most. It’s constantly on our mind, the elephant in the room we cannot avoid. Already, she’s broken her wrist, and once slid off a chair when her dressing gown proved to be slippery on the leather seat.   We have special wash cloths for her face, another one for her legs, yet another one for her curved, broad back. We tenderly check for signs of heat rash. For a small woman who is physically shrinking each month, mum needs at least three towels to dry herself. One to sit on, to protect her from sliding off the shower seat, one around her naked shoulders for warmth and one to actually dry as I raise each leg, being careful to pat between her toes.  I powder her chest, easing on fresh clothes, and walk her gently to her bedroom. Now fully dressed, she lays on top her bed, exhausted. “I’ll just rest a while” she say, her eyes closed. 

Bathing mum gives me opportunity and wisdom to see hands-on old age and dignity. It teaches me patience and respect, returning my mother’s love and care.

I sit on her bed and discuss the day’s events; recalling memories, quietly chatting as our roles are reversed. My mother is my child, my delicate doll with the blue eyes.

 My mother is teaching me gently, still.

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year’s Eve and all that I loathe.

I hate this time of the year. Some people might be Christmas Grinchs, but not me; I love everything about the Christmas season; the carols, the gift-wrapping, the careful cooking of timeless recipes old and new.  It’s this time of the year, between the afterglow of good giving, and the dreaded New Years Eve, that I loathe.

Expectations of another wonderful year ahead  (what was so great about this year, huh?) and the party to end all parties, New Years Eve looms like a zombie in front of me,  arms outstretched with gnashing teeth and dead eyes.  Ok, maybe not, but it’s not a well built young man in nappies with a golden 2013 around his neck, either.  It’s the weight of other people’s hopes and dreams, unrealistic and simplistic; that drag me down.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given many NYE parties for my friends and family. In fact, almost every year without exception, and that’s the problem. Can’t they invite us back, and do their own party in their own house, to return the favour?  For once, wouldn’t it be nice to be a guest in someone else’s home; to simply wander into a bottle shop, purchase some yummy champers, and bring a plate of cheese artfully plopped next to the biscuits. All care, no attention.  Turn up the music.

Lots of our friends own swimming pools, how hard would it be to ask us to come around and bask beside their pool, like the photos I see on their Facebook pages?

No bothering about what theme for the night, no decorations, no amazing food spreads. I recall one year I cooked not one but two whole reef fish, borrowing a portable oven from a local chef. It was stunning but I hadn’t realised the bins wouldn’t be emptied until the following week.  The leftover stench nearly killed us.
It must be us, not them. I don’t get it. You’d think by now I’ve have some friendship credit with my loved and dear mates, but apparently not. So this year, this wrung out, gloriously used up, sucked dry, wretched, withered and exhausted year,  will see me parked in front of the telly, feet up, a glass resting in my hands, watching the fireworks.

Today I am taking my resentful, sulking self to escape to the coast, packing the leftover ham and wondering how many of the 25 Creative Ways with Christmas Ham recipes I can actually remember. Before leaving to drive north, I’ve washed the sheets, sprayed the weeds and put the bins out; I’ve been a good girl, surely I deserve a treat?
All that’s left to do is pack the house and leftovers, hump them down to the car; somehow pack everything in; including the cat, and drive for two hours in traffic to repeat the scenario at the other end, shoving bits of almost recognisable leftovers into the beach house fridge. It will probably die of shock; it was making weird noises and rattles last time we were up.

Wherever New Years Eve finds you, have a lovely happy time, and remember your friends. 

I won’t be.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Whose Freedom?

Looking at this picture, who had the most freedom? The three gliding pelicans; unconcerned to our human life of worries; or the three teenagers, now past-students - having completed senior studies at high school, and awaiting their school results so university can begin?

Meet my son and his two best friends.

They are putting out little "tinny" out for the day, blatting around the beautiful Noosaville waterways, enjoying their new-found lives and freedom from books, studying, Latin verbs, math 2, physics and biology, school ties ad-nauseum.

Do kids these days still have "best friends" when they also have 250 "contacts" on msn, all of whom they dit and chat to on a nightly basis?

Sure they do.

These 250 contacts aren't friends...well...most of them aren't, anyway. They are people you keep in touch with, so they don't spam you, knock you down, harass you on the net and generally make your life a misery.


But these two young men, and they are now; young men, are his best mates.

I have seen them grow from eager fresh-faced Year 8's, to the thoughtful and considerate, (not to mention, highly intelligent) young blokes you see before you.

My son has excellent taste in friends. And vice versa.

Freedom. It' not the birds gliding past; it's the kids; oblivious to their future calling - their wives/lives/unborn children and careers ahead of them.

For them, for now, it is simply mucking about in boats, with their mates on the water.
Life is sweet and free.

Me and Bobby McGee

Did you ever think that the clear, solid notes coming from a trumpet would be golden?

This is me and Bobby McGee, except I am behind the camera, taking the photograph.

His name really is Bobby McGee, just like the song, but not after the song.

Bobby was born in Scotland, and travelled to New York as a 12 year old to play trumpet professionally with his older sister. Now just read that bit again. Left Scotland when he was 12; travelled to New York; to play professionally.

I have to blow through my teeth to comprehend the circumstances.

Bobby has earnt his living for the past 60 years playing trumpet, all over the world. At one stage he was based in Israel, performing “The Sound of Music” in Hebrew!

Now he is with my sister, and they are ‘an item’.

This photo was taken at our New Years Eve party, and when I downloaded the digital pics, I thought I was either too drunk to work the camera, or the battery is flat. As it later turns out, the flash synchronisation was on slow, and the blurring lights are my cherished ‘icicle lights’ to decorate the veranda for summer!

But I love how it captures Bobby McGee playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on his trumpet, his trusty, around-the-world trumpet, playing for friends and family, for his love, my sister, playing for his living.
Golden notes, who would have thought! But a camera never lies, eh?

Me and Bobby McGee.

Beyong the gate

It looks charming, and it is. A simple wooden gate, painted white, the typical "picket fence" attracts the eye, but looking around, the scent of the frangipanni flowers also attracts the senses.

This is the gate that leads to my father’s room... beyond this gate, my father lies dying.

It's part of a beautiful Nursing Home in Rockhampton, and I grow to both love, and eventually dread, this gate.

The frangipanni tree offers me large clumps of flowers - their heads bowed in respect. The path is swept on a daily basis, so that any flowers that may fall are fresh and clean, unbruised, unlike my heavy heart.
Will he remember me today? Will he still be there, in his mind, in his body?

I pick a frangipanni and place it behind my right ear, so it shines out happily when he sees me.

They have always been my favourite flower, in their pureness and simplicity, the heady, giddy perfume enclosing me within a safe world of childhood memories, of hanging upside down in a huge old tree, marvelling at the hugeness of the world in my front garden.

Wonderful memories of reading books and eating apples, running around the frangipanni tree kicking up the leaves in autumn...waiting patiently for the first sings of new growth, the dark green tips sprouting from each barren stem, holding the promise of another summer, more glorious flowers, more hanging upside down to compare if my world had expanded during the winter.

This gate, this white, simple gate leads to where my father lies dying.

I took this photo as a precaution to a hazy memory, I wanted to savour every detail about my dad before stress and loss dimmed my memory.

Now I look at it, and although I am smiling with my love of the tree with its daily offerings of fresh perfumed flowers for me to enjoy, I am reminded of a softer, sadder time, where breathing becomes a chore, where time not only stands still, but runs backwards, as we the children become the adults and vise versa.

I push the gate open, and stoop to collect my flower...

Tahiti training

Each afternoon they come like clockwork, 5.10pm. You hear them first, the grunting, the shouting across the calm, glassy waters of Tahiti's Morea Island.

Soon, their black bodies, hardened with honest work and gleaming with perspiration, glide into view, their arms pumping the paddles on their sleek outrigger canoes.

Legend has it Tahitians would race across the Pacific Ocean to the nearby island of Bora Bora.
It tires me to even think of it, as we had just crossed the same passage a few days before in our chartered catamaran, and believe me, the waves and swell are huge out there, beyond the reef. The ocean currents run for thousands of kilometres before hitting land, so the waves have time to build and grow in size.

Our crew for this magical sailing holiday on the 12metre cat are our teenage sons, who soon prove their worth and find their sea legs quickly. Sails are hoisted, anchors set and retrieved with minimum fuss. The only trouble we have is attempting to pick up a buoy outside the famous ‘Bloody Mary’s Restaurant’ in Bora Bora. As we motor around for the third time, we find our Skipper still distracted by the sight of a nearby naked Swiss woman, swimming off her yachts stern.

After sailing for 7 days, now we are landlubbers, relaxing in the arms of luxury in our gorgeous palm-fronded cabin. We can swim right outside our front door, and often do, searching the coral for Nemo and his fishy friends. The sight of the outrigger crews is our unexpected bonus, our afternoon entertainment.

The crews come each evening, straight from work, and train for an hour in the lagoon. We pour cold drinks and watch them from our over-the-water-veranda; it soon becomes my favourite habit, much to my husband’s amusement!

The coach for both crews calls out and encourages each man, to do his best, to stroke! Paddle! Pull! Endure! Beyond the lagoon break, there are shells, growing where the waves strike and fall upon the reef; there are huge swells, and whales, passing on their way to warmer waters. The crews paddle beyond the break, beyond the breaking, crashing waves, beyond the roar of white water and leave the safety of the lagoon’s mirrored waters.

Massive outriggers holding over 200 men would paddle from Tahiti to New Zealand, and return, navigating by the stars, pinpointing these tiny specks of islands with their volcanic peaks reaching upwards, to the Gods.

The lagoons have formed as each island sinks under the weight of their own volcanic mountains, forming a safety zone for fish and corals and shells and people and lush foliage. To enter the lagoon after being at sea, is to enrobe oneself in a mantel of peace and tranquillity.

Safe at last! Drop anchor! The sea is a harsh mistress, at times.

We had planned our Tahiti holiday with as much precision and latitude as possible, allowing for no delays, but plenty of surprises, and this was an unexpected bonus, these outrigger training crews, and their bulging arms, amazing energy and their calls and shouts of encouragement.

Gotta love being on holidays. Cheers!

Other submissions by this author:   Me and Bobby McGee :: Whose Freedom

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rockhampton Show. Winter of my first doll.

In the foot stamping cold of a winters night, we blew on our hands in desperation. The gloss of the Rockhampton Show’s was beginning to fade as we waited for our father to take us home. Mum was furious, her eyes narrowing with each question answered through gritted teeth.
No, I don’t know where your father is.

No I don’t know where the car keys are.

I have no idea when we will go home.

No, I still don’t know where your father is, but he’d better hurry up!

Various whines came from my brothers and sisters. We needed to go to the toilet. We were hungry. We were bored, and tired. Mum sat in silence, barely able to speak. I believe she was crying softly. And then we heard him, muffled at first through the hard black interior of the old Dodge car, then louder as he stumbled towards us.

Darlings! Sweetheart! Look what I won!

His leering face loomed at the windows, fogging the glass. He grinned and winked lopsidedly at me. Resisting all instinct to throw my arms around him, I pulled back into the car seat and the darkness.

Mum’s voice exploded over the city like fireworks. Where have you been? How DARE you keep us all waiting, John!

She seethed and bucked like a scorpion riding a bronco. A wild animal of a woman, keep waiting with five restless, cold children. Our tummies rumbled in sympathy.

Dad held up something in the darkness to me. Something pink and glittery. My eyes adjusted slowly to this new scene. A shepard’s crook, more glitter and sparkles, hot pink tulle. It was a Cupie doll, and the most stunning object of beauty I could ever imagine. Dad grinned sheepishly to us all, and we shyly twinkled our frozen fingers back at him.

Having settled into the new life of a priest in Rockhampton, the lure of the XXXX Show bar became too much for our dad. Encouraged by the jovial slaps of his new parishioners, he happily drank to his new flock, and basked in the fuzzy glow of new friendships. On his way out, a showman, sensing an easy target, took dad’s hand and placed three fat grubby baseballs in to it.

Here Father, have a go, every child wins a prize! Dads white dog collar stiffened with ambition mixed with pride and he closed one eye and took his best shot. To everyone’s surprise, it was a convincing win, and he had the choice of any prize on the top shelf. He swaggered momentarily, and then pointed with an unsteady finger, to the pretty doll with the gold hair and a stiff circle of skirt.

Now, as dad held himself up on the car door, from under his jacket he also produced bags of fairy floss and small stuffed toys. The Showman had felt sorry for his priestly charge, and had endowed him with small prizes, which dad gave to my brothers and sisters. Mum drove home in silence, as we children explored the beauty and mysterious wonder of the Rocky Show.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

So dad, yeah, another year without you. Somehow we muddle along.

Btw are you sitting on my steps in Paddo? The cat keeps looking and staring and in my mind I can see you, dressed in your blue flannel checked shirt, red and green beanie askew, grinning at me.

Is heaven that good dad? So what do you think about everything? Let me pick your brains and chew over the fat, as we used to do in days gone by. Did you see what I've done with your book? Yeah, I know, but it's getting there. Yep, quality paper, lots of photos, as you wanted. It's your book. I'm still working on mine.

No, I don't laugh as much, you're right, fancy you noticing that. Yes, I'm eating well, and of course I miss you topping up our wine glasses. How you loved to fuss over us. Thanks mate. We adored you too.

Yes, I'm doing what you asked me to. No I'm not crying much. I don't miss you most days, as you are always beside me. Even the cat notices.

Take care mannie, I'll see you again.

Want to help me blow your candle out? Ready? Hold hands, eyes closed, talking to God.

Now blow....

Miss you Beetle. xx

Always the Youngest.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Condoms galore!

Extract from My Mate and Me - The life and times of John Warby and Family

Meanwhile, Laurie and I were cleaning out below, when we discovered half a dozen large cartons, stacked away under the stern counter.

On close inspection, we found that each sealed carton contained one gross of smaller cartons. Each of these contained one gross of small envelopes, each containing a condom.   Laurie and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  

Here, were roughly 125,000 condoms, obviously purchased from the War Disposals sale in New Guinea and left on board, when the owners had sold the lugger.    To our trusting eyes, they seemed in good order, but neither of us was authoritative on the subject!  Why not sell them? Or even give them away?   We sent a carton per taxi to an Army mate in Sydney, who was now in business as a chemist, and far more expert on the subject than ourselves.  Would our windfall turn out to be a goldmine?


But the word was 'no'.  Despite appearances, they were too old and untrustworthy.   No doubt, that was why they had been abandoned.  We decided to dump them that night on the outgoing tide. I still recall what a slow job it was, hauling up each carton in the dark, opening them and heaving the small cartons over the side to be dispersed by the tide.

Next morning, the shore was littered with hundreds of cartons that had been blown ashore by the wind, and not floated out to sea, as we'd hoped.  But we were glad to see that it was not long before they, too, disappeared.  Perhaps the next tide was higher and had carried them away, we thought.

Eighteen months later we found out where some, at least, had gone, when we put Panton up on Hockings Boatslip at T.I., for some underwater attention.   An irate shipwright confronted us.  Wasn't the Panton in Careening Cove last year?   She sure was, we said.   Did we own it, then?  Rather modestly, we agreed she was ours at the time.   Did we chuck overboard thousands of French letters then?   Laughingly, we agreed, yes, we had done that.  

“You bastards!” he shouted, revealing that he and his wife now had a strapping son, resulting from him picking up some cartons!

 He and his mates had collected the lot.   I wonder how many other new Australians we were responsible for!   As it is said, “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform”!

 Murphy had nothing to do with it!