Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Be the Change you wish to see in the world

A young woman is quietly making an enormous difference to the lives of young aboriginal children in remote areas.

I was fortunate to fall upon her on Facebook, and hopefully I have contributed to her very worthy cause.

GO visit her site here on Facebook.

This should go on each card, with a kiss....

With each gift also comes my love in bucket loads, my good wishes, my hopes, inspirations and dreams for a great, proudly strong future for each and every child.

May you always suffer good health, may your word be listened to, and be respected. Tell the truth, love greatly, don't ever be afraid to step up to the mark and make a difference.

Look up to the older generation, reach down to the younger generation, be the person you know in your heart you can be.

See the world with both eyes open, embrace with both arms, laugh too much.

It's a great life.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sketches from a plane window

A steam train of pink clouds puffed along the horizon, tooting the sun up.Flying over the city of Brisbane, bridges of reflected light cross the river, here, and here.
The Rockhampton sky is full of fog and sadness; the sun is missing. Bogs and hollows are full of water, an emerald carpet of grass edges to the river. The Fitzroy obediently flows in a straight line, past the shops and houses, past the boats and crabpots, before kicking it’s giddy way to the sea.
Fat bottomed boats turn their back to the sea with the outgoing tide.
Just south of Rockhampton is a secret place of rivers. Too lazy to immediately rush to the open seas’ embrace, they meander in a slovenly but sensuous twist and turn; their banks lined with dark green borders of mangroves and mud crabs.
Placed in between each snaking stream are areas of neat rectangles of various colours: whites, pinks, greys. Salt lakes. Slow evaporation ponds scar the land and jar the senses and rounded curves of the smaller rivers.
At low tide, acres of mud lies sunbaking in the Tropic of Capricorn sunshine watching the planes fly overhead. Lushness tickles the tree-line, and lagoons hold lily pads and many secrets. The Fitzroy strides to the oceans, impatient to be released.

Friday, October 1, 2010


The rain falls in silver pencils -straight down - with a quiet shush. My garden bows it's head and drinks greedily.

School holidays

The kids next door are on the trampoline again, sitting cross-legged, singing and shouting in turns.  It's raining.  School holidays.  In my kitchen I can hear bursts of childhood, brother and sister shoutouts and laughing.  They haven't noticed they are wet.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Night Thief

Someone has stolen my nights for the past two days.

It's pure BLISS!

They stole my night sweats, they stole hours and hours of blanket on, blanket off, blanket on, blanket off moments, and they stole the kookaburras laughing at 3.20 (ffs) and the dawn chorus.

They stole it all, and they can keep it. I’ll not be looking for it, at all.

In the morning, I woke. Somehow I just slept, then woke. It's amazing.

Night Thieves. Hell yeah!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Rockhampton has a hidden underbelly, a soft layer of art and craft and creativity within.

Often seen as a cowboy town and a cultural backwater, (where even my 3year old nephew mimics the rodeo riders – I’m buckin! I’m buckin!)  Rockhampton holds its serious creativity deep inside, for fear of mockery, fear of ridicule, and delights in a secret celebration of passion and drive.

I’m sitting in the quiet semi-darkness, waiting for my writing class to begin. On the second floor, around the corner, past the Creative Embroiderers and diagonally opposite the Spinners and Woven Fabric Artists, is where you’ll find me.

A giant red circle is speared with long purple arrows pointing to the centre of the building; a disused and re-energised warehouse, at the far end of East Street.

In my Writers Room, there are photos of this building on fire (1912), a photograph of the building in flood (1918) and a photograph of the magnificent building in it’s heyday (1919) with 2 bicycles, two small boys and a horse and buggy passively looking to the camera.

In my Writers Room, the colour of the walls matches exactly the colour of the coffee mugs.

Deep jacaranda purple.

I wonder which came first, the mug, or the walls?

“Here, this is the colour”, and the newly purchased mug is held up and turned this way and that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Memoir Class

So I am about to learn how write Memoir. Just in case someone might find my life interesting.

The workshop will be held by Patti Miller, over 2 days, and fits in perfectly with schedule of seeing my mother.

I am in Rockhampton, home of the Fitzroy River and the many boats that tickle its belly as it glides to the sea 35 kilometres away.

Yesterday I came to see the Walter Reid Centre, to visualise where the class would be held. It’s not for me to arse-about endless rooms and become lost in the labyrinth of arts and craft related activities; I like to know where I’ll be. It’s the Capricorn in me; the practical girl who dwells within.

Walking upstairs to the first level, I follow a man and his wife. He is the writer, and she leads him into the large empty room. They have travelled from Mackay to be here. He carries his life typed in single spaced white sheets of paper, held together by an old bulldog clip.

Every now and then as his large fingers flick through the pages (all 120 pages of them) the clip releases, sending his life-story in a shower of heavy confetti, to the floor.

A circle of 10 chairs is formed, posse-like, and we’ll sit here, this bunch of strangers, and wait for the injuns to attack.

Patti Miller is busy, head down, reviewing her notes. She’s a small, well-built woman with firm thighs and toned arms. She wears a classic Little Black Dress, sleeveless, with gorgeous leather suede shoes. A tan remains, and freckles are barely hidden on her face. Her hair is thick and brown, with hints of auburn in it, and as she speaks, her voice is clipped, articulate, and intelligent. You can see the university lecturer in her. Her face has no laugh lines. This worries me greatly, but it’s not her style to laugh at life, it’s her job to analyse it, and write it down.

She is not a frivolous woman.

We sit in a circle in pairs of five, neatly pinched into couples, in order to share a book.

And so we begin.


At lunch break, I amble the empty wide corridor and peek into the hobbies of Rockhampton. Model Train Modelling. Lapidary Club. Rockhampton Quilters. Rockhampton Photographers Club, and so on.

A large Dance Studio adjacent to our Writers Centre offers Belly Dancing. The room has curtains and full length mirrors, and I can see ‘pops’ on the floor. As I leave, a young man, a gay man, spins in lazy circles in the Dancing Room. He is dressed in army fatigues pants and huge work boots, with a purple singlet top. Alone, with the afternoon sun streaming weakly through grimy windows, he spins. Twirl, twirl, twirl. He stretches his arms and lets his fingers uncurl. He really is dancing like no one is watching.


Driving home, I choose the long way, along the Fitzroy, past the clubs and pubs and trendy restaurants, past the trees with their parrot virus germs, past the muddy rocks jutting out along the river bank. I commit to lying on my childhood bed, with a pillow over my head. I might just cry.

Seeing mum laying on her bed, I tiptoe in, and sit on the side. Bending over, we embrace, and I lie in her arms, as she smooths my hair. I cry there, instead, listening to my mother’s heart.  She tells me things, stuff of whispers and comfort, and I rejoice in the love of my mother's words. 

I am home. I am safe.


To be continued....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

About Me

I did a Masterclass on YouTube the other day and I began by telling the class a little of my background, and it felt strange to hear my voice saying all the things I did (left out half of it, lol) – I recall thinking, ‘blimey, have I really done all of that?’

So here’s a little of my background.

Ran my own restaurant aged 18 – 20; did all the shopping, cooking, serving etc. I would make a huge batch of beef curry in the afternoon for tomorrow, and meanwhile do the set-up for the nights trade, glasses, cutlery, fresh tablecloths and so on, then close the shop, dash home to shower and change, and come back and waitress and serve. Busy days, loved it and it taught me the value of following through, doing one job from go to whoa.

I tried to buy it outright from the always absent owners but at 18 I looked 12, and the bank manager wasn’t going to loan me any money, even with my father sitting beside me. Thanks dad for your support and belief in me.

Then I moved to NSW and Taree, where I worked in a Greek café for a couple of years, learning to make coffees and deal with bus coaches and people management. (Just before I arrived, the Woolworth’s Bomber blew up the local supermarket in Taree. It turned out to be my old boss Greg, who owned the restaurant in Rockhampton, bizarre! He was jailed.)

The boss wouldn’t give me a day off for my 21st, so I also learnt that even though you can work your heart out, reward and appreciation doesn’t necessarily follow. After that a brief stint in Waltons selling crappy typewriters to students, and LED watches that continually broke. I was embarrassed to sell junk rubbish like that, and learnt to deal in quality as it repays you time and again. No, that’s wasn’t a watch pun, but cheers for asking, lol.

After a while I read about a job vacancy in the Manning River Times, and so I went in on a Melbourne Cup day for my interview. It was 2pm. I rang first, to say “uh, you DO realise it’s Melbourne Cup Day, and the race will be on?” I was told to come on in anyway, regardless of the race, or the Cup. I learnt that not everyone shares the same interests as me, and that things I hold important aren’t necessarily so for others. We all have different priorities. I became the first female to be employed by the paper as an Advertising Representative. John Doust was my boss, and I grew to adore him, and his gruff, kind ways. We both shared a wicked sense of humour and used to love to play tricks on each other, good times. I looked on him as a father figure, and he will always be a top man in my books. Thanks JD. I worked there for nearly 4 years, looking after my clients and taking home marketing books to read over the weekend, arriving fresh Monday morning bursting with ideas and inspiration. I loved my little 2nd storey flat overlooking the glorious manning River, squeezed behind the shops and pub.

Taree was then blessed with 3 pubs and then the 4th would be built in bushland, but I would usually go to the middle pub whose name I have forgotten. The Exchange? It doesn’t matter, but I would sit in the small cocktail bar no one ever used; it was private and a touch above the beer swill out the back. Over time other friends would join me there, and we built up a small group of mates. I called the bar The Wankers Bar, and Jeff the publican made a sign for me, and hung it proudly over the counter. We even had an opening, and for once, I was on the other side of the counter. He gave me a huge farewell, we could barely fit into the tiny space, and they bought me a briefcase as a farewell gift.

At a conference I met some blokes from The Land Newspaper, and soon afterwards I began working for The Land, based in Dubbo. In those days I drove my little Suzuki 4wd, and I asked the comp boys to make me a sign: DUBBO OR BUST. I bought a large white teddy bear I named Patrick, so Patrick the bear and I set off on our adventure. I bought a map at the service station going out of town, as I had no idea where Dubbo even was, just somewhere vaguely west and south of Taree. Actually it’s almost a straight line west, and it took me 7 hours at 100km with a stiff wind behind me. I’d never seen such open space, the land yawned ahead of me.

I’d miss the weekends when I’d ring my dear friend Merrilyn, and say “We’re going up the beach, wear your bra!” Some days we would drive all the way along the beach and arrive at Port Macquarie, buy some shoes, and drive home via the highway, stopping in at a pub to refresh ourselves.

We’d bounce and laugh and lurch along, and sing to Donna Summer; all the way up the rough bush tracks that ran parallel to the coast, before the tiny entrance, hidden by coastal heath bushes, revealed the glorious wild beaches north of Taree.

Crowdy Bay. Diamond Head.

Collecting sea urchins washed up by storms. Great stands of Banksia, standing proud above the bushland. White sands; patches of Christmas Bells and tiny Melaleuca flowers. Waving to lonely fisherman as we drove past, windows down, our hair tousled by the salty wind, flocks of seagulls rising and settling, leaving the soft echo of Donna Baby, and our chat and laughter.

I am constantly drawn back in my mind to those beaches. Our dear family friend Kylie Tenant wrote her book Man on a Headland, about that area. (She also wrote about our family, in Speak You So Gently). Only once did I think I was bogged on the sand. A rising tide, a setting sun, I had become too involved in looking at EVERYTHING and my little Suzuki, affectionately known as ‘The Eggbeater’ just sat there helplessly revving. No mobile phones in those days, and I began to panic. “You can’t bog a Suzuki! It’s impossible” I roused on myself, but I had simply knocked the gear out and it was sitting in neutral. Whew. I drove home wiser and I learnt to check things before panicking.

Again, I was the first female to be employed at The Land, as a travelling Rep. Often I would drive 500kms in a day, say from Dubbo to Parkes/Forbes, Bathurst and back to Dubbo, pulling into my driveway at 11pm, met by my lonely cat. I loved working for such an established newspaper, and enjoyed the whistles between the teeth by male dominated businesses (agricultural equipment, irrigation supplies etc) as I walked through the door.

My God! It’s a young woman!

I soon learned to wear gumboots as routine when my gorgeous light purple pumps were ruined in the mud at Orange National Field Days. I walked around in my ivory silk pants suit, and briefcase. *blush, yeah, I know, I know, you don’t have to laugh out loud. That night it snowed, (it was November) and I turned up for work the next day dressed in thick jumpers (new) and white short gum boots (new) and a clipboard. Much better! I learnt to walk in my own shoes and bugger what other people thought.

After a year of Dubbo, The Land transferred me to live in Newcastle, doing the coastal strip of repping, down to and including Sydney. In those days they had just moved to Windsor, so I learnt to take short cuts to Wiseman’s Ferry, and it was just another hurdle and adventure to be had.

I enjoyed living in Newcastle in my 2 storey terrace, and began to churn out poetry with a passion. Each afternoon I would push away from my desk and drive all along the beaches, from Nobby’s and then south, right down until it would be time to stop watching the waves and the setting sun, and go home to cook dinner for one. I would often visit the art gallery in my suburb of Cook’s Hill, sitting on the long bench in front of the Brett Whitley painting I so adored. On weekends I would drive to the Hunter – having first been there as a 20 yo.

I began to know the wine makers, and they knew and liked me too, often sharing with me their special bottles and ‘good gear’. The public never saw these bottles. I had a great collection! It always helped when I said I worked for The Land, as it was known as the Farmer’s Bible, then, and still is today. Years later Jim Roberts, from Bellbourie Winery (now closed) rang me when I lived in Toowoomba. “Patty, I’m dying, can you come?”

We cried together on the phone. He said: I don’t even know why I’m ringing you; you are the same age as my daughter. But I knew. We were connected.

We sobbed again, together.

I jumped on the overnight bus straight away, and helped Jim and his grown family pick a late harvest of Madeira grapes. We bottled and labelled it that day, laughing and calling it “Mad Era” as it was a crazy time: with Harley’s Comet overhead; as we helplessly watched our beloved Jim become frail from cancer. I still have 2 bottles Jim, plus the port bottle I had a cartoonist design for you, remember? They are safe with me. Rest old boy. All is well. Although Jim was very clear what he wanted for his funeral, it didn’t happen, and I learnt that you need to respect people’s wishes, even if you don’t agree with them. Jim, your jazz band and wine appreciation soirée didn’t happen. Sorry mate.

So anyway, I am driving up and down to Sydney, and Port Macquarie, and all points in between, having to drive twice back to Dubbo to train my replacement. It took me 7 hours each way, and I would sing to the Little River Band. Sing loud! I cannot imagine a life without music.

After another year of this, The Land placed me in Qld, to be the first Qld Sales manager, also repping for Qld Country Life, based in Toowoomba. At least I was closer to my parents and family! I rented a dear little 1 br round house at Murphy's Creek, (below the range) on 5 acres; and bought myself chooks, a rooster, geese and a naughty cocker spaniel puppy; to keep my cat company. Each day I would feed the magpies and chooks; at night I would feed five possums and the owls who would gather to swoop on the insects and moths attracted by my outside lights. God I loved that house.

I filled another book with my poetry.

I began a media club with 500 members. I called it RAPT, Radio, Advertising, Press and Television. Toowoomba has one of the highest percentages of media around, with both local and capital city television stations. I published regular newsletters and we met monthly. It folded after a boozy lunch with Waynee Poo Roberts who swore like a mad trooper, and annoyed a lot of people. I copped the blame for that, but how was I to know who he was? I learnt to stick up for myself, and also that no matter what you do for people, there will always be someone that begrudges you, and makes life difficult.

Fast forward to another year and by now I am living in Toowoomba; living in a share house perched on the rim of the range, driving in the fog, and becoming a little lonely. I began to read books on childbirth. One night my housemate named Scrubber (whose brother went on to write a best selling novel Praise) climbed through my bedroom window at 2am. What are you reading Snide? (My nickname then, long story) “Birth, and enemas” I replied, barely glancing at him. "Oh," he said, and with that Scrubber stumbled off to his own room. I learnt that at a certain age, nothing surprises me anymore.

Another change was needed! I bummed a lift overnight in a semi with a friend of a friend, and applied to the Sydney Morning Herald as Advertising Rep. At this stage I had met my husband to be when I worked briefly at an Advertising Agency. I bought a block of land and began to plan my dream house, an A-frame. With chooks!

When the job was given to me at the Herald, I was completely torn. To stay, to go? I moved everything to Balmain (I was pretty skilled at packing by now, yeah) and shared a gorgeous terrace with a very un-gorgeous man who would drag women home, shout at them and bang them all night. Just saying. If only I were DEAF! He told me I wrote like James Joyce. I'd never heard of him, and still haven't read him. Perhaps in my old age, when I find the time? I learnt that sometimes my company is the best company to have.

After I while I questioned what the heck I was doing down there, so moved again (!) back to Brisbane to live with my now husband Chris. He was a rep too, for Holden, so I would drive him to the airport each Monday morning, and collect him Friday afternoons. I spent all day each week by myself, and by now, I was pregnant, so I needed a birth centre. Enter Boothville Mother’s Hospital. I delivered our first son here, and I was totally shocked at the wonder of him. I felt like I had robbed the whole world of its beauty, and placed them all within his dear little face. Even writing that sentence can make my weep with joy at the memory. Never underestimate birth mothers, haha.

In two years time I would be organising a rally of 500 women and families, to protest against it’s closure by the Salvation Army. The Sunday Sun came to photograph me with my toddler son, and I boastfully threatened to “push this pram to Sydney if I have to, to keep the doors open for birth mothers and their families.” When this was reported in the paper the next day, I turned to my husband and said “do I have to walk to Sydney now?” He assured me that he would be my backup vehicle, but it never happened, thank goodness, but we did keep the doors open for another 5 years. It was at this time I was fortunate enough to meet some dear friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin, and together we 3 girls coped with pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, breastfeeding and so on. Meeting after meeting, press calls, marketing plans, billboards, radio interviews, speaking engagements harnessing the power of women and families.

During this time we all sat on the hospital board as consumers, and I would often pinch myself as the Minutes would be handed out, or I would field a call from the Medical writer from the Courier Mail. How did I get to here? Sitting on a Private Hospital board? I did all the marketing, flying down on a jump-seat with Ansett to present a marketing plan to the Salvation Army in Sydney. I was 30 weeks pregnant. My friend CJ did all the girly stuff, the cake stalls, the networking. Fiona did all the accounts and books, she kept us in the red, and we were busy, busy. Four pregnancies. Three Births. Two sons. My joy, my life, my amazing sons.

I learnt if you truly believed in something, then get out and fight for it. Be passionate. Never be ashamed to stand up and be counted. Things matter! Become involved in your community and reward and Blessings will follow you.

During this time, to amuse myself from the day-to-day grind of saving Boothville, I began to ring the radio station and enter competitions and so on. Everyone talked, so I thought ‘I’ll sing!' and so I would create songs and make up lyrics on the spot. I did this for nearly 2 years, until one night Chris came home and announced he had dobbed me in to be a guest announcer on 4QR Abc Radio, (now 612 Brisbane) at the football in Lang Park. I immediately applied with a pounding heart, (I am a radio girl, as well as newspapers, spent my entire teenage years chatting to the DJ’s between songs each weekend, loved it) and to cut a long story short, found myself at my first ever football match with Gerry Collins and Chris Avenel. Gerry and I remembered each other from the Dubbo newspaper days, so it was a relaxing night and very different for me. I had no idea what I was doing, but it had never stopped me before. I learnt to go with the flow, and hang on for dear life. What a ride!

The following week I was in the radio studios and bumped into Peter Dick. We chatted and he asked me about 100 questions, and offered me the job of Roving Reporter, the first for any ABC Radio station in Australia. We broke almost every rule, giving away tickets and petrol and prizes, and we rated our heads off. What great days.

I was the public face of Breakfast for that station for 4 ½ years and moved on after a series of bizarre muck ups with my pay and a change of direction with the Breakfast Show becoming a more serious show with current events. There was no room for bridge climbing, tandem parachuting or other 'housewife adventures'. The best job I ever did was over, and I was over it, and so threw myself into my children’s’ school committees, becoming President of the P&C and installing one of the first web sites for schools. I did ask everyone I knew to design a website for us, but no one was game to take it on. "How hard can this be?" I thought, and so over a weekend and with a template, I created an 8 page website.

I think in those days there were only 3 or 4 schools on the net, and we were one of them. I had invited the Governor and his wife to help us ‘cut the cake’ for the school’s Foundation Day, and to launch our website. The three television stations all turned up with their cameras and reporters. I was in the administration office, sobbing, on the phone to Telstra, who were trying to get our site fpt’ed up onto the net. Giddy days, but I did it, we launched the site, and within a year I began webcasting our special school events with my webcam.

In order to learn what to do (it can’t be that hard, can it?) I began my own webcam site, with the intention to call it Magpie cam, as I fed my loyal and greedy magpies each day, but I soon changed my mind and then was born!

I had for 10 years, and if you click there now I understand it’s a porn site, so yeah. It’s amusing to me now to see people now embracing Twitter and Facebook, when I have had a decade of message boards, tagboards and so on with my own site. I dislike how judgmental people are, unfollowing others and blocking on a whim. Oh well. It's a reflection of the society we now live in, where knockers and whingers complain endlessly and mock anyone and everything.

So now what do I do, how have I evolved? Now I am a Funeral Photographer, and I design photo books and create DVD’S for 18th, 21st and 50ths and so on. I love it. The other day I gave a Masterclass on YouTube video creation. Go figure. Trying to teach in four hours what it’s taken me 10 years to learn, from the early days of creating my files and driving them on a disc to be transferred to video tapes. No one had a DVD then.

I want to pursue my writing and who knows what’s around the corner? Life is a wave and I’m riding the crest, I’m not one to be left in the wash and flotsam.

Our two beautiful, intelligent and thoughtful sons are pursuing their dreams and study. The house is once again empty, childhood seems like a dream. I am an Empty Nester, and as busy as I ever was. Each day is beginning; each night shuffles us towards our death. Life is grasped with both hands, gentle on the steering wheel, full steam ahead; relaxed thumbs.

At times I glance in the rear view mirror; you need to know where you have travelled from, in order to reach your new destination.

I don’t often know what I’m doing, but does anyone on the net? It’s a constantly changing thing. It’s another challenge to overcome and an opportunity to learn. The view is great!

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: Please understand that this is a very quick, very simple explanation of my life, to show me more than anyone what I have learnt. If I haven't mentioned you, or given you credit or honour, I apologise now, but please understand it's just a very quick scribble, and I may come back and flesh out more details as they surface. I just can't write 52 years of my life in 3 hours, sorry. Please don't be offended.

What I have learnt, is that even when it's all about me, it isn't. :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Writing exercises - September 2010

On war, and heroes.

A tsunami of war.
The Harrys and Henries, the Johnnies and Alberts; whose hair their mothers had smoothed down with a lick of her hand; now lay staring in horror at the unfolding war.
Their eyes do not blink.
A crab creeps sideways, oblivious to the rat-a-tat shell fire stuttering and exploding above. Unaware of the growing red-stained sea, he feeds on our youth, and he too, doesn’t blink.
At home, in Australia, on a summer’s afternoon, a mother twists her hanky into rope.
Softly she calls his name, just the once.
She knows.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nobbys Beach *circa 1984


Gaggled bodies

gleaming sunstruck

in the wet heat

catch a wave...

ride a day


Rubber seals

pontoons legged

and thrashing arms

to speed across

the curve; stand bended

backflip into foaming coolness


Hurry hurry the morning

slides across to noon

Listen to music

smell salty youth


Seagulls lined

white fencing

flurry of whiteness

blurred legs - red

A clutch of sun

Themselves watching

tidal lick the shore.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mum Part 25

Four weeks and three days after mum was taken by ambulance to the Mater Hospital for her fractured hip, she returned home. My sister was there to greet her. My brother was there to meet her.

Both Butcher birds sat fatly on the back verandah, the afternoon breeze ruffling their feathers.

Mum walked around the house, gently guided by the Occupational Therapist. Rugs are moved. Fingers point to areas of conflict; and things are quietly taken up, put aside, rolled away. The foot stool has been banished to the laundry. The bathroom and toilet areas are inspected for safety.

Can she slip on this? Will she catch her foot on that?


The house looks different to mum. You don’t need to leave home for long to see the familiar in a new light. She looks around, trying to reconnect. Grandchildren smile from their photo frames.

Although she will still need to attend the gym daily, and heal a little more, she will be home soon.


Welcome home mum.


Thankyou for following the progress of mum's hip, I hope it gave you some insight.  If you would like to comment, feel free, it's appreciated.  Many thanks.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mum Part 24

Outside the blue skies are full of wind. It’s a cold, but glorious day, the last day of autumn, and the day my mother comes home. Not to stay, that would be too easy. She’ll come home to see if she can cope in the house.

Getting to the house. Climbing in and out of the car, breaching the steps up the front, opening the sliding door, (the one now fixed but the man in elastic sided boots who’s partner had the heart attack).

An Occupational Therapist (OT) will escort mum and her progress, or lack of it, will be monitored and written down in a small notebook.

Later, doctors and nursing staff will hold a meeting and discuss mum, playing with her future like a child rolls play dough around in its fingers. Sometimes squashing the dough, sometimes stretching the soft moist mass.

My brother John is down from Bowen, with his wife. They are staying for the week. It’s company and support for Carolyn, and he can be at the house when mum arrives, as Carolyn will be at work.

Outside I imagine the family of Butcher birds and Magpies, waiting for mum, their dark grey claws wrapped awkwardly around the verandah rail.

In Brisbane, I sit in warm air conditioning and wait for the results; her verdict. Outside the blue skies blow over the city.


To be continued…

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mum Part 23

Mum practically galloped to the Dining Room today, my sister tells me. Either the food is fantastic, or mum is keen to impress; to prove to the list of doctors and nurses and specialists that she can do it. She can do it!

She has also stopped taking pain killers at night. She wants to be well - to be able to cope - so she can leave early. Go home. I tell her that she is better to take the Trammel offered; the pain relief will help her body to heal. No need to be in constant, tiresome, exhausting pain.

If she heals faster, she will get home, faster.

It's like leading a horse to water, old age stubbornness sets in. Her jaw locks into position, and that’s that.

June says it’s early Alzheimer’s setting in, she understands the concept, but the reality is different. To accept pain relief is to admit she cannot cope. To accept pain relief is to show weakness, to admit defeat. She wants to go home.

We all want that, but first, she has to cope.


On the weekend Carolyn took her to the gardens, an outing. A beautiful Rockhampton sunny day; a small chilly autumn wind. They sit in the car and watch the ducks. It’s what you do in old age. Watch things.

Observe the world around you, the flutter and stuff of life.

A drive to the barrage, to see the water. Water.

Fish and chips, and back to the Gardens to eat them. Every day is an outing in her mind, her dreams.

They eat, and mum slumps just a little in her seat. Time to go home, back to Rehabilitation. It’s tiring to be out, to sit, and watch. Her legs hurt. Her arms hurt. She grasps the shorter wheelie-walker, and the weight of her body hurts her arms. She still cannot put much weight on her legs. The nurse brings in the taller walker, for comfort. Mobility. Mum sleeps, and dreams of ducks.


A few years ago I sat with mum in front of the computer, and wrote part of her life story.

This is her first job:

My first job was in Sydney, in early 1937, it would have been…. I had just finished the Leaving certificate, as we call it in NSW, and whilst it wasn’t a good pass,it wasn’t a bad one either, and in those days one couldn’t go to teachers training college, until you were 17 years old or over.

I was almost 17!

And anyway, in hindsight, I realize that my parents couldn’t not have afforded to have me on their hands, any longer.

So I saw a job advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald, for an Office Assistant, with a firm called, W.H. Loyce and Co. in York Street, and my mother accompanied me for the interview.

It turned out to be a Chinese Napery Importing company, with 3 Chinese gentleman, Mr Woo, (who was short and tubby) Mr Low, (who was quite tall and young) and Mr Sing. So there I was, I got the job! Shorthand, typing, general duties, that sort of thing. Wrapping and posting many, many parcels of napery, that’s where I learnt to pack properly, ha!

And all of that for the princely sum of 17 shillings and 6pence per week. Bliss!

Out of that I paid, my fares to town, on the bus, occasionally I splurged on a salmon sandwich, I gave my mum 5 shillings a week for my board, dressed myself, and bought the occasional thing for the 'Glory Box'.


Lunchtimes were often spent exploring the shops in Sydney, and sitting in a little green space, near the York Street entrance to Wynyard Station. The park is still there today, now in front of Menzies Hotel.
The afternoons were often very interesting, as the three Chinese men came back from their luncheon, and the office was suddenly full of the overpowering fumes of their garlic!

I was there approximately 12 months.

My uncle Jack (“I can get it for your wholesale!”) heard of a position becoming available at Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council, for a correspondence clerk, and he thought it would be a job which would suit me.

I think he pulled the connections through his Masonry work (wearing the aprons) so my uncle Jack wrote me a very nice reference, as he was an accountant and a JP with the Harbor Board, and to cut a long story short, I got the job.

This meant I had to leave the city, but by then I knew where the little book shops where, it was lovely. I used to go to Dymocks, in the 2nd hand department, and browse there, one could get books for a shilling. One could never afford a new one, of course!

So I left my three perfect Chinese gentlemen, who always behaved impeccably, to work at Gordon on the North Shore train line.

At that time, the Ku-ring-gai Municipality was the largest municipality in NSW.

My job was to register, in a very large book, every letter that came into the Council, that very day. I had to put down the date it was received, to whom it was addressed, the subject matter, and then the boss dragon lady would decide to whom it was to go to. The health inspector, the town clerk, etc, but it was my job to register in my best copperplate writing, all the incoming letters.

After a while, a junior correspondence clerk was also appointed, and it was the one and only Ruth Cracknell, as my assistant. She didn’t get write in the book! It was simply her job to deliver the letters to the various departments. NO book writing!

She was very young, probably around 16, tall, big boned, very plain, gangly, a big nose on a big face, very shy. Yet even at that stage she had made moves towards acting, as she knew then that’s what she wanted to do. She would go to little night groups in Sydney, learning to act. She always knew what she wanted to do. We were friendly, but not too personal with our friendship.


My friend in the office at that time, was a girl called Peggy Warbiton, a girl around the same age as myself. She lived a couple of railway stations away at St Ives. She was very interested in horse riding, and her parents owned a couple of acreages.

She was into the horsey bit, and she used to ride with various people at different times. Some people were Clive Evett, big names in the Australian Labour Party. These people were neighbors, it was a classy suburb, and she also had friends in the ABC, and with Peg, I would go into the ABC studios – seeing things being done, and watching live-readings of stories over the microphone, complete with sound effects man.

Although I had always had an interest in theatre, ballet, and drama, this part of my life gave me the opportunity to actually attend the concerts, go to the ballet, and so on as my wages were higher. By then I was earning one pound, 2 shillings and 6 pence!

We used to go (Peggy and I) to the peanut gallery, to see live theatre and so on. We were good mates.


To be continued…

Mum Part 22

“It’s over.” “My ordeal for the day is over.” Mum looks relieved, and exhausted. Her ordeal is the breakfast, bathroom, shower routine.

She leans back into the recliner with the footrest which refuses to stay upright: closes her eyes.

Dreams of Lockhart and Wild Apple beach.

She once told me, “I always dream of you children, when you were younger, I love it. Chris is there too, he is always in my dreams.” (He was my older brother, killed in 1971, aged 21.)

We quietly take her washing to be done, leaving fresh nighties and clothing. It’s become our new routine. Now familiar nurses come and go. A busy woman calls to collect mum’s menu choices. She hasn’t filled them out.

“I’ll help you lovie.”


No, coffee please.

Cereal? Weetbix? Porridge?

A small bowl of porridge, I don’t like it, but if I must, I must.

Toast dear? Do you want any toast?

No, thanks, just some fruit, peaches perhaps?

I look at my mother’s face; holding her soft cheeks in my hands in my mind. Her teeth are loose, she can’t manage too much, but she is at least eating. At least she is eating!


At the airport, I am ready to fly out. Wearing my mother's black socks, my sister's black scarf, I honk my nose, again and again. Wishing I had brought the Weekend Australian for the magazine section. As I sit, I noticed the current issue magazine on the chair. Thankyou I say, to the universe.

Ask, and you shall receive.

I read it cover to cover, as our plane rockets towards Brisbane in the pitch blackness. We shake and rattle and glide our way there, the usual one hour trip taking a speedy 40mins with the giant tail wind. I blow my nose every 2 minutes, worried my ears will pop. We fall with grace from the sky, and land.


Mum is moving much better in her walker. She rests her arms on the contraption and away she goes. Shuffle, limp, shuffle, limp, but it’s progress. Doctor says she will be assessed next week. “Wonderful,” she says. “I’ll be home next week.”


Carolyn is filled with dread, as are we. The house isn’t ready. As much as we want our mother home, we also need her to be safe, and looked after. Time will tell. There are things to be done first. Safety things. A new bed. Better seating. Safer bathroom entry, the tiles will trip her up. Phone calls are made.

Physiotherapists. Assessors. Doctors.

Backwards and forwards to family members. Emails fly in cyberspace.

My mother sleeps, and dreams of Lockhart, and her young children, running along the beach.


A dit on my mobile: Thankyou darling, love you 2.

My mother writes sms lingo.

Nephew Ryan has bought her a new Nokia. This will be her 4th mobile phone. We always call sms messages “dits”. Here’s why, in her own words:

During one of my sleepless nights recently , I thought that I had made one of the best decisions of my life when I decided to learn Morse Code, in its various forms--key, flag and light. I think this would have been early in 1940. My Dad and I would often sit up late at night in front of the big superheterodyne radio, straining to catch the broadcasts from London and get the latest on the war news, and all the time the Morse signals would be coming through, loud and clear and very fast. How I longed to understand it!

I had heard of a lady in Sydney, a Mrs Mackenzie, who had graduated from Sydney University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. I believe she was the first to do so. She decided to get together a group of young women and teach them Morse Code, the elements of Electricity and Magnetism and similar subjects. She named it the Womens' Emergency Signalling Corp (W.E.S.C.) designed a nice dark green uniform, military style patch pockets, brown leather belt and green forage cap--very snazzy! If you want to actually see it, look at the blown-up wedding photo--I was married in it.

Mrs Mackenzie could see that the time would come when Australia would have to reform and expand its armed forces, Navy and Air Force and she realised that the communication arm of all services was practically non existent, so she trained this small band of young women to become expert in these fields.

War had been declared at this time, so she trained us, and by the time the armed forces realized that they need men to be trained, we were all ready to train the men. It was situated in Clarence Street Sydney, the 1st floor of a very old shipping company.

Young people like myself would do a days work (in paid normal civvy jobs) and then at night we would go into the city and then train the army and naval men to do the signalling. In the beginning we were still being taught ourselves, but we soon became proficient enough to be able to pass on our skills to others.

Around this time the navy was the first services to create the womens arm of the services, the WRANS, then the Airforce also formed a women’s group, the WRAAF, and finally the Army formed the AWAS (Australian Womens Army Service) With the whole idea in creating these womens services, was to release the men for active duty, active service.

One of the ways I dealt with Morse code, was on the way home from work, or being at the lessons, going home in the bus, and I was read all the advertisements, and in my mind, I would read it and say it in Morse Code.

Dit dit, dah, dah.

TOSCA = dah dah dah dah, dit dit dit, dah dah dah dit, dit dah.

I still remember it so cleary to this day. Anything and everything I would read it in my mind and my right hand would tap out the code.

I loved it!

My father at this time, was completely self taught with radio and electricity, and he bought me a Morse-key, and hooked it up to an oscillator so that I could practice in my bedroom.
 Up in my wardrobe, sat this oscillator, with its glowing valves, and I practised nightly, with my own head phones, so that I could hear the sound, but I didn’t disturb the rest of the household.

At the WESC rooms, we had girls from every walk of life there, learning, and teaching. Clerks, factory workers, schoolgirls, office workers like me, generally women who were motivated to do something to help the war effort.

Many of us in time, went on to join the Womens Services ourselves. I joined the Army, and became Lieut. in the Army, but more of that later!


To be continued....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mum Part 21

My mother has finally become pale and interesting.

As a teenager mum always wanted to be pale, instead of the brown skin from playing hockey, and surfing Sydney’s northern beaches; and interesting.

I’ve always thought she was interesting.

Catching the train and bus into the city each afternoon, mum would spend an hour every day researching all of the world’s great religions. For a whole year. She wanted to learn, to know. To understand. She eventually resigned herself to being agnostic, believing in something, but not being sure of what.

Imagine her surprise when her husband: the shy 2nd youngest son of a politician, who meekly asked for Bunty’s hand in marriage - and her father continuing to sharpen his tools -not even looking the young man in the eye; this man, this adventurer; her man, our dad; aged 42, father to their five children, soldier, sailor, missionary – imagine her surprise when he travelled to Brisbane for a year to study to become a priest.

She remained agnostic. She has always remained interesting. My mother is pale, and interesting.


June pressed her powered cheek against mum’s.

How are you darling?

Oh…she groans…it’s so hard.

A small tear wells in each eye of the women. They continue to hold hands with their eyes closed.


I am leaving for the airport, to travel home. I can see my sister Carolyn struggling with something near my handbag.

What’s happening sis?

I am trying to put this envelope into your handbag without you noticing.

Uh huh.

Mum has asked me to do this, and she doesn’t want any argument, and nor do I.

Uh huh.

Carolyn rings me in two days time. Did you open the envelope? Cripes! No. I have been too sick to care.

Inside is $200 and a note, in my mother’s beautiful handwriting. I can see the original biro didn’t work. She has made 3 attempts to write the capital letter P.

It took her a long time to write this Patty, Carolyn tells me. I can see the effort. I am stifling the tears as I write this, as I know in my heart it’s probably the last note my mother will ever write to me.

When I am ready, I’ll blow my nose, but for now, the tears flow. 

Mum writes "appreciate your loving care" but she leaves me no kisses. There are no loops.


To be continued…

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mum Part 20

Mum’s face seems flush. Are you ok sweetheart we ask, concerned. Yes, she says shyly, one of the carers, one of Mathew’s friends recognised me today.

Are you Mathew‘s grandmother, he says? I recognise you from your photo on the fridge when I get beers. We chortle at the thought of this young 19 year old man putting two and two together and knowing our 90 year old mother. From the fridge!

Don’t worry Mrs Warby, he assures, I’ll take very good care of you, and he will, because Mathew told him to. He will, because he is a caring young man, and a professional. He will, because it’s our mum. His refrigerator grandmother.

A few days later, she is flushed again. What happened mum?

Mathew’s friend had to shower me today. I nearly died of embarrassment. After he helped me dress, we both noticed my bra hanging on the back of the bathroom door. He said, “I seem to have forgotten that,” but I told him that I was burning my bra today, and could do without it.

We laugh again and cringe on her behalf. It can’t be easy. She is a proud woman, my mother, but it happened, and she made it through, and managed to laugh at the end at her own shyness and humility. Good girl mum. Things are different now, not better, or worse, just different.


It’s Mother’s Day. My sisters and I have booked breakfast at a local licensed café. Make sure It’s licensed I warned, I want my champers! It is Mother’s day after all.

Naturally the restaurant is fully booked, and we are quickly shown our table and a limited menu of selections. We all choose eggs on toast. They have actually gone to a bit of trouble with Mother’s Day, and it’s noted. We each receive a small wrapped bag of chocolates, some hearts, some stars, with a label attached: Happy Mother’s Day - with compliments.

We put one aside to take to mum, later. Some of Carolyn’s neighbour’s paintings are on the wall, for sale. Andrea is a fine artist and June soon falls in love with one of her images. She makes a note to come back later, when she can see the painting closer, without disturbing the couple sitting in front of the frame. This doesn’t happen.


We tiptoe into mum’s room for Mother’s Day, flowers, cards, chocolates. She isn’t there. She isn’t there? I poke my head around the corner of the bathroom, and sure enough, she’s sitting on the toilet waiting for the nurse to help her up. We both burst out laughing. Being here is a bit like having a baby: leave your dignity at the front door and pick it up on the way out. Happy Mother's Day mum.


I wear a face mask, so when I cough I don’t spread the joy of my head cold. I write on it: I love me mum, and dutifully place it over my face. It’s the right thing to do. I sit in the far corner of the room, and twinkle my fingers to mum.

I love you, I mouth, but she doesn’t see it.


Scratching through the drawers looking for Carolyn’s new DVD warranty. Old photographs of mum and dad emerge. The original small brown photo of their wedding day, when mum had to prop dad up as he was weak from malaria. Dad’s handwriting on the back. They are holding hands. Dad has a bandage on his left hand, probably from hospital. They are both in uniform.

Just married!

His beautiful script with it’s generous fat curves and loops. I had his signature down pat as I ‘signed’ my maths tests in high school.

A beach photograph. Dad’s body is hard and young, I swear he has a 6-pack everywhere. Lean, muscular, strong. Mum in a bathing suit, legs to her neck, a beautiful waist, a waist!

Have you ever seen this? I’ve never seen these before?

We put them aside, in a safe place. We don’t find them again when we leave.

Where are they? Have you seen them? What did we do with them? I gave them to you!


Driving to Yeppoon to have my sister’s DSVD repaired. New road. Afternoon sunshine. Gorgeous jump-up mountains, similar to the Glass House Mountains. Kilometres of a strange road, searching for hidden driveways and numbers. I overdrive the property, eventually finding it in the shadows of coastal scrub and trees. On the way home, the sun is setting. I glance to my peripheral vision - to my right – and immediately have to photograph this wonderful scene. Leave it I rouse to myself. Just drive. Concentrate.

But how can I when the sun is setting? I must photograph it, I must! Pulling over to the side of the road, a cattle property.  I raise my camera with shaking hands. Such beauty.

Later, I am slowed down by a traffic accident, as a motorcyclist dies in a flashing tangle of police lights and tow trucks. Ambulance. Fire engines. What a mess.


To be continued...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mum Part 19

One afternoon my mobile rings with the shrill voice of my old school friend Sue. I have called her Sue Sue, (so good I named her twice) over the years, so Sue Sue rings and wants to catch-up.

I warn I am full of germs but she comes around anyway. See, told you she was worthwhile. Faithful and true, always. It’s hard to make friends, harder to keep them, and our friendship spans from meeting as 15 year old virgins to marriages, children, and now the expectant arrival of grandchildren. You just can’t pull old relationships like this out of your ass.

Our friendship reminds me of an old silver vase, black with wear. Tarnished, looking unloved, but an hour of conversation sparkles the shine, polishes the wit and memories, and the vase always holds the water, always displays the flowers. Reliable. We sit in the comfort of my mother’s darkened lounge room and discuss everything, as is our way. Her husband Dave, is fishing out of the reef. Another friend Jules is also on the reef with her husband. We imagine them hauling large parrot fish, red emperor, snapper.

Recipes of the best way to cook the fish.

I don’t really cook fish, so although the conversation doesn’t really apply to me, I enjoy watching Sue Sue speak, love to see her blue eyes and long brown legs coiled like a spring beneath her. We are both getting old, and I love it. She is the only daughter and sister to four brothers, I am also her sister and I am hers and she is mine. We are together.  We polish.

She asks me if her daughter Jillian can dress at my home for her wedding. I am thrilled but say no. I’m not sure my husband can bear the strain, the imagined stress of it all.

We’ll work something out. I take our photograph.


The lawn needs mowing, we have no mother to ring the man.

Mark? Can you please come and mow our lawn. When? Soon, anytime really, but soon.

I’ll be around in 10 minutes.

Well you can’t really complain about that, and within 10 minutes he is almost running across the back yard. He has a curious gait, and I stand at the kitchen window peering through the cream lace curtains, transfixed and interested. Does he have a mild spasticity? Did he have polio as a child? Is his hip out?

He wheels the mower around and off he goes again, with his curious lurch. That’s probably why he mows lawns, but he does a reasonable job and soon it’s the whipper snipper’s turn. There’s something lovely as a woman, to hear these sounds. It must be the same for a man, when he listens as his wife beats eggs or presses the steam button on an iron. It’s comforting.


When my older sister was here she pruned the side hedge.  The red bush, whose name I don’t know. She is a gardener, a green thumb. It was my job to cut the branches up and place them into a bin, but Mark offers to mulch them for me. This is a great plan and I readily agree, it’s sensible.

Soon another organic sound fills the house, and Mark tells me how lawns need to be mulched.

It’s the difference between couch grass and buffalo grass, he lectures; and each lawn needs different amounts of mulch, it builds the soil and protects the moisture loss.

As he speaks he closes his eyes and holds his fingers together. This is a gardener, a lawn mowing man, who knows his stuff. I have to admire his passion and knowledge.

I know he is right, and we both busy ourselves with our chosen jobs. Mark charges me another $10 for mulching. The lawn looks loved.


My small black drag-along suitcase is kept in mum’s bedroom. Her duchess holds many things. The shoulder patch from her war uniform. Old Palm Sunday crosses. A miniature statue of David, one of brother John’s travel souvenirs for her. A lavender room spray, a 90th birthday present bought by my friend, for mum to spray on her pillow, and around the room before sleep comes. I note that one third has been used already.

Mum loves is sissy, Carolyn tells me. It helps her sleep.

On the walls facing her bed, are three framed pictures.

One is of a Picasso drawing - mother and child - I bought for mum as a 21 year old, thrilled to be purchasing a real Picasso print, only 500,000 printed! The other two frames are filled with my clumsy long stich work, each is a bouquet of native flowers, fat waratahs, delicate Geraldton Wax, bottle brush and so on, lovingly made during the cold Brisbane winter nights; when the room smelt of breast milk and poo, and darling babies slept in cots. Before our bedroom had a television installed.

Now we lay prostrate and stare like fools at the moving pictures, before one of us can stir a finger to switch it off. We drool on our pillows, sleep deprived.


Mum’s clock radio is flashing, must have been a power cut. I want to change it, but there is something about the way it is; the way it bleeps to the world: I am lost.

Blink, flash.

I don’t know what the time is.

Flash, blink.

Help me! Help me!

Flash. Flash.

It's unsettled, and it suits my mood. I leave it to its own mute distress, and pull the door softly behind me.


To be continued…

Mum Part 18

Carolyn drives in to see mum in the afternoon; Rockhampton is having a dozing afternoon of sport and apathy. Mum is asleep; her mouth is open again. It's almost too tempting to whip out her dentures and give them a good scrub, but she won't have a bar of it. The nurse rolls her eyes and tells us how hard she has tried to get mum to agree to have her teeth cleaned. Her dentures soaked.

I’m quite capable of doing my own teeth, she snorts. She and Carolyn would clean them together, sis turning her back with sudden interest in the towel rack, to give mum privacy.  Neither of us have ever seen mum with her teeth out. So she cleans them in the bathroom; they soak as she showers; in the old bathroom of my teenage years where I learnt to shave my legs and not nick myself, in my father’s bathroom he designed. Dad put in a huge mirror which nearly covered the entire wall.

It was the first thing mum removed when dad passed away. She removed his mirror. It wasn’t that dad was a vain man, indeed, he was a very humble man, but it was a new house, our first ever new house, and he wanted it right. It was the style of the day.


So mum is asleep, lying on top of her bed, as has become her way. It’s for old women to lie under the doona. Not for mum. She lies on top of her bed. Carolyn sits quietly in the way that Carers do, waiting. Waiting for something to happen, good or bad. She sends me a dit Don’t ring, mum asleep. She sends it to mum instead, by habit.


Mum’s phone sounds like a fire engine in the folded shadows of her room. Carolyn spends the next 2 minutes between beating herself up and trying not to laugh out loud.


Brisbane -Monday 5.53pm. Trying to recreate my brother’s Mediterranean Chicken dish. Mostly unsuccessfully, as I bought chicken thighs instead of chicken thighs with the bones in them. The meat won’t be as tender, grr. Never mind, live and learn, eh?

Carolyn sends me a dit. Ring mum now sis. Mum answers straight away. I’m on loudspeaker.

Is that my darling? I tease. She replies: It is! It is! It’s me mum! It’s me mum! and we both chortle at our old standard greeting to each other.

Just like old times - nearly 6pm - she’d usually be watching Eddie McGuire and enjoying her first scotch. Except she’s still in Rehab.

How’s your cough mum?

Nearly gone, I haven’t coughed much at all today!

Oh? That’s marvellous.

And, she continues, I walked the parallel bars today.

Fantastic mum, remembering the last time 5 days ago when she managed a heroic 2 full lengths, unsteadily turning around at the end, to complete the other length. Her mouth was set in a grim determination. Don’t mess with me. I don’t like, but I have to do it. I will, I will, I will.

How many laps did you do today mum?


I start a coughing fit; I am so pleased for her. It’s her triumph, her Jessica Watson crossing-the-line-moment, and I let her crow with pride.

Carolyn tells me in the background that she intends to walk to the Dining Room tonight too. I can almost feel mum beaming away, her paper thin cheeks flushed with pink.

I have used mum being in hospital as an example to my own sons. When life slaps you down, you get back up again. When it slaps you down again, you get straight back up. Good girl mum.


To be continued…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mum - Part 17

It’s Saturday, race day for mum. She has followed the nags since moving to Rockhampton with her 5 children and husband John; it gave her an interest outside the house; and as she explained once: “It challenged my intellect with working out which weight, which rider, which race, who will win.”

For a Sydney-born woman who won a High School Scholarship at a prestigious girls school in south Sydney, I find this statement extraordinary. Intellect? On the horses? Still, once a form guide has been studied, there are a lot of variables, so part of me can see where she is coming from.

To me, looking at my mother as an art lover, lover of literature and classical music buff, horse racing seems to rate a very low rank – down there – on the scale of things I’d like to do with my life.

Each to their own. So anyway, I’m sitting there trying hard not to cough, keeping mum company as we watch Jessica Watson sail into mum’s beloved Sydney Harbour Heads. Uncle Alan has emailed her his racing tips for the day, and she sits and quietly makes notes. She asks me to place the bets for her when I go home.  It will be my first time. This is the phone number, this is my code. Race 2, number 4, $5 each way to win.

The numbers are small, but it’s just an interest. As it turns out, the horse comes home and pays good money. She’s made a healthy win. For me – it’s cured me for life. I don’t gamble. I don’t buy a lucky ticket. I do buy raffle tickets from the Scouts, Lifesavers, and so on, but not Lotto or similar. Can’t be bothered. I am not a gambler. But mum is. She is gambling on getting out of hospital, of getting back onto her feet. ‘Dr says I’ll have a limp, but that’s ok,’ she tells me. What are the odds?


The nurse comes in to give mum her daily anti- blood clot needle, straight into her stomach. Mum stoically pulls her top up and closes her eyes, opening them again to stare at the wall. Her tummy is beginning to be covered in soft yellow bruises. This is the first time I’ve ever seen my mother’s bare tummy. For some weird reason I’m thrilled. That’s where I was made, I think. How odd.


Home again to Carolyn, to slide the front door open and see mum’s empty ‘throne’. No one has sat in it since her hospital admission. No one sits in it anyway. Occasionally we kids challenge each other to do so: Go on Sis, sit in mum’s chair, but we dare not, we dare not. It’s mums. Respect.

The throne is empty. Long live the Queen.


To be continued…

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mum - Part 16

Mum is sleeping lightly. I tiptoe in and place her clean washing on the bed, bringing also today’s newspaper so she can check her racing guide.

Together we watch Jessica Watson beat towards the finish line, fat lumpy seas are making her progress slow. We wait. Jessica tacks again, beating north.

Hospital has taught me to be patient she says. I nod. The damn lift is teaching me patience too I think. If you keep hitting the button for Level 2, bells ring.


Rockhampton sky clouds over, various birds enjoy the weekend, taking their time to get from A to B.


On my way to see mum I follow a very new very black very shiney Holden.  To my great surprise I follow the exact same car back to home.  My sister also pulls up to the house at the same time I do.  Very odd.


To be continued.

Mum Part 15

I’m awake and breathing through both nostrils, this has to be a first! It’s another gorgeous autumn day in Rockhampton, and outside two Peewees in black and white military dress are conducting an emu parade on mum’s lawn. Carolyn blows her nose. Uh-oh, please don't catch my cold.

My dreams were conducted to Ian Morton’s HeartStrings Track 1, on endless loop. Loved it, so soothing. Thanks Ian for your heart and inspiration to heal and calm.


It’s Saturday, women’s work day. Washing on; churning. Beds stripped and sheets flung out to dry, washing up gently rattling within the bubbles in the old stainless steel sink.

Hosing the front deck I see a dozen or more large birds fly in the classic V formation, heading south, perhaps to the wet grasslands still under flood from Rockhampton’s heavy rains last month. The sky snaps with blue clarity, a slight chill from night air hangs, hesitant; to stay or leave?

Last night’s discussion was of mum, as always. Apparently a young nurse whispered to her that ‘she might be coming home on Monday’ and this news has both thrown us for a six as we aren’t prepared, the house isn’t ready, things have to be done, but worse: it’s gotten mum’s hopes up to leave the Rehabilitation Centre too early.

Surely not, we moan, that was so wrong of the young nurse to say anything, and sister June – herself a Nursing Sister in Aged Care – makes a note to complain to the Head RN. It’s just not good enough, it’s terrible to get mum dreaming of coming home, too early, too soon.

Of course, we all hope she does come home, the birds need her, they miss their mum, we miss our mum.


I follow Carolyn around the house. We are both a bit lost. We half heartedly tidy here and there. I replace the tea light candles I burned yesterday evening to welcome my sister home from work. This is a house of candles. On the radio Mr Mozart weaves his magic.

Today I will sort out her DVD, today I will brew a batch of mixture to trap the fruit fly attacking mum’s citrus trees, today I will start to pack and organise to go home.


To be continued…

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mum - Part 14

It’s no good, it’s no bloody good, I have to go to the doctors, and I have to go as soon as possible! Mum’s doctors doesn’t work for the next few days, so it's off to the Medical Centre on Dean Street, where a large aboriginal National Parks Ranger sits under a tree, on a rock, munching lazily on a pie. He looks like he's really enjoying it.  I lick my lips at the thought of another Rocky pie. They make them so well up here. Mmm, steak pie.

A youngish Indian woman doctor sees me, her tummy swollen with her second child. We chat and I cough, and cough - she writes me a script, I am grateful. It does occur to me later, listening to my conversation with her, that I really don’t take care of myself enough. I don’t think any mother does, really; we usually come last, and that’s just how it is.


Take one table each day, for five days. What? Is that all? Sheesh, I go and take another 2 tablets to help dry my nose (useless) and another two Cold and Flu tablets (useless) and pray the antibiotics will work. (I doubt it.)

I can’t even bloody drink!

On the way home I see a young dog standing enthusiastically on his hind legs. He is not tied on. He bites with the air with his bark. ARF! ARF! ARF!


In the afternoon I sleep, resting with one foot on the floor to get up and let the sliding door man in. I have been waiting all day for him to return, to attach a plastic thingy that he forgot yesterday. Carolyn tells me his partner had a heart attack. 'He’s had one before, he just has to lose weight. He’ll be ok.' I dunno, the bloke’s had two heart attacks, doesn’t sound great. I hope he recovers soon.


Later I emerge, dishevelled. Cook Spaghetti Bolognese mince. Lots of garlic. A quiet night with my sister, my tissues, my cold. I sleep like a dead man until the coughing starts at 4.30am. Carolyn tiptoes in and rubs my back with Vicks Vapour rub, and puts on Ian Morton’s wonderful HeartStrings cd. His music cradles me in his care. As much as I blew my poor nose, it fills. As much love and care as Carolyn extends and uses on me, it soon refills. I have such a caring and attentive and loving sister, and I am grateful. Cough, blow. Cough. Blow.

My ears pop and I blow yellow snot.

Mum – Part 13

I sleep badly, my nose streams and I snore like a freight train derailing. Apparently I have left the glass front sliding door open, and the cold night air streams in from under the curtains, to where I sleep on the floor. When I wake at 5.45am to see John off to Bowen, my cold is worse, far worse. I could cry with misery.

Packing the car, the Rockhampton sun suddenly pops up over Mt Archer’s left shoulder, catching us all in surprise. I race inside to grab my camera and John excitedly points out “Here Patty, grab it from this angle. And here; take this. Get the light, get the light." I snap away as I do, so happy. Snotty, but happy.

As he drives off I softly call the Torres Strait Islander greeting - Yowah. Goodbye. Yowah John. We three siblings wave.


It takes me a full 3 hours to feel clear enough in my chest to visit mum, 3 hours of blowing my nose and hacking. Driving to the hospital I notice two old men, really old, in-their-eighties-at-least-old riding fairly new looking 3-wheeled bikes. One front wheel, and two large wheels either side of a trolley basket. Their veined legs slowly push the pedals as I pass them in awe. What is it with Rocky men? There are at least three huge car-wash centres, (it’s what Rockhampton men do on Saturdays) and they just love their vehicles, even these bikes look pretty spiffy.

As I enter the main road to the new bridge, I pass a crushed car surrounded by a disco of lights from the various support vehicles. Police, fire brigade, ambulance, tow trucks. He must be a stranger.


Low tide in the Fitzroy River juts up large black rocks, they seem to float above the waterline. The 10am Jetstar flight is late, hauling its passengers over the rooftops of the Range area at 10.20. I take the opportunity to slowly drive around the suburb and photograph the colonial beauties I see peering from behind the clipped mock orange. Rockhampton holds many secrets, all you need is a prudent gardener, and a hedge.


Affectionately knows as Shirley-and-that, I wonder if Mum has conversed some more with her old market friend, Shirley. And-that. Now an elderly woman who has worn out two good knees from years of toil, Shirley adds ‘and that…” to most of her sentences.

“My son wrote to me, and that,” she starts. “He studied hard, and that…” Mum and Carolyn and I smirk in delight. Later we recount the story to June on the phone, bursting with “AND-THAT!” and we laugh at our own silliness and Shirley speech. We find it perfectly charming, a delight.

Another resident is a simple countrywoman, who weaves stories which engage my mother. Have you ever thought of writing a book, mum enquires? I did start to write, she says. She reminds me so much of my own mother, mum says softly. I find her stories of growing up on a dairy farm so entertaining. It’s the way she tells the story mum says. The countrywoman does not say “and-that".


In the morning residents are required to do physio in the gym. Mum rolls her eyes. A gymnasium she puffs. Clearly she is unimpressed but she still does the leg exercises set for her.

The needs must when the devil drives she tells me, grimacing in pain as bone grinds against bruised flesh. She has the world’s largest bruise on her inner thigh. June explained it as a shockwave of pain, emerging to discolour the inner leg, as well as the outer thigh. I haven’t seen it but both sisters suck their teeth back when they speak of it. Mum’s bruise. She is being very brave, but continues to roll her eyes and loll about with mock horror at the thought of movement.

She quotes again: The needs must when the devil drives, and shuffles her fractured leg up…slowly…slowly…and down…easy…hold hard Ned!

And repeat.

That makes three Pearl, another 20 to go chirps the young Physio. The only real exercise mum is doing is her eye rolls.

“I don’t like it, and I don’t want to, but I must, I must” she chants to me, her eyes squeezed shut with determination.

I rub her cold feet, and leave for home.


To be continued…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mum – Part 12

Mum’s blue eyes twinkle as she speaks. “They wheeled me out of the room for a while, and when I returned I had a new bed! The staff are so pleased with themselves, what a surprise.”

And she shows off to her concerned and eager audience of children, pressing the remote, up. Down. Up. Down.

It’s lovely to watch her play, as it’s exactly the sort of bed we were hoping for her. It will take the pressure of her fractured hip and ease getting in and out of bed.
A large orange hibiscus is picked from the garden to brighten the room – for a day.


At home on the back deck, the parrots are squabbling over cut dew melon. Mr Bossy struts around in his pigeon-toed way, a cranky rainbow of attitude, chasing the timid parrots to hide in between the parsley growing in pots.

They take turns to splash in the large birdbath, and fly to the tree with a noisy whirl of feathers.


Driving in the afternoon to see mum. A tired old Queenslander house - plain and ugly – sits sadly on a large corner allotment. Dead cars sprinkle the garden. Behind the frosted glass louvers I can see 3 women – one elderly – sitting and looking to the passing world of traffic.

What is their world, I wonder.

Errant husbands, wayward sons, have abandoned their broken cars for the grass to grow through. Old car bodies lie like discarded shoes on a bedroom floor.

The women peer out from behind their slatted view, half hiding, half exploring the world. When you look at this house, you quickly look away. It burdens the eye. Look harder, look deeper, and see the mothers and daughters behind the windows.

A lace curtain flaps tiredly, waving hello. Goodbye.


John cooks up a Mediterranean Chicken dish for dinner. Thighs, olives, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, he places the meal in front of us with a grin and a glass of Cab Sav wine. We cannot keep up the praise fast enough, it’s delicious, and we adore the love and care he gave us with the meal.

Thank you John, thanks mate.

Later we sit and chat over our lives, holding our children up this way and that, looking at perspectives and noting the changes. It’s good bonding time.

Carolyn snores in chorus from her bedroom.

We smile and sip our sticky wine. It’s almost bedtime and an early start, things need to be done, packed and organised before the 6am start. Goodnight, sleep well.


Today I might see an old friend, who works at the hospital as an Orderly. Or maybe he’s a Wardsman. Whatever. It will be interesting to see him again, as the last time we met – in the Cricketers Arms pub in Newcastle – he told me he was to marry.

He wanted to meet me ‘one last time, just to be sure.'

I assured him he was ‘good to go’ and wished him well.

When mum was admitted, he recognised her name and enquired after me. “I used to live with your daughter Patty, Mrs Warby.”

And he did too, until I threw him out. Ah…young love, young lovers.


To be continued…