Writing Task

WITH APOLOGIES TO CHARLES DICKENS

As nobody in Australia would sympathize with the first and second fleets without being first assured that the Nash/Williams family is well respected, it is clear that they were, not only in the new colony of New South Wales, Australia, ever since the first British citizens arrived , but they were acknowledged throughout the world. This has been attested to by written documentation, that, not only were they the descendants of Adam and Eve, but they previously held considerable status in Mother England. Lieutenant Nash was an honoured Lieutenant in the Navy of His Majesty George lll and Robert Williams in His Majesty’s Army, and we must at this stage say “Rule Britannia”.

As often happens in these respected families, one of their honourable representatives from great families traditionally became a black sheep, yet was often pardoned, so despite his double desertion from the British Army fighting Napoleon, well documented as to reasons, Robert Williams became honoured, as all felt was his due, in the new colony. Both men were proud of the fact that they could contribute to the birth of a new colony for the land that was “Mother of the Free” and they extolled her. William Nash took part in the first wedding ceremony that took place in the new colony at Parramatta , although it was a recorded fact that, as was his due in his own mind, he had also consorted with female convicts below deck despite being accompanied on the ship by his common law wife, who is known in history by the name of Maria. He had been disciplined for this minor misdemeanour by the ship’s captain and he married Maria in this Parramatta ceremony. Their daughter,Sarah, was later sworn in wedlock to Robert Williams, who had arrived on the second fleet, and despite being a deserter, had been graciously emancipated and given a large land grant in the Monaro region.

The first task of this honourable group was to bring civilisation to this land, which they had declared terra nullius and had claimed, in true British style, for Britain, and it was not long before the Rum Rebellion took place, in which Lieutenant Nash played a significant part, as was his style, and a new Governor was put in place.

The previous occupants of this land often had no idea of the honour bestowed on them by bringing to this land the civilisation of such a noble group of people; they had to be killed or severely disciplined when they refused to bow down to the Union Jack and this new government, or when they did not acknowledge the wisdom and greatness of the new settlers.

And so a great, civilised Australia was born, with the assistance of the Nash and William families and the other honoured English compatriots who had bravely faced the difficult and dangerous journey across the wide blue oceans and who also still ensure that True Blue British values prevail across this wide and great land.

WITH APOLOGIES TO ROBYN SANDRI (and the Aboriginal People)

our first people
they are within their stories
the stories are like cloaks that hold all safe
how now can they tell their stories
when their voices are taken
there are different stories
with each voice
there are different voices within each campfire
how can we hear them all
tales of the dreamtime
of spirit ancestors
tales of the past thousands of years
tales of the last two hundred years
tales of the here and now.

do we listen to these voices
do we heed the messages
do we give these honour
brave men and women
families important to them
their country

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My Dog and the Sounds of Silence

MY DOG AND THE SOUND OF SILENCE

When I realised that I had placed “dog” first in my required list of what was important to me, I was alarmed that a mere animal had taken precedence over family, grandchildren and the other wonderful people and things in my life.

But pondering my home I now realise that hasty choice signified much more than that my dog is my only companion in my daily activities. She embodies the wonderful sound of silence I now enjoy for the first time ever in my own home.

This house in which I live now I have called home longer than any other. I did not raise my children here and have very fond memories of the home we had then – a joyous house, and like this one,with a bushland outlook.

I realise, with surprise, that I remember my life in sounds. I grew up with a musical mother. Every time I hear a Beethoven piano sonata I remember my mother at her piano (a piano my youngest daughter has now in her home). My father was always making things, hammering or sawing.

My late husband and his brother were lovers of music. Not only was music played on multiple devices available such as radio, TV and gramophones, sometimes simultaneously, but the animated discussion of such sometimes overrode the beauty of the music. They both did agree that the slow movement of the Bach Double Violin Concerto was “music to die to”. They both managed to do so in their own ways in the years that have passed.

Having young children slowly growing older was a wonderful period of my life. I loved their their joyous laughter, their loud shouting, their occasional weeping and then their music. The piano we bought rang with music, violins and violas played – only to be drowned out by flutes and a piccolo. And the singing!

Three of my children became professional musicians and the one who did not study music at University now has two children who play and sing when they visit.

We left Sydney and our lovely family home there. It was a very sad and tumultuous period of my life. I managed to buy my current home on the Coast twenty four years ago when I realised
my life had changed for evermore. It is very dear to me. It has provided security, a gentle refuge and harmony.

This home was noisy at first with my husband playing his sound devices of all kinds – mostly simultaneously and still having friendly debates with his brother who had moved to live nearby. My younger daughter taught music students from this home for several years. A wall of the room in which she taught still has a display of her pictures some in musical symbols, animals playing various instruments and others to delight young aspiring musicians.

My brother in law and his wife, who was a working member of the RSPCA, had multiple dogs at all times. One, Dolly, would sing as soon as this daughter brought out sheet music. All the dog “cousins” visited one another regularly. But there has been no one left from that family for some years. The two adults and all the dogs have gone to their maker.

My husband had poodles who adored him. They were excited dogs who followed him to the end of the world and back and cried when he was absent. They tolerated me as the feeder and provider of necessities of life. My husband died over ten years ago – a slow and painful death – but it was in this home and he was comforted by the attention and devotion of these little poodles.

After his death each of them also, one by one, reached the end of their lives, the last one remembered by the Bach Double Violin Concerto just like her father and uncle!

I was left alone, but with that came a wonderful silence.

I have many visitors. I have a grandson who brings his cello when he visits and we hear haunting sounds when he practises, as if Jacqueline du Pres were visiting the Central Coast.

My home still reverberates with sound when my family members visit with their younger children and dogs. They play my piano (usually the dogs don’t), sing and sometimes bring their other instruments. I also have visits from “The Angry Queen” when my operatic, contralto daughter is here. Her children, to some extent, and their cousins, completely, delight at and demand this persona from her following her creating it as a joke some years ago.

But in my day to day life I listen to the sounds of silence, of which I have had little time to do until now.

I bought a dog for myself after the last poodle died. She is a reflective creature. She has, as a Shnauzer, a Germanic and pragmatic nature.

Together we can hear the sounds of insects, the cicadas and bees of summer, the hum of other insects as yet unknown at other times. She can hear the sounds of lizards. I listen but only hear their silence. Surrounded as we are by bushland we are awakened by the early morning kookaburras and sometimes by the chirping of other little birds welcoming the sunrise. We can hear the faint rustle as they land in the trees and drink nectar from the native grevillea that abounds in the garden.

We can hear the wind in the branches of the trees. Just now, as I write, the branches are very still and there is not a sound from them. But I can almost hear the mist as it closes in upon us.

I do not feel alone in this wonderful sound of silence. My dog, sitting at my feet as I write has just let out a sigh of contentment – nothing more, really, than an quiet and slow expulsion of air.

I talk to her quite often. She is an undemanding conversationalist. She responds with a silent wag of her tail – the enthusiasm of such wag depending largely on what I have suggested.

I listen to the almost silent patter of her feet as she walks on the wooden floors to check on me and then the light scratch of paws on the carpet beside me.

She is part of the sound of silence that I am now loving.

Next weekend, with great enthusiasm, I am travelling far afield to see and hear my daughter and my granddaughter singing in and my son in law playing in a Remembrance Day concert.

Then enriched by the music I will return, with my dog, to my familiar, quiet and much appreciated home to listen to more of the wonderful sound of silence.

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Leave Australia Day to the Young

Leave Australia Day to the young!

Since I left school in 1957 I have not joined any formal Australia Day celebrations on 26th January.

I have thought and questioned how we can celebrate on a day of such sadness for the first people whom we have treated so badly. And how can we celebrate on a day which actually does not include states other than NSW? What date should we have?

But worst of all now how can we celebrate the act of welcoming new citizens to Australia if it is banned for Councils who decide not to hold such ceremonies on 26th January?

I have lived through the shameful “White Australia Policy” until Menzies more or less buried it and Whitlam removed it. I lived, with embarrassment through the “Dictation Test”. I lived through school days when some fellow friends and children from other countries were badly treated by adults even in schools. I saw stalwart individuals from overseas carve out lives in this country which should be an example to us all.

I lived through the Tampa, the “turn back the boats” saga. I have hung my head in shame at the treatment of refugees both in their exclusion from this country and their poor treatment both here and in our off shore refugee camps. I have occasionally worked with some of the children.

But this latest government act I cannot stand for. I would like to formally renounce my citizenship on Australia Day – but being a sixth generation Australian I have no other identity to claim.

Then I spoke to a younger person, a grandson who can now vote. My faith in the good sense of young Australians and what our future will be with the young making such decisions was renewed!

He suggests that Australia Day is a day to celebrate our future, not dwell on the past, and to party all together in our diversity, as one united nation looking ahead. We should not be remembering any old histories. We should all unite on a completely new, happy day. And he suggests choosing a moving day – one not tied to any date. As an example he suggested the first Friday in December. That would be the start of summer, a wonderful time in a wonderful country.

We will do well with the young at the helm!

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Entry to Teaching

As a person who has, during my career, both taught and was connected to schools in another capacity, I feel a need to comment on the uproar about “the low mark” required to get into a teaching degree.

There are two questions here. Do we need teachers in the school population to be extremely standardised to those who have always found learning easy? Or do we need different types or teachers throughout the whole school system?

The thought that very good, attentive students, often girls who have loved learning and have never put a foot wrong at school, should be the sort of people to who make up the body of teachers is quite worrying. We need a range of teachers. Some need to know what makes the inattentive students’ minds wander. Some need know the delightful feeling of confronting authority. Some need to admire having fun rather than having one’s head in information most of the day. And some need to know how students who find it hard to learn feel. I felt I was a much better teacher in areas that were not my real strength.

But most seriously of all, I personally think teachers can be better teachers if they have experienced a bit of life somewhere other than school.

Some of the best teachers I have known have come from other backgrounds. They know about the big wide world that is not school. Of course some students who want to enter teaching may have had part time jobs along the way. This provides some valuable experience.

Those who come to teaching later have, of course, always been welcome and usually make great teachers. But for those who want to study teaching straight out of school I think they should all study a first year which includes no commitment at all to education. A first year of a generalised Arts or Science degree, for example, could be a starting point to make the application to a teaching course. They have then seen some of their other options, other styles of learning, met different sorts of other students. While this does not provide world experience such as another job does, or a gap year does, it might be helpful for a prospective young teacher straight from school.

In the dark ages when I was studying, Education 1 was a second year subject. It had to follow either first year Psychology or first year Philosophy, both very useful stand alone subjects for a prospective teacher.

It is not lower a University admission standard that is the real problem. It is lack of experiences other than education when anyone, of any standard, decides to move into a teaching degree straight from school.

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Move With The Times Researchers

The latest research – apparently we old timers are becoming “addicted” to our iPhones!
First the middle aged (I can only assume) researchers attacked the young for being “addicted” to IT equipment and now it is us oldies.

But the middle aged carers of children and the elderly have always been a bit condescending! I ask them to think back.

Socrates, who condemned the new fangled idea of writing and reading, used to advocate forums in public places, lightened from time to time with a spot of hemlock drinking. My mother remembered parental worries, as she was in her late teens, that the new fangled “wireless” might have a negative effect on her study during her last year at school.

For me, in the 1940s and 50s my parents limited my time on the newish telephones. Also my time reading was limited – but I used to circumvent this restriction by hiding under the bed covers with a torch. ( I avoided any greenish vegetable like plant that could conceivably be related to hemlock.)

Now days both children, and sensible older people avoid the various hiccups we used to have whilst being involved in EXACTLY the same activities.

If we want to find out information we do not have to go to a heavy encyclopaedia or a dictionary, fight with our sibling about who has first go, and then look it up. We can google it. Then we can resume reading the ebook that we had been previously absorbed in. If we think of a plan and need to contact a friend for a coffee or a “play date”, we just interrupt our book at the end of a paragraph or chapter to ring or message. We do not have to even nominate the meeting place to specifically as we can be in touch by device at the approximate meeting place.

If we want to watch something on TV we no longer have to fight for the possession of the remote or argue about the program. We can get this on our device. In fact we move from activity to activity just as we always have, but smoothly at our own speed and convenience, on the same device.

Some talk of the lack of physical movement this involves. But much of the movement, such as arguing or fighting with siblings, parents or children about who has possession of or rights to what was in demand at the time, was certainly neither pleasant nor particularly aerobic.

Outdoor activities have not been curtailed. Older people like me can count our steps, measure our distance and even listen to music or the radio as we walk our dogs or otherwise enjoy our leisure. Children can more easily round up a scratch team for kicking a ball up at the local oval or arrange a meander through the bush to get information for a school project.

From my observation we older people and the young ones are all doing much as we have always done from time immemorial – exchanging ideas, making plans, being sociable, enjoying life with others – but now all from one handy device, not having to move from phone to TV to bookcase nearby, to the library at inconvenient times (they have all moved into ebook lending now!)

And best of all – no longer do we have to look up street addresses and maps. We are not having to pull over to the side of the road to see where we have gone wrong. One is gently chided “return to the route” before instructions recommence.

And for the odd time when one has to do something new (and for children I must imagine this is an even greater joy) the device will tell you how. It will explain how to knit poppies just as well as how to change blades in an electric saw. I had a bit of trouble resetting something after a blackout recently. The joy of listening to (or merely reading) the instructions is great. Never once does a device say “That’s perfectly simple” or ask “Do you really not know how to do that?”

One does not have to remember to take a pen everywhere. One’s reading glasses will be reliably near one’s device.

And very best of all for a poor speller such as myself. One can check one’s spelling as one writes!

Accept the new life, middle aged researchers. Ponder (or research) whether perhaps devices just make you feel a little less important and in control?

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What is Social Justice.?

I went to a funeral the day before yesterday. It was of a person who had died suddenly and much younger than is usual but our friendship, born of being fellow students at one stage in our disparate lives, was a thirty year long one. She left behind a young child but her large family of origin, despite their shock, distress and sorrow, provided a funeral full of memories we would all like to envisage leaving when we die. They are an extraordinary family.

The next day I had to attend a meeting. This should have been uplifting, as it generally is, as it was of an inspiring group of wonderful people wanting social justice for all. But we came to a point of having to define the details of what “social justice” means and encompasses for this group.

This is not easy. Instead of focussing on positives this funeral and the meeting has left me querying the notion of “social justice” and how strongly we each look at the definition through our individual prisms. The deceased, in the profession we shared in which we had to focus on the care of children facing difficulties, was a very kind, good woman. She, however, had grown up in an area which had a reputation for less affluence and she had always spoken in defence of those who needed help, citing her greater knowledge of the problems based on her disadvantaged upbringing than some of we fellow students, like me, whom she viewed as coming from more affluent and thus more privileged backgrounds.

Meeting her family en mass, as I did at her funeral, made me realise that she had privileges she did not acknowledge. She had a large supportive family, who were very thoughtful, intelligent encouraging and forgiving and whose younger members had gone on to work in areas with successes that most in the community would envy.

My late husband was similar. He viewed his background as quite underprivileged. I found it difficult to distinguish, in both cases, this rear vision from a very personal aspect which changes differences into a lack of privilege and negates the positives. One can often see this in public figures, such as politicians, who cite some misfortune in their lives as giving insight into disadvantage and inequity. And none of us are going to have identical lives.

We have to be careful of our own personal standpoints and, perhaps, biases.

And this is what we face in definition of “social justice”. We can all be hidebound, as well as informed, by our particular life experiences and outlooks.

One of these categories that needs no help in definition is that of asylum seekers. Two men in their nineties talked to me about this only last week when we were discussing refugees with a group of older men. These two, one from Hungary and one from Italy, both of whom have been in Australia since they were nineteen years old, expressed the following sentiments. No one chooses to become a refugee and leave their country, their extended families, their language and traditions lightly. It is because they cannot be safe, or they cannot feed their children and/or keep them safe. Most people love their country and going somewhere else is a journey filled with fear, doubt and sorrow and is only taken when the person feels there is no safe or sensible alternative. The idea of “economic refugees” is often cited by those arguing against our responsibilities,, but not to be able to keep your children safe and well is surely more that a mere “economic” issue.

This has been complicated for me by the fact that our country has always been very racist. I can remember very powerful incidents since I was a child in the fifties and lived in a multi-racial town. It has not improved very much and I get very annoyed when people try to allege Australia has ever been “welcoming”. I am old enough to remember the “Dictation Test” which was not removed until 1958. How can we do more to eradicate Australian racism visible on the Central Coast? Therefore from my personal bias and lived experience I would very much like some emphasis on education for our local communities.

But we have another anomaly to address here? Should our help for refugees be focussed world wide, or on the areas where Australia is responsible for those who seek asylum here and does so badly? How much funding should go to individuals in trouble or on the changing  in thinking of our community and thus our government?

Moving into other issues that are also clearly areas social inequalities and disadvantages it becomes even more difficult.

The plight of our Indigenous people is a topic many of us would like to address soon, particularly in light of the refusal of the government to agree to what seems to many to be the reasonable “Uluru Statement”. But again should the support be one of community education and government lobby or personal help?

Disability is another issue. Again we have some clear cut examples. But we have a government which does have in place a system which claims to provide for the disabled and surely the aim of this group and others on this and other comparable issues must be more lobbying of governments so that this support is fair and adequate rather than raising money to helping paste over holes in this system. We, the taxpayers, rely far to much on the government’s preference to keep our taxes low, to fund the less than adequate outsourcing in some of these areas and to rely on charities for help. Is financially aiding this disgraceful behaviour by a charitable donation a help or a not for profit organisation a help or a hindrance to real social equity for the disabled?

On the other hand can we, as individuals (or as a group) stand by and see individuals in difficulties without helping?

One of the members of our group mentioned the need to include environmental issues as a social justice issue. This surely must be a clear one. If we look merely at the future of our children and grandchildren this should be enough to see an intergenerational social justice. But added to this is the fact that our government is negatively impacting on these issues by supporting institutions which add to climate change and handing out subsidies to support outdated methods of supplying/growing food when their are droughts (and floods on occasions). It is hard to see how this is not a clear cut social justice issue which needs lobbying and public awareness support.

One member of the group suggested that one of the aims for the group could be “to facilitate social cohesion and harmony”. No one could disagree with that. Just the concept raises the spirit. And it will take funds to set up meetings/ teaching opportunities to do this.

From these early morning ramblings I think I can see a path for my own thinking.

I would like to work with the over arching goal to change opinions and attitudes of our community and government and move towards social justice in Australia. But on the way we can sometimes give priority, perhaps triggered from our own or someone else’s insights and lived experiences, of actual help to groups and individuals. But only if we can make some lasting difference. Not just to make us feel better.

A quote from an article from the “National Pro Bono Resource Centre” on the topic says “The concept of Social Justice involves finding the optimum balance between our joint responsibility as a society and our responsibility as individuals to contribute to a just society.”

Now I am left with another difficult question, “What is the optimum balance?”

 

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Mea Culpa

When I say “mea culpa” I only have myself both to blame and forgive. I have no God for a fall back position.

I have not believed in a “maker” since I was 11 years old 66 years ago, although I did come from a Christian based family. I therefore became adept at going” under the radar” for many years and I do deeply respect the life values of most mainstream religions. (I find these values within each major religion very similar.)

This morning, reading the article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Catherine McGregor, with which I basically agreed, I found myself musing on the difficulties that religions have posed over the years.

Whilst the essence of most religions is the call to be good towards others, this at times appears to me to be incompatible with some of the strong beliefs and also the expectations of some congregations.

When once I said that I thought religions have been the cause of many conflicts over the centuries, the late Dr Denis Wright, a University teacher and researcher in Asian history, religions and culture, modern Asian politics and Society, replied with these wise words.

“I think it oversimplifies when it’s said that people have fought for centuries over their beliefs. When you study the history of religions, you discover that the beliefs themselves are practically irrelevant to conflict; it’s how you are treated because of your religion that matters. Is the battle between Jews and Muslims in Palestine over doctrine? How often does doctrine come up as the basis of war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland? When did violence really erupt between Hindus and Muslims in India? It was only when all of these became political and economic issues, usually cloaked by nationalism in various forms, that doctrine was made the rationale for conflict. It was never about doctrine. It was about land, equality and freedom.

Why is there not bitter struggle between religions in Australia as there us elsewhere? Because most have enough of the good things in life to be content to live with each other; not with a knife at the others’ throats, or a bomb. Violence erupts when people feel a keen sense of injustice.

(It amazes me that the aboriginal people are not more violent towards those they blame for their loss – or is the violence turned inwards for them, against each other? Another question, not for here.)”

Wise words. When I hear of proposals to give those of the Christian Religion another favoured voice in my culture I feel a great sense of injustice. I do not acknowledge that our society is great because it is founded in a Judeo Christian culture. I think our society is only great whenever we can bring ourselves to think of others, including minority groups. I look around in dismay at what we have done regarding various beliefs in our indigenous cultures and migrant cultures. I remember the fights in my childhood between Catholic and Protestant children, often supported by parents.

And indeed it is adherence to differences that is sometimes what is preached by many religions. But these cannot be unfairly imposed in the secular society by giving personal beliefs any priority under our laws. All we can ensure is the right to personally hold such a belief within the law.

I know many Christians who are dear to me and who I admire. I know Muslims I love. (I do prefer the Islamic sacrifice story and regard it with more satisfaction than the Christian sacrifice story- though they have some strong similarities. I do not believe either of them.) I have known a Christian Arab, born, bred, educated and working in Jerusalem, who was exiled, for life, from his home. So much for the “Judeo/ Christian” bond!

My own personal faith in life is to try and be nice to others. I like to help where I can, if I can, which is not really as often as I should.

I do think everyone has a right to believe as they like and to freely practice their own religions in this country – but only in ways which do not impinge on the rights of others who are not of that faith or indeed of any faith.

We live in a society based on a secular constitution. Christianity has had an “inside run” since colonisation, first because of brute force and then because of its powerful majority in the population. Christianity, and in particular individual Christians, have certainly contributed some great good to our society. It has also perpetrated some evils, particularly upon the indigenous population. But those of us who are not Christian should not be forced to support a belief, and its trappings, which are not ours.

I will take full responsibility for all my decisions. I will obey all the laws of the land in which I live. But I deserve the right, in a democracy, to protest peacefully against any proposed laws that I think are unjust. And I think they are unjust when they favour religion in a society.

I take this responsibility seriously and do not have a God to give me guidance and forgive me if I err. I have to forgive myself and mend my ways.

I do not wish to support any legislation that will either regulate society by interpretation of any “superior” God’s wishes over any other God’s wishes, belief systems or indeed over the considered personal, equally non intrusive, decisions or speech of a free human being who does not have a belief in a God.

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