In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

10166946_01_x

The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

10166946_04_x

Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

patten-children01

1a

Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Advertisements

Consider–my world 1952 to 1959. Thoughts on the origins of belief.

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.

neilgps

That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively.

And that takes me to the subject of belief, because my sister’s death affected me very profoundly – of course this was just as true for the rest of my family and extended family, but it is of myself I think now as I sit in the last six months of my seventh decade. Read my mother’s account in her own words.

My immediate family were not religious, or perhaps more accurately were not church-goers.

My mother was perhaps best described as a stoic. In her words:

Truly, as Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote in “Ye Wearie Wayfarer”

Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

The poets and Charles Dickens – she acquired a love for both from her father – were the formulae of her faith, rather than The Bible which she rarely read.

Tennyson:

Robert Louis Stevenson:

UNDER the wide and starry sky

  Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
        

Here he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

And my father? Very much impressed by the writings of Colonel Ingersoll, among others. Indeed it was from my father that I first heard the name. But his agnosticism – for such it was – combined with a respect for the ethics of Christianity and for much the churches did, though he, nominally an Anglican, did not really want to have much to do with them. He had seen, it appears, fanaticism in some of his family’s past – though he rarely talked about that or them. He did quote this back at me, though, when after around 1958-9 I became perhaps obnoxiously religious.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same door wherein I went.

With them the seed of wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow:

And this is all the Harvest that I reap’d —

I came like water, and like water, and like wind I go.

And my Grandfather Christison, though the son of a woman of faith for whom he had enormous love and respect, was also truly an agnostic, at least as far as the institution of the church and the Holy Scriptures were concerned.  He loved his Dickens.

“…while I clean my boots keep a eye upon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of more flopping, give me a call. For, I tell you," here he addressed his wife once more, "I won’t be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as a hackney-coach, I’m as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to that degree that I shouldn’t know, if it wasn’t for the pain in ’em, which was me and which somebody else, yet I’m none the better for it in pocket; and it’s my suspicion that you’ve been at it from morning to night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and I won’t put up with it, Aggerawayter, and what do you say now!"

Growling, in addition, such phrases as "Ah! yes! You’re religious, too. You wouldn’t put yourself in opposition to the interests of your husband and child, would you? Not you!" and throwing off other sarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation, Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his general preparation for business.

A Tale of Two Cities

On “flopping” he once told me that when you see someone praying you should watch out for the knife in the other hand. He also deconstructed for me, as we might say now, quite a few of the stories in the Bible. I remember particularly that like any sane person in the last few centuries he was more a touch disbelieving about:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day.

Joshua 10:13

He also thought the Second Coming was taking rather a long time. He and I discussed such things there in Waratah Street West in the later 1950s,

I went to Church/Christian Endeavour/Sunday School probably no more times than can be counted on the fingers between 1950 and 1956. But that changed markedly, especially after 1959.  As I mentioned in the previous “Consider” post my views in the early fifties derived from the books my mother had bought from some passing Seventh Day Adventist colporteur.

What I do remember is that I sought comfort as I grieved for my sister in the years 1952 and 1953 in religious rituals of my own, such as arranging crosses of pebbles in various parts of the garden, something my parents were totally unaware of. And I pondered the images of the next life and the resurrection of the body on those SDA “Uncle Arthur” books.

new

I also often had dreams and nightmares about death. In one I recall there was a skeleton by my bed, as vivid as can be.

To be continued.

Bran Nue Day (2009)

This has been on ABC TV several times but each time I missed it – until last night. Loved it.

site_28_rand_1452692352_bran_nue_dae_maxed

Review by David Stratton

And now to end on something uplifting – it is the festive season after all! So that brings us to BRAN NUE DAE…
Willie, ROCKY MACKENZIE, who lives in Broome, loves beautiful Rosie, JESSICA MAUBOY, but can’t bring himself to approach her. Willie’s mother sends him off to a boarding school in Perth run by strict Father Benedictus, GEOFFREY RUSH – but Willie runs away and heads for home accompanied by his uncle, ERNIE DINGO.
Rachel Perkins’ exuberant adaptation of the 1990 stage musical is a lot of fun, despite the fact that it has a rather insipid hero. The energetic staging of the musical numbers is just one of the engaging elements in a film filled with unexpected delights, such as the performances of MISSY HIGGINS and DEBORAH MAILMAN, who are both excellent.
GEOFFREY RUSH is very funny indeed, the pacing is brisk and it all looks terrific.
BRAN NUE DAY represents a really enjoyable visit to the movies this summer…

DAVID: I loved the musical numbers.
MARGARET: It takes a lot to make a musical these days.
DAVID: Yes.
MARGARET: And I think Rachael Perkins has done a fabulous job.
DAVID: I think so too. Yes, I agree.
MARGARET: I’m giving this four stars.
DAVID: Yes, me too, four stars.

It is worth reading the comments on The Movie Show site. One person found the movie racist! I am sure Jimmy Chi, Rachael Perkins et al would be quite surprised. There are people with no sense of humour out there, of course. Not that Bran Nue Dae is all laughs, as my YouTube selection shows. And sometimes the satire cuts several ways:

One of the famous verses from a song in the musical sums up Chi’s dry humour and sharp political approach:

There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.

See also Bran Nue Dae.

Update

1. Following the success of Bran Nue Dae, Rachel Perkins and Blackfella Films  have gone on to make some really splendid movies and documentaries and, of course, the series Redfern Now. Meanwhile, many of the people in Bran Nue Dae may also be seen in 2012’s very successful The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair. Indigenous stories and voices really are being seen and heard! I notice however that too many TV Guides, including The Australian Review for 22 December, still hide the existence of NITV!

2. Cinematography on Bran Nue Day was by Andrew Lesnie – brilliant.

His work began receiving major attention after the release of the anthropomorphic pig story Babe (1995) and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. He was director of photography on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and received an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002. Since then, he has filmed several other Jackson-directed films, including King Kong and The Lovely Bones, and will also film the upcoming The Hobbit films directed by Jackson.

Wikipedia needs to update that last line!

Andrew Lesnie’s son Phillip Lesnie is carving out a career in the arts. I did teach him briefly at SBHS. See Rani P Lukita and Phil Lesnie – Sydney artists / Hand to Hand and his site Monster Friendship Society.

Takes my mind back to the beginning of the century, via this quote from the 2000 SBHS Annual Report. There’s a  name there that is now well known in Indigenous circles too.

Achievements in the Arts

The  school  has  a  very  strong  emphasis  on co-curricular  activities,  particularly  musical  and  choral performance  and debating.
•  The double  in debating  – GPS  Roat Shield  and State Hume Barbour Shield – was achieved. The firsts  (Oscar  McLaren,  Hilbert  Chiu,  Robbie Moore and Mike Martin) were undefeated.
•  Eugene  Schofield-Georgeson,  Jonathan Ailwood,  Morgan  Green  – Art  Express finalists.
•  Jack  Manning-Bancroft  and  Mihai  Sora participated  in  the  English  Teachers Conference.
•  Michael  Nelson,  Jason  Kok  and  Thomas Norrie were chosen to  play in the NSW Public Schools  Symphony Orchestra.
•  Robbie  Moore’s  play  ‘Wolves’  was  accepted for a reading by a theatre group.
•  Phillip  Lesnie  won  the  Sydney  Theatre Company’s ‘Young Playwrights Award’.
•  Peter  Hayward,  Justin  Hill  and  Thomas Beamish sang at the opening ceremonies at the Olympic  Games,  the  Paralympic  Games  and the Pacific Schools Games.

Thinking about The Shire–and Christmas Past…

Northern Hemisphere readers won’t find this Christmassy, but I sure do. It is also what Cronulla looked like when I was 21, and I’m afraid to say it looked much better than it does now. Overdeveloped to hell, in my opinion, though that process had begin by 1964 as you may see from that fugly unit block built far too close to the beach.

149768_4692753044198_1440253725_n

149768_4692753044198_1440253725_n1

The old Cecil, though – that was another matter.

Was the photographer just lucky, do you reckon, or did he place Bikini Girl there himself? I suspect the answer is rather obvious.

Return of the tram

Well, so it appears these tracks are about to come back!

BARRY O’FARRELL will gamble on returning Sydney to its past to head off a congestion-choked future, promising to run trams from the northern end of the central business district into the eastern suburbs half a century after they were ripped out.

The commitment to light rail from Circular Quay to Central Station, through Surry Hills and to Randwick and Kingsford was the main new element in the long-term transport master plan released on Thursday, a document intended to map out projects and policies for the next 20 years…

The track goes up Devonshire Street from Chalmers Street and then along the old tram corridor (seen above as I remember it in the 1950s) to Randwick and UNSW. What a bloody good thing! Why, we’ll be able to take the tram right to The Shakespeare Hotel and the Trinity Bar!

Given past plays between Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Barry O’Farrell – after all he engineered her departure from the NSW Parliament only to find her nominee replaced her, of course – it is nice and Christmassy to find them in such agreement on this one.

Sydney is continually recognised for its liveability and increasingly for its sustainability but we fall behind on transport – our congestion is deeply frustrating to the people who live and work here, as well as to those who visit.

The government’s decision to invest in light rail will transform Sydney – and not just the city centre. By creating a light rail network, which starts in the CBD and that could link up with Green Square, Barangaroo and to Parramatta Road, the government is addressing the decades of inaction that has crippled our state…

This transport plan shows the City of Sydney and state government can work together to solve our biggest challenges and to rebuild the trust Sydneysiders lost a long time ago in our city’s transport.

Clover Moore is the lord mayor of Sydney.

Scans–sister, self

Here is one of my sister Jeanette, which I hadn’t scanned before. I think it was taken in the playground at Sutherland Public School in 1951 and thus must be one of the last photos of Jeanette who died in January 1952.

jeanette3

jeanette4

The heads “inserted” in the back row aren’t named, so Jeanette is third from the left in the lacy collar.

And here am I around 1990-91 at a barbecue. Andrew is the one to whom I am talking – a former member of the Chinese Air Force.

neilandrew

Of course I no longer smoke – even if that achievement was to take another 20 years!

mais où est l’Albury d’antan?

Last night I confessed on Facebook:

Instead of watching what I intended on ABC2 I have found myself deep in memories thanks to Bruce Part’s photos of The Albury Hotel. This is a rendition of one of those photos.

And someone comments on Bruce’s album:

Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed! I was saddened when I finally moved to Syd and it was gone. I met a lovely guy there on my first visit around 1996 and didn’t leave empty handed….a big deal for a country boy!!!

“Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed!” indeed. I hope Bruce finds a few more to share in that “boot box full of photo memories.”

I have cropped a couple and given them the art makeover treatment.

FotoSketcher - 16042_232492893548533_882882010_n

FotoSketcher - 28007_232493056881850_343139337_nw1

FotoSketcher - 28007_232493056881850_343139337_n1

And see these searches of my blogs:

Yum Cha this morning was myself, The Empress, Clive, James, and eventually M, absolutely exhausted and needing the food. It was a good Yum Cha (The Emperor’s Garden service was friendly and excellent). After that M went home to sleep — he starts again tonight at 6 pm, and I went with James and The Empress to the Albury — yes, I was there this Sunday — where we surprised the bar staff by eating barbecued quail that Ian had purchased, and added a Chinese tonic to our beer (it said it could be used in beer) which caused the beer to look like some Jekyll-and-Hyde potion, but actually improved the taste!  — March 4 2001