In the months leading up to Christmas in Australia, the atmosphere was charged with a negative current. You could see the threat hovering within the blistering sun, and in our parched gardens and lawns. We started to taste ash on our tongues, and took to sealing up our homes. I had to assist a few people who were battling with the air quality, and they all said that they didn’t have a history of asthma, and that their struggle took them by surprise. Fires raged all around my area, and a cursive look at the Fires Near Me app each morning, told a startling tale. This bushfire season was unprecedented, starting early and violently. Friends were forced to leave their homes, with minutes to spare, on occasion. Leading up to Christmas, an installation was put outside Wynyard station, a stark reminder of what had transpired, and what may lay ahead. Charred and devoid of green, it highlighted the calamity our country was facing.
I have followers in many countries, and I know you have all been looking on in horror. I was on the periphery of it, but have many friends who were out there fighting the fires. Some of my mates had to evacuate, and some lost property. Asthmatics have died due to the air quality, and those in ill health have had to seek refuge inside. The smoke permeated through operating theatres, MRI machines, and office blocks. I have had to resort to steroids, two preventers and face masks in order to breathe. An estimated billion native animals have perished. The festive season saw many of us unable to celebrate. Rather, we were refreshing our phones for the latest updates, checking in with loved ones, masking up and feeling helpless as our country burned. This is unprecedented, and can’t be allowed to be our new normal.
Personally, I am appalled at how our government has handled this tipping point. They refused to meet with fire chiefs in order to prepare for this season. They denied the reality of climate change, favouring coal and ignoring alternatives put forth by scientists. Here is an excellent resource on National Geographic, detailing the scientific reality of climate change. Australia has one of the highest emissions of carbon in the world, and the time to look into renewable energy sources to greatly lower our emissions, is today.
We have good people on the ground, helping to restore and rebuild lives and homes, and also rehabilitate the wildlife that survived. The cost of these bushfires will be astronomical, not just in 2020, but in the years to come. Here are a few ideas of where to donate:
Spend with them is an Instagram account, set up by Turia Pitt. When you order a product from this account, you shall be directly helping towns and businesses affected by the fires.
Donate to Animals Australia
In NSW, you can donate to your local Rural Fire Service
In Victoria, donations can be made to the Country Fire Association
In South Australia, you can donate to the CFS
Donate to Animals Australia
Educate yourselves on climate change, and start adapting your life. This is a crisis that will affect our world as a whole. You can check out your carbon footprint on this excellent free resource. We can all do better. We must do better. It should be our tribute to those who perished in the bushfires; those who lost everything, and the animals who succumbed. Australia is a breathtakingly beautiful country, which shall rebuild and restore. We need you to visit in the year ahead, to buy from us, and receive our hospitality. I believe as a people, we are already saying, ‘never again.’ I feel the clarion call has been received and responded to. There have been protests and free educational sessions arranged to deal with climate change and demand action. The commentary on social media toward what transpired in the years leading up to this disaster, has been blistering. We simply won’t stand for inaction, nor apathy. Not anymore.
May you have a peaceful Christmas and holiday season. My thoughts are with everybody who has been affected by the bushfires around Australia, and my deepest sympathy to the families of the young fathers who tragically died in service to their community. To make a donation to the families, you can follow this link. To donate to the Rural Fire Service, click here. They need every dollar we can spare. They have managed to keep rising and return to the frontline with lungs full of smoke and little sleep to protect us all. It’s the definition of heroism. They have had to leave their regular jobs for many weeks, and I reckon they all deserve to be paid in full, and have tax exemption status for the year ahead.
May the skies open this Christmas, and bring desperately-needed rain. May our world finally know peace. May you know how loved you are, whatever you decide to do on Christmas Day. Last night, as my daughter and I made our way home, droplets of rain hit the windshield. At first we smiled, rejoicing at the fact. However, we soon noticed that the droplets were mixed with ash, running down the windows like a lady who hasn’t taken her makeup off after a night out. The pitiful rain left shortly after, and the clouds blanketed Sydney. Surgeons have smelt the smoke in city operating rooms. We smelt it at the beach yesterday. There has been no escaping the threat. Just as tears can’t be contained forever, neither can rain. I just hope that it appears sooner than later, and puts out the fires and fills our dams. As in all times of disaster, we only need look at the helpers to see the best of humanity. It is our turn to help them.
My daughter was booked into her first singing lesson after she pleaded with me. She was five years old, and desperate to get to it. I had just started driving again after surgery, and that along with being directionally-challenged, saw me arriving with mere moments to spare. I heard a warm voice holler to “come on in,” and reclining like a grand dame in the living room, was Nanna Lyn. She had warm eyes, and a kind face. I was invited to stay and chat whilst my girl had her lesson with Lyn’s granddaughter, Tiah. An eclectic array of cats and dogs sauntered in and out, their cunning a sight to behold. Within moments, Lyn and I were chatting about our lives.
I looked forward to our catch-ups. This no-nonsense lady would have me in hysterics. She didn’t suffer fools, so I tried not to be one. She gave tremendous advice, and was on hand through every trial. Raising her daughter as a single mum, her home had been a beacon for the neighbourhood kids. The school of hard knocks hadn’t made her hard. Rather, it had softened her, making her receptive to other people. Our Nanny Lyn had an acerbic wit, and we often had tears rolling down our faces from laughing so much. She taught me how to program the internet onto my tv, and was much more adapt at technology than I. A paid-up member of the Barry Manilow fan club, you had me in hysterics, as you relayed some of your early misadventures.
Lyn would order melts for my wax-warmer at home, after I became enchanted with the aroma of a confectionary shop, which streamed through her screen door. My daughter attended lessons with Lyn’s granddaughter for six years. Finally, the time came when Tiah graduated from her music degree, and was offered placement at a school. We were thrilled for her, but missed our weekly sessions. They had been both instructive and incredibly social. The three women, Nanna, mum and daughter, lived together, and worked in simpatico. Christmas festivities were a sight to behold; they went all-out. It must have taken them a solid week to decorate their house. Not only did the trio adore Tiah’s singing students, but they had enough love left over to foster kids as well.
Their home was the sort of place where you felt safe. The same was true of their hearts. We kept in touch via texts and messages. Recently, I discovered that Lyn was going to be having a biopsy, and she underplayed it when I queried her. I ended up in hospital, and who happened to be in the next room, but Nanna Lyn. We spent time together, touching on some very deep subjects. We talked of pain and despair, hope and spiritual matters. I told her that I wished with all my heart that I could take this burden from her and her girls. I was lectured about taking care of myself, eating right, etc. The usual Nanna lecture. I laughed as I promised that I would be good.
She was excited that my daughter and I were flying to South Australia for my friend’s wedding, and her last text message consisted of her wishing the couple a happy life, and ourselves a joyous time away. “See you when I get back,” I replied. Sleep came fitfully upon our return. I had a dream about Lyn. She looked radiant, as though lit from the inside. She was talking to me, but I can’t recall what she said. I woke with a start and looked at my phone. It was 4am. Later that morning, I received word that she had passed, at 4am.
If you had been granted another twenty years of life, it would still be too soon to say goodbye. You came into this world like a comet, and then quietly crept out in the wee hours. It was typical of you to be unassuming, preferring the spotlight be on others. The end was painless and peaceful; you deserved no less. We will love you all our days, with the same ferocity with which you loved musicals. I wish everybody could have met you, and basked in your attention. To have known you was to be gifted care and warmth and love. As you flew away from this place, I can envision you hearing Tiah singing ‘Songbird.‘ You had shown me a video of Tiah, performing it as her HSC piece, and your eyes pooled with tears at the viewing. Fly free, little bird, unencumbered by worldly nonsense.
To the newly-minted couple,
You have made me believe in love again. I have long-admired the ease of your conversations, your encouragement of one another and your kindness to all within your circle. The family game and karaoke nights, the adventures and the hilarity. When I was first introduced to you as a couple, it felt as though you’d been together forever. The fit was perfect; meant to be. My friend with the finest collection of avant -garde shoes I have ever seen, and her beau, with his dress shoes and wool suit. He and I introduced you to Feargal Sharkey (you’re welcome). Who could forget the train carriage full of commuters on Christmas Eve, singing along to this song?!
You were the most chilled-out bride and groom; everyone from the flower vender at the markets to the hairdresser was blown away by your zen attitudes. Having a leisurely breakfast the morning of your wedding, the day seemed unhurried. When your guests saw you being escorted to the venue by your fiancee, we all gasped. You both looked sublime; elegant. It was an image that will be imprinted on my mind all my days. Your dress had sustained a few dirt marks on your way up the hill, and rather than fret, your beau got soda water and a towel, then lovingly wiped your wedding dress clean. Another thing that I love about the both of you is your ability to find solutions together.
Dancing and singing with your guests, you were the last to leave at night’s end. This is the start of the rest of your life, and it was done right. Leading up to the day, you both showed kindness and love to all you came into contact with. On the day it was the same. The detritus of disappointments and angst have been swept away, and all that remains is love. I believe in love again, because I have seen it’s transformative power with my own eyes.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are put aside for the kids. Mum tells her offspring that she isn’t hungry right now, and will eat later. After they have retired for the night, she eats a plain biscuit, to curb the hunger pangs. The notes that find their way to the dining table from schoolbags, fill her with dread. $60 is required for the performing arts costume. $10 for a ticket to see her child perform. She tries to conjure money from thin air, and sometimes (miraculously), is successful.
She is studying full-time- along with many of her friends- and knows that a well-paying job shall be her reward at the end of her studies. She picks up casual work as much as she can, and tries to look after long-standing health issues, the scripts for which are stacked in the kitchen. She is unable to purchase any of them.
She inquired about going onto Austudy, but was told that it would be less than Newstart, a figure of which doesn’t even cover her rent. She wishes that she could obtain a Government loan, of which she would happily pay back once she was working. There is no money from the other parent, despite many promises. She somehow has to work out her budget with an unreliable co-parent.
Afterpay is a blessing, to purchase necessities, though school uniforms can only be purchased in the school shop. Made by a private company, they have the monopoly on the market, and charge accordingly. As a result, the kids have one uniform, which she washes and dries multiple times each week.
She had to ring the health fund and ask for a suspension on the grounds of hardship. Ironically, they can only do so if she is able to pay up to the date of the call. Her only option was to ask for an extension, and at the beginning of November, she will be required to pay an astronomical amount. Her front tooth is split all the way to the nerve, causing embarrassment and pain. She doesn’t want to let go of the health fund; not yet.
She and the kids only have a few dollars left on their Opal cards, and have to limit their trips. She fears that loved ones who are desperately unwell shall need her, and she will be unable to get to them.
She is cramming day and night, in a desperate bid to complete her studies before time. She needs a full-time job, which is an impossibility at the moment. She has a few prac sessions coming up, and needs experience before anyone will hire her. She needs money to get to prac.
Her heart broke when she discovered that her child didn’t tell her about a school excursion, and she knew that money was the reason he chose to stay behind at school.
She is trying to keep her spirits up. She is trying to cope. It feels as though she is being punished for leaving an abusive and toxic marriage. There was no settlement; he had spent everything they had, forcing her to withdraw her investments and savings. She gets why so many women feel forced into going back or staying when they are desperate to leave. Solutions are simplistic when you are on the outside, looking in. They aren’t at all simple when you are on the inside, looking out.
A hurried storyboard review of her former life is played as an animation. Rather than it occurring at the point of death, it begins at the point of life; true life. The lies, the promises, the dreams and goals. Her ten year projection, which didn’t come to pass. The myriad jobs she took to keep her head above water, the exhaustion and pain. Life shouldn’t consist of survival only, should it? She dreams of being secure, of having money to fall back on. She dreams of having money to go out with friends. She dreams of simple pleasures. She dreams of a time when her children have more than one uniform. She dreams of peace.
She dreams of a government which will support single parents as they start all over again. Her only crime was leaving before she was destroyed. For all the uncertainty and sacrifice, it has been worth it to live on her own terms. Finally, on her own terms.
We all do it, don’t we? Make snap judgements about situations and people. Assumptions… I guess a part of it comes from fear. Terror of being rejected, of not knowing or appreciating our worth to other people. A single mum, I had been undertaking three full-time courses (now only two), and have been flat-out between studying, managing my health and being present for my girl. I haven’t gone out to dinner or even had a coffee with friends, and have felt a little disconnected. To my amazement, when I bump into my tribe, I am greeted with hugs. They have missed me, as much as I have missed them! You have no idea what an invitation can mean to somebody; that sense of connection. Hell, even meeting to do a grocery shop together! People who value you will understand that mummy needs to bank coin. Food isn’t going to buy itself! They get that you are studying, working, surviving on little sleep or have medical appointments to manage. Don’t assume that because you haven’t been visible, that you aren’t missed or wanted. Don’t assume that somebody that has gone to ground is avoiding you. Life is cyclical. There are times when everything happens all at once, and times when the clock empties itself of commitments.
Somebody backs out of an invite to an event or meal out? Perhaps their finances are fragile, and the focus is on making rent and keeping the lights on. Somebody disappears from social media? Could it be that their world has shattered into a million pieces, and they have been buried deep? All shall be revealed come spring, when they emerge as a new being. When parts of a person wither, shrivel, hollow-out and die, it is an immensely private and deeply painful time. They can’t articulate what all this means, nor what it feels like to themselves, let alone their 900 Facebook friends. Time is a luxury that we aren’t afforded much of in this modern age.
In the olden days, a woman with a new baby would have a time of healing. A person in mourning would have a period of keening. We weren’t accessible 24/7, encouraged to show how positive we were being in the face of it all. We were able to just be, instead of do. I met a single mother I adore in the supermarket the other day, and we hugged and briefly caught up. It was a Saturday night, and she was on her way home from work. She has also gone back to University. “At the end of the year, when my studies are over, I can’t wait to catch up!” she enthused. Oh how I appreciated her words. She is in a contracting season, where her studies, her job and her girls are her entire world. It is a mere season, and she can appreciate that it’s end shall offer growth. I look forward to our catch-up, knowing that it will be worth the wait.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with dimples and chutzpah in spades. Daring and unafraid. She equaled me with her absurdist humour, and we constantly laughed at the nonsense contained within life. Understated, humble and loyal, you turned down opportunities because it was a friend’s birthday, or because somebody needed you more. You have always been loyal to commitments, whenever possible. No interest in validation online, you are happy learning and plugging away in the background. You already know what you are going to do in life, and how you are going to get there.
I am meant to dread the teenage years. However, I don’t. Rather, I am enthralled by it’s swift appearance and amazed by its sweet and wise countenance. I celebrate the arrival of this new world. Keep flying, sweetheart, linking hands and arms with your contemporaries as you all learn new tricks and balance many plates. The answers aren’t found ‘out there’, nor within a phone, but rather, within yourselves. Have fun and make time for silliness. You will be an adult for a long time, and these years shall fly by.
I am learning and evolving at the same time as you. I need to lead the way, showing you how to care for yourself, learn new skills through education, and produce a future worthy of you and I. I look forward to long walks throughout Sydney, including our beloved Secret Garden. We shall keep up with our binge-watching of our favourite shows, whilst eating popcorn. I look forward to facials and pyjama days, camping and road trips, art galleries and our favourite and most hilarious activity, hamming it up as though we are ensconced in a soap opera. We actually are, and it’s best not to take it too seriously; an art you have mastered and in turn, have taught me.
You have told me what you want to do for your birthday. You want to hang out, have a supermarket chocolate cake, eat pizza then watch a movie at home. It’s so you. Whether you are holding a homeless person’s hand, demanding manners from a passenger on a train, encouraging a distressed friend or putting up with your directionally-challenged mother, you have style and grace, and a laser-like focus. It shall remain with you all your days, even after the next act in your life dissipates. Six short years, and then there will be another phase beginning. I shall remain right by your side throughout.
The psychologist observed that when her client wasn’t attempting to mentally escape the room or indeed, her own mind, there was a child seated in front of her. “That is all well and good, but I can’t work with her. She is your responsibility, now that you are a woman. You need to comfort her. She is not in charge anymore, and you need to be.” She grabbed the Babushka doll from her desk, and took it apart, revealing a young adult, an adolescent, then all the way down to an infant. “All these ages are contained in you, as well as the experiences, good and bad. They are waiting to be sorted and acknowledged. I need to talk to the Matryoshka doll, the one who contains all the others. Do you think that is possible?” The woman nodded, trying to coordinate her breathing (which she had been told was far too rapid), and look at things from an adult point of view, not as a frightened child. A child who didn’t have a choice in anything, from where she was to whom she was around.
“Let me talk to the Matryoshka doll, the strong matriarch; give her the job of guiding your life.” It seemed like a plan, a better plan than anything she had cooked up previously. Rather than the dolls being left in a line, disengaged from each other, they were put back together, contained in the elder doll. Back together, where they belonged. The angry adolescent, frightened child and vulnerable young woman weren’t left behind. United and celebrated. All the ages were back where they belonged, with Mama handling business from a grown-up’s perspective and experience. She seeks solutions, whereas the younger dolls seek only to run, to escape discomfort. It may have kept her alive once, but not now. No, not now. She is finding that it’s a comfort to be an adult; to take charge, and stop scaring herself to death.
The therapist wanted to see me weekly, and in the meantime I practiced breathing like a normal human would. Damn, it was hard! I saw the pain doctor for an initial consult, and he was knowledgeable and lovely. I told him about my studies; the training and travel it would involve. “I just need to be able to function,” I pleaded. I told him I required solutions that wouldn’t zone me out. After perusing scans and examining me, a deficit in the strength in my arms was noted. I had noted it too, for a long time, a hangover from the second time my spine was broken. A new medication and regime was implemented, and I left with some hope. As long as I can keep writing, I am okay with whatever comes.
My daughter was scheduled to dance with her senior troupe, but the event was cancelled at the last moment. The dance school had managed to enrol in a festival to be held somewhere else. It was a place and a town I had avoided for the past 25 years. The man that threw me from the building, his family lived there, and every family function was held in this club. In fact, he had been arrested on charges relating to me whilst having dinner there. Now my daughter was going to this place, accompanied by me. I was conscious of my breathing leading up to the event, and was also more aware of my coping mechanisms, thanks to my one session of therapy! However, once enclosed within the walls of the club, I thought to hell with being conscious of breathing. To hell with being present. It was a mausoleum to gambling and drinking, resplendent with its very own forest, lagoon and faux train station. There were hidden corners and booths everywhere, and I scanned each and every one, searching for him and his family, whose transgressions matched his. I finally found my people, and instantly offered to find a chemist for one of the young dancers. Down I marched, becoming lost in the cavernous space, until I was directed as to a pharmacy outside. I walked through an alley, my heart beating wildly as I turned to face the train station, where he once sold drugs. Was he there?!
I raced back from the chemist, and after giving the supplies over, I ate my body weight in sugar. Salad wasn’t going to suffice today, no way! Ice-cream was devoured, as was caffeine, followed by lollies and chocolates from the vending machines. The noise of this club and the lights offended my senses, which were already going into overdrive. Had he seen me? Had he followed me into the auditorium? Anyone could come and go from here. He had followed me before, after seeing me on the street, once trapping me in a laneway, another time, a public bathroom. It may seem silly, but my sapphire blue walking stick became a magical staff. I could use it to trip him up, if need be. I sat at the back of the room, hyped on sugar and adrenaline. I told nobody about what I was experiencing. Where to begin? Realising that I was isolating, I walked to where the other parents were sitting. I enjoyed their company and banter; it was rather like an elastic band snapping me back to the present.
We got a lift home with another mum, and in my tired state, I stopped paying attention to our whereabouts. Glancing up, I realised that the shops looked familiar. I had been here before. Oh no! We were on his street! A place where cruelty had occurred, or should I say, more cruelty. Every day was a battle of wits and a struggle to survive.
I threw up when I got home, then took out my box of comfort tools. They consist of pyjamas, bed socks, essential oils, music and my bed. I had done it, and it was over. I knew I would never go back. I saw my daughter dance with her friends. It was a triumph. I feel as if I live in two worlds, the inner life keeping me busy, even as I socialise. No wonder people experiencing this duality are often exhausted. Remembering what that kid went through… Nobody cared and nobody rescued her, amongst the many who knew what was happening. To experience it all again felt like a respectful thing to do. It is my way of telling her that I am sorry for what she endured; that it was wrong, so wrong. To have to feel it, and then move on, is hard. It feels as though I am leaving her behind. I had nightmares for a week (when I managed sleep), and tried to go easy on myself. I am doing the best that I can. I have learnt that once I re-enter a place or hear a piece of music, for instance, it loses it’s hold over me. I would have to actively avoid most of Sydney to not encounter a place of trauma.
In the time since this experience, I have met with friends, and we’ve laughed and shared stories over coffee. I have relished the warmth of the mug coursing through my hands. I have delighted in the visiting birds, and watching the leaves falling from my trees. There is no reason why I survived that time in my life. Other young girls hadn’t been so lucky after having met him. I have completed a module of my health admin course, and am confident I could save a life if I needed to. It wasn’t because I’d performed CPR on a model at the Health campus, it was because I’d already saved a life previously. It was my own.