Chalking One Up For Positivity

Who knew a few pieces of chalk and a positive message could make such a difference?

This is one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. 

It’s cheerful, and simple, and sincere, and it’s just so beautiful. 

In the midst of these bleak and socially-distanced times, these messages are a delightful trend that is bringing heartfelt encouragement to communities. 

This story comes from ABC News, Australia. 

Chalking One Up For Positivity!
#StayingHome #StayingPositive #positivemood #PositiveVibesOnly

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

The Workers Australia Can't Do Without.

When half the country seems to be working from home, there are some very dedicated people keeping the place going.

As Australia has begun the process of going into partial lockdown in response to the corona virus pandemic, it is becoming astoundingly clear who the country cannot do without. 

Here’s the thing: it’s not the billionaires, the movie stars or rock singers, the football players or the fashion models. 

Don’t get me wrong. They’re important people. But who are the ones we rely on to keep doing what they do so that the majority of the population can actually isolate or socially distance themselves in comfort and safety? Who is actually unable to stop working and stay home in the interests of self-preservation?

It’s the doctors and nurses, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, the people who stack supermarket shelves and work the checkouts, and the teachers. It’s the people who work the service stations and fast-food and takeaway restaurants, the cleaners, the truck drivers, the retail workers… and the list goes on. 

They are the people who are still going to work every day, regardless of their potential exposure to germs – and not just Covid-19, either — and to the frustrations, anxieties and hostility of the general public. 

Most of them can’t work from home. And, with the possible exception of the doctors, most are paid nowhere near what they are worth. 

Teachers could, of course, deliver their lessons online as my own school is planning to do if we are ordered to close the college. That’s not as easy as it sounds, either, especially with younger students. It’s a lot more planning and preparation every day, as the curriculum will still need to be delivered as fully as possible. There won’t be any less marking, either. 

Of course, whether or not schools will be closed is still a matter of debate in Australia. The government doesn’t want to close the schools, because that would mean the people in medical jobs would have to stay home to look after their kids. Who would look after the sick people then? 

So when you are out shopping for groceries and annoyed that the shelves are half empty, don’t take your frustrations out on the store workers: they can’t stack shelves with what has not been supplied. Save the blame for the people hoarding basic goods out of selfishness and greed. They’re the real reason you can’t buy the basics at the moment. And let’s be honest: when those people are at home self-isolating and eating ten people’s worth of pasta and rice, and the loo gets blocked up with all that hoarded toilet paper… they’ll still want the plumber to come out and fix it. 

When you have to wait in a longer-than-usual line to collect takeaway food, don’t give the servers attitude for the delay. They are doing their best under extremely demanding circumstances. And remember, they are saving you the effort of cooking for yourself, so there’s that to be thankful for. 

When you see a medical worker or first responder getting coffee or taking a break, don’t kvetch about them having some downtime. Instead, thank them for the tough job they’re doing, especially if it’s a job you wouldn’t want to be doing during a global health crisis. 

When you hear about nursing homes, hospitals and schools closing their doors and not allowing visitors in, don’t complain about inconvenience or behave like its an overreaction. Thank them for being proactive in taking extra measures to protect the people for whom they have a duty of care. 

When you hear people complain about the inconvenience of social distancing and working from home, remind them that some people don’t have the ability to do so. 

They are the workers on the front line, keeping the country going while everyone else stays home. They should not be on the receiving end of anyone’s bad behaviour.

Australia’s Toilet Paper Panic: Yet Another Reason Why I Question People’s Priorities

In response to the growing panic about the spread of the new corona virus COVID 19, it seems many Australians have decided to stock up on the essentials in case they get quarantined.

I could understand it if they were rushing the stores for tissues, paper towels, hand sanitiser and soap. Maybe even some cleaning products might be a good idea. But they’re not.

It seems the thing people fear running out of the most is toilet paper.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Social media and the news is full of reports and images of empty shelves where all the toilet paper was stacked.

It seems to me that these people have got their priorities wrong. It’s not Ebola, for crying out loud. Even if they did get the virus, they probably wouldn’t be needing any more toilet paper than usual.

Do they actually know anything about this virus and its symptoms? It causes respiratory illness. It makes people feel like they have a nasty cold or flu. They’re going to be blowing their noses and coughing.

That kind of lack of attention to detail will cause far more problems than not having 124 rolls of loo paper in the cupboard.

People need to stop and think before joining the panic. Supermarkets do home delivery every day of the week in Australia. If someone is quarantined, they’ll just drop off the delivery at the front door and leave without seeing or talking to anyone.

And if there is any toilet paper actually left in the stores, I’m sure they’ll deliver that, too.

Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

Downtime!

Today was glorious.

A drive in the countryside was exactly what I needed to blow off the cobwebs and breathe some fresh air.

And now? I’m going to read for pleasure.
Decadent I know.

For more pictures of where I drove… click here.

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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A Road Trip For One.

While in Bendigo for the Tudors to Windsors exhibition this weekend, my best friend and I hatched a plan to take another trip soon. We want to visit Daylesford, a beautiful town renowned for its quirky shops and several vintage bookstores.  

My friend wasn’t travelling home with me today, though, as she had to go to Melbourne instead. So, I had the opportunity to go exploring and find out more about where we were planning to go.

The prospect of  road trip on my own is one I welcome. As an introvert, that kind of time alone is hard to come by, and the past five weeks have been intensely busy and very people-y. So,  after I dropped her at the Kangaroo Flat railway station for the 10.27am train, I headed off to see what I could see which, as we all know, is the reason why any bear goes over the mountain. 

It was a cracker of a day. The sun shone broadly in a big pale blue sky, but it wasn’t hot. It was, in fact, a perfect late Autumn day for driving through the countryside.

My first destination was Castlemaine, a pretty little town with tree-lined streets and lovely old buildings that date back to the Gold Rush, like so many other towns in this region, Bendigo included. I boosted the local economy with my purchase of a large coffee, and kept going. 

You don’t have to travel far out of Castlemaine before you’re in Campbell’s Creek,  where there is a fabulous used book store called Book Heaven, where I stopped— in the interests of research, of course. I excelled myself by only staying half an hour and only buying three books, even though I was entirely unsupervised and, in all honesty, I could have been there all day without even realising. 

Driving on toward Daylesford, I came to a small town named Guildford where there was a sign to the left, pointing up a sandstone track, that said ‘Guildford Lookout’. I’m the kind of traveller who loves a good lookout, so I headed up the track to the top of the hill where I found myself surrounded by pretty countryside dotted with a few autumn coloured trees. It was a really good opportunity to break my journey with a bit of a walk before continuing down the road.

Daylesford seemed quite vibrant and busy. I didn’t really feel like walking the Main Street and shopping, but then, I very rarely feel like shopping, so that came as no surprise. Instead, I followed some signs and headed down to Daylesford Lake.

What a gorgeous spot! Walking along the shore was lovely, with a wide and level path that led past a  cottage to which I paid very little attention until I was on my way back and I saw a sign on the back of the building. 

If that wasn’t fate inviting me in, I don’t know what it was. It was lunchtime, and this wonderful little shop sold books, coffee, and food. Perfect! 

Once again, I found three lovely old books to add to my collection while my lunch was being prepared. My lunch was delicious, and I was very pleased to find that all the books were half the marked price— until I discovered that the shop is closing down. That was a real disappointment, as I was hoping to come back next time with my friend.

Even so, it was a very happy and satisfied booknerd that walked back into the car to drive the rest of the way home. 

I have had the most delightful weekend: time with friends, exploring bookshops,  connecting with history, and a relaxing drive home. It really would be greedy to ask for anything more. 

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

The Tradition Of ANZAC Day.

As my post about my local ANZAC Day ceremony generated a number of questions from around the world, especially via my social media posts, I thought I would follow it up with an explanation of the history and traditions of ANZAC Day.

This article from the Australian War Memorial explains everything very clearly, so I hope you enjoy it and learn a little more about your Australian friends through it.

ANZAC Day, 2019

101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.

At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments. 

Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.

Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.

One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud. 

An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.

Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them. 

Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph. 

A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did. 

After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.

I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.