(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Tests, Trials and Tribulations: Part 1

Money Matters

Along with the adventure of making a new life for ourselves at Three Bridges, and the many new experiences, came some less welcome changes.

Money became a huge problem for us. Bill wasn't an abalone diver any more, I had no regular 9-5 job, and suddenly we were responsible on our own for a purchase we'd thought we'd be sharing with another couple. And that wasn't all.

While we were still in Melbourne, Bill had bought my Mum, who lived in the island State, Tasmania, a house in the town of Devonport. She wanted a move from where she lived, in Launceston, after being widowed. All her friends there started dying off, and her home was too big for one person. She moved to Hobart to be near family there but they were busy working, she knew no-one else and didn't drive. She sold the Hobart house and came to stay with us in Melbourne while deciding what to do next. Then an old friend from Devonport, where Mum had spent her girlhood, phoned to say there was this great house for sale. Mum was enthused by the description but felt it was more than she wanted to pay. Bill offered to buy it and rent it to her.

So then we had trips to Devonport to visit her, just a quick flight or a very short boat trip across Bass Strait. She caught up with old friends there, whom she'd grown up with, and made new ones. Bill, being a builder as well as a diver (building work had always kept us going in the lean times between fishing seasons) went over and made some alterations to the house according to what she wanted. 

While he was away, friends turned up to give me two kittens they'd seen in a pet shop and hadn't been able to resist. They'd bought two of four for themselves, then thought, 'Who else needs a kitten? Oh, Bill and Rosemary.' My cat and all our dogs had died by then, the last dog only recently. 

I had promised Bill, no more animals. He wanted the freedom to travel spontaneously, and not to have the expenses that pets bring. But I couldn't resist the kittens either, so I broke my promise. I felt guilty, though resolved. How would I tell him?

I had extracted a promise from him, too: no more major purchases without talking to me first. Bill had a habit of bringing us close to poverty with impetuous, under-capitalised business decisions, then working very hard and finally restoring the family fortunes. It was a recurring pattern.

When he phoned from Tassie and said, 'I've got something to confess. I bought a caravan park,' I didn't berate him. I told him I had something to confess too – we had two new cats. Neither of us felt we could object to the other's broken promise when we'd broken our own. Writing this now, it doesn't seem to be quite comparable in magnitude – but I still think we were even, ethically (or rather, unethically). 

That was in the boom era, notorious in Australia, when the banks encouraged people to borrow big. The bank certainly gave Bill every encouragement in this purchase and saddled him with hefty interest rates. I know; I was there in Devonport, in the bank manager's office, to sign new papers when Bill wanted extra money to upgrade the caravan park. 

We were already in sole possession of our Three Bridges property by then. I was worried about what we were asked to sign, as this property too would revert to the bank should we default. I demurred, asked questions. I was no business-woman, but it seemed to be risky and weighted against us. The bank manager said he'd leave us to discuss it a little while, and stepped out of the room. Bill turned on me and hissed, 'You sign or this marriage is over!'

I have often said since, in hindsight, that if someone says that to you, the marriage is already over. (Even if you stay together. Just the fact of them being able to say that and mean it....) But I didn't understand this then. I was completely taken aback. I actually didn't believe he would follow through on such a threat, but it did tell me how much the deal meant to him. 

I still said, when the bank manager returned, 'I'm worried that if the worst comes to the worst, we could lose our home in Victoria.' The bank manger said to Bill, with a smile and a wink, 'Oh I don't think it'll come to that, will it, Bill? We'd work something out.' And so I swallowed my reservations and signed.

Bill began spending more time in Tasmania supervising the upgrade, doing a lot of the physical labour himself. He had a friend managing the day-to-day running of the caravan park for him, and all seemed to be going well. Then the boom collapsed, Prime Minister Paul Keating gave us 'the recession we had to have' and suddenly, overnight, banks which had been lending money lavishly started foreclosing. It was a terrible time in Australia. Many people went broke, including, eventually, us.

But before that happened, or was even thought of, came news that there was to be a paper pulp mill built near Devonport. That proposal was delayed and eventually defeated because of the outcry from the population about the huge degree of water pollution involved. Up until then, Bill had been an environmentalist like me and all our family and friends. But he got dollar signs in his eyes. 

'All those workers they'll be bringing in to build the mill will need accommodation,' he said. That was the reason for trying to upgrade the caravan park and going further into debt to do so. Had he left it running as it was, we might have made enough out of it to stay afloat; it was the extra expenditure – even before the pulp mill was approved! – that put us too far in the red.

I and everyone else he knew tried to argue him out of it, fervently and repeatedly, on both environmental and financial grounds. We could all see that he was stretching the finances too far, as well as betraying his own principles. He wouldn't listen. (God, he could be a stubborn man when he wanted to be.) 

He went and talked to the bigwigs who were there ahead of time to prepare the way for the mill. He got copies of the copious literature they put out to convince the Tasmanian Government and everybody else that the mill would actually be good for the environment as well as the economy. And he bought the specious arguments, and argued for them himself. He would never have done so before, but I believe he was blinded by the thought of making lots of money and becoming the wealthy man he'd always dreamed of being.

But the mill didn't go ahead; and, pretty much simultaneously, the country went into recession. Bill believed he could trade out of trouble. He kept doing projections, putting his case with lists of figures appended, and sending them to the bank. It was before everyone had computers. I, who am not mathematical, spent hours typing and retyping them on an electric typewriter, making sure all the columns lined up as they were supposed to and double-checking that the figures made sense. 

I now think the bank manager shoved them in a drawer and never even read them. It was a new bank manager by then, whom we'd never met, and I think he was under orders to give no quarter. 

Finally seeing the writing on the wall, Bill told Mum she stood to lose her house unless she would buy it from him. She complained, but did. Sure enough, the bailiff came calling, and she was able to show him proof that it was hers, not Bill's. But the caravan park was sealed off. Bill was able to get some things out, such as big gates he'd installed, and sell them, just before that happened. We had other creditors besides the bank, and they got paid. But the bank got the caravan park. (And later sold it for a good deal less than what they said Bill owed, to someone who appeared to be 'on the inside'. Perhaps we were unduly suspicious, but in any case had no time or money to take the matter further, and nothing practical to gain if we did.)

We were asked to go to a real estate agent in Lilydale, down the road a bit from Three Bridges, to complete in person some paperwork about the bank's claim on our home. Apparently there were some necessary signatures lacking. (Perhaps my reluctance to sign things that day in Devonport had proved enough of a distraction that something did get overlooked and I got my way after all!) 

While we were talking to the estate agents, I noticed an interesting detail on the paper in front of us. I don't remember, after so long, exactly what it was, but at the time I thought I'd spotted a loophole – that we didn't have to lose our house if we didn't sign it away here and now. 

I indicated it to Bill with one finger, as surreptitiously as possible, and saw that he realised too. We didn't let on. The people in front of us weren't on top of the details; they were just delivery boys really. Bill asked if we could have a copy of the document we were about to sign. There was no copier on the premises, but they said we could take it to the newsagent a couple of doors down. We picked up the document, left, and drove away with it. A lawyer confirmed we were not obliged to sign, so when the inevitable follow-up demand came, we pointed out we were not required to comply. One small victory. The other was to go bankrupt voluntarily before the bank forced us into it, which left us in a marginally better position. 

Well, saving our home was not so small a victory of course, but we were still overwhelmed by the trouble we were in. We realised we'd have to sell that home, and did. We were still living there, renting it from the new owners and acting as caretakers, when we decided we'd have to go bankrupt too, before the bank inevitably did it to us.

[About 10 years later, when all this was long behind me, an Australian movie was made, called The Bank, starring David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia. In it, an individual wreaks a brilliantly clever revenge on a bank and bank manager who ruined his family in those disastrous times – when, as I said, many Australians went bankrupt and lost everything. Though the story was fictional, it filled me with savage glee.

Much more recently I received a request to donate $17 towards an ad to try and stop this same bank from funding a huge coal mine that would destroy the Great Barrier Reef. (They haven't changed; they've only got worse!) I sign a lot of petitions but I am on such a low income that I seldom contribute financially, even small amounts. This time I did. Destruction of the Reef cannot be allowed; I think fossil fuels should be phased out; and ... only too happy to help screw that particular bank!]

This saga, which I've collapsed into a few paragraphs, stretched over several years. Bill bought the caravan park, and started work on it, before we left Melbourne. (I remember how fit and muscular my son David became one year, working there as a labourer in his university vacation.) Things deteriorated bit by bit during the following years. 

Alongside these trials was the gradual breakdown of our marriage.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Crossing a Threshold Part 3

The Good Stuff

I’m a Scorpio, sign of death and regeneration. I sometimes say of myself that I’ve lived many lives in one.  My four years at Three Bridges might be seen to constitute one distinct life: so different from how I lived both before and afterwards.  At the time it seemed that by moving away from Melbourne to the Upper Yarra Valley I had indeed crossed a threshold into a new life there. Later it became apparent that the whole of my time there was an extended threshold between two much longer phases – including two marriages, two different kinds of working life, and two stages of my spiritual/magical journey.

What I left behind (albeit by choice) was: having my children under the same roof; the easy accessibility of many good friends; a home and neighbourhood I enjoyed; membership in poetry groups, including a publishing cooperative; opportunities to showcase my work at festivals and performances; positions as Poetry Writing teacher in Professional Writing courses at two different Colleges; an invitation to join a State Government Board responsible for funding poets and poetry, issuing grants and so forth, which carried prestige as well as responsibility; proximity to my beloved theatres, galleries and bookshops; and living by the ocean. What I entered into after leaving Three Bridges … will come later.

Meantime, we settled into life in that part of the country. Various friends from Melbourne came up from time to time to spend weekends with us, and we made new friends locally. 

When our firstborn, David, turned 21, he and all his friends came up for a big three-day-weekend party. We parents made ourselves scarce fairly early in the evening. There was plenty of sleeping room, some of it dormitory-style; and they enjoyed walks in the bush or picnicking in the garden during daylight hours.

The nearby towns were Yarra Junction, Warburton and (a little further) Healesville. I discovered a second-hand furniture shop in Yarra Junction, where I picked up treasures very cheaply to help furnish our new home, and was proud of myself for finding these bargains. I still have a wonderful basket we used for logs for our open fire. It hasn't served that purpose for a long time – no open fires anywhere I’ve lived since – but has had various other uses.  It’s still good 28 years later, and I think it’s handsome. (That's the base of an electric fan behind it – a very different climate here.)


We decided to start a writers’ group at home, as we had sometimes done in Melbourne, because it’s fun to play with others. I approached the Yarra Junction Neighbourhood Centre and met the warmly welcoming manager, Marie. She advertised the writers’ group, took enrolments, and we ran it as one of their outreach programs. A diverse group of lovely people turned up, men and women both, with a wide age range. With my old contacts, I was able to bring guest speakers to talk to them at times, about different aspects of writing. Everyone chipped in a small amount to cover the visitors' travelling costs, and we fed them. We ended up producing a book of our work, using a local printer.

The group ran its course and eventually disbanded. Marie asked if I'd like to start another. On impulse, I said that what I'd really like to do was run a meditation class. I didn't mean esoteric meditation, just the relaxation kind. I'd been thinking I should get back into some of that, and that it might help to have a group around me. Marie got very excited.

'Ooh, can you do that? I've been looking for someone!' And so I ran successive short, basic meditation classes.

I met a wonderful woman, an author called Dulcie Stone, who ran an innovative Adult Literacy class. We were kindred spirits! I trained with her as a teacher of Adult Literacy. But as it turned out, I never used that qualification professionally.

A poet friend from Melbourne was working as a tutor at Box Hill College of TAFE, a suburb on the side of Melbourne closest to the Upper Yarra Valley. They needed a Poetry Writing teacher in their Professional Writing course and he suggested me. I was surprised and pleased to get the call. It was work I loved, we could use the money, and the travelling was reasonable. I did that for some years, loved my students and fellow staff, and we even hosted some wonderful writers' weekends for them at our place. (Later someone pointed out that we could have charged money for that, but we never thought of it. We did it for the enjoyment.)

I met the editor of a local newspaper emanating from Healesville;  she asked if I would contribute occasional poems and articles, so I did. At one time we collaborated to run a poetry competition through the newspaper

Because of Reiki, I became fascinated by healing and energy, and while I lived there I had the opportunity to learn other forms, such as Touch for Health, which is the beginners' version of Kinesiology, from a local teacher, and Shiatsu in Melbourne from visiting American teacher Denise Linn. (They are good modalities, as are others I've studied since, but I always come back to Reiki for its ease, power and beauty.)

My friend Ann Adcock came for a visit. I had met her through Reiki, and she had recently become a Reiki Master. When she saw our big room, and the number of bedrooms, she got excited about the idea of holding Reiki seminars there, and as she spoke of the possibility, we got excited too. We went on to hold several weekend classes there, Level I and Level II, with both local students and some who came up from Melbourne.

Ann and I soon realised I would do Reiki Master training with her – but not just yet. I had to be a Reiki channel for five years before even being eligible to train. Because she knew of other healing and spiritual work I’d done, Ann waived the fifth year, but I still had to complete the fourth. I finally began training late in 1991.

Meanwhile, this was when my friend Jenette invited me to do her course, The Master Game. She promised it would be extremely confronting as well as transformational. It was! And perfectly timed for me, as it turned out – of which more later.

I was invited to do a course in intuitive drawing, taught by an artist called Valerie Anderson. We worked with chalk pastels, and I loved it. Bill made me an easel, and I set it up on our long veranda. Also I spontaneously followed my teacher's example, with her approval, doing aura drawings for people (aka energy portraits). I used coloured pencils, tuned in, and got a knowing about what colours to select and what they should do on the paper. I don't actually see auras; it was all channelled. I would simultaneously get a type of spiritual reading for the person, different colours signifying different things. (Later on – post-Three Bridges – this became a professional skill.)

In June 1991 Bill and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with an 'at home'. People could come any time afternoon or evening and stay whatever length of time suited them. Lots of friends travelled from Melbourne – we had plenty of parking space – most of them arriving mid-afternoon and staying late into the night. It was a great party!

The Committee responsible for the annual Warburton Bookfest asked me for input. I became one of the organisers several years running. (Three? Four? I’m not sure now.) Naturally I brought poetry into the mix – and again I sometimes brought big names up from Melbourne to participate, as well as getting local poets involved.

In Melbourne I’d had my own independent publishing business, Abalone Press (because Bill, an abalone diver, was funding it) which published contemporary Australian poets. It was pretty well defunct by the time we moved to Three Bridges. But while I was there, I wrote a poem I was pleased with called 'The Small Poem in Autumn' and showed it to my friend Jenette, who said, ‘You could write a book called "Small Poems of April".  So I did: a new small poem most days, and sometimes more than one a day. Abalone Press had never published any of my work – I thought that wouldn't be quite ethical – but I decided I could wind the business up, 10 years after it began, with a book of my own. So Small Poems of April was launched at the last Warburton Bookfest I was involved with.

Warburton had a lot of nostalgia for me. The Bookfest was held in what had once been the cinema – which my (paternal) Uncle Don had run decades before. I had memories of attending that cinema during my teenage visits to Grandma, who lived with Uncle Don and his family in a granny flat. The old Mechanics Institute Library was still there. My Grandma ran it when I was a teenager. I used to go and help her when I was visiting, and that was no doubt a factor in my becoming a librarian after I left University. And there had been Aunty Amy, my spinster great-aunt, Grandma’s older sister, with her beautiful home and all her old family stories. My late grandfather, whom I never met, had been one of the founders of Warburton; he and his brother had the pub. But that was long before.

Now Grandma and Aunty Amy were dead. Uncle Don, once a builder (his day job), had long been in care elsewhere, after becoming a paraplegic when he fell off a roof. My cousins were grown up and married, and only one still lived in the area. I knew Aunty Margo (Don’s wife) was somewhere around. She finally caught up with me at one of the Bookfests, and that was nice; but although it was  a friendly encounter, we didn’t have any great stake in socialising with each other.

My Dad, my connection to the place – though he spent his adult life far from there, first in Tasmania and then Mildura – died in 1988. 

In 1991, the year before I left Three Bridges (though I didn't yet know I would) I saw in the paper that Don Robinson had died, and his funeral would be at one of the Warburton churches. I put on a smart black suit and attended. As I walked towards the church, an elderly woman learned out of a car window to ask me, ‘Where’s Don’s funeral?’ and I directed her. I thought she must be my Aunty Margaret, sister to my Dad and my Uncle Don, whom I hadn’t seen since I was 15.    

Don’s eldest, my cousin Bernard, whom I also hadn’t seen for many years, spoke. Afterwards I went up and said hello to him and his wife and congratulated him on an excellent speech. ‘Your father would have been proud,’ I said, truthfully. But then I left without greeting anyone else. I had grown up in Tasmania, didn't really know the extended family in Victoria, and I was embarrassed that Bill hadn't come with me. He’d refused.

I’ve made it all sound wonderful, haven’t I, up until that point? And I’ve told the truth. I look back in amazement at how much I accomplished during those four years. But there was another side to the story, running parallel.