Children… excuses, excuses, excuses.

Some students need more encouragement than others when it comes to getting started on their school work. Their excuses are beautiful, clever and very cute.

An ideal classroom has curious students who are interested and eager to know more. Driven by their own success, they look forward to conquering the next step and the next. Proud of their achievements they eventually realize that hard work brings good results however, not all students are interested in learning because some find it difficult, laborious and boring. These conscientious objectors prefer to be outdoors on their skateboard, kicking a ball and running amok while their peers enjoy a mix of both play and school work.

Alex was in second grade and struggled getting started with his literacy work. The first two hours of school were devoted to reading and comprehension and he sat staring his work every day while I worked with my focus group.  I’d call out, asking him to show me how much work he’d done and he held up a blank page. He lay his head down onto his folded arms and closed his eyes. Pretending to fall asleep was his favourite avoidance tactic and I’d say, “Come on Alex, open your eyes and let’s get this done before play time arrives.  I don’t want you to have to stay in at play time to finish.”  He lifted his face and looked at me groggily asking, “Whaa??” And after some persistant urging, with the playtime threat, he would begin.

Branko was a little oder.  In fourth grade he avoided school work in general, especially when it came to having to write anything down.  Branko sat at the front of the room where I could quietly push him to pick up his pencil and make a start.  He complained that he couldn’t work because he had a head ache, he didn’t quite understand, he swore he already did this exact same work last week, he needed to sharpen his pencil, he couldn’t find his eraser… the excuses were endless and, when he did come to the end, he began again at the start – he had a head ache.

I sat with Branko one recess, gently explaining that if he just did the work like everyone else then he could be outside playing…  and he interrupted to say, “One question…”

I raised one eyebrow, knowing that another tactic was about to burst from his lips, “Yes?”

With his sharpened pencil in one hand and the index finger of his other hand raised to indicate that this was a very important question he asked, “Do you mind if I toot because I feel like one needs to come out… it can’t wait?”  I had two choices.  Either to agree that he stay put and toot as he worked or to ask him to step outside to let it rip into the open air.  Enough time had been wasted so I told him to just toot while doing his work. He giggled at the awful smell while I ignored it as if I couldn’t smell anything.  It was quite a sickening smell.  Such was my sacrifice on that day.

Claire was in third grade. She hated math and always needed a trip or two to the toilet during math sessions.  This was difficult because if I didn’t let her go she stood and shouted, “My wee is coming out!” and her clothes quickly darkened with the wetness of the largest and most efficient bladder I’d ever known.

Sixth grade students were much more inventive than the little ones. They put their head down and worked studiously, totally engrossed in getting pen to paper with hardly a pause.  At first I took this as a sign that they were on track and and not in need of any help. In fact I occasionally commented on how studious they were as they could focus without distraction.  Toward the end of the lesson I wandered over to see how they were coming along and found they hadn’t done anything at all.  Instead of a page full of writing, reading or math work I saw elaborate, artistic designs and a decorative title… but no work. I’d learnt my lesson at the expense of yet another lunch time devoted to ‘helping’ the lovely children get their work done.

Teaching requires a good understanding of each student’s social, emotional and cognitive quirks.  As a teacher I am strict yet fair; assertive yet patient; angry yet kind; and unwavering in my expectations yet understanding at the occasional bad day. My words and actions constantly role model commitment, perseverence, hard work, empathy and pride.

Working with 29 children for six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks per year can be both fun and difficult.  The satisfaction in knowing I’ve had a positive impact on these young lives.

 

 

Finding Love: How To Handle First Dates

So you’ve met someone online and have agreed to meet. How do you do this? What can you expect? How do you say, ‘Thanks but no thanks”?

Online dating can be a good medium for finding a partner.  A first date is either an important determiner of chemistry and a measure of how much you enjoy one another’s company – or it’s a formality that you can’t wait to get out of the way so you can get on with dating properly.  When I’m on a first date there are many things I look for which, surely, must be the same for everyone.

For safety reasons, my first dates are alway at a cafe or restaurant. If it’s night time my car is parked in a well-lit, secure area and I always let somebody know where I am and who I’m with. Yes, as secretive as we like to be with our dating activities – we need one person we can trust to know where we are, when we arrive, when we are about to walk out to the car park and when we’re safely driving home.

When I meet a man for the first time I like to give a hello hug and a kiss on the cheek. This isn’t because I’ve been single for so long that I’m lusting for some human contact. It’s because I’m a tactile person and like to date people who are relaxed about being hugged. In the past I have hugged men who stood holding their body tensely and gripped me with surprisingly stiff arms and a hard pat on the back – as if they were soothing their pet dog in a thunder storm. Such a hug carries an awkwardness that shouts, “I am unaccustomed to human touch!”

It doesn’t normally take long to figure out whether I click with a person, so I plan on our first meeting taking less than 90 minutes, which is long enough to know how I feel about continuing on to a second date, calling it quits or just adding another ‘friend’ to my long list of male friends.

In my experience, ninety minutes was plenty of time to sense that I was profoundly attracted to two particular dates; enough time to feel disgusted by a few and interested but uncertain of many.  A total of three dates took the ninety minutes to let me know they viewed dating as an opportunity for sex with random women – one man grasped my hand and actually put his appendage into my palm as we hugged goodbye!  The men who weren’t ready to date were nothing short of boring as they took the opportunity to vent their ex-wife rage over our lunch date.  The insecure men usually bragged about how amazing they were in their younger days or how remarkably young other people are alway telling them they look or act. Most of my girlfriends agree that conversation with the opposite sex is most attractive when the man is revealing he has empathy and care for others.

First date conversations have been important for revealing the true person under the scripted, social exterior. On one first date a lovely man said he wanted a woman’s touch in his home so that when he came home from work the light would be on, his house warm, dinner on the table and he would have someone to cuddle in bed.  He also said he only dates professionals, so they can contribute to the household instead of sucking his bank account dry. This may seem sexist but he was totally unaware that it was anything but true love.  He would love a woman who did this for him. Being taken care of was his pure and honest definition of love. I didn’t want to see him again.

For me, dating isn’t about finding someone to take care of me; it’s about finding a partner who doubles as a best friend, a confidante and someone to share my life. We take care of each other.  I slip into my comfort zone when my date demonstrates his emotional intelligence through understanding that hugs and hand holding are forms of non-verbal communication. I enjoy conversation when we discuss a range of topics – even if one of us is only asking questions or posing hypotheses.  I click with people who are so open that they are able to accept differences and reject prejudice.  I look for people who are verbally expressive with their emotions.

My next point isn’t always a first date issue but some men have pushed to make it an issue.  If not on the firt date, then shortly afterwards.  Men who have escaped loveless marriages fear being rejected again and can’t wait to ask whether I enjoy sex and how often I ‘want it‘.

Sadly for them my response to these off-the-cuff questions is too technical for a yes/no response. While these men may be experienced enough to know that women come with varying degrees of desire, I’m experienced enough to know that men have varying degrees of emotional intelligence.  There are men who want the freedom to climb on to relieve themselves of the ache that won’t go away; there are men who see a new woman as an opportunity to try out new, weird and kinky things (one date actually referred to this as wanting to be like “a kid in a candy store”).  And there are my type of men, who define lovemaking as a mutual and meaningful event of communication through touch.  The mind and body are both involved, time and space are important and frequency isn’t a necessary part of the discussion. However I wouldn’t bother telling this to a man who aks, “do you like sex…. how often do you want it?” because they won’t want to hear that lovemaking is a long, drawn out physical and cognitive event.

The take home message I’m trying to give here is to use the first date to make sure you are spending time with a peron who communicates like you communicate, who floats your boat, who enjoys delving into conversation that interests you, who shares your values, wants to do as much for you a you do for them and who you are able to imagine building a relationhip based on friendship, happiness, respect, honesty, trust and love.  If you can achieve most of this, you should continue seeing one another.

But what if you get to the end of your ninety minute first date and find you don’t have any desire to see this person again? Or you feel so neutral that you don’t care whether you see him again?  If this is the case then it’s time to say, “Thank you but no thank you” but there are some ground rules to this result.

Rule 1 is to please don’t allow him pay for your meal when you know you’re not interested – this is just greedy, brings bad Karma and damages the guy’s sense of worth.  If giving him the, “Thank you but no thanks” (TYBNT) talk feels mean or awkward because he is excited about how well he thinks you’ve hit it off and how he feels like he’s known you for years, say you’ll call him the next day and make sure you DO call. This TYBNT phone call should include a genuine and sincere thank you for the lovely date.  You should mention some things you liked about him and finish by saying that you didn’t feel a romantic attraction, which is what you’re looking for. Wish him well with the next person he dates.

Don’t settle for somebody you don’t really like because, although you may not believe it right now, there truly is somebody for everybody and it doe take time and effort to find one another.

Remember that nobody will be perfect so finding a great match who has imperfections that you can tolerate is the key.

Online chat rooms – smoke and mirrors.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in online chatrooms? If so, this is the story to read.

Online chatrooms are strange places of typed conversation where a person’s true identity can be tweaked to whatever age, gender, culture or lifestyle they choose. The idea of creating your own identity seems like a silly concept that immitates childish games of make-believe and I couldn’t imagine myself as anybody else so I was always happy to be Sue from Australia.  You can see a lot from the way people type their conversation.  The words people choose and the way they string them together shows many aspects of who they are in terms of their education and financial status, their religious, regional and moral values.

About eight years ago, and twelve months after my divorce, I discovered online chat rooms, where I found people from all over the world, without ever having to leave the house.  New mothers who were bored at home with a baby, too exhausted to cook and clean and yearning for the human interaction they used to enjoy at work. Freshly retired men and women who couldn’t fill their cognitive void by meeting friends for a weekly card game. Husbands and wives who annoyed one another to the point where they didn’t want to spend time together at all – the computer was their escape.  Here we sat typing words into our computers, sharing jokes, recipes and stories, advising one another on matters of the heart, urging the depressed to seek medical help and learning chatroom ettiquette, which was invented as any new, awkward situation arose.

My first online friend was Cath. She had a small baby who was only weeks old and Cath was climbing the walls with boredom as her baby cycled through the 24 hour sleep, cry, eat; sleep, cry, eat routine.  Exhaustion, boredom and loneliness were Cath’s biggest challenges.  She had spent all of her adult years working in a very busy office right up until four weeks before her little baby arrived, shortly after her 36th birthday. Cath was always online when I logged on and was still there when I logged off. She said she only moved away from the computer to get the baby or to put her back to bed. My international community of friends heard about Tina’s antics as she grew through sitting up, crawling, toddling, feed herself and learning to talk.

What our little international online community didn’t hear about was Cath’s discreet online love affair with the Englishman whose avatar was named Rad.  Although Cath and Rad’s avatars stood in the same room as the rest of us, they used their private messaging feature to have a conversation that nobody else was privvy to.  In their private messages they began with complimenting one another, then flirted, which quickly escalated to sexual banter and online sex – if you can call it that. I asked Cath why she wanted to do this because she said she was very happily married.  She said her husband wasn’t intimate with her at all; he spent all his time in his man shed, and she was lonely.  These few years of Cath’s single-while-married life were filled with laughter, joy, compliments and fun from Rad. Cath and Rad’s online affair filled a temporary void in their lives and after it faded Cath’s marriage returned to the way it was before Tina was born.

One of my dear online friends from Scotland, Lil, died of cancer and her life – full of secrets – touched my heart.  Her 12 year old son had passed away from a very rare form of cancer, which they had both been diagnosed with four years earlier.  Lil’s husband hated her for giving the rare cancer gene to their son which was, of course, an irrational sort of hatred but he felt that way and he completely ignored her, leaving Lil to suffer in her grief alone.  Two years before she passed away she met up with an old school friend, Brett, who confided that he had always loved her but had stupidly married somebody else.  Lil and Brett had a very intense, loving and secret affair and he visited her every day – helping her to dress, eat and bathe. He purchased a massage machine to ease her aches and a heating pad to keep her warm in winter. His thoughtfulness and acts of love brought so much happiness to Lil that I didn’t care that they were being unfaithful to their partners.  It hurt nobody and it gave them both something to live for. She died in his arms while her husband was at work and his wife was down at the club. Poor Lil was one of the most gentle and loving souls I’ve ever known and she suffered such awful life events that I couldn’t have blamed her if she said, “life is unfair”.  Yet she never complained.

Ferris was a 36 year old, single American man from the South.  He used phrases like, “y’all” and “over yonder”, which made me feel like I had stepped in to an Oprah Winfrey movie.  Ferris had never married and had no children, which was his biggest regret.  I encouraged him to get off the computer and go out to find somebody in real life but he was set in his ways and continued socialising from his living room.  He worked as a security guard and knew quite a lot about Elvis Presley, which bored me to tears. He often typed lyrics from Elvis songs into the chatroom and I thought he did it to feel like he was Elvis singing to a crowd. Whenever Ferris did this everyone went quiet, private messaging one another about poor Ferris needing to get out more often. He always went quiet after ‘singing’ these lines and then the chatroom conversation went back to its usual flow. It took me a very long time to realise that his Elvis song was actually a seranade to Camille whenever she entered the chatroom. Ferris and Camille had a long love affair, which was kept secret because she was married.

Ferris had been seeing Camille for about 9 months when he messaged me to say Camille told him she was planning to leave her husband so they could be together permanently, but he didn’t react well.  He stayed off line – too afraid to go through with meeting Camille – he just couldn’t do it.  Days went by and his unexplained absence sent poor Camille into a spin. She spent more and more time online; her avatar stood silently in the chatroom waiting for Ferris… hoping he might come back… too worried to leave in case he arrived when she wasn’t there… wondering if he had been in a car accident or sick in hospital.  I sent him a message begging him to come in and talk to Camille so they could discuss his fears and I felt mortified when I read his reply.  How on earth could I could tell 33 year old Camille that the 36 year old man she was in love with was actually 72 years old?  How could I tell her that the intimate moments they typed to one another was just him enjoying the excitement of young love for one last time because his wife wouldn’t let him into her bed? This was a disaster and the irony of the situation hadn’t gone un-noticed. She was being unfaithful and lying to her husband – her online boyfriend was being unfaithful to her (and his wife) and was even a bigger liar.  No matter how innocently it all began – they deserved one another.

The final story I’d like to share is about Yuki, a well-educated woman from Japan, who was married to a violent man. She refused to leave him because she was six months pregnant and leaving him would render Yuki and her unborn baby homeless. This was a difficult situation to sit back and watch because we didn’t know how the Japanese welfare system worked – or if there was one. Does the State support single mothers who leave their violent husbands? Yuki was very quiet and mostly just watched the conversation roll across the screen.  We worried about her when we hadn’t seen her for a day for good reasons.  In the year we knew her she had healed her broken arm, then it was three broken fingers, the worst was pneumonia when he broke her rib and – in the end – he beat her so badly that she lost the baby.  That’s when she left him.  Yuki arrived at the chatroom to say a tearful goodbye and explain that she had four hours before he was due to return home from work. We wished her well and never saw her online again.

Quickly taking Yuki’s place in the chatroom was Natasha, who was 8 months pregnant. One day she came to the chatroom flustered because she was in labour and nobody was at home to help.  We all typed for her to call 9-1-1 and get help.  She kept typing as she waited for the ambulance and I speculated that her labour pains can’t be too bad if she’s able to sit and type.  Natasha said staying at the chatroom helped to calm her through the contractions. A day later she came online to say her baby was stillborn. This upset quite a few of the ladies in the chatroom who had been through the same situation and we all talked about what an awful process she was in for, waiting for her breast milk to dry up and going home without her baby. She posted a photograph of her baby, which raised a few eyebrows.  The photo she posted was obviously a full-term, jaundiced baby in a humidicrib, which isn’t necessary in the case of stillbirth.  Cath put the photo through the Google Image search and found that Natasha had copied it from the Internet.  We speculated that there was probably no pregnancy or stillbirth.  When we challenged Natasha about her lie she confessed that Yuki’s story had upset her and she invented her stillbirth story so that people would stop talking about Yuki and start talking about her.  Yes, this woman was crazy – I mean, if she even was a woman.  I was relieved that Yuki wasn’t around to see that fiasco and then found myself wondering if Yuki’s story might also have been a lie? Maybe there was no husband who beat her – or no pregnancy or… worse still, I wondered whether Natasha was Yuki!  This was a place where people get what they want through lies and there I was surrounded by liars, learning about hidden aspects of human nature that aren’t normally ever seen in real life.

Mistrust overlapped from online to real life, where people who were having online affairs came to say farewell because their partners had put spyware onto their computer keyboard, recording every keystroke and read for themselves all the sleazy conversations and lies their online partners had been undertaking.

I conversed with so many unusual men and women online who led incredibly diverse lives to mine and I never really had any way of knowing who was telling the truth and who was lying. My tight circle of long-term online friends were beautiful people who supported me through the toughest years of my life and I did the same for them. When I first joined the chatroom I’d been divorced for 12 months, so my story was a little bit of loneliness and sadness, tinged with a little bit of curiosity.

Back in those days I was studying at off-campus university as a mature aged student and raising my daughters by myself. My social life was very limited due to my home situation. Stress was at the forefront of my everyday life as my eldest daughter developed a life-threatening medical condition which required close monitoring and frequent hospital trips, and my youngest began to have health problems too. Our lives had fallen apart and it was extremely difficult to put something resembling a stable, happy family back together again. Besides the usual motherly role, I also became a nurse and nutritionalist, staying close to home/my kids school and remaining emotionally stable and available to my daughters at the drop of a hat. These were the hardest social, emotional and financial years of my life and the escapism of online chatrooms saved me from losing my sanity. I could see for myself that some people’s lives were worse than mine, which gave me a sense of relief.

One day I realised that the extremely unusual and unethical people weren’t just online, the world is full of them. They live amongst us and their lies, quirks and cover-ups are hidden behind masks of happiness and serenity. Many unhappily married men and women lived the lie of a happy marriage every single day. I often found myself looking at strangers realising that I couldn’t tell which women were being beaten by their husbands, which happily married people were cheating on their partners, or who were attention seekers who lied about going through a traumatic event. It was invisible in real life… but visible online.

Most surprising was that the success of online lies relied on the vulnerability of others and there are so many vulnerable people out there. In fact, the disaster of my life own made me one of the vulnerable people and I decided to never log on to the chatroom again.

My online friends slowly left the room, too.  We have now known one another for seven years and we haven’t been to the chatroom for a long time but we remain friends who have proven our sincereity and loyalty by keeping one another’s biggest secrets.

Online chatrooms – it was a phase that taught me so much, yet I’m glad it’s passed.

*Note:  names have been changed to protect the privacy of others. 

 

The doctor’s waiting room

There are eighteen people in this room.

Nobody touches the germy magazines: most of us are on our phones and the really unwell people are staring into space.

A boy in his late teens sits with his mother.  She has her chin leaning onto the palm of her hand, nodding her head as the teen talks.  To me he looks like he just got out of bed but to himself – he is fashion perfected.   His thick, cropped, Raggedy Andy hair wobbles as a single mass as his head moves.  He sits slouched, as if half lying down, with one foot up on his other knee.  The mother spoke… but he doesn’t seem interested, he has his phone out now and she sits gazing out the window.

On the opposite side of the room is a lady in a fake fur leopardskin coat and jeans with deliberate tears, exposing both knees and her right thigh – which has a butterfly and vine tattoo filling the denim void.  Her chunky boots look impossibly heavy to walk in. She’s speaking with a lady her own age, but dressed in sensible clothes.  A demanding toddler, who seems to need a nap, is with one of them and they are deaf to her calls for attention.

Seated Behind me on these back-to-back theatre seats is a lady with a dark blue hoodie and hair that’s formed a birdnest at the back – the type you get when you’ve been restless in bed and don’t brush your hair when you get up.  I was happy with my decision to sit another seat across, to avoid back-to-back, hair-to-hair contact.  She sits very still, almost like she’s in an awake coma. Shallow breaths, immobile, not well.  

A tall, skinny lady and her husband were just called in. She walks in slow and deliberate steps, talking like she’s angry.  Her husband walks behind her, responding to her words in an apologetic way.  I wonder… did he give her a STD? Is that why theyre here?  Or did they just have an argument? He looks so uptight… and apologetic. She wears a very tight, leather-look skirt with skin tight leather-look leggings and boots. Her face also looks like leather; hardened and harsh – despite her make up and perfect hair.

I begin to wonder why people dress like they’re going clubbing just to see the doctor?

Nicole was picking at her fingernails when she was just called in.  Surfer girl sits silently with her homely-looking sister.  Grandma, who is wearing jeans with long leather boots that come up above her knees is pacing the waiting room as she talks on the phone, encouraging the person on the other end to call by for a cup of tea next time they’re in town.  She’s said that phrase about four times now.

A smiling old gentleman aged about 80 years old, wearing a brown, cable knit jumper that his wife might have knitted for him walked in, reported to the receptionist and came to sit down.  No, he is up again – giving her back the pen he accidentally carried away.  He wears a wedding band but he is alone.  I wonder if it’s too cold for his wife to be outdoors today… or if she is sick… or maybe she died?  Really old people usually go to the doctor’s, shopping and everywhere together, don’t they?

A man in his early twenties walks in with a four year old boy who is carrying a blue, spotted blanket and wearing a red beanie.  They walk to greet the gym junkie who is wearing his sunglasses indoors, a black cap on backwards, black shorts and black t shirt.  They are behind us talking about the wheel that simply fell off their car, saying: “It fuckin’ fell off while we were fuckin’ driving through fuckin’ town.”

The other man simply nodded, “Fuuuck.”

The little boy interrupts, wanting his juice drink, and the dad says, “Use your fuckin manners.” as he hands the pop top bottle down to the upstretched arm.

A four or five year old girl skips in with her mother who has the girl’s toddling brother on her hip. The skipping girl is wearing a pink tutu and her eyes sparkle from behind her pink-framed glasses. She’s not in the doctor’s waiting room – she’s on stage. I compliment her beautiful outfit and she beams at me as she continues her clumsy skipping toward the chairs where her mother sat down – near the TV with the cartoons showing.

Over an hour has passed  and it’s our turn.

pink tutu

(waiting room picture:  pedlars.co.uk)

(tutu picture:  pintrest.com)

Aunty Joy’s Australian Stories.

Some wonderfully interesting and historic stories from the early 1900s as told by my Aunt, who was born in 1922.

I once asked my father where his family had originated.  He said his father was born in Perth, Western Australia but he didn’t know where his family originated and there were definitely no other family members besides his sisters, brother and my cousins.  This converation was the start of my four-year quest to discover my family’s history. I found out Dad was wrong.  There’s lots of our family living in Australia.

One of the people I went to for historical stories was Dad’s sister, my Aunty Joy, who was born in Perth, Western Autralia in 1922. She told me stories that were told to her as a child, but she had no idea where her ancestors came from, either.

I later discovered that Joy was a fourth generation Australian; the great-granddaughter of a Cornish tin miner named William.  The photograph at the top of this story is the property my ancestors lived in, in Cornwall, and was taken in 2005.

William was 23 years old when he took a ten-week sea journey, travelling 15,000 kilometres from Cornwall to Melbourne, landing in October 1853, hoping to find gold… and a future.  He was the first in his family to come to Australia and his brothers and cousins quickly followed, bringing their families along.

Cornish miners hut in Fryerstown
Typical Cornish miner’s cottage on the Victorian Goldfields.

Shortly after he arrived in Melbourne, William travelled straight up to Spring Gully in the Victorian Gold Fields, where he made a good living. Like all the other miners, he first lived in a tent, then a cottage and finally a house.

In 1855 William married Charlotte, who had originated from his hometown in Cornwall and, as “Early Australian Pioneers”, they raised 11 children amidst hardships where there were no hospitals, a reliable water supply or proper law enforcement. Four of their children didn’t survive childhod.  In 1895 William passed away from stomach cancer at his home in Eaglehawk, Victoria, aged 68.  He left 700 pounds in assets to be distributed evenly between his wife and children.

William’s eldest son was a mine manager and soon married a local dressmaker map australia kalgoorliein Fryerstown in 1881. They soon began their own family but the area had been mined dry and the town held no future prospects. By 1895 Joy’s young grandfather moved his family 3,000 kilometres across the country to the newly discovered goldfields in Western Australia, where his brother, Thomas, had secured him a job as a mine manager.

The young couple’s youngest son, Jack, was born in Western Australia in 1900 and he was my Aunty Joy’s father.

The day Jack was born was New Year’s Day, 1900; and his older sisters remembered what they thought about that day.

“Fourteen year old Eva and eleven year old Mary were playing on the street outside their house in Boulder, Western Australia, when the doctor came out of the house carrying his large, carpet bag. The two girls went inside and, to their surprise were told the doctor had delivered a baby.  They didn’t see a baby with the doctor when he arrived – so speculated that the large doctor’s bag must have been used to carry their new baby brother to the house.”

Twenty-two years later, baby Jack grew to be a married man; he was the father of my Aunty Joy.  Her stories are her experiences of historical events from an era which is now mostly forgotten. Following is a transcript of Aunty Joy’s narrative about the Kalgoorlie Race Riots, which she witnessed in 1934.

           “When I was about 11 years old we went to live in in a tent at Kalgoorlie, which used to be called Boulder City, where Dad was born. Our tent was on a grassy area outside a hotel with lots of other tents and they were all about 20 feety x 20 feet.  When a room at the hotel became available the next person on the list was offered the room. I think the government provided the tents and we lived in ours for about eight months.

It felt normal to live like that… in a tent. Dad thought he could get a job at the mines, but there were no jobs anywhere, because of the Great Depression.  Dad said, “One in four people are out of work but it feels more like nine out of ten.”  The other reason there was no work anywhere was that the Italian migrants had offered to work in the mines for lower pay than the miners and the mine owners jumped at the chance… you know, for cheaper labour.  The Italians were good workers and really smart business people; they had all the mine work and owned almost all of the businesses, restaurants and residences for rent.  Everyone in town hated the I-ties (Italians) but Dad said they’re people just like us who deserve a go just like we do.

One hot day in January an Italian hotel owner accidentally killed an Australian when he tried to evict him from the hotel.  The Australians got really mad about it and held a meeting, saying that the Italians were taking over the country. They decided to blow the place up and set off to get gelignite from the mines. Oh they were serious, they were out for blood.

The mob spread the word for the Aussies to get out of town by 8pm because they were going to blow the place up – you know, the Italian houses and businesses.  Once the Italians got wind of the plan they ran away. Whole families went and lived out in the bush until they felt it was safe to come back. Then the Australians walked into the shops, emptied the tills and smashed the shops up.

The street was full of Australians – just like it was on New Year’s Eve.  We had moved from our tent by this stage and we were in the hotel, which was owned by Australians – so we felt safe. Dad had us all together in our room, upstairs, watching the street below. We saw some Italians being beaten and others running out towards the bush, scared for their lives, and I don’t know if they ever found their way back.  I think they died out there in the desert.  My two sisters and I were scared by all the sounds and Mum and Dad must have been scared too because they brought their friends up out of the tents to stay with us in our room.  After dark we lay in bed listening to buildings burning, glass breaking, bricks collapsing, men shouting and screaming and the strangest, spooky, crashing bang sounds.  Earlier in the night we could hear women crying but it didn’t take long before we only heard male voices.

Dad said that what happened to the Italians was a disgrace because they were good family men and hard workers, no different than us. They just didn’t deserve what they were getting. The next day we went for a walk and saw ransacked shops, and buildings still smouldering. The spooky bangs we heard throughout the night turned out to be pianos falling through burning floors of the pub down the road. All the pianos and iron beds ended up in a pile on top of one another on the ground floor.

There would have been less damage if the fire brigade could put the fires out but the Australian men cut the hoses, leaving the Italian businesses and homes to burn to the ground.  Kalgoorlie was a frightening place to be for the three days it took for police to come up from Perth and quieten everybody down.  The police couldn’t arrest the whole of Kalgoorlie so everybody got away with the part they played in tearing the town apart.

When Dad said it was safe my older brother, Jack, and I walked through the rooms of the smashed up shops, picking up gold coins, lollies and even ice cream. Jack kept the coins and I kept the lollies. We didn’t think it was stealing but now I know it was. A man called out, “Hey, they might be poisoned!”  and Dad wouldn’t let me eat any more lollies.

I think the Government paid to rebuild everything that the Italians had lost. Those were very difficult times. Nobody had anything and without the shops, we all had even less.”

 

After the 1934 Kalgoorlie Race Riots Joy’s family moved away from Kalgoorlie to a railway town called ‘Zanthus’. Living in Zanthus was an exceptional story of survival in the tough life of early Australia.  I will write it soon.

 

 

The Dead Guy.

The Dead Guy was one of the nastiest neighbours I’ve ever had.

Within a week of finishing my first aid course I was eating my dinner when there was a frantic knocking at the door.  Actually, it was a thumping fist on my door, accompanied by a high pitched indecipherable yelling.  I opened the door to find an old lady with very poor English skills reaching in and tugging at the sleeve of my shirt, beckoning us to follow. She said, “My son! You help my son! Please… come!”

Hubby and I followed her across the road, down a short driveway, through a tall, white, arch-shaped, wooden gate and into the back yard of a house.  Part of me was nervous as I had no idea what we were going to find – and part of me was very curious because I’d hardly glimpsed the man who lived in this house, which was locked up with curtains drawn most of the time.

Stepping in through the gate the woman pointed at the body of a large man who was lying very still on the concrete courtyard.  The fact that this man was unconscious – or even dead – was obvious because the loud wailing coming from the lady was enough to wake the dead.  I looked around for any signs of what might have happened to him.  A ladder? An electrical tool? Blood? But I saw nothing.  The Mum’s arms stretched out towards the man, beckoning us to go over to him, again repeating, “My son, you help!”

I asked Hubby whether he could see any danger to us and he confirmed it was an empty courtyard – except for The Dead Guy.  We went over to the body and I nudged him with my foot, shouting, “Hey… are you okay?  Wake up!”  Of course, he didn’t move.

Hubby went into the house to phone an ambulance while I rolled the guy onto his side.  In my first aid course this rolling thing looked pretty easy but, in reality, it was like trying to push a large rock uphill.  I pulled his arm and then I pushed his shoulder but the successful strategy was grasping the side seam of his shirt with one hand and the belt of his pants with the other and pulled him toward me.

Now on his side, I opened his mouth and looked inside. It was so dark in there I couldn’t tell a tongue from a tooth so my fingers went in to make sure his mouth was empty. Hubby arrived back just as I had him on his back again, checking for breathing and a pulse.  He really was dead.  No breathing. No pulse. The Dead Guy was actually dead.

Hubby had the strength and stamina to compress this man’s gigantic chest and so I showed him where to place his hands and we counted his compressions as I breathed air into The Dead Guy’s mouth.  My breath filled his lungs and, near the end of my breath, the weight of his chest forced a litle out again.  Then, with every compression Hubby made to The Dead Guy’s chest, the rest of the air came out again in loud grunty puffs.  His loud grunty puffs smelt of strong alcohol and this was possibly the most disgusting thing I’d ever done.  When we stopped to check his progress I had to swap places with Hubby because I could smell the alcohol was now on MY breath.

After some time the ambulance arrived and I sat back exclaiming, “Thank goodness you’re here!” But the paramedics weren’t listening to me.  One walked into the house and the other stood nearby the body – and they were shouting to one another.

Outside Ambo:  “Needle marks… right arm.”

Inside Ambo:  “Yeah mate, syringe and kit on the kitchen table.”

Me : “WHAT????  Drugs? OMG, STOP!”

Outside Ambo:  “No, love, you two keep going – you’re already in there.”

We didn’t keep going.  We sat back wiping the spit from our mouths onto our shirts. I mean, if this guy survived waiting for us to arrive from across the road – he could survive waiting for the paramedics who were already here.  Monitors were stuck to his chest and we made our exit when the heartbeat had been established.

We had saved a life and it felt good, but his alcohol breath was now our breath and that felt disgusting.  Nobody told me about this in first aid classes! No amount of brushing my teeth and tongue got rid of that smell. I gargled mouthwash, ate food, brushed and flossed my teeth but the smell remained.  Every time I breathed in I tasted the alcohol and it felt so dirty.  And then, in bed that night, it smelt like I was sleeping with an alcoholic because it was on Hubby’s breath, too.

Next day I went to the doctor to see what sort of infectious diseases I might catch from a person who injects drugs into his arm and I didn’t feel very good about the doctor’s answer. He said that, basically, it’s better to go and ask the dead guy if he had anything contagious that we should be tested for because we had both administered CPR.

A few days later I saw The Dead Guy’s car reverse into the driveway and I quickly made my way over to ask the question. He got out of the car and rushed his house with a slam of the front door before I was even half way across the road.  I knocked on the door.  No answer.  I knocked harder.  Still, no answer.  I peered in through the side-panel as I knocked insistently and he yelled out, “What the f@*k do you want?!”

This wasn’t helpful; my question wasn’t the sort of thing you shout through a closed door. I knocked again, pretending I didn’t hear him shout.

The door swung open as if he was angry and before he could speak I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Sue and I live over there.  Your mum brought me over here a few days ago and I kept you alive until the ambulance arrived. My doctor said it’s normal procedure for somebody in my position to ask somebody who was in your position whether there’s any contagious medical conditions I should know about… you know…  because I gave you CPR.”

The Dead Guy just stood there, looking as if I was speaking another language.  When I got to the end of my question he rolled his eyes but remained silent… the silence was deafening… but I stood my ground.  My instinct was to apologise for bothering him and to turn around and go home but the defiance in me had me cross my arms like a boss and make a questioning grunt, “Hm?”

The guy pushed his head forward as if he was going to bite me and shouted in my face, “NO!” and then slammed the door shut – not very reassuring.  Nothing changed in our little street.  We never saw him before he died and we never saw him afterwards.  I had blood tests and they all came back clear but it took years for me to feel absolutely certain that I hadn’t caught anything bad from The Dead Guy.

~ Not all Dead Guys are good people ~

(Photo source:  blogs.monash.edu)

 

 

 

 

The Day I Was On The News!

Now I look back at this horrible experience and laugh at myself, my naivety and my silly reactions. But, after a murder in our street, I found this experience was quite terrifying.

Back when I was married, my husband’s work moved us from the leafy North Shore of Sydney to a suburb in the west of Sydney.  The moment we heard about this move we curiously looked at our UBD Street Directory to see what was over on that side of town.  It looked wonderful!  Just one block away a wide river ran parallel to our street and at the end of Hollywood Drive was a caravan park.  Naturally we assumed this must be like a holiday destination.

When we arrived we were taken aback by how wrong we were.  The caravan park was for people who couldn’t afford to rent a house, the river was green and polluted with dead fish floating by and there was a sadistic murder down by the riverbank, near McDonald’s at the other end of the street.  While we slept peacefully, some sick criminal had crept up on a young couple who were kissing in their car.  The criminal dragged the man out of the car and tied him to a tree, forcing the young man to watch what was done to his girlfriend. She died, he did not.

My husband and I spent a lot of time away from home but on one, wintry, rainy weekend heavy rain had us inside, watching TV for most of the day.  At about 4pm we noticed the water wasn’t draining away and our street had a shallow river running in the direction of the caravan park.  My husband drove down to have a look at how the caravan park patrons were getting on and found that most had been evacuated.  One van was still occupied, with an elderly lady and her adult son inside, water lapping at their door.  By 5 o’clock my husband had their van set up outside our house – running a power cord from our house to their van.

The lady came to our door with her arms full of wet blankets, which I washed and dried before bedtime.  Once the blankets were in the washing machine she sat down in our loungeroom and chatted to me while I was putting everything up on to higher positions, like the kitchen table, benches, chairs and on top of cupboards – in case the water invaded our home.  Her son, Frankie, was out in the driveway with my husband, fixing Frankie’s car.

Strange, the old lady picked everything up and looked underneath.  She checked under my magazines, behind cushions and photo frames and even behind the curtains.  I asked what she was looking for and she said, “I’m only giving your nice things a bit of a looking over.” which probably meant she was curiously looking at my stuff.

Before long, the men came into the house and we ate dinner.  We talked about how far the water had risen, noted that the river must have burst its banks and that we could hear the water lapping on the floorboards of our house, which was a little lower than the caravan on our front lawn.

While eating, the lady commented that this food was alright but her Frankie preferred pork chops. My husband looked at me with a quizzical expression – neither of us understood what this lady’s comments or her constant searching were all about. At 8pm she suddenly stood up and began to make her way to our front door.

Frankie jumped up and asked, “Where are you going Mum?”

She replied as if she was in a terrible mood, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed!”.  My husband and I felt a huge relief when they disappeared out to the caravan.

Next morning the sun was shining and the water had receded. They knocked on the door at 7am, and the lady came inside to have a cup of tea and some breakfast while Frankie and my husband decided to fix Frankie’s car so they could drive back to the caravan park sooner – rather than later.  Alone again with the old lady I sat and made conversation about the weather, how many floods she’s ever seen, how long she’s lived in Sydney and all sorts of small talk.  All of her answers were abrupt and I felt really uncomfortable because this wasn’t like talking to my Nana or my Grandma at all.

Suddenly she stood up and shouted, “Where’s your toilet? The dunny?  Where’s the toilet block?”

I stood and pointed my arm and hand down the hallway and she quickly shuffled past. While she was in there I tidied the kitchen, checked that my handbag was still safely hidden in the top of my wardrobe and peeked out the back to see how the men were going.

She was taking a long time and I wondered if I should go down there and check that she hadn’t suffered a heart attack or something. I called out to her with no response. Standing in the hallway, I stretched my neck to see through the crack in the bathroom door, which she had left ajar.

What I saw stunned me into silence and shocked me into frozen disbelief.  I rushed forward and pushed the door to see more clearly – confirming that she really was wiping handfuls of fecal matter all over my walls, the side of my bath, my bath towels the toilet flush button, the taps and then the door as she made her way out, towards me.  She used the hallway walls to steady her every step, which left hand prints and smears all the way from one end to the other.  I’d never seen such a shocking thing and had no idea that adults ever did this.

I ran out the back to my husband, crying and asking him to get them out of my house. The men came in to find the lady sitting in the armchair, wiping the sticky, brown mess off her hands and on to the fabric furniture.  The poor son apologised and took his mother out to the caravan – then took a bucket and some disinfectant to clean our bathroom.

There’s no way I could sit in my house with the smell, the smears and the horror. Instead, I sat outside on my concrete front door step and cried while my poor husband cleaned it up with Frankie.  Helping people wasn’t supposed to be like this… where were the grateful hugs, working together and happy endings?  My armchair and two seater couch were carried out of the house and dropped onto the lawn – I didn’t want to ever sit in those chairs again. Miserable and sobbing I heard a loud truck rumbling down the street and I looked up in time to see a huge van slowly driving by.  It had railing around the top and men sitting up there behind the railing.  Written on the side of the van was advertising for the Channel 7 Newsteam and I figured they were driving down to the caravan park to film the flood damage.

Later that night, with only our dining chairs to sit on and after a sponge bath in the kitchen sink we were watching the news. The item about the floods was up first and, to my surprise, their footage showed my house with my loungesuite out on the lawn.  The camera zoomed right in on a head and shoulder shot when the narrator said, “The devastating effects of the floods took their toll on homeowners, who broke under the strain of losing precious belongings to water damage.”  My face was contorted and tears streamed down my face as my mouth gaped open, sobbing, because there was no holding it back.

Nobody watching the news would have had any idea that I didn’t lose anything to water damage – it was the poo.