The magic mirror

love

My kitchen window is the portal into another time and place. I’ve been looking through it and writing about what I see for years. Even when I don’t see any physical activity apart from the day that is – a gluttonous sky thundering over the Chinese Elm, the first blossoms on the apricot tree or chooks basking in the dusty hole they’ve dug to bathe in sunshine – I see so much.

The three little boys that once jumped in and out of a portable swimming pool in summers of years gone, white in a heavy layering of sunscreen and laughing with each butt print made on the hot concrete path. They’d ride scooters and bikes from the back gate onto a track in the grass, have parties with friends and chip golf balls on a make-shift putting green. They’d hang washing on the clothes line while I washed dishes over my window, throwing the ball for Teddi and hitting it out with a cricket bat when they got tired of throwing. They’d bring washing in, all folded and ready to sort. They still do.

Today through my kitchen window is one of them with his love pulling weeds together by that clothes line, cute in their occasional smiles and exchanges. He’s older and wiser now, although sometimes when a shopping trolley full of garden stakes and an azalea bush plucked from an anonymous front yard appears after a night out with friends, I do wonder.

Our house, it has a crowd

There’s always something happening

And it’s usually quite loud … Our house, in the middle of our street

Madness sings over the radio, reminding me of how time moves at a snail’s pace, and yet ever moving as the rotating Earth. This magic window of mine shows glimpses only I can see. Memories of little boys that are now as men, a second 21st birthday in weeks.

Waves in the unseen pulse through, hurts from deep love and happiness scar of a life meandering as a unique Jackson Pollock drip painting. Sharp pains clash in red and blue lines highlighted with ochres, the clash of words that gnaw at the heart.

It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain

You’ve done it once you can do it again

It’s the Divinyls now as the gentle reminder, prodding the longings, whether known or not, for him or her, that thing in the corner. To be by the beach; to be home. A longing for peace without turmoil, peace even when the ocean roars its endless rhythm of now and what’s to come. Longing frees the honesty within the heart, to smile even when not smiling. Perhaps that’s a contentment, even with emotions brimming and wanting to spill.

Whether I’m looking through my kitchen window at those boys of yesterday and today, or for the rabid clucks of chooks being chased by Teddi and Schnooze, all in good jest of course, it’s always wide open and full of reflection. I can be cooking butterflied lamb that’s been marinating for 36 hours for dinner and whizzing past the window from bench to stove, stopping at the kitchen sink to wash hands of sticky garlic oils, and still, all manner of stark brutality can flood in to choke. A gulp of rosé from the antique crystal glass can smooth it away, spritely and clear compared to the robust of swallow of the same wine from my brown short glass last week. Senses swirl in the heady grilling, aromas fill nostrils to where I can smell no more.

This evening it’s simple burgers browning in a pan with bacon and pineapple and it’s not until one of those boys walks in from work that I realise I’m immersed in the Monika-world.

‘Mmm, that smells nice,’ he says. ‘I can smell it from the back gate.’ His hello kiss brings me back to today with bonds to yesterday. Another sip of rosé.

That magic mirror can show possibilities of what’s to come, of more little children running through the yard or by the beach in their little Hawaiian shirts, more dogs and chooks and golf all fusing as that next part of a growing life. My magic mirror keeps me wide open to possibilities, many I cannot imagine.

There’s always a kiss of tomorrow, the kiss from far away that should have been, could be. Kisses maketh thy life.

Here comes the rain again

Falling on my head like a memory

Falling on my head like a new emotion

I want to walk in the open wind

I want to talk like lovers do

I want to dive into your ocean

Is it raining with you        ~ Eurythmics

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Melbung smellee welly high

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It’s hard to imagine that almost 130 years ago, Melbourne in Australia was considered the smelliest city in the world when today, year after year, it’s voted the world’s most liveable city.

The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was established in 1891 to manage Melbourne’s sewage. Its crest bears the motto ‘salas mea publica merces’, meaning ‘public health is my reward’.

I think they call that transformation.

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How fine this grand Dame of cities is, my Melbourne town. Yet such a past has she, before the first sewage flows from the All England Eleven Hotel in Port Melbourne traversed pastures of graded green at the Metropolitan Farm in 1897.

Ten years earlier, mortality rates from diphtheria and typhoid in our fair Melbourne town numbered 86.3 for every 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 16 in London and 66 in Paris. The idea to establish a Royal Commission to inquire and report on Melbourne’s sanitary condition was indeed, a splendid one. It came at the eleventh-hour when our fair city was gripped by demonic disease.

Very soon after, in 1891, the authoritative and very official Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was formed. Their business was to provide water supply, sewerage and sewage treatment for our fair city.

Until that time, this admired Queen City of the South had a rather unsavoury means for disposing sewage.

All liquid waste, one day to become known as liquid gold, was thrown into the streets to mix as free as those on the recline of debauchery at Madame Brussels in Bourke Street. My Melbourne town had ‘borne testimony to her evil reputation among travellers as one of the unhealthiest cities in the world,’ according to a journalist of the time.

We all saw it, couldn’t hide from it. Slums in Melbourne town as far back as the 1850s spored faster than mushrooms in an asexual orgy steeped in high humidity and moist damp. People lived in squalor, with no bathrooms or sewerage and in homes held together on scant thread. Rooves leaked and drafts blew through holes in walls. People crammed in close and often shared beds. There was little room to hang laundered washing out to dry and keeping it clean was nigh impossible.

slumsStrolling through streets and children playing outdoors meant an Irish jig within a cesspool of urine, night soil, kitchen and bath water, soap suds from washing clothes, drainage from stables and cow sheds, liquids from trades and manufacturers, and water running off rooves and overland. All would meet in open street channels made from stone, often running into earthen ditches as sluggish glob or collecting in pools that would flood and overflow in rain, giving it free reign to meander into waterways.

‘Tis no wonder typhoid and diphtheria proliferated. No adult or child was safe, even when many claimed it was purely in the slums.

‘Twas an inclement falsity. From mine church cometh my dark demise.

 

Riverine Grazier, Friday 15 February 1889

MARVELLOUS SMELLBOURNE.

[by an original in the Adelaide Observer]

“Those who know say that Port Said is the champion filthy city of the universe. If we are to believe Mr Cosmo Newbury, Melbourne, which claims to be ‘the Queen City of the South,’ is in a fair way to thrust Port Said from that eminence” – Register.

“Bill,’ said I to my erratic Friend, who’s travelled just a bit,

“Name the strongest aromatic City you have ever hit.”

Then he bowed his head in silence, And a study that was brown,

And – when out of reach of violence – Said “I name your Melbourne town!”

“William,” said I, “thou art witty with the music of thy mouth!

Knowest thou that glorious city is the Queen of all the South?”

“Yes,” he answered; “well I know it! Heard it till mine ears do ache;

And, believe me, gentle poet Still in this she takes the cake!”

Then I asked a chewing Yankee, Lantern-jawed and most uncouth,

One of that cadaverous lanky Sort who always tells the truth.

Wal, Siree, he kinder reckoned Melbourne’s people like to blow,

So he’d mark her down as second, Just to give Port Said a show.

Then I asked a dark Egyptian, Who had sojourned in the East,

Answering the true description Swathed in linen like a priest;

Rarer far, he said, and rankers than others Melbourne’s ware

Ah, she had a lot to thank her stars for in the way of air!

Then a frugal child of China for an answer I cajole –

One of those who can combine a head and tail upon one poll;

One who’d found a way of making both ends meet.

To him I cry –

And he says, with laughter shaking –

“Melbung smellee welly high!”

Then said I, the fates are in it! When will Melbourne’s honours stop?

Others have no chance to win it, For she always comes out top!

Energy? She’d do without it! And ascribes it not to pluck!

This it is, and do not doubt it – Melbourne’s wonderful for luck!

 

Stop for a minute, or a week

Stop War by Irina Ivanova

Stop and smell the roses, so they say. Force the halt, cease all activity apart from the necessity to breathe. Even if only for a few minutes, although a week or two would be best. Give yourself that time to be and do whatever you’re guided to do, without question.

Give yourself permission to not think and listen to what calls from inside. Feel that breath rise from your belly, imagine the pent-up of must-dos passing through parched lips into a vanquished place of no return.

Step off the doing and thinking treadmill and rest from what needs to be done for an hour, even 10 minutes a day will give the heart the freedom to do as it wills. Leave your phone, emails and all social media. Allow yourself to turn off from the crazy of the world, whether the cat crying at three or four in the morning to be let outside or the tantrum throwing adult wanting the red lollypop in the supermarket that one person holds, when a thousand red lollypops sit on the shelf.

Shut down from the tormenting anger spiked in the anguish of a river bed scorched in skeletal frailty, shelter from the spits of narcissistic demands of entitlement with no care for anyone but an ego self. Such darkness of malice hurts, especially when devoid of care or nurture.

Take a breath in the open air, even if clouds loom in grumbling grey and screams of me, me, me taunt a genial breeze. Wriggle your toes in the grass and feel the soft blades bend to your curve of step, appreciate the occasional stab from a broken twig or thorn from a weed as a reminder that without pain, we cannot know pleasure. Notice cars zooming by, and the occasional siren of urgency. Discern the hues of mauve and lilac tinging those pillows of brewing above.

Eat when you’re hungry and not according to the clock, play in the sand pit with your toddler or the foot beneath the table of the woman you want to lunch with, even if it’s to share a cheese sandwich by a lake.

Make love. Eat some more, the hommos in the fridge with Turkish bread or the goji berries coated in dark chocolate. Some say cold meat pies are best. Watch movies. Walk the dog and stroke the cat, allow them to sneak onto a bed for an afternoon nap. Lounge in your favourite leather chair and watch more movies. Doze, then read. Sip a slow brewed coffee dolloped in cream or a glass of wine or beer, or better yet, a Wild Thing cocktail swimming in passionfruit with a flaming cinnamon stick for stirring.

Take that sojourn from daily grind and do your nothing, whatever that is to you. Say no to the meeting you must have with him or negotiation you must have with her. Help that person you promised after you’ve had time to catch up with you. Give yourself the courtesy and good health of time. Talk to her or see him when you’re ready. You won’t burn at the stake or be stoned for ignoring a sulking demand.

It’s not a luxury to give this time to oneself, but a necessity to be in your nothing. It comes with a level of courage though, for what floods in when the weave of distractions slackens, can swirl in muddy torrents that whip into a whirlpool of lost swirl.

What to do when one stops doing what is supposed to be done can confuse day and night and merge thoughts of today and tomorrow to a mess of exhaustion. Legs can grow heavy and struggle to move, feet trip over a pavement of no undulation. Eyelids hang tired and ache in limp muscles and steadying in this whirlpool of lost takes every imaginable speck of strength.

Where to, what now, how can I … this is awful.

Yet among the birds continuing to chirp in varying trills to a background of murmuring traffic is the eye in the muddy torrent, where the muck settles and glimpses of love without judgment begin to flicker. That light and love grow and soon, the radiance of those that give and appreciate shine as stars that blind all that take with the insatiable intensity and selfish desire of a Vampire Bat, tearing blood vessels with its sharpest of teeth and sucking half its weight in blood without being noticed.

In that light is a care that comes without effort because it simply exists as an endless purity, sometimes bound in intrinsic fibres that can’t be explained, understood or denied. Surrendering to the heart to find the natural flow is all that matters. The head has no say.

Demands of work, children and family can mellow with time to be. Legs will gain their strength as you stroll through that moist grass in the backyard, the tips tickling between your toes. You’ll notice the single leaf falling from the plum tree in tune with the season and remember the sweetness of the first summer fruit. You’ll appreciate the time you’ve given yourself and ease into that groove of being.

The washing machine goes quiet; time to put another load on and maybe make a cup of tea to have with a piece of chocolate-raspberry mud cake topped in luscious cream. Lunch. With a movie. And the tea should be peppermint, to make for a slightly healthier lunch.

To relish in the freedom of being and to understand that a few days of time to be yourself and not fulfil a string of obligations, is an unexpected gift.

A rickety bridge

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A slow sway pinches out a crying creak. It wavers and reverberates, motions in the belly as a slug of up and down. Yet there’s no whiff of breeze on a night where exposed roots choked by moss and lichen, and blades of grass tinged in dew sing in choral frets.

A stench of heavy fog squalls in as dense cumulonimbus clouds brimming in thunderstorms, lightning and intense, heavy rains, smothering everything two steps ahead. The way forward is only over worn, wooden slats of the narrow platform that vanishes into grey. Tattered, thin ropes tied to the platform and knotted for something to hold onto appear as mystical fraying fibres that float into that same invisible. Clutching them gives little confidence of their stability and peering into the nothing below that merges into the nothing above, spins that motion in the belly to groggy vertigo.

But in that empty unknown of underneath is a concealment that whispers magnitudinous esoteric breath. It’s there, somewhere, intentionally unseen but fused in super powers of nourishment and cherish.

Darkness becomes darker, a blackness of dull dread smothers the light of the moon. What it cannot do though, is hinder the fullness of energy from the orb of night that governs tides and emotion. It penetrates that dull of dread as the sun penetrates to suckle the earth.

Now to move, begin crossing these lopsided slats of old, no matter their dilapidated state or the huge holes in between. Move. There’s magic on the other side of the unknown. Trusting in that magic is imperative. One step forward, use the trembling to shift from a cement that’s cured beyond its use by date, beyond the malignant.

Such effort, such force needed when no force can be found. War drums hum stories of dire.

Breathe deep. Tune into those ropes and staunch buttresses standing quiet and resolute beneath. They’re there, powerful and strong as boulders rooted deep in love and care. Boulders of black and white … this is how it is. Boulders of nurture and coaching … you’ve got this, I’ve got you. Boulders stark with no qualms of question, all netted in silken thread studded in diamond particles.

A fibrous strand can sometimes loosen and the sway of the bridge swings to groans of pitching pain. Unicorns flounce and battle narwals in pristine points, ferrets flop up and down by the magic of a wand, round and round, tails curling over heads amongst schools of frenzy scattering at the circling of ominous danger, blurring all sight with a mass of silver-laced bubbles zapped by glints of moonlight … despairing gasps, desperate grasps … pushing through catches breath upon breath.

Breathe, draw from those stands of buttresses below when no sight can be seen.

Another breath. The bridge begins to steady. It’s now or never for that first heave of foot forward. Go. In shaking shimmy, the bridge steadies. The safety nets await amongst fairy flutters and flickers, regardless of how long or short the drop below might be.

A step forward and the tilt is greater than imagined, propels to clasp for ropes to stop from going over. Palms burn. Concentrated effort in the bracing for stability detracts from the alert needed of the gaping gaps. Sigh.

A glance behind to caressing fog, a sensuous tingle. The beginning’s obscured, gone. Silence blusters within the squeaks and groans. Moving forward is ominous and one foot steals the next step in quivering shiver without thinking or effort, without control. Dolphins battle lions battle sparrows on mass. There’s no turning back.

Knowing those quiet supports surround, even in the dreams of the gone, can prompt forward movement. Trust in the magic one cannot see or understand is all that can be and there comes a point where only doing will suffice and belief in the doing becomes the only way forward.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. ~ Roald Dahl

 

Farm Reflections: The Migrant Camp

Monika and Voldemar cottage 67 1962

Monika and Voldemar Steinbergs outside cottage 67 on the Farm, 1962

A writer nurtures stories, develops and grows them to be the best they can be. It’s a little like a parent nurturing a child or a gardener raising a plant from seed, laced in love and care. Each story is different just as each child or plant is different, unique with its own set of qualities and characteristics.

Writing an honest account of what life on the Farm might have been like requires immersion into that lifetime. Speaking to people within the Farm (the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Sewerage Farm at Werribee) community is one of the best ways of gaining that understanding of Farm life. Each person I speak with provides an account relevant and original to them and as a writer, each story provides the most fantastic insights. There are never any favourites.

But sometimes, there’s a click and you can see, smell, hear and taste a story to almost touch it. The connection might be to the story or with the person sharing their recollections. Either way or both together, every tiny fibre of their recall seeps into your bones, and it happens more times than not. Spending time with Gertrude recently, talking about the Migrant Camp on the Farm, was two hours of soothing seep.

Uncovering a story is like loosening the snib on the lid of a Pandora’s box swathed in layers of crumbling cobwebs and disintegrating dust. You never know what you’re going to hear when that lid pops open. It can as uplifting as it can be heartbreaking, and everything in between.

There are the charmers and the playful stories, the easy-going ones that smile regardless of what’s bubbling underneath and it’s not until chipping away at that sometimes gleam of gloss surface and pinching through the delicate fissures that you begin to understand the smile as hues of emotion.

The scallywags and jokers tell stories in streams of quips and weaving through the ‘you know, clocks fall into sheep dip to lose their ticks’ and ‘have you heard that sleeping bulls are bulldozers’ can sideline a deeper story. Centring and refocusing to decipher the banter and capture the snaking story can add insights to the fun and jovial.

Some only reveal what they’re comfortable to reveal, and that’s okay. Others tell the story as a stage manager directing a play or a tale that’s become a legend. Extracting its essence can be like trying to catch a Growling Grass Frog tadpole coated in thick slime and living amongst reeds swarmed in mosquitoes.

There are those with ideas and interpretations that sit outside of the box, sometimes the black sheep of the mob. Exploring those can be akin to mining for gold within an infertile reef, but oh the joy in striking that gold. And of course, there are the prickly, smothered in the finest of spines that have the ability to sprout as poisonous thorns if not handled carefully.

The honest that tell it how it is are the easiest to work with. No guess work required, only a thick hide. They’re in stark contrast to those wanting to cover up, where you can sense a teetering of not saying too much and watch eyes of distrust darting, lips quivering. Compassion and understanding for why that is, is be best here.

Ultimately, all are individual with their own self to contribute to a bigger story. There are never any favourites. However, speaking to Gertrude was without doubt, one of my favourites in a collection where there are no favourites. Gertrude Ropa. Even introducing her warms me.

Gertrude at 94, looks more than 15 years younger than her birth age. Whether it’s good genes or good living, I’m not sure. She has one of those permanent smiles, that gentle grandmotherly grin that’s seen a lot of life.

Gertrude motions me to sit beside her on the two-seater settee as soon as her son, Roland, finishes introducing me and leaves, before I could say anything or drop my leather bag loaded in notebooks and pens and a most kitsch bag adorned in European landmarks carrying my heavy-duty microphone and laptop, on the floor. Meeting with people and talking to them about the Farm takes me back to lugging baby things everywhere.

‘Gertrude, your accent, where are you from?’ I say as I ease beside her. Her soft words sing in that typical German way yet are fringed in a velvet lush, probably due to the combination of dialect and living in Australia for many years. It was more than familiar to me, charming me into a comfortability that over the next two hours, made me constantly look at my notes and questions to remember why I was there.

‘Bavaria, in Germany.’ Her eyebrows tilt up.

‘It’s like my father’s,’ I say. ‘And my family in Austria.’

Gertrude smiles more broadly; eyes of knowing lock in.

Gertrude is the wife of now deceased, Wally. Many linked to the Farm, whether as a resident, visitor, acquaintance or vagrant passing through looking for work would know the name Wally Ropa.

Wally, whose real name was Wladyslaw, was a teacher in Poland and an officer during World War II. He was captured by the German army early into the war in 1939 and remained a prisoner until 1945 in a camp near Gertrude’s village in Bavaria. It was in the camp that Wally learned how to speak English.

Gertrude and Wally met and soon after the war ended, had Marianne and Roland. Gertrude and Wally fled Bavaria with their children to arrive in Melbourne on Christmas day in 1949.

‘We had to stay on the boat because no one was working to get us off. We had lunch on the boat and the children couldn’t eat it. It was a single lettuce leaf, a slice of tomato and a piece of meat.’ Her words are considered.

The next day, the family was ushered onto a train to the Migrant Camp at Bonegilla, along the Victorian-New South Wales border.

‘It was such a long trip, like we were going to nowhere. Villages at home were only a few kilometres apart but travelling to Bonegilla, we saw much nothing. And I was so homesick for my family. I left them all behind.’

‘Why did you leave?’

‘It was impossible to live in Germany or Poland after the war.’ Gertrude’s always-smile fades as though a cloud passes over. ‘We couldn’t live there because the two countries were enemies.’

From their first night in the Migrant Camp at Bonegilla, the family was separated: Gertrude and the children stayed in one part of the camp while Wally was allocated a bed in another section with the men. The camp began two years earlier when the first intake of people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania arrived, many fleeing their country and looking for a fresh start. In exchange for free passage and help on arrival, migrants would work for the government for two years. They were processed and allocated jobs from the camp.

Employees of the government visited the Bonegilla Camp regularly and in January 1950, within weeks of Gertrude and Wally’s arrival, Wally accepted a labouring position the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works offered him to fix fences on the Farm. That meant Wally moved into the Migrant Camp on the Farm to live with other migrant men.

‘It was hard for my husband,’ says Gertrude. ‘Wally didn’t know how to use a hammer very well. He stayed on the Board of Works Farm while we stayed in Bonegilla, until we had a house in Werribee.’

The Migrant Camp on the Farm was set up in the old barracks used by the air force during World War II on the air field at the top of Farm Road. The barracks included a kitchen and dining room where meals were prepared and served to Farm workers. When Wally moved in, ‘Bill’ was managing the kitchen. It’s believed Wally Steinbergs helped Bill cook in the kitchen while Wally’s (Steinbergs) wife, Monika, and son, Ventis, remained in the Migrant Camp at Bonegilla also. Wally and Monika went on to live in a few homes on the Farm with their four children and were one of the last families to leave the township by 1971.

Over the next few months in 1950, the number of men moving into the Migrant Camp on the Farm increased and Bill decided to retire.

‘They asked, who wants to help in the canteen,’ says Gertrude. ‘Of course, my husband straight away, put the finger up. And the boss, Mr Speckman, he likes Wally because he spoke English and most people couldn’t talk English.’ Gertrude’s love for Wally sings in the tone of her voice.

The Farm management however, changed the job somewhat and Mr Speckman asked Wally to manage every aspect of the kitchen as a business. That meant Wally had to resign from his labouring position on the Farm and Wally Steinbergs leaving his role as helper in the kitchen to return to other Farm work. By now, it was 1951.

‘Did Wally teach English to the other migrants too, if he spoke English so well?’ I ask.

‘No. A woman came from Werribee at night to teach the men English.’ Gertrude pauses. ‘I don’t remember her name, she came once a week. But Wally … he would help the men with their English. He would buy soaps and cigarettes, washing powder, some razors and special drinks like lemonade for the men, and they paid Wally for those things.’

For the next four years, Wally managed the kitchen with 3am starts. He’d ride his bicycle the almost two kilometres from his home the family had moved into in Werribee, to the Migrant Camp on the Farm each day. He’d make breakfast, lunch and dinner, for which the men living at the camp would pay for.

‘He would make the breakfast what old Bill made, I think bacon and eggs. And he had to make sandwiches on a big bench. Three sandwiches for each person, in the beginning for about 20 people. One sandwich with cheese and two with sausage. He had a little bag, he put one spoon of tea in that bag and a spoon of sugar. And that was wrapped and when the people came to get their breakfast, they take the lunch already made and the tea with them to work.’

The number of men living in the camp increased over time and Wally would feed around 80 men each day.

‘It was a lot of work, we didn’t have a helper, nothing. Only my husband did that.’

Wally would place food orders and clean the kitchen and dining room while the men worked, and once Marianna and Roland went to school, Gertrude would walk to the camp to help Wally in the kitchen and prepare dinner.

‘I didn’t do the cooking, Wally did that. He’d make soup for tea. He’d fry the meat and make a sauce with it, and sometimes spaghetti. He’d make pudding and on top of the pudding was fruit from the tin. I peeled lots of potatoes and pumpkin. We had to slice the bread and put it on the table with the butter. Sometimes, we had some bosses coming from Melbourne, they went visiting the Farm, like vets, and they would come and have lunch and I have to serve them.’

Three or four times a week, Marianne and Roland would ride their bikes to the kitchen after school.

‘They used to have milk churns and we’d have a cold glass of milk and milk arrowroot biscuits,’ Roland recalled when I’d met him, before introducing me to his mother. ‘It was a treat my sister and I enjoyed. We’d sit there while our parents were working. Sometimes we’d ride to the village to swim in the pool.’

Once Gertrude finished helping Wally prepare for dinner, she and the children went home.

‘The boss had a son who made university and he picked him up on the station. I would get a ride sometimes, he took me home.’

‘What time would Wally come home after he’d finish for the day?’

‘When he was in the camp, he done the kitchen, cleaned all the plates. He had a big trough and put all the plates and cleaned them and washed them all, filled up all the bottles for sauce, cleaned the table and the floors and he come back home at seven o’clock.’ The kitchen ran seven days a week.

‘When the people left slowly, there were less and less, and my husband said I can’t do it anymore, I must do the same work for a hundred people for what I do for 20 people and 10 people.’

Wally finished managing the kitchen when it became unviable as a business. He returned to the Farm as an employee, taking on the role of security. He worked in that capacity from the mid-1950s until he retired at 65 years of age in the early 1980s.

We finish talking about the Farm and I pack my books and equipment back into their bags. ‘Thanks very much for all your stories,’ I say to Gertrude. ‘I think we’re finished.’

‘Do you need to go back to work?’ she asks. ‘I have some photos, but they’re not from the Board of Works. They’re of Wally.’

‘Okay,’ I say, sensing Gertrude wasn’t ready for me to leave yet. Gertrude shuffles over to a cupboard and pulls out a photo album. She almost trips on the way back and I instinctively put my hands out to catch her.

‘It’s okay,’ she says. ‘These slippers, they catch.’ She plonks back beside me and leans into me to show photos of Wally in the album: Wally running in athletics carnivals, skiing too, in the prison camp with thousands of men, looking fit and healthy to my surprise.

Gertrude’s stories about the kitchen in the Migrant Camp provide such insight into an area with so little information. Finding any photos or people to talk to about living in the Migrant Camp has proved difficult to date.

Certainly, spending time with Gertrude was a delight and is something I would repeat any day. It wasn’t a-twirl-around-the-kitchen one, two, three, four salsa, hip to a maraca type of chit-chat, or a choppy waters foaming at their tips in curls of white kind of ponder over the 1890s.

No, it was more a laze in silken grass under a grandmummy of a maple tree splaying an umbrella of lush green from a wise trunk in Stadtpark in Vienna, licking bitter chocolate and apricot gelato dripping down the side of a cone, with humidity kissing the nape of my neck type of natter.

No favourites though. Ever. Even a cactus thrives and allures in its succulence and flesh and magnificence of pinks, reds and blues flowers.

 

NOTES

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on the sewerage farm. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1974; the last family moved off site in 1980.

The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm

The Farm is a colloquial term for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) Sewerage Farm at Werribee and now Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

The Board of Works is another term used for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) Sewerage Farm at Werribee.

 

Farm Reflections: Truth

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Truth, honesty, I could throw justice in here as well … words that stir memories of the opening credits to The Adventures of Superman.

Truth and honesty form the basis of creative nonfiction writing, and writing about the community that once existed on the Sewerage Farm at Werribee (the Farm) for more than 70 years. It’s a community that mostly disbanded from the Farm by 1974, with one remaining family leaving in 1980. And yet it’s a community that is still very much alive.

Truth can create speculation, however. What is true to one person may not be truth to another and could in fact be something entirely different. Take a football match of the early 1950s that women from the Farm played in that was recently discussed.

‘That’s Charlie in the middle,’ says MC.

‘No, it’s not,’ says MH. ‘That’s definitely not him.’

‘Yes, it is. Look at this other photo. It’s the same person.’

‘No, I don’t think you’re right. That’s not him.’

And on went the conversation. Yet the two discussing Charlie at this event of more than 60 years ago, were both there, both in the photo with Charlie.

Writing about life on the Farm involves various forms of investigation. Examining archival material to gather factual data is important, but at the core of this research is the capturing of the oral history. This is done by conducting interviews that can often extend over several hours and involve further questioning and talking.

People recollect memories that are discussed and captured as true stories. Truth can come unstuck here though because memories and recollections can be considered as subjective, with some believing they cannot be regarded as ‘truth’. They question, what is truth?

I’ll throw in some theory here where the creative nonfiction form of writing can be defined as a vehicle for telling true stories. Creative nonfiction is “true stories well told” (Gutkind, 2012).

Creative nonfiction allows for capturing the oral history of the Farm community through the exploration of complexities in events and people in full humanity. (Ricketson, 2014) Writing in this way provides an opportunity to explore and be curious, to discover what’s going on in the world. It can be a motivator to seek the ‘truth’.

Another story told recently is of the grocer from many years ago who made deliveries to households on the Farm. The grocer would take orders one day and return a few days later to make deliveries one household at a time. He’d never stay and move quickly from one place to the next, except for one home where he would stop for two or three hours.

He’d leave his horse and jinker loaded in goods outside and in that time, his horse would slowly make its way along the street while eating the grass. After a while, the local kids noticed this and the goodies in the unattended jinker and helped themselves to fruits, lollies and soft drinks.

Upon realising the missing, unpaid for goods, the driver soon stopped making his long house visits to Miss H.

L said to me before he told me the story, ‘Now this might be telling tales, but it’s the truth.’ It’s not only a truth in L’s eyes as he was there and saw it and was one of the kids doing the taking, it’s a truth as part of a life that is full of nuances, a true reflection of life in its full spectrum. It’s a truth expressed.

Sometimes, truths take time to germinate in that vessel of trust, like the story of a head bobbing in the sewage as it flowed in the channel onto the Farm. Upon close inspection, it was realised the head belonged to a foetus, an aborted or miscarried baby. That story took some time to be told but once it was, unravelled further. It was found that many foetuses had flowed into the Farm in the sewage channel. These were aborted babies in a time where abortion was illegal and thrown into the sewer, along with miscarriages. Watermen would find these foetuses, haul them out and bury them on the Farm. These whispers took months to be spoken of and can now be confirmed as true stories.

Seeking the truth is fraught with considerations and dilemmas. There are truths that aren’t expressed, for fear of reprisal, being outed and embarrassed, and of repercussions or being held accountable or liable, or because of an inability to face the truth for whatever reasons … can they be considered an untruth? Perhaps a lie?

Recollections expressed as a ‘pure truth’ as distinctly remembered or even a twist on the truth that has slowly grown into a legendary tale over time, they’re easy to work with. A fabrication however, where a memory can’t be recalled even though it has been well documented and in the public arena, that kind of ‘non’ recollection requires patience and persistence to carefully think through, investigate and discern, especially when it can impact other people.

Many recollections can be the only remaining truth in existence, to become the only truth. They can’t be verified and sometimes capturing them can become a race against time, where people that are part of the Farm community become unwell, too unwell to recall memories, and cease to live. I have arrived too late to speak to many who would have had a garden full of wonderful recollections to share if their memories and heart allowed.

Sometimes when the memories become so scattered and confused, only the heart knows the truth and miraculous things can happen. A stirring of the heart can shine a place of pure, unfiltered truth. It can emerge as a most glorious sunrise when us humans allow it.

Sharing truths, recollections and memories, can stir the heart and get people talking and asking questions. That’s got to be the silver lining in a project that has set out to document a social history.

 

NOTES

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1974; the last family moved off site in 1980.

The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm

The Farm is a colloquial term for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) at Werribee and now Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

Farm Reflections: A land faraway

Mavis & Keith Warfe with Shep the dog

One year and one day to the day, I began this PhD research of the community once living at the Metro Farm, also known as the MMBW Farm, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works at Werribee and fondly, as the Farm.

One year and one day to the day has seen many recollections shared and some intimate memories provoked to prompt nostalgia and expose emotion that has been locked away for many years. A few tears have been shed too. It’s been an honour to be privy to those.

I never expected to know what I know today about the Farm or have met the people I have met, encountered such warmth or be affected in the way that I have, both professionally and personally. But that’s the beauty of life – full of life-changing surprises. It’s to the credit to all that support this work that knowledge is emerging of what it was like to live on the Farm and that it is being recorded today.

One year and one day to the day and I never expected to encounter a very living Farm community.

~~~~~~~~~~

A land faraway

A living town in a life at honey speed, a calm and peace unwavering in the howl of withering leaves. Crested cockatoos cascade between trees of bare, shrilling whistles of a time unmoved, of a life once was in a land faraway.

Cannon balls in the swimming pool and escaping a wrath after hiding knickers … playing cards into the morning and women scuffling for the football on the MCG …

Ghosts of yesterday dance to a squeeze box on the thread of glistening webs. They guard over full-as-bulls battles that spike in the dark near homes trimmed in baubles of roses and hydrangea, and stems of gladioli rivalling to be the best.

Families play and explore in a back yard of a vast faraway.

Today is little of the physical, of faded plum trees and pumpkins entwining along drains, of cream lilies and milk coffee and the horse and jinker tearing its sleeping traveller home as the epitome of the driverless car.

No. It’s not gone, not this life in a land bewitched on an elixir of memories, not within the dusty veil of isolation and cone of connection, where children mushroom and play hyekio and stockman call to their dogs.

Ghosts rejoice from sleeping ruins at the telling of their tales, from the tops of date palms and cypress trees and while watching football and sipping beer behind the goals, from under the water tank in a bass of riff, within a place oozing smiles more spirited and permanent than the Mona Lisa.

Cheers to a life in a living ghost town, a life at honey speed, wistful of lands faraway.

To some, it’s an honouring that’s grounding in subliminal bliss and stark in harsh reality, of little boys and girls scattering and fleeing, some in the clan ducking and weaving … a devastation that can coil as molten lead in sludge fused in hues of rotting seaweed.

All box tight in an infinity of recollections more fertile than the most precious, a box that holds the pause to remember a life that pulses through the veins of the salt bush, in the cooling dip in the bay under a biting sun where friendly flies line tent walls as a film of black or in the darkness of a waning moon with only a fire on the sand. Sea birds call on bellies plump and ripe … pretty and pristine in smashings of greens and tints of blue.

Through the feathery tufts of yellow as a roadside guard of honour is a house and two cows …

A life in a living ghost town, a life at honey speed in a land faraway.

Hinged in a haunting of melancholy is a place that once thrived. Listen carefully and you’ll hear it, the deep gloating of lifelong love, of wood being chopped for the stove and to heat the copper, feeding the pigs and milking the cows, churning the cream and butter to a one, two waltz in the Farm hall, a chasse to the Pride of Erin.

Amid this place of serenity are the giggles of mirth from boys peering behind bushes at men searching for their bottled stash, and scallywags scramming after pulling handbags tied to strings from the grasp of the inquisitive unsuspecting … the freedom to be without fear.

Bachelors living together, women and their cottage industries, ice boxes and kerosene fridges, tilly lamps and picking peas … the rose-gold worn as a cherished adornment of never-ending love that connects souls over lifetimes.

The sun prods for its always opening above foaming curls of white, rhythmic in their crashing and laced in the emotion of Antarctica. This space of breath, expanse of clarity of sight reveals the full beauty of perfect imperfection.

Cheers to a life in a living ghost town, in a life at honey speed, of a house and two cows in a land faraway.

 

NOTES

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1973; the last family moved off site in 1980.

The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm/

The Farm is a colloquial term for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) at Werribee and now Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

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