Manganinnie

manganinnie

 

I have just re-watched a film, after 37 years, called Manganinnie.  I have a strong memory of seeing this film when I was in Grade 6, in 1980 and my sister in Grade 5; my mum kept us from school to take us to see this movie. It was the story of an Aboriginal woman whose tribe is driven from the land on which they lived in Tasmania. She was the ‘fire-keeper’ of the group, she transferred the fire from one to the next. Not knowing how to make fire, they had to keep a fire-stick going. Manganinnie finds a little white girl with red hair, Johanna, after Manganinnie’s tribe has been ‘disappeared’ (driven off and murdered) and Johanna follows Manganinnie into the bush.  It appears to be many months that Johanna lives with Manganinnie in the bush, learns the language and custom of the ‘singing river people’ and in the end, Manganini returns Johanna to her own family and leaves to die. The way that Manganinnie rolls over and dies in the film has troubled me. How convenient… the Aboriginal woman has ‘realised’ the time of the ‘singing river people’ is over… and she dies. The end.  There was so little mourning for her, except by Johanna, and certainly nothing for her people. The whole fact of the murdering of Tasmanian Aboriginal people is glossed over with off-screen violence, a couple of gun-shots and the unanswered question of what really happened to Manganinnie’s tribe.  Perhaps the optimistic viewer might decide that they got away, phew! (Got away = driven off land, by the way. Hardly a good option.)

It has mystified me, as an adult, that my mother took me to see this film.  My mum was no activist with regard to Aboriginal rights or health or ANYTHING. For my mum to take us out of school for anything was simply unheard of. In fact, I remember only one other time going to the cinema as a child and that was to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. The cinema was not something my family had spare money for. But, somehow, this film warranted our time and attention…and money.  I seem to remember Mum feeling that this was something that the school should have taken care of, exposed us to, initiated the conversation about.  But, we never, EVER  has this conversation at home. Not once. Never.

I was reminded of all this the other week when I dropped my daughter at a friend’s home and I met the parents for the first time.  We stood in their front yard and chatted about the schools in the area, since our daughters went to different ones, and they spoke about how much they liked their chosen private Christian school, where they were happy she was ‘learning good morals’. This conversation also included not wanting to give their money to the “Chinese people” who had the local Fish and Chip shop, because “why should they?”.

Are they hoping their daughter will not learn this racism from them?  Is this one of those ‘morals’ they were talking about? Or, were they just talking about the skirt length of the uniform as opposed to the state school’s…  because that came up in conversation as well.

This idea that the school is supposed to be teaching something that somehow we’re not able (??) to teach at home is hitting me between the eyes.  We hope our kids will not be arseholes… I’d be mortified one of mine uttered the words “I’m not a racist, but…” but for crying out loud! It’s up to US. Not the school.

So, I’ve got the DVD of Manganinnie now, and I’ll be sitting with the kids to watch it and telling them that people who looked like them and me did these awful things. My school didn’t tell me that. My parents didn’t tell me that. I don’t want the same for my kids.

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This is where I am, today.

I want people to know my days are not normal. I want people to know that, right now, things are pretty fucked up. Cosmically, things are in the proper place. Mother nature is not affronted; life and death are happening in the correct order.  But, in my minutiae, things are so wrong.  Stop the bus, I want to get off.

Instead of doing a cat’s bum mouth at some affront to her slightly puritan life, she is slurring like a drunk, speaking slowly, trying to appear sober. She uses a fork deliberately, taking careful aim, with her waiting mouth open just a tiny bit too long. Her eyes blink, left, right, ever so slowly as the drugs designed to take away her pain, also take away her mind.  She falls asleep while she combs her hair, then rouses and combs again. Sometimes it’s seconds, sometimes minutes.

Four months ago, she drove her old friends to the city for a shopping trip; none of them would dare drive through the city. Three months ago she drove her own car for two hours, including on and off a ferry, to an annual reunion. Today, she couldn’t make her pen write the figures for a phone number on her pad, creating a spidery mess of numbers overwritten, crossed out, and overwritten, overwritten, overwritten.  I couldn’t work out why she even needed to write it down, she was holding the number in her hand.  But, I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter and I didn’t want to point out it wasn’t rational. Imagine.

Phone calls are coming for her and I listen as she tells them she is excited she will be with the Lord soon.  Sometimes, when I pick up the ringing phone, someone starts crying on the other end. She recounts some news from her reunion three months ago, updates us on all the various ills of her aging friends, and then struggles to understand the sequence of moves we say we’ll need to make, creating space for the hospital bed coming into her home later in the week. Just a triangular shift of beds, one room to the next and the next.  Nothing makes sense, even with diagrams, but she has to trust we are not as confused as we seem to her.  She knows it’s the drugs.  It’s not us, it’s her.

I’m not doing this alone. I’m not even bearing the brunt of it.  That would be my sister, the one with the training.  I come in at times that suit me, while my sister sleeps with the lights on, because Mum is now scared of the dark and she cries. Dark is pain, and she asks how long until morning. As if daylight makes the pain easier to bear. Somehow.

This is where I am, today.

 

 

Anywhere but here…

restless
snappy
attempts to duty
fail
media calls socially
nothing for me
smile
look at her
she sleeps
comb in hand and hair half
done she sleeps
ridiculous
jaw slackens
scroll and scroll but nothing grabs
new tab
scroll and scroll but still nothing
new tab
nothing new
nothing important
so, so trivial in the scheme of
things more important
trying to remember how it was
but maybe that’s a job for later

The Tall People

The first time Dad died was immediately after the doctor injected him with more ‘pain relief’.  We watched as his body relaxed, the colour simply drained away and a grey crept over his skin, and no new breath came.  We held each other and cried, were sad my brother hadn’t got there in time, and then Dad suddenly took a breath.  We had all spent a few days by Dad’s bed in his home by now.  Apart from the Palliative Care nurses and the doctor, only a few visitors came in those final days, to pray by Dad’s bed.  We were all waiting for my brother to get there and he was on the road, coming as fast as he could.

When my  dad actually died, maybe ten or twelve hours later, it was after a lull in the hubbub in his bedroom. My three sisters and mum had all finally gone to bed in another room—four of them sharing a double bed and a single—my 20-month-old daughter, Mia, had been put down in a porta-cot in the study, and my brother and I had sat ourselves down on the floor, facing each other with our backs against the bed and en suite door, quietly chatting. Eventually, it dawned on us that Dad was no longer breathing.  We woke up the others and toasted Dad with a bottle of red that my sister had brought, standing around his now lifeless body, before all retiring once again.  No need to keep vigil anymore.

I was the only one with a private room that night, having taken over Dad’s study with the porta-cot. I looked down at my beautiful Mia sleeping there and Dad said “Pick her up” behind me.  I swung my head around, expecting to see Dad, but I was looking at the door I had just come through. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I’d obeyed Dad in that moment; who knows why dead people want you to pick up their granddaughter? Who knows what might happen next? But, I let my tired-mother instinct that says let sleeping babies lie overrule any crazy ‘my dead Dad just spoke to me’ ideas and I went to bed.  In the morning, I carried Mia to Dad’s bedroom and she looked down at him in his bed and said “Bye bye, Grandpa.”

Seven months later, I commented across the kitchen bench to Mia that it was Grandpa’s birthday.  She put down her spoon and asked “Will we see him?”

“No,” I said “We can’t see him. Remember, Grandpa died? So, we can’t see him anymore.”

“Oh, will he be with the Tall People then?”

“The who people?”

“The Tall People.”

“The who? Who are the … did you say tall people?”

“You know, the Tall People,” she said, and as she did she looked past me and up to the cornice; where the wall meets the ceiling.  She gestured toward there, with her palm up, and spoke with a tone that said obviously I was being silly, pretending I didn’t know who the Tall People were.

“Where are the Tall People?”

“In Grandpa’s room.”

“Grandpa’s room? What? When he died?”

“Yeah.”

The Tall People.  Was Grandpa with the Tall People who were in his bedroom.  Up there, at the ceiling height.

All of this was fifteen years ago and the next time I asked Mia about the Tall People she knew what I was talking about and earnest in her belief in them.  But, then the next time the memory was gone.  She had no idea what I was talking about, and I dropped it.

 

 

 

 

Waving flags

One of the kids said “Oh look, a parade!” and sure enough there were five utes/trucks in line, travelling slowly past the Australia Day picnickers who were having gathered at the lakeside-park. They were cheap, homemade parade floats, which looked like fun to my kids, but to me looked almost terrifying. They were the “Fuck off, we’re full” brigade; stickers on their utes’ back windows told their politics on the days there were no flags to fly.

Giant Australian flags streamed back on both sides at the fronts of their utes, with smaller flags flapping from the backs. As many as they could add.  They travelled slowly on the road which loops around the lake and I could imagine the ‘courage’ each of them felt from being a part of that formation.  They passed several times, driving in formation around and around the six-kilometre loop.  There is only one reason to do what they were doing and that is intimidation.

A lot of people were waving Australian flags today: the ice-cream van had triangle Aussie-flag bunting; a huge plastic Aussie flag covered a picnic table; a couple of Aussie flag beach-towels served as a picnic rug; a mother and daughter sported matching blue Australian flag dresses with ruching at the top; the local café celebrated with a 10% surcharge… everybody was getting in on the fun, celebrating Australia Day and waving flags. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that Australian flags somehow trigger feelings of terror in me.

Instead, I just want to  reflect on the intentions of these young white men, and they were all white men, as they chose to drive slowly past a large group of people of various ethnicities, mostly families, who were celebrating the national day of the country.  What goes through their minds that they think decorating their utes like this is a good idea? Do they really plan the details like: where and when to meet; how many goes around the lake would be just right and how many would be overkill; what to have to dinner afterwards? Do they do this every year, or is this year special because Brexit and Trump gave them permission to stop hiding their racism? Their inaugural racists’ parade. Mostly, these people confuse me. They came out to intimidate, terrify, scare, and generally be mean arseholes.  Everybody else was just having fun.

PS Change the date of Australia Day.

 

Sorting the Washing

Like many people, I put off sorting the washing until we’re all squished at one end of the dinner table eating tea, while the pile of clean clothes looms over us; threatening to consume us, absorb us, like some multi-coloured, fabric Blob.

It’s not that I hate the job, it’s just that it’s not that urgent. Like geologists, we’ve all learned how to decipher the stratum of the great pile, to work out where we might find the black bike shorts or where we might plunge our hand in to extract a pair of white socks. Taking core samples that end up piled on one of the dining chairs.

I have a system when I finally get into sorting the washing, working left to right, youngest to oldest, and front to back, undies to pjs. Which is probably why I am still the only one who does the job. They’re probably all scared they’re going to get it wrong. Apparently I get it wrong all the time.  My two eldest girls take their piles and then there’s a secret swap between their rooms, a sort of black market of knickers.  They don’t want to hurt my feelings and they’re happy with the system as it exists.

Eldest daughter has taken to wearing her dad’s t-shirts, so I have no idea what belongs to whom anymore. If I put something of his on her pile, she’ll claim it forever. I figure the safest thing to do is put them all on Dad’s pile and let him deal. At least we’ve all survived the phase of women’s and girls’ size 10.  Sometimes I’d be staring at a piece of clothing for 3 whole minutes trying to work out which daughter they belonged to.  Those super-skinny jeans really can look like they belong on a 10-year-old.

Sometimes, in my silent musings while I sort, I am struck by the differences in boys’ and girls’ clothing and I line up the boys’ size 6 shorts against the girls’ size 10 shorts and want to take pictures. I want to write a tirade against the inequality of children’s gendered, sexualised clothing.  The boys’ rashies (supposed to prevent sun damage) which reach their elbows or even their wrists, and the girls’ rashies that have ruched sleeves only just covering their shoulders…

But then, I’m tired. And I’m looking at the clothes in front of me, one week’s washing: washed, dried on the line, brought in flat (let’s not iron), piled high, sorted… and I am struck by more immediate issues.  Like, why has Dad’s pile got 14 pairs of socks? And, bloody hell!!! Why the hell has the youngest’s pile only got one pair of undies? Again?

 

Pipsville

Most people born in the Sixties were given the name Debbie or Andrew. Mostly Andrew. I was named Philippa, told people my name was phi-li-puh when they called me Pip and then decided in grade six that from now on, I would be known as Pip.  I like the name Philippa, but I just sort of don’t recognise it as me. Once, in my teens, a message came through a party, “Philippa’s dad is here” and I passed it on. “Philippa? Philippa? Your dad is here…. oh wait…”  If I get a phone call and they say “Hi! Is that Philippa?” I hang up. I don’t know you and I don’t want whatever it is you’re selling.

I didn’t know any other Philippas or Phillipas or Phillippas or Philipas growing up.  Or Pips.  I heard of Pips, but they were mostly dogs. I was a solo Pip. The only one in class. The only one at school. “Is that your real name?” I felt special when we did Dickens’ Great Expectations in class and I got to read the part of Pip.

Later, when I worked at a bank, I twice answered phone calls from branch staff who insisted they knew me:
“Hello, Vouchers Melbourne, this is Pip speaking.”
“Pip?  Pip!  Hi! It’s Rachel.  What are you doing there?”
“Err, hi. Sorry, who is it?”
“Rachel. At East Melbourne.”
“Ummmm…”
“Pip! It’s me! Rachel! We were tellers together at East Melbourne.”
“Errr, no. I’ve never worked there. Must be another Pip.”
” … ”
Because, there couldn’t possibly be another Pip in the bank.  I searched the bank’s internal email list and found four Pips in my city building. I even met one of them; she had a brother called Andrew.

But now, I live in a small town of about 3,000 people.  When I first moved here, I joined a playgroup with my little boys and met Pip, who was a local through and through. That was a bit weird. Then there was Pip, the kindergarten mum.  When we walked into the pub together for a kindergarten function, people chuckled, “Pip, Pip! Hooray!!”  These days, I say good morning to that Pip and another Pip on the way to school drop off every morning and Pip’s surname is only one letter off mine! My daughter found a dog and brought it home. I called the owner and it was Pip. My sister lives in France and met… Pip from my town.  These are all different, separate, individual Pips. There are more I haven’t had contact with yet, but I’ve seen their names on the local Facebook buy/sell page.  I counted eight of them, not including me and a few I haven’t already mentioned.

What the hell??????  Why is my town Pip-central?  What is going on?

I mean to investigate. I am hoping to have a Pip-gathering, a Pip-dinner and do a Pip-interview.  I am guessing that I am probably about ten years older than the other Pips, which probably just indicates that my mum was ahead of her time.  (Go Mum!) Watch this space.

Faking it. And making it.

I jumped at the opportunity to be the ‘Social Media’ person at the Word For Word Non-Fiction Festival this weekend in Geelong, even though I would be flying by the seat of my pants. I actually only opened my Twitter account on Thursday but went ahead and asked the people who I knew would know, what the hell did I do next. I used my resources. One was my sister, who was able to explain some key terms and the difference between using hashtags and Twitter handles on my live tweets. Another was a Facebook group of Australian writers, who very kindly gave some fabulous advice like ‘thread your tweets’ and use the keyboard I am most comfortable with—for some reason I’d imagined myself doing it all on my phone, it hadn’t dawned on me to use a laptop. Bloody brilliant advice.

Being so new to Twitter, I started practising the night before, and look!  Instant result!  I tweeted about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s keynote presentation at the festival the following night and she responded, immediately.  (Maybe it was just that I caught her procrastinating on Twitter when she was supposed to be writing her keynote, I dunno.)screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-1-39-41-pm

What was wonderful about this opportunity, was being up close and personal  with a huge range of non-fiction authors, instead of the usual distance of being just an audience member. And, I learned a fabulous lesson. Here I was, at a pre-event-event with drinks and canapés, feeling awkward that I didn’t know all these authors’ names, or  what they had written, having never been really published myself, with only my “MEDIA” lanyard making my presence legitimate. Then, I grabbed a wine, got over myself a bit, opened my ears and eyes and realised that they didn’t know each other either!  Sure, there were one or two who were reuniting, but as I milled about (lanyard power), I heard people introducing themselves to each other and explaining what they write. Wow.  It was okay not to know their names, because they didn’t know each other anyway. The room seemed to be devoid of gigantic egos. I guess herein lies a point of difference in non-fiction.  It covers such a huge range of genres—from political writers, social commentators, historians, memoirists, essayists, journalists and comedians—that it would be unreasonable to know those outside your own area.

I wonder if it’s this easy in the fiction world?  Or the poetry world? From the supportive and encouraging replies I had to my online calls for help, when they don’t know me at all, it seems to me the writing community is predominantly just bloody lovely.

I’ve been duped

The nice woman came to my door, paid me $20 and took away the blue Ikea table with its pink and blue chairs.  I could say that we had outgrown them, but with a six-year old in da house, that wouldn’t be true.  I could argue that we didn’t have room for them, but with a designated play area, that is also not true.

The truth is, we should never have bought them in the first place.  We didn’t need them.  We don’t need them.  The manufacturers of kid-sized furniture are laughing all the way to the bank, not that I blame them. Good on ’em. They’ve found a way to make money and they’re exploiting it. Go for it.  But, I feel a bit of a fool that I fell for it; this need to obviously provide well for my children. Not spoil them, mind you, because nobody wants that. I’m not talking Disney trips with twenty friends for their third birthday.  But I was duped into believing that child-sized furniture was a necessity.  You know, back in the day, there wasn’t even a thing called ‘children’s clothing’. There was just clothing, made smaller to fit a kids’ body.

Which made me look around and wonder what else has slipped under my bullshit radar… and I asked my friends.

High chairs

I’m not saying don’t get one, because it is nice to pop the kid down to eat at the same level as the dinner table, rather than constantly eating one handed. But, and here’s the bullshit bit, what is with all the cushions?  OMG! The cushions!  They don’t need that crap! Have you ever pulled those things apart?   How did corn end up stuck under the seat belt? We don’t eat corn! And what is this black gunk between the seat and side cushions?  I wipe this seat every freaking meal… well… once a week.  Sometimes. This chair is its own eco system.

Much better, if you have to have a high chair, to get the most basic molded plastic thing. Yes, here I am going to say, the Ikea one does the job beautifully.

Wooden Toys

I’m going to get slammed for this,  but hear me out.  I bought a beautiful, gooorgeous, eco, green, ethical, non-toxic rainbow for the kids’ room.  It became just another dust collector.  And I am morally opposed to dust collectors.  I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the rainbow because… eco, green, ethical, pretty… and so it sat and was never played with.
No, wait, I lie. It was played with once by one of the big kids, who made funny faces with it.  For five minutes.  One arch of  this beautiful, gorgeous, eco, green, ethical, non-toxic dust-collector was  broken by a little hand piffing it, a few arches ended up in with the wooden blocks (more about those in a minute) and eventually, I collected the arches and  passed it on to the op shop.  It looked sort of artistic.
Overall, I think the eco, ethical, green toy market is a good thing.  Most of us want an alternative to the MIC disposable guff, but don’t think that China hasn’t joined the wooden toy market.  Do check the source.  And don’t buy a dust collector like I did.  Unless you like to dust… in which case, you’re weird. Nothing personal.

Baby Sneakers

Just… what the hell?  Is your baby sneaking off somewhere? Do they need sneakers? Do they need runners? Do they need expensive brand name runners?  Errrr, no.  And you don’t need me to tell you that and no, this did not slip under my bullshit radar.  I just wanted to have a whinge about them.  But while I’m going on about foot coverings, socks.  Don’t bother. I used to have people chase me down the street to give me back the socks my baby had piffed from the pram.  Then, sometimes I’d have people tut-tut at me because my baby was going to die of hypothermia because she had no socks on. So, bloody hell. Socks.

Unless you need little mittens, in which case, don’t spend a fortune on specific baby mittens, just buy socks.  To recap, no to designer shoes, and no to socks, unless they are mittens. Onesies rock!

Dresses

Waaaaay back when, all babies and children wore dresses.  This made it easier for toileting, I assume, in the times before easy laundering and disposable nappies.  But here and now, dresses can be a major problem for a kid trying to crawl. I guess they’re pretty when they baby isn’t moving, but once they start moving, onesies rock… again!

Baby Wipe Warmer

I can’t even.

My friend whose bullshit radar was faulty that day, found they dried out the wipes. What a surprise and what a first-world problem.  Sure, packet baby wipes are damn handy and they have their place in our modern world.  But you know what else works?  Face washers. Wet face washers.  And then you wash them.  No really!!  And no matter what the packaging says, those wipes are NOT okay to flush.  Even the flushable ones.  Don’t do it.

Toddler Bed

No, I didn’t, but lots of people do buy these, obviously, because it’s a thing!  Apart from it adding another stage you have to pay for, how do your fit in there? Does this mean when you’re snuggling with your toddler, you’re doing it from the floor?  Because that is just not comfy, at all.  And probably very bad for your back.  You should stop that.

Blocks

No, even though these were brought out only about five times in total, I don’t think you can not have lots and lots of wooden blocks.  So, I guess the main thing is to check the source and make sure they’re not an unethical MIC.  (It is possible to have ethical MIC, I hear.)  Because blocks can be all sorts of things: buildings, houses, cars, bananas, cakes, drinks, cows, monkeys, people, tables, roads, trucks.  Just add imagination.

I’m waiting now for someone to come and take away the play table I thought we needed, with it double-sided top and storage drawers. I hope they come soon, I have to go and buy more stuff for my kids Christmas presents.

 

Trump is a winner

Well, he won the election.

I’m just trying to process that right now.

Tonight I went and picked up my 9yo from Cub Scouts, and when asked by another mum how I was, I made a sad face. She knew what I meant and she joined me in saying… what the fucking fuck has just happened?

People, she knew what I meant without me saying anything and we do not live in the USA.  This is so important.

You know what this takes me back to?  The Eighties.  The Second Cold War. I was just a regular angsty teenager and all the movies were about the nuclear holocaust. That’s the nuclear holocaust, because we knew it was going to happen. In the school yard, we used to discuss how the war would start—the one that was going to end us all—and how long it would take to reach us.  We knew one day someone would get pissed off with someone else and—BANG—hit the big red button. And then we would all die.  The end.

That’s how I feel tonight.