Writing, words and written work

ESCAPISM!

Escapism allows us to disconnect from our immediate reality. It comes in many forms but the kind I like best is literature. I am familiar with this form of escapism as I have used it most of my life – starting as a kid growing up with many boisterous, untamed brothers. That was a reality I needed to escape from!

Reading a book is a quiet place to be in your head. When your mind settles into a story you enter a different reality. Your immediate reality no longer matters. The heavy burdens of real life are momentarily lifted. Right now human beings all over the world need this sort of escape.

Often, when we come out of the story, our perception has changed. Resting in the fictional world has allowed us to regain our equilibrium, to muster strength and to feel a sense of hope. It is that sense of hope which is most important in the world at this time. The person who has hope has the will and determination that goals will be achieved…

During my teenage years, those tumultuous years of high emotion and rapid change, the escapism literature I turned to was the classic whodunit of authors such as Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although I didn’t identify what attracted me to that particular genre at the time, it makes sense to me now. My personal world had been turned upside down due to significant biological changes. The world as I knew it was transforming because I was leaving childhood to enter the scary adult realm. Like many teenagers I needed to know that despite all this upheaval, everything would be all right in the end. That’s the underlying message of a good whodunit.

Although my reading choices have broadened as an adult, I continue to read (and need) the whodunit genre. I also indulge in other forms of escapism such as watching TV dramas, walking in nature or playing online quizzes. However, my number one choice is literature.

During the current gargantuan world upheaval, escapism is vital to our well being. Stories can provide that easily and conveniently. We can still access books even if we are quarantined or in isolation by downloading ebooks or audio books to an electronic device either from our local library or from an online store such as Amazon.

 Let all your cares fall away: read a Dusty Kent today!

All the very best to everyone.  JB 🙂

Lost to History

Nine-year-old John Hudson narrowly escaped death by hanging, for stealing a few household items, to become the youngest convict at the time of sentencing and one of thirty-four children to arrive in Sydney on the First Fleet. In 1788 when John, now thirteen, arrived in Australia along with more than 700 other felons, approximately 250 Aboriginal languages each with different dialects reverberated across our vast continent.

Along with the convicts and their jailers, the First Fleet brought a new language to the land; a language that evolved into Australian English. It is a rich language enhanced by colloquialisms, such as ‘a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’. Australian English developed under the influence of the convicts giving us words like ‘fair dinkum’, ‘chook’ and ‘brumby’, as well as Aboriginal languages which gave us words such as ‘budgerigar’, ‘yabber’ and ‘billabong’ .

For me, it is a tragedy that the original languages of the land are no longer spoken and sung across the continent. Modern Australia would be far more auroral if it were ablaze with the languages of the many Aboriginal tribes of Ancient Australia.

When my two young nieces, who are mixed-race Aboriginal girls, recently stayed with me for a weekend, the seven-year-old and I explored the Italian language together. (I am learning Italian as an adult and she is learning it at school.) As we enjoyed making this connection through a foreign language, I experienced a sense of sadness that we weren’t also able to enjoy exploring the language of her Aboriginal ancestors. From the whitefella side of her family (and from the wider community) she has inherited and learned the language of English. But the language of the blackfella side of her family has disappeared.

Just as Aboriginal languages were lost to history, so too was young John Hudson. The last known record of him is that on 15 February 1791, he received 50 lashes ‘for been out of his hutt after nine oClock.’

It occurred to me that perhaps my nieces and nephews, through the loss of the language of their Aboriginal ancestors, have also lost a connection to ancestral memories. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a heartbreaking possibility.

As my mother used to say, ‘it’s no use crying over spilt milk’ but I can’t help imagining an Australia where all Australians grow up speaking the local Aboriginal language as their second (or even first) language. Instead of struggling with the mandatory and irrelevant French I studied at school, I could have learned from the Kurnai language of my local area that the pelican is called ‘boorun’ and the Southern Cross is known as ‘Ngooran’. Speaking their language would have been a powerful way to demonstrate respect for the Kurnai people, as well as creating deeper bonds between the whitefella tribe and the blackfella tribe. Colonialism robbed not only Aboriginal Australians but all Australians, of the opportunity to know the first languages of our homeland.

It’s long been a dream of mine to see Aboriginal languages taught in schools as a mainstream subject for ALL students. I thought it was an impossible dream but it’s exciting to know that more is being done now by the Education Department and other agencies to revive and teach Aboriginal languages. Some schools have already implemented Aboriginal language instruction. So there is hope for my dream to be realised.

And perhaps one day, maybe when a descendant is researching their family history, John Hudson’s story will also be dragged out of the depths of history.

Glossary:

billabong: a dry section of a river that fills when the river overflows

brumby: a wild horse

budgerigar: a small parrot

chook: a hen

kangaroo loose in the top paddock: to be mentally deficient

Kurnai: title of the tribe that inhabited Gippsland

yabber: to chat or rabbit on

References:

Robert Holden, Orphans of History: The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1999

First Fleet Fellowship Victoria Inc.

Thomas Keneally, A Commonwealth of Thieves, Anchor Books, New York, 2007

https://firstfleetfellowship.org.au/convicts/john-hudson/

Kurnai Language Glossary from Wurruk by Vaughan Nikitin

 

The 26th of January 1788 was not a day to be celebrated by the convicts who arrived against their will on the First Fleet and it was a day that marked the beginning of traumatic times for the First People of the land.

In contemporary Australia, January 26th is a day that has developed its own traditions, created memories down the years for many, many people and is a significant holiday in our calendar.

Aboriginal people and groups advocating reconciliation who lobby against it are missing a wonderful opportunity.

Why not lobby for Australia Day to become a day that includes celebrating ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage as a proud part of a shared identity’? Thus Australia Day could become a powerful force in race relations helping ‘all Australians understand and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous cultures, rights and experiences, which results in stronger relationships based on trust and respect and that are free of racism.’

On the other hand, forcing the date of Australia Day to be changed is a step backward for those who claim to desire reconciliation. It creates division and widens the gap between Aboriginal Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians. Resentment from those who love the day as it is toward those who force the date to be changed can grow into stronger feelings. I feel resentment myself toward claims that January 26th is Invasion Day. Resentment is as strong as my feelings get but then I have loving connections to Aboriginal people through family which possibly tempers my reaction.

January 26th is sometimes called Survival Day by Australian Aboriginal people. It could also be seen as Survival Day for the convicts who wanted nothing more than to return home. Survival is worth celebrating, isn’t it?

It seems to be a no brainer – choose the option that has the potential to deepen our understanding of Aboriginal cultures and history or the option that creates division and resentment in Australia.

(Quotes taken from the website of Reconciliation Australia.)

JB

Recently, a chance mention of a ship called Persian by fellow writer and storyteller, Jackie Kerin, led to the discovery of an intriguing coincidence.

Jackie uses the Kamishibai format to tell the story of the historic voyage of the Persian in 1833 when it transported seeds and plants such as ferns, grasses and grape vines from England to Australia. The plants survived this long and arduous journey thanks to terrarium style glass boxes called Wardian cases.

The 1833 voyage carried an experiment by amateur horticulturist, Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who wanted to see if the boxes he had designed could successfully transport plants and seeds across the oceans of the world when all other methods had failed.The experiment was a resounding success. After six months at sea enduring temperatures from  -7°C   to 40°C  (19.4°F to 104°F), the plants arrived ‘alive and vigorous’.

The Wardian cases were on the third voyage the Persian had made to Australia. The coincidence we discovered relates to the Persian’s second journey in 1830. This time, my paternal convict ancestor John Rowley was on board.

In 1830, John Rowley, an eighteen-year-old labourer from Leeds, and his partner in crime, twenty-two -year-old William Thackrah, were sentenced to death for breaking into a premises and stealing goods and chattels (such as  spoons,  sheets,  aprons, table-cloths & fabric).

Why the death sentence despite the fact the men had not hurt anyone? Crimes against property (and the Crown) were considered the most heinous by the British Government of the time, and no doubt the privileged class that owned property held the same view. So while thieves were hanged, a man found guilty of manslaughter was fined as little as one shilling.

Eventually, the death sentences imposed on Rowley and Thackrah were commuted to fourteen years transportation to Australia. Both men were on the Persian in 1830 when the ship transported 198 convicts (all male) to Van Diemen’s Land.

Three years earlier in 1827, the Persian had made her first voyage to Australia as a female convict ship carrying sixty convicted women including, to give an example, sixteen-year-old Charlotte Williams who had received a life sentence for a first offence of ‘stealing a watch from the person’.

All three voyages brought foreign transplants to the Australian continent.

Not all of the convict ‘plants’ had a beneficial impact but most of the 160 000 plus men, women and children who were transported across the oceans and transplanted on the Australian continent made positive contributions to the building of Modern Australia. When my ancestor, John Rowley, had served his time, he left Tasmania to take up land allotments in Gippsland, Victoria and played a significant role in the development of the township of Rosedale. Without convicts like him we would not have the Australia we know today.

Like the convict transplants, not all the exotic plants (or the microorganisms that travelled with them in the soil) transported in Wardian cases made a positive contribution to the Australian continent. However, without Dr Ward’s amazing case we would not be enjoying the health benefits of the Cavendish banana or locally grown delicious mangoes. In the 1840s the Wardian cases brought grafted mango trees to Australia from India, generating the establishment of mango production in Queensland.

The Wardian cases were so successful worldwide they revolutionised the transportation of plants and were even used in botanical espionage. In the19th century, China’s tea monopoly came to a halt when Wardian cases were used to successfully move nearly 20,000 tea plants from China to India. Likewise, Brazil’s monopoly on rubber ended when the Wardian cases facilitated the successful transportation of 70,000 germinated rubber tree seeds to Ceylon.

After bringing the first Wardian cases to Australia, the Persian returned to England in 1834, once again successfully carrying plants, such as the coral fern and the black wattle, across the oceans.

My ancestor was not free to return to his homeland but in his new land he planted many, many more plants starting with his own eight children who went on to ‘propagate’ numerous more Rowley ‘plants’.

Learn more about  Jackie Kerin’s story of The Amazing Case of Dr Ward .

Until next time….JB 🙂

References:

The Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases by N.B. Ward

A Commonwealth of Thieves by Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 2007

As a convict descendant I find the claims that January 26th represents an invasion of Australia downright insulting. Such a claim implies that the convicts of the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip who were forcibly transported from England invaded this continent.

To claim invasion denies the suffering of those convicts who were confined to a space of 18 inches by 6 feet on crowded ships for almost nine months on a journey over 24 000 kilometres of ocean (not to mention what happened to them before getting on the ships). We’re talking about people who had no desire to inhabit ‘New Holland’ and who were forced to survive for the most part ‘on flapjacks and desiccated salted beef’ and had to cope with sea sickness, diarrhoea, abuse and more.

Claiming ‘Invasion’ not only denies the suffering of the convicts but also the gruelling work they put in after they were forced to live here; the hard labour it took to build new lives, to build the infrastructure for Modern Australia which began on 26 January 1788. Unfortunately, people like Greens leader Richard Di Natale don’t care about that. Without a thought for the convicts or one iota of respect for their descendants, he’s interested only in manipulating emotions and scoring political points by screaming: INVASION!

Not only is it an insult to the convicts and their descendants, but falsely claiming January 26th marked an invasion of the continent is also an insult to Governor Phillip who faithfully followed the Crown’s instructions to ‘open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections’. Even after receiving a serious injury when speared by an Aboriginal warrior, Phillip refused to retaliate and continued to try to maintain friendly relations. Hardly the actions of an invader!

January 26th marks the beginning of Modern Australia which has evolved into the fantastic country we have today. That is worth celebrating. Those who clamour for a change of date seem to be not only ignorant of historical facts and disrespectful to Australians who are convict descendants but also indifferent of the ramifications for Aboriginal people who will surely be subject to resentment (or worse) if they are seen as the reason for changing a date that has become so popular with the general public.

Why not consider a more inclusive solution? There is no reason why Australia Day can’t be a day of celebration AND reflection. A day when we can reflect on what happened to Aboriginal nations after the arrival of the First Fleet and celebrate what has been achieved by Aboriginal people in recent times. A day to reflect on what happened to those who were transported here and celebrate what they achieved. And a day to celebrate what we have all achieved together to make Australia what she is today. I reckon that’d be deadly! 🙂

One more thing. Since so many Australians seem to be uninformed about those who laid the foundations for Modern Australia, perhaps a brief look at what brought them here is appropriate.

Many of the convicts on the First Fleet and the convicts that came after them were decent hardworking people who had been forced to break the law because England’s new Enclosures Acts had driven them off the common land their families had worked for centuries and into the cities in the hope of finding work.

Furthermore, the New Transportation Act 1780 meant that Britain had the power to transport people for such minor offences as ‘stealing cloth from the rack’ (the sin of one of my convict ancestors), not paying excise tax, ‘killing or wounding any deer without the consent of the owner’, or for attending a meeting of Quakers. Nine-year-old orphan John Hudson was sentenced to seven years’ transportation for breaking into a residence and stealing several items of clothing and a pistol. Nine years old! Mary Wade was only eleven when, before her sentence was commuted to transportation, she was sentenced ‘to be hanged by the neck till she be dead’ for stealing a few items of clothing from another girl.

All this was happening in a society that had no police force, where the possibility that confessions were beaten out of people was very real and where witnesses were not always truthful. The real ‘crime’ of a servant girl accused of stealing might have been that she rebuffed her employer’s inappropriate advances. They were harsh times and the exiles to Australia had no idea that many of them would end up creating good lives for themselves in the distant, frightening land on the other side of the world.

Ref:

The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally

Mary Wade to Us :A Family History 1788 – 1986

Wilhelmina Woylie is a children’s ebook designed to be read on tablets, smart phones and computers with beautiful illustrations by Katie Stewart. It tells the story of a little woylie who goes out one night to fetch sticks for her nest, unaware of the danger that lurks at every corner.

Please note: You might like to read the book before reading this blog in full as it contains plot spoilers. Download here.

Although the story is primarily for children’s entertainment, it can also be used for learning. Just as the stories used by the Australian Aboriginal people have been used for thousands of years as teaching tools, so can the story of Wilhelmina Woylie.

On one level, children learn about woylies (aka brush-tailed bettongs) in their natural habitat, the danger feral cats pose to woylies and other native species, and they learn about other Australian animals as well as endangered species.

On another level, the story of Wilhelmina Woylie can open up a discussion about the threat of bullies. In the story, Wilhelmina handles the feral cat in the only way she can. She uses sticks to frighten the cat because there is nothing else she can do. If the cat catches her, she will die and so will her baby in the nest because there will be no-one to feed it. She doesn’t run because she knows the cat will be much faster.

Parents and carers can, if they wish, discuss the best way to deal with bullies in the playground. Should we use sticks? What is a better way for children to react if they are threatened by a bully?

Other possible issues for discussion include the importance of caring for the habitat of animals, the natural environment,  understanding nocturnal animals (the emu is not nocturnal – he just happened to get hungry that night) and the importance of small animals.

The book is designed to be read aloud and shared between an adult and a child. There are different ways of approaching the reading of the story depending on the age and needs of the child. In general, read the story using the main text, the pop-up texts and the pictures.  However, for very young children (e.g. under the age of two) you can just use the pictures without reading any text at all. Alternatively, you could just use the text pop-ups and pictures without reading the main text. For other children, you might like to encourage them to read repeated words and phrases – but only if that is something the child enjoys doing. The most important thing is that the reading of the story is a fun shared activity.

My purpose in writing Wilhelmina Woylie  is to raise funds for FNPW (Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife), an organisation set up to protect Australia’s native species and ecosystems. When you read the story, I hope it brings a smile to your face knowing that your purchase of the book has helped endangered wildlife like the little woylie.

Download a copy here.

Until next time…

JB 🙂

September 1st
Trees are green no more
Spring is throwing confetti
Splash! Golden wattle.

Haiku, a form of poetry made popular in Japan, traditionally paints a picture of nature and is constructed with a limited number of syllables, e.g. 17 syllables in three phrases of 5 7 5. However, there are variations to the form and content.

The haiku in this post are all about spring. In my haiku I have not always honoured the traditional use of a ‘cut’ word to signal the juxtaposition which is designed to cause the reader to reflect. I have also broken the traditional ‘without title’ structure by giving each haiku a title.

Australians are familiar with the glorious yellow of the golden wattle tree in spring (subject of my haiku above). The green of the trees’ phyllodes are barely noticeable when the trees bloom because the large fluffy golden-yellow flower heads are so profuse that the trees look predominantly yellow. Thanks to fellow writer Sara Jarrold who endorsed my use of the word ‘confetti’ as fortuitous and felicitous by pointing out that in some countries wattle (aka mimosa) and confetti are both part of wedding ceremonies.

images

I tried to fashion this haiku in a similar style to that of Basho Matsuo (1644-1694), considered one of the greatest haiku poets. Here’s one of his:

In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus
A lovely sunset.

Here are my other spring haiku.

September Final
Light rain is falling
Wild tribes swarm to hallowed ground
Oval ball is bounced

October Arts
Naked bodies fall
On stage, painted faces smile
Celebrating art

November Tuesday
Crowds surge at The Rails
Horses’ hooves pound the home stretch
Golden Cup held high

November Oaks
Royal roses blush
Fair fillies model vogue hats
Proud steeds leave the stalls

Feel free to add your own spring haiku in the comments section. JB 🙂

 

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