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Posts tagged ‘Orbost’

Holy Moly! My Name’s Rowley

As children, my siblings and I often proudly pranced around singing the chorus of A Frog He Would a Wooing Go.

With a rowley, powly, gammon and spinach,
Heigh ho! Says Anthony Rowley.

What a feather in our cap it was to know that our name was famous enough to be featured in a traditional nursery rhyme.

Rowley was my father’s name. Its origins date back to a small parish in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England. Before I started this blog I contacted the Rowley Parish Council in Yorkshire. They confirmed that the first syllable in Rowley rhymes with ‘bowl’ so that Rowley rhymes with ‘holy’ and ‘moly’ as in the song above. The catalyst for writing this rant about pronunciation was the straw that broke the camel’s back: something that happened to one of my nieces. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

Growing up in the small country town of Orbost, no-one ever mispronounced Rowley. So it came as a bit of a shock when, having ventured further afield to the big city, I first heard my surname pronounced so that the first syllable rhymed with ‘fowl’. I excused that person on the assumption that their education was lacking. However, when I heard it mispronounced a second time and then a third time, I started to get annoyed. It seemed to me that Rowley was incredibly easy to pronounce. How on earth could people get it so foully wrong?

This vexed issue was one of the reasons I chose the pen name Brigid George for the murder mystery series I have started writing; JB Rowley seemed too hard for many people. I’m waiting for the day when I’m invited up to the podium to accept my prize for best mystery novel at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards. Will they be able to pronounce Brigid George correctly?

For someone who has several names (June Barnes-Rowley, JB Rowley, Brigid George being the main ones) it might seem strange that I get my kickers in a knot about the mispronunciation of my family name. But I do.

I recall an instance when an English teacher in a secondary school mispronounced Rowley when she introduced me to her class as a guest speaker. When I corrected her, she objected saying ‘row’ rhymes with ‘cow’. To enlighten her, I wrote the word ‘bowl’ on her board. I could also have written: bowler, bowling, knowledge, etc. And I could have lectured her on different pronunciations of ‘ow’ such as in crow. However, since by this time she seemed willing to accept that I knew how to pronounce my own name, I didn’t.

Over the years, I resigned myself to the fact that on some occasions I will hear my name mispronounced and I should grit my teeth and remind myself that the Rowley motto is ‘bear and forbear’. HOWEVER, I knew I had to take action when one of my nieces recently told me that she had been informed by teachers at school that she was not pronouncing her name correctly. Her own name! For now, I’ll put aside the arrogance of those teachers and the damage they might have done to a young child’s confidence. There is something even more dangerous afoot.

Clearly, there is a conspiracy out there to brainwash all the Rowleys into mispronouncing their name! I knew I had to arm myself with my trusty pen and put a stop to this mischief. So here I am to set the record straight. All Rowleys will now have a reference to refer to and none of us need ever again be thrown into a state of discombobulation by non-Rowleys who think they know better.

I should point out that the Rowley coat of arms bears the wolf, so if you do mispronounce our name, beware of wolves!

Until next time…

JB 🙂

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Mother of Ten: the sequel

The sequel to Whisper My Secret is finally done! Writing Mother of Ten took me on a journey to a secret sanctuary in my mind where remembrances sheltered. As the pages of my memory album turned, I realised what a carefree and joyous childhood I had been blessed with.

While poverty restrained us in many ways, it also gave us freedom. Because we were poor, we lived in the bush but that in itself was a source of insouciant pleasure. Creeks, rivers, mountains and hectares of eucalyptus forests became our playground and, in some ways, our home.

One of the memories featured in Mother of Ten is a visit to my father’s workplace; the woodcutters’ camp.

There were men everywhere, some with axes and some with saws: strong men with the broad shoulders and calloused hands of hard-working bushmen. White Australians with faces tanned to mahogany brown from daily exposure to the sun were barely discernible from Aboriginal Australians. Some men worked with shirt sleeves rolled up, revealing their tanned forearms. Others wore blue or white singlets fully exposing their muscled arms. They all wore long pants and boots and most heads were covered by hats or berets.  (Italics indicate quotes from Mother of Ten.)

Bluey, the camp cook, used to make tea for us all at break time.

Bluey was a big man with thick red hair and freckles all over his face. His old hat was held together in places with large safety pins.

One day when we were sitting around the camp fire I learned that Bluey had once been tricked into thinking there was a ghost roaming in the bush. Late one night he had heard someone playing the mouth organ not far from their camp. There were no other camps nearby so the men thought it odd that someone would be walking through the trees in the dark playing the mouth organ. When Bluey and a couple of the men went to investigate, they were unable to locate the musician.

“Whenever I got close to the sound it’d stop. Then it’d start up again in another direction and further way. So off we’d go in the direction of the music and, blow me down, if it didn’t move to another spot again, still playin’ the same tune.”

Apparently, Bluey wanted to pack up camp and head back to town until they eventually worked out that the musician was not a ghost but a lyrebird. These ground dwelling brown birds can mimic any sound they hear. In fact, a lyrebird can mimic the sound of an axe so precisely that even the woodcutters cannot tell the difference.

Happy memories of fun and family should be the gift given to each and every child born on this Earth. Alas, this is not the case. It certainly was not the case for the three children my mother bore before she started her second family with my father. Although Mum’s eldest child, Bertie, did eventually grow up in a family environment, it was far from joyous. Bertie’s brother and sister were, like thousands of other children in Australia, robbed of family life and brought up in institutions. Another quest that Mother of Ten took me on was the mental pilgrimage through the lives of these children.

An Inquiry conducted by the Australian Senate in 2003 and 2004 received over 600 submissions from people who, as children, had been in institutions in Australia from the 1920s to the 1990s. The 2009 report of this Inquiry, known as Forgotten Australians, states:

‘…the overwhelming response as to treatment in care, even among those that made positive comments, was the lack of love, affection and nurturing that was never provided to young children at critical times during their emotional development.’

The two journeys that evolved for me through the writing of Mother of Ten epitomise the contrast between the childhood I took for granted and was privileged to enjoy, and the childhood forced on each of my half-siblings. But, although Mother of Ten explores their heartbreak, the book also celebrates their resilience, resourcefulness and determination, as well as their triumph.

What lies behind the title? The title was inspired by a reader of Whisper My Secret who was one of those that generously took the time to email me and share her thoughts after reading the book. When she mentioned she was a mother of ten, I thought, ‘Mother of ten, same as my mum.’ That was when I first considered calling the book Mother of Ten. I realised it neatly fulfilled my wish to have a title that was somehow inclusive of all of Myrtle’s children. It works on another level as well because that was Myrtle’s secret: the fact that she was a mother of ten. I also like the way the titles can be linked by two simple words to form a sentence: Whisper My Secret: I’m a Mother of Ten. I love playing with words so that aspect of the title kinda tickles my fancy.

Now Mother of Ten has started her own journey I am off on my next writer’s journey. This time it’s a whodunnit!

Until we meet again… JB:-)

Update June 2013: At the end of Mother of Ten I inserted an amendment about the death of Myrtle’s father as described in Whisper My Secret . However,we have now discovered a record of the inquest into his death which confirms that the original information indicating his death resulted from a self inflicted gunshot wound was accurate after all.

More about the writing of  Whisper My Secret.

Photos of Myrtle and family

Oh, by the way, talking about lyrebirds, here’s a link to a superb new picture book called: Lyrebird: a true story

My father’s love letters

My father’s love letters to my mother show that, although Whisper My Secret is a heart wrenching story of loss and separation, it is also a story of romance and enduring love. When my mother, Myrtle Webb, was forced to give up her first three children, she walked into the arms of a man whose passion and love for her endured through time, through poverty, hardship and illness.

I’ll let my father speak for himself through two of his letters to my mother. I have quoted from both of these letters in Whisper My Secret and I thought you might like to see copies of the originals. (You might prefer to finish the book before reading the letters.)

The first one was written in 1945 when Dad was still in the army and desperate to get out to be with Myrtle and their first-born, Bobby.

The second one was written almost twenty years later in 1964, when Dad was in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne terminally with leukaemia while Mum and us kids were miles away in Orbost. It is clear that his anguish at being separated from Myrtle was just as strong as it ever was.

Click on the images to make them larger.

For those of you who find my father’s handwriting difficult to read, I have transcribed the letters below.

Transcription of army letter 1945:

VX.62956 A.G.Rowley, 140 A.C.T. Coy, Site 16, Seymour, Vic

Dearest “Myrtle”,

Hello, “darl”, how are you today? It’s the old man again. Gosh, that makes me feel old as hell, ah well I guess we are getting old aren’t we? Well, I don’t know what to write about, “love”.

Well, there’s blokes here getting out every day all around me. There’s two went yesterday and three more today and there’s two more next week I know of. All except me. I guess my turn will come eh, “love”?

Well, “darl’ is there anything you want or anything about the place you don’t like up there. If there is just let me know and I’ll try and fix things up for you, do my best anyway, “Myrtle”. Well “Myrtle” how is “Bobby” getting on now, “darl”? I hope he’s alright. Well, “darl”, I’ll soon know now whether I can get out on my wrist in another 6 or 8 days or so.

[The top of this page is covered in kisses and a message under the kisses reads: All my love to you “darl’.]

I hope so anyway. Boy, I hope they say out of it altogether. Well, “darling” there doesn’t seem to be much to tell you except that this silly “sergeant’ here is trying to make me work hard and I’m just not going to do what he wants. I mean I am not going to ruin my wrist just for him, hang him. He thinks I am just putting it on and reckons it isn’t really sore at all. Well, I’ll give him something to think about. I’ve just been and saw the medical “sergeant” and he’s going to fix it up for me.

Well, “darl” I hope to see you soon and all my “love” and kisses from your ever loving “Husband”, George. All my love, “darl” and young “Bobby” – give him my love will you, “Myrtle”.

[The rest of this page is filled with kisses.]

Whisper My Secret is available as an ebook here:

Transcription of letter from Alfred Hospital, 1964

17.9.64,A.G.H. Rowley,Ward 23,Alfred Hospital,Prahran Vic

Dear Myrtle,

I got your letter today written on 12/9/64. Well, Myrtle, I don’t know when I will be home. It seems like they are testing me still. I don’t know what they are up to. I suppose I will have to leave it to them. I had a blood transfusion a couple of days ago.

How are you managing, Myrtle? I hope everything is going alright for you. Yes, I miss you a lot too but what can I do? It’s in the doctors’ hands and they don’t tell you much. Tell Peter I hope it’s very soon, because I’m a bit sick of hospital.

What did Joiner and Cross come over for? Just a sticky beak I s’pose.

Now, look Myrtle you want to look after yourself and don’t sit up at night because I’m quite alright. As a matter of fact I feel pretty good but I still sweat at night and I get a temp [temperature] now and again. Now you get your sleep and don’t worry. They will probably get sick of me before long. I hope so anyway. I weigh 10.10 [10 stone 10 lbs/68 kg] That was last Sunday but I think I have put on some now because they are giving vitamin tablets and I am eating pretty well.

I better go now but keep writing, Myrtle. I look forward to your letters. Look after yourself. Love from George. [Row of kisses here]

Notes:

1: ‘Peter’ is my youngest brother who was still a toddler when my father became ill. He fretted for his father when Dad was in hospital.

2: My father has referred to two of the local men by their surnames (‘Joiner’ and ‘Cross’).

Whisper My Secret is available as an ebook here:

More about Whisper My Secret:

Until next time… JB 🙂

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones by Sue Whiting is set in Wangaroo Bay, with the ocean on one side and the Australian bush on the other. This is a familiar setting for me as I grew up in Orbost in East Gippsland which is on the coast of Bass Strait and close to several national parks as well as bushland.

Being near to the Australian bush means the threat of bushfires is a fact of life. It is a terrifying threat but as kids we did not see it that way. We would watch the red wall of fire approaching our house with a sense of anticipation and excitement. In joyous awe we would shout out its proximity to each other.

“It’s close.”

“It’ll get to us before lunch time.”

“It’s sure travelling fast.”

I was especially impressed by the vibrant tones of red, orange and yellow that swept across the sky.

Of course, an adult’s perception of bushfire is quite different. Our parents, although appearing calm, must have been anxious and watchful. Just how distressing the threat of bushfire is to people who live through it was brought home to me in 2009 when I toured the Black Saturday communities of Murrindindi shire in October that year. Sadly, I was also deeply aware of the loss and pain many of these communities suffered.

Sue Whiting’s story is set against the backdrop of the threat of bushfire. Cooper’s mother does not take the threat seriously and, much like my siblings and me, seems oblivious to the danger. Although Cooper seems more alert to the peril than his mother, as a swimmer with a fear of the ocean his personal fears are, for him, as intimidating as the fear of being caught in the approaching fire.

Arriving at the teens can be a turning point for many children. One minute life is fun and carefree, the next it is fraught with tensions, life changing decisions and confronting issues. In Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, we meet thirteen-year-old Cooper at this turning point in his life. As the township heats up with summer temperatures soaring and the bushfire looming, so does Cooper’s life.

Cooper doesn’t have a father and has never given the idea of a dad much thought until a chance remark sends him on a quest find his unknown father. His relationship with his mother becomes tense and he meets a new challenge when Abbie, a gorgeous new girl in town, moves in next door. Too close for comfort, she stirs intense feelings in young Cooper. While he is struggling with an identity crisis without a father figure, Abbie is struggling with issues of identity for different reasons. It is his feelings for Abbie that force Cooper to face his fear of the ocean when she is in urgent need of help. With the bushfire blocking access to the outside world on one side, Cooper’s only option is the ocean.

The book’s humour, language and terminology give it a distinctly Australian flavour; a flavour I find most enjoyable. Sue Whiting’s Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is a fast paced, easy to read book for the upper primary and lower secondary school age group.

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones

Growing up with bushfires and surf

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones by Sue Whiting

Published by Walker Books

ISBN 9781921529788

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Why I envy librarians

A skinny little kid rummaging through rotting vegetables, broken furniture and rusty engine parts in search of books, that was me.

When I was growing up in Orbost, East Gippsland, in the 1950s my library was the local rubbish tip, now euphemistically, ridiculously called a ‘transfer station’. We lived several kilometres out of town, which is a long way for a large family with little money. It would have been financially impossible for my parents to buy books for us kids, or even for themselves. There were usually a few comic books floating around the house, perhaps given to my older brothers by school friends. It must have been through these comic books (and perhaps newspapers) that I learned to read at an early age.

There wasn’t a library in Orbost then. That precious institution, the local library, was not established until the 1960s or later and Orbost would have been too remote to have a library even then. My only other access to books was the annual book gifted at Christmas by my aunties in Albury, bless their cotton socks. (Update 18.1.2012. Apparently there was a library in Orbost then. The first library in Orbost was opened in 1885, in the Mechanics Institute Hall in Browning Street. However, I am not sure when it started to function as a free lending library.)

However, when I realised that books could be found at the local rubbish tip my home library grew. The tip was an easy bike ride from our place and my two older brothers went there regularly. They would sometimes, after ‘encouragement’ from my mother, allow me to go with them. Oh, boy, was I excited when I arrived at the rubbish tip. I could not believe the treasure trove of books that were there for me. Imagine people throwing away perfectly good books! I searched under whatever rubbish was there. If there was a book there I had to find it. I did not want to miss a single book. Sometimes my brothers grew tired of waiting for me and left me to it. They were smart enough not to go home without me; they simply explored other areas of the bush on their bikes and came back to fetch me later. When I did get back home I was so eager to explore the literary treasure I had found that I went straight to the hayshed, climbed up over the stacks of hay to my special hiding place, curled up like a wombat in a burrow and escaped into the world of print.

There were no librarians at my first ‘library’ and when I found out that there were people who ‘looked after books’ I was astounded. I couldn’t think of a better job. The concept of buildings where books ‘live’ was another eye opener for me. I wanted to live there with them and often imagined myself living in a library. Even now, when I walk into a library and see shelves and shelves of books I feel a sense of awe (even though I now realise living there might be impractical).

In general I find that librarians have a generosity of nature and a sense of calm that allows them to attend to my queries fully, with unhurried courtesy. I wonder if this quality springs from the deep knowledge brought by books or simply from ‘living’ with so many books.

The generosity of librarians (and many other Australians) was overwhelmingly demonstrated to me when book donations poured in for my Books for Indonesian Kids project which continues to grow. When those looking after our community libraries in Indonesia tell me how the Indonesian kids’ eyes widen in wonder when they see the donated books, I know exactly what those children are feeling. JB 🙂

Serious about writing

At long last I have decided to make a serious commitment to writing.

From an early age I have been encouraged by those wiser than me to write.  At Orbost North Primary School (Victoria, Australia) my teachers actively encouraged me. It is with great pride and humble gratitude that I recall they referred to me as ‘the one with the Enid Blyton touch’. Once, I even beat the English teacher’s son in a story writing contest!

When I moved up to Orbost High School (now Orbost Secondary College) the teachers there also encouraged me to write. At this stage I even enjoyed the exhilaration of having my short stories published in New Idea (a national Australian magazine).

Did I take the hint? Did I buckle down and develop the craft of writing? No! I have been fiddling around in life: having fun, making mistakes, earning money, not earning money, meeting wonderful people, meeting horrible people, doing wonderful things, doing stupid things, working, playing, loving, hating and everything else that came my way … except writing.

However, writing has always been close to my heart and nearby in some form or other. For instance, I have been an oral storyteller for over twenty years. In 2011 my work as an oral storyteller led me to become one of two winners of the ABC Hope 2011 award for my story The Flowerdale Tattoo, I was editor of the national storytelling magazine for many years. I attended writing workshops and courses. I published some articles and started to write several books. It wasn’t until 1995 when my mother died that I found a story that not only compelled me to start to write a book but also motivated me to take it to the finished and published stage. You see, my mother had a secret that only came to light after her death. I write about her tragic secret in  Whisper My Secret, which was first published in 2007 as a print edition and enjoyed much success. As an ebook I’m thrilled to say Whisper My Secret is an Amazon #1 Best Seller.  I have written short stories, poems, songs, and ditties and won a few prizes for my writing. (This paragraph updated October 2017.)

I am a member of two writing groups. One is seasonal (we meet each season) and is a delicious mix of people; not that we eat each other, although we do eagerly devour each other’s work. The ambrosial quality of this group is created by our linked connections of friendship, storytelling and writing. The members of the seasonal group have been a source of inspiration and positive reinforcement (and fun) for me.

The other group is the newly formed Friday Group; a collection of emerging writers connected through our membership of Writers Victoria. This is a lively group of people with a variety of writing styles but committed to developing our own and each other’s writing.

At present I am working on a sequel to Whisper My Secret. This project was progressing quite well until it was interrupted by another story, a children’s story that had been lurking in my imagination for years. This children’s story has developed into a planned series of seven books. I have completed the first book: Trapped in Gondwana.

So, all in all, it looks I am pretty serious about my writing…finally! JB 🙂

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