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My Brother Ross

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By Bronwyn MacRitchie

An accident, they said. By his own hand, they said.
    My brother Ross was twenty seven years old when he died. He had been working alone on a mine near Hermidale in NSW and I hadn’t seen him for several months.
    We are in the basement carpark lift at the Sydney RSL on the the way to his wake when the lift stops. It is stuck between floors with twelve passengers. Except for my sister, everyone else is a stranger to us, but not to my brother. They have travelled from the Central West to attend his funeral. Having shouted, banged and pushed every button, we introduce ourselves and reminisce on Ross’ exploits while waiting for rescue.
    He was crazy, inventive and loved to push the boundaries. When our older brother came home to Dubbo on school holidays he and Ross would go down to the shunting yards and roll between the train wheels. Ross was five. He built a rocket when he was eight, climbed up a tall tree and launched it from there. Instead of shooting into outer space, the tree caught fire instead. He tried skiing on the dam with a piece of corrugated tin pulled around by the jeep. Time and again it sank or hit the fence that went through the middle. When he worked in Cobar he built an airconditioner from an aeroplane propellar and inserted it in the wall of his bedroom. It was too powerful to use. Having a pilots licence brought out more mischief. We were travelling from Orange to Mount Hope in a small Cessna when he decided to herd a mob of wild goats. I didn’t find it amusing as he dipped and turned. I held my breath and gripped the seat. Crop dusting had been good practice, he said. In New Guinea he was flying goods to isolated areas. The plane became stranded and he was surrounded by cannibals. He managed to convince them he would not be a tasty meal and offered them a bottle of whisky as a substitute. It became one of his regular runs. He could fix anything mechanical and was fastidious in servicing the aeroplane and car.
     The lift begins to move upward. We will be half an hour late but that doesn’t matter because Ross loves a good party. He will be honoured with tales from those who’d encountered his quirky humour and brilliant mind.
    But no-one knew him the way I did. The boy who comforted me when my backside hurt from the strap or one night when my nightdress caught fire when he burnt his hands putting out the flames. They didn’t know he punched Johnny Paterson in the face for calling me an stupid idiot or when he took the blame for my wrongdoing and got the strap. They didn’t know he had driven me to the station after a fight with Dad and cried when I left. He wept when our animals died and insisted on a full burial each time. We had small crosses all over the back yard. He was fiercely protective always. He hated being in the city, even for a short time but he did it to spend time with me. They didn’t know his tender heart was bruised many times by a cruel step-mother and manipulative father.
    ​ The rope was round his neck, they said.

In life, As in Death

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By Robert Edmonds

Behind the crematorium
they toss unwanted wreaths.
As local kids we piled them up,
and liked to play beneath.

In Loving Memory became
a place where girls would hide,
hanging their hair with flowers
that had only just arrived.

In Peace became a fortress
that I once attacked
with Always tied around my neck,
Forever on my back.

I like to think God Broke My Heart
was the scene of my first kiss.
But it might have been Remembered,
or even Deeply Missed.

We dug a pit and covered it
with Waiting For Me There.
We waited there to ambush those
In His Eternal Care.
Gone But Not Forgotten
was a cubby at the rear.
But they were close to compared to So
Far Away and Yet So Near.

The toughest kids I ever fought
were from Cherished and Adored.
They were bold and fearless and
Forever In Our Thoughts.

Our allies used to run away.
They fancied they were clever.
They’d go and hide in Sadly Missed
or in With Us Forever.

Sleeping Now were all defeated.
Those playing dead did not survive.
And so I swore I’d never
Stay At Rest while still alive.

And when I find I’m Free Now,
I’m In Heaven drawing breath.
Make me a part of everything
In Life (yes) As In Death.

 

Chapter 5 – Fighting Spirit

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by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.

'You Failed.' Those two words reverberated through my head as I made my way home. After receiving such devastating news, I went to my friend’s house and rang mum. To this day I cannot fathom how she understood me, in between my uncontrollable sobs and slurred voice, I expressed my sorrow for letting her down. She assured me I hadn’t. But I was a failure! My mind flooded with memories of mum’s devotion, supporting me in my pursuit of a social work career and in an instant it was blown. 
      My heart and soul had gone into this attempt at achieving my dreams and now all my endeavours proved to be futile; all that toil for nothing. 
      My greatest desire was to have a successful career, believing social work to be the only path towards that goal and, in that moment, I felt all my prospects of achieving employment vanish. 
      That weekend, while sipping cheap wine on my mum’s verandah with a friend, I experienced a gamut of emotionsIn between sobs, there were moments of hysterical laughter so that our cheeks almost burst. We were reminiscing all the joyous times spent together and these light-hearted moments made the weekend bearable. 

A fortnight after receiving the news, I had a meeting with my course co-ordinator and lecturer to discuss my failure. It was an unnecessary evil. I was a contestant being ejected from the Big Brother house and they were commentators discussing my eviction.   
      During the meetingI maintained composure as if seated in a classroom. My coordinator asked what happened during placement. A jug of water and glasses sat between us on the table, a distraction from the awkwardness of the moment as I explained my extreme fatigue. I sat calmly as they officially announced my failure and that I wouldn’t be able to progress to third year. 
      I nodded my head, taking a drink from the glass of water in front of me as they asked what I would do nowI smiled, announcing that I would have a break and, clearly relieved, mcoordinator told me 'that was the easiest meeting of this nature I’ve ever attended. Most students are extremely distraught.' However, mcool, calm exterior melted away on the train ride home and I felt myself begin to unravel.  
      Seeking refuge in my bedroom, I commenced howling; a monsoon of tears fell down my face. Weeping into my pillow became a daily ritual. I felt as though my world was ending and melancholy took hold.  
      Growing up, there were peers and teachers who believed my aspirations to be too high. I was resolved to prove them wrong - people with disability could succeed in the career of their choice and yet I had confirmed all my critics’ beliefs; surely my failure would be attributed to my disability. 
      My soul was crushed beyond redemptionSelf-loathing and reprimand captured my thoughts as I was consumed with guiltsurrounded by a murky nothingness. I experienced immense emotional anguish, finding reprieve only when asleep. 

An unsteady gait had resulted in many falls during my life yet, this was the hardest fall of all. was descending into a pit of despair, rapidly surrounded by opaque fog and unable to view the world clearly. I felt my life was over.  
      My mental health had remained relatively intact up until nowHowever, depression ensnared me like a tsunami. I began to behave in extremely irrational waysalienating myself from friends and, as result, I spiralled deeper into despondency. 
      My family, whilst supportive couldn’t understand my state. I had always been positive, and now my nature was one of utter despair. 
      Sitting on my bed staring out my window, I could see time progressing as my world stood still. Photos on the wall of me, blissfully carefree with a crocked smile amongst my friends, were in dire contrast to the bleak and hopeless future I faced now.  
      But my fighting spirit hovered in the background and I slowly became determined to return to the degree, to give work placement another try. 

Isecond semester, I commenced a new placement at Gosford Centrelink, five minutes from my mother’s house. I finally felt the stars re-aligning when I instantly warmed to my supervisor. Nadine had chestnut hair and emerald green eyes; she also went to the same high school a couple of years ahead of me. With achievable tasks and a nurturing environmentsuccess appeared to be on the horizon. 
      After a week or two I was asked to give a talk about disability in the workplace, to professionals currently supervising a social work student. I was thrilled to be involved, believing my previous work placement experience has resulted in the social work department wanting to make work placements more accessible. 
      I arrived with my friend Shirley, a disability advocate who was one of the presentersWe were to meet my friend Justin, who was presenting as a third year social work student. However, we were ushered into a private room and I felt déjà vu, thinking it had to be about my performance in the current placement. What they conveyed to me was horrific - Justin had suicided and to this day I can’t recall what words we uttered. Justin was in my close group of friends, his death tore the group apart. 

The loss of Justin pushed me over the edge, I abandoned the degree and spent hours in my room sobbing uncontrollably.       
      I went to a couple of recommended counsellors which didn’t work for me. Seeing in the New Year I was near breaking point, in sheer desperation pulled a number for a psychiatrist from the phone book and asked my mother to call his office. 
      Meeting this psychiatrist helped lift the veil of darkness impeding my outlook and the introduction of cognitive behavioural therapy allowed me to accept I had an illness. If I wanted to get better I had to become an active participant in my recovery so, during the year I caught up with old friends, travelling independently to Tasmania for the first time and my experiences there will always be cherished. 
      The dark abyss was fading, light had started to seep through the curtains. I learned to live again and realised my entire worth wasn’t dictated by achievements; my character began to re-emerge 
      I learnt that relinquished goals could be replacewith new ones. I arrived at the conclusion that social work was neither the course for me nor the only path towards a meaningful vocation. I enrolled in Social Science majoring in Community Welfare, this degree offered opportunities for me to foster my interest in policy development. 
      After taking a detour, I was finally back on coursereawakened with optimism for my future. I knew that if I was to fall again, I would rise from the ashes.  
      I was ready for my second act.

 

Pen-demic Submissions

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Fear’s Arrival
By Grant Palmer

“I know what you’re fearful of
It’s being alone”
Her words to me

Even as I am
Despite all I have been through
A danger to no one

But in my house
As if I am the deadly one
The death is invisible outside

The world visible through a screen door
A delivery on the steps
One tin of this, one packet of that

My love is distant
No touch of flesh
Or warmth of her smile

Healthy and alone
Teary and anxious
My fear has arrived

 

Canary
by Diana Pearce

Miners carry small songbirds
into the darkness,

as the sunshine fades
death is a wisp of gas.

Who makes music
in dark places?

Who sings
the last notes?
Tanka*
by Jan Dean

sunlight trumps shadow
yet depend on each other ---
free now, she feels warmth
basks for awhile, questions
long buildings against blue sky

 

*Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. tanka consists of 31 syllables and translates as “short song” and is known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7, syllable count form

 

Anno Domini
by Ned Stephenson

Fra’ Gilbert wiped sweat from his brow then rested his palms on the oaken table. Below him was the body of Fra’ Gautier lying face upon a linen sheet soaked in beeswax and rosemary. Many of the red welts on the man’s torso were black in the centre and the lumps in his armpits and groin had ruptured to release rivulets of foul-smelling pus. The stink clawed at the air overpowering the normally fragrant apothecary.
       Across from Fra’ Gilbert his apprentice waited for instructions, the boy’s pock-marked face making him look older than his years. Fra’ Gilbert had found the lad a year ago climbing the cliff on the sea-ward side of the abbey. He suspected we was a runaway servant, but he was safe inthe abbey and was proving to be a clever herbalist.
       Fra’ Gilbert let out a breath.
       ‘Ad gloriam dei.’
       ‘Ad gloriam dei!’ Repeated the apprentice.
       ‘Wrap him now, Raymond, it’s time for his soul to be judged by God. Begin with his legs and leave his face to the last.’
       Raymond did as he was told and Fra’ Gilbert took up the bowl they hadused to wash the Abbott.
       ‘Master?’
       ‘Yes Raymond?’
       ‘Do you see how the fleas have treated the Abbott? His ankles are covered in their marks, and all up his legs. He has been plagued by them. Could it be that God’s vengeance is being delivered by his smallest of creations?’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       The apprentice pointed. ‘All the brothers we have buried have been marked heavily by fleas. You have told me before how they bitesome of us more than others. They seem to not like me, and you have said before that they do not bother you at all. Yet the brothers who die are favoured. Like the Abbott here, he has dozens of bites.’
       The apothecarist wiped at his forehead again, the stone room was unusually warm today.
       ‘And what of it?’
       ‘With your permission I would like to put Pennyroyal in our rooms.’
       ‘That is a dangerous herb Raymond! Do you know what it’s used for?’
       ‘Yes Master,’ Raymond blushed, ‘by shameless women who do not wish to carry child. But Master...fleas will not enter a room when Pennyroyal is used as a rush mat.’
       Fra’ Gilbert looked again at the ashen face of the dead man, willing God to speak to him. They would now be voting for a new Abbott. Fra’ Theodore was the obvious choice, but he too had just caught the plague. Fra’ Gilbert himself was not without a chance, at 53 he was one of the oldest monks still alive. Would God speak through him and end this scourge? He would strive to be a wise leader, he thought to himself.
       ‘No Raymond,I see no reason bringing that wicked plant into our abbey. Now finish Fra’ Gautier’s shroud, for we must hurry to make an arsenic tincture to help our Fra’ Theodore recover.’
The Swimmer
by Colin Mountford
“Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you in two weeks, where’ve you been?” 
      “Sydney, Gus, my brother Joe had a stroke and didn’t make it. I had to go and tidy up his affairs and see to his funeral.” 
      “Henry, I’m sorry to hear that. If there is anything I can do, just let me know, ok?” 
      “Sure Gus, I appreciate that.” 
      “Anyway, I’m here for a few laps; how’s Maggie?” 
      “Fine Henry, Look, I must get going, Maggie wants to go shopping. I’ll see you tomorrow.”  
      Joe wiped himself down with an old towel that hadn’t been washed in a decade. He got dressed and left. 
      Henry stripped down to his swimmers and moved toward the ocean baths. He dipped his big toe to test the temp. ‘not too cold, I’ll adjust,’. Testing the water was like kicking the tyres on a car, it must be done. Grabbing hold of the pool ladder and climbed down. Henry only did the breaststroke; it hasn’t always been that way.  
      Henry had been going to the ocean baths for 43 years, hardly missing a day. He had been a great swimmer in his prime and won many carnival events, mostly ocean comps. Today, he swam to forget his problems and let his mind drift away. After his wife Mary died, all his problems were solved at the bottom of a bottle. 
      He didn’t have much else. The kids lived quite a way, and he rarely saw them. They have their lives to live. His arms stretched out and he started kicking the water. Pushing his old tired body as best he could. ‘I can’t do any more than 10 laps now; the body can’t take it; at least the water is nice this time of year.’ 
      Pushing through the water and the pain, he finally finished his laps and rested at the number 3 diving block. He was breathing heavier than usual. “Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you here lately; Where’ve you been?” he looked to see Jim Merrick. 
      “In Sydney Jim, Funeral of my brother Gus, you know how it is.” Henry climbed out of the water and rested on a seat. He grabbed a towel and wiped the water off his aged and wrinkled skin. ‘I must ring up about that sunspot soon.’ Henry stood and started to get dressed. He sat down quickly as he felt dizzy. “Hey Henry, are you alright?” asked Jim.  
      This is the third time he felt dizzy after a swim. “It’s nothing, I may have pushed myself too hard.” 
      “Alright mate, just take it easy.” Jim looked at Henry and thought He shouldn’t be swimming so many laps these days. He sat on the seat longer than he normally did. He reflected on his life; staring out to sea; a large coal ship sat in the distance waiting for the next available dock to fill up and head back to China.  
      "Maybe an island cruise, the guys always tell me it’s good… 
Tales from the Time of the Coronavirus : The fourth horseman of the apocalypse 
By Dr John Tierney AM 

It made my Irish blood run cold. Standing in the fresh food people’s vegetable aisle, I couldn't believe my eyes. The shelf was empty. This made the great toilet paper heist of March 2020, fade into insignificance. A real crisis was upon Australia. No spuds! The need for potatoes, springs from deep in my Celtic DNA. Immediately, graphic images filled my mind of my great-great-grandparents flight from Ireland, when the potato crops failed in the 1850s. If Australia cannot even produce enough potatoes to feed itself in 2020, I suddenly realized we were done for! 
       At the time, I was on a 'sensible restocking' run (which is good). This is not to be confused with panic buying (which is bad). The latter behaviour could even bring on another tongue lashing from Sco-mo. ‘Just stop it,’ he intoned on one-morning news bulletin, 'it is un-Australian.’ Whatever that is. We kept our excursions out into Coronavirus land a secret from our six children, who were becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of their ‘ageing’ parents during the pandemic. 
       I had only been home for five minutes when there was a knock on our door. It was Amanda who lived in the apartment across the corridor. She often dropped in, usually to wait for the locksmith to yet again let her in. The conversation this time started on a positive note. She asked if we needed anything from the shops (code for toilet paper). ‘No, we are fine’ I said gratefully.  
       Then the conversation took a more sinister turn. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise, as she announced the pending arrival of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse on his pale horse, to potentially unleash pestilence on our floor. Living high up in an apartment tower, I smugly assured myself that we were safe.  However, in our mid-seventies, we were in the most vulnerable pandemic group.  
       Then Amanda dropped her bombshell. ‘I am moving back with my parents' for two weeks because I want to put as much physical distance as possible between Bradley and me. Tomorrow he returns from Europe. With rising alarm in my voice, I enquired where his travels had taken him, hoping it might be, Iceland, the Outer Hebrides or Lapland.  
       ‘Well, Bradley has been overseas for the last three weeks, having a lovely holiday with his parents in Italy, Spain and Britain,’ she said without a hint of irony. ‘Now the government is insisting that he self-isolate for two weeks. Although he’s across the hall from you, he promises not to come out,’ Amanda said, in an unsuccessful attempt to reassure me.  
       During the next two weeks, my greatest fear was that Bradley would develop cabin fever in the tiny one-bedroom apartment, go stir crazy and run screaming at me in our common hallway, before dashing to the elevator to escape. When Amanda left, Pam and I looked at each other in fear, and said in unison, ‘don’t tell the kids.’ 
Tales from the Time of the Coronavirus : Connecting family in the time of Corona
by Dr John Tierney AM 
Remote social media connection within families and with friends will become all the go in the autumn of 2020, as the virus continues to restrict our freedom to associate. We are fortunate that technology has reached such a sophisticated level during the Coronavirus crisis. When this new virus struck, our very extensive family were already exceptionally well connected. This was mainly through text messaging, with photo and video images and hilarious Gify graphics doing the rounds of our devices, recording various family events.  
       Messages in our large family text circle, usually occurred several times a day, depending on the current family issues and news. This all started to evolve rapidly after the arrival of Edward, our eighth grandchild in December 2018. His every cute move and development milestone was recorded and sent via social media, by Michael and Chloe, his doting new parents from their distant home in Melbourne. With the arrival of the Coronavirus, there was a shift, to using this internet technology from a fun thing to be helping the family pull through this crisis together. Suddenly the family along with the rest of Australia and the world were in peril.  
       During the lockdown, our daily connections by text on fleeting topics weren't enough for our increasingly isolated offspring. Better communication between family members became imperativeIn early April, the family made a technological quantum leap when our children set up zoom video conferencing. The launch of this new way of connecting was set for 4:00 pm on Sunday 5th April 2020. The problem was that three of our overeager descendants, independently set up on their devices, different family conferences and codes for the same time.  
       Chaos ensured as fifteen of our family members joined one of the unconnected three meetings. Eventually, an agreement was reached over the phone, on one conference and one access code. Finally, we were all on the same page or in this case, screen.  As more joined into the agreed site, the situation became increasingly chaotic. Eventually, fifteen participants joined, but Zoom, only provides the vision of eight screens at the one time, with the main one activated by whoever speaks. With so many speaking at once, the result was far from ideal. Only two family members were regular zoom users. So, what followed was a series of rapidly improvised tutorials on the zoom tools, by the family ‘experts.’ 
       The 'agenda' was for people to describe their day, starting with the youngest. As the grandparents, that meant Pam, and I was last in the queue. We didn’t get a look in as the meeting veered off onto other topics of family interest. This first family zoom meeting got mixed reviews. Still, after several weeks of increasing isolation, we all agreed it was great to see and hear each other in the virtual world However, no one wanted to repeat this zoom experience. Perhaps 15 noisy participants were too many? 
*A TIME OF POLIO
a trilogy for Joan
by Diana Pearce

1

I know the bleakness
of late autumn skies

I get off the school-bus
collapse
my legs don’t work

there is great pain

I am alone in an ambulance
through its windows

starless skies

my mother rings every morning
I survive each night

limbs bandaged
full-splinted body

there is great pain

slowly my winter passes
spring becomes
my seaside rehabilitation


2

One girl fell ill
at my school
dormitories emptied
contacts sent home;
prescribed a daily walk
in the open air.

My father and I
strode our farm’s boundaries
for two weeks,

checking the fences,
treading single file along meanders
of well-marked sheep tracks,
inspecting dam levels and rock salt,
setting and re-setting rabbit traps
outside burrow entrances,
penning calves for
overnight separation.

Unspoken words
hid my father’s anxiety,
an intimacy never repeated.

3

She bounds across the playground
iron-clad leg swinging,
a beaming smile
stops in front of me.

Tell me about your friend
who had a leg
like mine.

My friend
studied at university
holds a senior
personnel position
raises her family
walks without an iron.

She listens
smiles contentedly
swings towards tomorrow.

*the inspiration for this poem came from Joan’s own account of her polio experience I’ve used her words in part 1

Untitled
by Jan Dean
Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. Limited syllables promote compact form surrounded by space.


mood corona
daily pandemic alerts
hygiene and distance ---
will capitalism crash?
what follows hibernation?

warnings insist
spacing and cleansing
both physical, when
our life has gone virtual
impact is mainly mental

"She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together."
— J. D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew


there she stands, static ---
he thinks she leans as sloth
but her mind dances
cavorting gloriously
mending the world’s woes

“Nice people don't necessarily fall in love with nice people.”
― Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

does he realise
turmoil creates wisdom
and visions lie?
while he belittles, she flees
first inward and then, away

Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952)

sunlight trumps shadow
yet depend on each other ---
free now, she feels warmth
basks for awhile, questions
long buildings against blue sky
crown shy
by Claire Albrecht

I want my family the way oceans want shores
tidal forces advancing and repelling

the way that tree crowns edge away from one another
making maps in the canopy

nations nestle just so, some breathing room
in generational diplomacy

and when the wind blows it's camera shake
the line blur, boarders breaks

leaves like hands reach out
and touch their second skin

their kinfolk, their ocean grasses
before collecting themsleves

retreating, shy and tired
to take their places

in a portrait pulled apart
an unmade jigsaw on the coffee table

we take a photo and tell each other we'll remember
to try again next year
beams
by Claire Albrecht

holding in the air that clambers over ridges
your firm balled fist forms a knuckled landscape
rest you lips on those towns, those pulsing peaks
and feel a solace from the tension

it's a hard call, sharing your comfort, when this light
could be easily all your own. but don't forget that
we are mirrors, bouncing beams off of each other
as fast as we can fathom. and when it comes back
to you, when the shadows fill and the warmth hits

won't it just be blinding
Listen
by Gillian Swain
I am sinking

old air shackles shadow across shoulders

weight hangs

I am light in a mangle of 

all we are meant to be

rising 

heat pushes

out of question and rush

hear the hum of 

movement

warmth

heartbeat like 

wingspan

I am 

rhythmic 

day is long

and open.
Pluviosity
by Phil Williams

A mysterious sound on midnight tin;
A possum? gum nut? prickly skin!
Hush now listen and conceivably
it may be the promised pluviosity.

There it is again; again and again;
widespread, resounding, arousing my brain.
After a minute the roof is a-thrumming
the deluge creating a melodious drumming.

Plunks to a bucket perfectly placed;
thuds on the canvas like a good bass.
A susurrus of wind the humming fulminates
all over the suburb roofs orchestrate.

Torrents streaming into guttering;
down pipes gargling with noisy stuttering.
Guzzling and gurgling they thirstily drink
decanting to the tank in bubbling sync.

Subterranean stirrings with the souse;
plants activating after the dowse.
Xylem cells syphon, seeds tumesce
rainbows and sweetness - we are blessed.

Ridges gowned in morning mizzle;
petrichor rising with the damp drizzle.
Trees aquivering in anticipation
leaves erect in moist expectation.

Cold drops, warm skin, such delectation;
summer rain brings exhilaration.
after infernos drought and insanity
soak us Pluvius for our humanity.
Day Four 
by Grant Palmer 

So isolated and alone
Distance from my daughter
Living at opposite ends
Isolated in our own home
Her possible exposure
A threat to my life

My lover and I
Destroyed by isolation and distance
Tepid at best It feels like it is over
Dreams of a future
Feeling shattered, alone

No hope in my heart
Breathless and anxious
How do I cope?
Drugs that addict?
Try sleeping for ever I just don’t know
Yes
by Chris Russell


Dawn scatters diamonds
sparkling free on sunlit paths
and there we linger

oh those lilting sounds
touch them tumbling sparkling clear
just as summer’s rain

clutch them trembling close
let them slip across your lips
fresh as morning dew

hear them whisper yes
touch them if you dare embrace
and breathe so deeply

let the planet slow
let it linger here to make
this moment longer
This Blood Stained Shore
by Chris Russell



I watched the dip and flash of oars -
those muskets black and scarlet coats.
I wondered should blood stain these shores
but there I stood and saw no cause
aboard those pointed urgent boats.

I watched the dip and flash of oars
and fast they swept - two rows of fours
as rowlocks warned in groaning notes.
I wondered should blood stain these shores
but still I stood by human laws.

A wave crests now. My fear it floats.
I watched the dip and flash of oars.
But then I called to stop - to pause!
A puff of smoke, from musket’s throat.
I wondered should blood stain these shores.

And on they came across that mote
true to the laws and lies they wrote.
I watched the dip and flash of oars.
I wondered ‘Should blood stain these shores?’
Holiday
by Grant Palmer

So you need a holiday
People just died from a holiday cruise 
And I cannot leave my house to go buy some bread 

No one comes close to me 
My body might struggle to resist 
But once I endured war You can afford your holiday 
Think of those who now can’t 
Who deal with sclerotic bureaucracy I’m bitter and paranoid 
On drugs to keep me calm 
So tell me why you need a holiday
Universe of Soup
by Grant Palmer

Universe of soup 
Ingredients galore 
Random chance 
No recipe 
Or grand design at all
Untitled #2
by Grant Palmer

Relationship travelling over distance and time, 
That we love is no surprise, 
Imperfect and full of self doubt, 
Providing strength to each other. 

Not knowing our future, 
That commitment is hard 
Things that I say, 
But you feel you can’t. 
Feeling imperfect 
You are not a bad person 
We live our own standards 
Not the standards of others 

Learning and discovering, taking charge, 
After all it’s your life 
Fulfilling a dream is what life’s about 
Not constrained by the judgment of others 
One life to live 
Nothing after death
But the uncertainty of our future 
Means taking that chance
Untitled #3
by Grant Palmer
My brain cleaved by dissonance 
A man I revile with the deadly virus 
But I don’t want him dead 
Yet take glee at his suffering and potential fate 
Does that make me bad 
Not the first I have wanted dead 
Nor the first death I have pondered 
Staff officers write orders, my pen led to death 
Those orders I would do all over again 
I have no regrets 
But this feeling of guilty horror
Overwhelms me tonight my mind’s Nuremberg 
Sleep brings no relief 
Drugs only cover the cracks 
The next day will be the same 
“Make it go away with death” says my dissonant brain 

A solution in death 
No pain, no  joy, no comfort 
Nothing at all 
A void just like before we were born 
Jaw clenched up tight 
Drugs starting to work 
Sleep slowly comes along 
Unsettled till dawn’s promised light

Chapter 3 – Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

By | Uncategorized

by Lauren Hislop

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.

Perusing through history books, there are events one may see as a blemish on our timeline. This is how I perceive my two years studying social work - it tainted my worldview for many years.

In the moment of applying for the degree, I believed I was on the pathway of becoming a productive citizen. This is the moment one reads the story and screams at the main character, 'Don’t go in the haunted house!'
Unfortunately, dear reader, I went into the house!

I applied for social work in November 2000, convinced it was a guarantee of employment. Obviously, I failed to read the fine print. The degree was only offered at Callaghan campus. I was living on the Central Coast so, this meant relocating to Newcastle. This instilled in me a sense of excitement, however, having found out in late January that I was accepted, it was too late to find accommodation.
          Prior to being accepted, candidates had to meet a lecturer for an interview. I met a woman with a demure and unassuming manner. She told me I would be accepted into the course but expressed her uncertainty regarding my chance of success. However, they were 'willing to see how I would go'. I thought the comment strange, nonetheless I wasn’t daunted. Having completed a Bachelor of Arts, I only had to study two subjects each semester in my first year: Introduction to Social Work and Introduction to Psychology. The former was only one day a week, which meant I only travelled to Newcastle from home once a week. I was able to study psychology at my local campus. My cousin and his wife lived in Newcastle and they were happy for me to stay one night each week. With three young children, this was extremely kind! 
          Mum drove me to their house on the evening before the lecture and picked me up the following day. Without the support of my mother, attending Newcastle campus wouldn’t be possible. I caught a taxi to and from campus.  I had never independently caught a train, something most people without a disability probably take for granted. 
          Unfortunately, this lasted only a few weeks, because I was unable to arrange personal care. My additional needs often presented challenges when pursuing my aspirations. I was an independent spirit and simultaneously requiring physical support. It was frustrating!

At orientation, I met the disability advisor, Liz, who had a warm nature and I couldn’t help being drawn to her. Although she did share with me an interesting piece of information: there had been students with a disability who studied Social Work, however, they all failed! While this was confronting, I was determined I would indisputably succeed.

But I felt a sense of ambivalence when I entered my first social work class. I thought ‘I have a degree and yet here I am, starting another one’. I resented the fact that I had to undertake an additional degree to join the workforce. However, I tried not to lose sight of my ultimate goal: to gain employment. I reassured myself that the additional study would be worth it.
          There were only 45 students in the class. Upon entering the room, we were directed to sit in a circle, on seats or cushions on the floor. There were three lecturers, one of whom asked us what colour best described how we felt? I thought this was a stupid question, I stated: ‘multi coloured’ to which only a few people giggled. I felt incredibly out of place with most of the other students and this had seldom occurred before. As I parked my wheelchair outside the class and strode into the room with an uneven gait, many of the young students gave me perplexed expressions. I envisioned thought bubbles above their heads: “how was someone with disability accepted into this course?” I assumed they thought people such as myself would be their potential clients and not their colleagues. I received similar vibes from some of the lecturers. Pushing aside any twinges of insecurity, I adamantly maintained the position that I deserved to be there as much as anyone else.
          During first year, we were placed into groups to complete projects. We were provided with butchers paper and pens. One person in the group had to write down what the other members asked. Faced with brightly coloured pens on a frayed carpet, I knew I would never get to be the scribe. Ordinarily I would not have been bothered. However, these practices seemed hypocritical, considering lecturers professed the importance of inclusion.
          As someone with a disability, I have had much contact with health care professionals, I have felt powerless. When we had class discussions, I would express fear about having too much power as a social worker. Many students glanced at me perplexed.
          Being on campus only one day a week made it challenging to foster friendships with the other students. However, as my first year drew to a close, I made a few friends in the course. I would speed across campus to have lunch with comrades who shared similar ideologies to mine. Our motive for choosing this career path was to change social structures maintaining inequality. Our pursuit was to empower people who were disadvantaged and to ensure their voices were heard.

I planned to move from home on the Central Coast to Newcastle in my second year. I believed this would enable me to nurture my new friendships and dedicate more time to study. I received high marks at the end of the year and as I drifted off to sleep one Summer’s night, I felt relieved that I had survived my first year!
          Although I found the course extremely challenging, I reminded myself that once I had this degree, I would have the assurance of employment and become a productive, self-sufficient woman. I would have purchasing power and could make a difference to people’s lives.
          'I must keep these thoughts at the forefront of my mind,' I muttered, 'Ultimately, it will transport me to the promised land: the workforce!'

 

Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill

2018 Newcastle Short Story Award prizewinners

By | Newcastle Short Story Award, News, Uncategorized

The 2018 anthology is now on sale

Congratulations to all the prizewinners:

First Prize – sponsored by the University of Newcastle, awarded to Shaynah Andrews (pictured R with Prof Darrell Evans and Ryan O’Neill, judge)

Here is an excerpt from her winning story ‘Not for Me to Understand’:

My blood feels too hot. I want to beat my fists against Dad for treating me like a kid. I smash a cup on the kitchen tiles, half on purpose. There are little bits of glass all around me. Dad and Linda rush into the room.

‘I’m sorry, it was an accident,’ I say.

‘It’s OK, possum,’ says Dad. I want him to yell and scream at me but he is gentle. ‘I’ll clean this up darlin’, just get away from all the glass. Careful now.’

Dad and Linda hover over plastic dustpans. I walk out the front door and ride my pushie to the beach with Ellie behind me.

 

Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill
Sally Davies and Cassie Hamer

Cassie Hamer (R) won second prize donated by Newcastle Law Society represented by Sally Davies (L)

Megan Buxton Ryan O'Neill and Kate Griffith (sponsor from Westfield)

L to R: Megan Buxton, HWC President, Ryan O’Neill, judge, Kate Griffith from sponsor Westfield Kotara

Wayne Strudwick - award winner NSSA

Wayne Strudwick, Commended award winner for his story ‘Postcard

Shawn Sherlock and Jane OSullivan

Shawn Sherlock, Foghorn Brewhouse donated the Highly Commended awarded to Jane O’Sullivan

Tanya Vavilova and Amanda Shirley

Amanda Shirley from MacLean’s Booksellers donated the Highly Commended awarded to Tanya Vavilova

Author Ryan O'Neill and MJ Reidy - Newcastle Short Story Award

M.J. Reidy (pictured here with judge Ryan O’Neill) won a Commended award donated by Dymocks, Charlestown.

Derice McDonald and Rhona Hammond

Derice McDonald from Macquariedale Organic Wines donated a $120 wine pack awarded to Rhona Hammond, local writer’s award.

writers - local winners within the Newcastle Short Story Award 2018

Local Award Winners Shaynah Andrews, Edyn Carter and Stephanie Holm

Chapter 7 – The Job Hunt

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by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.
As the afterglow of graduation receded, I enthusiastically leapt into job searching mode and, being a novice, I sought the support of the career advisor at uni. I instantly bonded with Sally - her warm disposition, skillset and enthusiasm for my prospects injected hope into my veins. She assisted with my résumé development and drafting job applications, I saw her as my work-seeking oracle.
      Sally was too good at her job and that meant less and less access to her over time so, I decided to register with a disability employment agency and met Wendy, my assigned specialist. At our initial meeting, I was assured that I was an excellent candidate and that their service was well placed to help me secure employment. Subsequent visits began to curtail my faith in Wendy’s abilities: discussions seemed limited to small talk about the weather “it’s a warm day today”, health “how are you?” and praising me for sending out résumés and cover letters. I was expecting her to market me to employers and initially call them on my behalf. I believed she would actually assist me in preparing job applications. She offered me no support at all.
      When we first met she claimed that she had contacts at Newcastle uni and that she would market me to these contacts. On subsequent visits when I asked her about these contacts she just shrugged it off. This contradicted their website as the organisation claimed that they help people with disabilities find work. I was very disillusioned that she didn’t offer the support I desperately  needed.
      During the process of applying for an internship at the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University on NSW (UNSW), I sought Wendy’s advice and after providing her with all the information, she just glanced at me with a vacant stare, claiming “you are so good to apply.” Her condescending attitude infuriated me and smacked of paternalistic intent. I asked her if she could look over my applications and received no constructive feedback on any of them. Fortunately, I had my career advisor Sally to help me.
      Sally was still in high demand, my access to her was limited and realising the fallibilities of my disability employment service confirmed my fear that finding a job rested squarely on my shoulders. I had no idea what I was doing, I was literally ‘winging it’!
      
I wasn’t prepared for the solitude of job seeking, spending hours in front of my computer screen, perusing university websites to view examples of cover letters I could draw from as templates. I applied for advertised positions and I emailed organisations informing them that I was interested in work - voluntary or unpaid work experience.
      My first job application was for a disability advocate position. This would be my dream role and apart from my tertiary qualifications. I had firsthand experience. Unfortunately, my application was unsuccessful. I knew I lacked experience and had hoped I could match that with my passion. I wasn’t devastated, graduates were rarely hired at their first attempts for work, yet I had no idea how long it would actually take to secure a position.
      Each morning after farewelling mum off to work, I sat at my PC typing 'To Whom It May Concern' letters. Gradually, I began to resent this faceless person who failed to understand the courtesy of a reply, as multiple email applications and EOIs flew into cyberspace, never to be heard of again.
      
By mid-November my patience began to wane. I had graduated in June so, surely by now, I should have secured at the very least unpaid work experience. Wanting to pursue a career in disability research, I decided to ring the Special Education and Disability Studies Centre at Newcastle University and ask for the name of the director. What a mistake! The secretary stated she was unable to understand me and when I tried to repeat myself she interrupted, asking in an extremely condescending tone whether there was someone with me she could talk to. I was insulted and incensed; how dare she talk to me as I’m though I am a child! Slamming the phone handset hard into its cradle, I was surprised it was still functional.
      My slurred speech was a hindrance and a barrier to finding work because I knew that people found it difficult to understand me. However, I felt I had no choice other than to call because emailing clearly wasn’t working.
      Through tears of rage I glanced at my degrees on the wall - Mum had lovingly put them in gold rimmed frames - and I was thinking they were all for nothing. How could she be so proud when no one wanted to hire me?
      Over the next few years I applied for in excess of one hundred jobs with no success. I felt wretched and hope began to fade, leaving in its place a strong conviction that a two-tiered system was at play: one for able bodied job seekers and the lower one for people with disabilities.
      A horrific thought, worse than anything I could have imagined, lurked in my conscious mind: "was I destined to watch daytime TV all my life?” I could not think of anything worse.
      Despite my feelings, I continued with my relentless emails to places I had interest in working for. One day I received a positive response from an academic at SPRC - she urged me to apply for an internship with them.
      This was a golden opportunity, one which could open doors for me and after several rewrites of my application and with crossed fingers and toes, I pressed send on my PC. Soon after, I received an email requesting my attendance at an interview. I was ecstatic, at last I may have found my break!
      
Mum and I travelled by train to Randwick and took a taxi to the University of NSW campus. Waiting to be called in for interview, I was extremely nervous and tried to replay all the advice Sally had given me. When they called my name, I walked unsteadily into the room, desperately attempting to maintain bravado and was introduced to the interview panel consisting of three people. Although I made every attempt to speak in a clear voice, they asked me to repeat myself multiple times and one panel member maintained a bored expression throughout the entire interview. I was convinced I hadn’t nailed it.
      On the train ride home I told Mum, “I really don’t think I got it. One of the interviewers looked like she’d rather watch paint dry!” We both laughed and thought it had been a good experience for me to have reached interview stage.
      Once home, I was extremely surprised when I received an email offering me the internship. I was elated, responding right away YES! My happiness lasted a few days until I wondered how on earth this going to work was. I live on the Central Coast and the internship was in Randwick. I would have to stay there and arrange for personal care.  I was suddenly overwhelmed. I turned to mum, “It looks too hard, I can’t do it’
      She smiled, "Yes, you can. We’ll figure it out."’
      Mum was right. We did figure it out.

Read More

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8 coming soon

Chapter 6 – New Horizon

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by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.

A new dawn upon my horizon offers the promise of a crisp autumn day and the staleness of summer dissipates. 
      “This is a new beginning” I pondered, as I drove my electric wheelchair around Ourimbah campus. I was feeling excited and hopeful, two emotions that had become unfamiliar to me. Studying here felt like home, this was the place I had started my uni life and was as comfortable as a pair of old jeans that fitted bloody well! 
      Dragging my laptop bag behind me upon entering my first lecture, I felt a sense of solace. The students were varied in ages and with hardly a remnant of awkwardness, it all seemed quite easy to me.  
      With significant credits from previous studies, I wasn’t required to take many subjects, leaving me the option to complete my degree in two years instead of three. However, after chatting with the course coordinator I opted for 3 years of study, taking pressure off with only two subjects each semester and allowing my confidence to return. 
      Majoring in community welfare, was to my surprise the right choice for me, its focus on how policy directly impacts on individual lives resonated and a burst of optimism pulsated through my veins. My confidence soared at the end of semester, when with uncoordinated fingers I logged into my student portal, to find distinctions awaiting my attention. 
      I had indeed recovered from my fall in social work! 
      Many serendipitous encounters occurred during this time, including developing a connection with Basil, a taxi driver with an accessible cab who after one trip, offered to be my regular driver. Many stories have unsung heroes and Basil was one of mine. A retired surveyor, he often recounted tales of his career and with a spirit of gentle generosity and humility, he was an inspiration. On one occasion after bringing me to campus, I reached in my bag for my purse only to find it wasn’t there, I was distraught. After my profuse apologies, Basil smiled, grabbed his wallet and insisted I take five dollars in case I needed something, I was touched. 
      I also became friends with fellow students Caroline and Kim, we would regularly catch up and support each other. They would often seek my advice because I had degrees and this was a real confidence booster, it all balanced out with my request for their assistance to pour a cup of tea! I recaptured a sense of camaraderie I had been missing for so long. 
      
                                      
I was in a state of perpetual motion in my second year with four subjects during first semester and although tired, I achieved decent marks. In second semester we had statistics, this was a terrifying prospect considering my absence of a mathematical brain. I sat in lectures, diligently typing on my laptop and whilst I may have appeared to know what the lecturer was talking about, in all honesty I didn’t have a clue!  Fortunately for me, the statistic component was only worth 50% of our grade, if it was more, I wouldn’t have passed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
      During second year I was approached by one of my lecturers Michael Howard, who believed I had an aptitude for research and policy writing. He asked if I would consider honours, saying it would be an invaluable qualification. I trusted him, he worked in policy development in Canberra and I was so excited I think I accidentally drove over his foot! The prospect of being renumerated for pursuing my passion, brought me closer to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. My future suddenly felt illuminated with clear direction, I would be a researcher. 
      In my third year I was focused on achieving high marks, so I could progress into honours and when my degree was nearing completion, I felt a sense of achievement. I was back on course! When I graduated, I farewelled my fellow students and we all went on different paths, mine was towards an honours degree.  
      From the onset of my honours degree, I immersed myself in academic journals in preparation for my thesis. Michael was my supervisor and the topic for my thesis was the effect of the Welfare to Work Act on the employment situation for people with disability. 
      In 2005 under John Howard, the government implemented the Act to increase employment outcomes for people with disability. I predicted it would be a colossal failure because it came from the premise that the unemployment rate amongst people with disability, was due to a dependency on income support. Not surprisingly, their solution was to restrict the eligibility of the Disability Support Pension (DSP).  
      After the act was implemented, those applying for the DSP, were only successful if they were unable to work 15 hours per week, reduced from 30 hours. Those who were no longer eligible were placed on Newstart. Whilst I wasn’t directly affected by the act at this stage, I was outraged. Many people with disability have a deep desire to work, however, extenuating circumstances such as employer’s discriminatory attitudes made this difficult and the Act stood to cause even greater financial disadvantage. 
      I kept my emotional response in check, I was now a researcher and needed to gather facts and keep an open mind. In addition to our thesis, we had to attend a weekly seminar at Newcastle campus. As I was living with mum, I would catch the train up. I think my lecturer and my peers were both impressed and horrified when I strode into the lecture on one occasion with blood on my arm. I had fallen on the platform and continued to uni. “Proof I’m dedicated,” I thought! 
      I wanted to survey people with disability affected by the Act. Whilst researchers were theorising about the act, it was time to ask the experts; people with disabilities, so I designed a survey. I hoped that this would provide a human testimony. I had to gain ethics approval at the uni, which was a lengthy process. Once approved I asked Centrelink to distribute my survey to some of their clients. After prolonging my degree and waiting months, I received a negative response, this was frustrating! Not to be deterred, I approached a disability employment agency who also stuffed me around with a long response time and unfavourable outcome.  
      I decided to undertake a literature review instead and in the last few months of completing my thesis, I was attached to a PC for up to ten hours a day. Our family computer was in the living room, I had papers strewn constantly across the floor and Mum referred to it as the ‘white out’. I’m still astounded by mums patience, she provided me endless cups of tea and was successful getting me to occasionally eat.  
      I grew extremely fatigued, I was my own worst enemy, constantly updating information as a result of reading further articles and research papers. Thankfully I had a due date and when it arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing my study days were finally over. Whilst I was keen to join the workforce, I planned to have a break, catching up with friends and reacquainting my skin to sunlight!  
 


In memory of Basil 

Chapter 8 – The Internship

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by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.


Accepting the 30 day internship at the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) was easy, I was infused with excitement because of the many opportunities it offered.  
      Supervision would be provided by Prof Karen Fisher and DChristina Purcell, both predominantly researching issues pertaining to disability, matching my interest! To ensure fatigue would be minimised, I requested to work two days a week and my supervisors agreed, their flexibility put me at ease. 
      But I was daunted by other aspects of this new adventure. Firstly, it was in Sydney and would be an 8 hour day so, commuting back and forth from the Central Coast would be exhausting. I would need to spend two nights each week in Sydney. 
      So, I stayed at The Centre in Randwick - a bed and breakfast run by nuns which my Catholic mother was happy to learn! My accommodationwith bleached white walls, was immaculately clean and simple, complete with a single bed and a small bathroom. 
      In order for me to stay in Sydney I had to arrange personal care - no mean feat in the days before the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). I was fortunate to have the guidance of Claire, a fantastic community worker who found appropriate supports for morning personal care, driving to and from work, meal preparation and shopping. 
      I shared a ride with a friend on Sunday nights to start work on Monday morning and would return home by train in the late afternoon of Tuesday. My mobility at the time allowed me to do this and once again much of the organising was undertaken by my mum. Her role has always been instrumental.  

It was time to start my internship and on a crisp May morning, as stumbled across the campus with the loud sounds of planes flying overhead, I thought “we’re not in Kansas now, Toto. 
      I was warmly greeted by Dr Purcell, whushered me into a room to discuss my first task: a literature review about individualised funding for disability care, where allocated funding provides people choice in the selection of their supports. I found this a revolutionary concept, having not had the opportunity to select my own carers and feeling at the mercy of agencies when workers were either patronising or had just not shown up! This really was the first rumblings of the NDIS and it felt like a utopian dream.  
      During my first day I patiently waited for IT to log me into my accounthad choice over the timing of my lunch and decided to take my break at 1pm, walking a small hike to the uni café to purchase banana bread and tea. Not the healthiest of lunches but one which involved no packaging to open. Fortunately, the café staff graciously carried my tea to the table after a couple of spills by me, the stains of which I failed to hide from my colleagues. 
      Whilst I attended meetings and had weekly sessions with my supervisor, the majority of my work was solitary, spending hours on a PC, scouring journal articles for my literature review. Dr Purcell’s guidance was invaluable, she would often question me regarding my perspective as a person with a disability. This instilled in me a sense of worth and validation. 
      Government agencies would request the SPRC to conduct stakeholder meetings and Prof. Fisher would request I attend with her. On one occasion, we met with the Manager for Community Living and Emergency Response for the Department of Human Services, who asked Karen to conduct an evaluation of individual service packages for people with disabilities. We were ushered into a plush tall building with security like Fort Knox and it was during this meeting that I directly saw how research could greatly impact people’s lives. My conviction was bolstered. I could improve the living conditions for people with disability through my passion for research. 
      Both my supervisors invited me to meetings with fellow researchers at SPRC and I found this extremely stimulating, especially as I was actively encouraged to speak up and was engaged in the discussions. I felt valued as a team member. 

During my internship, I was asked by a friend training workers in a Diploma of Disability whether I would present a talk about the research I had participated in at SPRC. Chris was specifically interested in the provision of individual packages for people living with disabilities and offered me renumeration for the presentation. I was blown away!  
      I was granted permission by my supervisors to put together a presentation as long as SPRC was acknowledged and I was ecstatic, this was my golden opportunity. Arriving at the presentationI was confronted with 10-15 students peering at me and I studied their expressions intently as Chris read out my paper. I found the students' reactions priceless and afterwards I was praised and some seemed in genuine awe, which inflated my ego to the size of a hot air balloon. Returning home, I quickly came back down to earth. My internship was coming to an end. 

I have blurred memories of this time in my life, working two days a week and commuting back and forth from Sydney was tiring and on top of this I had additional commitments. Prior to my internship, I had agreed to participate in a program run by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA)assisting young adults with cerebral palsy engage with study and/or work. I was paired with a mentor and had fortnightly group sessions in Newcastle. Luckily, I was able to travel by car with another Central Coast participant.  
      On top of my internship and CPA commitments, my partner and I were searching for rental properties in Newcastle. I would travel to his place on Thursday nights and leave Saturday afternoonI remember arriving at my accommodation in Sydney each Sunday night and taking refuge in the solitude, a welcome respite from the busyness that was my life. 
      Amidst all this chaos, I thrived in my work environment. In the last few weeks, Christina mentioned I should have lunch with the other staff members, in the staff roomhad been eating at the café for pragmatic not antisocial reasons: I couldn’t carry my cup of tea back to the staff room. I hadn’t mentioned this to Christina, I did not want assistance and yet, on reflection, I believe she would have wanted me to have told her. Christina had always been extremely accommodating. So, I ended up having water instead of tea, engaging in conversations with my colleaguesvivacious without caffeine! 
      On my last day I shared a tea with Karen and Christina, sharing laughter and idle chitchat. I produced my literature review which was well received.  
      My internship was a success!  
      I thoroughly enjoyed my internship and was now eager to start my new life with my partner, Dudley. 

Read More

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9 coming soon

Chapter 2 – Get a Hair Cut and Get a Real Job

By | Uncategorized
by Lauren Hislop 

Click a link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.

Still wearing my pyjamas, I stared out of the window, anxiously awaiting the postman. This particular morning, I expected a letter to determine my fate: to be accepted into university or not to be. The postman pulled up in front of my house. I walked as fast as my crooked legs could carry me and grabbed the letter from his hand.
        I opened the envelop in the kitchen with my mum standing anxiously behind me. I was offered a position in the Bachelor of Arts degree! Exhilaration flooded over me. I was to study at University of Newcastle, Ourimbah campus, only 10 minutes from our house. Firmly believing that a university degree provided assurance of employment, I eagerly waited for my studies to commence.
        When I met Ruth, the university disability officer, I was so impressed that she was in a wheelchair and we shared an instant bond. Ruth offered a certain empathy beyond what an able-bodied officer might possess. Her presence had a profound influence on my life. Ruth’s competency in her role affirmed my conviction that I would be gainfully employed and prosper myself, regardless of disability.
        Ruth offered me an array of support including note takers during lectures. Note Takers? I was mystified. During senior high school, due to my slow typing, I would photocopy notes from willing peers. Providing me with note takers was invaluable.

The world of university was infused with vibrant colours. Studying subjects such as Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy were catalysts for a paradigm shift. My subject choices also ensured that if I wanted to transfer into Social Work in the future, I would gain credits.
        The campus was surrounded by lush trees, rendering it an ideal setting conducive to lofty ideals. Utilising an electric wheelchair, I sped through the campus, parking it outside the lecture theatres.
        Sitting in my first Anthropology lecture was transformative - the opportunity to respectfully immerse myself in other cultures. As someone who has regularly been constructed as an ‘other’, seeking a career that could alter people’s perception of cultural ‘other’, appealed. I also loved the notion of residing in a wooden hut in New Guinea, writing my observations as dusk fell. Romanticism surrounded my idea of traipsing through the jungles with the locals.

Reminiscing my passion for pursuing anthropology, I now realise the absurdity of this dream. I had an incredibly unsteady gait so walking in an isolated jungle probably wasn’t the wisest idea!
        Apart from my impractical aspiration to be an anthropologist, I gave little thought to life after graduation. I yearned for employment but my immediate focus was on completing assessments and passing exams. I achieved good marks during my degree, however, my typing prowess ensured writing essays were an arduous task. Not to be dissuaded, I was fuelled with the spirit of tenacity.
        During my philosophy lectures I was constantly inspired. One of my lecturers even revealed to me that an academic in his department had cerebral palsy! I was ecstatic, affirmed in my knowledge that my disability would never be a hindrance to success.
        I also devoted energy towards my social life.  I was invited to parties and although I never participated in mind altering substances, I enjoyed observing the hedonistic behaviour of my peers. Laughing, conversations and red wine are distinctly associated with my early uni days, as well as lasting friendship. I met one of my best friends, Jo, during this time and she has left an imprint on my soul. We remain friends.
        In second year, I had my first taste of advocacy. Ruth had left her role, replaced by a young woman with little spark in her eyes. Shortly after entering the role, she removed note takers as support for students with disability. I was incensed. Inspired by mum’s strong advocacy in my past, I unleashed my own ability to do the same! Instinctively, I knew that advocating would benefit more than me. I produced articulate letters, stating the facts in a calm and rational manner. I adhered to the complaint process and went through the proper channels. When I alerted the student union, they took action. This resulted in the reinstatement of note takers. I felt as though I was a catalyst for change. My pursuit for social justice was firmly set in motion.

After I graduated, I departed from the safe haven of uni, to the realities of the workforce. As a fresh-faced graduate, I could never have anticipated the difficulties I was yet to encounter. I was filled with excitement, having a deep conviction that I would soon be employed.
        My mum asked an old family friend, Chris, to help me source employment. He was the manager of a Disability Employment Service and happy to oblige. He arranged for another senior staff member named Kath to assist me. Whilst extremely kind, Kath was perplexed how to help me and looked at me with a vacant stare. I expected her to utter the words ‘we don’t know how to help you’. After she suggested I apply for secretarial work, my indignation grew. ‘I studied a university degree only to qualify for a secretarial position?’ However, on reflection, my Bachelor of Arts didn’t really qualify me for many roles.
        I was offered work experience at their employment service. I found it an interesting environment but was curious that, as an identified disability agency, no-one with a disability was employed there!
        I did appreciate the experience of working in an office and was given the opportunity to complete a research project. The details are hazy in memory but I remember the sense of satisfaction I felt completing it. I enjoyed exchanging anecdotes with staff in the lunchroom, whilst eating peanut butter sandwiches under bad florescent lighting.
        Finding out that many of the employees had no tertiary qualifications, induced a small pang of resentment. I thought, ‘Why are they employed and yet the service can’t find me a position?’
        At the time, I didn’t acknowledge that my difficulties finding work may be caused by discriminatory attitudes. I believed it was because my Bachelor of Arts degree wasn’t ‘career-focused’. This prompted me to apply for a second degree in Social Work.
        I believed a Social Work degree would automatically lead to employment and enable me to pursue my dream of becoming a disability advocate.  I was convinced that I was on the path to success, and if my Arts degree was a detour, it was one of the most enjoyable detours I have ever experienced!