05 March 2015

Where are you really from?

Photo Yaocheng Lee from http://www.meldmagazine.com.au
A strange thing happened recently when I found myself on the other side of Melbourne, walking through Footscray Mall in Melbourne's West. I live East, but I may as well have been visiting from Sweden or Finland for how whitey-white-white I felt.
Large African men sat at cafes with names like Harambe and Queen of Sheba. Beautiful dark skinned women wearing colourful fabrics sashayed past me—eyes bright, skin shinning. Two steps later and I was in Vietnam. Here were stores selling unfamiliar food stuff, phone cards and Hello Kitty knock-offs. Hand written signs were everywhere, in a language I recognise but cannot read. It was all rather exotic and exciting, though also somewhat unsettling. The area made me feel like part of the establishment—an uncomfortable feeling for a child of immigrants who grew up feeling like "the other".
I grew up in a series of rented rooms in the inner suburbs, in terrace houses accommodating several families. We all shared one bathroom and one kitchen. Fifty years ago there were no three hat restaurants or trendy cafes in Richmond, Collingwood or Fitzroy. The residents were mostly working class migrants. Money was tight. Eating out was hardly an option. My father and men like him worked double shifts in factories like General Motors Holden in Port Melbourne, after which they waited for the first trams to start running, so they could get home. My mother worked in a series of low paid jobs then came home to clean and cook and do the washing—all by hand. We had no washing machine, no vacuum cleaner or any other labour saving appliances.
When I was almost three years old, my parents bought a semi-detached house in Thornbury, in Melbourne's North. I still remember the excitement of the day our first refrigerator was delivered. Later still we got a car, an Electrolux vacuum cleaner and a Sunbeam toaster; but we never had an indoor toilet or a telephone. These luxuries became available when we moved in the mid 70s, when I was almost 14, to a brand new, off the plan, brick, free standing home with a car port.
A few years later, thanks to the Whitlam Labour Government, I was able to go to university. Afterwards I travelled to Europe. I visited London, Paris, Rome, as well as my parents' homeland and eventually settled back in Melbourne into a professional career. My parents dreamed that their children would get office jobs, and not have to stand up all day in a factory with a foreman (or woman) yelling at them to work faster. They hoped we would be able to earn our living in a clean workplace, without the dirt and grease and smell of manufacturing.
So here I am now—a writer and graphic designer who lives in a beautiful period home in a leafy suburb: a member of the middle class. It astounds me to think that more recent immigrants might see me as no different to people with surnames like Jones, Bradford or White; though I suppose that that is essentially what I am.
In the Mall in the heart of Footscray I have an urge to pull people aside and say, "My parents were just like you; and one day your children may be just like me." As little as thirty years ago, people from Southern Europe were viewed as being just as different and foreign as people from Asia and Africa are viewed today; and I don't believe for a minute that anyone thought us in any way exotic. Back then there were no anti vilification laws (another thing we can thank Gough Whitlam for). My parents would turning up to places to apply for work and be told, "Go back to where you came from you bloody wog!"
Only 15 or so years ago my sister and I went to Tasmania for a week's holiday. In a gift shop just outside Hobart we were asked, "Where are you from?"
The answer, "Melbourne" didn't seem to sit right with the woman behind the counter.
"No, where are you really from?"

Sometimes, I wonder.

13 February 2015

In Honour of Valentines Day

Sometimes the whole is greater than its separate parts. As I am such a huge music fan, let me illustrate this with Morrissey and Marr. Together in The Smiths they produced a combination of music and lyrics that touches the soul, engages the mind and is great to dance to. Separately? Sorry, but just OK. There are endless examples: Dean and Jerry, Lennon and McCartney (even if they wrote separately within the Beatles, the Beatles stuff is better than the solo stuff – I think) and any good marriage or partnership.

I think the right partner makes you a better person and helps you reach your full potential. Without Craig, becoming the writer I want to be would be ten times harder. He is supportive and encouraging in every way. In turn, I think I’ve added some fun and adventure to his life. For someone inherently risk-averse, I've contributed a sense of unpredictability - though it drives him crazy, at times. Together too, we become three, when our gorgeous daughter was born. Sum. Parts. Greater.

Oh, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one makes me laugh as much as my husband. Craig – I think you’re ace!

24 January 2015

Happy Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop!

I have been like a neglectful parent, a lazy pet owner, a gardener who fails to water their plants - I have been an absent blogger! After three years of daily blogging, I suppose it can happen to anyone, even someone who thinks they have a lot to say. But I'm back thanks to Shelleyrae and her annual blog hop at Book'd Out. Follow the link to check out the other wonderful blogs that are also participating. Today I thought I'd follow a theme from my 2012 Australia Day post 10 Great Australian Songs with 10 Great Australian Books (fiction & non-fiction) - and for the Giveaway part, leave a comment and you'll be in the running to win a copy of my book, "All Windows Open & Other Stories" which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Award for best multicultural book. 

Night Letters by Robert Dessaix. A brilliant book - loved it. Set in Venice (mostly) as well as Melbourne. I love the themes he explores - love, travel and death. Perhaps I should say that I'm absorbed by that last one, rather than in love with it. Delightful. Beautiful to read.

Time Without Clocks by Joan Lindsay. An account of the life of the author and her husband Daryl Lindsay, including time in London as well as Melbourne. Beautifully written and very evocative. Full of interesting characters.

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner. Brilliant, gripping and very moving. This non-fiction story is a well-crafted read. The story of a murder, covering themes of sanity, remorse (or lack of) and the law.

The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart. Totally got into this book (non-fiction) which covers issues relating to the traumatic (certainly in my case) transition to motherhood - the great divide. More scholarly than populist.

Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude get a life by Maureen McCarthy. Three young adult protagonists (girls) all grow and change. Really good.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchette. Funny and warm novel that captures the second generation migrant experience. It's no wonder this book was a big success.

Sunnyside by Joanna Murray-Smith. A tale of suburban/peninsula Melbourne. Families, kids, affairs and middle age - my stage of life!

The Fig Tree by Arnold Zable. About the author's Jewish family and his wife's Greek family. About place and nostalgia. Really enjoyed it.

Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith. Sped through this book. The main characters are all my age and live in Melbourne! The themes of friendship, life choices, morality, love and obsession are ones that interest me.

All That I Am by Anna Funder. A fascinating novel, and very well researched account of Nazi resistance. Quite moving at the end.

19 December 2014

Less than a week until Christmas!

Hello to any last minute shoppers. Yesterday I had a "sale" on for my book and completely forgot to mention it here on my blog. That's how absent and remiss I have become. So today, for my blog readers this amazing [ :-) ] offer has been extended. My book "All Windows Open" is available through my website for only $15 - this includes free shipping anywhere in Australia.

14 December 2014

My Tribe

My Tribe 1980
My tribe worships at the alter of music. For us, going to gigs is a sacred ritual. We think nothing of seeing the same band, playing the same set, five or even ten nights in a row. A trip interstate to see a favourite band is de rigueur, regional gigs are a given. We listen to walkmen while the rest of society find portable music slightly strange and something only Japanese people do. We wear black every day, the only other tribe that does so, are Southern European widows. Our footwear is as heavy as our eyeliner. We read Juke and RAM from cover to cover. We splurged on air freight copies of The Face and hoard copies of Smash Hits and NME. The gig guide is our bible.

My Tribe 1990
Over time, the line ups have altered and the bands have changed, but the friendships have continued. Few of us have married, like nuns and monks we generally shun the pleasures of mortal flesh, focusing on fantasies of intimacy with our idols.
Although technically we are grown-ups, earning our own money, we’ve never lost the thrill of getting into a gig for free. The guest list is our holy grail. We hang out with touring bands after concerts, getting into clubs for free, scoring cocktails on their drinks cards. Occasionally, to recapture the thrill of youth we hitch hike home after public transport stops, rush through back stage doors before we can be stopped, crawl over beer garden fences, forge inky stamps on our light-deprived skin. We scream and sing along with those much younger than us, sandwiched between sweaty flannel clad bodies. These are our magic moments.

My Tribe 2000
Now I have other friends, people I’ve met through work or travel, but they will never be a part of my tribe, just as I can never, fully, be a part of theirs. Even so, my tribe has become fragmented. Some of us have partnered, ‘though none of us have children. We are like Peter Pan’s lost boys, refusing to grow up. We all have the need to be free to fly; to an interstate gig, or to follow a singer to the ends of the earth. One of our number travels to Europe and all around Australia with his favourites from twenty years ago. We all understand the compulsion. Another of our tribe has moved up north, but knows there is a room or at least a bed available at any of our homes, when a single gig of a touring band is not enough, and tickets for Melbourne must also be procured.

My Tribe 2010
Everyone wears black and carries portable music devices now, but they are not necessarily a part of my tribe. Still, my tribe has expanded and includes people I have never met face to face. Technology has altered the nature of friendship, and we can now find like-minded people living across the globe.
I am also in another tribe now, the fiercest tribe of all – a lioness pride of mothers.
Although I love hearing from my new tribe, there is a special place for the tribe of my youth, that has seen me cry and laugh and scream. I feel very lucky to still have these people in my life. You know who you are. xxx

13 November 2014


Drawing that circles a red-figured cosmetic or jewellery container (pyxis)
Greek, made in Athens, 470 BC, attributed to a follower of Douris.
Like a schoolgirl who grows breast in grade five and has her first abortion at fourteen, we Greeks peaked too early. My mother says, "We were discussing philosophy in the agora when your boyfriend's ancestors were living in caves."
The astute reader may notice that I said, we Greeks, and not, the ancient Greeks. I won't make that distinction. That crowded upon, now reduced parcel of land known as Greece has been through more turmoil and change than almost any other and yet some essence of Hellenism still remains, amid the diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, cracked pavements, blearing car horns, through the shouting, cursing and general put downs, the bribery, the laziness, the looking out only for one's own family.
It is the arrogance of a written culture that dates back thousands of years. Blood shed in countless wars with the Franks, the Venetians, the Bulgarians, the Germans and the terrible atrocities of the Turks; as well as the civil war where the politically left and right turned family against family, neighbour against neighbour, and deceit, fear and betrayal became the currency of survival.
We are a bedraggled lot—from those still on Greek soil to those spread around the world, like a smear of taramasalata—a proud Diaspora, clinging to Hellenism like barnacles on jagged rocks. We argue politics and philosophy, drinking with the best of them; we cry easily, particularly at any mention of a lost homeland; and we question everything. Our cynicism has been hard won. Let the young countries, your Australia, your America boast hope and freedom.

08 October 2014

8 October 1982

22 years old

Trained it into school, loaded up with folio, bag, headphones... Went to Southland, bought a mag on Oz rock, inc. SYI and Tablewaiters, picked up C’s Simple Minds photos, not so good.
Everyone arrived home, inc. D. In the evening I made Clem a card, rang; then C, D and I visited her and Kirsty, to wish her a happy birthday, Ellen was there too, we raved about SM and Jim of course. It’s such fun being silly. Drove home in the pouring rain, blah!