poetic injustice


It was bucketing down. An old, old man bent like a question mark started to cross the road.

The lights changed before he even reached the middle of the intersection.

Cars began to roll impatiently forward: a horn beeped.

My cheap fold-up umbrella offered little to no protection.

Rivulets ran off his bald pate, down the front of his Amnesty International T-shirt and the ridges of his black corduroy pants – a drowned man walking.

We finally reached the curb and shelter where I fully intended to leave him, but instead found myself asking if he needed a lift home.

Yes,” he said. His name was Maurice.

Why are you out in this weather, Maurice?

My watch stopped and I needed a new one … And the son with whom I live opened the letterbox and found all these bills stamped with red and told me to pay them.

There are always bills stamped with red. It is one of the inexplicable occurrences of a life filled with inexplicable occurrences.”

The latest is this son (one of six children Maurice fathered) plans to “sell the house in which we live and move in with his lady love.

I don’t know where I will go.”

There are people who can help, I told him. Though I wasn’t sure who.

We reached the house. I helped him from car to curb and then drove away.

Two days later it was raining gently.

An old, old man was crossing the road – this time at least he was wearing a weatherproof jacket.

Can I give you a lift Maurice ?

Yes,” he said.

Maurice is 90. He is a WWII veteran, a published poet and playwright who also wrote under the names Wu Ming Shi and Mehmet al Assad.

His abusive father instilled in him a love of justice by showing him none.

He has spent his life as a champion of the weak and defenceless, winning a major poetry award for human rights.

A black belt in ju jitsu, he also used to teach the elderly and handicapped self-protection, but now he can barely ward off the rain.

We reached the house. Maurice climbed out of the car, onto the curb and then fell backward.

Crumpled in the gutter I could see his zip-up shoes were undone and splitting at the seams, offering no support or stability.

I can’t reach to do them up”, he explained.

While he took stock of his limbs, I zipped up both sides of his shoes and then helped him to his feet.

With painful slowness we inched along the footpath, down the drive past the car owned by his son, to the house owned by his son.

Maurice doesn’t ask me inside.

I find Maurice’s best-known work The Nailing of the Right Hand in the library. He is commended, by former fellow Deakin academic and poet Judith Rodriguez, as a “poet of a rare kind.”

His poems treat mankind stripped to the condition of Lear on the waste heath … they are among the most naked utterances of heart and conscience that I know.”


The book is dedicated: “To my friends – my children.”

It’s the small hours before it dawns on me. I’m horrified at the realisation.

Maurice would not have been able to undo his shoes.




spears & barrows


The young woman at the supermarket till thrust three bunches toward me, the look in her eyes a mixture of misery and fear.

What?” I hissed, glancing left and right to make sure no one was observing this furtive transaction.

Umm, what’s this?” she asked.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to risk being caught buying vegetable in a supermarket, now I had to publicly name and shame it.

It’s asparagus,” I replied through clenched teeth.

Oh, what do you do with it?” the ingenue -in-training asked.

Generally I like to stick spears in my ears and scream, I thought.

You poach it or steam it,” I replied.

It’s also very nice wrapped in prosciutto and pan-fried,” came a voice from behind me.

Oh, hello Dennis.”

Dennis is from the greengrocers, where I make a point of buying all my fruit and vegetables, except today … today when I succumbed to the asparagus special.

You see Dennis knows my secret. How I too used to be a greengrocer, a fact gleaned one day when he caught me rearranging the tomato display.

Since then we’ve had several long earnest conversations about greengrocers; what they mean to community, their importance in the food chain from the farm gate to the plate, and the nutritional health and welfare of people.

And how the supermarkets giants put the squeeze on their suppliers and a stranglehold on small business generally.

Floor, swallow me now.

Dennis says nothing more.

He takes his fire-lighters and returns to his shop where really loyal customers will gently pull the asparagus spears from his back.

I feel as rank as a liquefied Sebago in the middle of a hessian sack.

It seems forever ago now, but for four years two lifetime journalists abandoned their careers to run a seven day-a-week fruit shop.

Today, our hard-earned costermonger skills are little more than party tricks.

But when the girl at our local fruit shop marvels at how we have guess-timated an exact kilo of beans we share a secret smile.

Don the Fruiterer, as my husband became known, would go to market three times a week, filling our truck with four to five tonnes at a time in peak periods and doing much of the loading and unloading himself.

Our life became measured not by hours or days, but seasons and what was in and what was out.

We learned about community from the ground up. Who grew what, who knew what, and through food we became intimately involved in the daily lives of hundreds of people from their first juice in the morning to their after-dinner snack at night.

We knew who liked oranges and who had the disposition of lemons.

It was in this capacity as local fruit shop owner I attended the first funeral of someone I actually knew as a friend, rather than having been dispatched to gate-crash as a reporter.

We also learned just how hard people in small business work and why it is important to support the shops in the local high street.

Which is why I downed spears and headed back across to the fruit shop – though it may be a while before I can look Dennis in the eye.

rethink pink?

pink 2

Recently I was pinked. While the question may be who, in the month of October, wasn’t, I suddenly found myself the pinkiest, pink thing on the receiving end of half a dozen chain emails promoting breast cancer awareness.

I really, really dislike chain emails.

They’re little improvement on the hard copy kind that used to go round at school which warned you’d sprout hundreds of hairy warts if you “broke the chain” and didn’t pass the letter on to the designated number of recipients.

The people who included me in this pyramid of pink were unquestionably well-intentioned, but chain emails about breast cancer strike me as only slightly less sinister.

Our family joined so many others living in “cancer land” when my husband was diagnosed mid-year with leukaemia.

Reading this email I can’t help but wonder at the rationale of anyone who thinks that with one kind of cancer already in the household we’d be interested in more right now.

But against my better judgment I dutifully forwarded the first email on to 10 friends who I hoped wouldn’t mind too much.

Just why did I do that?

Partly it came back to the hairy warts – that “once hit” I could obviously not consider myself “a pretty lady with a kind warm and loving heart” if I didn’t comply and “hit 10 others”.

Surely it was churlish and curmudgeonly, if not downright selfish and socially irresponsible, not to share such an important message?

And – at the most visceral level – maybe a girl might even jinx herself if she weren’t sportingly pink.

That’s the thing about cancer: you can’t argue with it.

But just because something is done in the name of a good cause doesn’t mean it is in good taste.

It seems we have gone from one extreme to the other in responding to the dreadful, insidious disease; from silence to an almost deafening clamour.

The commercialisation of cancer, the proliferation of fund-raising merchandise from pink-iced donuts to pink-lidded fly and insect spray has given rise to what has been termed pink-ribbon fatigue.

Dr Karen Brooks – author, columnist, academic and herself a survivor of bowel cancer – recently questioned how far “pinking” had come from the cause.

There are now so many products and so many businesses keen to link their brand to the positive connotations and female-centric nature of breast cancer awareness that it borders on being exploitative.

It exploits people’s hope, relief, guilt and above all fear. Awareness through consumption isn’t limited to October but like a continuous sale, occurs throughout the year,” Brooks wrote in The Courier Mail.

Which brings us to Movember – another month, another type of cancer and another brilliant marketing idea by two Melbourne men which has now gone global.

The proliferation of men sporting porn-star moustaches to raise fund for prostate cancer is now itself a serious business.

The 2012 Australian Movember campaign raised $29.1 million and since its humble beginnings in 2003 it has raised more than $450 million towards men’s health research worldwide.

But the merchandising is still pretty limited.

Unlike pink-washing everything in the name of breast cancer, Movember like Relay for Life remains more about physically doing something than consuming.

Because, let’s face it, cancer does quite enough of that!

as a smurf


Being passed bodily among a group of strangers, I’m starting to feel a little self-conscious and quite glad I wore leggings under that skirt.

Do you mind,” one of my fellow the workshop participants asked politely, handing me back to myself, “if I take a photo of you … with you.”

Having signed on for a 3-D printing workshop I’d became the very embodiment of the future – boldly going where no Weekly journo has ever been before.

For the best part of an hour all eyes had been upon me, first as I was subjected to a 3-D body scan and then, by miracle of additive manufacturing, rendered into a small plastic smurf.

Now the audience held Mini-Me, quite literally, in the palm of their hands.

Having joined The Robots Are Coming workshop instructor Scott Phillips’s stable of creations, including several “organic monsters”, naturally the first thing I’m worried about, being a writer, is copyright.

Do I own the right to the 3-D map of me?

I imagine there will be laws around this like photography,” Phillips says.

But there are so many much bigger questions.

We have all come to this workshop with a desire to understand the technology which will shortly turn the world on its head.

Among the participants is a program manager from Billy Blue College of Design wondering at its application for her students, and a former 3-D games designer who knew the day would come when the virtual world would become reality.

One couple has come to try to solve a dilemma. “My husband really wants a 3-D printer, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do with it,” the woman alongside reveals.

Right now, for masses at least, 3-D printing is where the home PC was in in the ’80s.

But with key patents to expire next year 3-D printers will eventually become like giant flat screen TVs and Dutch pancake makers for the technologically and gizmo-susceptible.

Already you can buy a machine like Phillips’s demonstration model UP Plus 3D printer for under $2000.

But unless you are really wanting to make chess sets of your friends and family, plastic jewellery or other items that look like they might come from a cereal box it’s hard to see much use for them at a household level right now.

Even the very savvy Phillips has only a substitute part for a dishwasher, a bottle opener, a key holder and a couple of egg cups to show by way of useful objects.

But it is the application of the different types of 3-D technologies on a grand scale that is really mind-blowing – from food fabrication to printing functional human tissue and ultimately body parts using living cell “bio-ink” to printing a two-storey house in less than 24 hours.

Phillips agrees with the 3-D game designer we are “still a long way off from printing a girlfriend”, but adds it won’t be long before he can print a chop for dinner.

Then there is the mind-bending prospect of 4-D printing capable of changing shape when exposed to water, heat or mechanical pressure.

Racing ahead, there is the day scientists master printing in graphene – a super material so strong and light that “a sheet no thicker than clingfilm could hold an elephant wearing stilettos”. Of course, Phillips jokes, you’d have to print the shoes first!

It all leaves me feeling rather one dimensional.