Photographs from the Sandcliffe Writers Festival, 2013

September 6, 2013 - 11:42 am 1 Comment

Report on the Sandcliffe Writers Festival

September 5, 2013 - 3:40 pm 4 Comments

Thanks to Sophia, I have some photographs from the inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival which you can see in the blog above. You can find out who the people in them are by clicking on the red comment tab.

The day started with two excellent seminars, courtesy of the Queensland Writers Centre. Kristina Olsson introduced us to the process of writing  memoirs, illustrating her points from her own discovery of a lost brother, the child her mother had with her first husband. It’s a heartbreaking story, but one which, no doubt, everyone in that class will want to read. I cannot wait to read “Boy, Lost” myself, and  confidently recommend it to others, knowing what a fine writer Kristina always is.

Megan McGrath presented the next session, entitled “Blogging and Author Platform.” Once again, I have heard nothing but high praise for this part of the festival. I know many of us have been inspired to seriously apply ourselves, now, to the blogosphere.

We had 44  audience members in these two sessions, in a room which normally accommodates no more than 30. When they realised that more bodies could be reasonably comfortably added to the quota of 30, the librarians from Bracken Ridge rang a number of people who had missed out on being included, but were in reserve in case the first to book a space couldn’t make it to the presentations. Bless their hearts. We were so well looked after by the folks from the Bracken Ridge library, we can only say thank you, thank you, and thank you again. Let’s do it next year, too, guys.

The rest of the festival was held in the Seaview Hotel in Shorncliffe. After an inspirational, and the most moving Welcome to Country I have ever heard, from the redoubtable Sam Watson, a man I have admired for many years, the Yulu Burri Ba Indigenous dance troupe beguiled and bedazzled us. These gorgeous people are all descendants of revered Elder, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, the famous poet and Aboriginal activist who starred in the first suburban Writers Weekend  in Queensland (also held at Shorncliffe) in 1992, presented by the Society of Women Writers, Queensland, who auspiced Sandcliffe, in 2013. As Sibelco Australia sponsored the dance troupe, we thank the North Stradbroke Island company for their part in our festival. It was sheer delight.

Next on the program were six Indigenous writers in two panels, introduced and convened by a very talented young lady, Rhianna Patrick, who works at the ABC when not helping out at Writers festivals. (This was her first festival, but no doubt,  never her last.) Aboriginal Men’s Stories gave us an insight into Indigenous lives and the struggles our Original Owners have had over two centuries just maintaining a place in their own world, through Sam Watson’s incisive account. Joshua Walker, (one of Oodgeroo’s grandsons) still wearing the body paint he wore as the songman and a dancer with Yulu Burri Ba, told us about the intricacies of Skin, the ingenious laws governing the intermarriage of his people right across the nation. He also explained some of the social mores of the Australian Aboriginal people, which, no doubt, made some  audience members nostalgic for better family organisation within the white community, which would sustain us as they have sustained our black brothers and sisters. My fervent hope is that Joshua will write all of the fascinating information he gave us on Saturday, into a book, for we really need to know a lot more about the Indigenous way if we have any intention of preserving the planet and indeed, our family structures. Sam Wagan Watson, award-winning poet and raconteur, next wowed us with a selection of his poems. This man is extraordinary, his work among the best of  contemporary Australian poetry. I intend to read everything Sam Watson Jr has written and has had published, and will report back to you on this blog.

The Aboriginal Men’s stories were followed by Aboriginal Women’s stories. Aunty Ruth Hegarty, a much-loved local Elder, spoke about how her life was the source for all of the books she has written. She read short excerpts of her published works as did the next speaker, Sue McPherson. Sue’s book “Grace Beside Me” had the audience in stitches. I intend to read and review these writers’ books on this blog, so watch this space. Last but not least, was Elizabeth Engelbrecht. She told us about her work as the curator of the Oodgeroo collection in the North Stradbroke Island Museum, and repeated three potent  words from her great-grandmother, regarding racism: “Don’t hate, educate.” Sadly, Elizabeth never actually heard  her great-grandmother say these words, as Oodgeroo died before her lovely great-granddaughter was born. However the spirit of Oodgeroo was with us at the Sandcliffe Writers Festival, as was the spirit of Eunice Watson, Sam Snr’s mother, and  another potent woman whose life touched many of ours—black and white alike. Both of these extraordinary women would indeed be extremely proud of the people who have followed in their footsteps.

After a dinner break, we filed back into the Events room of the Seaview hotel for the Open Microphone session, which was an opportunity for our local writers. We had some excellent work presented, but were let down, to some extent, by a dodgy microphone. Four people objected to a political poem and stormed out, which goes to show you can’t please all of the people all of the time (even if you wanted to). Apart from these malcontents, however, we have had nothing but praise, so it might now be time for Adele and myself to go back to the drawing board for the 2014 Sandcliffe Writers Festival.

Many thanks are also due to the Lord Mayor’s Suburban Initiative Fund for the wherewithal to allow us to present the festival without having to charge any admission fees. Many people have graciously mentioned the fact that they appreciated that the workshops, dance troupe and panels of writers were free of charge. We couldn’t have done it without our sponsors and the added help of the wonderful BCC Library Services, QWC, FAWQ and the SWWQ. May the Muses always lighten your lives.


Yulu Burri Ba dance troupe

September 5, 2013 - 11:07 am 1 Comment

The Inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival.

September 2, 2013 - 9:57 pm 2 Comments

Congratulations to Sandgate Rick and Emma King from the Brighton Writers for  reading at the Open Microphone session of the inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival —and in fact, for all those other courageous souls who had never read their work in public before. You did extremely well. The festival  was such a success we are seriously considering presenting another in 2014. There are some excellent photographs which I’d like to share with you, and as soon as I have gone through them all I will post my favourites. These would include  portraits of some of the dancers from the spectacular Yulu Burri Ba Indigenous dance troupe, and snaps of the panelists who enlightened and entertained us. The panels presenting Aboriginal Men’s and Women’s stories gave us such diversity and wealth of anecdote and wisdom, I am astonished that schools have not tried to tap into the wellspring of the knowledge our Indigenous Elders carry around with them. Wake up Australia, learning to view the world through the eyes of another culture, many thousands of years older than our own, may just save us from environmental, and indeed, social disaster.


Sandcliffe Writers Festival 2013

July 15, 2013 - 9:48 am 1 Comment


Brighton Writers July Meeting

July 1, 2013 - 9:11 pm No Comments

Hi Everybody,

We’ll be meeting again tomorrow at 10.00am. Hope to see you all there.

The news about the Sandcliffe Writers Festival is good. We have been awarded the funding for which we applied from the Lord Mayor’s Suburban Initiative Fund and have been promised a thousand dollars specifically for the Yulu Burri Bar dance troupe from Sibelco Australia.

The two seminars are going to be presented in partnership with the Queensland Writers’ Centre at Bracken Ridge library. The first, Introduction to Writing Memoir, will be taken by Kristina Olsson, who has published several excellent books and appeared in past years at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. After the second seminar, Blogging and Author Platform, we will convene at the Seaview Hotel in Shorncliffe for the next part of the festival program. The Seaview has always been author-friendly. We’ve had book launches and literary luncheons there, and the Events room upstairs should be perfect for the dance performance, the  Indigenous Author panels and the Read Your Own Work evening session which is open to the community as well as to local writing groups and our guests.

I’ll keep you informed about our progress.

See you tomorrow. Read on…


Brighton Writers

June 3, 2013 - 2:12 pm No Comments

Hi everyone,

Hope to see you all tomorrow when we may have a few additions to our group.

Several writers have  suggested an exercise each month to get us all working on something. Now I know some of you are already working on a project, and that’s great.  This blog is just to remind you that Adele suggested writing a short short story of no more than a hundred words. The Bridport Prize, which has just closed for 2013, has a very short story category, only the limit is 250 words. So I’ll leave that for you to think about. If you have a bit of spare time,  you might like to have a go at producing a story in 250 words, or even a hundred. It’s harder than you think, but a good exercise because it can make you a more ruthless, and therefore usually a more effective, editor of your own work.

This month we should learn whether we have funding for our Writers’ Festival in Sandgate and Shorncliffe on Saturday, August 31, or not. Either way, we will go ahead with the one-day festival. The Sandgate library will be advertising the two seminars that the QWC will be presenting there on our behalf, very soon. So if you fancy a session on writing your own memoirs, or blogging, I suggest you book as soon as possible. Space is very limited. The rest of the program will require the funding, but if we don’t get it, we are still going ahead at the Events room of the Seaview Hotel in Shorncliffe. Under these circumstances, I may be prevailed upon to present a crime writing workshop or even one about writing creative nonfiction, and I have someone in mind for another workshop. The evening session where we read our own work or spin a yarn is open to everyone, so you might like to start preparing something that will knock our socks off on the night. We may even have a wandering poet to write some instant verse for our delectation. Just keep the evening free, for preparing and reading your own work is all part of the work of being a writer.  It will be an excellent experience for you  and it should be fun. . .so take advantage of it.

Oh, the other thing is that I’ve been told that we need a name for the  festival, for publicity purposes, and  have decided upon the Sandcliffe Writers’ Festival, which may sound a bit corny, but it will clearly locate the event in the minds of everyone from Brisbane. As we’re not expecting international or even interstate guests—with the possible exception of one very exciting proposition—it will do for now.

See you tomorrow at 10.00.


Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

May 31, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments

Andrew Yancy is extremely pissed off by the bad manners of an absent neighbour who is building a three-story monstrosity on the land next door to his place.  This kitsch building is not only ugly and would require 24-hour air-conditioning and temperature control (very environmentally considerate), but is blocking his view of the sunset. The land Yancy and his neighbour are sharing was once the habitat of tiny deer  which used to come to feed at close of day. Fortunately Yancy has a few plans of his own which will discourage the poisonous aspirations of the greedy and rather stupid real estate adventurer. Meanwhile, a human arm has been snagged on the  line of a honeymooning geriatric tourist who is on a chartered fishing boat in Florida Keys. This decomposing horror ends up in Yancy’s esky, with his popsicles and soft drinks, and then later in his home freezer, with his popsicles and soft drinks. In an attempt to get his job back, ex-copper Yancy tries ingratiating himself with his ex-boss, who is worried that floating body parts might deter the tourists. Despite some plausible explanations for the severed arm from officialdom, Yancy doesn’t buy. He runs his own investigation, which cuts bureaucratic corners, annoys everyone in sight, and of course, observing the conventions of the crime fiction, solves the sordid little crime. This, while he is keeping body and soul together with work as a restaurant inspector which horrifies him almost as much as the construction work going on next door.

As is usual with Hiaasen’s oeuvre, his characters tend to the exotic—Florida and the Bahamas must be a magnet for such colourful people. There’s an ancient nymphomaniacal wheelchair-bound voodoo witch, several very nasty thugs, an ex-schoolteacher who has had an affair with one of her under-aged students and is wanted by the police in the state in which she committed her crime, a black greenie who is doing his utmost to prevent the development of yet another tourist resort on the land which was once his home, and the eponymous monkey, a failed thespian, kicked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for some very bad behaviour. Here I feel I must make the point that the females in this tale are much nicer than those in most of Hiaasen’s  other books. His femme fatales and even his minor female characters  are often  such bitches they spoil his stories, for, it’s necessary to understand, if not to empathise, with the main characters in a crime thriller. The problem with making all the ladies such evil pieces of work is that they can become two-dimensional, ultimately unbelievable; it also has the tendency to make the author look like something of a misogynist. In Bad Monkey the bad girls are believable. One can plot their moral decline and accept that that’s what happened. However, I’m not talking about the voodoo queen, here. She is such an eccentric, she seems to  be more a part of the lush, tropical setting of the book, than someone you have to get your mind around. And she’s funny. You’ve got to laugh about what happens to one of the thugs who comes into her thrall. And isn’t this part of the lure of the crime thriller. . . the sense of restoring order to a chaotic and often frightening world? The feeling that somehow good may still be able to triumph over evil, even though the media often leaves us with a distinct impression that it doesn’t? The voodoo queen seems more a force of nature, rather than being completely human, and therefore, quite neutral to the outcomes of our little lives.

Those who know Hiaasen’s work will know that humour is its hallmark.  He’s funny, very, very funny. There is a touch of out-of-control Raymond Chandler about his stuff. Chandler is ironic, Hiaasen is a belly laugh. However, the downside of  Bad Monkey is that you may think twice about eating in a restaurant again. So, if you haven’t already. . . learn to cook.


Morning Meanderings

May 3, 2013 - 9:42 am 2 Comments

They say that a walk along a beachfront is a kind of meditation. Well, I cannot clear my mind in the way I have been told I should when meditating, for it gets hijacked by many delights along the way. The thing about such a stroll is that it is never the same twice. Each time the tide goes out it creates a different landscape, like an artist at work in a vast, yet intimate, Japanese garden.

This morning, for instance, I was walking along Flinders Parade, “The Front,” which is the edge of  Sandgate, Brighton and Moreton Bay.  I saw a young ibis standing at the far end of a lone wall—part of an ancient swimming pool, perhaps, that has since mostly crumbled away and been reclaimed by the sea—with its wings outstretched. It stood there, motionless, for quite a long time, as long as it took me to walk way past it and then some. It was either drying its wings in the sun or merely enjoying the warmth of a day the weather bureau forecasts will reach 25 degrees. A pleasant temperature by most standards, including, apparently, those of the ibis.

At approximately 11th Avenue, I came across another pleasant surprise. Firstly, I saw an Australian flag atop a pole—which had also lost its context many years ago and is standing in the water. Now I am always wary of  flags. Certainly the Australian flag has some spectacular connotations for me: my adored grandfather, “Ba,” fought at Gallipoli in WWI, and my father in Tobruk and Greece and Kokoda in the Second World War. The flag denoting the presence of Australian soldiers in those wars has always been an honourable marker, regardless of the petty politics which may have put them there. They were fighting as representatives of a whole nation of people—us, we Australians. But unfortunately flags can be appropriated by all sorts of ratbags, and when someone starts waving a flag in my face, I am looking for the nearest exit. Look at the political parties which have usurped the Australian flag for their own tawdry uses. No doubt Mr Clive Palmer will be standing on many rostrums across the country with an Australian flag behind him. Yet he represents only a very small number of Australians, the excessively—even obscenely— wealthy, not you and I. So why should he have access to a flag which represents all of us?

These were the thoughts I had when I stared out over the water at the flag this morning. But then I looked at what was closer, right in front of me, in fact.

The sea wall along Flinders Parade has been reinforced with concrete blocks several times since I have been living in the area, because from time to time it cops a battering from the sea in flood. We’ve had a few floods in the last couple of years and currently there is a gap at approximately where 11th Avenue starts. Beneath this part of the missing wall, there is also a flight of small concrete stairs going down into the water when the tide is in, or to the sand and mud flats when it is out. A local artist who calls himself Sandgate Rick, has placed a small table and a blue canvas director’s chair by this gap after filling it in—though still allowing people access to the stairs—with sand and seashells. He has created a map of Australia, with seaweed, from memory, and has edged the sand and seashell construction with cone shells, all pointing their tips to the sea, like the fringe of a sea shawl. All around the map of Australia he has placed little cairns of smooth stones, indicating peace, and there is a single poppy on the installation as a reminder of ANZAC Day which we commemorated just over a week ago. On the table there is a scattering of tiny shells which hold the pages of a small notebook open. Two or three pens have been left there for people to write their comments. Of course I wrote something, but I have since also checked Rick’s Facebook page to see if he is associated with some razor-toting political group. Happily I couldn’t see any evidence of this, so the next time I take my morning walk along the seafront, I will add more, if it is still there. In the meantime, I would like to thank  Sandgate Rick for offering our community such charming ephemera which becomes part of the treasure we store in our minds, our reflections and the stories we tell to each other. Art begets art.


Kitty’s War

April 24, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments
Kitty’s War

Janet Butler

UQP; Nonfiction/History; $32.95

Officers of the Great War believed that nurses were a nuisance on the battlefield, fearing  sexual liaisons between them and the men would undermine discipline. Refusing to acknowledge the enormous contributions to the war effort these women made, some ignored their presence, addressing any orders or comments to the (male) orderlies, which of course created discipline problems for the more highly qualified nursing staff. This happened in the early years of the war when nurses were considered “honorary officers”— not given actual rank. By 1916, the AIF, following the Canadian model, gave their nurses rank and allowed them to wear the insignia denoting it on their uniforms—though it never paid the women as much as any male of the same military status.

Janet Butler uncovers a fascinating history in Kitty’s War in which she is particularly preoccupied with society’s expectations for the “ministering angels” of WWI, and the nurses’ changing perceptions of their own roles, as observed in the diaries they kept. Kit McNaughton, from rural Victoria, was one of  very few women allowed to go to war on the SS Orsova in 1915. She cared for the Gallipoli wounded on Lemnos Island, then was sent to France for the casualties of the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, completing her service as Australia’s first plastic surgery nurse. Like those of many other Australian nurses, Kit’s story is one of heart-breaking sacrifice, discrimination, petty officialdom, and broken personal  health.

Some readers may find Butler’s  academic approach, with references to other researchers, irritating. However I did not find this too intrusive, and, unlike some works that evolve from universities, the writing style is accessible to all and the subject matter so engrossing, this book should have a wide readership. It would be a timely read for or around ANZAC day.