Sunday, May 12, 2013

To Know Mum

The night Mum died was both surreal and yet, perfectly expected. I’m not really sure that can make sense unless you’ve watched someone actually stop being right there in front of you. It’s both terrifying and also, an unbelievable privilege.

My Mum died of cancer. It took hold of her suddenly, savagely and left us without her in our lives before we even had the chance to digest what was happening. We are not unique, she having cancer is not unique, cancer itself is not unique. But Betty Clarke herself was unique. And I’m only just starting to understand this now.

I focused so much on her illness when I wrote about Mum, I rarely wrote about her as a person. I still don’t feel like I asked enough questions, knew enough about her childhood beyond what I can piece together with her scarce voiced recollections and photos. I did though, know what she was like as a mother. She was strict yet in hindsight, fair. She was tough and incredibly strong in the face of many adversities. She loved us beyond measure and was often candidly awkward displaying this. I know she was one of the good ones, the type of Mother I could only hope to be

I don’t know exactly what happened in those 40 or so years before I was in her life. And this is my biggest regret. I guess I always thought I had more time to request these details. What annoys me most about myself is that I am constantly telling anyone that will listen that “I just love to know people’s stories”, yet the one person that gave me the best chance at mine, I didn’t even bother to learn.

This below is the montage of pictures I put together for Mum’s funeral. (Warning/Disclaimer - John Farnham)


I hadn’t watched it again until today, I guess I just couldn’t. What got me (beyond the long overdue flood of tears) is that Mum appears to be beaming in most every shot. Either that or she was engrossed with the baby she was holding. I still remember that look she would get on her face when the two worlds of pride and overwhelming emotion collided. 

My mother was a very simple lady. Her own mother died birthing her sibling when Mum was just four years of age, leaving her and her brother in the care of their  father. Whilst my Grandfather was a loving and hard working father, he simply wasn’t equipped to deal with the simultaneous responsibility and grief.

He remarried and this new lady was, by all accounts, not a particularly warm lady. Maybe it was that simply no one was ever going to be good enough to replace the mother she had never gotten to know or maybe and by all accounts, my mother's stepmother was truly horrid, but for whatever reason, my mother and her brother were shipped off to boarding school.

The in-between years here are vague. Mum set off into the wide world following school and took jobs in bars, caring for the elderly and eventually, settled in Mitchelton in Queensland, buying her own general store. This is where she met my father. I’m not sure it was love at first sight but she certainly felt something for him in the beginning. Of course recollections when discussing someone you now almost loathe are somewhat skewed however I distinctly remember asking her once “You did love Dad once didn’t you?” To which she answered, “Yes, of course, that’s why I married him”. 

My father was a brilliant yet seemingly troubled alcoholic and that is how I, as a child, knew him. To know him as a man that was a functioning member of society will forever be foreign to me, but I did recognise that at one time, when I was younger, he was not this way and they had some kind of relationship that led them to believe they could make a family and a life.

So Mum and Dad met, fell in love I guess and married. Mum attempted and failed to fall pregnant a great number of times.  Her miscarriage tally is again, unknown. Again I can’t believe I didn’t have this conversation. In today’s world, she had what is known as Endometriosis, identified easily enough today yet back then was just a mysterious “women’s” problem. In 1975 it was certainly coming to the end of the “easy” adoption cycle but Mum was lucky enough to adopt the boy and girl she longed for. My brother and I.

And quite simply, this is what Mum was put on this earth to do. Nurture and love babies. All babies. When we were older, she was a Nanny for the children of close friends. We were, always her primary focus. She didn’t want a career, a man, a hobby, we were all she wanted and needed. This used to perplex me. In a way it still does yet the older I get it becomes less. Mum discovered what made her happy and isn't happiness after all, the Holy Grail?

I look at my life. How good I have it. I’ve had a loving mother, one that was perhaps strict and not always overly encouraging in my life goals but was always there to make me feel safe, loved, level and understood.  No matter how old you are, you are still ever mindful of what your Mum thinks and I’d say as a consequence, I’ve dropped the ball in many ways since she passed away

I guess this is a long and rambling post to say that I miss my Mum today more than I have since the day she died. It has suddenly struck me that I need my Mum.  I miss her very much and I wish I’d learned more of her story when she was around to tell me it.

Happy Mum’s Day Mum. I miss you.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Importance of Being Sam

“Today wasn’t a good day”  This statement is delivered to me quietly and matter-o-factly by Sam, my 11 year Autistic old son, as I arrive home from work.

It’s taken me many years to refer to him as this. Autistic. I’ve clung to Aspergers, like it’s not as damning or extreme as Autism. How dare I really. Because this is what Sam is. He is a high functioning Autistic child. He can speak, he can engage, he can look you in the eye and he can make you laugh like no other child I’ve ever met. He can do everything my other two children can do. Almost. He can do many things my other two children cannot do. Yet it breaks my heart every day that he struggles so much in this world that you and I see so simply.

Sam is a high a functioning Autistic child. This was, up until recently, labelled Aspergers and is now diagnosed as 'On the Autism Spectrum'. Sounds kinda daunting huh? Not really – let me tell you about Sam. 

Sam is sometimes baffled and sometimes baffling, always beautiful and heartbreakingly vulnerable. He is often acutely unaware how to make friends and read social cues. I recently  read a  novel written by Graeme Simsion that I think  sums it up beautifully - “Asperger’s is a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organisation, focus, innovating thinking and rational detachment”.

Sam is incredibly intelligent when it comes to a topic that he loves. He becomes obsessed with certain areas, and in turn, can talk about these, often, without reprieve. He will become consumed by prehistoric sharks or Minecraft or Velociraptors. There’s no telling how long or how intense each obsession will last but a child like Sam will make it his mission to find every available fact regarding the subject of choice. He will talk endlessly and contextually about how, “If you stand a good distance away, skeltons will usually miss destroying your soul” in Minecraft or how the “T-Rex has a warm blooded metabolism’. I know far more about Jaws, Jurassic Park and prehistoric shark teeth than I ever really thought possible.

Yet, academically, he struggles with the fundamentals. He finds it difficult to read. To write. To comprehend in the most conventional of ways. Trying to do so comes with large amounts of  fruitless hard work, difficulty and tears.  Handwriting is painfully laboured and he is a good two years behind his peers in most acceptable areas. He has an obvious difference in his social ability and general physical gait. I don’t say any of this as an estimate, this is all measured fact.

He gets bullied. Daily. Sam is eccentric and sweet and engaging but I know, as a parent and as possibly his biggest fan, he can also be annoying. See Sam will relay a joke and it may be vaguely hilarious in an 11 year old kind of way, the first time around. After the 14th or 15th time however, it just becomes grating. And whilst we try to tell him to say it once and see how it lands, he just doesn’t get it.

He’s the kind of kid that is engaging for a little bit, but then, to a peer, his awkwardness, his physical differences, his extensive vocabulary, they become a sticking point for those kids that just need a soft target and I guess, if someone told me the same joke 15 times in a row, I’d get kind of ticked off too. But being an adult, I’d politely (and I do) tell him that, “that’s enough now”.  But Sam wants friends. And the fear of being disliked is greater than the fear of being physically harmed.  He has often come home with bruises from being pushed, choked, punched or tripped over. Upon asking him if he has reported these to his teacher, he tells me that no, he doesn’t want to be a “dobber” and for his friends to no longer like him.

The last time I wrote about Sam, we were experiencing difficulty at his mainstream state school. They, in not so many words, told us that his current school was not the “school for him”. Subsequently he has been tested, educationally and medically. All results put him, basically, in the “too hard basket”. To gain an aid in the Victorian School System, he requires to test 70 or lower. He scored a 74. Too high to access funding yet clearly too low to function without it. Let it be understood that a score of 70 is considered to be intellectually disabled. So..Yeah. Medically, they tell me if I could have him labelled with some kind of behavioural disorder, he'd get help. If he had some kind of chromosomal issue, again, help. It appears, in this flawed system, if I can’t somehow make him 4 points more disabled, consistently naughty or chronically sick, then there will be no help for Sam. Ridiculous? You betcha.

The thing is, after speaking with so many people, I know I’m not alone. Not one of us are trying to gain any kind of advantage over another child by asking for a part time teacher aid in the classroom, we’re simply asking for the basic fundamentals every single Australian child should expect and receive – the chance, support and tools necessary to learn to read, write and progress in life.

This is where, as a parent, it gets so freaking frustrating. I have three children, all at State schools. I went to State Schools. My husband attended Private Schools. The provider has never been an issue, the fact that children, regardless of wealth or privilege, should be able to access the education they require, is the issue here. What the hell are we all working for, contributing taxes to a government for, if not primarily to educate our future generations? 

Sam has always been asked, whether it be in Victoria or Queensland, to quietly forfeit his right to sit the Naplan test. Isn’t the Naplan meant to indicate exactly how the students in each school are performing? Isn’t this system completely flawed then, if the less than academic students are being asked to “sit this one out”. Isn’t this why the correct funding isn’t getting recognised and/or at least questioned?

I’ve done my research on Gonski. I know it’s not perfect, nothing is, but at least it’s a great start. It’s asking for transparent funding. Funding from the government to be directed where it is needed most. This year is important, it’s an election year. I don’t care who you vote for, I don’t care who you’ve ALWAYS voted for. Can you do this, can you just look into what each and every party intend to do with education and disability? We, for the first time ever, I believe, are suddenly on the front foot as voters. For the first time ever, in this new world of social and digital media, with instantaneous access and response, can loudly dictate the issues that we see as the most important.

Because quite simply, if we get this right now, we will allow all children, regardless or wealth, education or privilege, a better chance at life. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I just read an article about Kyle Sandilands. This was on the Nine MSN website. Nine MSN of course being a part of Channel 9, the latest station to reward Kyle Sandliands for being a jerk with not only more exposure, but also, more money.

And I get it – the shock factor attracts viewers and in turn, attracts ratings. To earn advertising dollars, networks need ratings, big ratings, which means big dollars and there you will find, that the circle is complete. This is seemingly at any cost. This is nothing new, it’s kind of disheartening, sure, but it’s nothing new.

What is disheartening is that he doesn't seem to think he is doing anything wrong and I guess, why would he? Imagine if you kept consistently screwing up at work, doing the worst kind of things but instead of getting a warning or fired, you were promoted, given more money and told to keep up the “good work”.  Would you stop screwing up? Why would you?

Today there was uproar on Twitter and the media generally over our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, hosting Kyle Sandilands at Kirribilli House for an Easter Egg hunt for a charity event. This was for a great cause – there is absolutely no denying that. But why Julia, why him?

Let me just remind you why Kyle Sandilands needs to be shone a bright light upon. This is the guy that:

Strapped a 14 year old to a lie detector and quizzed her about her previous sexual and drug experiences.

Declared that smoking isn’t as harmful as made out by the authorities and that the “statistics presented by these institutions are falsified”. Quit being one of  the institutions.

Called a contestant a “mong”

Said:  “Some fat slag on the Telegraph website, sorry,, has already branded it (his short-lived TV show) a disaster. You can tell by reading the article she just hates us. What a fat bitter thing you are. You’ve got a nothing job anyway. You’re a piece of shit” Only to go on to say “Yeah, and your blouse. You haven’t got that much titty to be wearing that low cut a blouse. Watch your mouth, girl, or I will hunt you down”.

Publicly once said “I can be really rough and really gentle at the same time. Like, I can push you over and then help you back up

Discussing Magda Szubanski and her being the new ambassador for Jenny Craig “You put her in a concentration camp and you watch the weight fall off … like she could be skinny"

So yeah. This is the guy that Channel 9 has given a job to. The guy they have rewarded for basically being a bully. An insensitive and violent bully. Nice job.

Kyle needs to be told loud and clear that it’s NOT okay to do what he has been doing. I've had a hard life growing up too Kyle, that’ doesn't mean I have Carte blanche to go around vilifying others for kicks. Somewhere along the way  I've learned to THINK before I SPEAK. To care for others. And quite simply, identify RIGHT from WRONG.

The scary thing is that radio ratings would support that a great deal of young Australians are listening to Kyle and ADMIRE him.  THIS is the guy that is filling the young and impressionable minds right now. Even if you and I think we can turn him off, the future generation seemingly aren't.  Here we are trying to drill into our children that bullying is NEVER okay yet right now mainstream media, by employing Kyle, are giving the very distinct impression that it’s not only okay, it’s also the only way to succeed and gain traction in the spotlight.

If we as a society continue to allow the Kyle Sandilands of the world to get away with this kind of behaviour, we are allowing a world where it is okay to perpetuate this behaviour. And I can’t abide. It’s just not okay. 

Monday, February 11, 2013


I was wading through Twitter the other evening and came across this account @VeryBritishProblems and it made me giggle. You know the old saying “It’s funny because it’s true?” Well this is why I found myself reading these, nodding and giggling to myself. But then I wondered were the following really “British” problems? Or simply situations those of us that are a little awkward and polite get ourselves into?  For example...

“Never wanting to use an exclamation mark yet worrying you'll come across as miserable without one”

The problem with the written word is that there is no intonation and until someone designs a universal Sarcasm Font, we will have to resort to punctuation marks and emoticons to get our enthusiasm across. I’ve become so used to putting a smiley face into my correspondence that I no longer know where to draw the line. I’ll be drafting professional correspondence and be inserting a winky face just to lighten the mood and have to pull myself back from the edge. The exclamation mark DOES make things look super friendly but can also come across a little maniacal. It’s a fine line.

“Saying you're pleased with your haircut despite the deep inner sadness it is causing you”

I once believd this was only a women’s pain, but now I realise it is a shared pain for both the sexes. You sit and watch your reflection in the mirror as slowly your world falls apart but oh no, you won’t stop them or say anything as they shear off more than double the amount of hair you requested. You will answer the very personal questions they ask you as they continue to annihilate your fringe. And then you smile over excitedly and agree to be up-sold some unnecessary hair products whilst paying the equivalent to US National Debt, all whilst desperately muttering in your head, “it WILL grow back, it WILL grow back”

“Attempting to deal with a queue-jumper by staring fiercely at the back of their head”

I’m pretty sure I’ve never called out a queue jumper in my life. Why? I do give a mean stare though. A real ‘don’t fuck with me, even though you just did and I’m too chicken shit to call you out on it’ stare. 

“Keeping absolutely still when someone else walks in when you are in the toilet stall”

Why?? I mean I’m not in there to  get updates on the NASDAQ. I’m in there for one reason and one reason only. So why then do I get this kind of stage fright? Why do I have this great fear that someone will, heaven forbid, hear me drop a deuce?  This is insane yet I will probably forever wait them out OR make an inordinate amount of noise with the toilet paper roll to cover my tracks. Special mention also goes to the far too polite "Someone's in here" cry when some dipshit pushes on your door even though it clearly says ENGAGED.

“Getting stuck in a "fine thanks, how are you?" loop”

Urggh. Me. Daily. Often it’s because I can't remember a) their name or b) where I know them from. This prevents me moving the conversation ANYWHERE because I have no effing point of reference to go from. The weather can occasionally save me from this round robin. Especially in Melbourne.

“When someone knocks into you and you say sorry even though it wasn’t your fault”

How often do find yourself walking along, minding your own business and some jerk pushes past you only for YOU to be the one that aplogises? 

“Being incapable of placing your items on the counter in a shop without saying “just these thanks”” 

Oh, as opposed to all the other shit you DIDN’T place on the counter? The cashier is of course thinking this in their minds but will thankfully, never say it. 

“Not wanting to be the one that takes the last piece of garlic bread”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rejected the last piece of garlic bread in a group dinner situation even though I’d pretty much been willing to sell my 1st born child for it. Everyone at that table wants it but we are all just TOO polite to say so. I throw down the challenge to all of you – next time you find yourself in this situation, take it. Just damn well take it and enjoy that delicious bread. 

“Panicking in a sandwich shop and allowing a distressingly odd combination of fillings to happen”

I’ve walked out with a liver pate, beetroot and seeded mustard on rye. That is how cornered *I* have felt.

“Feeling you must keep your hands excessively on show while in a shop, so as not to be suspected of thievery”

This is kind of similar to the feeling I get when a police car pulls up beside me. For some reason I feel the need to act COMPLETELY cool so as to not attract attention. Which of course just attracts attention. And makes me look suspicious even though I’ve got nothing to look suspicious about. 

So is all this politeness just going too far? Should I just become less of a pussy cat and more of a Tiger in my approach towards these social situations? I don’t think so. I mean sure I might eat a dodgy sandwich from time to time and maybe even be unfairly arrested for looking undeniably suspicious on a major arterial road, but I can live with the fact that I am, at heart, a nice person. A nice person with a terrible haircut. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


To be honest, the last time I had a good look at the Ten Commandments was probably around the same time I was getting ready for my Holy Communion circa 1983. I was what, 8? That was the first time I’d heard “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods" and I was all like “why on earth would I desire old Mrs Fowler or her rubbish television?”

Then there was all this talk about sin and first confessions. How much could I possibly have sinned at age 8? I hadn't kissed a boy because they STANK. I didn’t know how to swear, I was, to the best of my knowledge, honouring my mother and father and at that stage, had yet to even take the Lord's name in vain. I mean Christ on a bike, I had to make up my first ever confession because I had NOTHING. From memory I made up some story about fighting with my brother (which I'm pretty sure to this day, still won't get me sent to hell) yet 10 Hail Marys and I was good to go.

Anyway, this is really a long winded way of saying, in my world of now very apathetic religion, I thought I might nut out a few new Commandments that might be relevant in this modern society.

1.  Thou shalt not misuse the word literally.

2.  Thou shalt not play a new song so many times on the radio in a 24 hour period that people can no longer stand it.

3.  Thou shalt not be a big deal if two people of the same sex want to get married. 

4.  Thou shalt not talk about fight club

5.  Thou shalt not drive in a bus lane. Unless of course, you are a BUS.

6.  Thou shalt not fail to acknowledge being let into traffic.

7.  Thou shalt not vaguebook. Just tell Barry you hate his guts and GET ON WITH IT.

8.  Thou shalt not EVER interpretive dance to a Gotye song. 

9. Thou shalt not use the words “rando” or “cray cray” if you are over 35.

10. Thou shalt not kill someone over the result of a football match. Hey guys! It’s a game.Get a grip.

Feel free to add your own. PS, this is tongue in cheek so a) 

apologies if you are deeply religious and b) nope that’s it,
just sorry.