IWD Collective Story Making Mini Workshop 8.3.22
I am Swiss.I am a mum.
I am woman and I am strong.
I am a survivor,
I am old.
I am happy,
I am kind,
I am generous,
I am an old happy woman.
I remember having no choice about learning, employment and I was not able to choose what I wanted to do.
And yet as life went on, I was given more and more responsibility.
The time has come for change.
Stand in our truth.
We must have hope and passion.
I walk towards a red cardigan.
There is a blur of red in the park
My feet are taking me towards the red cardigan
The cardigan is moving towards me, matching my steps
My feet keep moving hesitantly in the direction of the red cardigan
Time is standing still inside me, but my feet keep walking.
It seems an eternity to close the gap, though its less than 50 metres
The cardigan has a face
I look more closely
And see myself
In my birth mother.
At 15 Michelle was almost two metres tall and weighed 100 kilos. Her loving parents said she had ‘big bones’. She knew she was fat. She felt huge towering over all her classmates, especially the boys. She thought she would never have a boyfriend and would end her days as a chocolate munching, grey haired spinster.
It always astounded her how easily she put on weight and how hard it was to take off. Many of the other girls at school loved ‘health bars’ made with dark chocolate, nougat and natural honeycomb. She’d eat one and put on a kilo. They could wolf down two a day and still have slim legs up to their petite waists except Maree who broke out in shouting red pimples and carried stubborn extra kilos on a butt that the Kardashians would covet.
All the most popular secondary high school girls had slim, smooth, expertly shaven legs, supported by pert feet in short white socks and shiny black shoes. It might have been Michell’s imagination but she thought their socks and white shirts were whiter than hers or maybe it was the sparkle of a confidence.
Michelle was top of the class. “You’ll be the Dux of your year” said proud English mistress, Pringle. Not only was Michelle smart, she could sing and because she was buxom landed the lead role of Buttercup in the school production of HMS Pinafore. She was also great at volleyball and softball. She was a brave, dedicated catcher who once got hit in the head with the bat and was out cold for at least three minutes.
She had a beautiful face shaped by her Estonia heritage with high cheekbones, lush lips large, almond shaped eyes, a brilliant smile and a hearty laugh matched with a healthy sense of humour.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t see her beauty through a veil of envy around the gushing smooth legged set but she did take great pride in her intellect and loved to study, get top marks and consume fiction.
She’d had boyfriends in primary school and paired up with a tall, boy of German heritage called Ulrich at the start of high school. He had unfortunate sloppy lips over extruding front teeth but his height and their shared interests made him very attractive. They had lots of hand holding, wet kisses and a shared lust for the latest cinema hits. It lasted about a year and then he moved onto another tall, and somewhat plain called Helen. Michelle couldn’t understand that. At least she was prettier than her.
Years later she accidentally met up with Ulrich at the Piggery in Byron Bay for a Renee Geyer concert. Michelle was on her way back to Sydney from the Golden Door Health Retreat. Ulrich was at the Piggery with his boyfriend. “Ah, she thought! “That explains a lot!”. They shared a great night with too many margueritas.
Toward the end of Year 10 Michelle’s mum said she would gift her eldest daughter a beautiful silver topped, purple glass bottle of very expensive perfume if Michelle worked with her to lose some weight. Her mum Betty knew how much Michelle hated being fat so she dangled a carrot and Michelle went for it. She and Betty started the weight loss program together and before the end of the school year Michelle had lost almost 10 kilos. No-one at school noticed or said anything and she was disappointed but she kept going none the less. It felt good to be taking control.
Michelle’s Year 10 crush was on a boy called Peter. He was already a senior in Year 11. He had broad shoulders, a little swagger in his walk, soft curly hair with a fringe swaying above his striking blue green eyes. He sometimes winked at her in the playground. He was a footballer and hung with the cool guys. Michele thought he was having a piece of her.
One day as Michelle and her bestie Claire were walking down the school driveway, he pulled up alongside them in his caramel coloured holden station wagon. “Hey Michelle, he said” Can I give you a lift home. You too Claire! “Both girls couldn’t believe it. They looked at one another, gave a cool shrug of their shoulders. Claire took the lead and said “That would be great. You can drop us both at Michelle’s.”
“You sit in the front Michelle, said Peter and she did. Peter complimented her. He said she was looking great. What was she doing?
She explained she was “watching her food”. He asked if he could help her by taking her for walks after dinner. “You’re just around the corner from me and it’d be no trouble” he said. It’s always nice to get out of the house after homework and dinner. “How about it”.
“Sure,” said a disbelieving Michelle.
Peter accompanied Michelle on walks after dinner for the next three months. She returned to commence her first senior year of high school in a new figure hugging senior uniform, over a thinner but still voluptuous body. No-one recognised her.
By the beginning of the new school year Peter was smitten. He loved the gentle young woman with a sharp intellect, equally sharp sense of humour and a deep sense of social justice.
But he couldn’t display it in the playground. He was teased relentlessly by his football cohort who still maliciously referred to Michelle as ‘tubie’ – the fat girl they’d known since Year 7. Peter fell into the sharp conflict of a boy in love who wanted to retain the respect and camaraderie of his school friendship circle.
Michelle was cut. When he wouldn’t sit with her for lunch and sheepishly caught up with her on the way home, far away from peering eyes, she burst into tears and told him not to visit her at home ever again.
“I want to be with someone who sticks with me through thick and thin,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were a sheep”, she said.
For two weeks they avoided each other both red cheeked, bad tempered and longing to be with one another again. Until Maree announced her parents were going to be away for a weekend and everyone in their year was invited to a party on her family property where her Estonia parents grew, picked packed and pickled cucumbers. Those European style cucumbers did well. They lived in a mansion!
Peter rang Michelle and asked if he could take her to the party. She accepted hoping with all her heart he would proudly display their relationship to everyone there. They arrived when the party was in full swing. Beer and Bacardi was flowing free. The footballers were already skittish and when they saw Michell and Peter enter together the biggest and meanest of them, a thug call Stolzie started chanting “tubie” -encouraging the others to do the same.
They all stopped in their tracks. Michelle looked beautiful! The tall elegant girl wore figure hugging fresh blue jeans, a soft white top and her long dark hair fell over slim shoulders down to her ample bosom.
Peter proudly held her hand steered her to the flabbergasted cohort and said “ Guys, this is Michelle, my girlfriend!” Stolzie started to open his mouth and Peter said “Stolz mate! Show some respect or shut up.”
I walk towards the clearing tall, stark, pines line the roadway. Puffs of dark dust rise with every footfall. I can smell the overshadowing forest and hear the cry of the distant crow.
All my money went on the cab, how will I eat? There’s no shops. I am in the middle of a wild, barren outback town in the Pilliga scrub.
“Oh sorry, I had mum visiting and forgot the time”. Graham sat on the verandah with his wife, two children and mother, they were finishing off what looked to be a sumptuous lunch.
I had been forgotten. “Where am I to stay?” “You can stay across the road, there is a room, it used to be the railway house”. “What am I doing?” Beads of perspiration form on my brow as I trudge across the dirt roadway and enter my lodgings, old floorboards, a single bed, with an old metal rail strung from the rafter. “Oh, you can hang yer clothes on that rail”. Marion left me to get settled.
“Click”! The old Globite suitcase reveals its meagre contents. “You best have something to eat and rest you have a big day ahead tomorrow “.
Therese Gabriel Lyons scrawled in thick white chalk on the old blackboard. 20 pairs of eyes focussed on the young woman. “Good morning children I am your new teacher”.
“Children I would like to introduce you to Ms Therese Gabriel Wilkins “. Forty years on, thoughts of that first day flash past. Seven children from K-6 form a group on the carpet listening intently, while viewing a Powerpoint on Endangered Owls. Lumps formed in the throat, I have come full circle my first appointment as a primary teacher and now to return as an artist.
“Are we going to do some art miss?” The two hours evaporate like raindrops under a harsh sun. Owl masks of many colours adorn their faces. Seven beaming children moving to the calls of the Powerful, Barking, Masked, Grass and Sooty owls. As I sit on the old bench seat outside and watch them play, I see a young, 27-year-old full of energy, dreams and enthusiasm beating a drum to the strains of an old record blaring across the flat. 52 children from K-6 in two lines marching. “Left, left, left, right left, tuck those thumbs in, swing those arms, all right squad, halt!” “Okay, everyone, fall out”. Laughter! Children fall like ten pins holding their sides squealing and smiling.
“We never won anything missus; you think we can win this marching thing”? “You can win, you just have to work as a team, no matter if it rains, or it is hot, don’t break ranks, don’t move when at attention”.
There they are marching; all the schools are on the flat one by one they go round and are judged. Beg, borrow, to have every child in uniform, combing hair, folding socks so they are all at the same height, enlisting the only mum with a machine to repair the old banner Gwabegar Play the Game. The two smallest children hold the ribbon either side, it’s our turn. “Okay kids we’re up we can do this, remember listen, and when at attention don’t move”. McNamara’s band blares out. They follow the beat of the old drum and circle the flat coming to attention.
“We did it missus, we did it, we won the cup”.
Tears trickle down my cheek as I wave goodbye. “We had fun miss, will you come again? The seven children stand with their teacher at the entrance gate. One little boy shouts, “it was fun with the owl lady “.
IT’S ALL ABOUT ME
My name is Judy. Close to 25 years ago I moved to the Central coast from Sydney with my family.
Although it was very convenient to find a school for our son (just a short walk from where we live) work was a very different matter. My husband commuted to Sydney and Newcastle with his work and I did a few different temping jobs in Sydney before taking up the position of Co-ordinator/manager at Ku-ring-gai Council Art Centre. Commuting to work for 15 years was difficult but finding a job (especially in the arts) on the coast was really impossible. Naturally a disadvantage of working so far from local community is that there is no time to make connections locally. However I was keen to stay in the art industry and persevered until retiring from work 7 years ago. Such a huge difference not being on the M1 (previously F3) every day.
I took up tai chi early Saturday mornings (7am) at the haven in Terrigal with a wonderful tai chi master and met some great people. After tai chi several of the group would go for a swim in the ocean. Although I haven’t been swimming for nearly 12 months now I am still practicing tai chi which I enjoy immensely. I also took up French lessons (don’t ask – especially in french!!!)
Fortunately for myself and my husband our son and his family moved to the Central coast with their two little girls 4 years ago. When they first moved they were both commuting to Sydney for work and the 2 girls, one 16 months and one 2 1/2yrs stayed with us for 3 days and nights of the week so we got to know them really well. Didn’t get a lot of sleep. This also meant travelling back in time to getting little children involved and interested in activities that little girls love and there was a lot of to’ing and fro’ing. My son got a job on the coast as a music teacher at Kincumber High school and our grandparent duties were adjusted to day time only. Big change!!! Now the eldest is at school and this year we have had one child only to look after. She will start school next year. So 2022 will be very different and there will be time to do things I have put off for so long. Paint, write maybe, de-clutter (big job), garden (huge job). etcetera. Maybe.
There have been many changes since we moved to the coast and what was once a semi-rural area with cows grazing in fields at the bottom of our hill, the bush filled with fairy wrens and still silent nights is now becoming more populated with all the associated changes that come with urbanisation. Gosford is stunningly beautiful geographically and has so much potential to be a stand out destination for travellers as well as a great choice of place to live. My wish is that future development will be made from considered choices both environmentally and culturally to enable residents to develop and maintain a sense of community and well-being.
A SMASHING PERFORMANCE
Cummins, Eyre Peninsula, SA.
1981. 40 years ago!
It was the 48th performance of my one-woman show for junior primary students and part of a 2 month country tour with the South Australian Arts Council. I had been enormously inspired by the energy and showmanship of Reg Livermore- Wonderwoman, Betty Blockbuster Follies etc, and for this piece, early in my performance career, I (over) ambitiously converged a number of my physical skills into a self-written performance piece called Hannah’s House.
Let me take you back to this particular day.
It’s 6 weeks into the tour, travelling with 7 other performers & musicians in a troupe called PIPI STORM. Between us we have 4 shows- Infants, Primary, High School and all of us come together in a community show called Kids Kabaret. My specialty is the 4-8 year olds, for which ‘Hannah’s House is pitched.
I walk towards the school hall from the cleaner’s store room, which had been presented to me as my “dressing room “. Such is the glamour of a Theatre-in Schools Performer! 200 small children are sitting cross-legged on the floor, chattering quietly while waiting expectantly for the show to begin. The stage is set, props are in position, the music is cued.
I stop just before the door. Big breath in, big breath out. Focus on becoming Hannah.
Big breath in and enter with a big smile.
A hush runs through the audience as the theme song starts:
Number 3 Imagination Street
Bring your friends and come around
Lots and lots of friends for you to meet
In Rhythm Town
After so many performances the show is becoming like a well-oiled machine, yet every show and audience is a bit different.
10 minutes in and it’s time for the tap dance. It’s choreographed for Hannah to end the dance with ‘accidentally’ falling into the washing basket, but something goes awfully awry. Instead of falling into the basket, Hannah continues on a sideways trajectory and somehow crashes into the side window, putting her (my) arms straight through.
Glass shatters! Blood spurts! Children gasp! Teachers are dumbstruck!
Big Ouch! What to do! Shit! Shit!! Shit!!!
Hannah is resourceful.
Hannah is resilient.
Hannah stays in character.
The show must go on!
That was a very big woops! Sorry for breaking your window! I did not mean to do that!
I’m ok though. I just need to find something I can use for a bandage.
Hannah finds some long socks in the washing basket & uses them to strap up the bleeding cuts. The wet socks soothe.
Hannah ad libs her way out of (or into) the drama. In time picks up and continues with the narrative, then heads to the “creek” to wash her clothes.
Now it’s time for the 2nd character to emerge, a Clown Clothesline that resembles a Hills Hoist. The transformation happens on stage.
As I pull out the long bamboo poles & lines & start fitting them into the elastic straps on my legs and arms (ouch!) a boy shouts out:
See if you can get the light. Break it!
Yeah! Break another window!
No no kids! That was an accident! Clothesline doesn’t want to damage your school! We’re sorry about the window. Now, we need to get the the washing out hung out. Who’d like to help?
The show roles on. Fun, participation, laughter, music and more dance. As per usual, after the show, it’s time for questions. It’s part of the Pipi Storm philosophy to demystify the role and open the curtain between the actor and theatre. Today the questions are of a different nature.
Why did you break the window?
You meant to break the window, didn’t you?
That wasn’t blood! That was tomato sauce!
No, it wasn’t real blood. You didn’t really cut yourself. That was a trick.
How did you do that trick?
You’re going to get into trouble from Mr Johnson. You broke the window!
It seems that by staying in character I confused some children. I said it was an accident but there were a few who seemed to think I really was on a path to destroy their school and were quite happy with that scenario!
A WALK IN JERUSALEM
Everyone is working so I take my nostalgia tour of Jerusalem alone. I walk down to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, past the money changers and the stores that sell soft drinks and food you buy in a hurry, past the place that sells motorbikes and is full of Ethiopians, past the place that organises free trips for people in the army. The Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv has moved from where it used to be when I was last there, is three floors bigger and full of shops and escalators. I get lost there now and my eye is assaulted by shops full of food and tables of different styles of cakes and breads, so I miss the place where you buy the tickets and when I finally get my ticket, the bus for Jerusalem has left and I have to wait for the next one. Fortunately it’s a bus to Jerusalem, they come often.
The Central Bus Station in Jerusalem hasn’t moved but the city has grown around it. When I lived here you drove upwards, round curves of yellow-faced rock with a roof or two peeping out the top. The curves and the cliffs are still there at the approach to the Jerusalem I knew, but the city now starts several kilometres earlier and houses peep out everywhere. The bus station itself has grown three floors too, full of cafes and shops and a central kiosk or two. One sells jewellery and I want to buy something. I eye off a couple of pieces but look for the entrance instead. It turns out to be on the middle floor.
Outside is the tunnel under the road where I once found a row of Turkish toilets and freaked out before I saw the European ones on the other side. I really needed to go. They’ve demolished the toilets and the roof and it’s mostly cement except for a security guard at the entrance to a building. I come up the other side and when I do, I see a tram. Sleek like a bullet and light blue, one tram track goes to the tram junction at Mt Herzl and the other side goes down Yafo Street into town. This tram is going to town, I think.
The tram definitely wasn’t there before. I remember a wide road. The road is narrower. Across the tram tracks is a park which may or may not have been there and beyond it I can see the Hilton Hotel, now Crown, and Binyanei Ha’Oomah, the big theatre where they once held the Eurovision. I used to cross the area when I worked at the Hilton but I can’t remember it being a park, though that was 40 years ago. Maybe the trees have grown bigger.
This time I walk on past and the road divides. I can’t remember it doing so. I take the right fork because somewhere in my murky memory it seems to lead into town. I walked this street a lot once, it was a good way to get exercise and I lived somewhere at the end of it, but there isn’t much familiar. The tram chooses the right fork too, so I follow the tracks. There’s a low stone fence to my right (the tram is on my left) and there seems to be a garden behind the fence, then a wasteland and between the two a government building. I remember a beggar right there at the corner where the wall stopped and buildings began. I don’t see any beggars now. I remember Jerusalem was the first place I saw beggars, shaking glass jars and sporting various deformities. I heard somewhere that they make a lot of money. There was a beggar who died and his mattress was stuffed with cash, though it may have been an urban myth. Further off, behind the wasteland they are building more buildings and cranes stand out at right angles and swivel their metal arms about.
The buildings come closer as I walk on, they become glass-fronted stores built of stone. In an Australian town there would be a bank of them made of smoothly levelled sandstone and selling handicrafts and exquisitely crafted dolls and dollhouses made by local grandmothers. Here the stone is rough and undressed and the stores contain all sorts of things. One is a hairdresser, one contains pots and pans and another contains dinner settings. Not to be outdone, there is another shop with pots and large boxes with modern kitchen appliances. A shop contains hair ornaments. Then a laneway opens up and I am at Mahaneh Yehuda, the marketplace full of stalls selling fruit and vegetables.
On the other side is a square, surrounded on all four sides by roadway which cars hurtle round but can’t park. That can’t have been there before I think, though it looks like it has been there several years at least. Then I remember being forced to stop there by sirens ringing for Holocaust Day. The sirens blasted out for what seemed like a long time and everyone stopped without exception. They were blowing people up at the time, the sirens were not long after a bomb was left in at Zion Square. It blew up before I got there but I was only fifteen minutes away. I really hated standing still anywhere in the city. Nowadays I might be in the tram trundling past on its rails.
I’m wearing short sleeves and I’ve heard Jerusalem is full of religious people now. All the people who aren’t fussed with religion have moved to Tel Aviv. I wonder if I will be attacked for being immodest. It happened to me once in Geula, when a pregnant woman, wheeling a stroller and with several children clustered around her, grabbed me from behind and called me a dairy maid. I turned with my hands up to hit her and she screamed: “That’s right, hit a pregnant woman,” before turning her back and running away as fast as her children could follow. I was stunned, I remember, and felt awful, though I shouldn’t have, she was intruding on me.
I keep walking till I can turn right at King George St. This is the centre of town, the triangle of King George St, Ben Yehuda ending at Zion Square and Yafo Street. I found an old goldsmith on Ben Yehuda once who sold me earrings and made a necklace for my sister. According to the newspapers in Australia, it’s all dangerous now, full of Palestinians whose homes have been taken, waiting to stab Jews. Maybe American tourists. Maybe one little blonde Australian. How were they to know I really don’t like what the Israeli government was doing. I’m a tourist in Jerusalem, aren’t I? Besides which, it doesn’t seem scary. Truth to tell, it had never seemed scary.
The centre of Jerusalem hasn’t changed much, said an old friend, but I found it had changed a lot. The Mashbir, the department store at the corner of Ben Yehuda and King George, with the big, white-tiled square where you arranged to meet people, isn’t there anymore. I sit down in one of the open-air cafes that had sprouted on King George and ring my friend to complain. “Yes, it’s not there anymore,” he says. I remember a boyfriend from Argentina once who complained about the lack of open-air cafes in Jerusalem. I wondered where he was and if he was still complaining. The coffee smells good, and the cakes, so I have one of each.
I ring Eti. She still lives in Jerusalem and she isn’t working so she agrees to meet me in King George and we decide to take buses. We spend the rest of the day riding buses and talking, except when we wait at bus stops in clean suburban neighbourhoods and talk some more. Everything looks different. The Jerusalem I lived in had lots of empty land but they’ve filled it up, mostly with apartment blocks. The first bus we took was to Talpiot which I had thought was in the south and full of track housing for immigrants. It could have been anywhere but it is industrial, hot and dusty.
The next bus we take is to Mt Scopus, opposite the old city and next to the Mount of Olives, where all the Jews who could afford it were buried so they wouldn’t have to crawl very far on the Day of Judgement. I remembered walking through the cemetery once with a friend but I didn’t see it today, though I did see one I remembered on Mt Scopus next to the entrance to Hadassah hospital, which Eti reminded me my mother had visited once to see her sister. I had forgotten. The tall buildings with never-ending stairways I had lived in as a student were gone, but the short ones were still there, where I roomed with a girl from Argentina who had sex with her boyfriend in the bed on the opposite side of the room, while I was trying to sleep. I made friends with the girl next door and slept there. They were very friendly, it was just disturbing. Eventually they moved out.
The bus drives up into a tunnel which has replaced the dirt road I used to walk every day, head bowed and grumbling, till I reached my lectures and tutorials at the archaeology building, or the little computer room I worked in, where the maths students ran their computer programs. It seems to have turned into an airconditioned multicomplex of libraries, lecture halls and cafes, full of young, wide-eyed students trying to look cool. I wish I could be back there again, only with cooler air.
Down at the tram junction on the main north-south street I see police headquarters behind its barbed wire fences. It used to be on the main road but they’d built a flyover and it is back a bit and less prominent. I went there once, on recommendation from the university employment agency which meant I had to go, but the police had no intention of employing me. I’d lost my Zionism somewhere, and the man at the desk looked at me with hatred. The building looks smaller now.
We take a tram, blue and bullet-like and like any tram anywhere. We are still talking but now we’re winding down and saying goodbye. Eti gets off the tram in town to buy underwear. I stay on till the bus station and, after walking around and trying not to buy things, I venture out of the air conditioning and lo and behold, there’s the bus to Tel Aviv.
Did I hear you say
Three score years and ten
its an algorithm
for the human condition
What! Don’t hesitate. We need to negotiate
Here I’ve found an ad for Mephistopheles and sons
They have been in business for eons
ok lets put in a proposal for 30
then we can settle for 20…. be firm, don’t deviate
Hang on! look here at the fine print
the deposit is one complete soul and the interest is infinite
we’ll go with the opposition
explain our situation
and sign for the duration
I’ll get ready I’ll make it impressive
As you know, first impressions are the most persuasive
I’ll do what I can to be creative.
What about those new jeans? Who could resist?
Theres no time to lose …..come now….I insist.
they don’t fit!!!!!!