Archives: May 2011

30 May 2011, Comments (5)

Easter Road Trip, Part 2

Author: Helen

The Grand Ridge Road only took two days, so there was still plenty of Easter/Anzac long weekend to check out the tourist attractions of East Gippy. Near Thorpdale, you can see this sign:

Road sign - "Site of World's Tallest Tree"

Road sign - "Site of World's Tallest Tree"


30 May 2011, Comments (7)

Easter Road Trip, part 1

Author: Helen

In the Easter break I did something I’d wanted to do for quite a while – go for a road trip along this road, which follows the top of the Strzlecki ranges in East Gippsland. Just myself, while the family fended for themselves at home (Mr Bucket works on weekends, of course, and the kids are allergic to country air.)

Looking north from the Grand Ridge Road, somewhere between Tarra Bulga NP and Gunyah

Looking north from the Grand Ridge Road, somewhere between Tarra Bulga NP and Gunyah


I have such loving memories of the scruffy, worn-down Womens Hospital in Carlton, which has moved to a new building. I had two babies, and lost two pregnancies there. Despite the ageing and creaky building, the staff were wondrous, especially the midwives. Driving past, I’d squint up the boxy building to try to guess which windows I’d been behind.

A week ago, something terrible happened to a member of our family, and so I had occasion to visit the new, you-beaut Womens Hospital in Parkville. I walked up the wide, easily accessible ramp (tick!) to the beautiful, spacious lobby (tick!) where an information section was easy to find (tick!) and found the person I was looking for in minutes.

It’s really a stunning building, and although, to me, the Women’s will always be about the staff, they now have the comfortable and beautiful working environment which they deserve. The patients and the friends and relatives who wait anxiously there benefit, too.

It’s just a shame about all the artwork. Not hanging pictures, which I was too preoccupied to notice, but the stuff that’s right up in your face: Environmental graphics, I think, is the correct term for what I’m talking about.

The new RWH features giant frosted-glass murals on the large exterior windows as you walk towards the entrance. This mural shows a younger blonde woman and a slightly older blonde woman. This is hardly a serious effort to fulfil the contractors’ brief, to portray a “broad demographic of age and culture”.

There were smaller murals on the wall facing the lifts, which were impossible to ignore for anybody entering or leaving any part of the building. These murals featured new mums and dads holding babies. Happy, happy, happy.

Although these murals are lovely and fulfil the diversity brief a little better than the one at the entrance, they completely fail the requirement to be “sensitive to the individual needs of patients and their supporters.”

Not everybody leaves the RWH with a live birth. Our family member would have had to walk past those murals as she left the hospital for the car park.

Women come to the hospital to have babies. They also come there to lose their passionately wanted babies, to have abortions, with cancer, with gynaecological troubles, with infertility.

Abstract, rather than figurative, environmental graphics would seem to be the way to go for an environment like this. The new RWH is beautiful and comfortable, but as triggery as all hell.

The O’Reallys are the typical so-called “well-off” family who are now staring down the barrel of the Gillard government’s crushing “middle-class welfare” reform. Our intrepid editor sent this reporter out to one of the up and coming suburbs to get the real lowdown on how hard hit these families are by this merciless class warfare.

One of the countless Aspirational Families in these tree-lined streets™, Tom and Sue O’Really work as a teacher and a construction estimator. They have two children, Lily and Bradley. Lily, 6, has started primary school and attends after-school care. Bradley, 3, is in daycare. Sue’s income is just over $150,000, making them rich in the eyes of Labor and Leftist types who choose to ignore the stark, brutal reality of their suburban struggle.

“Are you joking?” laughed Sue when we pointed the mike at her so she could tell us how the government, hellbent on redistributing wealth and closing the gap between the alleged haves and have-nots, has reduced their lifestyle to a nasty and brutish struggle for survival. Here is a transcript of the interview which followed:

Newsfax Ltd: Now that the rate at which the family tax benefit cuts out has been frozen at $150,000, will this spell the end of your middle class lifestyle?

Sue O’Really: Well, of course, a lump sum in your tax return is always nice. But really, isn’t government income distribution meant to be targeted at, you know, really struggling families, on $40,000 and less? I mean, of course your wants always expand when you get more money. (Laughs) but shouldn’t we be directing Family Tax Benefit to families who can’t afford to send their kids to the dentist? Or use the money to put dentistry on Medicare?

Newsfax Ltd: But food, clothing, gas electricity — it all adds up. Not to mention childcare and your private medical insurance, for which you now get only 20% rebate instead of 30%. With the cost of living increasing, shouldn’t eligibility for family benefits should have been lifted?

Sue O’Really: Look, of course the cost of living goes up. I’m not arguing with that, I just wonder whether “adrift in ocean of debt and despair” isn’t over-egging it a bit. Half of all workers earn less than $44,146 per year. Shouldn’t you be interviewing one of them? I mean, they’re taking money away from Leonie three doors down, for god’s sake, she’s on the single mother’s benefit and they’re going to put her on Newstart when her daughter turns 12! And… wasn’t it your paper and others like you who used to be against “middle-class welfare”, anyway?

Newsfax Ltd: Well, Wayne Swan said himself you weren’t that well-off!

Sue O’Really: Well, I can see how he would have been under pressure to say that. But it’s something thats easy enough to resolve through 10 minutes on the ABS website and some Year 8 maths. We’re not “battlers”. We’re not even “average”. According to the ABS, I’m in the top three percent of income earners individually and we’re in the top ten percent of households. So, yeah, sure, childcare is very expensive, and we did remodel our California Bungalow to twice its former size, and that means high repayments. And we try to eat healthily, and the cost of fruit is ridiculous. But to claim we’re doing it tough is just an insult to that half of the workforce that’s on less than $45,000 – not to mention disability pensioners, unemployed, single parents…I mean, they’re paying the same for fruit and vegetables as we are!…

[Newsfax Editor’s note: You failed to get a proper response from this interviewee. Bin this story.]

12 May 2011, Comments (0)

Down Under Feminist Carnival #36

Author: Helen

Downunder Feminist Carnival

The Down Under Feminist Carnival 36 is brought to you by Creatrix Tiara the Merch Girl. In her own words – interdisciplinary iconoclast and creatrix of awesome, performance artist, production assistant, creative producer, writer, media personality, rabble-rouser, dabbler.

Deep in the Headquarters of DUFC, Chally is accepting submissions for May, which will be hosted by Boganette.

4 May 2011, Comments (6)

What The…?

Author: Helen

In the Victorian State budget brought down today, the Baillieu government was keen to tell us that we were in for austerity in education spending – they’re aiming for over $300 million in cuts in the next 4 years “in a bid to reign in costs” (sic) (dear oh dear, it’s having an effect already). And they reneged on the election promise to improve public school teachers’ pay. But despite this solemn need for belt-tightening, somehow they still managed to keep their promise to give $240 million over that time to private and Catholic schools.

Who is going to defend the public system? Not the Federal government.

Oh, we got $24m for maths and science specialists in Primary – that’s less than half the amount the Vic government spent this year running the frigging Grand Prix.

The rest of this post was cancelled due to excessive swearing.

Bearings is a collection of short stories, published by the Melbourne publisher Affirm Press as part of their Long Story Shorts project “to publish six collections of short fiction from individual authors.” What a great idea, and I’m not sure why they should commit themselves to stopping at six titles. (Why not just keep going?) With their retro-looking covers, the series has a distinctive visual appeal.
Cover image - Leah Swann, Bearings, Affirm Press
Bearings is Leah Swann’s first published work, seven stories and a novella. Like most writing in our culture and period, it doesn’t shy away from the dark themes: death, illness and fractured families. The stories are centred on personal and family life. The voices are diverse in age, gender and class. A boy experiences the death of his dog as the beginning of the end of childhood in Street Sweeper. The Singles Club portrays an aboriginal man’s uneasy relationship with his home town, and a white woman’s uneasy relationship with pretty much everything. All your Mothers is reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room – a hard, sad situation described from a very unsentimental kid’s eye view. In The Ringwood Madonna, art helps to transform a suburban mother’s depression and boredom with a shock of the unexpected.

As the title implies, Bearings is about people who are in flux, going through changes and in need of a map and compass. These stories could be just a good wallow in misery and torment like the memoirs that are so popular now, but Swann avoids this contemporary cliche. Except perhaps for one story, Slow to Learn, the stories in Bearings contain as much hope and affirmation as sadness. Swann also avoids too much earnestness. This isn’t just kitchen sink drama. Swann has a feeling for the little weird twist which takes the stories out of the Social Issue Story realm. In the novella, Silver Hands, where a sculptor faces the simultaneous loss of her skill, through tendonitis, and her sense of control over her family life, there’s a scene on a beach involving a penguin which I can just imagine being filmed for the next Tropfest. Swann can be whimsical, but not arch. The emotional tone rings true throughout, and her descriptive passages are beautiful and economical.

On the night of his father’s death, David felt its approach. The atmosphere of the death room was not unlike that of a birth room: a space between worlds. Something was vast and wide open, with the force of a gale yet utterly still. (Lovest Thou Me)

When jogging, he imagines what it might be like to hold his child for the first time. The baby skips across his mind like a stone skimming a river, and his heart skips with anxious joy.

His own, living body registers horror in increments: the skin, the stomach, the heart. For a moment he feels he might vomit. He reaches to his hip and draws out the mobile phone. It is silver, unnaturally bright in the muted landscape. Never has he felt more grateful for this tiny cold portal to another world. (The Easter Hare)

Bearings travels on the dark side while illuminating the things which make that dark side endurable. It’s neither Pollyannaish nor excessively traumatising (David Vann, I’m looking at you!) I enjoyed reading it and I’ll be looking out for Swann’s next publication.

Thanks to Affirm Press for the review copy of the book.