a change in time

musings on behavioural change – the small stuff and the big stuff.


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Six months later

Today’s date, the 5th of October 2017, stamps this day as being six months since my husband, Peter, passed away.

Last night I watched a film in which the filmmaker used the technique of jumping between the past and the future, with words appearing on the screen declaring it to be ‘three weeks later’, or ‘four years earlier’. I kind of like this method of shortening time. Imagine having to watch every moment of what happened in between. For better or worse, in ‘real life’, we have to pass through every minute, there is no fast-forwarding, no rewinding.

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Peter and I often talked of life being like a movie, it made some situations easier to deal with. (This photo was actually taken ‘five months later’. I wanted to choose something that looked a bit  cheerful. This was our first truly ‘Spring has sprung’ kind of day this year.) 

We knew that the disease would eventually overcome Peter’s amazing spirit. Even though we did what we could to prepare ourselves for ‘the inevitable’, we weren’t really prepared. The last blog post I wrote, on the 23rd of March, was only two weeks before Peter’s body succumbed. I still can’t believe our situation changed so quickly.

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Peter took this photo of us on the 18th of March, five days before we returned home. Looking at it now, it is obvious that he was very ill. After having seen Peter’s appearance change so many times over the years, especially since diagnosis, I think I stopped relating to how he looked physically and instead looked past the body to be with his beautiful, irreverent spirit.  

Peter’s sister, Melissa, was brave enough to ask me if we had had a chance to say goodbye, in that ‘final chance to say goodbye’ kind of way. The truth is, we didn’t. Even though we had had many discussions over the years about that day eventually catching up with us, I think we had become so accustomed to planning for the next day, week, month etc, that the time to say such things came and went. I said to Melissa that in hindsight, I think it would have been too hard to finally admit to each other that ‘this is it’. With a little more hindsight, if I could rewind the days, I would make sure we said those words to each other. I wished I had thanked him for being such an amazing life partner. There are just not enough adjectives to describe who Peter was for me.

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This photo was taken when we attended the marriage of our friends, Michael and Rowena. I’m not sure of the actual date, some time in the 80s. I like this photo because you can definitely see ‘the look of love’ in our eyes. 

So here I am, six months later. You won’t be surprised to know that my saving grace has has been the support and love I have received from friends and family. Particularly family, especially ‘the kids’, as our mother, Edna, calls Louis, Tam, Yoshi and Helena.

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‘The kids’ taking their mother on an outing to Plenty Gorge Park in South Morang in May.

 You read about people who lose their life partner, and how they appear to do all kinds of things that seem out of character. Some might choose retail therapy, others, the bottle. I might have done a bit of both, however my big one was to unintentionally take on my fear of flying; a secret I only recently revealed to my inner circle. In the last six months I have flown to Adelaide, Sydney and two trips to Tasmania. (My sister, Jann, and I were meant to fly to Japan on the 23rd of September, but that is a whole other story.)
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While in Adelaide, Susanne and I visited the Monarto Zoo for a good dose of rhino therapy.   

 

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While in Tasmania, I joined Jann and Tony on several walks along the beach. Being on the edge of the ocean, seeing the expanse of water, the surrounding mountains and the sky above, one is reminded of the beauty of life, and that we even exist at all.   

I am learning to live with the paradox that ‘life not turning out as one expected’ foists upon you, being forced to face the biggest change that life has expected of me. Peter is pretty much always in my thoughts. We shared so much together. I talk to him sometimes, mainly while driving, because that is where we had many good conversations. Some days I love living in this house, where everything has been touched by one or other of Peter’s creative urges, and sometimes I just want to run away.

Three months ago, I had my haircut. I think it is fairly common for folks to acknowledge a big change in circumstances via a visit to the hairdressers.

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I now have to take my own selfies! Peter took lots of photos, including the odd photo of me, okay, he took lots of photos of me. I mentioned this to Melissa and she has taken on a bit of this ‘job’. 

The final paragraph.

And so our ‘Ruth and Peter’ film came to an end. It was not the ending we had hoped for. Everyone wants to grow old with the one they love. It is lucky we were more about the journey than the destination. We packed in so much, and I am grateful for those days.


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It takes a village…

It’s six weeks today since we left home and embarked on our rites of passage into the worlds of hospital wards and hospice life. If you read my previous post, Sustaining one’s spirit in tough times, you will know what led us on this latest journey. My last words on that previous post were, ‘next stop, home’. I am very pleased to announce, that we did make it back home, being discharged from Caritas Christi Hospice, Kew, on Monday the 20th of March. We ended up staying at CCK for just over three weeks, and in that time, with the help of a wide range of people, medical staff and family and friends, we sorted through all that needed to be done, to return to our home.

I have always liked that proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and I have adapted it to our purposes today, it has taken a village to bring our darling Peter home. This month, our story is mainly told in pictures, I hope you get a sense of just how fortunate we are to live in such a village.

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While this is not a photo of the Occupational Therapist at Caritas Christi – they have a strict policy of not photographing staff – the content reflects just one of the many pieces she put into place for us; providing Peter with the ability to be mobile. She also checked out our house to make sure the entries, exits and surfaces were suitable for wheelchair access.

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Melissa and Philip provided love and support in many ways, including making and delivering the best risotto in the entire universe, supplying light cotton trousers (a necessity in air-conditioned rooms), and organising all kinds of things behind the scenes. they are excellent company at ‘drinkies’ time as well!

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My sister, Jann, travelled from Tasmania twice while we were at CCK, taking me out for dinner on her first visit (Yay!) and doing some much needed garden watering on the second visit, as well as being here to meet the equipment deliver guy, allowing me to head back to the hospice for any final organising that needed to be done. Those Tasmanians!

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Dean Richards, one of Peter’s long standing friends, visited several times while we were at CCK. Each time he played guitar and sang with Peter, and was happy for me to go shopping for items we would be needing back at home.

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Lisa and Darren, our closest neighbours in both vicinity and affection, were kind enough to drop over and mow our lawn THREE times over the period we were at CCK.

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It’s difficult for friends who are overseas to know how to contribute. Shannon, another very good and close friend of Peter’s, sent over this graphic novel, knowing that it would be the kind of story that Peter would enjoy.

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In the midst of it all, my mother turned 90. We had planned a family get-together at the Sofitel, the same hotel where our parents spent their 50th wedding anniversary. Because Peter was still at Caritas Christi, we had a smaller version of the celebration, with just mum and her four children. Here we all are: Rod, Jann, me, Edna and Hugo

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Louis stayed overnight at CCK while I stayed with my mother and sister at the Sofitel. After only a few hours, he had already gained a reputation as being a devoted son. Yoshi also spent time with Peter on a couple of occasions when I had medical appointments. (Okay, I can’t help being a proud mother!)

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The big day came and we made it home! The paramedics almost sent us back because we couldn’t get the control for the bed to work. Suki couldn’t contain herself on seeing Peter for the first time in five weeks.

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We are still pinching ourselves, it feels like a victory, to have been through so much and to make it back. We will continue to need our village to support us, maybe even more so.

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…and here is the view from here. You’re welcome to walk up the path some day soon, just make sure you contact me first! 🙂


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Sustaining one’s spirit in tough times

Things haven’t gone so well for us lately. We have had to muster reserves from our somewhat depleted resources to tackle what we are currently facing. And it’s all because of that darn cat. Well not really, but we have to blame someone and lhasa is fair game.

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How can you hold anything against me? I am adorable! I am even lying here between two delicate yellow flowers. Purrrrr. 

Our lives have changed again. We try to track back to the beginning of this new stage. The first fall happened on the 21st of January, just one week after we had been at home, following a not very successful chemotherapy treatment that was meant to halt the continuing colonisation of Peter’s bone marrow by the myeloma cells. (Damn!)

Peter was being an absolute darling, albeit somewhat naughty, checking the drip irrigation system, tending to a leak near the tap. He crouched down to fix it, and then tumbled backwards, hitting the bamboo screen behind and hurting himself more than he should.

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Here is my evidence that Peter can’t help himself. On the same day, after that nasty fall, he was helping Tam set up the bed for their imminent arrival. 

The next fall was on the 24th, as Peter tried to stop Suki from running to the door as I returned home. The next morning Peter was feeling stabbing pains in his legs. Fall #3 occurred on Saturday the 6th, that fateful day when Peter didn’t see Lhasa, with no time to stop himself from falling forwards onto his hands, tearing a tendon in his rotator cuff.

Fall #4 occurred while Peter was reaching out to place a glass on the table in the lounge room. Fall #5 happened before bed when Peter lost his balance in the bathroom. You’d think we would have started to suspect that something was wrong, but that thought must be relegated to hindsight.

On Monday the 6th, Peter was due at the Epworth for an MRI to assess the extent of the disease. He was surprised to discover that lying on the bench in preparation for the scan was so painful that they had to stop the proceedings and inject pain medication into his lower back. The next day he had a CT scan in the planning session for the radiotherapy treatment. Once again he felt excruciating pain whilst lying on the bench. More pain medication!

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Our first day back in hospital, on the 6th of Feb. Peter caught me pondering the thought of eating hospital food again. Peter’s oncologist had wanted Peter to stay in, but he felt fine and, who wouldn’t want to go home if they had a chance? 

Fall #6 was the final straw. The 9th of February. We had been at the Epworth for Peter’s first radio therapy session, on returning home, and on our way into our bedroom to meditate, his left leg gave way, with his shoulder hitting a nearby chair and his back hitting the ground with a thump.

That’s how we ended up in hospital for two weeks. That’s where the need to sustain our spirits in tough times really kicked in. Peter was taken in by ambulance and admitted that night, I joined him the next morning. He had four more sessions of radiotherapy – Friday, the 10th, and then the following Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with an operation on his right shoulder on Tuesday afternoon. Valentine’s Day. After that final session of radiotherapy, Peter was no longer a ‘usual patient’. This status lasted for another week. Probably the longest week of our lives, or at least it seemed that way. But we have our coping strategies and, mostly, people were kind.

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It was Melissa’s birthday on the 12th of February. Mel and Phil kindly brought in some birthday breakfast fare for us so we could join in the celebrations.  

The hospital environment was no longer suitable for Peter’s situation. The staff are accustomed to looking after people with acute care needs. We couldn’t go home as Peter could not walk, needing three people to move him from bed to anywhere else. He couldn’t go to a rehabilitation unit because he wouldn’t be able to participate in any training. His oncologist suggested palliative care as a place to take a breather and work out our strategy for returning home. So we spent a week waiting, and in the meantime, it was the little things that sustained our spirits.

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Yoshi and Helena found this impressive rhino for us in a nearby op-shop. It immediately became our trusty little mascot. 

Having spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, both as an inpatient and as an outpatient, one soon develops a way of relating to staff members. It’s hard not to feel that your fate is in their hands so it seems very important not to get in their bad books. Some staff members relate to you based on their job title rather than as fellow human beings traveling through this life together. Others shine out like beautiful stars in the night sky.

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James was probably our favourite, we even offered to adopt him, seeing, at 26, he is halfway between the ages of our two sons. On the day Peter was being taken to the operating theatre, I overheard James saying he would take Peter as he knew him well. Sometimes connections happens quickly. This one took five days. 

I was lucky to be able to stay with Peter for those two weeks. Before this new round of hospital stays, we decided very early on that we were going as a team. We are very good at hanging out together. There are fun times, and just as many ‘deep and meaningfuls’. Fortunately the staff were happy for me to make up a bed on the floor. (They are not as yet set up to really welcome family members to stay overnight.) Part of that luck we had is that Louis and Tam had moved in just six days before Peter broke the bone in his shoulder. Lhasa and Suki would not have to survive on the birds that frequent our back yard.

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Tam trying to get Lhasa to smile for the camera, while Suki watches on. Ask me, ask me! 

I have become very good at turning a previously  unfamiliar environment into a home-away-from-home, including finding out where the extra blankets, sheets and towels were kept. I became a familiar face in the kitchen, making milo, filling up water jugs and toasting bread. The cleaning and catering staff soon became my new best friends.

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Sarah and I hit it off immediately. She has been working at the hospital for seven years and enjoys it very much. We came across each other many times in the corridors and the kitchen. One day she asked how my husband was going. On the last day, I introduced her to Peter. She said, ‘Money and house you get from your family, a good woman you get from God’. (I think she was talking about me!) 

By Thursday the 23rd, we had dug into our reserves as deeply as we could. When we discovered there were seven people in front of us on the waiting list for the palliative care ward at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, we were devastated. Catherine, one of the palliative care team at the hospital, suggested we try elsewhere. Caritas Christi in Kew was not too far from our home so we put all our cards on the table. The application went in on Thursday and by Friday morning, Peter was allocated a bed. It felt like the happiest day of our lives. Now we are in a place where the staff are trained to care for people with the kinds of issues Peter is currently facing.

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Here is the view from our room, looking out towards the west, we enjoy the clouds, the trees, the aeroplanes, birds and bats. 

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Yesterday, Peter picked up his guitar for the first time since ‘the big fall’, and managed to strum a couple of tunes. We’ll get the physio back in to advise on the best way to play without aggravating that shoulder. Good Ruth and Peter! 

Next stop, home.

 

 

 


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Lamb is the elephant in the room

Much has already been written about the new spring lamb campaign from Meat and Livestock Australia, an advertisement encouraging Australians to embrace diversity. Not surprisingly, it has managed to divide opinion along opposing sides.

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The criticisms range from Pauline Hanson, who accused the ad of bowing to the demands of political correctness, through to Luke Pearson, an indigenous reporter for NITV, who saw it as being ‘rife with cultural stereotypes’. (Tv trivia: Meyne Wyatt, the actor on the right of the screen, was the first aboriginal actor to have a main role on Neighbours, after the show has been showing on television for 29 years!) 

This post is actually about food. The lamb commercial just happened to provide a point of entry to a conversation about identifying an Australian cuisine. My interest in this area was piqued after reading John Newton’s book, The Oldest Foods on Earth: A History of Australian Native Foods.

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Encouraged by our son Louis’ recommendation, we read Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe. I was after something to follow on and the above book showed up as ‘people who read Dark Emu also read this book’. So I gave it a go. Reading it has resulted in a whole new way of viewing native foods and the value they offer to our national cuisine.  

While reading Dark Emu, I learnt about the damage that was caused by sheep when they first arrived on our shores. (I don’t blame the sheep, it’s the folks who brought them here that are the real perpetrators. Bad folks!)  Pascoe brings Eric Rolls’ book, A Million Acres, to our attention. “The lush yam pastures of Victoria disappeared as soon as sheep grazed upon them as the dentition of sheep allowed them to eat growth right to the ground, destroying the basal leaves.” Murnong, a perennial herb with edible tuberous roots, was one of the staples of the aboriginal diet and without this regular supply of food, the aboriginal people had to find new sources of sustenance.

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This fine example of microseris lanceolata (murnong) is growing in our backyard. Louis bought them from the St.Kilda Indigenous Nursery Co-op back in July 2016. They seem to like the soil in Reservoir. 

In the opening pages of The Oldest Foods on Earth, Newton does not hold back in letting us know how he sees our history with Native foods: “In more than 200 years of occupation of this continent, European Australians have turned their backs on the vast majority of foods the Indigenous people have been eating for 50 000 years; ignored their sage and intricate management of the environment and its abundant foods…”

Things are slowly changing, the influence of books such as Pascoe’s book, Newton’s book and Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth seem to have caused a tipping point, inspiring multitudes of Australians to question their beliefs about how aboriginal people managed the land, and the wide choice of plants and animals that were part of their diet.

Bruce Pascoe launched a pozible crowd funding campaign in 2015, raising $32,874 to support “Gurandgi Munjie, a group of Aboriginal men and women determined to recover the traditional food plants of their culture. The company has begun growing yams, grains, vegetables, fruits and herbs on several south coast NSW properties. We have growing trials at Berry and Brogo on the south coast of NSW and Genoa and Mallacoota on the far east of Gippsland.”

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A photo from the pozible campaign page, showing Bruce Pascoe with the murnong seedlings, as a very attentive canine looks on. 

We have our own little project about to start up at our farm in South Gippsland. Louis and his friend, Julian Brown, have plans to set up a site where they will research the effect of using fire to encourage the growth of native plants such as murnong, chocolate lily and Kangaroo grass. They have plans to sell the produce at a local store and donate the funds to Bruce Pascoe’s project in Mallacoota.

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Louis and Julian walk the paddocks looking for a suitable site for their research project. In Newton’s book, he tells us of his meeting with Merridoo Walbidi, at Bidyadanga in WA. Newton goes onto say that, once when Merridoo was interviewed regarding how modern culture and traditional culture could co-exist, he had replied, ‘we must walk together’. 

Newton made ‘a proposal’ in the final pages of his book: “Australia Day on 26 January celebrates the day Captain Phillip raised the flag at Sydney Cove. It continues to be a contentious day; some even call it Invasion Day. I would like to suggest that we celebrate the day, in our cities and towns, with a meal of native Australian foods shared between European and Aboriginal Australians. To take up Pascoe’s suggestion, the meal would be giving thanks to the Indigenous inhabitants for caring for the country, and – admittedly belatedly – showing us the foods of the land.’

I like this idea. Encouraging ‘Australians’ to eat lamb, somehow seems insulting, considering the role grazing sheep played in changing the face of the land. If you have been at all interested in this post, I highly recommend reading ‘The Oldest foods on Earth’. It is a revelation.

 

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These sheep have clearly heard of our plans to grow murnong and are rushing down to the back paddock to stake their claim. I don’t think they are going to like the boundary fence, designed to keep them from using their devilish dentition to munch those basal leaves! 

 

 

 

 

 


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Choosing a different narrative.

For eleven years, every morning on my way to the Distance Education Centre, I would pause briefly at the corner of Locksley and Excelsior Streets, to wave to a woman as she waited for her brother to take her son to school. Every morning. In one of those years, my Year 11 English students were studying The Truman Show – sometimes it felt like I was living just up the street from Truman.

Movies have that affect on me.

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Truman cheerfully waving to everyone he meets – everyday – with his catchphrase, “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”  

Do you remember the scene in The Matrix when Cypher explains why he would rather live inside the Matrix, even though he knows that it is only his mind that ‘makes it real’? In scene 72, we see him talking with Agent Smith; he is in a fancy restaurant eating a ‘thick, gorgeous, steak’. Agent Smith asks Cypher if they have a deal:

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           You know, I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth; the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized?

He shoves it in, eyes rolling up, savoring the tender beef melting in his mouth.

   Cypher

Ignorance is bliss.

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Joe Pantoliano as Cypher, good at being bad. 

Cypher chose to live, hooked up to a machine, in an imaginary world, rather than in the ‘real world’ where life was harsh, and the food was hardly edible.

The Matrix was a film for the times. Hitting the cinemas in 1999, it ignited our imaginations, we were heading into ‘the 21st century’, that’s if we made it beyond Y2K. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that it affected everyone the same way it affected me. If I had the same choice as Cypher, what would I choose? My immediate response was, of course I’d take the red pill, “offering the truth. Nothing more.” And yet, sometimes the truth can be hard to take. And what is the truth anyway and what is real?

Let’s look at another film that played with the idea of reality. Snowpiercer was released in 2013. It was nowhere near as popular as The Matrix, with box-office takings at $86.8 million compared with The Matrix at $463.5 million, but for me, it has left an unexpected imprint on how I perceive the world around me.

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For all my French followers. (I wish!) 

In this film, we are lead to believe that the downtrodden people who live on the train will eventually overthrow the establishment. We soon discover that the riots we witness are ‘allowed’ so that the people think that they have a voice, and a chance at freedom. Now I’m usually not one to  jump straight to conspiracy theories, but after seeing this film, I’m thinking, what if the 1% just put up with the 99% protesting so we feel like we are getting somewhere?

These films are messing with my head!

And then along came the TV series of Westworld – the most-watched first season of an HBO original series ever. (Wikipedia) Recommended by two of our ‘go to’ people for good TV, Mike Seymour and Philip Jackson, we were hooked from the first episode.

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In case you haven’t seen this advertising still for Westworld

Here, instead of the machines ‘using’ humans, as we saw in The Matrix, the humans are exploiting the androids, with the human ‘guests’ being given licence to live out whatever fantasies they desired. Hmmm, humans being allowed to get away with whatever they please? Androids with the potential to discover what is actually going on? This can only end badly.

While Westworld has been likened to several other high profile and well-received science fiction films, one experiences it more as an evolution of the stories we have already seen and heard. Anthony Hopkins, in the role of Robert Ford, the co-creator of the park, declares in episode 8, “The self is a kind of fiction, for hosts and humans alike. It’s a story we tell ourselves.”

Each character is given a narrative that fits in with other characters in the park, with the added ability to improvise if something outside of their experience should occur. It’s not long before I start squirming in my seat; are they talking about these fictional characters or are they talking about us? When did sitting down to relax in front of the TV become so not relaxing? And yet, it’s the best and most satisfying kind of television.

I want to be challenged, I want to be able to step outside of the loop when I choose. (This brings up the whole issue of free will vs determinism!) When Maeve, one of the main characters in Westworld, realises that even her rebellious nature is scripted, we start to wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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In a show with the title, Westworld, you would think it might be dominated by cowboy types. For those of us who like strong female leads, you will be pleased to meet Maeve, played with finesse by Thandie Newton. Here she shares the frame with Clementine. (Angela Sarafyan.)  

How does this relate to this blog, about how the changes we make all add up to make a difference? What if the narrative we live by does change suddenly, will I be able to adapt? It’s easy to change certain habits, but a whole way of living? I guess that is a twist in the story that we will just have to wait to see.

P.S. Has anyone else noticed that Ed Harris is in three of these films? Conspiracy theory warning bells going off!! To save you having to google it:

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Christof in The Truman Show

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Wilford in Snowpiercer

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The Man in Black in Westworld


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checks and balances; where change lives

I thought it was about time I looked back over the last three years, from the time when I started the Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, to see what changes we have made and what still lies in the ‘too hard basket’. The ‘We’ to whom I refer is my husband Peter, and myself. I am lucky that Peter has supported me from day one in my attempts at behaviour change. Such support is not a given.

The change I am most pleased about is our reduction in food waste, or more precisely, wasted food. While we have made attempts over the years to ‘divert food waste from landfill’, it hasn’t always been a top priority, funny about that. We’ve had a compost for years but that has become a place to stack all unwanted green waste. I have had some success with worm farms, however I have twice been defeated by a string of hot days. Then one of the students in the course suggested I try the bokashi bucket. It suits our lifestyle perfectly, something not to be underestimated, so now all scraps and any leftovers go into the soil in our backyard.

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Chopping up food scraps is a meditative practice for me – I enjoy the process and the result.

Another area where our awareness has been raised is, just how embedded ‘single use plastic’ has become in the western lifestyle. I am constantly reminded, at the monthly creek sweeping of Darebin Creek, of the amount of plastic being thrown away. We stopped using plastic bags, for the most part, some time ago. We still have a way to go when it comes to kicking the habit of buying prepackaged goods from the supermarket. Some people seem able to go cold turkey – once they realise the damage a product is causing to the environment, they no longer buy it – still working on this one.

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I was pretty shocked at how far down the layers of plastic go. There was no way I could remove all of it so I stuck with the most recent items that could end up in the waterways.

But let’s not get too depressed. There is fun to be had in this crazy old world in which we live. Our efforts at ‘re-using, re-cycling’ etc still provide a lot of pleasure and pride. Take for example, when our washing machine recently stopped working and was beyond repair.

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Peter made it into a brazier! Okay, the plastic might melt from the heat, but we’re going to give it a go. Suki is not so sure.

One unexpected outcome was my new career as a rapper. (ha ha!) As  part of our graduation from the Community Leaders in Sustainability program, we were required to make a short video of what we would take away from the course. Inspired by our son, Louis, who kindly allowed me to use his beat, I decided to try writing a rap. Peter took on the role of camera operator and editor and , voila, instant fame!

And last, but not least, I finally ditched the big toilet paper company and changed over to a company that has a strong ethical basis – my logic being that we should support companies that are committed to making a difference.

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The name is a bit off-putting, but it isn’t a bad question for us to be asking ourselves. (Couldn’t resist a free plug for Bill Gammage’s book!) 

The main thing I have learnt on this comparatively newly chosen path is that it is worth making these small changes, even though there are those who think we are way past being able to make a difference with the little things. It is our continued desire to consume way beyond what we actually need that is contributing to the current swathe of problems linked to environmental degradation. If we stop buying stuff, the companies producing it will have to change their ways.

For our children, and our children’s children.


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Change a name, change a place

In 1975 I went on a school bus trip to Uluru, although at the time we only knew it as Ayers Rock. What I remember from that visit was the seemingly endless, rutted roads we travelled, the mouse plague that resulted in us having to sleep in our bus, and my aborted attempt to climb the rock.

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That’s me on the right, totally freaking out at being so far from the ground. The chap on the left, who looks like he’s on a Sunday afternoon stroll, was our English Literature teacher, Tom Liddicoat.

In 1999 I returned to Uluru with Peter, Louis and Yoshi. Things had changed in the intervening years, “On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the Aṉangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. An agreement originally made between the community and Prime Minister Bob Hawke that the climb to the top by tourists would be stopped was later broken.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uluru

And from the same wikipedia post: “In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. On 15 December 1993, it was renamed “Ayers Rock / Uluru” and became the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. The order of the dual names was officially reversed to “Uluru / Ayers Rock” on 6 November 2002 following a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.”

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We had no intention of climbing Uluru in 1999, and I felt embarrassed that I had been so unaware of the spiritual significance of Uluru to the local Anangu people, back in 1975.   (This photo was actually taken by my mother, in 1998. I didn’t know my parents had viewed Uluru from a small plane until I saw this photo.)

The dual naming of Uluru / Ayers Rock set a precedent for Aboriginal groups across Australia and in recent years, the push for more dual names for significant places has grown and the response to these name changes has been mixed.

In 2013, Tasmania became the last state to introduce the dual naming policy. At the time Lara Giddings announced that “Dual naming is about recognising the Aboriginal community’s rightful status as the first inhabitants of this land and celebrating their living culture, traditions and language,”

The first we knew of the existence of the dual naming policy being enacted in Tasmania, was from the way my sister Jann refers to Mt. Wellington as Kunanyi.

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kunanyi / Mt Wellington taken from my sister’s balcony. The mountain stands like a protective being, overlooking Hobart, its people and the land.

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On a visit to Hobart in 2015, Jann took us to the top of kunanyi / Mt. Wellington, the sign reflects the mountain’s dual name.

This year our attention has been turned to a more local push for a name change. Darebin Council has invited residents of Darebin to discuss changing the name of Batman Park. The council has voted unanimously to change the name. The local newspaper ran an online poll, with 80%  of the 2000 people responding, that they do not agree with the change. One response declared that the name change was more leftist PC garbage. I beg to differ. (Okay, I may be a leftist PC type at heart, but surely someone has to be!)

Batman Park has played a role in our family history. Not surprisingly, our two sons, when they were little, were big fans of Batman, the comic book character. They loved going to Batman Park. We didn’t think about Batman the explorer, or how naming parks, and railway stations and electorates after this man might affect the local Aboriginal population. Our sons are all grown-up now and they no longer connect the park with a comic book character.

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Our son, Louis, recently posted this image on Facebook, with the caption, ‘Batman is cool. John Batman is a douche.’

Don Watson, in his book, Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia, declares: “Yet before the pastoral interest sent in the flocks and herds and retainers, and convicts and Native Police, and the state sent in commissioners and magistrates, and the churches their ministers and missionaries, the explorer made his own kind of conquest. By naming the rivers and hills and rocks after the icons of his own culture, he began at once to paint out the past and with it the culture and legitimacy of the land’s original inhabitants.”

Angus McMillan (1810-1865) is the main focus of Watson’s book. Institutions, streets, parks and an electorate are named after him. In 2002, Andrew Rule wrote an article ‘The black watch and a verdict of history’ where he mentions “a call to change the name of the federal seat of McMillan, named after Angus McMillan, the Highlander credited with founding Gippsland but increasingly debunked as murderous exploiter rather than heroic explorer.The West Gippsland Reconciliation Group, based in Warragul, has named McMillan an “unscrupulous opportunist” whose name should be removed from the federal electorate.

This call to change the name of the McMillan electorate has been reestablished by Russell Broadbent, the Federal Member for McMillan. He believes “it would send a message of practical reconciliation, it would send a message that we actually care about these issues and if we are not responsible to our past, we don’t understand our past, and we can’t get on with our future.”

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Death of Angus McMillan 2014 Rodney Forbes

On February 13th 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. I remember the day. I was driving up to Ballarat to visit students and I couldn’t help but be moved. Finally we were taking steps to acknowledge the past. It seems to me that there is a tipping point occurring that obliges us to carry out the desire of the many Aboriginal groups across the country who would like to see the removal of the names of “those lakes and waterfalls and canyons after Wellington and Victoria and the heroes of antiquity, or some wealthy benefactor or great aunt”. (Quote from Caledonia Australis.)

In the time I have been researching this post, there is one aspect that has stood out regarding the way European place names compare with the names given by Aboriginals . For the most part, we name places after people, whereas Aboriginal names acknowledge the features, including flora and fauna, of the landscape. For example, Darebin, our local council electorate, is derived from the Wurundjeri word ‘dara-bin’ meaning swallow bird.

Maybe this resurgence, whether it be via the dual naming policy or as a complete name change, is a sign that as a country, we are growing up. I hope this is the case.

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For Peter’s birthday this year we stayed at an Airbnb located in Korweinguboora, from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘where the crane eats frogs’.