Risky business

For the past few years, I’ve been writing my second memoir. It’s about falling in love and marrying in old age.

John was married to my life-long friend Marcia for almost fifty years. Some time after her death, their children invited me to his seventieth birthday. Exactly a year after the birthday celebration, we married.

We didn’t just marry like a good conforming aged couple should, surrounded by our children and grandchildren. On a Monday morning in May, 2007, we eloped. We celebrated our wedding in spectacular fashion with Nuptial Mass, complete with music, flowers and candles, in my parish church – empty except for us and our four witnesses.

Signing the register with Fr Simons
Signing the register with Fr Simons

 

In honour of our wedding day, Father Trevor Simons, my parish priest and the celebrant of our Mass and marriage, wore the gold-fabric vestments he usually reserved for high feast-days . He acted as if John and I were starry-eyed twenty-some-things, embarking on our first marriage.

At the airport that evening, before we flew to Paris at the beginning of our honeymoon in France, we posted a pile of carefully-crafted cards to our families and friends. The cards announced that John and I had married that morning and we would see them again in a couple of months’ time.

Place de Voges, Paris, two days later
Place de Voges, Paris, two days later

Little did we dream of the storm that would erupt in some quarters when those letters arrived.

My new memoir is about our courtship and marriage in the last third of life, and about the aftermath of our decision, complicated by family and the reality that he had experienced a long and happy previous marriage and I had lived alone and celibate for the previous thirty years following a divorce.

Four months ago, after working on my story for some years, I decided, as one does, that it was finished. At any rate, I was finished with it and wanted to move on. I bundled it off to a publisher.

As anyone who has done it will well understand, sending a tender new manuscript out into the world is laden with the terrible twin emotions of fear and hope.

There is fear because of the high possibility of rejection of one’s baby.  Like new parents, writers find it difficult to admit their babies aren’t perfect. Parents quickly discover that the infant for whom they had so longed and hoped has a tendency to leak at both ends, and to sing out of tune, especially at three o’clock in the morning, when the parents might prefer to sleep rather than attend to the needs of the small, demanding person who has taken up residence with them.

Writers also often discover that their manuscript is not perfect; no one loves their baby as much as they do.

On the other hand there is hope because there is also the possibility, however slim, that some discerning reader will love the manuscript so much they will convince a publisher that it is a must-buy, destined for the best-seller lists in the near future.

I sent my manuscript to a publisher I know and trust, who had recently taken up a position with a different publishing company from the one she had worked with previously. She said she liked my writing and the story. But she added,

‘It doesn’t fit with our list. Perhaps you could try…’

The second publisher liked the first 5000 words I sent him well enough to ask to see the complete manuscript. He has had my baby for a couple of months and he let me know me last week that it is still under consideration.

If writing a story is the gestation period, waiting to hear about its fate it is like a long, long labour. Little wonder I am anxious and impatient – an understatement if you listen to my husband.

Meanwhile, I haven’t settled down to write anything new. A writer who is waiting to hear from a publisher would be bad enough. But a writer who is waiting, and at the same time not writing, is decidedly – messy. Writers write. That’s what they do. When they stop, the consequences can be dire. They clean the pantry, bathroom cupboards and the top shelves of the wardrobe in the guest room. They fidget. Moan. Complain. Find fault. Start arguments.

Now it’s definitely time for me to engage with a new writing project. Dusting off old, half-forgotten, unpublished novels won’t do – I’ve tried that. A blog is good – I’ve tried that too – but it isn’t enough. The next project needs to be meaty, research-based and satisfying.

As the author Natasha Lester pointed out in a blog post recently, at 500 words a day it takes just under six months to write a book of 80 000 words. I can probably write 500 words most days if I put my mind to it.

Please stay tuned for the next instalment of my writing journey. You will read it here.

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Mists and quinces

Autumn in Blaye, near Bordeaux in  France
Autumn in Blaye, near Bordeaux in France

I owe a debt of gratitude for my love of autumn to Sr. Mary Theophane, the nun who taught me most school subjects in years 8, 9 and 10, way back in the mists of time during the early 1950s.

Fanny, as we girls called her behind her back, was a woman who could turn her hand to teaching any subject that her superiors nominated. From my first day in her classroom as a twelve-year-old, I adored her. In the next three decisive years I  absorbed the knowledge, attitudes and skills that she bestowed generously on her students. At the same time she encouraged me question everything and to think for myself.

Not everyone had the same rich experience of being taught by nuns as I did, but the sisters were good to me and for me. Sr. Theophane and the others were quintessential feminists. They imparted  an understanding that women can do anything to which they set their minds.

Although the subject of John Keats’s romantic ‘Ode to Autumn’ bears little resemblance to an autumn in Perth, Western Australia, each year at this time I revisit the poem and the warm memories it evokes of my dear teacher, with her love of language and her enthusiasm (one of many) for poetry.

Autumn in Perth has few distinct markers. There are seldom mists here, and mellow fruitfulness appears a bit thin. Instead, in this city, we know it’s autumn when, after months of the searing heat of summer, one morning we sense it’s time to put a blanket on the bed; the day-time temperatures have dropped below the 30 degree Celsius mark; the roses that have been quiet in the heat of summer are blooming voluptuously again; in the shops, new season apples are crisp and even a little tart.

One of my own special markers of autumn is that, if you know where to find them, quinces appear. Until the last few years, they haven’t been readily available in the shops. In my childhood, there was a quince tree in our garden and my mother picked the fruit and made ruby-red jelly, and we ate stewed quinces until we were bored with them. Years later, I used to visit a quince and apple orchard in Dwellingup, where I often camped by the Murray River with my children and, later, grandchildren.

           Quinces
Quinces

This week, a stack of quinces at $4.99 a kilo confronted me in a local fruit shop. Surely that was too good to be true? I bought five, not sure what I’d do with them. Make jam, I thought, my mother’s jelly, perhaps. Or I’d simply stew them. The idea of making jam appealed to my housewifely heart, but the jars of marmalade (two varieties) from last winter still sit in the pantry, and we’ve hardly touched the green tomato chutney created from a glut of tomatoes that didn’t seem to ripen. It turned out later that they were Green Zebra variety that we’d planted by accident. They would have been perfect in salads in spite of their odd appearance.

Idling at the computer (as I often do) I checked for stewed quince recipes in case my old, well-tested one had been superseded, and found David Lebovitz’s site, living the sweet life in Paris  with, among many other lovely posts, his recipes not only for rosy poached quinces that judging by the photographs lived up to their name, but also for a quince tarte tatin. The poached quince recipe sounded fabulous and I was keen to try the tarte, too.

          Her hands
Her hands
       His hands
His hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there was a problem. My arthritic right hand, the one the physiotherapist has been working on in an attempt to redefine its claw-like shape, refused to hold a knife that would do the job of cutting and coring the fruit, and the hard knobbly fruit resisted all my attempts. In the end I had to call in some big guns. The man of the house was happy to oblige, and cheerfully hacked away at the fruit until I was satisfied. Even though his hands are older than mine, they seem to work better these days.

      The finished product
The finished product

The result of our labours was not exactly what I expected. I followed the French rosy-poached-quince recipe implicitly, adding honey and lemon and wine, but they ended up looking little like the finished fruit in the recipe. Instead, mine were cooked until some bits disintegrated; and the liquid didn’t reduce as it was supposed to. In spite of how they looked, they tasted delicious.

 Dessert for two

Dessert for two

It is still autumn, and there are still quinces in the shops. Perhaps this week I will make some jam after all – and we can eat the chilled fruit later in the day, coated in the thick red jelly as I remember from my mother’s simple recipe –  and other years.

 

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Easter 2014

For the Catholic Church, the feast of Easter is the most important event in the liturgical calendar.

While the Christmas story of the baby Jesus born of humble parents in a stable in Bethlehem has a certain readily accessible charm, the Easter story of a Man who rises from the dead after being crucified like a common criminal because He has preached a message of love is considerably harder to understand.

But for those of us who believe, Easter is so important that it is celebrated, not just on Easter Sunday, but for eight days from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday.

Lent is the lead-up time to those liturgies that commemorate the events of the first Easter. Traditionally the forty days of Lent are a time of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Catholic children are encouraged to ‘give-up’ something for Lent – lollies, chocolate, dessert.

As Catholics mature, and with it, hopefully, their faith, most of us take Lenten observances seriously. We begin on Ash Wednesday with good intentions. But I must admit, most years I expect to fail in much the same way as I find it hard to keep New Year resolutions.

Working on the idea that it is easier to take up something new as a way to break old habits, this year I enrolled in an eight-week course on St. John’s Gospel at the Maranatha Institute of Faith Education in Doubleview as part of my Lenten commitment in preparation for Easter.

The course facilitator, Ms Jan O’Connor, impressed and delighted me with her ability to impart knowledge about, and understanding of, the fourth Gospel, which scholars believe was written about a hundred years after the death of Christ, and which builds on the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke. My Maranatha experience ensured that my appreciation of the Gospel of John increased and my Lent was far richer than it would otherwise have been.

Even in the most humble suburban church, the solemn liturgies around Easter are full of drama and beauty.

St Dominic's Church, Innaloo
St Dominic’s Church, Innaloo

John and I took part in the Easter Triduum in our parish church – the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the washing of the feet of a representative group of parishioners by the parish priest, followed by Mass on Holy Thursday; the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday; and of course, the solemn, joyful Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, with the Blessing of a New Fire, Lighting of the Paschal Candle, readings from the Old Testament, renewal of Baptismal promises and Mass to celebrate the Resurrection.

Paschal Candle as a priest celebrates Mass
Paschal Candle as a priest celebrates Mass

The Catholic Church in Australia and elsewhere has much for which to answer. Years of abuse inflicted at the hands of priests and religious have left thousands of suffering victims for whom there can be no resolution. Their situation is made even worse because of the failure of those in authority to acknowledge the crimes committed against them, and even, in some cases, the protection of criminals and the cover-up of their crimes.

Many Catholics suffer as a result. Even if we ourselves were not abused, we suffer for the pain inflicted on our abused brothers and sisters. We suffer from our loss of trust in the criminal men and women who inflicted such suffering. And we suffer from the loss of integrity of the whole Church.

In spite of all the suffering, the pews in the simple parish church of St. Dominic in Innaloo and, according to the media, many other churches throughout the nation, were filled this Easter with worshippers of all Christian denominations, full of joy and hope in the Resurrection.

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Coffee adds value

A coffee shop in the vicinity of residential property for sale increases the value of the property by tens of thousands of dollars, according to an article in the real estate section of the West Australian Newspaper the other morning. That really struck a chord.

Coffee beans 2

Coffee shops serve many functions. They’re places to nurture old friendships and consolidate new ones; discuss the world and how to put it right; share our sorrows and joys with people we love; meet  book club friends; enjoy solitary indulgences; delight our senses with the aromas of good coffee and freshly baked goodies; hide ourselves away; seek solace when the world seems too tough; quench a thirst or satisfy caffeine desires; read a novel or a memoir or textbook; read glossy magazines and newspapers that we haven’t paid for; and shelter from the rain, the wind and the sun.

And, of course, cafes are where some people write.

We drank coffee in one of these cafes beside the Canal du Midi in Agde in the south of France
We drank coffee in one of these cafes beside the Canal du Midi in Agde in the south of France

Cafes in new cities and towns are especially good for simply sitting in comfort and watching the world go by, absorbing the sights and sounds and odours of the new, the unfamiliar and the unexpected.  Sometimes in a strange place there’s the added bonus of engaging with people from another culture and the opportunity to demonstrate one’s aptitude, or at least willingness to try, a language other than English as we order coffee.

The simply named Coffee Pot in Wellington Street was first coffee shop I remember. Close to Royal Perth Hospital where I trained as a nurse in the late 1950s, the Coffee Pot seemed the height of sophistication to my sheltered, seventeen-year-old self. Soft, low lounge seats, thick carpet, dim lights augmented with candles, and jazz playing softly on a stereogram in a corner rendered my favourite Vienna coffee, served by an elegant French couple, even more exquisite.

My parents thought my coffee-drinking in general, and the Coffee Pot in particular, were the height of decadence. But they never checked it out and I chose not to disillusion them. Visiting the Coffee Pot with other nurses after a Saturday evening shift that finished at 10.00 p.m. seemed like a minor rebellion, especially as we were all expected to be tucked up in bed on the second floor verandah in the nurses’ quarters by midnight.

Writers seem to have a special affinity for coffee shops. Or perhaps it is the other way around.Think Hemingway, de Beauvoir, Sartre, de Balzac for starters… many of my current writerly friends and acquaintances confess to enjoying regular writing sessions with their lap tops in their local cafes.

The first, handwritten draft of my own memoir, Other People’s Country, took shape in several coffee shops to which I could walk from my house in Bayswater. Walking stimulated creative ideas, and the caffeine in the bitter drink seemed to concentrate my thoughts.

Sitting in a corner, or sometimes in the spring or autumn sunshine on the pavement outside, I sipped coffee and scribbled, almost oblivious to my surroundings and the people around. At home, ‘thinking’ breaks were punctuated by coffee. I feel sure that coffee added value to my writing.

Coffee time
Coffee time

The culture shock I experienced when I left Bayswater a few years ago and moved to Scarborough, where a few shops by the beach boasted loud music, sandy-footed surfers and tourists, came as a major surprise.

There has been a  breakthrough in Doubleview, where I now live. Although I don’t plan to move from here anytime soon, so that property values won’t affect me, I’m sure that with the event of new coffee shops they have soared, as the journalist predicted. The cafes have certainly added a new dimension to our lifestyle.

Three years ago, there were no coffee shops within walking distance of home. But since then at least seven of them have have emerged, in unlikely places in shopping strips at both ends of our street and further along Scarborough Beach Road to the west, as well as one in St Brigid’s Terrace. All of the shops are trading well.Two open at 6.00 a.m., others later and, by morning tea-time, seating is at a premium.

I’m still checking out and making up my mind which one I’ll adopt as ‘mine’ within the next week or two, when I finally get down to the serious business of beginning my next book.

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Coming soon

Relationships Australia WA offers a new workshop which I think may have particular interest for older men and women. The facilitator is my friend, Elizabeth Brennan, a remarkable older woman with many years experience as a relationships educator and facilitator of groups of many different types. Details of the workshop are as follows:

RA-Logo

CHANGE AND LOSS

Healing and Learning to Live Again

Change and the accompanying experience of loss, is part of everyday life.  Life itself begins with loss – the separation from the womb.  We are continuously faced with separation, endings and major changes.  In order to move on, let go and embrace what is new, we need to grieve the loss. How we mange loss and grief greatly effects our relationships and our well-being.

This workshop will discuss how to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the grief process
  • Identify personal core issues of grief
  • Identify place in the grief process
  • Learn skills to assist the process
  • Develop strategies that will enable moving on
At  22 Southport Street, corner of Cambridge Street WEST LEEDERVILLE on  Tuesday 29 April  2014 from 9/30 am to 12.30 pm

Cost: $25

For further information and to enrol please phone 9489 6322

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 THIRD NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ELDER ABUSE

Advocare is proud to be at the forefront of combating elder abuse in Australia and will host the 3rd National Elder Abuse Conference. Entitled ‘Unlocking Solutions’, our organising committee will embrace a program that looks into all aspects of elder abuse.

Already regarded by industry leaders as a must attend event, this conference will bring together dynamic global experts to share information on topics that will assist in elder abuse research, intervention and policy. There will also be plenty of opportunities for networking, reacquainting with old colleagues and meeting new ones.

The two day conference will be followed by a unique one day workshop which will look at the practical and theoretical applications that arise from the conference.

I encourage delegates from different professions to attend, as unlocking solutions to elder abuse requires a collaborative effort from all counterparts.

Register your interest for the conference and workshop and help change the outcome for thousands of elder abuse victims in Australia.

See you in Perth.

Greg Mahney

Chief Executive Officer, Australian Representative for the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse; Chairperson of the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

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Invitation to Submit an Abstract

We invite you to submit an abstract for a contribution to the 2014 Conference Program. The deadline for abstract proposals is Friday 2 May 2014.

Abstracts should generally be limited to the suggested themes and underlying topics. Thought provoking, creative abstracts are highly encouraged to stimulate the interest and participation of delegates throughout the Conference.

Conference Themes

Research and Innovation

Areas such as research projects, technological advancements and innovative new practices, and new ways that organisations are doing ‘old business’.

Projects

Projects that have helped your organisation to recognise, respond or record elder abuse, including but not limited to help lines, databases, identification tools and marketing strategies.

Collaboration, Information Sharing and Engagement

Different ways in which your organisation works with others to spread messages, promote ideas and events, fund projects and activities and share valuable information and statistics. We are also looking at ways in which you think we can better record Elder Abuse ie managing statistic, National Linkages.

Education, Training and Workforce Development

Including, but not limited to new and existing training programs, tertiary courses and other workforce development methods.

Learning from Other Disciplines

We are looking for ways in which elder abuse agencies can learn from other disciplines that excel in areas such as information sharing, reporting and recording, victim protection, relationship building and fundraising.

Future Visions

We are looking to find out new ways to further advance the prevention of elder abuse eg changing perceptions, changing laws, changing the way we look at or think about things.

For guidelines, click to contact Advocare Inc., or call Advocare on 9479 7566 and speak to Greg Mahney.

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Launch of new protocol

Last week, around a hundred professionals whose work involves older people and their well-being attended a launch of a document, Elder Abuse Protocol: Guidelines for Action. The event was hosted by Advocare Inc., the lead agency of the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:WA* (APEA:WA) at the Leadership Centre of the Australian Institute of Management. As the inaugural CEO of Advocare Inc. I was privileged to attend and delighted to see the work that these two organisations are doing.

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The new Protocol provides general information about elder abuse, as well as information about appropriate responses to elder abuse for staff who work in organisations that deal with older people.

A story

A seventy-year-old woman in a nursing home finds two masked men in her room early one morning. She yells for help but they knock to the ground and she suffers minor bruising. The intruders steal two handbags containing small change that belong to the staff on duty. The incident is reported on television news and on page 5 of the local newspaper. The intruders are later caught and convicted of break and entry, assault and theft.

Another story

A woman of similar age who lives in a nearby suburb does not escape so lightly. She has slight paralysis on her left side as the result of a cerebrovascular accident (stroke) a few years ago. She’s mentally alert and competent and lives alone with some support from aged care services. She  completes a couple of cryptic cross-word puzzles a week; enjoys putting 1 000 piece jigsaw puzzles together; and sees friends regularly.

Unfortunately, many years ago, thinking she was preparing well for her old age, she donated enduring power of attorney to her only son so that he could manage her finances if she was ever incapable of looking after them herself. In the weeks while she was in hospital immediately following the stroke, when she had temporarily lost her decision-making capacity, he assumed power of attorney and took control of her finances.

Now he refuses to relinquish that power. He manages her bank accounts, pays all her household bills, gives her an allowance for food, and maintains tight control over her money. She is distressed by the predicament she finds herself in. The most recent episode was his response when she asked for $200 from her bank account to replace her shabby tracksuits and underclothes.

‘Don’t be so silly, Mum,’ he said.You don’t need new clothes. You don’t go anywhere. Why waste money on stuff you don’t need?’

The son may not see his behaviour as elder abuse. After all, he might argue, the old lady’s needs are being met. He is only looking after the inheritance he will, in his opinion, rightly acquire when she dies. He does not acknowledge that he no longer has a right to her power of attorney or access to her finances; and the money he ‘refuses’ to ‘give’ his mother is not his, but hers.

There have been no headlines in newspapers about the financial abuse of this old woman, nor are there likely to be in the near future. Financial abuse of elders takes many forms, and this story is simply one illustration.

There are other kinds of violence inflicted on older men and women by their families and ‘friends’ – people everyone expects they should be able to trust. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and social abuse and neglect. We don’t hear a lot about it. No one likes to admit they are being mistreated and many older people are afraid to talk about it.

‘Elder abuse is not something newspapers like to cover,’ a journalist told me earlier this week. ‘Even if I wrote a really good article, it wouldn’t be printed.’

old and young hands 1

Short personal history

In the 1970s, domestic violence was not considered a crime. Men were allowed, under the law, to rape their wives. Police frequently sided with the perpetrator when called to a scene of domestic violence. The courts and the churches often turned a blind eye to the plight of victims of familial violence. They declined to condemn perpetrators in the same way they blindly failed to condemn perpetrators of child abuse.

The second wave Feminist Movement went some way to change community attitudes towards domestic violence.

In the 1970s a group of people, all of us passionate about social justice, set up Emmaus, the second women’s refuge in Western Australia in an old, four-bedroom house that we rented in Inglewood. We had little money, a great deal of goodwill – and no government assistance. Emmaus was soon full of women and children escaping violent husbands and fathers.

In the early 1980s, I was invited to represent Community Health Nurses on the Western Australian Advisory and Coordinating Committee on Child Abuse. At the time, I was working as the nurse in a high school and encountered children who were victims of abuse on an almost daily basis.

In the early 1990s, farsighted social workers, counsellors, teachers and others concerned with the welfare of women, children and families began to make connections, not seen before, between domestic violence and child abuse.

These days it is widely acknowledged that domestic violence in all its forms including child abuse is never OK.

But so far in our society there has been no major breakthrough in attitudes to elder abuse . Elder abuse receives little publicity and is barely recognised, perhaps because older people in our society receive less respect than they deserve.

New developments

However, there are some organisations which work tirelessly to bring this injustice to the consciousness of the community. 

 Advocare Inc. and the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:WA (APEA:WA) are two such organisations. They define elder abuse as ‘any act which causes harm to an older person and occurs within an informal relationship of trust, such as family or friends…Abuse can take many forms, including financial or material abuse, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse, social abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse’.

According to APEAWA, elder abuse is underreported. But it is estimated that between two and five percent of older people will experience abuse, which means that between  6 000 and 15 000 older Western Australians could be affected.

Section of audience at launch of Elder Abuse Protocol
Section of audience at launch of Elder Abuse Protocol

The protocol launched last week states:

In addressing elder abuse, the rights of the older person must be supported. Older people have the right to make decision, take risks, or refuse supports and interventions, as long as they have the cognitive capacity to make informed decision and can understand the consequences of those actions.

Message

If you think you may be, or could in future be, the victim or elder abuse, or if you suspect someone you know may be the victim, please ring Advocare Inc. on (08) 9479 7566 and talk to an advocate who will provide information about the steps you can take, and if necessary support you.

Congratulations

Congratulations to everyone involved in producing Elder Abuse Protocol: Guidelines for Action, such a successful launch, and to those who supported its publication, especially the Department of Local Government and Communities for funding.

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*Agencies which comprise APEA:WA are Advocare Incorporated; the Department of Aboriginal Affairs: Department of Local Government and Communities; Department of Health WA; Disability Services Commission;  Legal Aid (WA); Office of the Chief Psychiatrist; Office of the Public Advocate; Public Trustee; WA Police; Western Australian Local Government Association.

Thank you for visiting my blog. 

Booklovers’ surprise

Hampton Arms Inn, Greenough
Hampton Arms Inn, Greenough

The quaint Hampton Arms Inn in Company Road, two kilometres south-west of the Greenough Hamlet, is one of only a handful of Australian colonial hotels that has survived from the nineteenth century.

Opened in 1863, not long after the Greenough Front Flats were first settled, the building retains all of its original architecture and form, with a central two-storey section and single storey wings on each side. In its hey-day, the Inn was a focal point for social gatherings, balls and meetings of all kinds for the settlers in the district.

Not surprisingly, this charming old building was classified by the National Trust in 1977 and placed on the Register of the National Estate in 1978. It was placed on the Shire of Greenough’s historic buildings list in 1984.

Lovingly restored by its current owners, Judy and Brian Turnock, it still functions as a licensed inn. A restaurant and upstairs accommodation, with patchwork quilts on the beds, add to a homely welcome.

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These cute fellows sit either side of one of the doors to the bar
These cute fellows sit either side of one of the doors to the bar

The day John and I visited, members of the Geraldton Yacht Club and their guests from other clubs were celebrating the end of the racing season. They had taken over the beer garden and welcomed us warmly, but there was barely seating room for two more people.

‘That sounds like a pleasant enough place,’ you might say.

But the Hampton Arms Inn is much more than a pleasant pub. Apart from its historical significance, what amazed us was the completely unexpected second-hand bookshop, which starts in the bar and spreads into at least four of the ground-floor rooms. There were tables and chairs in these rooms, for the benefit of customers.

A small sample of books at the Hampton Arms Inn
A small sample of books at the Hampton Arms Inn

Owner Brian, a genial host who on the day we were there doubled as the bartender, describes this part of his business as ‘Hampton Books at the Inn: Rare and out of Print, a place where you can browse an antiquarian bookshop with a beer in hand.’ As well as the physical bookshop, Brian also runs an online bookshop at hamptonarms@westnet.com.au

I didn’t ask his age; it’s not the sort of thing one does. But now I wish I had and that he hadn’t been so busy with the yacht club in the courtyard. I would have liked to talk to him more. I wanted to know what brought him and Judy to Greenough. I wish I’d asked what prompted them to take on such an enormous restoration project and how he came to develop his bookshop in such an out-of-the-way place.

I have probably missed the opportunity for a different post, one about another  person who is ageing in style.

But during that day in Greenough, what could have been more appealing to John and me, a couple of passionate readers on holidays, than to spend an afternoon browsing among books we loved, and making small-talk with the owner of a bookshop?

We discovered a wealth of Australiana, included some books that had been companions in our long-ago childhoods. We also spotted other favourites and came away with an armful of reasonably priced volumes, chosen almost randomly from the wealth  on offer – delightful reading for the rest of the time we spent in Western Australia’s Mid-West Region.

This unexpected, well-hidden treasure trove was, indeed, as its owners say, a bibliophile’s dream come true.

Ageing with Style – Elizabeth Worts

My sister Elizabeth Worts at work in one of the units of her bed and breakfast
My sister Elizabeth Worts at work in one of the garden rooms of her bed and breakfast

An elephant swayed from side-to-side as she picked her way down the side of mountainside in a jungle in northern Thailand. She felt her way with her trunk to test the terrain before she put each enormous foot carefully into a tiny space between loose rocks.

The mahout on the creature’s head turned around to where I clutched Elizabeth’s arm in terror. If it hadn’t been for my dear sister, my life would have been much less adventurous. And I would never have been perched so precariously on a  platform on the animal’s back, waiting to be thrown to the ground and trampled underfoot.

‘Very safe,’ the mahout called, laughing as I shrieked. I swear could hear him thinking, ‘Silly Farang!’ (foreigner).

‘Grandmothers like us should be at home sitting in rocking chairs,’ Elizabeth said calmly, ‘not rocking around like this on the backs of elephants.’ She didn’t seem at all fazed by that experience or others that followed.

A mahout and his elephant (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
A mahout and his elephant
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

In the eight years she lived in Bangkok, Elizabeth orchestrated the most amazing adventures for family and friends who flocked to her apartment in Soi 12, Sukhumvit, right in the heart of Bangkok. She showed us the tourist sites; we explored China Town and travelled the Chao Phraya River on over-laden local ferries where we rubbed shoulders with Buddhist monks – taking care not to touch and so defile them – and with old men holding live chickens and old women clutching babies on their laps.

Elizabeth took me on boat trips on the tiny klongs (canals) that criss-crossed the city, mostly hidden from tourists. We visited the Klong Toey slums near the port with a Redemptorist priest as our escort and a vicious cock-fight an unexpected and unwelcome spectacle. At an international charity workshop we talked to the nuns and to the young women from slum districts who were learning to make patchwork bags, placemats and quilts. One day when we went looking for a medical museum that I’d read about, we even found ourselves in the morgue of a hospital with corpses placed haphazardly on trolleys and only partially covered with grey blankets – and no staff in sight. That was really scary!

When not playing hostess to Australian guests, my sister could often be found in an orphanage in the slums, feeding and cuddling babies or playing with toddlers.

‘I’ve learned not to go to the babies that cry the loudest,’ she said. ‘They get all the attention. I pick up those that are lying quietly. They’re passive because no one cuddles them.’

Fast forward twenty five years. Now my still energetic seventy-two-year-old sister lives in Dowerin, a tiny country town almost 160 kilometres north-east of Perth in the central wheat-belt region of Western Australia – as far from the bustle of Bangkok as it’s possible to imagine. Apart from the few days each year in August, when the Dowerin Field Days attract thousands of people from all over the State to the agricultural displays on the football oval, it’s quiet in the town.

Elizabeth and Peter on their wedding day
Elizabeth and Peter on their wedding day

Always the consummate hostess, Elizabeth owns the Dowerin Bed and Breakfast with her husband, Peter Worts.

‘We thought this lovely house looked like a B & B the minute we saw it,’ Elizabeth says. ‘I’ve travelled overseas and all over Australia and stayed in lots of home-based accommodation. I love entertaining, and thought I could probably do as good a job as many other people in hospitality.

‘Peter and I came to Dowerin ten years ago to semi-retire. We’ve obviously failed at that!’ she adds.

Welcoming corner in spring sunshine
Welcoming corner in spring sunshine

The Dowerin Bed and Breakfast has become a home-away-from-home for many people from government departments who visit Dowerin and the surrounding areas, as well as for tourists and business people travelling in the wheat-belt. Elizabeth’s attention to detail ensures that guests enjoy a warm welcome, delicious food  and a comfortable room or purpose-built garden unit where they can sit on a veranda and enjoy the expansive rural views.

Wheat crop seen from veranda
Wheat crop seen from veranda

During the Dowerin Field Days, the bed and breakfast accommodation bulges with visitors. Some people even park their caravans on the property for the duration of the Field Days. Breakfast begins at six each morning as people prepare to set up and staff their stalls and exhibitions. At the end of each of the busy days, a party atmosphere prevails as twenty or so guests and visitors sit down to three-course, restaurant-standard meals. People book a year, two years ahead, for the privilege of staying at the Dowerin Bed and Breakfast during Field Days.

As well as running the bed and breakfast and helping Peter with his business, Shades Pergolas, Elizabeth has immersed herself in the life of the town – book club, craft group and art classes. She is also a long-term member of the North East Wheat Belt Travel Association, which promotes tourism in the region. As a member of the Country Cousins network of Western Australian farm-stay accommodation, she actively helps to maintain the standards of the network and attends regular meetings and conferences in regional Western Australia.

This active, much-in-demand grandmother of ten and great-grandmother of four makes time to drive to Perth almost weekly – a three-hundred-and-fifty kilometre round trip – to visit family and friends. She often takes care of her younger grandchildren, either in Perth or during school holidays at Dowerin. She regularly visits her daughter and grandsons who live in Bridgetown. Beautiful crotchet rugs, knitted jumpers, hand-made gifts flow from her hands for new babies, toddlers and the older children.

Austin and Elizabeth celebrate his first birthday in Bridgetown
Austin and Elizabeth celebrate his first birthday in Bridgetown

Elizabeth with her grandson Mark (l), great-granddaughter Chloe, and son Steven
Elizabeth with her grandson Mark (l), great-granddaughter Chloe, and son Steven

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth and Peter holiday regularly – in Bali, in Thailand, where Elizabeth’s son Damian manages a restaurant, or further afield. Last year they spent five weeks in England, where they visited Peter’s relations and went to some of the places where he spent  his childhood. Often they take their caravan on short trips to the beach; to the outback where they camp on stations near water holes, perhaps to see the wildflowers in the mid-west; and to places in between.

The Worts on the Hoe, Plymouth UK, 2013
The Worts on the Hoe, Plymouth UK, 2013

Energetic and full of enthusiasm, my sister is a woman ageing with style. Perhaps one day, she’ll settle down in that rocking chair she mentioned in Thailand. But I imagine that won’t happen soon!

2014 Perth Writers Festival – afterwards

Books are piling up on my tablet and beside my bed as a result of the 2014 Perth Writers Festival last weekend. The collection surprises me. At face-value it is such a different selection from my usual choices.

For example, before the Writers Festival I’d almost forgotten my penchant for travel memoirs, although in the past I’ve read dozens of them. I have a special interest because my own first book, Other People’s Country, fits firmly into that genre, although when I was writing it as part of a Writing PhD I vaguely hoped it would also be considered as a ‘literary’ work.

Since publication, Other People’s Country has been acclaimed as journalism and history. And it has ended up on the shelves of university and public libraries in the obscure section on Aboriginal Health, and not as memoir at all. It appears on some university reading lists under ‘community health’, because it is the story about the time I spent working as a nurse on a remote Aboriginal community in the Western Australian desert.

Maybe my newly completed (as yet unpublished) memoir will end up in the ‘romance’ category, or even as ‘chick-lit’. I wonder if there’s word for a story about romance in later life? Surely there’s something more appropriate than ‘chick-lit’.

Following the Writers Festival, there are four travel memoirs on my immediate ‘to read’ list. Travel memoir is in a class of its own when it comes to books and writing. The authors don’t merely recount their journeys like travel writers. Travel memoirists also invite readers to enjoy their stories and adventures and to glimpse their experiences of personal growth as they reflect on  aspects of new and sometimes alienating cultures, and what it meant to immerse themselves in a new place.

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Sarah Turnbull’s new book, All Good Things, is a memoir about her life in French Polynesia, where she moved with her husband from Paris. At the Writers Festival, the Australian author explained to her audiences that this new book differs from her first, the highly acclaimed Almost French, because it describes a more personal journey. While her husband, Frederick, was at work all day, she had  time to enjoy beauty of the island and to think. She said All Good Things recounts many intimate details about the longing for a child shared by her husband and her. I will review this book soon for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

 

The next three travel memoirs might not have come to my attention if I hadn’t heard their accomplished, highly entertaining authors speak in a session at the Festival. Xavier Toby, author of Mining my own Business, is a comedian who was in Perth for the Perth Fringe Festival that preceded the Perth Writers Festival. His book is about a six-month stint on a mine-site in Queensland, where he went to earn money to repay debts. I was immediately intrigued when I heard him say, ‘Miners talk in anecdotes. They don’t have conversations. I’ve known a few fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers, and wonder about the lifestyle, but Xavier Toby seems to have taken it in his stride.

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The next author on my list, Tim Cope, is an intrepid adventurer, filmmaker and writer who has to his credit several books and documentaries and a number of travel awards, including the Young Australian Adventurer of the Year, 2002 and the Australian Geographic  Australian Adventurer of the Year 2006. He travelled from Mongolia to Hungary on horseback, an amazing journey if ever there was one. It took almost four years for him to cover the 10 000 kilometres. His book is On the Trail of Genhis Khan, An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads. 

Brendan Shanahan calls himself ‘a reluctant journalist-turned-writer’. His latest book is Mr Snack and the Lady Water Travel tales from my lost years. It is a collection of what have been called ‘darkly wicked’ stories from his travels around the world, including one about buying a house in Las Vegas, unseen, from the internet.  I can’t wait to read a book about which Annabel Crabb has said, “Eccentric and darkly hilarious. I’d read anything Shanahan wrote, but I’d never travel with him anywhere.”

The book for our next book club meeting at the end of March, chosen by a member after several of us heard the author at the Festival, is Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn, and I’m looking forward to that, too. Jo Baker said that this literary novel began from her speculation on the way ‘things got done’ in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: a letter was delivered; the laundry was done – simple everyday events that seemed to have no agent. She asked herself, ‘Who did that?’ and ‘What would that be like?’ Taking her clues from historical research and the life and novels of Austen, Baker wrote from what she called ‘absences’. She imagined the servants and others who did the hidden work in those days, and the characters in Longbourn began from there.

9781742613093[1]And then there is Debra Adelaide’s collection of short stories, Letter to George Cluny. I’ll review that, too, in the near future, for the AWW Challenge.

There was more, much more, that attracted my attention and compelled my interest at the 2014 Perth Writers Festival. But this list is a good start to my reading plans for the next few months.

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