Last Saturday evening I had the privilege of dancing a duo centre stage on the Crown Theatre, together with participating in three ensemble pieces. I was so excited by this rare honour that I rounded up my family and friends saying: "Please buy tickets, this is something special for me, like graduating or getting married or some such". So my loyal and beautiful cheer squad, whom I rely on to come each year, expanded to double the numbers. In the end I had around 25 people attend. First-timers were amazed at the professional level of the show. My older brother's comment: "I was expecting about 14 dancers doing a tame end-of-year recital. I was not expecting Los Vegas!"
It was a magic night, made even more magical by the love and support of my family and friends, as well as my fellow dancers. It was only a couple of days later that something dawned on me. My sense of it being a big milestone was even truer than I thought. I've long observed that some part of one's soul or psyche keeps a perfect record of time. Let me explain. The year is 1958. The dancers of the Joy Ashton school are about to take the stage at Fremantle Town Hall. Among them are the three-year-old infants of "Tiny Tots A", and among them is me! I was a gypsy girl with a ribboned tambourine. My mother had spangled my black bolero. I also had a little sailor suit costume. I don't have a photo of myself at three, but this one was taken only a couple of years later, costumed for the Highland Fling and the Wild Irish Washerwoman's jig, respectively.
Saturday night was my diamond anniversary of dancing. Sixty years! It was a long time to wait to wear a tutu! Talk about delayed gratification . . . and all the sweeter for it. And in the meantime, a whole lifetime of joy. And hilarity. Every time I watch 'retro pieces' going back several decades I smile because I lived and danced through it all. I am so grateful to The Dance Collective for creating a culture where the miracle of continuing my love of dance is made possible.
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~ a calling card for the ghosts of the Unfinished Monastery ~
In December last year I moved to South Fremantle, my forever home. This place was thick with ghosts. Not apparitions, as such, but the dense psychic territory of three generations of my husband's family's intertwined lives. I felt thin, wondering how to add my own presence to those I sensed were here. The aptly named Walter de La Mare captured this feeling in his poem "The Listeners", a childhood favourite:
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight 15
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
Among these ancestors are a Spanish grandmother who held dances on the back verandah; her daughter Dolores who taught music and played piano for parties; a host of vaudevillians hailing from the U.S.; and an unmet brother who left this world too soon.
And most of all there was the oceanic child who grew to be the man who created a magnum opus in The Unfinished Monastery. I have the extraordinary privilege of living in his three-dimensional work of art.
I am profoundly grateful. And in response I decided that these ghosts were now my ghosts, and I liked the cut of their jib. What better way to introduce myself than a theatrical dance up the Colonnade?
Hello. I am here. And I'm ready to play . . .
Remember this, Australia? In case you have forgotten, these are Australian prisoners, contemporaries of my father. Pictured outside a hospital hut on the Thai-Burma railway. This is what starvation is. Take a good look. And ask yourself what these men would think of Australia's unspeakable decision to starve 600 men. Men who have committed no crime; men with whom we are not at war. Ask yourself what you think.
As for me, I'm starving, too. Starving for leadership, vision, ethics, compassion, decency. Starving for a just world. We cannot abandon those we imprisoned on Manus. Bring them here.
June 30th. The date is significant. And I'm not talking about the end of the financial year. I have been in some tight spots over the years, and more than once, tied to the machine.
After this close encounter, for instance, locking on was small beer!
Reading poetry and 1984.
So threatening it needed five policemen to deal with it!
Today I was scheduled to appear in the Perth Magistrates Court to face trial for my lock on.
Between now and then, however, the charges simply disappeared.
And now I am humming an old Waterboys' song:
"Once I was tethered and now I am free"
I'm so grateful for the campaign friends and legal support team that carried me through this experience. Now I get to hang around with friends just for fun.
So: the big reveal.
EOFY stands for
Experience of Flying Yoga
Thanks to Jenny Rowles, Paul McGovern (Cottesloe Post) and Kathleen O'Donoghue for the pics.
And thanks also to Jac at Enerchi Yoga for the silk swings.
Remember the old hippy "Happy Shoes"? Well, these are my "Happy Shoes". For the fifth time in my life, I am back dancing. Something I thought might have permanently dropped off the list of possibilities is once again available to me and I'm thrilled.
I was two and a half when I started dance classes. How was I to know it was going to be a lifelong addiction? Over and over again I have been drawn back, spending years as a child - and even more years as an adult, in class and occasionally on stage. It's one of the activities where I feel most myself.
What does it mean to take my ageing and rather battered body back to dance class? Well one of the studios where I do classes has as its slogan "Great dancers can come from all walks of life. This is where they come together". The young man who teaches ballet recognised me from three years ago. The class is full of passionate young people of various ethnicities - a tall, bespectacled youth and a fairly even gender balance. I am the only older dancer. I know for a fact that I'm five years older than my nearest contemporary at this studio. Nobody minds. We are all different in our own way. We are all united by the passion and pleasure of doing the physical meditation that is ballet. Will any of us be performers with a capital "P"? Unlikely. Certainly, I won't be. It's sheerly the joy of doing it that matters. It's a perfect example of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dubbed "flow".
At the other studio, where I had previously danced for around seven years, I was welcomed back like a family member. A long-standing Dance School of solid repute, this place has whole dynasties of dancers, covering the entire lifespan. My teacher is in her mid-sixties. The school is run by a woman in her seventies. I look at them, and think "I want what you're having". With this school, I've participated in many concerts where grandmothers, mothers and daughters or sons are all dancing. Each at their own level, in their own style. It's a not-so-secret society. And it beats the hell out of aerobics.
Once a dancer, always a dancer.
I remember the exact moment I fell in love. It was many years ago on a road trip with my good friend, Adventurous Jen (that's her to the left, when we were in Amsterdam, but that's another story). Now, I've loved Jenny since she was fifteen - but it wasn't her I fell in love with.
Jenny's chosen chariot was a 1978 Toyota Hiace campervan rejoicing in the name of "Sunshine". One of our many joint adventures was a trip to Tone River. After a couple of hours' driving, Jenny pulled up under a big tree in Balingup, cut the engine, popped the kettle on and made a cup of tea accompanied by shortbread biscuits. I was a goner. I fell deeply in love. This was the life for me.
A couple of years later Jenny went on a solo trip around Australia. Sunshine survived the Nullarbor; she survived going across the top. She was just cresting the Darling Scarp on the last leg of her long run when a vigilant policeman pulled the van over, because her number plates were not reflective.
Never mind that they weren't reflective because the painting of number plates had been outsourced to the prison, and the prisoners had not been supplied with the correct reflective paint. Sigh.
Well, you all know the story. An unhappy yellow sticker was slapped on that vehicle of happiness incarnate.
Jenny arrived at my place, in tears. She was about to head off again — sailing on the Leeuwin? whitewater raft guiding in Alaska? I can't remember the exact adventure that time. As Jenny lives on a budget of cents and luck, she couldn't afford to resuscitate her beloved campervan. But all was not lost.
Sunshine was gifted to me and Larry. We had our own piece of heaven for the price of getting her cleared over the pits. Thus began three or four years of hippie bliss. So many road trips. So many happy memories.
Sunshine was a grand old lady. She remained continent across the continent. But all things must pass. One day on the road back from New Norcia, her engine packed up. No new engine could be sourced. So her body was put out to pasture on a friend's property in Toodyay, where she does double duty as a cubby house and overflow guest accommodation. Still bringing Sunshine into people's lives.
And Adventurous Jen? Well she currently lives with her Honey on a catamaran in Thailand.
"Long-hidden documents prove that the men who ran that mine, one of Australia’s largest public companies, were aware from the start of the terrible dangers of blue asbestos. They did too little, too late, to protect their workers, as did the government which should have been the watchdog. It was a conspiracy of silence."
On this date, twenty years ago, my much loved father, Clement Adam Christensen, died from asbestosis. This hideous slow motion drowning was entirely preventable. My father served his country. His country did not serve him. His suffering and premature death were a direct result of the unspeakable coupling of corporate greed and government indifference. Ben Hills' Blue Murder (Sun Books, 1989) quoted above is a fierce indictment.
My Dad was never in Wittenoom: he was a wharfie in Fremantle, as were two of my uncles. My Uncle Les was also a returned soldier. In the late eighties he was diagnosed with asbestosis. Deeply distressed by this news, I wrote a strange and eerily prophetic story called
"Midnight Shift" about my own father's death. Much more recently I also wrote a prose poem about both men. You can listen to it HERE.
Thirteen years after Dad died, "Midnight Shift" was published in Indigo, 1. My mother assumed it had been written afterwards. She cried and thanked me for telling her story so truly. I read the closing paragraphs at Voicebox, accompanied by my brother, Erik.
"long after people leave, they dance on the tide"
I'm a big fan of Christopher Guest mockumentaries (Spinal Tap, Best in Show etc) and their fabulous ensemble casts. First rate satires one and all. I'm also, but much more guardedly, a fan of the Coen Brothers' oeuvre. Last night these two worlds collided when I watched Inside Llewyn Davis. It was A Mighty Wind done noir, as only the Coen brothers could manage. It has great music, their trademark cinematography, and a much lighter hand on the violence. (I couldn't watch No Country for Old Men.) But if you're looking for a good weekend flick, then Inside Llewyn Davis gets a tick from me. The cat alone gives a command performance. I'd nominate it for an Oscar.
My great grandfather was the captain of a sailing ship. He worked delivering supplies to lighthouses. He had a regular run from the east coast around the bottom of Australia as far as Albany, where he would anchor off-shore. His wife, my great grandma, accompanied him on these journeys and each time she was pregnant he employed a midwife to join them on the ship just in case. That’s how my grandma ended up being born in international waters. As she grew, she took this sea journey with her family many times. Each time her longing grew to set foot on land and see Albany properly. It became her personal Shangri La – a symbol of all that seemed desirable but unattainable. It remained a distant dream.
Although she ended up living in Western Australia she was a grown woman and married and had her own pregnancies to deal with — all eight of them! My dad and my aunts and uncles proved to be — shall we say —distracting. It was not until she was in her seventies that she had the chance, finally, to walk the streets of Albany. It did not disappoint her. It was a long and winding road between her dream and its fulfilment. For women it often is! Tillie Olson wrote a whole book on it called Silences.
Take me, for example. I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. (That’s me, not long after, praying for further inspiration!) It didn’t help. I also spent decades living with a deferred dream. And I didn’t even have the excuse of needing time out for pregnancy and childrearing. I wasn’t lazy, mind. I worked. I travelled, I cared for family and friends. All good things in themselves. I wrote around the edges of my life, in the left over bits of time. It wasn’t until I witnessed my own mother’s slow slide into dementia that my old dream woke up and howled at me – if not, now – then when? So I resigned my full time position as my 50th birthday present to myself – and leapt into the unknown.