Monday, November 15, 2010

All the World's A Stage for Amazing Drama Teacher

Robert Motton first cheated death at 13, when he outstayed his welcome on a flying fox and landed on his head. His father gingerly drove the family home to Coburg, where X-rays revealed a fracture circling his skull, but for an inch. According to his mother if it had moved “he would have been gone”. Robert was ensconced for weeks in his parent’s bedroom to inhibit his night wanderings. One night he distributed army gear out the window in his sleep. That was the summer, and he was back on stage by September.

Now, on the cusp of retirement, it seems fitting to appraise how a boy, who wanted to join the army, became a pivotal figure in performing arts education. Before accepting a place at Duntroon, his school master at Ivanhoe Grammar cautioned him. “He said I should go for it,” Motton remembers, “then he said, you like the theatre of the cadets, you’re not necessarily into the real thing. You need to think about why you want to do what you want to do.”

Motton stems from a long line of amateur theatrics amongst his mother’s kin: a legacy that cast him as director of hundreds-of-thousands of children and young adults over 30 years. As Director of Performing Arts at Ringwood Secondary College, Director of The Gang Show, The Australian Girls’ Choir and annual EMR concerts, he has also managed a fulltime teaching position and speaking engagements with Saxton Speakers. His passion has very nearly killed him.

Although Motton helped inspire “Mr G”, in Chris Lilley’s television serial Summer Heights High, he is clearly no ‘Mr G’. His generously built body bears unremarkable clothing, and his Holden Commodore station-wagon is more functional than flamboyant. Instead his irrepressible purpose fills every room. “People say we’re really lucky to have all these boys doing the musical at Year 12, but if you think luck’s got anything to with it you’re an idiot,” he scoffs. “There’s a whole program underneath this that makes it happen.” Continue reading

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010


park bench rendezvous:
seniors pry open a scandal,
tickled pink.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10 Party Games for Melbourne Cup Day

I'm no racing enthusiast. For my household the end of the AFL season signals many suddenly unfilled hours. Racing, I'm afraid, is lost on me. Mind you, I am more than happy to accept a day off in celebration of a race I sometimes forget to watch. Most Melbournians know what the Melbourne Cup Day holiday is really for: sleeping in and gathering with friends.

That said, just because you don't get racing, doesn't mean you can't enter into the spirit of things. Australians are guns at that. Just think how many fellow countrymen and women don't rock up to church over Easter! How many of them do we get volunteering to stay on and hold the fort at work, instead taking the four-day break? Hmm? Anyone?

With the Melbourne Cup Carnival  fast approaching, it seems fitting to make a contribution to the weekend, even if it has little to do with the actual race. This year, gather your favourite people together for some heightened hilarity - I mean the real sort you can remember the day after!

Dress Up
Invite your guests to come suitably attired and offer prizes for the most creative costumes. Sure, you could come in a suit or frock. OR you could come as a something a little less, well, obvious. Think Monty Python's Holy Grail amd the pursuit of coconut shells could have you standing on the winners podium. Better still, hand a pair to each guest as they arrive for a clip-cloppity ol' time.

Eat Horsey Stuff
Add to your guest's real-life "saddlebags" with a range of tempting treats. Eat hors d'oeuvres or as my partner prefers to call them, "horses dervers".Cake artists may like to decorate a horse cake. Other tempting treats could include toffee apples, oatmeal biscuits, lolly teeth. Serving dishes might be upturned hats, hessian or straw-filled bowls for wrapped items.

Play Games
  • Horse Shoe Coits - this can be modified version of boules, bowls or coits.
  • Horse-Pat Challenge - teams race the clock to collect "horse pats" (made from papier mache) using trowels or spades. On the starting gun, one player from each team runs into an area  scattered with patts, retreives one, and races back passing the spade to the next team member. Pats are dropped into a bucket in front of the gathered team. The team with the most pats after 3 minutes wins. You can extend this game by using different objects in subsequent rounds, such as hay bales, sugar lumps, horse shoes. Smaller objects will provide a more challenging activity with the seeking element coming into play.
  • Braiding Race - a twist on the chocolate game. Sitting in a circle players take turns to throw a dice. When they throw a 6, they rush to the middle of the circle where they must braid three long pieces of rope. When they have braided the entire length, and provided no further 6s have been thrown in the meantime, they use a knife and fork to cut one square of chocolate from a family block and eat until the next 6 is thrown.The game finishes once all the chocolate is consumed.

  •  Pin the tail/saddle/jockey on the race horse - a modified version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Get your picture here.
  • Charades - Bookish types may prefer a round of charades about famous horses.
A lump of sugar or a carrot
A refreshing hose down
Other horse-themed knick knacks such as horse shoes, a copy of Black Beauty or dvd of Racing Stripes, mini Melbourne Cups, plastic toy horses etc...

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

my son, the vegetarian

My seven-year-old son and I were cuddled up together on the couch watching a David Attenborough documentary when it happened. Perhaps it was the sight of the bloodied face of a polar bear tucking into his seal steak, or the sight of smaller mammals struggling to find food for their hungry babies.

Whatever the catalyst, it had undoubtedly been mounting for some months, when in an uncharacteristic murmur he sighed, “Mum, I don’t want to eat animals anymore.” Continue reading.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Gillard: What's in a name?

Today Australia not only has its first female Prime Minister, but the first 'Julia' to assume primary political status anywhere in the world.

Until now, Julias have played second fiddle in the political orchestra. Julius Caesar had two sisters called Julia. Julia Tyler(1820-89) was the second wife of US President Tyler. Julia Carson was the second African American woman elected to Congress from Indiana.

And yet Julias have topped the ranks in other arenas.

Julia Child television chef and author.

Julia Morgan is the most important female architect in history.

Julia Farr established the Home for the Incurables in 1878 in South Australia.

Julia Ward Howe - wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Mother's Day Proclamation (1870)

Julia Roberts
is one of the first actors to earn $20 million dollars a picture, and one of the few older women to maintain a professional presence despite Hollywood's preference for younger female actors.

The traditional meaning of the name Julia is given as "soft haired and youthful". If her namesakes are any indicator, Julia Gillard's Prime Ministership can be expected to include reform, creative problem solving and dogged persistence in the face of great adversity. Such attributes can certainly be seen in her political contribution so far.

Talk continues about the under-representation of women in leadership positions in Australia, and particularly a study that suggests women are being set up to fail. The study reports that leadership responsibility is frequently given to women when companies are already in dire straits. With a Federal Election looming, one wonders if history is being repeated in the federal arena today.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Giving Soccer a Makeover.

Soccer is such an unsatisfying spectacle that players apparently need to fake injury to create any sort of drama. How can such a monotonous sport which frequently provides no result, be so popular? I just don't get it.

While Australian Rules footballers play out a game with broken ribs, bruised pancreas, and broken noses, soccer is unlikely to garner any credibility in this country, in its current form. This is not to say that playing with such injuries is desirable, or even admirable. What it does do is make a laughing stock of those soccer players continually faking serious injury, often being stretchered from the ground only to jump to their feet once over the boundary line.

To this end, I have composed some suggested changes for consideration. Until then my local running track provides ample opportunty to observe people running around in circles to no avail for 90 minutes. I'll see you down there.

1. Make the goals bigger.
2. Lose the off-side rule.
3. Allow contact - bumping players directly contesting the ball.
4. Penalise posers with a red card.
5. Replace the oh-so-spheric ball with an oval shaped one.
6. Make the play more open with 9 a side.
7. Extra time for all games to ensure an actual result (please!)
8. Those stretchered off must have the following game off.
9. Referees to be red-carded for getting sucked in more than three times a game.
10. Allow players to leap on each other's shoulder to head the ball.

Watch soccer players faking injury

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Please use "SH" only when required.

Forget Swine Flu, "SH" affliction, also known as SHVIRUS" is spreading like a rash through Australian speech. Once the domain of sporting media commentators and heros, "SHVIRUS" can now be heard amongst young Australians, television chefs and even federal politicians.

So what is the SHVIRUS, and how do people catch it?
Put simply it is caught by individuals with an apparent inability to pronounce "STR" effectively. This means words like Australia become Aushtralia. As someone with a slight lisp, I recognise that the "SH" can cover up my impediment. However, the pay off is that I appear lazy and, worse, that I risk association with spin-bowler Shane Warne (one of the serial offenders).

Not only is SHVIRUS affecting phonetic spelling in Australia classrooms, but unionists risk being mistaken for bird enthusiasts as they propose a "shtrike'( a word closely resembling shrike which refers to any of the numerous predacious birds of the family Laniidae of Eurasia or Africa with a strong hooked and toothed bill[Macquarie].

It is, I believe, only a matter of time before those with "SH" affliction drop the T altogether, so that stress becomes "shress", strong becomes shrong, and struggle morphs into a nonchalant "shruggle". Drop both T and R, and straw becomes sure, street becomes sheet and struth becomes shuth. And where would we be then!

So let us rally ye language lovers. Rally against the demise of three-letter-blends. Rise up against those seeking to disguise speech impediments through mispronounciation. The time is now, the cause is just, the likelihood of success - impossible.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tongue Aerobics Prescribed for a Good Night's Sleep

Sleep Apnoea sufferers may be able to alleviate their condition by undertaking 30 minutes of daily tongue exercises, according to a recent US study.

What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat block off the upper airway. Breathing stops for between a few seconds and one minute until the brain registers the drop in oxygen and the sleeper wakes, typically snorting or gasping, and resumes sleep almost immediately.

In severe cases this cycle of apnoeas and broken sleep can be repeated hundreds of times each night, yet most sufferers are unaware they have the condition, and wake feeling tired and in need of further sleep.

About the Study
The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine last year, found patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS), who performed 30 minutes of oral exercises each day, reduced the condition’s severity by 39% over a three month period.

The study’s authors said while the “most effective treatment” in severe OSAS cases is widely considered to be continuous positive airway pressure, its successful application for moderately affected patients produced “variable results”.

The Exercises
So-called oropharyngeal exercises involving the tongue, soft palate and facial muscles, reduced neck circumference and daytime sleepiness, and decreased snoring frequency and intensity, when compared to those in the control group undertaking deep breathing sessions.

Why does sleep apnoea matter?
The Alfred Sleep Disorders and Ventilatory Failure Service identifies obstructive sleep apnoea as a “very dangerous” medical condition which can lead to behavioural disorders, depression, intellectual deterioration, lost libido and “increased incidence of car accidents, work accidents and sick days”.

The Australian Lung Foundation describes sleep apnoea as potentially “life-threatening. It is a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. All these conditions occur more frequently in people with OSA.”

Around 5% of Australians are estimated to have obstructive sleep apnoea, with men three times more likely to be effected than women, and approximately one in four men over 30 experiencing the disorder. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common cause in child sufferers.

Other ways to combat sleep apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome is currently relieved by weight loss and reduced alcohol consumption in mild cases, to wearing a CPAP mask or a mouthguard to bed, or undertaking upper airway surgery.

Oropharyngeal exercises are unlikely to be adopted by sleep disorder practitioners in the short term, as the study is only the first randomised control study of its kind.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

the fence

The fence is falling over.

I can see it from the car. It pouts like a protruding lower lip, as if any moment it will be overcome, and collapse onto the grass.

Around the site of bending the treated pine is tinged green, weakened by relentless moisture. I wonder if it has played host to ivy, and whether its removal marks the final straw.

Once we cut some ivy from our side fence, and woke next morning to find it prostrate on the ground, with our neighbour standing over it. She was none too pleased with our rigourous pruning, and refused to pay her portion for a new one.

This one is putting up greater resistence.

Children swarm into the park for the weekend, reinvigorated by the school bell. The limping fence invites their attention, daring them to lean upon its imperfection, to peer at the contents of the yard beyond.

But not today.

The weekend summons forcefully, and they do not consider its plight. Come Monday, when freedom seems a world away, their attention may be tweaked. A challenge set.

Perhaps by then a hefty rain shower will have settled the matter.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

after 9am

After 9am change creeps in at the edges.

Until now there has been no colour here. No flamboyance or daring. The people wear black and grey, ties and heels. The only exception is the fluro green shirts of the hard hats on 'smoko'. Yet their conformity is similarly inscribed by colour.

After 9 o'clock there is a gap.

In walks a checked shirt with rolled-up sleeves and beige corduroy trousers. He is prominent beside his companion in non-descript pale blue shirt and tie.

Soon after a red jacket strides in.

A sky blue umbrella.

A fitted cardigan with spotted collar and cuffs.

And there, an open-necked shirt strides past, swinging a supermarket-bag-lunch beside him.

A brown zipped-up knit is closely followed by yellow tie, who mocks the dress-code by an overstated bowler hat. This young Rumpole twirls an oversized umbrella as if a walking cane.

A solid African man in a serious suit has chosen a lolly-pink tie and carries an umbrella in pastel purple.

After 9am a breath of fresh air blows through a city office.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tony Abbott and the Swivel Chair

Tony Abbott sits by the despatch box, head bowed and shoulders hunched. I am seated in the public gallery where I observe the conniptions of Question Time in the Australian House of Representatives. It is a spectacle of some gravity. I have come for theatre, and I am not disappointed, except where Abbott is concerned.

From my vantage point Tony Abbott appears small. Insecure even. Not once, in the space of two hours, do I see Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, turn to face the members of the house. Not once does he elicit the support of oppostion ranks or the public gallery as he speaks, either by gesture or glance. Not once do I see this man acknowledge his back bench. It is true that he engages with his immediate colleagues in private consultation on a few occasions, and yet he seems out-of-the-loop. Disconnected somehow. Diminished.

In contrast Joe Hockey looms large. He sits on the edge of his seat, grasping every opportunity to object. He paces, he glowers, he talks animatedly with his allies, he jokes. He is the one our eyes are drawn to. He makes the play.

There is a good reason why the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have swivel chairs. They are, after all, for swivelling. 360 degrees. Tony Abbott could trade his in for A-Great-Big-New-Swivel-Chair-with-a-90-Degree-Capacity. If his body language is any guide, he is more focussed on the press gallery than his colleagues or public visitors. But Abbott would do well to swivel around once in awhile, not least to cover his own back.

And perhaps he is right to focus on the press. For on the television news that evening, Abbott is afforded far greater influence over proceedings that I observed that afternoon. His few minutes speaking over the despatch box, have rendered him more coverage than any other protaganist.

I expected Tony Abbott to be a street fighter. Aggressive, involved and out-there. But he wasn't. Not on the day I was there. I saw a man who said his piece and sat down, who received generous coverage, and then flailed about in his own wake.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

in a canberra cafe

A woman is weeping by the door. I turn from my early morning coffee to see her squatting by a table on the floor. Another woman wearing a red jacket and serious hair approaches and tries to console her. The sobbing is confronting. It is impossible not to listen.

"You need to pull yourself together. You are much loved here," she says.

She has received a letter, complaining about her work. The letter deals in generalities and she has no idea what the complaints are.

Red Jacket helps her onto a chair and says,
"They sent you a letter? What the hell is that? Why can't they say we need to have a chat?

She is beside herself. People walk past with coffee-to-go to wait for elevators up to the government department offices. They barely acknowledge the drama through the glass walls.

Now her sobs are punctuated by short little gasps. Red Jacket is trying to find a way through the fog.

"They need to outline the complaints clearly. They have to give you the opportunity to respond to the criticism. They mustn't have enought work to do to create all this drama. They wrote you a letter - how ironic is that!"

After some time Red Jacket makes her goodbyes.
"Are you alright? Don't come back up until you've calmed down, and then you need to go straight in and sort it out."

Time passes. Forty minutes of it, and she is still sitting there staring at the table top. Calm. Immobile. Alone. Life on pause.

A man walks past and calls, "good morning". He double-takes at her blotchy face and scurries for the lift. Late.

Letters are sent by people who lack confidence to talk face-to-face. They are serious, they assert power, and they are gutless. Letters imply there is no room for discussion. They keep a recipient at arms length, inhibiting relationship.

She has a phone call. She is speaking in a tongue I do not recognise, laughing quietly, murmuring. This is where her strength will be born. A phone call from one who grants her respect through conversation.

And suddenly I look up and she is gone. I wonder how she will redeem the day.

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Monday, May 24, 2010


after the tumult

all is forgiven

salvaged by the balm of baby

Friday, May 14, 2010

mothering: prevention, protection, permission and paralysis

So much for minding your own business. The other night I was watching the news, when Victoria Police's Deputy Commissioner, Ken Lay, came on. In his trademark husky tones, Uncle Ken urged parents to get their learner drivers out on these wet roads, to experience adverse weather conditions.

"Good idea," I thought. Grabbing the car keys from the benchtop I dashed off to find my 16 year-old learner driver girl-child.

"Why mother," she cooed, "how lovely to see you here in my personal space? Can I make you a cup-of-tea?"

"That's very nice of you my darling," I murmured, "but it's raining, and we have to get out there right away."

And she, being a typical adolescent offspring, flashed me her beautiful smile and immediately sprang into action, leaving her facebook friends for dead.

Ok so I'm telling porky-pies. Here's what really happened.

I was sitting on the couch minding my own business and Ken Lay came on, and said his piece. And I thought to myself, "What a good idea. All those learner drivers should be out there in these greasy conditions, trying not to slide into the back of each other's rear-ends, or taking wide-swinging corners, or dodging those pesky pedestrians who dart out in front of you to cross the road because they've forgotten their umbrella and can't be stuffed walking down to the lights and waiting around in these precipitous conditions. Sounds like an invitation to stay curled up here on the couch, and keep right out of their collective way."

And then it hits me. Damn it all, this is one of the those paralysing motherhood moments, like when they go out partying with people you've never even heard of, or get onto public transport alone for the first time, or head off for their first day of school. And you know it's the beginning of the end of something.

If you've never taught your own child to drive, you can't possibly know how it feels. The same person who completely missed the glass when pouring a drink this morning, who can't seem to remember to shut the fridge door, and who forgets to go to bed at night, now has your life in their hands. It is absolutely terrifying. Just this week a friend recalled how her own daughter had driven straight through a stop sign, just to avoid a handbrake start.

I remember my own driving lessons with dad. My older sister and I were learning at the same time, and my mother refused to take us out. Sometimes we'd come home in tears and tell dad, who never yelled and who we hadn't noticed was sweating profusely, that he had no idea what we were going through, and that he was paranoid, and impatient, and strict.

According to research, up to 20% more car accidents occur in wet conditions, so it stands to reason we parents need to get our act together. If you believe all the hoohah, mothers are to blame for most of the world's wrongs: obesity, delinquency, cyber-bullying, street violence, alcoholism. Not to mention school results. Let's not go there.

And now here I am on the couch, and I know I am not going to budge.

Not today.

I am flawed, I am paralysed, I am exhausted.

My man walks in from work, and I nearly say, "It's a nice night for a drive."

But I don't.

And he starts talking about something else.

And we move on.

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in a canberra cafe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Flinders

Standing on Little Flinders street, they make a striking pair.

The younger of the two, perhaps nine or ten years old, wears bright green shoes and a peaked cap with propellor on top. It is Thursday morning, and I wonder why he is not at school. The older man wears weary shoulders, a heavy leg bandage and explorer socks without shoes.

They stand by an unmarked pair of glossy black double doors, opening straight onto the street. There is no plaque or letterbox. Who knows its business?

Explorer socks bends to hear young green shoes speak. He nods, and turns his mouth up at the edges. They do not appear to be waiting for anything, or anyone. They simply stand companionably, side by side.

Minutes pass. The hustle of suits brush past them, barely offering a second glance, despite the outlandish costumes. Occasionally Explorer socks raises his eyes to the building rising directly above the cafe in which I am sitting.

Space and time to watch and spend is a gift rarely enjoyed.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

my dog likes...

My dog likes me
he lies at my feet
and doggy-dreams all afternoon.

My dog likes apple cores.
standing sentry as I crunch
with barely contained anticipation.

My dog likes open gates,
through which he runs at speed
to sniff his rounds.

My dog likes soft places,
on wardrobe floors,
he curls secretly atop discarded garments.

My dog likes sunshine.
He follows it around the house
until the kids come home.
Then he likes them more.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

wild beach

She runs circles on the shoreline, in an unflinching bubble of her own existence.

Oblivious to the brutal beating of the surf, she flits in. And out. Never venturing deeper than her ankles. Occasionally she drops to her belly, kicking the fresh air vigourously, rising by chance to narrowly avoid consumption by the incoming wave.

Her timing is accidental, yet impeccable. How does she do it?

Those watching for waves out in the deep, seem unable to maintain such fortune. In contrast, they are unhinged by the water's violence, dumped as they are, wave upon wave.

Yet this slight pink figure in perpetual frolic, dances in danger's face, with not so much as a glance in its direction.

Keeping her own counsel. Teasing the ocean. Daring it to break its rhythm so to unsettle hers.

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