I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Happy Beginning to 2009

Anyone can face homelessness ...

Whacko! Australia’s one year-old Rudd Government has said it will halve homelessness in Australia and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it.

It has set targets to do this by 2020.

The government committed $400 million in the next two years for additional social housing for homeless people and $800 million in four years, being a ‘down payment on a twelve year reform agenda’.

With a national population of only 21.5 million people, that’s a good start for our new year.

As I’ve said before on 70 Plus there is great need, even in this comparative land of plenty:
  • 105,000 Australians experience homelessness each night
  • 188,000 Australians receive support each year through supported accommodation
  • 69,000 of those receiving support are children.
A few days before Christmas in a small town not far away, fifty homeless people were entertained at a barbecue. And yet we call ourselves the Lucky Country.

For a dozen years we had seen the gap between rich and poor growing hugely and the problem was largely ignored. This was so far away from our national character that normally called for a fair go for all.

This year for the fourth in a row, our support group for carers of persons suffering mental illness, working with a local Lions Club, distributed a large quantity of Christmas cakes to the most disadvantaged persons we could find.

We discovered people living rough on the local river banks and in parks, families in caravans and refuges. One refuge manager told us on Christmas Eve that she had just been notified to expect a woman with seven children who had become homeless.

The new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his heart warming announcement on Christmas Eve, releasing the policy that states:
‘Homelessness is not just the result of too few houses. Its causes are many and varied - domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia.’

The Prime Minister said that reducing homelessness was everyone’s responsibility; that Australia’s efforts to reduce it needed to be urgent and well sustained.

And so say all of us!

‘This White Paper addresses the causes of homelessness and provides a framework for preventing homelessness from occurring in the first place’.

The policy promises to support victims of domestic violence to stay safely in their own home; increase public and community housing for people at risk of homelessness; improves tenancy advice and support services; and introduces a policy of ‘no exits into homelessness’ from hospitals, mental health and drug and alcohol services and statutory care.

‘These measures will help prevent more Australians from becoming homeless each year.’

The policy continues:
‘When – despite our best efforts – people become homeless, this White Paper sets out ways to strengthen the provision of services for these Australians.

‘It will help services to provide people who become homeless with the full range of support that they need – rather than leaving individuals to try and navigate a complex system looking for help.

‘Assertive outreach services will work with homeless people bringing people off the streets into the housing they need to end their homelessness permanently.’

More longer-term housing, more public and community housing and the issue of run down and overcrowded housing for Aborigines living in remote areas are all targets of the scheme.

Such an all-round effort to tackle the problem has to be welcomed. Let’s hope that nothing gets in the way of this ambitious plan.

Meanwhile I wish my bloggy mates the very best of wishes for 2009. May you and yours experience happiness, a desire to live peacefully with each other, and tread lightly on the planet.

Here’s a gem from the mouth of babes:

The little boy next door anxiously asked his Mum on the morning of Christmas Eve how long it would be before Santa Claus arrived.

Mum said: ‘just one more sleep, that’s all’.

Mr. Three: Can I have the sleep now?

True story.

What true stories do you have about this Christmas?

By the way - I have just posted episode 11 of my mystery novel 'Paternity' on my literary blog Journeys in Creative Writing. Pip is stalking the ghost of a man who raped her mother ...
On the site, you can also link to episodes 1-10 of this ripping yarn.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


I remember the feeling in my tummy when I was a kid when our family sang 'Jingle Bells' just before we went to bed on Christmas Eve. It was like having a ball of excitement there just underneath my rib cage.

We didn't have the gadgets the children have today but I do recall one particularly exciting year that seemed to soar above all others as The Best Christmas for gifts. We were bundled off to bed very early after stories of Santa Claus and his reindeers.

My sister and I must have fallen deeply asleep, for we heard nothing of the extensive preparations Father Christmas made in our bedroom that night.

I remember now, 60 and more years later, that I woke at dawn to see in the gloom what seemed to be a perpendicular sheet in the middle of the room, between my sister's bed and mine.

I lay still a minute or two and, as the light strengthened, crept out of bed to investigate.

The sheet turned out to be a small cowboy tent pitched there in the centre of the room, guyropes tied to the bed posts. My sister was awake by then of course, and we tiptoed around in wonder.

There were two guardians at the door of the tent - hand made stuffed Dutch dolls dressed and stitched beautifully by a special aunt. They had yellow woollen hair in plaits and starched dresses and aprons.

And inside the tent? A kid size table and two chairs built by my Dad, and laden with bundles of lollies tied together with bright ribbons.


Australian Christmas is a hot time of the year - so different to many nations on our planet. Here, it's a time for picnics and swimming, but we mostly still have Christmas pudding and turkey and ham. They are often served cold and more and more seafood is being served instead. Barbecues are also popular.

Click here for Jingle Bells Aussie style

And follow Santa on his very different journey in the Great South Land. It's well worth the tiny wait while the card downloads.

I came across this e-card with Australian singer Colin Buchanan's version of Jingle Bells set to backgrounds of Ken Buchanan's great photographs.

I'm putting this great little video on 70 Plus a little early - to wish my bloggy mates a happy Christmas and a peaceful, healthy and productive 2009. I dare you to keep still while this jumpy little tune plays! Listen often and smile ...

Love and hugs to you all from June in Oz

This is an Australian Christmas bell that brings a very special feeling to heaths and swamps in bushland around the Sydney area. It's a truly delightful plant, flowering at Christmas with
red yellow tipped tubes clustered at the top of a 60cm brittle stem.

I like the linocut (above) inspired by this lovely plant. Sadly, I don't know the name of the artist although the style reminds of me of the wonderful Australian artist Margaret Preston.

Do you think you'd enjoy an Australian Christmas? Compare customs here and the ones where you live and tell me your thoughts in a comment ...

By the way - I have just posted episode 10 of my mystery novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing. Pip is involved in a budding romance - will it go anywhere?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Homeless at Christmas?

Have you ever put yourselves in the shoes of a homeless person?
A homeless person at Christmas?
And in saying the above, I'm assuming that this person has shoes that you can put your feet into ...

You may never have thought about it, but there are thousands of people out there, just on the edge of our suburbs of plenty, who live on the streets or even in bushland, with never a roof over their heads.

They often go cold and they go hungry.

They are lonely and they are stigmatised.

Without thought we comfortable people attach labels such as 'useless' and 'no-hopers' to those who are different, when they're mostly just down on their luck, or ill.

How can a homeless person shower each day? How can they afford a hair cut or shaving gear?

By far the greatest percentage of homeless people have some type of mental illness, ranging from the dreaded schizophrenia to depression and anxiety.

People with psychosis often live with demons in their head. These demons all seem very real and may swamp a person's life with threats and intimidation from insistent voices.

Other sufferers may be afraid of electricity, thinking it lethal or attached to entities they (and we) can't understand. Some KNOW that strangers from outer space are after them, or have implanted electronic tracking devices in their bodies.

Imagine it!

These hallucinations and delusions are often non stop and people with them must cope every day, combatting competing forces within their minds. No wonder they find it hard to keep a job, or be consistent enough to maintain the lease of a house. How could you even watch television? If there was one around!

It is thought that about one in four people suffer a mental illness in some time in their lives, and many more people (families, employers, neighbours, friends) are touched by it.

Many homeless people haven't seen their families for years and others have split up with their partners.

And what's more the pity, increasingly homeless people include parents with children. Whole families.

Yes, even in the most wealthy of countries families are losing their homes - and that's been going on long before the present global financial crisis. Ity could happen to any of us.

What would you do if that happened? How could you cope?

Homeless shelters are filled to overflowing these days. Rents are exhorbitant.

You're put out of your house because a month ago you lost your job which was only part time and casual anyway. Because of this family savings are non-existent.

Where do you put your bits and pieces? Where do you and yours lay your heads that night? And the next?

I'm sorry to be serious but the world must think of these things more often, especially in the months to come. Governments too. Primarily governments. But individuals can help by simply being aware and doing what we can.

As a volunteer, I run a support group for carers and families of people with a mental illness. We meet twice a month in the local library and the people who come to us often say the group has 'changed their lives'. We don't do much except be there and understand ...

It is huge when families discover that there are many others out there in the same boat. Carers swap their stories and their experiences, and the result is exciting.

Every year since 2004 we have been doing just a little to help mentally ill people who are homeless or down on their luck at Christmas.

Local service clubs help us with money and a Lions Club - the Lions Club of Terranora in Northern NSW Australia - gives us Christmas cakes. Members run sausage sizzles at local shopping centres through the year, to raise the funds.

We try to ferret out the most needy in our community to receive these small boxes of joy. Some we find literally on the streets or sleeping on the river bank. There are so many if you look.

So our Christmas cakes must go a long way. Local community organisations who care about these things are thrilled when we call with promises of the gifts. Last year the need was so great that some cakes were cut in half so they would go further ...

It's pretty special to know that at least some of our needy learn at Christmas that someone does care.

A happy and thoughtful pre-Christmas to all of my bloggy mates.

June in Oz

By the way I posted episode 9 of my Australian mystery novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing today. You can begin at the beginning by clicking here and scrolling down to November 16 Episode One.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

My Bike and Me and the Australian Economy

This is me and my new bike - a gift to myself that I bought with part of our new government's extra payment to pensioners, scheduled to arrive in our bank accounts this week, in time for Christmas. I couldn't wait!

New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the payment several weeks ago, just after the world's economy hit the fan. He acted early on several fronts in an effort to cushion Australia against expected global shocks.

The government's idea is to stimulate the economy as well as do something to help the less well off who had missed out badly during the years of the old government.

Aged pensioners, carers, seniors, veterans, and people with a disability are among those to receive the one off payment. People on their own will receive $1,400 and couples $2,100 between them. You can imagine that there is much excitement.

Mr Rudd said that these amounts were a down payment on additional regular amounts to be announced in June next year, in the 2009 budget. At the moment those on a full pension live on $A276 per week - or about $US178, 122.4 British pounds or $CAN227 - not much to maintain a house and feed and clothe yourself, especially if you live alone!

Mind you we are lucky to have a largely free health system, even though that too was watered down in recent years.

The government is doing research before establishing future payments and probably announcing a whole new ball game for pension entitlements. Ministers are very straightforward in their declarations of support for the strugglers, and these acts back their words in a very practical way.

Rudd and Co want us to spend the one off money as quickly as we can to help stave off any threat of recession. I bought my bike as a way of keeping fit and healthy and will pay off bills with the rest - in effect pumping my little lot straight into the economy.

It does look as though Australia is being gradually drawn into the whirlpool of international economic crisis, with China's demands for our minerals slowing somewhat.

The Australian Reserve Bank has announced several huge interest rate cuts and the government very large programmes of spending on national infrastructure, plus other various measures all designed to keep the economy moving.

Our economy slumped to record a growth rate of only one per cent in the past quarter - good by international standards the Treasurer rushed to declare, but pretty scarey in reality.

Banks still aren't lending much money and retail sales have dropped drastically.

Mortgage payers have breathed a sigh of relief with the interest rate drops as most home loans are based on variable rates, not fixed as in so many other countries. Also there are not so many sub-prime loans around, unlike overseas. That means the burden of home buyers is softened here.

News of future job losses is gaining pace however, and companies and businesses are beginning to collapse.

This global situation sure demonstrates how important it is to watch those in power in the global economic system doesn't it? We must regulate them, whether they like it or not.

How are you all going in your little neck of the woods? Tell me in a comment ...

By the way, things are getting very exciting over at Journeys in Creative Writing where I'm serialising my novel 'Paternity'. There are eight episodes there now and you can start at the beginning by following a link. Join the hundreds of others who seem to be enjoying it.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Rocks - Living History

I don't want 70 Plus to turn into a tourist trap but so many of my bloggy mates have been interested in my Sydney pix, I'll give it one more turn ...

The Rocks (above) is regarded as the most historic part of Sydney unless you are of the view held by the Australian Aboriginal - a race that had been here already for thousands of years.

Governor Arthur Phillip, his soldiers and the convicts they brought with them from Britain here began the settlement to be called Sydney Town, in 1788.

Naturally enough mayhem and massacre followed as the British spread further inland, with the result that the Aborigines were dispossessed. Even today they fight for their land rights through the courts.

This sad history was the root of Prime Minister Rudd's historic and welcome 'Sorry' statement in the Federal Parliament earlier this year.

Mercifully, much of The Rocks of the 19th century remains today and the place has been cleverly transformed into restaurants, bistros, pubs, boutique shops, markets and with music and entertainment along its main streets and squares.

The area nestles beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on the shores of Sydney Cove, opposite the Opera House.

On my most recent visit I wandered into this alcove and down a corridor to find a small coffee shop with wonderful ambience and yummy cakes. This is the way of The Rocks these days, with surprises around every corner.

Many of the imposing and seemingly sombre 19th century wool stores, the centre of the colony's famous industry for so long, have also been transformed, with interiors now shops and offices.

There are still reminders of even earlier times with convict workmanship in evidence on some of the original buildings.

Music, art and buskers add to a fascinating precinct.

Here standing guard is one of Phillip's soldiers carved in relief from Sydney sandstone - a contrast to the visitors and locals.
In the distance in this shot is ...

One of the week-end markets that draws crowds seeking arts and crafts and souvenirs.

The Rocks is a great place to meet your friends for a lazy afternoon ...

It's a fun place for everyone.

Including the greatest scavengers of all - the seagulls.

This is George Street North, one of the oldest of Sydney thoroughfares. You can see the entrance to the Ken Done art gallery known for the artist's colourful paintings of the harbour and environs.

And next door is The Bakers Oven - with its luscious cakes and slices on tempting display.
The Rocks has it all.

Has your home town left its history for future generations?