“Wealth is wasted on the rich!” Pedro sniggered, although he was quick to reap the benefits. The guests had left behind two breakfasts with the works untouched. Such brazen waste retriggered his angst. As an illegal, he could barely make the rent, let alone feed his wife and kids. He’d been a cardiologist back home, but now wiped the arses of the rich, and survived on their leftovers. It was the final blow to his dignity, but he could never go back. He might not be rich, but he’d got away from the cartel and was now his own man.
This week’s prompt is inspired by so many situations and events. However, on a personal note, while I was backpacking through Europe as a 22 year old in 1992, my friend and I were staying in a Youth Hostel in Koln (Cologne). We’d been away less than a week and were trying to make our money stretch as far as we could so we were being very frugal on the food front. That night for dinner, we invested in a punnet of strawberries, which just happened to be sour, but because we were saving our money, it was a brutal case of waste not want not, and you should’ve seen the expressions on our faces!! Meanwhile, back at the hostel, the dining room was full of German school kids on an excursion eating spaghetti bolognaise, and so many didn’t finish their meals, and I swear I could’ve licked their plates. OMG! It smelled so good.
As an Australian, I have it very good. However, a friend of mine whose parents were WWII refugees out of Poland, calls us “Luckycountrians”. That we don’t appreciate how lucky we are, or what it means to lose it all and throw your luck to the wind and start up somewhere else as a refugee.
Often, it’s all too easy to miss the rainbows on an overcast day. All we see is grey clouds. Complain about the rain. Swear the sun will never come out again. Indeed, we might even forget that the sun exists at all, and has only been covered up by the clouds. It hasn’t been smothered to death.
Well, it’s still raining and overcast here after more days and nights than Noah ever spent in the ark, and this terrible dreariness is seemingly never-ending. Yet, about an hour ago, Geoff called out and asked if I’d seen the Rainbow Lorikeets perched just outside our kitchen window. Of course, I hadn’t. I was sitting at the table reading, and hadn’t even glanced outside. Why would I? The weather’s bad. None of the trees are flowering, and to be honest, it all just looks wet and dreary. What I was reading was much more interesting.
However, I did get up to have a look, and went to fetch my camera. Not so much for myself though. While Rainbow Lorikeets are commonplace here, I know many of you haven’t seen them, and I took these photos for you. Indeed, I was simply trying to be a vessel, so you could see through me.
Inevitably, I was also drawn under their spell. I have always adored these birds. When I was a child and we didn’t know any better, we’d put out bread and honey soaking in water to attract them. They love it. However, they don’t recommend that for their health anymore. Besides, we’re lucky they’re often living in our backyard, and have taken up residence.
Meanwhile, on sunset seemingly thousands of Rainbow Lorrikeets return to their roosting trees by the beach for the night. The entire tree is literally exploding with rainbow feathers and noise. I can’t quite call it “music”, although it’s far more melodious than the raucous screeching of the cockatoos as they fly overhead heading off wherever it is they call “bed”.
Anyway, once I’d ventured outside with my camera, I was absolutely captivated myself, and almost as enthusiastic as when I first saw them over 40 years ago. Moreover, with their cheeky little faces, the little show offs were sitting with their perfect supermodel poses just waiting for me to take their portrait from their best angle.
Straight off an artist’s palette, I ask how can all that feathered colour not bring you joy even on the darkest of days, even if only for the briefest of moments?
Well, that is easy for me to say. I am safe and comfortable. I have a roof over my head, and even the air-conditioner is running. I’m not destitute or struggling to survive after the devastating flood waters which had decimated Lismore on the NSW North Coast. I’m definitely not in the Ukraine.
However, I watch the news and think of the people of Ukraine. I imagine that for them personally enduring what we only see on TV, that it must be hard to remember beauty, goodness and kindness still exist. Immersed in such brutal destruction at the hands of Putin’s forces, it must also be hard to believe in a good, loving and gracious God. or that he is reflected in the world and in our humanity. Yet, I also know that such brutal times can also bring out the best in people too and we can ironically feel closer to God than ever.
Gosh! How I wish I could do more and offer all these struggling souls a cup of tea, a warmed blanket, a hug, a smile, anything to remind them of the goodness of humanity. Yet, here I am tapping away on my keyboard snuggled up inside with my dog, the whole family is home today with one sick but it’s not covid so it’s all good. However, life here isn’t always this good, and there have been many times where I too have felt cursed, and particularly singled out by the adversities of life. I, too, have fallen on the ground and asked why? Why me?
So, even I still need to keep looking out for the good in this world, like these stunning Rainbow Lorikeets. I need to resist being swallowed up by what’s going on in my world, and by all the things which seem to be so precariously balanced and could so easily be destroyed by a puff of wind or that great enemy of joy – covid. “Rowena, do not let yourself go under.” I hear the words loud and clear. It has been a battle at times lately, and it’s funny how doing something as simple as getting out my camera and really focusing on the minute details of those feathers and their bright colours, has helped turn things around. Indeed, perhaps the same might work for you!
That is my hope, and my prayer for you wherever you are, and what ever your personal or community circumstances might be. As George Bernard Shaw wrote:
“Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.“
So often when we reflect on Gallipoli, we hear of the men who sacrificed their lives. However, there’s another side to the story. That is the children of the dead and wounded men, also also paid an enormous, and mostly silent, price. Fortunately, the children’s columns in the newspapers provided a space where children would occasionally provide a glimpse, into this world.
On Sunday 30th July, 1922 a letter by Miss Brenda Taylor, aged 9, of Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt was published in Sunbeams, the children’s page in the Sun Herald. Sunbeams was edited by Ethel Turner, author of the Australian children’s classic: Seven Little Australians. A regular feature on the page was called “When I Grow Up”, and children wrote in gorgeous letters talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Brenda wanted to be a nurse:
“When I grow up I would like to be a nurse, so that I could look after poor sick people. If there happened to be another war I would go and look after the wounded soldiers. My daddy died of wounds at Gallipoli, where there were not enough nurses to look after the soldiers. I would love to wear the nice clean uniform of a nurse, and be in the children’s hospital amongst the little sick babies, as I love babies, and I don’t like to hear them crying. When I see the returned nurses with their badges I feel sure I am going to be one. I hope little girls will want to be the same so that there will be enough nurses for the poor soldiers if any more wars begin.
— Souvenir Prize and Blue “Sun” Card to Brenda Taylor (9), Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt — a little girl gallant enough, after her loss, to want to continue in the footsteps of her heroic father.”
Just to place young Brenda’s letter in context, there was also a letter from an ambitious crime-fighting detective:
TO MAKE CRIMINALS SHIVER
When I grow up I am going to be a detective, and gain fame, I will unravel mysteries that have baffled the greatest detectives of the world. If It is necessary for me to disguise while working on any case, my disguise shall be so complete that even my closest friends will not recognise me. First I will start In Australia, and when I’ve cleaned that of Its criminals, I will then proceed to London, and in disguise I will visit the slums of that city and learn what I can about different criminals, then gain their confidence, and arrest them in the act of pulling-off some of their greatest robberies. I will always play a lone hand, as you cannot rely on the police, who are generally blunderers. If any criminal defies me, I shall engage him In a battle of wits, and in the end I think I shall succeed in handing him over to the law to receive his punishment. Never shall I quit a case without unraveling it satisfactorily. Many people shall thank me for the services I have rendered them, and for me this will be sufficient reward. My name will spread throughout the world, and every criminal and wrong-doer will shiver at the mention of it.
There was also “Wanderer” from Bondi who’d decided to become a novelist rather than a pirate:
“NOVELIST RATHER THAN PIRATE
In the earlier stages of my life I entertained wild hopes of becoming a pirate; imagining myself, with a three-cornered hat tilted precariously on one side of my head, ordering men to get strung up the yard-arm, or to walk the plank. Lately, I have realised the utter insignificance of that career, as I will not be able to find a suitable crew, and if I did I would soon be hunted down. My present scheme for the future is to become a composer of prose and verse. I will live in a creeper-covered cottage in a quiet country town, there to pursue my work (perhaps I might marry by then, but that will not make any difference— only that the “star” boarder will have to seek a new residence). So as to have some varieties about the place, I will keep a few cows and a small stock of poultry. In the woodland dales I will compose my stories, and. now and then poetry. I hope to become gradually famous as a novelist. Then— and then only, will the zenith of my ambitions be attained— Blue “sun” Card to “Wanderer” (13), Bondi.”
Exploring Brenda Taylor’s Letter Further
Of course, young Brenda’s letter is heartbreaking. It was one thing for young, single men to sacrifice their lives for the Empire. It was quite another for family men with responsibilities and dependents to sacrifice theirs. Young children were left without fathers, wives without husbands, and were left to bring up the children alone. To put it in very simple terms, Daddy was never coming home.
Naturally, I wanted to find something out about her father’s war service, such as which unit he was in, and what happened to him. This is easy enough if you have a name. However, her father wasn’t named in the letter, and I couldn’t just search the service records for: “Brenda’s Dad”- no matter how powerful Google might be.
At the same, identifying a soldier with minimal information isn’t an impossible quest, especially now that so much information is available online. Indeed, these days, the difficulty is knowing when and where to stop. After all, we now have the whole wide world right at our finger tips and sometimes, as in trying to nut out Brenda’s letter, we need to draw on all of that. Even then, there comes a point when you realize, that you have to walk away without the answer. Indeed, that’s where I’m at with Brenda’s story. I still can’t be sure of who Brenda Taylor was, and don’t know her father’s name either. Yet, I haven’t given up. Storytelling is a collective process and hopefully these efforts will just be the beginning.
Yet, on the other hand, part of me wishes I could turn back the clock, and just appreciate Brenda Taylor’s letter at face value. Left well enough alone, and not asked who her father was, and tried to find his service records. After all, it’s such a heart-touching story. Here’s a little girl who lost her beloved Dad at Gallipoli when she was roughly two years old. That’s a serious loss, and I don’t feel comfortable questioning whether her story was true, and doubting the sincerity of a child. Of course, I want to be a believer. Hug this little girl who has lost her dad wholeheartedly without any of these lingering doubts.
However, any researcher worth their salt knows not to accept anything at face value. We have to ask the questions, accept the answers, and then somehow determine what we weave together into our version of the story.
So, despite a day of going backwards and forwards along time tunnels back into the past, I still don’t know the name of Brenda Taylor’s father, and can’t be entirely sure he died of wounds at Gallipoli or back at home.
A False Alarm
Initially, my efforts to identify Brenda Taylor were going quite well. NSW Births deaths and Marriages had a Brenda Beatrice Taylor born in 1915 in Mudgee to parents John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. They were married on the 17th February, 1910 at St. Paul’s Manse, Mudgee. This “G” might’ve been a “George”, and at a stretch, Brenda’s father might’ve been John George Taylor Service Number 7050. He was born at Newcastle-On-Tyne England, and was living at 2 Bay Street, Balmain, which isn’t too far from Leichhardt. However, he wasn’t a great fit. He’d enlisted on the 1st November, 1916 and clearly didn’t serve at Gallipoli. His next of kin was his sister, Mrs M. Foster, not a wife. There was also no mention of daughter, Brenda, either. However, marriages go awry, and he wouldn’t have been the only family man to have fled the home front for the front line without leaving a paper trail.
However, then I found the wedding notice for John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. Brenda’s father was actually a John Gavin Taylor, not a John George. So, that knocked John George Taylor 7050 out of the picture. Further research was required.
There was no other Brenda Taylor on the horizon, although the age of this Brenda Taylor didn’t quite match up. To be 9 years old on the 30th July, 1922, she needed to be born around 1911-1912. However, I couldn’t find an alternative born in NSW or Victoria. So, I persisted and found some good background stories.
Brenda’s mother, Beatrice Brownlow, had been born in 1889 to Samuel Brownlow and Agnes E. Bridge in Coonamble, New South Wales. Samuel was known as a “first-class horse trainer”, which sounded rather exciting:
A Veteran Trainer.
Sam Brownlow Re-appears on the Scene.
To the majority of Mudgee racegoers the name of the above well-known trainer will be quite familiar. The older sportsmen in particular will re member those grand old days when the then champions of the turf, such as King of the West, Eros, Myrtle, Reprieve, Prism, Contessa, &c. , met in battle array on the old course, and memories of Brownlow come back to them fresh and green. And now once more, after a fairly long absonce from the actual scene of turf warfare, Sam has come forth, like a giant refreshed, to renew his former occupation. The old spirit asserted itself — it was too strong for him to resist, and it is a strange coincidence that he will have under his care a horse which he trained a few years ago — I refer to Mr. J. C. Gunnell’s Nimrod. Sam has trained many good horses, notably King of the West, Myrtle, Eros, and Contessa, all of whom won races for the late J. D. Little at Randwick and Hawkesbury. When King of the West won the County Purse (now called the Rowley Mile) at Hawkesbury he was ridden by Tom Donoghue, who is now training in Mudgee. Brownlow once had private training stables on Bombira Hill years ago, where a good string of horses were located. He also went to Queensland with that great horse, Beadsman, with whom he won a great number of races there. Space will not permit of a lengthy description of our old friend’s many succeses as a trainer. We will simply say that he is a first class trainer, and has commenced with Mr. Gunnell’s horses, Nimrod and Grand Stuart, who are being prepared for the Mudgee meeting.
By now, the story was building nicely – layer up on layer up on layer. Yet, there were still some nagging doubts. These Taylors were based in Mudgee, and as yet I hadn’t found a link to Leichhardt, Sydney. Moreover, something else was glaringly missing. Aside from Brenda’s letter, there were no memorials in the newspapers honouring her father’s sacrifice on the battlefield, and this was unusual. Of course, there were families that kept it quiet, but they were few and far between. That also made me nervous.
Then, came the clincher. I came across the obituary for Brenda’s mother, Beatrice. She died on the 25th December, 1943 in Mudgee and it clearly mentioned that she was the “wife of Mr. J. G. Taylor, of Windeyer”, and also referred to her “bereaved husband”. Brenda’s father, John Gavin Taylor, was still alive.
Either Brenda Taylor’s letter wasn’t true. Or, there was another Brenda Taylor.
Brenda Taylor 2.0
I had one last search in the online newspapers at Trove. This time, I came across a wedding photo for a Brenda Taylor who married John Richard Keeffe at St John’s Church, Parramatta in 1938:
“Mrs. J.. Keeffe, formerly Miss Brenda Taylor, of Harris Park, who was married at St. John’s Church, Parramatta, on February 5. Misses Violet Keeffe, Ivy Taylor and Emily Keeffe are the bridesmaids, and Valmna Sweeney the flower girl. Photo. by McEnnally Studio”
I cross-referenced this with NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, and found her listed as “Evelyn Brenda Taylor”. Would this finally be the clue which unraveled the mystery? Could I finally construct a solid trail from nine year old Brenda Taylor of Piper Street, Leichhardt to her father who really did die of wounds sustained in those early days at Gallipoli?
The closest I’ve come to finding an Evelyn Brenda Taylor is a Brenda Evelyn Taylor, who was listed in the 1911UK Census. She was 2 years old and was born and living in Rawreth, a village and civil parish in the District of Rochford, Essex, England, located between Wickford and Rayleigh. She was living there with her father, Edward Taylor, aged 23 born in Leatherhead, Surrey and was a Farm Labourer; and her mother, Alice May Taylor, was 21 from Chipstead, Surrey.
Could this be the right family? Did they migrate to Australia, and this is the very same Brenda Taylor who wrote into the Sun Herald on the 30th July, 1922?
I still don’t know, but I’m hoping that someone out there can help me set the record straight. I’d really love to know Brenda’s story – the whole story.
If anybody could shed any light on this, I’d really appreciate your help. I don’t have access to Ancestry which would most likely help.
Lastly, I should mention that this is fall of a broader project where I’m researching WWI through the letters of WWI soldiers, and exploring their family history nad lives before they went to the front.
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Friday 4 August 1899, page 18
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 30 December 1943, page 5
 Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 10 March 1938, page 9
It’s hardly surprising that the discovery of Maud Butler, a young woman masquerading as a soldier on board the troopship Suevic, attracted a lot of attention. As soon as the troops on board got wind of it, she was snapped by the likes of 500 cameras and also they passed around the hat raising £600 as a “dowry” to get her home. She was mentioned in soldiers’ diaries and a couple even messages in bottles, which were hoisted overboard before they left Australian waters. Newspapers all round the country shared her story and also used her determination to get to the front, to rally men to enlist. Shame those wretched shirkers into enlisting and doing their bit. Not unsurprisingly, Maud Butler’s appearance in a man’s uniform, also raised questions about the role of women and affronted conventions of the time. However, while her actions were unconventional, to many Maud became a sort of hero.
As I said, Maud’s presence on board the Suevicattracted additional media attention to that particular voyage and details about conditions on board were captured, which (from what I can glean) often went unreported. These everyday details don’t matter much when you have thousands of men to tell the story. However, over 100 years later, their voices have fallen silent. Perhaps, it’s particularly important for those of us who had family who served to know their journey from start to finish, and to not just read the headlines. Know about the battlefield. I, for one, needed to have some understanding of what they went through. After all, I’ve always taken this quote from Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird to heart, adapting it to my own sense of walking in someone’s shoes:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
As it turns out, the troops on board the Suevic produced their own on board newspaper called The Sports Company’s Gazette. It was edited by Lieutenant Webbe, a Hansard Reporter and Lieutenant Wells and Private Tom Dawson were associate-editors. The Art Editor was Private C. V. Walters, who’d worked as a process engraver for The Sun newspaper before going into camp.
According to Elise Edmonds, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery at the Mitchell Library, such newspapers weren’t uncommon.:
“Articles published highlight the day to day cares and routines of the ordinary serviceman. There is much poetry – sentimental verse, along with examples of black humour, prose, photographs and drawings. Soldier illustrations often consisted of caricatures of military culture, enemy forces, or the political situation. All the articles and artwork were created whilst in trenches, at military bases and on the troopships – either heading to war, or on the way home in 1918 and 1919. Writing, illustrating and editing these publications was a good way to reduce boredom or the tension of military life.”
Of course, Maud Butler rated more than a passing mention in The Sports Company’s Gazette. It reads:
‘Knowing what we do, we should all be proud that Australia can breed girls heroic enough to brave the dangers of a troopship, and the terrors of war for their country’s weal. There should still be plenty of men, however, and Miss ___ goes back to Sydney with our best wishes. May she marry a man worthy of her. We give her the following as our dowry: —
The newspaper Industry flourishes at sea these days. Every troopship that rides the waves produces a sheet which contains more or less newsy stuff, and it is extraordinary how the man with the touch of humor is discovered. The last paper to see the light has just come to hand. It was well edited, and handled a variety of copy capably. It recorded in quite a dignified manner the disappearance of Private H. H. Brown, of the 18th Battalion, who, it was supposed had fallen overboard at night….
The humorist showed up in a report of a concert at which he said the absence of ladies in the audience was greatly deplored, the only lady passenger having found it necessary to disembark before they said good-bye to Australia. The reference, of course, was to the adventure of Maud Butler, the little Kurri Kurri girl. How Maud was discovered is thus expressed:— A muster parade had been called, and the adjutant was gently floating round the ship looking for shirkers. Presently his eagle eye glared on a young private, and he asked, “Well, my lad, why aren’t you parading with your unit?” The lad stammered, and replied, “Sir, I cannot find my unit.” “Probably not,” said the adjutant, whose searching glare had disclosed the fact that the offender’s trilbies were not encased in service boots, while the jacket was minus battalion numbers. After a back view he said in his dry and official manner, “You are a stowaway, and it will be necessary for you to be examined by the medical officer.” Exit soldier and adjutant. It was afterwards announced that the soldier was a dear little girl. The wireless got to work, and Maud was sent by to Melbourne. She was still dressed in khaki, but carried in addition a cash belt containing £23, generously sub scribed by all on board, so that on her arrival in Melbourne she could secure the necessary raiment to enable her to resume her proper station in life. What everyone wants to know, the story concludes, Is why the adjutant objects to that delightful song entitled Come Into the Garden, Maud. The theme Is then taken up by the Limerick man, who under the title Maud of the Mercantile Marine writes: —
A certain young lady named Maud
Secreted herself on ship board.
The dear little duck
Had plenty of pluck,
But the venture turned but quite a fraud.
She climbed up a rope in the dark,
The adventurous, giddy, young spark;
But the adjutant wise
Had piercing brown eyes,
And so put an end to her lark.
When discovered she
Shed a small tear,
Which proves she’s a woman, the dear!
Then the ____came
Her person to claim,
So exit sweet Boadicea.
The sheet had its sporting page conducted by “Bill” Corbett’s understudy, and it also dealt with the ceremony associated with crossing the line, as well as getting off a great many good-natured hits at the expense of officers and men alike. The sheet was edited by Lieutenant Webbe. Lieutenant Wells and Private Tom Dawson were associate-editors, and Private C. V. Walters, who before he went into camp was a member of the Sun process engraving staff was the art editor. ‘
A touching poem At Sunset by George A. Aldworth, of the 20th Battalion. Also appeared in the Suevic’s Sports Company’s Gazette. However, I felt George warranted his own post so stay tuned.
Do you have any connection to Maud Butler or someone who served onboard the Suevic? Or, perhaps your loved one also served in WWI? If so, please leave details and links in the comments below.
If you are interested in Maud Butler’s story, here’s a couple of posts of interest.
As I mentioned in my previous post, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France, but my husband Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French was Killed in Action in France. We also have quite a few other family members who have served. Our son will be visiting the battlefields of France as part of a history tour with his school next year and will be spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneux and I wanted him to have some idea of what happened before he left.
After all, we talk about “Lest we forget”, but a hundred years later, we don’t remember. We don’t know. Of course, we can’t know everything about the past, but for me it’s not only important from a point of respect and gratitude. It’s also helpful to know what these people went through and how they handled this dreadful period in history provides valuable life lessons, which are just as relevant and needed today.
I also needed to know what it was really like for them to be there. Not from us imposing our own interpretations over the top. Rather, I needed to hear their stories directly through their own voices. Despite studying Australian History at Honours level at university and being gripped by Australian and family history most of my life, what they told me was quite different and much more complex than I expected. They needed to be heard.
Bob hadn’t even thought about his foot, until it was gone. It had simply sat inside his shoe, going wherever the rest of his body was going. Not a decision-maker. More of a follower, than a leader, although his right foot always led the way.
However, it wasn’t his right foot that blew up in the landmine. It was the left.
Now, he was leaving the fallout of war behind, and was finally moving forward. It had been a long road. Yet, come October, he would be sprinting in the Invictus Games. At last, he was starting to feel like a hero.
There’s a fine line between madness and genius. Indeed, I’m currently feeling like the madness side of the equation has taken hold of my brain, but sadly I’m missing the genius component. I know what I’m wanting to say, and yet my brain’s stuttering and I can’t quite get the story out. Meanwhile, Monet, the man who is rattling my brain, was a mixture of the two. Moving into his twilight years, Monet was a man not only possessed by his water lilies, but was also trying to create what could well have been his greatest gift to humanity.Yet, afflicted by failing eyesight and chronic self-doubt, he was floundering. Indeed, he wrote to a friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” So, I’m hoping that you’ll join me on another detour. One which could well be life-changing.
After visiting Monet’s stunning garden at Giverny, now we’re catching the train to Paris, where we’ll be meeting up at the Jardin de Tuilleries, not far from the Louvre. From there, we’ll be heading into the Gallerie de L’Orangerie to experience Monet’s incredible gift to the French nation and humanity…a spectacular series of water lily paintings. Monet gifted the paintings to the French nation on November 12, 1918, the day after Armistice and two days before his 78th birthday. Monet wasn’t only wanting to commemorate peace. He also wanted to create a peaceful place, where those shaken up by the war could rest their weary souls:
“You see, while shrapnel from mortars, grenades and, above all, artillery projectile bombs, or shells, accounted for an estimated 60 percent of the 9.7 million military fatalities of World War I, it was soon observed that many soldiers arriving at the casualty clearing stations who had been exposed to exploding shells, although clearly damaged, bore no visible wounds. Rather, they appeared to be suffering from a remarkable state of shock caused by blast force. This new type of injury, a British medical report concluded, appeared to be “the result of the actual explosion itself, and not merely of the missiles set in motion by it.” In other words, it appeared that some dark, invisible force had in fact passed through the air and was inflicting novel and peculiar damage to men’s brains.
The Gallerie de L’Orangerie explains his achievement:
“This unique set, a true “Sixtine of Impressionism”, in the words of André Masson in 1952, testifies to Monet’s later work. It was designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before. The set is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.”
It was in 1914, at the age of 74, when he had just lost his son and could see no hope for the future, that Monet felt a renewed desire to “undertake something on a grand scale” based on “old attempts”. In 1909, he had already told Gustave Geffroy that he wanted to see the theme of the water lilies “carried along the walls”. In June 1914, he wrote that he was “embarking on a great project”. This undertaking absorbed him for several years during which he was beset by obstacles and doubts, and when the friendship and support of one man proved decisive. This was the politician Georges Clemenceau. They met in 1860, lost touch, and met up again after 1908 when Clemenceau bought a property in Bernouville near Giverny. Monet shared Clemenceau Republican’s ideas, and we also know of Clemenceau’s keen interest in the arts. During the war, Monet continued his work alternately in the open air, when the weather was suitable, and in the huge studio that he had had built in 1916 with roof windows for natural light. On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, Monet wrote to Georges Clemenceau: “I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.” The painter, therefore, intended to give the nation a real monument to peace. At this time, when it was still not certain where the decorative series was destined, it seems that Clemenceau managed to persuade Monet to increase this gift from just two panels to the whole decorative series. In 1920, the gift became official and resulted, in September, in an agreement between Monet and Paul Léon, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, for the gift to the State of twelve decorative panels that Léon would undertake to install according to the painter’s instructions in a specific building. However, Monet, prey to doubt, continually reworked his panels and even destroyed some. The contract was signed on 12 April 1922 for the gift of 19 panels, but Monet, still dissatisfied, wanted more time to perfect his work. Clemenceau wrote to him in vain that year “you are well aware that you have reached the limit of what can be achieved with power of the brush and of the mind.” But, in the end, Monet would keep the paintings until his death in 1926. His friend Clemenceau then put everything into action to inaugurate the rooms for the Water Lilies in strict accordance with Monet’s wishes.http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/history-water-lilies-cycle
Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this exhibition when I was in Paris, and as I’ve mentioned before, with my love of expressionist art, I wasn’t as keen on Monet at the time. However, now I can just imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of that room surrounded by Monet’s lilies and the deep sense of peace and serenity which must fill the room, as though Picasso’s dove of peace had built its nest in there. It feels like a miracle.
Have you ever been to the Gallerie de l’Orangerie? What was it like? How did it feel? I’d love to hear from people who’ve experienced the collection first hand!
Barefoot with Vegemite smeared across her face, Lilly was running through ancient alleyways exploring her mother’s homeland. With a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, her parents had moved to Australia… a modern story of Romeo and Juliette and love borne out of hate.
Yet, that hate had tracked them down. Grabbed them by the throat, until they choked. There was no escape. As the twists and turns of a war she didn’t understand flew from side to side, Lilly learned the Kookaburra Song.
“LILLY!” The scream echoed with reverberating anguish.
I struggled a bit with this prompt, as I’ve never been to Israel and was struggling to think of something and I remembered what it was like to go exploring as a child and how we ran barefoot through paddocks, and poked underneath my grandparents’ house so freely without any thought of danger. Growing up in Sydney, war was always somewhere else, although there had been some bombings by the Japanese during WWII, most notably on Darwin. So, I grew up with an idea of being safe.
At university, I remember meeting someone with a Serbian father and a Croatian mother and how they’d moved out to Australia to start a new life together and that inspired this story. That, along with the struggle many immigrants experience finding some sense of identity and belonging when the boundaries of home are blurred.
So, Lilly grows up eating Vegemite and singing the Kookaburra Song at school, which every Australian child learns and it’s usually sung as a round. Meanwhile, despite moving to Australia, her parents are still caught up in this war back home. There is no escape. Unfortunately, Lilly, the child of their love and an absolute innocent, becomes the the victim of that war.
Tragically, this sort of thing happens two often. Two Australians were killed in the recent London Bridge attack.
Oh for a perfect world.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the words of the Kookaburra Song:
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
Save some there for me!
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Counting all the monkeys he can see.
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra
That’s not a monkey, that’s me!
Here are some alternatives that have been created over the years.
See if you can add some more to the collection.
Kookaburra sits on a rusty nail,
He gets a sore in his tail.
Cry, Kookaburra, cry, Kookaburra,
How cruel life can be!
Kookaburra sits on electric wire,
Jumping up and down with his pants on fire.
Ouch, Kookaburra, ouch! Kookaburra,
Hot your tail must be!
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be!
This morning, I carefully packaged the sunflower seedlings up into a protective box. It wasn’t Fort Knox but they looked safe, especially once I’d strapped them into the back seat with a seat belt. I know this might sound over the top and I don’t know if you can be a helicopter parent to plants. However, if you’ve been following the progress of the sunflower seeds, you’ll know these aren’t any ordinary sunflowers. These sunflowers seeds came from the site of the MH17 crash in the Ukraine in 2014. They’re incredibly precious!
That’s also why they were in my car.I wanted to share their story with my daughter’s class. Miss goes to school 45 minutes drive away from home and with my “creative” approach to driving, that was a very long journey up along the free and through bumper-to-bumper peak hour traffic. Slam on the brakes…ouch.
Hence the seat belt!! Moreover, you could say the cardboard box was somewhat like one of those protective car seats you sit your toddler in. I wanted them to be so safe, that I could’ve bought a Volvo.
The Sunflower Seedlings.
Of course, I could’ve left the sunflower seedlings safely at home but I felt there was something bigger at stake. That I didn’t need to wait until the flowers actually bloomed to share their message of kindness, love and reaching out even to complete strangers when tragedy strikes. That we all start out as seeds and with love, care and nutrients and we can grow up into someone gorgeous and productive, giving our seeds back to the earth, feeding the animals and helping to wipe away the dark clouds by simply being ourselves…nothing flash. I also thought of the teachers who were onboard and how they sowed those metaphorical seeds into so many students, who went on to carry their message forward. BUT…then I also think of all those beautiful passengers whose lives were tragically cut short…every day people who were just coming home from holidays. Of course, I think of the Maslin family who lost their three beautiful children and have created a foundation to raise money for children with dyslexia. I want to help sow those seeds too. After all, words are seeds and being able to read is something most of us take for granted.
So, as I watched the sunflowers poke their heads through the soil, I came to realise that just the fact that the seeds had sprouted, was enough for them to speak. Tell their story.
The sunflower is extraordinary and I’ve always had a connection with them but not in the same way I have now.
In August 2014, commercial flight MH17 was shot down by terrorists in the Ukraine killing everyone on board. That plane which bore the brunt of so much anger and hate, crashed into a stunning field of sunflowers, a coincidence not lost on the media. Photos and footage appeared of the ugly scar carved into the sunflowers’ heart and photographer said that the sunflowers even turned their faces away from the wreckage.
Paul McGeough is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Senior Foreign Correspondent specialising in the Middle East. He’s accustomed to reporting on horrific events around the world, the same way the rest of us eat toast for breakfast. “When most people are running away from a place, photographer Kate Geraghty can usually be found running towards it.” Yet, they were guttered by what they saw and felt drawn to bring sunflower seeds back to Australia from the crash site to give to the families and friends of the victims. They wanted to give them something to remember and honour their loved ones who weren’t soldiers fighting in a war. There weren’t going to be any medals. They were just everyday people going on a holiday.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Our children making the hearts cards we sent out. They look quite young now.
I received about 40 seeds and decided to share them with our local schools to create some kind of ongoing tribute of legacy for those who died. However, I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year but I planted the first lot of seeds ten days ago and six have sprouted.
Of course, the seedlings arrived safely at school and I ended up sharing them with my daughter’s class and a year 6 class. I also shared the letter I’d received with them wishing”May your sunflowers bloom” and the photo of the original plant in the Ukraine. I also had one of our red hearts stuck in there.
It was a simple story with a few precious props but the kids were riveted, sitting still and absorbing it all and asking questions at the end. I spoke to them about the kindness of the journalist and photographer salvaging the seeds and bringing them back to Australia via quarantine. I spoke about how we can feel powerless when someone is going through hardship and that though we can’t change anything, we can show we care through little things like a card. I also spoke about the importance of learning and literacy. Many of the Australians killed had been teachers and a little boy from Perth, Otis, had dyslexia and his family has set up a fund to raise money for dyslexia. I wanted them to appreciate that you can plant a plain, ordinary seed and when you nurture that seed, it can grow into something big, bold and colourful.
You can tell kids to be kind, keep their hands and feet to themselves, watch their language, and you might be lucky to see some change.However, I know these kids were changed by this story…a very simple story of plucking, sowing and nurturing the seeds and I can’t wait to witness the harvest.
It is my hope that these sunflowers and their story will truly honour all those whose lives were tragically cut short through anger and hate and somehow carry their legacy forward.
While sowing a few seeds might not seem monumental and the sort of thing you’d ever expect to change the world, but I strongly believe they can!
This is my contribution for Poets for Peace, a collaboration of poets right around the world urging for peace. It is being hosted by Forgotten Meadows Deadline for Contributions is 31st August, 2016.
“In response to the recent unceasing, and, in fact escalating global violence, we have seen and felt a corresponding surge in poetry about it.
We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to share your thoughts and feelings, a piece of yourself, to add to other Poets from around the world. We are hopeful that the combined weight of our collective spirit and wisdom will be felt worldwide as well.
The only restriction is that absolutely no hate is expressed other than the hate of violence. Any and all words will be appended to the running poem. This is not about ego, so you retain the rights to your creation, we are only interested in doing what we can to stop the violence.
Please share your poetry and your platform to spread the word for Poets everywhere to unite in this effort we are calling, “Poets for Peace.”
Google +1 it, Tweet & share it on Facebook, wherever you are able. Hashtag #PoetsForPeace
Although Yeats didn’t consider himself “political”, he wrote this poem about the Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion of 1916) of around a thousand Irish Republicans who wanted to secede from Great Britain and establish an independent Ireland. The insurrection was put down less than a week later, and many of its leaders were swiftly executed by firing squad. Although the original rebellion did not enjoy wide support among the general populace, the ruthlessness of the British response unnerved the Irish and led to the growth of the ultranationalist group Sinn Féin. “I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me,” Yeats said, months later. In the wake of the courts-martial and executions of May 1916, he wrote to Lady Gregory that he was “trying to write a poem.” His simultaneous awe of and ambivalence toward the event are clearly coded in the both title and refrain. The Easter Rising is a double entendre on the holiday; the “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. Hence, the Easter Rising is simultaneously crucifixion and resurrection, reality and archetype.
Do you have a favourite poem by William Butler Yeats?