Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Melbourne (Page 2 of 3)

Dysgwr y Flwyddyn – Welsh learner of the year

It started with flattery. I received an email in my in-box entitled: our big hitting, superstar successful learners.

It went something like this:

Come on, folks. It’s Dysgwr y Flwyddyn time, and we’ve got a bunch of people with the skillz. I’d like to see entry forms landing chez @Lee @Ioan @Elizabeth_jane @Penny @Sion @Pierre @SueEllen @Lucy @Growler (names changed to protect the innocent).

Welsh Learner of the year – I knew this competition was linked to the National Eisteddfod and won by clever, almost fluent, people who knew the gender of each noun and never mixed up their mutations. I had idly dreamed of entering, one day, when my Welsh was much better. But at this stage, my name didn’t belong on a list of big hitting, superstar successful learners.

Flattery is a powerful motivator. I kept following the thread on the SaysomethinginWelsh forum. l learned that the Dysgwr y Flwyddyn competition is open to anyone who has been learning Welsh less than ten years. To enter you simply had to write a two page application talking about why you learned Welsh, and how speaking the language has affected your life.

Hmm…a writing task. I don’t consider myself big, hitting, or super. But I do like writing.

One evening, quite without intent, I found myself drafting an application. I worked on it the next night, and the one following. I showed it to a friend. Made corrections. Re-wrote sections. At which point, it began to dawn on me that I had done too much work to waste the document.

No. I didn’t need this in my life I told myself. I had my mum’s aged care transition to organise, a novel to redraft, an overseas working holiday to plan. Far too much stress thank you very much. Yet all the while the words big, hitting and successful ran like a refrain in my head. The request had been phrased in humourous, flattering terms but I knew it was genuine. The people who had given me twenty six free audio lessons and literally opened up this whole big language adventure, had asked me to enter.

And…I had already written the application.

In a moment of devil may care, I sent the thing off. Then I started to tremble.

The next stage would involve a Skype interview.

I had no hope of winning Dysgwr y Flwyddyn. Or even going onto the final round. But I did want to get through the interview without disgracing myself. Or letting the team down. But how to prepare? Effectively? When my ignorance could fill an ocean?

Fortunately, the sender of flattering messages is also a font of language learning wisdom. He gave me some tips. From this, I have devised the Elizabeth Jane Corbett interview preparation schedule:

  1. Listen to familiar Welsh patterns spoken at double time for twenty minutes a day (in case I ever meet a Welsh chipmunk).
  2. Spend at least twenty minutes a day listening to BBC Radio Cymru
  3. Do a complete SSiW lesson every day
  4. Create and use flash cards for all the dictionary words I ‘cleverly’ used in my applications
  5. Organize as many Welsh language Skype chats as possible – any takers?
  6. Speak, listen to, and think only in Welsh on the day of the interview.

Fortunately, my Skype interview is scheduled for late Saturday night as I doubt my library colleagues would have appreciated the inconvenience of step six. Meanwhile, if you do happen bump into me on the street, don’t be alarmed if I speak in garbled half English, half Welsh sentences. (I amused my Welsh class last Tuesday night by saying ‘a week yn ôl’ instead of ‘a week ago,’ though I was definitely trying to speak English).

Oh, and things might go a bit quiet on the blog for a while.

Just saying. 🙂


Dosbarth Cymraeg – 2015 – Melbourne Welsh Class

The first night of Welsh class is always inspiring. Every year, people come with hope and yearning, expressing an intangible connection to Wales. Some, because they were born there. Others have Welsh parents or grandparents from Wales. Others, a connection by marriage. Some have simply spent time working in the country. Whatever their reasons, people come wanting to learn the language.

Yet, as familiar as the first class of 2015 was, it also felt different.


I’m going to tell you.

We threw away the printed course books last year and piloted using SSiW audio lessons as our ‘official’ course materials. Incredibly for the first time, we had hardly any attrition among our learners. At the end of the first term, they were still there, and at the end of second term. All through, winter, work and personal crises they kept coming. Iestyn from SSiW had told them they could learn to speak Welsh.

They believed him.

My job was simply to facilitate conversation.

To some, this may seem like a lazy option, to essentially step back and let others teach your class. It does however mean those, like me, who are only a hundred metres ahead in the language acquisition race, can act as tutors. At times, this was pretty scary. I had to wrack my brains to think of new and exciting ways to use the materials. I learned not to pack too much into a lesson, to o go with the flow when things were working. I had looked forward to putting my feet up this year and repeating what I’d learned with a new group of beginners.

This was not to be. At the pre-term planning meeting, our longest serving tutor said:

‘That group likes you Liz. You’d better go up to intermediate with them.’

Gulp. Like, that’s a lot of extra laminating (and they’ve heard all my jokes). But here’s the thing about this year. One of our other tutors, a Welsh speaker from North Wales, will take the beginners. She has familiarised herself with the SSiW lessons. Watched the Bootcamp videos. Caught the passion. She’s going to use level one of the NEW Northern course as her class materials.

‘Err…’ I said, ‘do you realise the NEW second course is still under construction?’

‘Yes, but I read on the website it will be finished soon.’

That’s the thing about the SSiW. They say stuff and people believe them.

We took a punt using SSiW audio lessons as our official course materials. It was an experiment. We weren’t sure how it was going to work in the class room. This year we know it works. We have last year’s group and a world wide network of language learners as evidence.

But…this year’s beginners are going to need the level two NEW SSiW Northern course by the end of the year. So, Aran Jones, if like me, you’re only a hundred metres ahead, you’d best get pedalling. 🙂

Celebrating significant milestones

Those of you who know me will realise I celebrated a significant birthday this year. Andrew celebrated the same milestone last year. We also clocked up a thirtieth wedding anniversary. A party was called for, invitations sent out. People flew in from interstate. We had a great night. One of the highlights of the evening was Seth’s speech. Here it is for those who couldn’t make it, with my short response.


Naturally I have only heard anecdotes about my parent’s time before marriage. If I trusted them, I would tell you about Andrew Corbett at the Helsinki Olympics. Instead, I thought it best that stick tonight to cold hard fact, verified by those who have lived it.

So here we go.

Quite surprisingly, after being deprived TV until I was 12 years old, I have a soft spot for movies. I therefore can think of no better way to express this speech but with obscure film references. My first thought was to compare Mum and Dad’s marriage to my favourite film trilogy: The Before Sunrise Series. The series follows the life and relationship of two people, Jesse and Celine, over the span of 20 years.

The first movie sees the pair fall in love in Paris.

The second sees them reunite 9 years later in Paris again.

The third sees them married with children

The more I looked, I found that a direct comparison was impossible:

Firstly, Hawthorndene and Vermont are not exactly Paris,

Secondly and most importantly, mum and dad achieved what took the Jesse and Celine twenty years, in the space of twelve months.

So instead myself and my siblings have created our very own film trilogy that better encapsulates the love story that is Andrew and Elizabeth Corbett.


Young love

Starring– Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Jack and Phoebe Corbett,

Tagline: Whatever you do…don’t have kids straight away.

Rating: G – minimal drug and alcohol use.

Box Office: limited South Australian release

Synopsis: A young naïve Christian couple fall in love in the hills of Adelaide. A 1980’s South Australian love story.

Things get off to a bad start at the wedding, when the catering runs out. The honeymoon in Robe is tense as Liz realises that the man she has married loves public nudity and outrageous facial hair. Both are studying, Andrew has a landscaping business. After settling into married life, the choice of the Billings method of birth control backfires with the birth of Jack “the guinea pig” Corbett.

Queue montage of chickpeas, no TV – board games, books and singing (Andrew Corbett’s songs), no Christmas presents before church, sugar free birthday cakes, camping holidays. Is this child abuse or inspired parenthood?

Andrew the long haired bearded hippy makes the decision to work for a multi-national oil company. Good thing he does too, because Phoebe “the favourite” Corbett is born shortly after. This is now a relationship of four…

Best moments: Andrew getting a job just before the birth of Jack. The presents from the Grandparents.

Favourite Quote: “We should try the Billings method”

Soundtrack: John Williamson, Andrew Corbett’s back catalogue

Cliff hanger: The Corbett’s move to Melbourne. The first house (paid for by Mobil) is in the inner city. The next, is an hour’s drive from Andrews work, the carpet stinks, rat poo in the oven. Will this make them or break them?




Fiji: there and back again

Starring: Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe Corbett, Seth Corbett, Naomi Priya Corbett

Tagline: The Corbett lampoons go on an extended vacation

Rating: R – high profanity, nudity, animal cruelty and images of archaic punishment methods

Box Office: Limited Australian release with a cult following in the pacific islands

Synopsis: After the birth of Seth, Melbourne becomes too small a place to keep the Corbetts. This is a family the world must see. (They are also broke and Andrew’s back is buggered). Enter the F word. Fiji. The transition is not smooth. Liz develops the trait of talking in a very slow voice because nobody must be able to understand her. Andrew’s eccentricities become unchecked, culminating in trying to kill the neighbours dogs with coconuts and abusing a confused old man for trying to steal the van. Both done in his underwear. These were the years of plenty – house girl/gardener (babysitter and trips away), resorts. Liz has to join slim life. Sailing, horse riding, embassy balls, more than one ice cream a year, amazing kids parties, sugar and other such novelties, Liz does ladies lunches and runs sea scouts , Dad runs Sunday school music (becomes a legend in the Sunday school circuit).

A new sister enters the family. Can life get any better?

No. All good things must end. The return to Australia is tough, long trips to work, no house girl, no garden boy, winter, have to wear shoes and jocks, plenty of Hungry Jacks.

Best moments:

Getting a new sister and brother

Trips to NZ



Favourite Quote: “Mobil will pay for it”

Soundtrack: Isa Lei, Paul Kelly, Crowded House, Celtic Hymns

Cliff hanger: The Crows win the 1997 premiership, Darren Jarmen kicks six goals.



Sian! The kids are gone

Starring – Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe McCann, Jack Corbett Seth Corbett Priya Corbett, Vanessa Corbett, Andrew McCann and Monique Corbett with guest appearances from Carine from Holland, Winnie for a ‘Willage’ in the Faroe Islands and Alice from Switzerland and, finally, Biskit “the bloody dog” Corbett.

Tagline – They’re still married? We’re as surprised as they are!

Rating: G – a great film for the family.

Box Office – World-wide release, with record sales in the Faroe Islands, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Synopsis: living their “young adult’ years with their young adult kids. The Corbett’s settle back into Melbourne life. Mum takes up a variety of hobbies, becomes a Librarian, begins to write a book. Andrew begins to collect a set of hobbies of his own. Hiking, Canoeing, Fly Kites, fishing. The number of recycled art items begins to increase spreading from the chicken coop to his office, to the house. Ladders, chains, corrugated iron chickens. They are doing things backwards. One after the other the kids fly the coop. Half way through shooting the film, the production is halted as the money is all tied up in a government backed tree scheme. Finally, after more than 20 years, the day arrives. Drew and Sian move to Coburg. These are the hipster years, riding bikes, op shop clothes at retail prices, more art work, writing, learning welsh, teaching welsh, music. Andrew flourishing in the recycling era, hard rubbish collecting now socially acceptable (compared to us hiding in the car on the way home from church while dad searched for stuff).

Elizabeth Jane the writer is born.

Best moments:

The exchange students- lots of cul’cha.

Monique. And Vanessa and Andy.

Google has revolutionised family debate (just unfortunate that Google has multiple answers sometimes).

Dad realises his dream of being a grandparent by fifty.


“It’s a big bad world out there”.

“Where are you? Nobody is home, shit’s flying”

What better parents to have. As these films have shown, our parents have taught us a lot:

  • Family is important but be an individual.
  • It’s a big bad world out there, but it’s also an exciting and interesting place so go out and live.
  • Never be afraid to talk about money.
  • Music and stories should be cherished.
  • Don’t ever stop doing new things.

Whatever happens next, I am sure our days of being cooler than our parents are long gone.


My response:

So, here we are. Fifty years old and thirty years married. We have been together longer than we have been apart. And if you do the maths, you will realise we got married quite young. And if you have looked at Phoebe’s photo collage you will also have noticed that we were still children when we started having kids. Were we too young for marriage? Absolutely. Did we know what we were doing? Not at all. Should it have been a disaster? Well, yes, statistically.

But by the grace of God here we are.

I expect if we were clever we would create a formula and write a best selling book something like ‘the seven habits of marrying too young, having kids, struggling financially, and trying to stay sane.” But I’m not sure that there is a formula, apart from loving, living, listening and forgiving. Life is a messy business. And as for the sanity, that’s an illusion (on my part at least).

Yet, here we are.

Tonight, I want to thank Andrew for letting me grow up in my own way in my own time, with all my fads, fancies and obsessive interests. I want to thank our children, Jack, Phoebe, Seth and Naomi Priya for being part of our journey. For our children in law, Ness, Andy and Monique, for loving our children and joining our family. And, of course, our AFS daughters who have enriched our lives. I also want to thank family and friends who have travelled interstate to celebrate with us tonight – Ma and Pa, Willem, Jack, Ness and Charlie, Paul, Rod and Sue Mitchell. Finally to thank each of you for being part of our journey thus far. And for those in Coburg who have more recently become part of the journey. No man is an island. No marriage or family exists in isolation. Your friendship, support, love and laughter have all helped bring us to this point.

We consider ourselves fortunate.














Old Melbourne Town – some snippets from history

One of the best parts about researching a historical era and location in which to set a novel is that you have to read everything. The sadest part is that you don’t get to use half of what you learn. At least, not consciously. But you don’t ever know what you’ll need. So you read.

This week have been reading Old Melbourne Town by Michael Cannon. l am always struck when reading about Victoria’s early settlers at how capricious they were – coming overland and across Bass Straight to occupy the district illegally, yet calling on British law to protect their squatting interests. Despoiling the land with nary a thought for its original inhabitants, living in tiny wattle and daub huts, enduring floods, fires, noxious odours and explosions, yet having the foresight to lay out botanical gardens, race courses and cricket clubs. What vision. What arrogance.

Here are some snippets I came across this week.

  • Punt Road is called Punt Road because – wait for it – there was a punt at that part of the river
  • Living ‘south of the Yarra’ was nothing to boast about initially.
  • The inhabitants of the south bank huts and clay pits were ‘social pariahs,’ said to be ‘terrors for drinking.’
  • Elizabeth Street was originally a creek bed
  • Small wooden bridges were constructed so that people could cross from the road to the shops
  • Commercial water carriers pumped water from the Yarra and delivered it to town inhabitants
  • Carcasses from the abattoirs below Batman’s Hill were thrown into the Yarra
  • The incoming tide washed them back towards the town
  • Some wondered whether this was causing ill health
  • A dam was constructed across the Yarra to help separate the fresh water from the incoming tidal waters
  • In July 1842, flood waters swept down the Yarra were balked at the dam and flooded the town
  • Brick makers huts and kilns were washed away
  • People drowned
  • This happened in 1842, 1843 and 1844
  • Old Melbourne gaol is in fact the fourth Melbourne gaol. Aboriginals burnt the first one down in 1838
  • The majority of Melbourne’s first constables (sent down from Sydney) were dismissed for drunkenness and corruption
  • Melbourne’ first Supreme Court Judge, John Walpole Willis’ stormy background included expulsion from school, removal as Equity Judge in Upper Canada, and constant conflict with his brother judges in Sydney.
  • Governor Gipps sent him to Melbourne to get rid of him.
  • Ditto Supreme Court Deputy Registrar James Denham Pinnock (also from Sydney) who as Emigration Agent had allowed ‘many scandals to continue.’
  • Are you picking up a theme here?
  • The first mail in the settlement was hand delivered by John Batman
  • Letters took five weeks to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney
  • One poor horseman rode all the way to Yass and forgot to exchange the mail bags, returning months later with the original letters
  • I am thinking of taking up genealogy.
  • Seriously, I think he and I must be related

A year of tutoring with SSiW – the wrap up

Last night was the last night of Welsh classes for 2014. Now before friends in the northern hemisphere accuse us of laziness, finishing the term in mid-November, do bear in mind it is Spring here in Melbourne and the days are lengthening. It is the end of the academic year, a time of exams and graduations. We are juggling valedictory dinners, with Christmas parties and end of year office events. After which, everyone who is able will head down to the coast for a summer break. So, we finish early and, being Aussie’s we decided to do this with a barbie

This is the first time since starting to starting to tiwtor three years ago that we’ve finished with a BBQ. Normally by this point in the year, I am exhausted and the two or three remaining students who have made it to the end of the fourth term are in a fog of pain and confusion. All anyone wants to do is slink away quietly and lick their language learning wounds.

This year was different.

It started the same as other years, with a large group of learners. I recall looking round the class and wondering how many would stay the course. Surprisingly, this year, we have pretty much retained our starting numbers. I am putting this down to a desperate decision to use SSIW audio lessons as our official course materials.

I say desperate, not because of the said course materials, which are excellent – if you want an overview read Aran Jones excellent short explanation of High Intenisty Language Learning. But the SSiW audio lessons are designed for individual use. I had to somehow adapt them for the group. From the outset, I decided we were not going to parrot the lessons aloud in class. That was homework. The only homework I ever set. Not that I actually had to ‘set’ anything. There was a fair bit of friendly rivalry among class members. Especially as we started each lesson by telling the group what lesson were up to yng Nghymraeg. My job was to facilitate ways of using the patterns students were learning. It was a trial by error process. I made heaps of mistakes. But peopel stayed. And some things actually worked.

  • I made flash cards
  • We played games like snap and charades and memory
  • We had a lolly jar
  • I wrote English dialogues for learners to speak in Welsh
  • We used the picture dictionary to supplement our vocabulary
  • By the end of the year we were using pictures as launching boards for conversations
  • We even had a romance between a man from one picture and a woman on the other.
  • They met in a tavern, married and had dau o blant (two children).
  • Not to mention their dogs and cats and how they liked mynd am dro (go for a walk)

We had fun.

That was the main piece of feedback I received at the end of the year. We laughed heaps.

Three people finished the entire first course. Some have told me they don’t want to go onto the intermediate class next year, using a course book. They want to keep learning the SSIW way. Many are talking about how far they will be able to get during their spare time over the summer holidays. Last night, someone said:

I think Iestyn, Aran and the two Cats deserve most of the credit. But we our class is pretty special too.

I agree.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present the Melbourne SSiW class of 2014



The Strays – a very Melbourne novel

Here is how I prepare for holidays – I reserve books. Books others have returned to the library, books recommended, ones I’ve shelved, read reviews about, seen clogging up the trolleys, books I’ve ignored in the pursuit of my own creative endeavours.

For the Melbourne Cup holiday I reserved The Strays by Emily Bitto. I started reading before the holiday officially started. What? You are shocked. There are no rules against pre-reading. I had just finished the latest draft of my manuscript prior to sending it off for what, I hope, will be its final assessment. My head was clear, my husband in Venice, the parish reports sorted and with Melbourne Cup falling on a Tuesday, I had no Welsh lessons to prepare for.

Some serious ‘me’ time was called for.

The Strays topped my reservation list for a number of reasons.

  • It is the author, Emily Bitto’s, debut novel. I have an interst in debut writers.
  • It is the first novel published by the newly established independant publishing house Affirm Press. Ditto, an interst in Melbourne publishers.
  • Bitto had spoken at one of Boroondara libraries’ emerging author talks and I’d been sorry to miss the event.
  • A colleague told me the story stayed with her long after she’d turned its final pages.

The Strays centres around the, fictitious, Trentham family who are at the forefront the 1930’s Melbourne modern art movement. Into their seemingly carefree lives comes Lily, a lonely only child from a conservative middle class family. As Lily’s friendship with the Trentham’s second daughter, Eva, unfolds from early primary school and into adolescence she is a witness to the loyalties, conflicts and inner contradictions of this carelessly neglectful family and the group artists they support. Despite being on the edge of the group, Lily finds herself drawn into the household’s divisions the ultimate the cost of which are borne by the Trentham’s younger daughters.

This is a literary novel. From its opening page, the reader is treated to some stunning prose.

I remember that day, after it all fell apart, when Eva came to me through the misty garden so that her red coat bled into view from white to pale rose to scarlet…

Bitto’s portrait of the Melbourne modern art movement is vivid, her historical detail authentic and engaging, the final unfolding of events, shocking, though well foreshadowed. At times, I felt the friendship between Lily and Eva was subsumed by the vibrant communtiy In which they lived – the ‘first chaste marriage’ between them only sketchily drawn. In retrospect, I think this was deliberate. Lily is as much infatuated by the enigmatic Tentham’s as she is by their daughter Eva. As a non-daughter or, perhaps due to of her inherent conservatism, she escapes the worst of the story’s consequences. Yet her life is driven by the rifts they caused. The novel is not without hope, however. We see it in Lily’s hindsight reflections, her journey towards reconciliation and in the relationship she has with her daughter. Her life decisions are not happily-ever-after but somehow appropriate. They are bound to resonate with all who have yearned for a more than ordinary life.


The wrap up

Five weeks is a long time to be away from home but, truth be told, this holiday has been in the planning for years. It was the first time, I’d travelled to the UK with Andrew. The first time I’d shown him the country where I was born. The place, against all odds, I still sometimes think of as home. That’s the funny thing about being a migrant. You are raised by people who speak of another land in wistful tones, whose childhoods, courtships and treasured memories all took place thousand miles away from where they have chosen to reside.

That does something to your soul.

As I sit on this Qantas A380, I feel compelled to make an inventory of the journey we have been on.


Showing Andrew Wales

Knowing he found it beautiful

Having him notice the change in language as we drove deeper into Wales

Speaking Welsh for an entire week

Finding my thoughts no longer needed translating

Walking with Aussie friends in North Wales

Seeing family and friends in Wales, Essex and Dorset

Visiting Paris

Dinner with Andrew’s colleagues in Provence

Hardest parts

Lack of WIFI – I’d put the inability to get WIFI in Australian country towns down to the wide, brown spread of our land. I was wrong. It seems small green islands have dead spots too

Having to eat the wonderful, calorie laden and lovingly prepared meals laid out by family and friends – gee, thanks folks, I’m feeling too tubby for my clothes

Being too tired to exercise formally

Not being able to have protein days – Doctor Dukan and me are looking forward to resuming our acquaintance this week

Having to juggle food availability against intolerances and then putting up with the symptoms

The flight – let’s face it, Australia is a a long way from Europe


Paris (indeed France) was/is astonishingly beautiful, sophisticated, and culturally exciting. I was prepared to fall in love with the the place, yet, it never evoked a sense belonging. This proved to me that my love of the UK and more specifically, the landscape of Wales, goes beyond it’s beauty. As I passed through Shrewsbury and the railway towns of the English marches, I had a sense of coming home.

Strangely, Melbourne feels like home too. As we sat in cafe after cafe, I found myself yearning for informality, wide, light-filled spaces, doing coffee for the sake of coffee, and the easy uncomplicated sense of not being the guest, or stranger in the room.

The Welsh have a saying: cenedl heb iaith yw cenedl heb galon – a nation without language is a nation without heart. This is true. France showed me that. France would not be France if it’s people spoke English. Neither would it be England. It would be a land in between. Wales has lost the possibility of ever being a fully Welsh speaking nation. It’s best hope is to emulate lands like Switzerland and Belgium by coming a truly bilingual country. This however relies on the support and goodwill of the English speakers living there. To my dismay, I have found many to be rude or openly hostile towards the Welsh language. Wales deserves better than that.

Quote of the holiday

Andrew (reflecting on the vagaries of immigration): some people were never meant to be transplanted – and you are one of them

Me: What do you mean?

Andrew: Liz, how any times have you been to Wales in the last ten years?

What I’m looking forward too in Australia

Seeing my dog

Oops! Seeing my family

Cwtsch-ing my dog

Riding my bike

Chatting with my Welsh class

Catching up with friends and workmates

Planning my next trip to Wales




The dark side of creativity

You wake before six, though somewhere in your manufacturer's instructions is a note saying you are not to be roused before eight o'clock in the morning. You cycle along the rain dark glistening Tarmac of Sydney Road, feeling renegade and daring. Only to find a whole sub-set of society at large in the early hours of the morning – waiting for trams, sweeping streets, sleeping in doorways, or hurtling down the all but empty side lanes, their tail lights bouncing off the walls of the surrounding buildings.

At the library, you are greeted with the news that the fire alarm has gone off for no particular reason. Before you even open, workmen are resetting alarms, switchboards and air conditioning systems. The fire brigade calls to report a malfunction in their access card. You check emails, sign cash sheets, and unpack crates but you can't seem settle to anything.

On desk, you have three inter-library loan requests from elderly people who were trying to get their heads around the idea of national and global online book databases, the possibility that their particular request may be out of print, the notion of joining a neighbouring library service online, and the concept of an eBook being a viable alternative. Despite your best efforts, you fall under the mesmerising spell of a woman who has made it her mission to continue the practice of paper notices on community notice boards in the face of digital advancement. You field her questions, trying to explain the situation, though you know she isn't listening. You try to reassure a young girl who is fretting about an overdue notice. You wonder at the depth of her anxiety. You explain the library's policies to her brave, blind, dignified father. You realise some young people are forced to grow up before their time.

At lunch time, one of your workmates lays a slab of chocolate on the table. 'It has been a long morning,' she says. 'We deserve this.' You think probably you do deserve it but…Thursday is a protein only day. You stand as if on the brink of a precipice. The slope below looks mighty slippery. But you didn't lose fourteen kilos by being a sissy. You walk away before you can start cramming hunks of chocolate in your mouth.

On your lunch break you realise you are tired – bone deep, dead dog, thirsty creek tried. And it has nothing to do with your six o'clock start. Or your busy desk shift. You think, perhaps, it's because you've put your manuscript in the post. After the flushed, new born, skin prickling elation of yesterday, adrenaline is leaking out of you like a sieve. You drink multiple cups of coffee. Eat bucket loads of protein. Ensure you are properly hydrated.

It doesn't help

Riding home through the evening streets, you feel rhino heavy as Melbourne tram. As freshly slaughtered as a carcass. You think perhaps you should hold onto your day job at the library. That you were a fool to ever start writing. You wonder whether it is too late to take up knitting. Or felting. Whether all your writing friends are secretly laughing. You realise this is the dark side of being creative.


A general rant about trams, drunk drivers and respect for commuter cyclists.

I'm a law abiding girl. Especially when I am on my bike. I almost never ride on the footpath. I don't run red lights and I always give way to the cars on my right. Why? Well the answer is obvious. It's me against the machines. I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in a collision. But there is another more idealistic reason for my sticking to the rules.

I deserve the respect of other vehicles.

Unfortunately, this respect is sometimes lacking. I learned this, the hard way, at a back street round-about.

The drunk old man in the clapped out sedan gave every appearance of stopping. But at the last minute he lurched through the intersection. I couldn't stop. Went sailing over his car bonnet. When the ambulance arrived I was pronounced unharmed. But the paramedic took one look at my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and red polka dot helmet and thought she'd give me some advice.

'Perhaps you should ride on the footpath.'

'No.' The other paramedic snapped back before I can answer. 'She shouldn't have to ride on the footpath.'

'It would be safer.'

'But she wasn't doing anything wrong.'

The first paramedic shrugged. 'I'm just saying…'

'I can't ride on the footpath.' I found my voice. It's against the law. When I'm on my bike I'm a vehicle. I'm governed and protected by the Australian road rules.'

So, respect. That's where am I going with this people. And the Australian road rules. Or, more specifically, the ones pertaining to Melbourne tram users.

Let me give you a brief explanation.

In Melbourne we have trams. They run on the roads. In some instances there are small platforms for commuters step onto. But mostly when a tram stops, cars stop and tram users walk across the road to the footpath. A vehicle failing to stop could kill someone.

The tram system works well. Most people know the difference between a designated platform and an 'on road' stop. The system breaks down on Royal Parade.

Royal Parade is an odd thoroughfare. Four lanes in the middle, two wide, grassed and tree'd traffic islands, and then another lane each side. The trams run in the middle lanes. Their stops are on the traffic islands. The bikes paths are in the outer lanes adjacent to the footpaths. In my understanding, tram users have right of way in the middle lanes. They step onto the road. But they are supposed to cross the outer lanes at the traffic lights. If they do, bikes and cars are obliged to stop for them.

Trouble is, the tram users don't know the rules. They spill across the outer lanes as if they have just stepped out of a tram. Never mind me, with my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and read polka-dot helmet. It's as if I don't exist. They stride out in front of me when I'm pedalling at full speed. Mostly, I manage to stop. Let's face it, no one wants a bike accident. But, one day, I might not be able to. And I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in that situation.

So, if you are a Royal Parade tram user, be warned. If you know a Royal Parade tram user tell them I'm out there. And if you are a commuter cyclist, share, like, re-tweet this message.

We deserve respect on the roads.


Dosbarth Cymraeg – 2014 – Welsh class

Welsh class started back Tuesday night and, I have to say, I do love the first class of the year. It is preceded by a long summer holiday during which, I start receiving tentative emails. Hello, I've read on the Welsh Australian that you have Welsh classes at the Celtic Club in Melbourne. Would I be able to join you? I always reply, in what I hope is an encouraging manner, and, sometimes, the enquirer writes back. But often there is a silence. I have to wait until February to see whether people have decided to take up the challenge.

In the days leading up to the first class, I sort through my flash cards and make new ones (remind me to tell you about laminating therapy). My brother, Ian, who is a real language teacher, prefers not to use falsh cards. He uses toys puppets and props with his students. But, you know, it's just me, my bike and my panniers, cycling to the city each week. And of course there are the January joys of cutting, pasting and laminating.

Tuesday night, twenty people turned up for our first class. This included four beginners along with the two others who'd started late in the previous year. Before dividing into groups, we went around in a circle introducing ourselves. We also talked about why we wanted to learn Welsh. This exercise is always heartfelt and amazing – many answers involve a strange intangible yearning to speak a language and that has long been denied. Others have married Welsh people (they have no choice!). Some have no idea why they are learning Welsh, others have been seduced by the poetic beauty of the language.

For my own part, the motivation is complex, though writing a novel with Welsh characters was part of the initial impetus, I had in fact wanted to learn Welsh for as long as I can remember. The root of this desire was maternal. Mae fy mam i yn dod o Aberafan yn wreiddiol – my mum came from Aberafan originally. Growing up in Australia, mum was at pains to emphasise that we were not English. We were British. I didn't know what that meant. Only if I'd made such an utterance my Aussie friends would have laughed out me of the playground. I knew it had something to do with Mum being Welsh. Her mam and sisters spoke with strange sing-song accents. They were also crazy, passionate and often opinionated.

I found them fascinating.

I remember the first time mum told me about the Welsh language. She'd never spoken it fluently, she told me, only a smattering of phrases, but her father and cousins were Cymry Cymaeg (Welsh speaking Welsh people), and sometime, over the years, she'd acquired a tatty old book on the language. I remember her turning its pages and making the oddest sounds. I heard awe in her voice that day too and yearning. I think something of that yearning took root in me – took root so deeply that when I decided to write a nineteenth century immigration novel it had to include Welsh characters. I didn't know much about Wales at that stage – I had vague notions of chapels and massed male voice choirs but, I hope I won't offend anyone, by saying that didn't sound terribly interesting – and they did so need to be interesting, my Welsh characters. Their lives would be the axis on which the protagonist's inner journey would turn. Fortunately, I soon learned that Wales' also had a rich bardic heritage.

Anyway, that's besides the point. This blog is about my Welsh class. But I trust you will have gathered from my convoluted explanations that learning Welsh was never for me been a purely intellectual exercise. It was and still is a homecoming journey. The Welsh word for homesickness is hiraeth. It means long ache. And I don't need to tell you that Tuesday night I heard that same ache in other people's voices.

I have been learning Welsh for almost a decade now and during the first six years, I learned to read and write a number of words and could tell you their meanings but I couldn't structure a sentence or hold a Welsh conversation. Once I discovered Saysomethinginwelsh, the whole learning experience changed for me. One week, I was the class sluggard, the next I'd started spurting out entire paragraphs. As a tutor, I have always encouraged my class to use SSiW lessons but never insisted. For the most part we've followed a written course book. The trouble with using the written materials is that for English speakers Welsh words don't look like they sound. Try saying Machynlleth for example (the name of a town) or tywyllwch (darkness). Added to which, with books in front of them, people don't trust themselves to listen and remember. This year I've therefore decided to try a new approach. This is what I told my Welsh class on Tuesday night.

We are not going to be using books. You will do the free MP3 lessons from Saysomethinginwelsh and in class we will play games.

I saw doubt in people's eyes. I had anticipated this. We therefore listened to the first ten minutes of a SSiW lesson. People laughed in all the right places (Aran, Iestyn you will be pleased to know). I saw wonder in people's faces. Shoulders relaxing. We then played a simple memory game with…that's right, you guessed it. flash cards.

At the end of the evening we watched Rod Gilbert's 2008 Royal variety performance. I told the class, relax. We're going to have fun. We are will play games and more games. Maybe do some play acting. And absolutely no one is going to die trying to learn Welsh. The challenge for me is to come up with enough games and activities to fill the weekly hour and a half lessons. So, if you've got any ideas, please let me know. Especially if they involve cutting, pasting or the therapeutic benefits of molten plastic.


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