Monika Schott

Follow author Add as friend Message author Subscribe to updates from author Subscribe via RSS
A life of 'oh wells' are greater than a life of 'what ifs'. I write to express life in all its glory, to spark thinking … I love to swim outside, practise hot yoga and hit the boxing studio. I'm currently undertaking a PhD research to capture the social history of the community that lived on Melbourne's first sewerage farm. I've had several short stories published, my latest being 'The Teacher' in 'These winter months'. I was short-listed in the Ada Cambridge Prize, won the inaugural Wyndham Rotary Arts Small Business Award and have a Masters of Communication where I looked at boys and reading and what it is they like to read.

Farm Reflections: Beryl

She cups her hands under my jaw, drawing me close. Her touch is soft, a stark contrast to the arduous work she began at 10 years old. She kisses my cheek, skimming the corner of my lips. It’s the kind of exchange that exudes nurture from a mother’s kiss, of appreciation and protection. Those few seconds become tattooed inside of me, such is the power of her touch.

‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘For giving me so much of your time today.’ I tried to leave hours earlier, concerned I was taking up too much of her time, before a plate of pointed egg, and ham and cheese sandwiches appeared.

She smiles. ‘Thanks for coming, dear. It was lovely meeting you.’ Her smile is unfaltering, more spirited and permanent than the Mona Lisa.

I pull out the red capsicums from the box and bunch of rhubarb bound by an elastic band with leaves browning at their sliced tops, and toss the Spanish onions and tomatoes into the bowl in the pantry. SBS Chill plays smooth over the radio, although the tunes seem to hinge in a haunting of melancholy. Shuffling, stomps in boots on floorboards with no time to kick them off or wipe away the lipstick from the day, from one cupboard to the next, doors opening and banging with bongo beats of intermingling that flee to the other side of the world.

‘Here, have you seen this?’ he asks, handing me a bluing photo of footballers wearing Geelong AFL jumpers.

More football, but it seems to be what people are passionate about. It played a big part in the community over the years, with many attending weekend games and dances that followed in the Farm hall.

‘She played on the MCG you know.’

I look up over my spectacles, unsure of truth or jovial yarn.

‘She did! I’m not telling any tales.’

Beryl smiles broadly from her arm chair. ‘Yeah, it’s true,’ she nods.

I look closely at the photo. These footballers are women, having played in 1952. ‘We’ve got photos of women playing football in 1950, ‘51 and now ‘52!’ Women took to the field to the upturned noses of some and admiration of others back more than 67 years ago. The hype of women’s football today was built on the strength and foresight of these women and men.

‘I played in the ’51 and ’52 games. Bob Davis was our coach in 1952.’ The sun streaming through the dining room window casts elongated shadows that autumn is known for, lighting Beryl from behind. ‘Sunny Stewart and Linda Tetsil would fake a fight every game.’

I laugh. ‘I thought fake fighting only happened in wrestling!’

A sip of rosé, the green stem of the wine glass reminding me of faraway. Back to the pantry I prance for that onion already packed away. Peeling and chopping, grating in mechanical auto pilot … a slip of the knuckle on my thumb. Onion juice soon seeps into the graze. It stings but I don’t stop. Blood begins to streak, forcing me to search for a band aid. When the boys were little, band aids always somehow disappeared into that black hole of socks. My grating of fingers is all too common in our household and at the suggestion of one of those boys who is now a man, band aids today live in the kitchen. I wonder how many times Beryl grated her fingers in her day, or worse still, gained splinters and cuts from the logs she chopped.

‘I was Dad’s helper up until he died when I was nine,’ she says.

‘That’s young,’ I say, in jarring knowing of loss as a child.

‘Because I was the second eldest in the family, I took on the outside chores when Dad died. My older sister helped Mum inside. I’d have to chop wood for the wood stove and to heat up the copper for washing clothes.’

‘For bathing too,’ says Don. ‘Don’t forget the bathing. You were a hard worker, love.’

Beryl nods. ‘I’d feed the pigs and milk the cows, and churn the cream and butter.’

‘You’ve got to understand that era,’ says Don. He reminds me of my grandfather, trying to teach me the ways of the “old life”. ‘You had no choice. They had no father, no electricity because they weren’t in the town. Beryl had to do those things with no father.’

‘And you milked the cows, twice a day?’

Beryl nods. ‘About five or five thirty at each end of the day.’

‘She’d do that before and after school and when she went on to work, and she’d have a five or six-mile ride on her push bike to and from Werribee to get to work.’ Don’s gloating is of that other admiration, one of deep and lifelong love between two people.

‘And before Beryl and her family got to the 40 Road and the house in Clover's Yard where they stored fencing posts and concrete pipes and all those sorts of things, before her father died, they lived out at Murtcaim near us. In a stable.’

Beryl giggles. ‘The horse would stick its head through the kitchen window over the kitchen sink.’

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How could a family live in a stable when every other worker and their family had a house?’

‘Again, it was the era. A single man would look after the horses and live in the stable with the them. It was an oversight to have a family in there. Mr Vincent was the Farm manager at the time and he didn’t know they were living in the stable. But as soon as he found out, he arranged for a house for them to move into.’

‘We moved in on Boxing Day 1939.’

‘Beryl’s Mum had trouble adjusting after the stable. She didn’t know how to use the electricity,’ says Don. ‘She wasn’t confident with it.’

Beryl giggles again. ‘I used to crank the handle for Mum on the car too.’

‘What do you mean?’ Surely her mother hadn’t been driving that far back?

‘Mum learnt to drive in a Whippet after Dad died and I’d have to crank the handle to start the car for her. She would’ve got her licence in 1949 or so.’

I feel her cupped hands at my jaw again before striding out to feed lettuce and cauliflower leaves, carrot tops and onion skins to the chooks.

‘Here chookies,’ I call, swishing through already building dew that sends droplets onto the points of my suede boots. They come scuttling from their foraging behind the bottle brush when they hear me. I think it’s more that they notice the blue container, an ever-reliable source of sustenance for them.

‘The Board had a policy of no women working on the Farm back then,’ says Don. ‘But they gave Beryl’s mum a job when her father died.’

‘Mum cleaned the offices so we could keep living on the Farm. You couldn’t stay in a Board house if you didn’t work on the Farm.’ Beryl barely moves in her armchair. She doesn’t look unwell, with a healthy glow and one of the kindest smiles I’d seen, yet a walking frame on wheels sits by her.

‘Mum had five kids to look after and she was determined to keep her family together. She’d iron for some of the mangers on the Farm and clean for them too to earn enough money.’ Her quiet spoken words are edged in a zeal unheard up until now, revealing a wider spectrum of strength. In her position of centre half back on the football field and as a woman that would tower over me even now if she stood, she would have flung me like a frisbee rather than tackle me to the ground if I had played against her.

Don wanders off into the bedroom, I’m hoping for photos of where he lived as a child on the Farm, in the Murtcaim area. I don’t yet know a lot about Murtcaim.

‘I’m not very well,’ says Beryl, almost whispering. ‘My heart’s not working properly and they can’t do anything more for me.’

‘What do you mean? Why can’t they do anything?’

‘I’m too far gone.’ Her look becomes one of pensive contemplation.

‘But you don’t look sick, Beryl.’

Don returns, clasping a few small photos. ‘Look, here she is. Beryl on her bike and on the fence post. Look at that smile.’

'He's back from the wardrobe,' Beryl jokes.

And there she was. Perched on the flat top of the fence post, holding her knees in close, looking so relaxed and content and with an air of cheery chipper, even with all the responsibilities of back then.

'And look, my car,’ says Don. He throws me three photos. ‘It was that car that made Beryl go out with me to the movies. My black Austin A40 convertible with white wall tyres. How could Beryl resist!’

I bound back into the kitchen to a spicy Latin rhythm, perfect for the salsa … what’s next? I find myself almost shuffling a one, two, three, four around the kitchen … carrots and lettuce for the fridge, broccoli to squeeze into the vegie drawer, a hip to maracas, a thought of him, more of her and him. Zucchinis into the fridge and rhubarb shoved in half an hour earlier pulled out for stewing, although I’m not sure how to cook rhubarb. With lots of sugar I think I’d heard it said, to offset the rhubarb’s tart or sour or something. With apples too I recall.

One, two … Beryl and Don dancing at their wedding reception in the Farm hall, the band playing on stage behind the bridal table across the front of the hall. Guests eating and drinking into the night, joyful and jolly on three long tables adorned in flowers that stretch from the bridal table up the length of the hall … I reach for that wine glass again, cheers to a life, wistful of what’s to come with lands faraway.

‘They can’t do anything more for Beryl you know,’ says Don. ‘She’s had her cancer treatment and now this heart. They can’t help her. But that’s what I’m here for,’ says Don. ‘I’m a fulltime carer now, after all the looking after Beryl has done for me.’

My son walks in. I don’t want to talk about where I’ve been today, or Beryl, or any of those intermingling thoughts. Apple skins into the chook container ... his eyes follow me.

‘Thanks again, Beryl,’ I say. ‘I’ll bring your photos back on a Monday when I’m in the area with my son at karate.’

‘Take your time,’ she says.

Don walks me out and levers the door open for me to walk through. I kiss the side of his face and hug him. He’s nervous with his embrace back, unsure of what to do with his arms. We stroll to the mail box together.

‘My mum spoilt me,’ he says. ‘She did everything for me and my grandfather lived with us so he did a lot of the chores that Beryl had to do. And then Beryl spoilt me once we got married. I’ve been a lucky man. It’s my turn to look after Beryl now.’

Something catches in me, in my gut. ‘Well you know how to spoil then because you’ve been so well looked after, your turn to spoil Beryl.’ The words fall from my mouth, my thoughts spoken before I have time to consider them.

Don gives an uneasy chuckle, appearing to be searching for a reply to my candid comment. He nods. ‘You’re right. I will.’

I drive home to the box of vegetables delivered earlier and waiting to be unpacked, thinking about the sensitivity of Beryl's hold, her appreciation of time to reminisce. Perhaps that’s stronger when you reach an end of life you know is near.

Gratitude’s a very grounding thing. People sharing stories, sometimes deep and personal memories only they can recollect. It’s an honouring that's grounding, an appreciation and trust to hold memories in extremes of harsh reality and sublime pleasure, the challenging and enchanting, all collected in a tiny box locked in the life time of one's heart.

As bearer of these recollections to record as a moment in time, milling over them, mining the jewels that lay within a reef more fertile of the most precious … there’s much satisfaction in holding that pause to reminiscence, of life on the Farm.

 

NOTES:

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1973; the last family moved off site in 1980. The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece. 

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm/  

AFL is a team in the Australian Football League.

The MCG stands for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an Australian sports stadium located in Melbourne.

The Farm is a colloquial term for Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

The Board stands for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the organisation first responsible for establishing and managing the sewage treatment plant. The Board became Melbourne Water in the 1990s.

Recent Comments
Jane Phillipson Wilson
Moni, This is captivating. More, please. xx Jane
Monday, 22 May 2017 11:26
Monika Schott
Thanks, Jane. It will come. x
Monday, 22 May 2017 21:14
Rosy Cole
What Jane said! :-)
Monday, 22 May 2017 13:23
3451 Hits
3 Comments

Everyday Superheroes

Huge eyes bulge from their sockets in full Cocker Spaniel spiel, more cute than ugly and loaded in a love that oozes past the film of mucus that has turned those eyes from brown to grey, probably because of the recent marathon surgery and sedation. Little moans come in spasms of mooing coos. This poor girl has been through the trauma of her life, having two vets slice the length of her underside to remove a mammary gland chain. Cancer, whether in pets or humans, is a shit of a thing. Her surgery came at the pinnacle of a most gruelling week.

I sit here now from the summit, listening to my poor little girl’s moans. My son, who had the responsibility of bringing her home from the vet after her surgery, told me not to look at her wound as it would be too upsetting. He knows me well. Her cancer is terminal and although I can say it easily enough, I can't think about it. Not when I see Schnooze splayed to her side, her nose snuggled into her sister. Teddi has moped about these past days, lost without Schnooze. The two have been inseparable for the past eight years, until this point.

I think of her as my little hero for what she’s endured. But that’s not quite the right word. In fact, I don’t like the word hero for it means a person who has performed some courageous act or is of a 'noble character'. Yet everyone performs courageous acts all the time, acts that influence and affect others and contribute to this world. And mostly, quietly and unassumingly, without any fanfare and any need for recognition.

The dictionary also states that a hero is ‘a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.’ This makes me gag! Special achievements. Really? It sounds more like an adoration developed in response to this modern world’s insatiable appetite for the need to be special and recognised, of people to be revered for being exceptional for any celebrity or voyeuristic reason.

Maybe that’s part of the problem with humanity right now, this need to be special when in fact, everyone has their own special abilities and qualities, their own level of achievement and success, however different it is from one person to the other. Maybe that’s why there is so much judgement in the world and so little acceptance and appreciation.

Those that read my words have heard me talk of my brother. While he’s unable to function in the way that mainstream life allows, he does function, and extremely well. His paranoia that can’t be ‘cured’ means he can’t enter a supermarket or walk in his own backyard for fear of people spying on him and his mind is in constant battle with demons that interweave with his schizophrenia. People that don’t him would judge him as the weird guy down the road, the crazy man. Yet he is one of those quiet, gentle giants with an eye to paint and draw that is extraordinary. His oils and charcoals grace the walls of so many and his patience to capture that tender essence of people in his paintings is little understood. Where’s his accolade for his accomplishments, his superb achievements relative to his measure of who he is?

No, the word hero isn’t right. People accomplish everywhere. For Schnooze to endure the surgery and now recovery, however cute she is when she crashes her Elizabethan collar into walls and is unable to reach that urging scratch behind her ear, and the gratitude when you can reach that scratch for her, she’s my little superwoman. And Ms R that I lunched with recently, her patience and determination in sourcing funds for scholarships for young people in disadvantaged areas so they can have a chance to an education and to pursue their dreams, is admirable. Without her and the organisation she works for, these young people would miss their opportunity to contribute to the world in the way they aspire to. Another superwoman, quiet and unassuming, yet so full of the will to give.

It’s times like this past week that I get to sit on the summit after the gruelling climb of the past seven days, to observe and reflect ... on the 70-year-old woman who confessed to being molested by a boy when she was young, in the pool she adored swimming in, which she never returned to again. The remorse in the eyes of her sister at hearing that confession as she never knew of her torment. She's the one to be revered for her exceptional strength for what she's endured for so long. One could say, she should have spoken up. But we all have our limitations and they all differ. No judgement is required on that, or on the woman who barraged abuse at my son, H, simply for being a by-stander in an act of rage on the road. I’m sure she accomplishes in her own world. And one day, ‘bogan’ H, in long hair pulled back to conduct chemistry experiments, will have developed the next drug to cure her ailment in old age. A superman, even with only the aspiration to find the next drug.

We all succeed and triumph relative to our own lives. Take the depth of love that’s hidden from the world because of society’s taboo in loving two people, and the strength of those people to carry that love into their eighties. The giving spirit of the mentor to constantly push the student, to question and dig for answers, even when the question has never been asked before and is so abstract that understanding it seems impossible, let alone answering it.

Look into the eyes of one so young when tragedy strikes and the empathy that bleeds in all shades of the rainbow, or of people young and old who risk their lives to rescue others … they’re everywhere.

Try to understand the strength of the paramedic who becomes de-sensitised to so much yet can still flash a smile of warmth and share a few words of care that can soothe any ache of heart, or the tears that build in the young man with responsibility to collect his very frail dog from the vet … they’ve all accomplished, all have pushed themselves or been pushed to limits that have often been untested.

To be surrounded by people who accomplish so much, without the public and materialistic adoration that goes with the heroism of today’s material world, is a true privilege. The quiet heroes of this world are everywhere. They’re the true superheroes.

***

An unexpected call from the vet last night has revealed that they managed to capture all of Schnooze's cancer, and just in time. Now that's a trio of superwomen I wouldn't want to mess with!

Recent Comments
Anonymous
Yes, there are many ordinary struggling humans all around us doing extraordinary kind and helpful things Thank you for recognizin... Read More
Saturday, 13 May 2017 15:33
Monika Schott
Thanks, Sue. I think you're one of those extraordinary humans too. ... Read More
Sunday, 14 May 2017 01:49
Rosy Cole
Moni, this is a wonderful, heartfelt, life-affirming post and what the world needs to know right now. Losing the life God has give... Read More
Tuesday, 16 May 2017 16:11
1290 Hits
6 Comments

You're here

da417f43ff167396e936f1cd8e74818d

I know you’re here tonight. Your embrace tells me so. It’s that swathe of warmth that wraps around me and steadies me to my core, of your want to be here intertwined with my want for you.

Sometimes there’s a presence on the breath of cigarettes or on the whiff of perfume, Cacharel Anais Anais if I remember. Other times it's in the scratching of shopping bags chock full of skirts and blouses, socks for her, ties for him and a vase for me, red at its best.

But tonight, that presence is you. It’s in your hold, so caring and kind, a solid trusting that stabilises and stops the freefall, for me and for you. Life can get like that where everything comes and goes, rushing to be somewhere and do something that makes so little difference compared to the touch of kindness, of stings of hurt from the selfish and the self-interest in that, the taking and prodding for one’s own means … yes and no, maybe, all for me, please be me. Me, me, me! Let it be you, you, you ...

Even in a life of loves and haves, of kindness and care, there’s still a freefall. In a life of everything there can still be a slice of nothing wedged in a force of gravity, expedient and crass. Maybe that’s selfishness too and the feeling of nothing is the greatest self-interest and ego-centricity of all. Maybe that’s who we humans are and why it’s in that nothing that the freefall is at its greatest.

Such quandary in everything, in nothing.

Until you come along in unexpected visit and hold me until I let go and fall into you and you into me, feeling safe in that even when it’s frightening too … for what if we can’t brace the falling and I tumble further from you, for what if you’re not real.

Yet trusting you is all I can do for there’s this knowing that sight cannot reveal, a knowing of you wanting to do the best for me in all your sweetness of heart and me wanting the same for you. How that happens or how that is, I don’t know. My only knowing is in the feeling of you and of waking after falling into you and you into me, in a boundless energy and clarity, ready to give again.

The ducks are coming, as a cacophony of hundreds of chirrups and flapping wings reaching for height and searching for a place to roost. In pink ears and freckles, in wood and shell, come roost with me.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Exquisite, Moni. The preciousness of having and trusting.
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 16:25
Monika Schott
It certainly is a gift to have that trust in your life, Rosy. Very precious. ... Read More
Thursday, 06 April 2017 11:55
1462 Hits
2 Comments

Just do it. Go.

Sometimes, life makes you want to throw your arms up in the air in full f%*# it all!

Cue in time to get lost ... in a feisty swim under a sun flecking through warming water, yoga on the beach to salute the sun at dawn or a tear along the Great Ocean Road on the back of a bike. Sometimes just being with a friend that lets you blurt out a chain of rants and holds you when distress is too great for your shoulders or sitting with one of those gangly kids who seem so disinterested in anything seriously adult but that care more deeply than you realise, can help the blood reduce its boil.

And generally, within a few pounding heart beats or slamming round-kicks to the punching bag, that little whisper begins to be heard, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’

We lost a dear uncle last night after he suffered a second heart attack, the first being at home before being air lifted to hospital. Easy to write that he's passed, much more difficult to express the loss. I cried of course, in streaming tears, while I tried to think through my exam document and interviews and battling a virus, even while preparing dinner. Cooking's always a reflecting time. A gentle man, caring, and the other half to my aunt, he was her doctor she would say, having to insert drops into her eyes every day. I saw him as the quiet achiever, always busy in the basement or outside, shifting wood for the heater and taking food scraps to the compost, even in sub zero temperatures, watching, always smiling, understanding everything, including my English words.

And when l realised l'd seen him only a few weeks ago, l cried even more. He and my aunt lived in the mountains on the other side of the world to me and l'd only just visited them a few weeks ago. It had been six years since the last visit. It was wonderful of course, winter and snow in Austria with my youngest son, sister and her son, and my aunt and uncle and all their family. Quite blissful, like being home.

‘Do whatever makes you happy.’ That little faint whisper persists.

I’m thankful I got to see him but never imagined it would be my last time. 

It just so happened too that a few hours before my uncle’s passing, the beautiful Azure Window in Malta collapsed and crashed into the ocean during a wild storm. We were enjoying the Azure Window’s beauty after seeing our family in Austria, my son climbing the rocks, dwarfed by the magnificent jagged formations and the blowing spurts of sea. Now it’s gone, forever. Loss is grief.

Treasures like these are priceless, where they may be gone in physicality but still linger in a soulful presence that never fades. I'm so blessed to have been able to tell my uncle (and aunt) that l loved them when l saw them those weeks ago, to have glimpsed their emotional tears as we said good bye, to feel their love.

Thankful and grateful are my two words for the week. ‘Do whatever makes you happy,’ l say to my sons, ‘as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else.' That's in the perfect world of course.

Life's too short to hesitate. Just do it. Go. Do what makes you happy.

I'm in Sydney on the weekend and that little whispering in my ears is far from softening.

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I am so sorry to hear about your uncle, Moni. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Friday, 10 March 2017 16:11
Monika Schott
Thanks, Katherine. Times like these are reminders of life, love, family and friends. X
Saturday, 11 March 2017 22:03
Anonymous
Well said Mon. It's a courageous act to just do it but i recognise that not everyone has that courage to do so, for whatever reaso... Read More
Friday, 10 March 2017 19:43
1334 Hits
6 Comments

Writing For Life

We are a small, friendly community who value writing as a tool for developing a brighter understanding of the world and humanity. We share our passions and experiences with one another and with a public readership. ‘Guest’ comments are welcome. No login is required. In Social Media we are happy to include interesting articles by other writers on any of the themes below. Enjoy!


Latest Blogs

So there’s this cricket. He comes to visit every August, and he stays in the wall of my bedroom.  His living room seems to be the window frame by my ...
Yes!  I am ready. Finally cut the cord. Made that leap of faith.   When it’s right it will feel right. No explanation necessary. Walk away from...
    My thoughts are hazy. Sleep last night was interrupted.   A premonition of sorts? Maybe just a reminder of what needs to be done.   They...
"What do you mean, it's wrong? In ethics we learned that the truth is always subjective!" There can be no doubt that the teaching of correct wri...
In the South of France. Second time around, the love gets stronger! Thousands of miles away, her mind is able to switch off from reality. Her hear...

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans Anne Hathaway Remembers
14 October 2019
When I wrote this, I wonder if I knew that it was (almost) a sonnet:They say that he was good, but I...
Virginia M Macasaet Anne Hathaway Remembers
13 October 2019
Love this! So eloquent!
Stephen Evans Time to Sing
13 October 2019
My father sang all his life, very nice second tenor voice. He got a ukulele for Christmas once and ...
Rosy Cole Time to Sing
12 October 2019
Permission to sing is a wonderful thing, especially if you are raised in a family that, for strange ...
Ken Hartke This place
30 September 2019
A very late comment on an excellent post...thank you for sharing. Everyone has a sacred space that r...