Please enjoy a selection of articles and essays I have written.
Help! There's a Millennial in my Garden!
Emerging trends in Europe and the US show that millennials (born between 1984-94) are gardening more and more, but not so in Australia - perhaps because rental rules are often prohibitive, and housing costs are high which can make it a struggle for us to literally put down roots.
However, 33-year-old graphic designer and new homeowner Erica Schmerbeck is passionate about her garden. Heavily influenced by her mother’s and grandparents’ love of gardening, Erica has always had a love for colour and design. “My Mum had a brilliant garden - we had 5 acres until I was 17, with a beautiful cottage sitting on a slope. There was a walkway down to the cottage and trees surrounded the walkway, while ferns and palms and poppies - anything you can think of - lined the walkway on both sides.”
Erica’s garden in Wynnum is slowly taking shape. With the help of her parents, her partner and his parents, she is shifting topsoil to debulk the garden beds, adding veggies, and using the plants donated by her mum and partner’s Mum to bringing some individuality back to the garden. “There was just one type of plant absolutely everywhere - it needed some variety!” She is also trying to be more water conscious, planting more self-sustaining plants, and is currently caring for a multitude of little baby succulents.
When we stop to think, it only makes sense for young Australians to be interested in gardening. We live our lives outside: we play in the garden, host games of backyard cricket and footy, we swim and celebrate 18ths and 21sts, have tea parties, Christmases, Easter-egg hunts, barbeques - even the occasional beloved pet is laid to rest in our gardens. Then we fly from the nest straight into a unit, and our gardens shrink to windowsills and patios, but we have our sunlit memories, and we long for own own bit of earth.
So if you see a confused millennial wandering around your garden, don’t panic. Take them by the hand and teach them how to care for a living element, the way they have taught you how to use your smartphone. That way, we will have more people like Erica, and the world could do with a few more of those.
Published in Home Front, Autumn 2017
This is Not a Drill
Just before midnight on 23 August 2011, a fire started in the downstairs office of a house in Slacks Creek. In less than 10 minutes, the entire house was ablaze. 11 people lost their lives; the greatest loss of life from a domestic house fire in Australian history.
When the coroner’s report revealed there were no working smoke detectors in the home, recommendations were made to help prevent anything like this horrifying event from happening again. Regional Manager of Community Safety Inspector Douglas King of the Queensland Fire & Emergency Services (QFES) would like to remind everyone that on January 1st this year, legislation was introduced to help make our homes safer. The legislation will be phased in over the next 10 years, with the plan being that by 2027, all houses will be fitted with interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms, including an alarm in each bedroom. “It has been proven that working smoke alarms will save lives. This is about making people as safe as possible in their homes.” For full details of how these changes will impact you, please visit the QFES website.
2017 also marks the 20th anniversary of QFES’s ‘Don’t be an April Fool’ campaign. Every year on April 1st, they put all jokes aside and ask you to:
Ensure your smoke alarms are working. Replace the batteries, even if they work, as there is no guarantee they will continue to work for another year.
Replace the alarm if it is more than 10 years old, or if there is no date on it.
If you do need to replace your alarm, Inspector King recommends choosing the photoelectric kind. “They are better for residential houses - they pick up small, smouldering fires faster - the kind that occurs when people are asleep or distracted. This is where smoke alarms become so important - early warning systems save lives.”
Published in Home Front, Autumn 2017
My Life Was Women
My life was women. From a very young age, with very few exceptions – the main one being my excellent father – women were all I knew of the world. It was my mum, my three older sisters, an endless supply of aunts, my grandmothers – both grandfathers having passed away before I was born, and even a great-grandmother. Dad worked a lot and Mum stayed home with the girls. I never had a brother. We did have a male dog but his balls were unceremoniously chopped off one day, so.
I didn’t know that being a girl was considered second-rate, even in the 80’s and 90’s in Australia. That being a girl was considered alright, but. That my parents would get looks of pity every time they had yet another girl.
Are you going to try for a boy then?
Will you just keep going until you get one?
As though my sisters and I were unsatisfactory toys pulled out of an arcade claw game, and they had been aiming for something better.
I didn’t see any of this. It passed me happily by.
My first babysitters were female – my grandma Aud or my great Aunt Lola. We’d eat ham and pickle sandwiches and drink lemonade from glasses with orange flowers stamped on them. The bubbles would pop softly in the heat. We would watch Mornings with Kerri-Anne – I had no idea what it had taken for her to succeed in an industry where even the queen of daytime TV herself didn’t get paid the same amount as men doing the same job.
My mother went back to work once I was old enough to go to day-care, then I went on to primary school. My teachers were mostly female – a male anomaly in year 6 but my school Principal was a woman. I was friends with boys; I didn’t view them as some strange ‘other’. I only knew that it was more fun making mud pies, skateboarding and hitting each other with our school bags than it was to act like a lady. My oldest sister bit all the heads off any dolls that made it into the house; the bottom of her closet a strange cemetery of tiny plastic limbs and synthetic hair. She also taught me how to write my name and how to spell before I was 6. My second oldest sister would teach me Maths and the importance of standing up for others, and my third oldest sister would make me go with her down storm drains and up trees from dawn till dusk, when we would return home covered in ant bites and dirt. We read books, and if we were ever bored, Mum made us write a story for her. I have a whole folder of my stories, carefully kept for all these years – my favourite is one about a group of spiders who hid in some people’s shoes, then bit them and turned into those people. No unicorns and princesses here; not for me.
We went to Mass once a week and I would ask why there were no women priests.
Because women can’t be priests. My eyes widened. But it was probably just a one-off, right?
Lunchtimes at primary school were filled with playing Zoombinis on the computers in the library or games of handball on the quadrangle. My friend Joey came up to me once when I was just about to serve and pulled me aside, his face serious.
I think you’re ready to play with the boys.
You’re good enough. You should play with us instead.
When I did play with them and beat them all I was told to go back with the girls where I belonged. Same as when I was the only girl in a swimming race in year 2. I beat them all in the 25 metre freestyle. Dad had come to watch and I’d never been more proud. There were a few crying boys, upset at being beaten by a girl, but I didn’t feel bad. I was just better than they were.
At the age of 12, I was told I needed to start shaving my legs.
Because you have to start acting like a lady.
But I’m not a lady, I’m 12.
When I did take that step I was praised by the girls around me and I felt better about myself. Felt like I fit in. That boys would see me as a girl rather than their friend, and that was what I wanted, right?
My high school was all girls. My sisters had all been there before me, done that; they were school captain, vice captain, prefect, dux of subjects – the list goes on. They are now a teacher, a doctor and a medical student. They are fierce, they’re the smartest people I know. They’re my stars.
My mother duxxed her school. She told me once that her father was completely shocked that she won scholarships to attend university.
Why would you want to go to uni? You’re just going to get married soon.
Because I want to, Dad. I want to learn about the world and get a job and contribute.
My grandmothers hadn’t finished school. I was gobsmacked when I learned that.
Why not? I asked.
Most women didn’t, was the answer.
Because we knew all we’d need to know by then. A woman’s place is in the home. You don’t need a degree to know how to cook and sew and clean and raise children.
People ask me why I haven’t changed my last name since I’ve been married. This always puzzles me. Why would I? It’s not my name. I have no connection to it. It’s my husband’s name. He’s welcome to keep it.
But what about when you have kids?
Well, IF I have kids, that decision will be between my husband and me. IF they end up with a name other than mine, they might ask me why my name is different to theirs, and if they do I’ll tell them. Because my name is mine. Because being a woman doesn’t mean you have to accept things the way they’ve always been. If you want to change your name, that’s great. If you don’t want to, that’s great too.
My life now is women. It’s nurses on the ward, but usually not doctors. It’s hospital administration, to a certain level; it’s my manager, but not her manager. Why not? Oh I don’t know, lack of ambition, family commitments, too emotional, you know. They hold themselves back really, don’t they?
I read articles about a girl being raped in Croatia by three Australian men who pay her just over $30000 in a rape settlement. They have their one year sentence reduced to five years good behaviour. They buy their freedom, then make jokes on their instagram about joining the mile-high club with the flight attendant on their way back home. I read about Brock Turner, and other college campus rapists who get let off easily, and see how vilified their victims become.
I speak to my sisters of other colours, creeds, abilities – they face things I have never had to experience, thousands of tiny aggressions, again and again and again, and are told they must be twice as good to get half as much.
I see online vitriol sent to feminist pages. I see stomach-churning messages that guys send to my friends if they turn them down for a date. I get yelled at when I walk to the shops. I get into taxis and listen to the driver go on and on about how young women these days don’t act like ladies and they disgust him.
I’m 20, listening to my best friend tell me about a guy who keeps turning up to her place of work, asking her to join in a threesome, all the while insisting his attention is a compliment, while her male manager laughs it off. I’m 18, sitting at a bus stop, and a drunk man sits next to me, and I’m torn between wanting to move to keep myself safe but not wanting to seem rude. Then he turns to me, and starts saying disgusting things. Things that involve what he wants to do to me, how much I’d like it and I can’t move. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, and my face is heating up and my heart is a drum telling me to get out of there and I’m sick and feeling dirty and as though it’s my fault, then my feet can finally move and I start to get up and he pins me down and I start to scream and out of nowhere a security guard is there. I am crying and I run across the bridge, calling my mother to come and get me and the pain and anger in her voice when she hears what happened to me is palpable, and I am scared and sad and feel so wrong inside, like I’m polluted.
What can we do about these things? We’re just girls. And society tells us that it’s okay to be a girl, but.
We can be there for each other. We can be each other’s strongest allies. When we have daughters or meet people with daughters, we don’t smile sadly at them. We beam and congratulate them on their little bundle. And then, you wrap that little bundle up in our hope for their future. We will raise our daughters to believe in themselves. That they are never, ever, to think that they are worth less or worthless because they are a girl. That they are powerful and fierce and that they never, ever have to just shut up and take it, or smile, sweetheart, or that they have to get back in the kitchen. That they don’t have to laugh if they don’t think a joke is funny. That they are funny, despite what people say about female comedians. That they are wise. That they can be pilots or doctors or lawyers or nurses or teachers or firefighters or astronauts or mothers or soldiers or philosophers. You can even tell them what my parents told me. That if you want to be a writer, you should be a writer.
That you are important.
That you can change the world.
That anyone who says or thinks otherwise can suck it.