An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

'Life Song' excerpt - Chapter 1

Teams of boys and men weighed down and backwards in a tug-of war, straining not only to hold their ground but also to budge the other side forward. In that moment as Mavis Mills watched the battle, the struggle seemed frozen, a sculpture of intense exertion.

Around them, the many varied events of the annual Agricultural, Horticultural, and Industrial Show formed a colourful backdrop to the tug-of-war scene. To the east of the showground, the Pacific Ocean glittered, rippling sheets of silver. Closer to shore, white capped waves crashed and foamed on the rocky coastline, sounding like distant applause. To the west of the showground, the heat haze of summer shimmered over the hilly rural landscape.

In her late twenties, Mavis knew all about struggle, about feeling stationary while life, with all of its promise and possibility, happened to the people around her. Something, she didn’t know what, was needed to tip the balance in her favour just as it was needed for her son’s team in the tug-of-war.

“Exciting, isn’t it?” Kate Denford said, appearing at Mavis’ shoulder, having returned to the scene with two bottles of water, one of which she passed to Mavis. Kate’s broad-brimmed, straw hat obscured her eyes and shadowed her face. Her brunette hair was pulled back into a long thick plait. That day, she wore red Capri pants and a white cropped top. She was a striking figure, athletically slender, angular, and exuding confidence.

More frustrating, Mavis thought. She had a strong face with brown eyes behind which lurked a smile. Her body was shapely though not overweight. Although Mavis found fault with her figure, men saw her as sexy. She wore a Gypsy top, a flowing floral, partially transparent skirt, and Roman styled sandals. Striding everywhere, her walk marked her as farm bred. She was fond of saying that her walk was the result of constantly stepping over cowpats throughout her teenage years.

“Here, I bought you a hat, Mavis. Sunscreen isn’t enough on days like this. I’m wishing now I’d worn a T-shirt.”

“Oh … That’s considerate of you, Kate, but you shouldn’t have bothered.” Mentally, Mavis did a reckoning of what was left of the money she’d budgeted for the day. She had a small weekly income and had not had the luxury of impulse spending since she had become a single parent six years earlier. “How much do I owe you?”

“Twenty dollars, but I can shout you if …”

“No, it’s fine.” Wishing it really was fine, she shelved her money worries and the problem of how she would end the inertia in her life for another day. Somehow, she would find a way out of her current circumstance. Mavis refocused on the tug-of-war. “Oh, oh … they’re givin’ ground to our side. Pull!” She donned the white hat over her luxuriously black, shoulder length hair but flipped the front brim up.

“Lean into it, fellas,” yelled the anchorman for her son’s team, Gary, with emphasis on into. An avid surfer and lifesaver, Gary was lean and muscular. His chequered cotton shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a naturally fit, bronzed body rather than the exaggerated physique that many men achieved through gym workouts. He wore an earring in his left-ear, although that fashion trend had passed.

Feet planted wide for support in the sandy loam of the showground, muscles straining, the men in Gary Putnam’s team tilted further back almost into a reclined position.

Momentary confusion flickered across the younger boys’ faces; they adjusted their positions forward and, in doing so, lost balance, allowing the opposing team to take some ground.

The opponent’s supporters cheered.

Laughing, Mavis and others around her yelled, “No, boys, lean backwards not forwards. Pull! Pull!” Her six-year-old son, Dan, was one in a line of confused children. Behind them, men of one shape and size or another lined up; those men with a weight advantage were scattered along the line.

In the background, the noise of the sideshow alley, common at all agricultural shows, clamoured and tinkled above the hubbub of the crowd. Occasionally, a distorted microphoned voice announced the next competitive event in the show ring.

“It’s a pity our side doesn’t have fatter blokes, Mavis.”

“I’ve been thinkin’ the same thing, Kate, but look at the other side’s faces. The heat and strain are takin’ their toll. I think brawn is goin’ to win out.”

Both women yelled, “Pull!”

The noise level around them rose to an unintelligible roar. With one voice, the crowd bellowed, “Pull!”

Strain showed on all of the competitors. Gradually, Gary’s team won centimetres of ground in a slow slide. With an unexpected collapse, the battle ended. Gary and the few men ahead of him thumped backwards onto the ground. The rest of the team stayed afoot somehow.

Spectators and competitors merged.

After a makeshift award ceremony and the etiquette-dictated interaction of victors and good-natured losers, the crowd dispersed.

In an effortless move, Gary lifted Dan, small for his age, up onto his shoulders. “Time for a well-earned lunch, a drink for me, and an ice block for Dan afterwards! C’mon, my lovelies!” Gary left without waiting for agreement. They threaded their way through the crowd, passed the livestock sheds and horticultural exhibits, passed the industrial stands, took a shortcut through the arts and craft pavilion, and came out onto a grassed area ringed by a caravan of food and drink peddlers.

On the western side of that area, the first band for the afternoon was finishing their set. The Keimera Show Ball Committee, after a disastrous choice in entertainers for their Show Ball the month before, were auditioning bands for the 1996 Zone 2 Show Society dinner dance which they were hosting. Auditioning bands at the show was an unusual step but local reputation was at stake. Everyone agreed it was crucial to avoid a repeat of the deafening, muddy, instrumental jangle and the related drowned vocals from their own ball.

Twenty-eight societies would be represented at the dinner dance to be held the following Saturday night. It was a very big deal. Two Show Girls from the twenty-eight finalists at the Zone judging would be chosen to go on to the Royal Easter Show Girl state competition, where a trip to the United Kingdom was up for grabs as the main prize. Another musical blunder by the Show Society would be unforgiveable. Heads would roll!

The queues at the food vans moved quickly.

“You sure you’re not hungry, Mavis?” Kate looked at her askance, now very aware of how little money Mavis had after witnessing her coin counting to pay for her son’s meal. Mavis had rejected Gary’s offer to shout them lunch.

“I’m sweet, Kate.”

“What do you want, lady?” the caravan vendor asked Kate.

Passersby stopped to talk to Mavis and Gary while Kate was served. Dan held his hotdog in one hand and his mother’s skirt hem in the other.

With food and drinks in Mavis’ son and friends’ hands, the group headed to the grassed area under the shelter of shade-cloth sails. Leading the way, Gary looked for a spot on the crowded lawn. He wanted one with a good view of both alternate stage areas. Given the personal relationship musicians have with their instruments and their unwillingness to play on hired gear, the Show Society had organized two performance spaces. As one band performed, the next band set up.

After weaving their way through the picnicking crowd, Gary claimed a space for his group. His disregard for the personal space of other picnickers was a reflection of small-town familiarity.

“Nothing danceable about this band,” said Kate, a ballroom dancer since her teens.

“Don’t loll over me, Dan. Mummy’s hot. Sit down next to Gary while you’re eating that hot dog, and chew slowly.”

Kate winced as she listened to the band. “Pity the girl can’t sing. What she lacks in voice, she’s making up in attitude though.”

“Don’t you miss it?” Gary asked Mavis who once had dreams of making it big in the music industry before life had happened to her. A single parent now, her dreams of a very different lifestyle had disappeared when she had fallen pregnant.

“A bit, but y’ know, I still make music at home. That has to be enough. I’ve got Dan now, and he has to come first.”

“So your mother says,” Kate added. “Personally, I think women nowadays can have it all if they work it right.”

“Spoken like a single woman. Between Dan, work, keepin’ things straight in the house, and stayin’ on top of bills, I’m worn out most nights. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Gary, and my parents as backup.”

Nearby, inside the bands’ tent where waiting musicians congregated, tempers seemed to be flaring.

“Take it outside,” someone called.

“Up yours!” another voice shouted.

Gary gestured to the tent. “Maybe we should move over the other side before anything more ‘colourful’ develops here.”

Before Mavis could reply, two young men – one longhaired and in leather and the other in denim – emerged from the tent.

“Mate,” said the longhaired lead singer from the fourth band on that afternoon’s bill, “the amps have got to be cranked up enough to get the balls goin’. I can’t put on a good show if I’m not happy with my sound. No way do I want to sound piss-weak like them.” He gestured to the band currently on stage.

“Listen Dumbo, we want this gig and the work that can come from it; that means volume is out! The other guys get it, why don’t you? They’re behind me on this!”

“Yeah? Where are they then?”

The sound engineer looked over his shoulder and was momentarily taken aback. Set up again, he thought. He gave it his best shot anyway having told them he would. He, at least, was a man of his word. “They asked me to speak for them. There aren’t any screamin’ fans here drownin’ you out to justify the amps you’re askin’ for. I know you don’t get the volume thing, but most people want to hear the music, not be deafened by it. I’ve told you before, when it’s cranked up, and you hit those high notes, it’s like an ice pick to the brain.”

“It’s my job to get people stoked. Maybe that’s goin’ to take more volume than some can handle. They can leave. We’re here to rock!”

“Nah, we’re here to get the gig, and cater for the people, not you!”

“Blokes like you are a dime a dozen. You’re not part of the band. Do as you’re told, or this’ll be the last gig you do sound for us. While I’m the front guy, I call the shots. I’ve heard you out, now do as you’re told. Get back in your box.” The singer walked toward one of the stage areas where a band was bumping in their gear and preparing for performance.

“No amount of loud can cover up a lack of talent,” the sound engineer muttered as he walked away. “We lose this gig, I’m done! Doin’ live sound sucks!”

“The sound guy’s right,” Mavis said, “a band should never be in charge of its own sound. They get it when they’re in a studio but not when it’s live. I reckon that it’s a male thing. Y’ know, ‘How big is your gear?’ In a studio, the equipment outguns a band’s. The other problem is that the sound on stage seems quiet whereas to people like us out here it’s loud.”

“Well,” Gary said, “this band have the volume right yet that walkin’ ego didn’t see it that way.”

“Could be he’s going deaf,” Kate said. “Big ears aren’t necessarily better to hear with.”

Mavis laughed. “So you disagree with the Grimm Brothers?”

Kate grinned at her.

Gary ignored this side conversation and continued, “Or maybe they are used to playin’ in their garage with no audience and don’t realise the point is to entertain the audience.”

“And maybe you and Gary are both right, Kate.”

The audience applauded half-heartedly. The opening chords of the third band’s set claimed the scene.

“Thank God, that band is done!” Kate considered the remaining food before her, a sealed plastic tub of untouched chicken and salad. “I wish I could say the same about this meal. My eyes were way bigger than my stomach. That first tub finished me off. I don’t suppose, Mavis, you’d consider helping me out by finishing it off. If you don’t, it’ll be going into the bin.”

“Well, rather than waste it, yeah, I’ll have it.”


“Look at that wolf!” Kate referred to the lead singer they’d just been talking about.

Surrounded by a group of young women, he played the role of rock star while his band set up their gear on stage as the previous band bumped out.

Taking in the wider scene, Gary said, “So far, the music’s not drawin’ a crowd. As soon as people finish picnickin’, they’re movin’ off. I feel like another hot dog. What about you, Dan?”

“Y’ know, I don’t like him having nitrates, Gary. I gave in today because—”

“What about that ice block I promised you, matey?” Sitting on the ground, Gary was eye-to-eye with the boy. “Your mum’s a wise one. Best we listen to her, eh?”

Looking at them, Kate was struck by Gary’s sensual appeal: his wind-tussled blonde hair and open face, the taut trimness of his tanned torso, and his undeniable strength. She shook herself. It’s Gary! she told herself. He was a mate as well as her chief supporter at the local surf club which she had captained six years or so since Gary had unexpectedly nominated her for the position. I must have a touch of the sun, she thought. She made momentary eye-contact with Gary, and quickly switched her focus. She missed his thoughtful expression as did Mavis who ate Kate’s leftovers with relish.

Dan at six years old was a handsome boy. Although not Gary’s son, he could have been mistaken for him. Both shared a brilliant smile, dark eyes, and the same mannerisms. The mannerisms weren’t surprising given Gary had functioned as a proxy father to Dan since his birth.

Gary, with Dan beside him, left.

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 “He loves your kid, Mavis. If you ever marry …”

“Not much likelihood of that. Guys run the other way when they hear I’ve got a kid. Besides, Gary is his godfather, and in our life for keeps, as you are, unless either of you decide to move on.” After a moment of reflection, she added, “His girlfriend doesn’t like sharing him, y’ know.”

“You’re not wrong there.”

“I only ever saw the positives in lettin’ Gary be part of Dan’s and my life. Lately …” Mavis paused.

“Lately what?”

“I’ve begun to think that might have been a big mistake. Dan is so vulnerable.”

“Gary is as true as a summer’s day is long. Seriously, you’re not worrying about him being a stayer!”

“If he commits to Sarah …”

“Trust me, Mavis, it’s not an issue even if Sarah becomes a permanent fixture!” After a moment’s quiet, Kate added, “It’s a good thing she’s Keimera’s Show Girl. The competition has taken her out of our lives for a while at least. It’s been full on with them, hasn’t it?”

“That’s for sure. What I don’t like is that we’ve had an overdose of her in our lives as well. She can even quote my mother!”

“If we’re really lucky, Mavis, she’ll win Royal Easter Show Girl, and we’ll have an even bigger break from her. If she wins and goes to London, she might not want to come back. Don’t worry about Gary, and don’t cross bridges until you get to them.”

“But you see, I’m beginnin’ to think that as a parent maybe I should consider things more so as to avoid Dan getting hurt.”

“Stop worrying, Mavis. Life is to be lived. Wrapping anyone up in cotton wool is just as bad as not taking due care.”

* * *

Monday, late morning, the first week of February, 1990 (six years earlier), Mavis drove through the bushfire scarred landscape into Keimera from her family’s property in the hinterland where she lived in temporary accommodation, a caravan. Her parents’ home had been destroyed in a recent bushfire, and she’d had a near death experience in it.

The Country Women’s Association’s funds for disaster relief had been used to hire two caravans so that the Mills family had somewhere to live while the government’s special compensation package for people who had lost their homes was being processed. At this stage, Mavis’ parents intended to rebuild on their land and continue their pastoral lifestyle.

It was seasonably hot. By eleven, Mavis’ car thermometer registered thirty-three degrees Celsius. The radio news said the day would be another scorcher.

Despite this, Mavis did not feel the heat as many other pregnant women did. She was fit, a good weight, and, from the rear, did not look pregnant. The fit behind the steering wheel was snug though, something her parents had argued was good cause for them to chauffeur her in and out of town. She had resisted, clinging to the last vestige of her freedom before the arrival of her child.

Cresting the final hill before the descent into Keimera, Mavis took in the panorama. To the north, a rugged, unpopulated headland adjoined a pristine beach, suitable for surfers but not swimmers due to its dangerous rips. Next, Pipers Point where Madison House, a white two-storey colonial mansion, dominated the peninsula. Although not visible from this vantage, Mavis knew the historically significant house, representing the former pastoral glory of the region, as well as she knew her parents’ property. She had boarded at Madison House for almost four years while working in town. In that time she had forged friendships that she hoped would last a lifetime, had fallen in and out of love and, after the breakup, discovered she was pregnant.

Glimpses of the picturesque town and the coastal road that twisted southward through the rural landscape marked the road’s descent. The view rapidly disappeared as the car reached sea level.

Aware of a dull backache but attributing it to the suspension in her car seat and the awkwardness of her driving position, Mavis felt ravenous. She drove underneath the new expressway that bypassed Keimera.

Gone were the traffic jams of past years when the warmer months brought the onslaught of tourists travelling south. Keimera was still busy but with genuine traffic interested in spending time in the area rather than cars edging through it on the way to Bateman’s Bay and beyond.

As she turned right at the main roundabout, Mavis saw Gary waiting for her on the parkland side of the road. A real estate salesman, he was dressed business-casual, a trend set by Bill Gates of Microsoft, in a crisp white shirt, dark trousers, and polished black leather shoes.

Pulling over, engine still running, Mavis considered parking; she needed to go to the toilet. Looking at her wristwatch, she decided she could hold on until she reached the doctor’s surgery. It would be quicker than stopping now. After Gary climbed in, she pulled out into the light traffic.

“Thanks for standin’ in for Cassie today, Gary. It was the only appointment I could get this week.” Cassie Sleight was Mavis’ closest female friend and had been a stalwart support throughout the pregnancy, unwanted at first. They had met and become firm friends after Cassie came to board at Madison House just over two years earlier.

“No sweat; it’s a one off! Geez, mate, have you got bigger, or is it just the way you’re sittin’? You should’ve let me pick you up or your dad drive you in. Thank God for air-conditioning. You feelin’ okay?”

“I feel great now, but I had a terrible night. For some reason, I dreamt about Terry and … that last month with him.” Terry had been Mavis’ boyfriend. They had lived together six months or so after she’d moved out of Madison House. The emotional scars from that relationship were something that she would live with for a long time.

Gary still remembered the shock of seeing the physical abuse Mavis had suffered at Terry’s hands. If it took a lifetime, Gary mentally swore to make up for his failure to protect her from such a man.

The tooting of a car horn brought Gary back to his surroundings. “What the …?”

The driver in the car ahead of them was clearly impatient for another car to complete its angle parking. The medical surgery was a block ahead of them.

Mavis rocked in the driver’s seat.

“You okay?”

“I just need to go to the loo. C’mon! How hard can parkin’ a car be?”

“Let’s talk about something else. You know the sayin’…”

“Watched cars take forever to park.”

Gary laughed. “Something like that. Decided yet where we’ll go for lunch?”

“Sails, it has the best seafood in town! I am starvin’! My stomach has had an odd sort of grumblin’ the whole trip. I should’ve had breakfast, but the pain from last night’s nightmare just sat on me, and I couldn’t eat then. Maybe we should phone the order in and get them to hold a table for us.”

“Kate may have the medical practice runnin’ on schedule, but she says there are always hiccups. Let’s not jinx ourselves.”

“That place runs like clockwork because she knows her doctors and plans for problems. Nothing is goin’ to happen so let’s order ahead. Pity Kate couldn’t have lunch with us. I … Gosh, what was that?”

“What, mate?”

“I heard and felt a ‘pop’. Sort’ve like a balloon breakin’. Oh, no!” Mavis was unexpectedly quiet for a moment. “I think my water has broke.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, not really, not havin’ been through anything like this before.” She didn’t add that her underwear felt wet, really wet.

“If it has, we’re in the right place.” They were outside the medical practice. “At least there are lots of parkin’ spaces here. Any contractions?”

“No, the doctor said it’s usual for first-time mums to overshoot their due date. I should’ve gone to the toilet when I stopped for you. The bowel pressure is really awful.”

“Way too much information, Mav’!”

Getting out of the car, Mavis was appalled at the flow of water as was Gary. He rushed ahead of her. She tried to clench shut, her legs almost crossed, but the water just kept coming and continued to come as she walked awkwardly along the footpath toward the surgery.

Torn between excitement at the possibility of birth and concern that the lunch she’d salivated over would be missed, Mavis reached the surgery’s doorway. It opened on Kate who had a wheelchair, its seat covered in thick towels. Gary hovered behind her.

“Gary, can you call Sails and order lunch for me? I’d like …”

“Hold off Gary until she’s been checked.” Kate whisked a protesting Mavis into the doctor’s room and then returned. “Dr Tim will run a test to see if it is amniotic fluid or not. He’ll also check to see if she is dilating yet. You say she’s not had any labour pain so that’s unlikely. When we know what’s going on, you can let her parents know and phone the school to give Cassie a heads up that we might be expecting a birth in the next twenty-four hours or so.”

“Given Cassie is Mavis’ support person, don’t you think she should come now?” Cassie Sleight was a teacher at the local high school.

“Jumping the gun there, Gary. There’s plenty of time.”

The practice nurse emerged from the doctor’s room. After wheeling Mavis to the curtained casualty room at the back of the surgery, the nurse reappeared and beckoned to Kate, taking her out of Gary’s sight. The doctor followed moments later.

Next thing Gary heard was Kate’s shocked, “Surely not!”

There was a flurry of activity and, for a while, Gary was forgotten. Eventually, Kate returned to him as the local ambulance arrived to take Mavis to hospital.

“Gary, I’ve phoned the school to let Cassie know she needs to get to the hospital now. The receptionist up there needs to be pastured, nice old dear though she may be. She cut me off twice before I was able to leave a message. So frustrating! Mavis wants you to go with her in the ambulance so I’ll phone your office and fill them in.”

“I’ve got an appointment at three, but I’m free till then. Ask for James to take it for me if I’m late. What about Cassie?”

“I’ll go up to the school to tell Cassie. After that, I’ll drive out to Mavis’ parents to let them know. It’s at times like this that you wish the older generation were into mobile phones.”

“Even if they were, it’s a black hole communications-wise out there,” Gary said.

As the male paramedic wheeled Mavis outside, Mavis asked Kate, “You sure Gary can’t order me something from Sails? They do deliveries. Christ!” She doubled over in the wheelchair, her breathing pattern changed, and she grunted with involuntary pushing.

The practice nurse, who stood near Kate, looked at her watch. “Five minutes exactly. She’s in a regular pattern now.”

“Breathe though the contraction, love,” said one paramedic while the other counted the duration of it. “That’s it. You’re doing fine. Try not to push yet. I’ll tell you when you should if it gets to that.”

Now in the ambulance, Mavis said, “It can’t come now; I’m not ready. It’s all happenin’ too fast. I thought I was goin’ to be overdue. I’m not psyched to go now! Do I have to have a drip? This isn’t part of our birth plan.”

“Babies don’t know about plans. Here mate, you want to hold your wife’s hand?”

About to correct the paramedic, Gary read Mavis’ anguished face and remained silent. Although there had been a trend for many women to be unwed mothers, he knew Mavis felt shamed by her situation. Worse, she worried about a fatherless life for her child.

“I really need to go to the loo,” Mavis said after another contraction.

“Birth’s imminent, that’s why you feel like that.”

To Gary, the trip to the hospital seemed inordinately long, the experience surreal. He couldn’t believe it was happening. He stroked Mavis’ head, encouraged her to breathe through the pain, and endured having his hand crushed periodically.

At the hospital, things seemed to move in sped-up time. He looked for Cassie, but she wasn’t there yet. He stayed back to leave a word with the desk nurse, but at Mavis’ insistence followed her. They were rushed into a delivery room. Like a drowning woman holds onto a life raft, Mavis clung to Gary. All of his thoughts were centred on her. He found comfort in seeing the midwife, a well-upholstered woman who was clearly in command of the situation and unperturbed that the obstetrician/gynaecologist had not as yet arrived.

During the birthing process, Gary experienced an intense connection to Mavis, a divine communion that he would never forget. As the labour intensified, fear for Mavis and her child gutted him. It was such a small passage. Surely, the child would be crushed. What if it got stuck? In the sweat and strain of birth, as the baby’s head crowned, he marvelled at the miracle of it. It was bloody amazing!

Euphoric, he held the baby boy first at Mavis’ insistence despite the medical staff insisting she should have first contact. She said she needed some respite, some personal space. A time to breathe without pain. To recover from the shivering that had seized her.

An intense wave of emotion swept over Gary as he held the baby. Such a small bundle of perfection! He had never felt as close to anyone as he did to Mavis and her son at that moment.

Reluctantly relinquishing the baby to Mavis, he committed again to making amends for his past failure to her. Unlike his own childhood, this boy would not grow up without a caring man in it. Bending over to kiss Mavis on the forehead, he said, “Y’ did good. I’m real proud of you.”

* * *

1996 Keimera showground. “Wonder where the boys are,” Mavis said to Kate who had returned from depositing their rubbish in the bins.

“I’ve been looking for them too, Mavis.” Kate cringed. “Ice pick to the brain doesn’t do justice to how that guy sounds. Let’s walk toward where the boys should be coming from.”

At the juncture of the food caravans and side-show alleys, the group reconnected. Gary had a thirty-something man in tow, dressed simply in black sneakers, black jeans, a white T-shirt, and a cutaway black vest.

Kate’s, “There they are!” and Gary’s, “Look who I ran into,” overlapped.

“Tony!” Mavis said, “Sorry to hear about your group breakin’ up. What happened?”

“G’ day, Mavis, Kate. Creative differences … You know the rest. I’m feelin’ cursed at the moment.”

Mavis’, “Reformin’ a band can be hard,” overlapped Kate’s, “Why?”

“No, that was easy; I only had to replace the singer. Problem today is he hasn’t turned up for the gig this arvo. When Nick, our drummer, phoned his home, his mother said Matt took it into his head to go to Queensland yesterday. Bloody dope head; this is the final straw! He might be an amazin’ performer when he’s clean, but what good is that if he’s off his head or out of it or just doesn’t show?” He looked at Gary.

“I thought you might help Tony out by fillin’ in as his singer.”

“Gary, I haven’t sung in public for years. Besides, I’ve never jammed with Tony or his guys. If I remember right, Tony, you sing.”

“Yeah, but only backup. We need your help, Mavis. I want to avoid us gettin’ a reputation as a no-show.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Gary cringed as did people everywhere in reaction to a high-pitched note.

Dan’s attempt to be helpful by echoing advice Mavis had given him about helping out friends went unacknowledged.

“C’mon, Dan,” Kate said. “Let’s have a ride on the Ferris wheel while your mum is sorting this out.”

Mavis looked at her gratefully. To Tony, she said, “Are you guys playin’ to music?”

“It can be to sheet music if that’ll get you on board, if you pick songs that we’ve got the music to. We’re good at listenin’ to each other when we play, and we’ll follow your lead. Why not start with a solo, something you’ve written, so you get into your comfort zone. You can borrow my electric acoustic.”

“Geez, I can’t do this cold, and there isn’t time for a run through.”

“Sure there is.”

“I don’t see how …”

“I’ll get the guys.” Tony was gone.

“What have you got me into, Gary?”

Gary gave her his Mickey Mouse grin and pose. “You’ll be great!”

End Extract 2

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EXTRACT 3  I apologize for the belated uploading of this third promised extract. We had a death in the family. This final extract has been uploaded as a separate blog. 



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The Month's Posts


    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Acknowledging Indigenous Heritage in the Palerang region

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Recently, I wrote a blog about the restoration of The Carrington Inn. My article about the inn also appears in the District Bulletin's December issue. The District Bulletin reports on country living in the Palerang region. I feel it would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the importance of Indigenous heritage as a side bar to the Carrington article.

    Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community. This applies equally to the heritage represented by the traditional owners of the land. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous heritage when promoting awareness of colonial heritage as it shows respect for Indigenous culture.

    Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume's exploration of the region in 1820.

    By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements. 

    During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion, denial, and were silenced. Many Indigenous people many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict). Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings and property and its laws.

    To better appreciate the impact of the European arrival in Australia and related issues, click on  The Dispossessed.


    Read more

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    The Restoration of the Carrington Inn, Bungendore

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    Late October, I met Innkeeper, Richard Graham in the motel carpark of The Carrington Inn a few weeks after it had reopened.

    Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built between 1884-85. It was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW. When the governor retired, the inn became The Carrington Hotel.

    In the 20th century, descendants of the Winters sold the property to Toni Dale who reverted the property to its original function from a domestic residence. It later changed hands until Richard bought it eight years ago.

    As we walked through the half acre of man-made gardens' entrance to the Wintergarden complex, I was struck by their intrinsic naturalness and the patterns of dappled light. Richard said they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.

    There are three distinct themed locations within the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my. The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport's culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.


    Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.

    The interview and tour began in Myee’s tearoom. Its décor, like the rest of the complex, ‘pays deference to the 19th century colonial Victorian nature of the Carrington Inn.’ An airy and serene space, the tearoom’s authentic hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets suggest a Victorian garden conservatory.

    When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him. Restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.

    After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’ and witness a different lifestyle.

    The aspirational mood of the period is clearly visible in the style of ceilings in the tavern and the Empire Hall and Salons. The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the salons is another popular architectural element from that period as are the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.


    The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.

    The attention to authentic detail is also seen in the use of deeply embossed wall covering (Lincrusta) in  the Empire Hall. Lincrusta was invented in Britain in 1877 by the same man who invented linoleum floor covering some years before.


     Having visited many famous historic sites, I found The Carrington Inn as striking as places like Chatsworth House and Hampton Court in UK. Of course, The Carrington's pristine interior décor  and the inn are much smaller in scale than those other historic UK properties.

    As Richard told the stories behind each room’s décor, I realised that he is more than the owner and operator of an enterprise that happens to exist in a heritage property. He is keenly aware of his custodial role in restoring, documenting, and protecting heritage.

    As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community and its diversity but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.


    Left to right: Mark Summers, General Manager; Edwina Fitzgerald, Accommodation Manager; Me, Innkeeper; Merili Pihlamäe, Venues Manager; and Andrew Stansbie, Executive Chef.


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    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Do socio-political interests obscure what's best for children?

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Topic Summary

    Perhaps you’ve noticed it in your Facebook or Twitter feeds – those people who always point out the political side of an issue. You might also have noticed that while these social media friends are great at pointing out the flaws from someone else’s point of view, they are suspiciously blind, deaf and dumb about criticism toward their views, even when the same kind of criticism is appropriate.

    While we may chalk up this double standard to human nature, the tragedy in this dynamic involves more than mere ignorance; it can include children too. In recent decades, feminists and others seeking to have children without traditional family structure have argued that, with sperm donors and surrogacy, men have become redundant. Similarly, there are lobby groups arguing that women are equally redundant and that all that is needed is a loving parent. Also other lobby groups are promoting the myth that having children is a right.

    Does anyone have ‘a right to have a child’?

    Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement. In the late 20th century and definitely in this century, it has become common practice for lobby groups to claim a desire for something is a right and argue that the two are synonymous when they are not.

    No one has a right to have a child, but people have a natural and understandable desire to have children. Historically, the only people who could have children were those couples who were able to procreate. I’m sure readers are aware that not all of those people capable of procreating should have had children. Since the advent of IVF and surrogacy, the number of people capable of having children has increased. People who have to go the extra hard yards involved in 'having'  a child demonstrate a high level of commitment to forming a family. But is that enough?

    Is this discussion – what’s sufficient to raise kids – more about the narcissism of adults/would-be parents?

    No, it is not automatically about narcissism, but perhaps it is about an unchallenged view that has been handed down over the generations. Remember the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ – that saying encapsulates an adult perspective only - the desire to have a child. That perspective becomes narcissism when adults talk about children as if they are coloring books or mini versions of themselves with identical needs – clones. It ignores any consideration of what a child may want in terms of parents. In the current lobbying by special interest groups, children are lost in the mix. 

    The purpose of my dialogue in radio interviews is to bring audience focus to children and their needs.

    What is needed to raise children?

    Just to be clear, when we’re talking about raising a child we are referring to the conscious decisions involved in bringing a child up rather than a child growing up without adult direction and input.

    Raising a child goes beyond the provision of the basics such as love, shelter, food, clothing and education. A focus on the welfare of the child and her/his needs has always been crucial and is even more so  in the 21st century given we live in an increasingly challenging world.

    You know that saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child? It’s so true. Whether that community is extended family, friends, supportive neighbours or single parent groups, it doesn’t matter as long as there is tag team approach to support parents as they wrestle with the issues of life and parenting. A tag team approach is important as it provides opportunities for parents to have respite from the daily, at times grinding, stresses of parenting. Respite enables all parents to retain perspective and to recharge emotional and psychological batteries. Respite is crucial to reducing depression in adults and in contributing to healthy emotional growth in children.

    It also takes a community to raise a child because adults through their actions and interactions role model the various ways a person can be a woman or a man.  They also model how people respond to the stressors in their lives - successfully and unsuccessfully. Children are discerning. They will often pick the behaviour that they see works. It is really important to talk about reactions to stress and what truly works and what only appears to work at the surface level.

    Depending on your parental circumstance, you need to be aware of the stressors that your child may face due to your family structure, and you need to anticipate those stresses and have strategies in place to deal with them before they arise. Forewarned is forearmed. Ideally, you need to lay down the positive ground work that can defuse the impact of such situations before they arise.

    There’s extensive research now that shows the variables that impact on children increase as the parental circumstance varies away from the traditional mother and father household. Single parents are a good example of the added stresses and challenges that a child has to navigate as well as the added challenges and pressures that the parent has to face and resolve. Similarly there are lobby groups in 2015 populated by children from same sex partnerships that reveal the challenges that children (irrespective of the child's sexuality) face in such family structures. Those challenges have less to do with the child's relationships with lesbian/gay parents (often reported as harmonious, warm, and caring) and more to do with backlash that the children faced in the brutal world of the playground.

    Be aware that the world in which our children live and mix  - at school and socially – is not one governed by political correctness. In the playground, children reflect the unguarded voiced views that parents express in the privacy of their homes. Think back to your own childhood. So the more a family structure varies from the traditional structure, the more challenges the child faces and the greater need for thoughtful adult intervention and support. Parents need to be aware of this and not be deceived by the myth that all they need to do is provide a loving home environment. Of course that is important but in itself it’s not enough. Children are not colouring books in which you impose your own coloured values.

    Whether you like it or not, children learn that it takes a woman and a man to create a child. That knowledge sets up an expectation in children that they will have a parent of each gender. There’s extensive research to show that children separated from biological parents for whatever reason often feel driven to connect to and seek them out in adult years. Readers will be aware that even adopted children with fantastic adopted parents want to know their biological parents and often seek to forge some sort of bond with them.

    Children also want what they perceive others to have and that they believe they should have. They don't want to be different even when they are in a loving non traditional supportive family structure. I explore this through Dan Mills' and Zoey Blake's subplots in both LIFE SONG and SONG BIRD.

    Historically and for generations, there have been plenty of non-traditional family structures for a variety of reasons. For example, children raised by loving aunts or uncles or grandparents. What’s needed to raise healthy children is AWARENESS of the child’s needs from the child’s perspective and a willingness to address them to the child’s satisfaction. Good parenting involves achieving your happiness without it being at the expense of your child's happiness and well-being.

    I’ve researched this subject matter extensively before writing LIFE SONG ( and SONG BIRD ( In a subplot in those novels, this subject is explored from the different children's perspectives and from different family structures. When you read those novels, think about Dan, Zoey, Kate, and Shaun's views on this topic.  Irrespective of the family structure, diverse role models are important as children learn how to interact and function with both genders through observation and experience. Children need to know there isn’t one mold and that diversity is acceptable.

    It is absurd to claim, as many lobby groups have, that either gender is redundant. Women and men play important roles in children's lives beyond the role of procreation. Children and teenagers learn about life through observing and modeling the behaviour of  others. Children and teens learn how to interact in a variety of settings and how to form relationships by observing people and seeing the reaction to behaviour. They learn how to form relationships with people from both genders, preferably functional ones, from observing the adults in their world. Children identify what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity or makes them a target. Research shows that children learn a huge amount about adults in conflict but need to learn more about how to constructively function and form relationships with a diverse range of people as well as how to successfully resolve conflict. 

    It’s important that parents remember the perspective of a child when they are dealing with situations that stress the parents. Children absorb parental stress even if the adult thinks it is hidden. Children read you. It’s hard I know, but irrespective of whatever you’re going through, the child’s needs have to be addressed as well especially so when the stress stems from the family structure. The unknown frightens children. It destabilizes them. So too does isolation from parents. Providing comfort to a child who is in conflict with a parent is not taking sides in an argument when that comfort assists the child to reconnect to the parent and resolve conflict.

    When those stresses arise from conflict with your child, it is important to remember how you felt when you were a child and in conflict with your parent. Why? It re-frames your perspective and generates compassion. You see the conflict from both perspectives. That compassion can defuse the heat in conflict and get you to healthy resolutions faster.

    Parents have so many distractions and demands on them nowadays that it’s easy for them to define their children’s needs from the parent’s perspective and forget that the children’s perspective on what they need from parents and extended family may be very different.

    I’m not saying children should be placed at the centre of the parental universe and that parents should be subordinate to it. Such behaviour fosters the growth of narcissism. What is important is the continual effort to find a balance between competing needs and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about choices that affect family members and the consequences. The act of considering consequences and dialoguing about them with your children is what matters when raising children. It develops understanding. It role models critical thinking processes. When things don’t work out, it is crucial to openly dialogue about why.

    In IN AND OUT OF STEP, my debut novel which is confronting at times, I explore the way parent role models and childhood experiences shape life behaviours and goals. Both Cassie Sleight (the central character ) and Mavis Mill's lives and the choices they make are directly impacted by the role models with far reaching consequences. Consider the dance video and how this subject is embedded in the choreography

    So irrespective of family structure, adults who come into contact with children need to be aware that through action and lifestyle we are teaching children about how to function in life. We need to demonstrate a range of positive roles – how to be assertive rather than aggressive, how to be flexible and resilient rather than defeatist or a victim and so on. Importantly, we need to consider, scrutinize, and discuss with them the values actively and passively modeled by the world at large.

    Another thing for parents to consider when raising children is the inter-generational transmission of attachment styles. Within the context of this discussion, attachment refers to bonds between parents and children. Research shows that people who received sensitive and well-balanced care as children find it easier to form secure attachments in adulthood. By contrast, people who received insensitive and indifferent parenting in childhood have greater difficulty in forming positive and secure adult relationships.That is not to say the latter can't form positive and secure relationships. They can, but it requires thoughtful behaviour, introspection, and a desire to be a better version of 'self' in all arenas. It is important to avoid the mentality of it never harmed me. It is also important to avoid being a helicopter parent who denies the child opportunities to play, explore, risk take, and experience the world within safe parameters.

    Importantly, parents and adults who come into contact with children and teens need to model resilience. Getting back up again after life experiences have knocked you down is as important as providing a loving home environment. Raising strong children is not about wrapping them in cotton wool and isolating them from the world. Rather it is about demonstrating resilience when hardships occur and showing children how we recover from hardship and learn from it. We need to show children that we don't have to be defined by the circumstance that we are born into or that our choices have created, but that we can rise above those circumstances and become  who we were meant to be. This message is central to the plot of  'Life Song' and its sequel 'Song Bird', available through Book Depository, Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, and other major sellers.

    How would you categorize the socio-political biases involved in this discussion?

    It’s Life viewed through a lobby group’s lens, isn’t it?  It’s a very narrow view driven by lobby groups’ desires rather than anyone’s rights. It is an approach of self-interest. Self-interest can become narcissism and ultimately results in injury to others. 

    I have concerns about any lobby group that reduces complex and important issues to a bumper sticker approach to it. That approach denies the perspectives of the multiple interests groups affected by an issue. That denial can result in injury to those groups denied a voice or an advocate. Some elements of those socio-political groups even resort to -ism statements and other derogatory terms to shut down objective discussion.

    Does this criticism extend to “modern families,” which include parents from the LGBT community?

    Good parenting is not shaped by or determined by anyone’s sexuality. 

    I’m not passing a negative judgment on anyone which is what is implied by the word criticism. Rather, I’m initiating a discussion on issues about raising children and good parenting. My message is the same regardless of your audience’s sexuality and family structure.

    People in the LGBT community know all too well the challenges and hurt they suffered as they grew up. If anything, their childhood has informed them of issues that may arise due to sexuality that they need to address when raising their own children. Those issues may arise irrespective of their children’s sexuality. Parents from that community need to be prepared to deal with the hurt that may arise as a result of their non traditional family structure. So too do the parents of parents from the LGBT community. Readers may remember Robin Williams' 'Bird Cage' which sensitively explores some of these issues. The hurt goes two ways.

    Good parenting is determined by the parents’ commitment and willingness to consider the needs of children and a willingness to weigh up parental and children's needs and seek balance.
    As I said before, the more your family structure differs from the traditional model, the more variables are introduced and the more strategies you need when raising your children. Don't make the mistake of parenting by remote control. By that I mean unthinkingly repeating parent and adult behaviours that you observed as a child. Be discerning. Select from the battery of positive strategies and avoid repeating negative parental behaviours that you learned from your parents. When you react unthinkingly in any situation with children, discuss your reaction and the consequences with the children concerned and discuss other ways the situation could have played out.

    The key to raising a healthy child is to help your child feel competent and confident as she or he navigates life, its stresses and its challenges. Teach your children resilience by focusing them on the positive things in life when they are dealing with hardship. Provide them strategies to deal with hardship and strife. Be positive that life can get better. Encourage them to be mindful of the way they live life and of the values that underpin the way we live. Foster empathy. Teach them to forgive themselves when they make significant life mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to move onto better days. Be involved in your children's lives; you only have them for a short time and that time passes all too quickly.

    © Christine M Knight

    All of Christine M Knight's novels are available on order through major book stores and online sellers. Her paperback novels RRP: A$24.99 and her eBooks RRP: A$11.99.

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