Stories of yesteryear

Joe McSweeney

What a mug a man be
to go fighting in the war over the sea
Half starved, the pay was low
a man was mad to even go.  

Joseph McSweeny

There is an exhibition coming to town – The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. It sounds like a big event. It is a free exhibition that showcases the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War. From what I’ve read, there will be a good many stories  as well as photos of Australians who served our country during the war. It’s timely and synchronistic, for me, that this event should be coming to my city.

I have been pouring over some writings and photographs of my great-grandfather, Joe’s recently.  He was a character.  I wish I had known him better, though I am getting a sense of him through his musings. I met him several times when he was old and sick and in no mood for silly noisy little girls. My grandmother and my father have both shared stories of him that have intrigued and me. I knew he was an artist and sign writer. I knew too that he had fought in the first world war. My great-grandfather captured some of his life in poetry. Some of it is long and prose like, some short and snappy, some of it is good, a lot is not.  However, I have learnt much about his life through these handwritten notes.  I have discovered he was a swagman and wandered out west looking for work on various stations, orchards and farms when times were tough. He worked in shearing sheds and in a butcher shop; anything to make a quid.

His writing paints a picture of what it was like to be a soldier in the first world war. He doesn’t go into depth or detail. In fact, he seems to skirt around the edges of the atrocities of war. Often I find the greatest messages lay in the gaps and silences. There are many postcards he collected while abroad and a few he sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother and his daughter, my Nana.  These were short notes but very touching. Among his effects are a pile of vintage postcards with beautifully painted images of women clad in their undergarments. Oh, they are very tame by today’s standards but I imagine they were outrageously risqué in some circles way back when. They are exquisite reminders of a time long ago. A time not forgotten. A time of heroes and ordinary men and women who left these shores not knowing what horrors awaited them. A time when these same ordinary men and women, the lucky ones, returned home to carve out lives for themselves when their whole view of the world and life had been irrevocably changed.

I would dearly love to share some of Joe’s writing about the war with you though I realise now, so many years after it was written, that much of it is politically incorrect and may offend some readers. His poems were written in a different time, when feelings about the enemy were raw. Some things, I guess, are best kept private. Below I have included a short ode he wrote, it gives you an idea of the larrikin he was.

Have you heard the story about sign writer Joe?
He fell on the floor with a heavy sound
It took some time to bring him round.

The butcher rubbed his ribs with greasy hand
and sat him in a chair, he could not stand.
The butcher grinned and laughed outright
Poor old Joe, looked an awful fright.

Back to the job he went once more
His ribs was aching and arm was sore.
Down he got and gave a grunt
Through the door and out the front.

Now dear readers, this is no lie
The poor old bugger
Went home to die.

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 17th until the 30th June. You can book tickets online at http://www.spiritofanzac.gov.au

Advertisements

Airy April in review

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”  Haruki Murakami

image

It’s been an interesting process taking a photo a day for a year. I enjoy looking back over the album for each month and reflecting on its joys and challenges.

Last month, April, was a particularly turbulent month emotionally and physically. My physical health lurched so far off par that I lost my balance emotionally and spiritually as well. While I tried to maintain a positive outlook and focus on the good and I actively sought to create joy in my life; it feels like it was a thick and weighty, pea soup of a month that I waded through.

My photos tell a different story. There are lots of plants and outdoor snaps along with quirky treasures found along the way. It’s nice to have this visual reminder that while there were trials in April, all was not lost. There were wonderful times spent in nature, my refuge, a place where mind, body, spirit feel connected. Nature for me is a place where mind body and spirit rise up out of the abyss and I can breathe.


I am continually fascinated by my journey; the detours, the hidden paths unravelled, the rocky tracks and steep hills to be negotiated. It all makes for a wonderful experience.

Keep your chin up. Focus on where you want to be and take small steps each day.

Much love to you all,
Shannyn

February flies by in a flurry of photos

February was a mad crazy month for me. It went by in a blur. I continued my ritual of taking a photo a day and looking back I can see nature played a big role in keeping me sane. I was greatly entertained by the footpath garbage collection and enjoyed the tableaux of ordinary household items set out for removal. Farewell February.

A pocket full of treasure: reflecting on January.

When my son was young he used to collect things and stow them in his pockets to enjoy later. Typically, he would forget about them and I would discover his pockets full of treasure on washing day. It was kind of fun in a way to see what he’d collected and remember where we’d been when he discovered each small item and tucked it away for safe keeping. There were all sorts of things in those little pockets from shells and rocks to sand and bus tickets. All very precious and intriguing to my little man.

Years later I find myself with a pocket full of treasure. Having committed to taking a photo a day for the year, I spent yesterday flicking through “January” and delighting in the memory of each day. The daily fun and joy and wonders come back ever so clearly to be enjoyed again.


So January has zoomed by in what seems the blink of an eye and the click of a button but my pocket full of simple photos has allowed me to take another look and appreciate the richness of my days. Life seems somewhat fuller with a small token of remembrance.

I am reminded of that saying: “collect memories,not things.” It certainly is rewarding.

Blessings to you. I trust you’ve enjoyed a joyful January.

Shannyn