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I like my footy, but only once a year

For some years there, I was a card carrying member of the other AFL – the late Keith Dunstan’s Anti-Football League. In my defence, my footy-tragic husband had joined me up as a joke, but it was a good joke, and I wore the T-shirt and the orange, square-shaped football badge with pride, particularly when I went to watch him play.

It may be un-Australian, but sport has never floated my boat, although if you added up all the time I’ve spent watching my partner and our offspring play, you’d think otherwise. It was always about the family member, though, not the game, so that I often missed crucial moments in the match as I was watching my loved one in their little corner rather than the main action.

When my beloved heads off to ‘The G’, I prefer the nap, long walk, read a novel option. Once a year, however, I like to get in touch with my deeply-buried inner Aussie and join him. And the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, with its gorgeous extra 24 hours to play with, seems like a good time to do it. So off I went to the match between Melbourne and Collingwood, with my packet of chips, apple and thermos of coffee.

This year is a bit different for our family as the Demons – the passionately supported team of most of us - is actually doing well for the first time in living memory. It seemed as though there was a chance beating the Magpies, and who doesn’t like doing that?

Sadly, that was not to be, not this time. Blokes in black and white were everywhere; it looked as though they had twice as many players on the field. They were a pleasure to watch – and that comment alone shows just how pathetic a supporter I am.

I was reminded, on Monday, that the things I enjoy most about footy are nothing to do with the footy itself. The ballet of the swirling seagulls descending in the last quarter. The thrilling vertigo of sitting on the top level of the southern stand. The wonderful fact that, unlike soccer fans in Europe, supporters of opposing teams can sit alongside each other without committing violence.  

And that for me, it’s always about the people, not the game. Try as I might to become more interested, I only watch sport if people I love are playing it. I rejoice when the Dees win because it makes some of my favourite people happy.

This was published on 15 June in The Melbourne Age





Coping. And not.

Are you a ‘let go and let God’ kind of person? Or a ‘God helps those who help themselves’?

I’ve always been a determined little thing. My mother used to tell the story of a holiday we had when I was four. My older sister was already at boarding school in this town; we rented a cottage at the top of what was called ‘Missionary Hill’, on account of the many missionaries who took their summer holidays there.

Carless, we would go for walks or picnics, or to the local market for food, and trail up the long hill back to where we were staying. According to Mum, I would toil stolidly up the road by her side, muttering under my breath, ‘Clare manage, Clare manage’.

I thought wryly of this recently when I was climbing Mount Bogong for the fourth time in my life. I did it twice in my twenties at a blistering pace. Last time I did it was 18 years ago, with our three oldest children. As we drove home, I said to my husband, ‘Well that was fabulous, but I am never doing it again’. Into my sixtieth year now, the opportunity came up for one last connection with Bogong, and I couldn’t resist.

Crikey but it’s a brutal climb though! The aptly named Staircase is eight kilometres of relentlessly steep ascent. By the time we were almost to the summit, I was having to stop every couple of hundred metres, leaning on my walking poles, drawing deep breaths, trying not to throw up. And all the way I chanted to myself, channelling that gutsy four-year-old: ‘Clare manage, Clare manage’.

It’s not a bad mantra for life. It’s good to be a coper. Life’s a long haul, if you’re lucky; a marathon, not a sprint. Mostly it’s not glamorous or triumphant, and the deepest joys and satisfactions are often the smallest, simplest, quietest, most intimate things. But you keep plugging away, knowing that it doesn’t matter if you’re not flashy, as long as you have a go and give it your best shot.

In the last decade, however, as I age and face new challenges, I am learning something else as well. Sometimes, Clare can’t manage, and when that happens, it’s quite okay to curl up and howl, to sleep, to rail at God, to call on my besties in floods of tears, to say out loud, ‘Clare can’t manage, she needs some help here!’

My family, my friends, my church and my community carry me in these times, and when I am feeling stronger I do the same for them. It’s great to be a coper. But life is long, and we are not called to cope by ourselves all the time.

There are two images from the animal kingdom that illustrate the two approaches to our relationship with God. A kitten hangs passively from its mother’s mouth as she carries it around, contributing nothing. Baby monkeys, however, cling for dear life to their mothers. I’d like to think that with God, and with my people, I can sometimes be a baby monkey, sometimes a kitten.

This was published in the June edition of The Melbourne Anglican


Selfies with an extinct species

I thought I was hallucinating last Wednesday, when I boarded a number 11 tram in Collins Street and saw a cheery, avuncular conductor in his green uniform, complete with cap and heavy-duty leather satchel sprouting old-fashioned paper tickets.

His appearance was in honour of the twentieth anniversary of the day the last connies worked on Melbourne trams and it took me back. Is it just nostalgia colouring my memories, or were tram conductors universally friendly, helpful and upbeat?

The most extreme example was a conductor we called ‘Frenchie’ who worked the Glenferrie Road line. He did circus tricks including swinging from the hanging straps, juggling with his cap and performing conjuring feats with customers’ change.

Not every connie was quite so colourful, but not many were grumpy.  I remember one asking me where I was headed one gorgeous Melbourne spring day. When I said ‘to my boyfriend’s,’ he proceeded to ask how many boyfriends I had to which I responded ‘just the one’. ‘Ah,’ he sighed theatrically, ‘so much beauty and only one boyfriend’. Recalling this decades later, in the era of #metoo, I still think his intentions were perfectly innocent, and I certainly received them in that spirit.

Of course, there were plenty of female conductors too.  And both women and men seemed to add a parental touch to the experience of a tram journey, conducting – no pun intended - the atmosphere of these most temporary of communities. I felt safer on the trams when they were there. A myki machine just isn’t the same, nor are Protective Services Officers.

I have no idea how conductors managed to collect fares on crowded rush hour trams; I suspect they sometimes resigned themselves to missing a commuter or two, but probably fewer than those who fare evade these days. One of my closest friends was a conductor/driver in the seventies (a combination that was called a ‘marmalade’) and says that tact and complicated mental arithmetic were required, the manual dexterity to sort the right change and punch each ticket in correct little square, plus the all-important task of pulling the cord twice for the driver to take off once all passengers were safely on board.

I guess it’s too much to hope for the reinstatement of tram conductors. But on the city tram this week, I was pleased to see that it wasn’t only oldies like me who were chuffed to experience their brief reincarnation, as millennials lined up, grinning, to get a selfie with this extinct species.


 Pulished in The Melbourne Age on 27 May 2018


Good Friday and Easter

‘Great news and happy birthday now and evermore’.

This was just one of the many heart-warming messages of good will that appeared on my Facebook feed a while back when I posted a photo of my husband and me celebrating his birthday and the news that currently, he is enjoying a spell of good health, despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

English is not this friend’s first language. And his quirky and profound turn of phrase set me thinking about Easter.

In this society, we tend to rush too quickly from the horror of Good Friday and the numb confusion and abandonment of Easter Saturday to the reassuring glory and triumph of the Resurrection. It’s easier that way, and for many in Australia, there is little in our day to day lives to remind us of death and despair. Many of us coast along for years wilfully ignoring the fact that the world is a dark place for many human beings and that there is no escaping death.

In our family, the last three years have kind of been the opposite as we have walked through the valley of the shadow of death: facing incurable cancer, its tough treatment and the unforeseen complications arising from that treatment. Good times and blessings have been sprinkled liberally through these years, along with a more profound sense of God’s love and grace than I have ever experienced before. But it has felt as though we’ve been living in a Good Friday-Easter Saturday time, and our friend’s message reminded me powerfully that we worship an Easter Sunday God.

I am inspired that Jesus suffered in many of the same ways that all humans do. He was fearless and authentic and uncompromising. He accepted all the 'wrong' kind of people and opposed those who corruptly used power, so that his murder was the logical conclusion of a life fully, authentically and courageously lived. That he died, feeling abandoned by God, and that as the early Creeds claim, ‘he descended into hell’ is a deep consolation for those of us who have suffered from the cruel disease of depression, chronic pain or arbitrary tragedy.

But that was and is not the last word. The story of Jesus’ resurrection tells me that God, who is love, is more powerful than evil and death. The life and love that my husband and I have created together, messily but well, will not disappear when we die. Love ripples out forever, as does each act of courage and kindness in the world. There is no shelter from suffering and death in this life. But I believe that does not limit the enduring love of God, which holds us from conception to death and beyond.

Easter tells me that God is here with us and also there, on the other side of the dark river we all have to cross at some point. All will be well. And that hope brings comfort and joy in the present. That’s the bottom line of this whole deal.

So, along with our friend, I can confidently say, ‘It’s Easter. Great news and happy birthday, now and evermore!”

This was published in the April edition of The Melbourne Anglican


Oh, India!

Recent media accounts of the rising rape rate in the Subcontinent are chilling. For me, born and raised there, they are profoundly distressing.

India is one of my favourite places on earth. When I step off the plane onto Indian soil there is a deep, joyous, visceral sense of homecoming that I don’t experience anywhere else, not even in Australia, where I have lived for most of my life, and where almost all my loved ones are.

My childhood in India was mainly an abundantly happy one. The generosity of people – sometimes the poorest people, was humbling. We had great friends. The sights, sounds and smells, the ancient buildings, the food, the colour and vivacity in the streets were magical. When we moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the early 1970s, I thought it was the dullest, greyest, most lifeless place imaginable.

But. Even as a child, I was aware of India’s dark side. In 1969, when I was ten, our home city of Ahmedabad was riven by communal conflict. Muslims and Hindus slaughtered each other in the street: many hundreds of people were murdered in a few days. It wasn’t until the army imposed a 24-hour curfew and shot anyone who broke it that the carnage ceased. Of course, the hatred, fear and mistrust went on for decades.

A few years earlier, my mother and I were on a long train trip that took us through an area torn apart by language riots – people in the south protesting the imposition of Hindi – the lingua franca of the north - as the national language. The train we were travelling in was stoned by rioting mobs.

And everywhere you look in India, poverty and disability are displayed. The homeless, the hungry, the breathtakingly disfigured, are all paraded in the street. The animals you see are often bone thin and cowed. For a dog lover, India is purgatory.

Currently, Islam and Christianity are the most criticised of world faiths, with militant extremism and child abuse prominent in our awareness. But every religion and ideology on earth has its dark side – has practitioners who distort or ignore its teachings in horrific ways. Mahatma Gandhi abhorred the caste system. Any belief or system – sexism, nationalism, racism or caste, that posits that some people are worth more than others, is twisted.  Good beliefs, healthy religions are the ones that grow our hearts, rendering us more compassionate and sharpening our awareness of injustice towards those outside our circle.

This was published in The Age on 23 April 2018