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Half a Church

An old-timer sat on his veranda and although it was only 10 am, he held a can of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Despite the cold, he wore a blue working man’s singlet, shorts and thongs on his feet.

Coarse grey stubble grew across his face; it had a bronzy liver damaged pallor. His cheeks lacked plumpness; instead, the skin hung slack, devoid of any fat. His emancipated body was stick thin, no doubt from replacing food with booze, except for a potbelly which projected out as if a cushion was concealed under his singlet. 

‘What do you know about the church?’ I asked.

With no intention of stopping, I had driven into the one-horse town of Greendale in Victoria’s Central Highlands. But an unusual church caught my eye; it looked as if it was sawn in half.

‘The money for the other half of the church got stole by Captain Moonlite.’

‘Who’s Captain Moonlite?’

‘Yer drives a fancy car like that, and yer don’t know yer Australian history.’

He proceeded to give me a history lesson. Captain Moonlite had once been Andrew Scott, a pastor sent to the parish of Greendale. In 1875 the community constructed half the church and continued to raise funds for the second half when their preacher and the money disappeared.

He resurfaced as Captain Moonlite, a notorious bushranger with surprisingly impeccable manners, always apologizing and never forgetting to say thank you to his victims.

At one point the police caught Moonlite, but he escaped taking six other prisoners with him. Eventually, he was captured for good and hanged in 1880.

‘Yer got any smokes?’ asked the old bloke

‘Sorry mate, I don’t smoke.’

I thanked him, got into my fancy car and drove away dreaming of the well-mannered Captain Moonlite.


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Père Lachaise

Before me is a castrated man. Lipstick kisses cover the glass barrier between him and me.

I am visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Wilde is one of many famous people buried here and adorning his tomb is a Sphinx-like statue seemingly in flight. However, the figure’s testicles were always controversial and during construction, in 1908, they were deemed too large. A vandal removed them in 1961, and they became the cemetery superintendent’s paperweight.

Wilde’s grave has always attracted a lot of visitors and kissing it became the done thing. Hence the addition of a glass surround easily cleaned of lipstick.

Another of the cemetery’s famous tombs is that of the rock star, Jim Morrison. Like a rider on a storm, he shot to legendary status dying, aged 27, from a heroin overdose in a Paris apartment.

The sight of a spotted toy dog and other tasteless junk littering Morrison’s grave disappoints me. He wouldn’t want to be remembered this way. However soon a group of young people arrive carrying wreaths of fresh flowers. A cheer explodes as they lay the flowers on Morrison’s grave.

‘Are you fans?’ I ask.

‘It’s her father’s funeral, and there are too many flowers.’

I see a teary eye girl, too young to lose a father, and remember sitting beside my father as he fought for life in an ICU.

Wilde wrote, ‘Death must be so beautiful.’

Sometimes death is beautiful but not today. Today it is simply sad.


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Hortus Conclusus

I ran my hand over the ancient gate. Despite furrows in the wood, it was smooth and waxy from centuries of human touch. With a push, the gate opened onto a secret walled garden, the Hortus conclusus. Lemon trees laden with bright yellow fruit stood to attention and the morning’s drizzle lingered heavily in the air. Wisps of mist floated like sheer chiffon, drifting in soft white clouds against the glossy green of the trees.

Though this was a place I should not be, the lemons with their happy enthusiasm seemed to urge me on. Their scent reached out and pulled me in. The perfume sparkled high in my nostrils, invigorating me. I felt alive and inhaled the beauty of this private world. Lemon zest lingered on my palette, a sweet tang as if I had taken a bite of forbidden fruit.

I took the path to a central octagonal stone basin, the remains of what had once been a grand fountain. Across the garden, an ancient wall fountain still tinkled clear pure water, and I listened as the cascade sang of its medieval past.

I turned toward the fishponds. Here I found a goose on a central island, baying like a dog at the moon. This was not a place for strangers, and the bird’s territorial bellow affirmed its sole inhabitance of the island. In the other fishpond, two swans circled, wings hunched chicly across their backs. They swam quickly. I heard an elegant swish, webbed feet paddling with the grace of Nureyev. It was as if the swans were sentries in a dramatic ballet, eyeing me, warning me, that this was their domain, their stage.

I was drawn into the Hortus conclusus at Giardini di Ninfa, a place strictly off-limits to the public. Ninfa, 80 miles south of Rome, is the most romantic garden in the world. I believe her to be the most beautiful. In the 1920s the hands of talented gardeners created Ninfa around the ruins of a medieval village. 

Ninfa appears wild but is quietly contained to mimic the natural world, wandering lushly beside a stream of transparent spring-fed water. Roses ramble up decayed stone walls and wisteria drips in mauve curtains from her timeworn bridge.

Ninfa has always held my heart and on this joyful day, I was blessed to see her at her finest. However, I couldn’t leave her; I couldn’t tear myself away from Ninfa. I wanted to linger, then I saw the gate to the Hortus conclusus, the garden behind high stone walls once reserved an aristocratic family of the medieval castle. It’s a place of privacy away from prying eyes, a garden for reflection and contemplation.

I had to see it, so I did.

But along with stealing a peek at this private world, I wanted to belong to this place of perfection.

So that day, in Ninfa’s Hortus conclusus, I surreptitiously declared myself the owner of this small realm of paradise, along with the goose and the swans.


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Birthday Villa

How could you not love visiting a place with the happy name of Birthday Villa?

It’s a beautiful estate in the central Victorian hamlet of Malmsbury. Named after the birthday of Queen Victoria, the day on which gold was discovered at the nearby Birthday Mine. Income generated from the gold mine funded the handsome manor house.

Nowadays the villa is nestled beside a vineyard from which award-winning wines are produced. The historic Malmsbury viaduct is viewed from the garden where lichen romantically clings to bare tree branches and daffodils bob with happy faces.

It’s filled with old fashioned plants, like hellebores, grape hyacinths and peonies.

My mother spotted an old-world violet with a larger flower and a longer stem than newer varieties. Her mother – whose name was Violet – grew this particular variety and the long stems are handy for posies. The chatelaine of Birthday Villa kindly gave us some cuttings.

As we headed back to Bendigo with the precious violets, my mother and I felt, not only had all our Christmases come at once, but our birthdays had as well.



Birthday Villa


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Lest We Forget

In 1941 Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 sailed to defend Singapore and wrote home to his mother at Upper Lurg in North-Eastern Victoria.

‘So far this war has been a gentlemen’s affair for us, but expect it to change any tick of the clock; just busting to have a go – may sound a bit bloodthirsty, that is the way the terrible slaughter of the innocent grips one.’

Stan believed in doing his duty and continued to write to his mother.

‘Although as far as Singapore is concerned, it would take more than all the Japs together to gain a point! Pity help anyone who tries, nobody’s business what will happen. I, for one, would rather be the defender.’

On the 8th February 1942, the Battle for Singapore began.

‘They are whizzing around all day – and what they can’t do with the latest fighters that are here is harmless. Suffering tomcats they can go – at present, there are half a dozen fighters playing hide and seek in the clouds – think there were many more by the powerful noise they make.’

Eight days later, Singapore fell, and the Japanese captured Stan.

Aged 26, Stan was taken to Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp on the island of Borneo along with 1500 other prisoners captured at Singapore.

At Sandakan, the prisoners became slave labour, forced to construct a military airstrip. The Japanese guards starved, tortured, and murdered the men in one of the greatest brutalities committed on Australian soldiers during the war. In the final months of the war, the Japanese marched the surviving prisoners out of Sandakan into the mountains in three separate death marches.

Of the 2434 prisoners sent to Sandakan during the war, only six survived. Stan died, apparently of malaria, at Sandakan on the 15th June 1945, the day the third death march commenced. The Japanese threw his body into a mass grave near the camp.

After the war, the bodies in the pit were exhumed and moved to Labuan War Cemetery. Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 lies alongside other POWs, identified only by the original Sandakan mass grave.He was my Great Uncle.

Lest We Forget.


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The Fishing Fleet

By Jennifer Walker Teh

Part One

‘What do you mean, we’re not going in Simla,’ Ainsley asked. ‘We’re on the train to Simla.’

William looked away from his new bride and spoke with his eyes down.

‘We are honeymooning in Kasauli; it’s a hill station near Simla.’

Ansley was silent; it was sweltering, and she dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief. There was only one Simla, the summer home of the British India Government set in the cooler cedar green foothills of Himalayas and known for its lively social entertainment. Ainsley had her heart set on Simla.

‘Yes, I know where Kasauli is. It’s further down the mountain, and they have a sanatorium for rabid patients there,’ she replied a little curtly.

William continued to look out the window, ‘That is where my work is.’

‘Oh,’ Ainsley said softly realizing she now had responsibilities. As of this morning, she was a married woman, Mrs William Cartwight, and must follow her new husband. He was a doctor, after all. She must do her duty but living near people infected with rabies, that was very concerning.

‘Look here, I may not have been exactly honest with you,’ William said, twisting his hands.

The train pumped forward and rattled as they left Kalka Station.

‘Dear girl, I’m not a doctor rather I’m a hospital orderly. Awfully sorry to have misled you.’

Just then, the train descended into darkness as they entered the Koti tunnel. It was cool inside, but the blackness amplified the hissing of the steam engine. The two of them sat in silence, invisible to each other as the train chugged through.

As they drew out of the blackness, a mob of wild monkeys ran along beside the track trying to jump through the open carriage windows. Ainsley reeled away from the window and screamed, ‘Get away!’

William held her and said, ‘It’s alright. The monkeys can never catch up with the train.’

‘That’s all right for you, William, you are used to rabid animals.’

‘Dear girl, I fell in love with you and had to have you. Nothing matters when you are in love,’ said William.

‘At lot matters in life,’ cried Ansley. ‘Rabies matters, Kasauli is uncivilized, it’s down the mountain, and the unsanitary winds from the plain make it hot. It’s not a true hill station; it’s just somewhere they put half-mad rabid people, and I’m sure it will have cholera.’

William took a deep breath. ‘There’s no cholera; the water is so clean they even have a brewery,’ putting his arm around Ainsley’s waist.

‘Don’t touch me, you deceived me,’ Ainsley snorted, tears rolling down her face. ‘You knew I was vulnerable, that I didn’t have a family to question who you really are.’

Then she said, ‘I’m not one of those girls who come to India to fish for a husband.’

William was angry now, ‘Well they did call your ship, the fishing fleet.’

‘How dare you!’

He added, ‘At your age and with your looks, you had no prospects in England. You have nothing to complain about,’

They each glared out the train’s window with arms folded firmly across their chests.

Part Two

Dear Bishop,

I write to you concerning an irregular episode associated with my parish here in Simla. It primarily involves one of my former parishioners, a Mrs Cartwright.

I first met Mrs Cartwright on a train to Simla. I was returning to Simla from the Vicar’s Synod in Calcutta when I sat in the same compartment as Mrs Cartwright and her husband. During our journey, Mrs Cartwright became extremely distressed.

Mr and Mrs Cartwright had married that morning and were travelling to make their home in Kasauli after having become acquainted only two weeks earlier.

The unmarried Mrs Cartwright had sailed to Bombay alone and unchaperoned to take up a position as governess in a household in Lucknow. Sadly, her future employer and the entire family had perished in the recent outbreak of cholera in Lucknow.

Mr Cartwright met his future bride in a guest house in Bombay, and within four days, he had proposed marriage. She accepted.

Unfortunately, Mr Cartwright deceived his wife by stating he was a doctor when indeed he was an orderly at the Kasauli Sanatorium.

Upon hearing Mrs Cartwright’s great distress on the train, I compassionately intervened and was informed of this deliberate deception. In the spirit of Christian concern, I suggested Mrs Cartwright accompany me onward to Simla where with the help of my good wife, I hoped to convince the bride of the Holy and binding nature of her marriage vows.

Mr Cartwright agreed to this arrangement, and he disembarked at Kasauli while Mrs Cartwright and I continued onto Simla.

However, shortly after Mr Cartwright was dismissed from his employment at the sanatorium for impersonating a doctor. Neither Mrs Cartwright nor I know of his whereabouts.

Mrs Cartwright spent the summer season in the Vicarage with my wife and me.

In the Autumn, my wife, in sound Christian spirit, was able to secure a position for Mrs Cartwright as a governess in the household of Major and Mrs George Wentworth of Meerut.

However, it appears an unchristian relationship has developed between Major Wentworth and Mrs Cartwright. Unfortunately, Mrs Wentworth sailed for England with her children a week ago.

I have written to Major Wentworth’s commanding officer, Colonel Bradshaw, about the continued presence of Mrs Cartwright, unchaperoned, in the home of Major Wentworth. It is not a good example to the many Christian men under the command of Major Wentworth.

I am saddened this unfortunate circumstance developed, particularly as my wife and I, only attempted to do our Christian duty.

Yours in Christ,

Reverend August MontgomeryChrist Church, Simla.

Part Three

Dear Reverend Montgomery,

Your colleague, the Reverend Little of St John’s in Meerut, has already written to me about this irregular liaison between Major Wentworth and Mrs Cartwright.

He has informed me a position was found for Mrs Cartwright by your wife only after your own improper relationship with Mrs Cartwright became apparent.

This is not the first time I have written to you about matters of this nature.

I had hoped the move to Simla would prevent you from forming these inappropriate relationships. It is after all, far from the Bombay Dock where the so-called “Fishing Fleets” of unmarried English ladies arrive.

At the end of this month, you will be relieved of your position as Vicar at Christ Church, Simla.

Please present on the 8th November to your new position as Curate, St Andrew’s, Lahore, North-West Frontier Province.

Yours sincerely

Bishop Howard Rochdale.


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Miss Brill

By Jennifer Walker Teh

Writers Note

This short story is an exercise in developing plot. I have taken the first paragraph of the short story, Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield’s and used it to create a plot for my own story. Katherine Mansfield’s first paragraph has become my final paragraph, and so this storyline and character are entirely different from hers. You can easily find the original Miss Brill online.

Part One

Miss Brill dressed only in black with a touch of white because she felt it gave her authority.

‘Color only adds frippery, and that is not a good look for a school headmistress,’ Miss Brill decided.

She was a creature of habit, and she considered good habits the backbone of proper womanhood. At 5 am sharp, she rose, ate a lean breakfast of lightly buttered brown bread then walked her beloved dog, Mungo, a border collie in the Jardins Publiques. She liked her dogs the way she liked her clothes, black and white. By 7.30 am Miss Brill was in her office at the Académie Internationale pour Jeunes Filles.

Miss Brill terrified the girls at her school with narrow accusing eyes along with her gaunt cheek-less face and a scornful hawkish nose. She had the hint of the wicked witch of the west about her and, like little Dorothys, the girls cowered as she passed them in the school’s corridors.

‘It is important we instil good values into our girls here in Paris,’ she instructed her teaching staff.

Although Miss Brill had been a resident of Paris for many years, she never trusted the French and especially not the Parisians. Paris was far too ostentatious for her, too much trivial expensive fashion, too much excessively rich food and too many overtly flirtatious men.

‘It is my job to see girls can navigate the French shallowness.’ said Miss Brill to every international parent who crossed the threshold of her office.

The only Frenchman Miss Brill had any time for was Mungo’s veterinarian, Dr Aguillard. At Mungo’s check-ups, Dr Aguillard flirted outrageously with Miss Brill, yet she not only tolerated this but was flattered by it.

‘I’m so glad I have you to take care of my dear Mungo,’ gushed Miss Brill as Dr Aguillard pressed a thermometer into the dog’s bottom.

One morning Mungo broke free of his lead and ran toward the rue de Thorigny as a speeding Citroen rounded a corner. A loud thud boomed across Jardins Publiques as Mungo flew like a heavy wayward shotput and landed at feet of the headmistress. Miss Brill rushed the gravely injured Mungo to Dr Aguillard’s clinic.

‘My dear Mademoiselle Brill, we will do what we can for your beloved Mungo, but you must brace yourself for the worst,’ said Dr Aguillard.

Indeed, poor Mungo’s injuries were too severe. The next morning, Dr Aguillard explained, ‘I’m sorry Mademoiselle Brill, your dear Mungo has passed away.’ She lost her composure and began to cry.

‘Mungo was my life, my one love. Now, who shall I walk along the paths of the Jardins Publiques with?’

The veterinarian drew the grief-stricken old spinster toward him.

‘There, there, Mademoiselle Brill. It would be my honour to walk with you every morning,’ said Dr Aguillard as Miss Brill wept on his shoulder.

Part Two

Whack! Dr Aguillard slapped the boy hard on his ear.

‘What is this! I can see some unburnt newspaper in the ash!’ he yelled.

The boy’s ear throbbed; he was only 15 years old and had come to Dr Aguillard’s veterinarian clinic six months ago believing he would train in animal husbandry.

However, he was drawn into a dark world. No animal admitted for overnight care ever survived, instead they were put down the moment their owners left. The next day Dr Aguillard would dishonestly explain there was nothing he could do. He would console the shocked owners and hand them a black marble urn supposedly containing the ashes of their much-loved pet.

Of course, Dr Aguillard would give lengthy accounts of how he fought to save the pets, and he would charge for expensive intravenous infusions, X rays and even the use of a unique veterinarian defibrillator.

‘Stand back I yelled then zapped your dear Bobby,’ he told the owners. ‘But alas I could not get his heart beating. I kept trying for an hour until I collapsed with exhaustion,’ he said.

There was more. The boy was responsible for the distasteful task of skinning the pets.

‘Skin those mutts,’ instructed Dr Aguillard. ‘Then take the pelts down to Le Marais.’

The boy did as he was told. All the pelts were taken to a high-end boutique and used in fashionable couture. They paid the veterinarian a pretty penny for the exotic furs.

Dr Aguillard was an evil man, and he paid particular attention to the older female pet owners.

‘Mademoiselle Brill looks like she would be the type to donate to my Vétérinaire Médecins Sans Frontières.’

The boy knew the veterinarian was referring to his bogus charitable organisation, which was supposed to care for animals worldwide.

‘I just need one more donor, and it’s two weeks skiing in Val-d’Isère for me,’ said Dr Aguillard.

Part Three

Winter was on its way, and Miss Brill felt cold as she strolled about the charming streets of Le Marais. She stopped to admire a stunning black and white fur stole in the window of a shop.

Inside she tried it on. Something was comforting about it. The long soft hairs were striking, and the black and white was in keeping with the rest of her wardrobe. Importantly she would need a warm stole for her morning walks with Dr Aguillard.

Part Four

Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and then a leaf came drifting – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur.


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Mamma Red Gum

Look who I met last week, The Big Tree of Guilford in Central Victoria. This beautiful River Red Gum, with superbly contorted branches, is estimated to be between 500 to 1000 years old.

She is one of the largest in Victoria, with a height of 34 metres and circumference of 9.35 metres at the base.

Like a kindly foster mother, her branches and hollows provide homes to a variety of wildlife, and her shade offers respite from the searing summer heat. Mamma Red Gum has been providing these services for centuries.

Please take a look at the photograph taken in the mid-1800s; even then she was a big lass.


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Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki has a rare collection of 400 miniatures.

Most miniatures are portraits; they are an intimate item, perhaps of a loved one which can be held and easily transported.

Usually painted on ivory or paper mache; they were popular from the 17th to the 19th century when photographs replaced small painted images.

The Sinebrychoff collection is displayed in narrow cabinets and no need to bring your spectacles because there are handy magnifying glasses for viewing.