Out and About Wrapped Up

Over the past few months, South Coast Writers Centre hosted five writers as part of the first Out and About residency program. A group of writers from the Illawarra area headed out into the community to hold a unique, interactive outdoor writers residency, where they engaged with both the place and the people, while passersby left thoughts and contribution that were woven into the works. The residency ran with support from Wollongong City Council's Cultural Services. Local authors, Sue Whiting, Jeff Apter, Pamela Cook, Sandy Fussell, Joel Burrows produced a eclectic set of short works that showcase their unique styles, as well as the colourful encounters that the Illawarra facilitates. All the Out and About pieces can be read below. 

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Sue Whiting - Out and About in Stuart Park

Oa Sue 1

I end up in Stuart Park. Only vaguely aware of how I got here.

My side aches and my t-shirt clings to my back. The wind whips long strands of sweaty hair into my mouth and chases clouds across the blue sky. I bend over, hands on knees and suck in a few deep breaths.

Why am I here, of all places? This place full of memories? Good ones. Happy ones. Family ones.

All lies.  

Two grubby toddlers rush by me flicking up sand and dirt. Their squeals rise above the howl of the wind whooshing through the pines. They scramble up rope ladders and over the playground equipment on some great imaginative adventure.

Considering this foul wind, the playground is full – kids swarm the place like wild bees. Their parents huddle in the shelter sheds trying to escape the worst of the gale. In one shed there is some kind of bookish promotion going on. A banner is tied fast across one opening and a girl in a spotty dress sits and listens to a woman reading from a picture book. Random.

A loud burst of cheering grabs my attention. Near the twisty slide, a rowdy group gather round the barbecue, collecting sausage sandwiches, tomato sauce dribbling off chins and plopping to the ground. Pink balloons and streamers threaten to take flight. It is obviously a birthday party and I’m immediately taken back to Alek’s twelfth birthday here.

Beach Olympics. A Sudanese feast on woven mats, followed by that massive unicorn cake. Alek was so happy that day; it came bubbling up out of her. And Missa-D – standing so tall and proud and full of sunshine. Even Deng joined in, helping Mama with the sand sprints.

Mama …

Liar. Fraud.

These memories are so fake.

They should never have happened.

I take off, dirt and leaves stinging my bare legs as I tear across the car park to the beach. Desperate for the destructive power of the southerly swell to block out the memories. The roar of the ocean to silence my pain.

Oa Sue 2

I am currently in the research and planning stage of my new middle grade novel, with the working title of Chance. Chance tells the story of a thirteen-year-old Chance who discovers a devastating secret about her family. It is set in the Gong, so I thought it might be fun to write my piece from Chance’s perspective. Chance has just made a shocking discovery and takes off. She ends up in Stuart Park – on the day of my Out and About residency. Thanks to the following contributors: Sam, Zachary, Tamberlyn, Elena, Nina, Jade, Gom, Jake, Sofara, Jai, Gabe, anonymous x 2

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Out and About at Red Point Artists Association - Sandy Fussell


It’s the worst kind of Friday afternoon. Stinking hot.

The gust of sulphur fumes from the Stack is right on time. There ought to be a law against trying to gas kids in their classroom. Behind me, Ben Robinson is pretending to die of a coughing fit and next to me, Sue Kovac has a lace-edged handkerchief covering her mouth. I’m toughing it out, keeping my cool, the way I always do.

We’re supposed to be reading quietly. I don’t mind reading, but it’s too noisy with Ben spluttering and twitching. And it’s too close to home time to concentrate anyway. I watch the clock. Five more minutes and I’m out of here. Maybe I’ll go for swim. I can see Port Kembla beach from my desk. I’ve got the best view in the whole classroom.

The beach is taunting me. I wish I was there now, lying on the sand, soaking up the sun. I especially wish I was breathing in the fresh air.

Hang on. What’s that?

“I can see a whale.” I climb up on my desk to get a better look. “There’s a whale off the beach.”

“Sit down,” Miss Kennet yells.

I do, but the rest of class charges for the window, jostling to get a look.

“Sit down, everyone,” Miss Kennet yells, louder this time.

The bell rings. The afternoon clicks over to weekend time. Miss Kennet’s no longer in charge. I grab my bag and race out the door, leading the pack. We’ll all get detention on Monday, but it’ll be worth it. A whale won’t hang around the beach forever.

I throw my bag inside the front door.

“Good,” Mama says. “I’ve been waiting for you. I need your help with the shopping.”

Normally I’d be happy to do that. Mr. Romano always gives me free fruit – the juiciest oranges and the crispest apples. He’s pinned up a big list of all the languages spoken in his shop and he’s teaching me how to say hello in every one of them.

Hola! Yasou! Ciao! Zdravoh!

“I can’t go, mum. Not this time. There’s a whale off the beach.”

I rush out the door before she can argue.  I drop into our neighbour’s garage. Louis would normally be surfing, but he’s got the billy cart bug. He’s been building a new cart with his mates for the derby next month. I hear them hammering until late at night. I’m supposed to give him a hand this afternoon.

Oa Sandy 3

“Can’t stay, Louis. There’s a whale off the beach. I’ll come over and help tomorrow.”

Mrs. Kavvas is in her front garden, rearranging the roses.

“Yasou! Mrs Kavvas.”

“Goodness. What’s all the excitement about?” she asks.

“There’s a whale off the beach.”

“Pfft. I’ve seen them there before.”

“But I haven’t. This is my first whale. Catch you later.”

Mr. Carelli is packing an easel into the back of his station wagon.

“Ciao, Mr Carelli”

“I’m having an exhibition at the Red Point Gallery next weekend. You should come along,” he says.

I’m not really into art, but mum will definitely be interested.

“I let Mama know. Got to run. There’s a whale off the beach.”

I tell everyone I see.

Then I look at my watch. Oh, no. I’ll probably be the last one there. I kick it up a gear, running faster than I did when I won the Under -11 hundred metre sprint.

When I arrive, a crowd has already assembled. It looks like the whole town has turned up. Even Mrs. Kavvas has decided to have another look. Mr. Carelli waves from sand dunes where he has set up his easel and chair.

“Over here,” Mama calls. “Hola!”

The whole town is here.

 “You should have waited,” she says. “I would have given you a lift.”

“What happened to the shopping?”

“Haven’t you heard? There’s a whale off the beach.” 

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I regularly describe how my ideas come together to make a story. It was a much bigger challenge than I expected when those ideas came from other people and I had to fit them together. The people who visited Red Point Art Gallery and shared their thoughts with me were a diverse group. Tourists and residents, younger and older, historians and artists (Edie drew the beach). But the themes were strong and immediately visible – local history, art, the beach and overarching it all - a sense of community. That’s what I’ve tried to show here. Most people didn’t leave names with their comments, but thank you – you know who you are. And a special thank you to Will, whose excited eyes as he described seeing a whale from his schoolyard, gave me the pathway into this story. 

Oa Sandy 1

Sandy with Red Point Artists Association president Dulcie Dal Molin

Out and About at Bald Hill - Pamela Cook

Bald Hill

A road snakes along the cliff edge

Curls and rises, cobra-like, to where

Concrete and stainless steel corrals the traffic,

Creating order.


Crowds of visitors jostle for a shot

Inch towards the precipice

A riot of tilting heads and flashing teeth,

Snapping selfies.


An artist sits at her easel

Alone amongst the throng

Paints a blur of clouds and water and sky,

Capturing infinity.

 

Couples laze on the grass,

Hands entwined, watching the scene

But with eyes only for each other,

Conjuring love.

 

Weekend bikers graze at the café

In their armour of black leather

Sip steaming lattes and tell one more story,

Drinking life.

 

Surfers paddle through the navy sea

Like ants in a storm

Scrambling to their feet in the salty foam,

Chasing perfection.

 

Above it all hang-gliders soar and swirl

Like multi-coloured teradactyls,

Human moths

Riding the currents of time.

Oa Pamela 1

Photo courtesy of Pamela Cook

Out and About at Viva La Gong - Jeff Apter

As a Sydney refugee who decamped 10 years ago in search of the perfect rent, I can now safely say this: Wollongong is never boring. That was made all too clear to me at the recent Viva La Gong festival, where I occupied the SCWC’s Creative Container for a few hours as writer in residence. I expected some drop-ins from hopeful authors and assorted creatives — and there were those — but didn’t anticipate a brief history of the dark underbelly of the Illawarra.

It began with a simple enough enquiry from a visitor about the existence (or otherwise) of a True Crime Writers group in the Gong.

‘If it doesn’t have one,’ I said, ‘it sure could use one.’

I was thinking about the case of the body parts found in a barrel at Bellambi, but he had other grisly deeds in mind.

He duly went into an extended and bloody monologue about a particularly gruesome (and unsolved) murder of a woman named Wilhelmina Kruger at local hotspot the Piccadilly in 1966; her remains were found at the foot of a darkened stairwell. (The Piccadilly is now the HQ for those who frequent the nearby methadone clinic and other assorted local characters and down-and-outers.)

Exchange over, I wished him all the best and got on with pressing the flesh. But a little while later there was another drop-in, this time an older woman, who also provided a blow-by-blow account of the very same murder.

‘I can even give you the number of the sister of the person who was murdered!’

Though intrigued, I passed. There’s only so much gore one man can take while standing in a shipping container trying to talk up his work.

But there was more than tales of blood and guts shared in the SCWC HQ at Viva La Gong (although there was a fair bit of that). I asked visitors to write down their feelings about the Gong, and what makes it unique. Some of those responses — ‘The Gong is about the weird, the strange and the unnatural’, the Gong is about ‘sex, surf, sun and sand’ — didn’t surprise me, given the discussions I’d already had. But others took quite a different slant. 

Oa Jeff 3

Jeff At Viva La Gong - Photo courtesy of Amanda Craig

ne prevailing theme was diversity, both in its past (‘the history of the steelworks, Port Kembla, Mount Kembla and many other working-class suburbs. Just love it’) — and its present, according to at least one contributor, who noted: ‘Wollongong might be a city but it still like a village, where everyone has the time to say hello.’ One writer felt that a little part of the Gong travelled with them wherever they went on the planet. ‘Wollongong still feels like home, no matter where in the world you are.’

Then there was the food.

‘Wollongong is all about the food!’ insisted one writer. ‘So many different cuisines and themes.’ (Pardon the plug, but all of them are on show every Thursday night at Eat Street.) Another writer praised the ‘multi-culturalism and sense of community within the city and suburbs.’ ‘It’s a vibrant, cultural city in paradise,’ wrote yet another, ‘from the escarpment to the sea.’

‘It’s a big cultural difference from what I’ve seen in America,’ observed a visitor (who even signed off with a smiley emoji). ‘I’m glad I could have an amazing experience where I can feel happy and serene.’

A youthful writer cut to the chase. Who needs food when you had the coast? ‘The beaches are fun, but sandy!’

‘The big thing?’ one contributor thought out loud. ‘The Piccadilly Murder!’

What was it I said about the Gong’s seedy underbelly? You just can’t escape it.

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Thanks to the following contributors: Cheryl Davies, Manuel Luna, John Koutte, Xavier Cade-Taylor, Maya Saunders, Kirsten Mauby, Tegan Brazier, Jordan Wallace, Samra Tarrant and the various anonymous writers. 

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Out and About at Flagstaff Hill - Jeff Apter

Letters to (and from) Wollongong


Dear Wollongong,

As the spine of clouds rolls across the beach,

a flock of underage smokers

dangle, somewhere.

The sunlight crinkled.

Prickly legs.

Tim Tam packets.  

An inky shadow slinks 

off the lighthouse as the kids 

describe Harry’s mother with 

sexy adjectives.

 

It’s twelve pm mate

and I can see you in

a row of seagulls.

You hang somewhat between the earth and the sky.

You’re craving hot chips.

I’m craving hot chips.

You’re seagulls and I’m somewhat not a row of birds.

And as of you start to squawk the sound of a chip

packet pops against the ocean breeze.

 

I’m a big fan your work.

 

Yours Truly,

Joel Burrows

 

Dear Joel Burrows,

Thanks for the letter. 

I’m a big fan of my work too. 

It’s refreshing to be noticed on a 

handsome afternoon.

I keep writing letters to The Mercury

about shorelines. 

None of them get published.

 

Yes? Yes. I remember when you wrote this. 

Your unshapen and 

hung-over 

eyelids reminded me 

of a chorus of magpies.

Second hand tequila 

tangled with my breezily hair.

My voice was hushed bluebottles. 

It kept whispering, “Get your life together.” 

You weren’t listening 

but I’m glad you had a good time.

 

Thank you for your letter Joel, 

I really mean that, 

but there were some moments that I wished 

you included.

I have attached my three favourite memories from that day.  

They are all below in a single PDF. 

I hope you enjoy the show. 

Yours Truly, 

Wollongong

 

 ATTACHMENT 1:

 

The sound of parsley.

Two lost bats sharing fruit. A row of cement cubical apartments,

with a choir of cars beneath them.

Out About Poster

The South Coast Writers Centre would like to thank Jeff Apter, Sue Whiting, Pamela Cook, Joel Burrows, and Sandy Fussell for their participation and enthusiasm, SCWC volunteers Sam Farol, Amanda Craig for their hard work, and Cultural Services of the Wollongong City Council for their ongoing support of the SCWC. 

Written by SCWC

Posted on December 07, 2017