A mixed blog; Gough Whitlam, writing, and my inner bitchy-chick

I cried when I heard Gough had died. It surprised me that I cried.

I only met Gough once when I was about 9 or 10. It was the town opening of Coleambally, where I grew up. Dad was shire president, and he and Mum were hanging out with the dignitaries.

I was running around after the formalities getting autographs on an official program. Not sure if someone prompted me to do it, or I decided to do it myself. And not sure how I knew who the important people were, I think it was a visual thing, suit and tie, must be important.

Dad was talking to Gough when I asked Gough for his autograph, and I suppose Dad introduced me as his daughter.

Gough shook my hand and as Dad tells it (and Dad has an astounding memory to this day) I said, “I hope you’ll be Prime Minister one day.”

But Gough thought I said, “I’ll be Prime Minister one day,” and he replied, “You’ll make a great Prime Minister.” Dad has told me that story countless times, and no doubt I’ll hear it again on Friday when I make my regular call to my old Dad.

I don’t honestly remember what was said and nor have I ever had any political aspirations, but twelve months later Gough was Prime Minister.

What I do remember though was a man who treated me, not as an ignorant child, but as another human being, an equal. He believed me when I said that I could be Prime Minster, even though that wasn’t what I said.

When Gough bent down to shake my small hand and looked into my bright ten year old eyes, he made me feel important. I remember that feeling of being seen, and taken seriously, he didn’t laugh at my aspirations, but believed that I could be what I wanted to be, and I think he believed in all Australians that way.

Perhaps he made all of us believe in ourselves for a while as he showed us a wider vision of what we could be, a nation with a great heart.

Great men are rare and Gough was like a tall mountain on the horizon, and now that mountain is gone. I suppose it’s been fading for a while as only those close to him will know. Now there is an empty space that a mountain once filled, but a memory, large and warm and as solid as granite remains.

Goodbye and thankyou Gough Whitlam, great man with a big heart and big vision, May you rest in peace.

But wait there’s more, my desert writing life

I’ve finished the novel. Well the first draft, the easy bit. And there’s probably still a couple of scenes left to write. But it feels done.

After writing 56,000 words in nine days I slowed to a snails pace. My back decided it had had enough, and who could blame it. I’d been ignoring it for days, sitting crumpled or bent or who knows what, as I ran, or jumped or trembled in my imagination and tapped it all onto the page.

So a few days ago it let me know, using the language of the body, pain. It happened just as I could see the ending coming into view. Once I knew how it ended I lost enthusiasm and found it hard to keep writing.

So, because of the pain in my back and some concern about not finishing, if I didn’t press on, I wrote the last few chapters by hand.

To think of all those great writers from the past sitting down and writing David Copperfield by hand or War and Peace, is beyond comprehension. And how did they rewrite and edit? I suppose that’s how some of us got through Uni, slow and confused with multitudes of rewrites, but it seems like a dark age now.

But something changes when you write by hand. For me the action slowed and I was writing more reflectively, looking deeper into things, behind that brief encounter, or what was beneath the conversation, not just running along the story line.

I wrote the last action scene by hand and it is violent and brutal. It worries me a bit. I think I might need more therapy. Such violence, where did it come from?

I was watching Insight on SBS, with Jenny Bockie, last night about girls and violence and I wanted to call in and give them my version of things but technology-internet connection is so slow out here it would have been all over by the time I made contact. So I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

I think there is violence in everyone. It comes from our survival instinct. And that part of the brain is deeper and more primal than all the clever in us. When we are under threat the primitive brain takes over, and drives our reactions, and all our thinking and good intentions fly out the window.

There’s an attitude of violence throughout our culture, we watch violence every night on TV just by watching the news. If I switch on the TV at night every second station displays violence, and I mean really violent. I don’t watch it because I find any violence disturbing.

As for why girls are becoming more violent it’s a different reaction to fear and threat. Instead of running as they would have once, because it was a smarter survival option when facing a hungry woolly mammoth, they are fighting, because it’s no longer about physical strength and power. But the impulse is still driven by the same primitive parts of the brain.

Added to this the tension is mounting in our culture, we are under pressure earlier and earlier, a kind of chronic and unrelenting stress that’s experienced as hyper-vigilance or watchfulness, maintained through social media. How is that tension released? Often in an explosion, violence.

I am very afraid of violence and always have been, I avoid it, and yet here I am in the past few days, writing an extremely violent scene in my novel.

Writing gives us permission to explore and loosen parts of ourselves that are usually invisible or kept hidden. I have to draw on my own internal experience of violence to write honestly through my senses, to keep it real. I see the scene unfolding and I am in it, feeling it intensely, as I write it down. It feels abhorrent to me to come so close to violence.

And yet I chose to go there, or some part of me did.

I don’t know what all this means, I’m only reflecting on it now as I write this.

But I do know, when I am willing to be honest with myself, and writing always calls me to be honest, that I’ve felt rage, and there is a kind of violence in me it at times. When I feel threatened or invaded, yes something primitive in me stirs like an ancient beast covered in scales. It’s cold blooded and has no morals and no care for its actions. But there are so many other parts of me that it doesn’t usually escape, except in my writing I have just discovered!

Most of us don’t act on that violent impulse, but it doesn’t mean it’s not in there.

Now I wish I’d told Gough that I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know it back then. In fact I didn’t know it truly-madly-deeply until I finished my first book. Now I want to see what else is in the dirty bag of my psyche. Oh dear, perhaps I need a non de plume.


But wait there’s more, the inner bitchy-chick

While I was writing this, a white ute pulled up outside the fence and bipped the horn. There were two men in the ute, and a big dog in the back. I ignored it, swore. The dog barked and they kept bipping the horn.

I felt the spitting-hitting part of me wake up. She’s like a fifteen year old, bitchy-chick, I think she’s got a tat and few piercings, she’s a bit scary, my inner bitchy-chick.

I was swearing under my breath, who the F do you think you are bipping your horn at me… kind of talk. F –off…. etc etc. What you’d expect from a cranky fifteen year old.

They just sat in the car and bipped the horn. I was still in my PJs writing this and not ready for visitors. It was about 8.10 am.

But they wouldn’t leave and kept bipping the horn. Finally a tall man with white hair got out of the car and started walking towards the gate. He could see me through the window and was waving for me to come out. Don’t F-ing tell me what to do you … my inner Bitchy-Chick was spitting, ready for a fight.

But I’m not fifteen. I am fifty something.

So I wrapped something around my bare shoulders and stepped outside. He called me to the fence, don’t tell me what to do, I didn’t say. I stood my bare footed ground on the porch with a sarong around my shoulders, clenched my teeth, narrowed my eyes and scowled back at him.

“Is Sam here?” he demanded, across the few meters between us.

“There’s no Sam here,” so F off, but I didn’t say the last part.

“Where is Sam?”

“Don’t know,” F-Off.

“Did you buy this place?”

“No,” now F-Off and leave me alone. “I’m just minding it for the owners who are away. They’ll be back next week.”

“So where is Sam?”

How the F should I know? “Come back next week and talk to the owners.”

He wanted to keep asking about Sam, but I scowled and walked back inside and slammed the door.

Yes it’s a kind of violence. I felt defensive. I was in my PJs. I was alone with two men and a dog outside the fence trying to tell me what to do. The guy behaved like a bully though he probably wouldn’t see himself like that. (And I’ve also become more skittish since I started writing about a young woman going out to an isolated property alone that uncovers the remains of a body, and is being threatened. Yes I’ve been freaking myself out).

But you know why he didn’t come in and knock like people do in other places, because he’s scared of dogs too. That’s why he didn’t want to come inside the gate. He didn’t know there are no dogs in this yard.

We are all scared. It’s our fear, or powerlessness, that drives violence and defensiveness and even bullying, or scowling. We’re trying to protect ourselves.

If you feel secure and safe you don’t drop into survival brain and come out spitting and hitting or scowling like a pimply fifteen year old who’s been grounded for a week.

But often that fear or insecurity comes out as anger and violence, the fight response.

What I’m saying is that violence is everybody’s problem.

It’s in each of us, a remnant from the time we lived in a cave and had to fight or run from other predators. Until we understand this and find ways to change the brain so that we can move through this reflex for survival differently, we’re likely to see ongoing violence or feel an echo of it in ourselves. No I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for violence but we need to treat the cause and not just the symptom.

(But tracking and writing the character of the bitchy-chick does make for a better story than playing Ms Nice Guy. And I’ve been cultivating that nasty, violent character in my novel, but perhaps I’d better write a romance after all Sue W, to get some balance back into my psyche).

I’ve written about how the brain can change itself in my book i-brainmap, freeing your brain for happiness, in detail.

Though after reading the above you might be wondering if I know what I’m talking about. But in my work with the brain, I’m not saying these impulses stop. What I do explain is that they can be integrated and have less power over us. As we learn how to integrate the brain the impulses are still there, but they don’t run us.

We don’t control them. We learn to live with them like learning to live with a wild dog. It may seem tame but if threatened it will attack and there are times when we do need this survival instinct to protect ourselves, but we don’t want it fighting and scratching in the schoolyard over some ponytail Face Book spat.

We need to learn how to handle this lower brain so that each time it’s triggered becomes an opportunity for integration and change.

If that doesn’t make sense, read the book.

Oh dear, I think my inner bitchy-chick has taken over!



  1. Love this Rita, my favourite line? ”I want to see what else is in the dirty bag of my psyche.” It made me giggle out loud. A really lovely reflection on Gough and your true desire to be a writer and the violence that lives within all of us. An enjoyable read- thanks!

    1. Hi Rita,
      Hope Tathra is great. We are in Sawtell with my sisters.i am surfboard riding.
      My first writing I/v next week. I am interviewing an underwater photographer. Hope to get it published. X x

  2. Oh Rita, I just wanted the guy to say “I’ve noticed you’re here minding the place so thought I’d drop over this fresh batch of cookies I just baked” and “Was just going to stay in the ute til you came out cause I didn’t want to spook you” !!
    xoxo Helen
    Gotta go, big day today – re-painting the garage door.

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