Women have always had powerful stories to share. The everyday is their stage and they survive on a journey of emotional reconciliation within themselves, navigating both the society they live in and the people around them. Within that, the act of writing has always been itself an empowerment, whether or not it is eventually published.
The Monologue Adventure encourages all writers, including First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTI communities and people living with disabilities, to write in the first person, in monologue form. This year’s theme was Stormy Seas, Safe Haven, which the writers responded to by expressing their own tempestuous lives, relationships, situations and moments of peace and reconciliation. Common experiences are shared — friendship, love despite barriers, insecurity and doubt, racism, tragedy, revenge, laughter and miraculous survival. A unique part of the Adventure is the performance of the monologues in rehearsed readings by professional actors and artists. It is a mixture of slam poetry, stand up and fast forward theatre.
An amazing 166 beautiful stories were submitted this year. Of those, 20 monologues were selected to be presented live; four appear here, and the others can be read at The Monologue Adventure. — Lliane Clarke, Producer & Director, The Monologue Adventure.
The Wresting (Anne Walsh)
What is day for except for further immersion into the utter un-keepable-ness? What’s day’s purpose, other than showing you everything you have to lose? The breaks in your lines you can’t explain at Centrelink, the enjambment of years. I can barely take my eight year old singing the cup song from Pitch Perfect in precious off-key a Capella, banging his cup down: You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.
What is un-keepable to a keep-saker of macaroni kindergarten art? The heiroglyph of love is a strange thing, how it curls. What is un-keepable to a Glitter Collector? I imagine the headline on the cover of the local newspaper tomorrow: Mum drunk dropping off kids to school. But it’s Beethoven’s piano, killer liquid preciousness, the hemlock of dawn, in his ever diminishing ear the acutest hearing, that I’m drunk on. As the kids run off to school from my old Ford and our newly broken home, I’m drinking from Beethoven’s unrequited horn, the cornucopia of loss, the primary school backpack Appassionata playing while my three peach-trees run through the school gate, Star Wars keychains running wild on the plains of divorce intoned by family night emblazoned on the church sign across the street.
They run like nothing has happened. But how were they supposed to run with Mom and Dad aren’t going to be a couple anymore? Which I had to lay at their fairy doors. That unspeakable parcel of nothing the same, innocence staved like Dickens’ chapters about ghosts. It’s Beethoven, his frown and brillo-pad hair I think must’ve been so soft, who composes my homemade waxwings this morning that melt, falling like tears.
I try to tear away at the first note. But the notes are Everywhere. And I keep falling back to earth in glorious light smashed to pieces (that’s the definition of a mum). My back an epiphany of vertebrae, a fossil connection to everything, nerves spread down me. I’m a receptor. A terrible raptor capable of only the most impossible love forever. Driving my three kid — so bound to my fate — to school so that I can only be terrible. A fiend with 1,000 arms trying to catch it all with my burning tongue. I just want to kiss them. Take them home. Never let them learn anything formal. Because love and time are lost in formality.
They run down the carpark, past the school office. Morning, in her scarlet kindergarten smock, finger paints eternity everywhere in fuchsia and bright reds. What key are tears in? What symphony can the heart play without stopping? To be drunk in the face of all this un-keepable-ness, is the most arrest-able lack of offence. My soul came in a-wrested. Heaven is a bird on earth. My heart a tree for flight. Still I hoped for a siren this morning, to lure me from my else-where-faring, to keep me nailed to the worldly, some flashing light to say, you know you’re wrong about all of this. We must take you in. You can’t drive under the influence of cosmoses. I need Origin police to throw me into a living cell. I need the tiniest working thing, an organelle, a mitochondria of hope, of respite for a minute.
Who to charge for the electric particles that brought me here? Who to charge with the sin of possession every breath holds, the exhale of stars in my eight year old’s hair? Come and lock me up, sirens! I need a break from forever. Arrest me for blaring Beethoven, for trying to stop the kindergarten sun in her scarlet smock from painting our days away.
Mrs Ziotto’s Three Hundred Dollars (Elisa Cristallo)
It took two years for us to get our papers to come here. We rent granny flat from a widow, Mrs Ziotto near the port so we could be ready to get on ship at any time.
But I tell you I spent only the first night of that two years living in Mrs Ziotto’s granny flat — then I go up to the house and I see how she live. Beautiful house but covered in three inch of dust, she too old to do anything. So I clean for her and cook for her. Every day I cook her fresh food. Everyday I sit and talk with her.
One day I go up to the house to start dinner, I find her collapsed on floor. I scream for my husband because she not breathing. We turn her over and I breathe into her mouth. Then after I think no-one could go this long without breathing, God send her back to us.
After that Mrs Ziotto want me to stay and live with her. But I tell her I can’t, I didn’t leave my own family to live with her. She upset so I tell her it could still be months before we leave. But because this the way life works, three days later we get our papers.
I meet a couple of the wives leaving for Australia too — they going to buy clothes for when they arrive. They say they don’t want to look like nothing the day they get off the boat. I say I can’t go, I have no money for clothes.
When I get home I tell Mrs Ziotto what’s wrong, she go into her bedroom and come out with $500 dollar — American dollar. I say no, I don’t tell you so you give me money — I tell you because you my friend. But she say no, take it, it’s nothing compared to what I have.
So I go and I buy clothes, for me, for my husband, for my boys. I buy so much I can barely carry them home but even then I could only spend $200 dollar. I give the rest of the money back to her, she no want to take it but I say I cannot take more than I need.
The next day we leave for Australia. We come to Sydney. My husband he find a factory job in the Marrickville. I take a job sewing because I can do while at home, with my boys. All day I sew. Sew, sew, sew. Even on the toilet I sew. Then people start to hear about me, they ask me to make something for them, something special. One young girl come to me because she need a christening gown for her son but she worried she can’t pay — I say, then of course you will not pay, I will make for free.
But that very month my husband lose his job in Marrickville. By the time he a find new job we were already behind in our rent, our landlord say this what happens when you rent to migrant, when you rent to wog, they will rob from you.
The day I have to go see landlord and beg him for more time to pay I put on my bravest face. I put on the suit I bought for the day I arrive in Australia, because it make me look older and stronger than I feel. I go downstairs and knock on the landlord’s door. That’s when I see my hands are shaking. I put my hands in my pocket so he won’t see… that’s when I find Mrs Ziotto’s $300 — the $300 I tried to give back to her.
Mrs Ziotto saved me from my shame that day.
The landlord find me there like that, holding $300 American dollar and with tears in my eyes. I give him $100 and say, this for the month’s rent, and next month’s rent, and the month after, and I let you give me change in Australian dollar.
Slowly we save enough to move out of city to our own house, with backyard. We make our memories in that backyard — we have BBQ’s, pizza nights, the birthday parties for the kids, we live. We live.
When the Bell Tolls (Kerry Reed-Gilbert)
I heard a bell ring today and its music brought tears to my eyes. They say going home can be a good thing, but I reckon it depends on what you are going home to. A lifetime of love and laughter, or memories of heartache and loss — sometimes the choice is not ours. Today my mother and I got in my car and drove. Both of us wanting to feel the red dirt under our feet before it’s time for her to join our Mob in the campfires of the heavens. It’s her bucket list.
As I drive she speaks of days gone by when I was a young girl playing in the dirt without a care in the world. The echo of the bell guides me along the highway and I become lost in my memories. As each gong sounds new images rush through my mind until we finally reach our destination.
The old church, a ramshackle old building made of tin and wood, still stands, its paint peeling on all corners. The rustic drainpipe is blocked with leaves and branches and the dinted water tank a home now to the frogs. We came home today, back to the days of the missions, back to the days of terror. Glancing towards my mother I see her face, sadness etched within each furrow of her winkles.
Memories lead me back to the day the bell tolled, bringing with it helplessness and despair. I sit under the big ghost gum tree. I sit close to the trunk feeling its strength beside my body. Closing my eyes, a young girl aged six or seven, laughing and playing in this dry hot red dirt country, looks up at me. Each summer forty degree heat was a daily event, the ground burning hot beneath her feet. Red dust everywhere, her skin varnished with the earth’s dirt lathered all over her body.
In the shade of the white gum I look above me to see the clouds, but instead see the bell, large and rustic as it stands guardian over the church. Closing my eyes, I am lost in the world of daydreams as the bell begins to strike, ringing loud and true. The high pitched sound reminiscent of days when it called everyone to church.
The church building stands tall in front of me as a shiver slides down my spine.
Within a heartbeat I find myself a young girl again. Reachin for my mother’s hand, I feel her tremble. People are passin by as they say a quick hello. Aunty stops and grabs me, kissin my cheek. I squirm, wantin the moment when she lets me go to hurry up. Uncle pats the top of my head and, bitin my lip, I’m pretendin it’s okay. Mother lets me slip my hand from hers and seizin the moment I run to my cousins who have been waitin patiently under the large gum tree.
Happiness is all around as we come together as family. The screech of laughter as we play tag fills the air. Soon it is time to stop our play. Runnin quickly to Mother, she tidies my dress, brushin the dust away. The rundown church buildin looms to the side, waiting for me to enter, clothed in white holdin mother’s hand, walkin beside her. Silently we slip our bodies between the rows and I’m kneelin in a pew half-way down the back of the church.
The Lord’s Prayer chants from my mouth in tune with the rest of my people’s voices. The preacher’s sermon begins as the Ten Commandments spew from his mouth and he endeavours to educate ‘the savages’. His shrill voice pierces my ears and I want to block out the sound; I can’t stand it. I’m sure everyone else wants to put their hands over their ears too. The sound of his continuous drone makes us want to leave but we are too scared to move.
Lookin around me, each pew holds stiff backs sittin squarely on the cold hard wooden seats.The men’s shoulders solid like rock, no words utter from their lips, and no smile highlights their faces as they sit upright, listenin. Misery is all around me. No happiness enters my heart as I too sit ramrod straight, my mind blank waitin to hear the bell toll to signify the end of the preacher’s sermon.
Suddenly the door opens and Uncle rushes in. There are murmurs, whispered voices begin to be raised in anger. I was lost in my thoughts wishin time away and I don’t know what’s happenin. Our men yell, the preacher roars, tellin everyone to sit and be quiet. Mother grabs my hand tight as she bends down and whispers in my ear. She tells me ‘as soon as the door is open, run and hide because bad men are comin. They want to take children away’.
Fear grabs me like someone has punched me hard in the belly, panickin tears spring to my eyes and I try hard to hold them back. Mother sees them and tells me ‘now is not the time to cry. Be strong, be big, grown up’. She spots my sister/cousin Lucy sittin over on the other side of the room. She catches her eye and in sign language tells her she must grab me and the younger ones and run.
Lucy nods her head. Ready to spring to her feet, she taps her brother and sister. The men have risen from their seats. My mother signals to Lucy as she shoves me out of the pew. The church door flies opens and we begin to run. I’m runnin so fast I have a pain in the side of my belly but I know to keep goin.
Lookin back, I see a little one stumblin, comin to an abrupt stop. I turn around, run back and pick her up. Throwin her on my hip I run fast; landin on a stone, my ankle twists but somehow I stay on my feet. We race down to the riverbank and disappear between the trees. Huddled together, Lucy tells us all to stay quiet as a mouse and sneaks out to see what’s happenin. From our hidin place we can hear the bell ringing, it goes on and on. Us little ones hold our hands over our ears tryin to stop the hummin noise, now sounding over and over in our heads.
We hear a a branch breakin — Lucy has returned. She tells the story of men in black shiny cars who are roundin up the little children and drivin away. She says many policemen were there too. One held a gun aimed at our fathers, makin them stand still. One Uncle tried to pull his son from a strangers arms and another policeman knocked him down with the butt of a rifle. Tears run down her face like a river when she tells us how mothers were runnin behind the cars screamin their children’s names.
She gathers the younger children in her arms as they sob quietly on her shoulders. Grabbin my little cousin Janie, I hug her close, promising I will not let go. I don’t know what to do, but feelin a strength deep inside I know I will not cry even as helplessness overcomes me. Soon the little ones fall asleep: they have exhausted themselves.
My eyes strain not to close too as Lucy tells me to stay and watch over the little ones while she goes and finds some water and food for us to eat. My stomach has been rumblin and my lips are dry. I try to wet them with my tongue but I have no spit inside. My belly rumbles. I feel my body shrink, holdin onto Janie, waitin for Lucy to return…
My eye must have closed, because I’m woken by my mother shakin me as I sit under the gum tree, where this dream first began. She wakes me to the present, my hands gripping the steering wheel as cramp penetrates my fingers from holdin on too tight. Glimpsing sideways, I see she has her head tilted onto the car window in deep sleep, the signs of tears tracing her face. A sob wells from within me as I blink and focus my eyes on the road, finally understanding the horror our Mob lived through. Thanking Biamie that those days are long past, I whisper to my mother how much I love her.
Home (Gayle Kennedy)
Mum yearns for home. She finds neither peace nor comfort in this place by the sea. Says she can’t feel her Blackness and fears dying here. She’s afraid the spirits of the ‘Old Ones’ won’t find her amongst the concrete, steel and gleaming white walls. She worries they won’t hear her spirit cry through the thrum of people and machines. She begs me each day to take her home. I tell her the doctors say she’s not well enough and will die if she leaves.
‘So what’ she says, ‘it’s my life and I want to live the rest of it on country. Sign whatever papers you have to and get me outta here.’
She doesn’t know that I could sign them now and take her home. I don’t because I know she will be gone in months and I can’t bear the thought of that. And so she stays, toying with bland hospital food and longing to drink scalding tea the colour of burnt caramel from chipped enamel mugs sweetened by thick, condensed milk. Limp white bread smeared with margarine can’t match slabs of hot crusty damper slathered in melted butter and apricot jam from tins. She doesn’t care for jam in glass jars.
‘Don’t know why’ she says, ‘but it just don’t taste as good.’
She wants mutton and vegetables cooked in camp ovens on the smoldering ashes of saltbush and belah trees.
She wants her dog, Gus, and worries for his welfare.
‘He’s an old fulla like me. We been together all his life. I just gotta git home to him daught.’
She wants red earth, clear blue skies. She wants bindis in her feet for the sheer pleasure of having her granddaughter dig them out with safety pins so she can display them on the tip of her finger to be admired and murmur ‘now that was a big biggen eh bub?’
She wants to gossip, give cheek, play cards and bingo, go shopping. She wants her people around her singing and playing country music on guitars and telling tall tales.
‘I know these whitefullas do their best, daught, but they ain’t blood. No one knows you like your own blood.’
She wants old Jeannie B to cut and die her hair that deep black with the mulberry sheen she loves. The sight of her white mop makes both of us cry.
‘Ain’t no Jones woman over the age of 50 ever been seen with their own hair colour. This white cotton wool on me head just makes shame.’
I tell her I’ll dye it for her but she reckons no, only Jeannie B knows how to do it right.
I have to find the courage to take her home and let her live her last days as she chooses. I must care for her as she cared for me. With unconditional love.
So I sign the papers and for the first time in this longest month, my mother smiles. She’s giddy with joy as I wheel her to the car for the long journey home.
The first thing she does when we get there is collect Gus. Then once inside her gate, turns the hose on and sprays down the bone-dry garden, inhaling the sweet smell of water on red earth. The scent of home. Her safe harbor in the desert.
No needles attached to cannulas could ever inject the kind of life-giving potions into her frail body that this sweet aroma and her joyful, prancing dog does.
In her last months we eat, laugh, drink, and sing. We sit beneath the trees and she tells me stories of droving and riding camels and months on the road and buying beautiful dresses and shoes from the travelling Indian hawkers to wear to the show and the big dances. Especially the one when she met dad.
‘Never seen a better lookin fulla in all me born days. Never loved a man before or since him. You got his smile daught. Lucky you eh.’
Oh yes! Lucky me.
She dies on a still summer morning on an old wooden bed beneath her beloved trees. Music playing. Her old dog beside her. I hold her hand as our people quietly keen. Tears turn to smiles as a flock of cockatoos fly overhead. We all know that they have caught her spirit; it will not wander alone. Once again she is home. Old Gus joins her the next day. They come for him as well.
Anne Walsh is a poet and a storywriter. She’s been shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize twice and for the ACU Prize for literature. Her first book of poems, I Love Like a Drunk Does, was published by Ginninderra Press (2009, Australia). Her second book of poems, Intact, was published in 2017 by Flying Island Books. Her poems have been published widely in Australia (Mascara, Cordite, Verity La, Poem and Dish) and abroad. Her work has also been published in the US, including a short story, ‘The Rickman Digression’, by the gorgeous Glimmer Train.
Elisa Cristallo is a writer, performer and independent producer. Elisa’s monologue shows Welcome to the Family and Sunday Stories toured the Sydney, Newcastle and Adelaide Fringe Festivals and have been described ‘funny, heartwarming and thoughtful’ by Clean Comedy Australia. Following the success of her stage shows Elisa was awarded a grant from Blacktown Council’s Creative Arts Fund to adapt Welcome to the Family into a web series, which is currently in post-production. Elisa has also written for the late-night show Mainland Tonight, is a selected participant of Riverside Theatre’s playwriting program and is currently working on a climate fiction novel, The Last Famine.
(Aunty) Kerry Reed Gilbert is a Wiradjuri woman from Central New South Wales and has performed nationally and internationally. She was the inaugural Chairperson of the First Nations Australians Writers Network (FNAWN) and continues as Patron. She compiled and edited a collection of First Nations voices from across Australia titled A Pocketful of Leadership in First Nations Australia Communities 2017. Her poetry and prose have been published in many journals and anthologies nationally and internationally and has been translated in French, Korean, Bengali, Dutch and other non-English speaking languages.
Gayle Kennedy is from the NSW Ngiyaampa Nation. Her poetry collection, Koori Girl Goes Shoppin’ was shortlisted in 2005 for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award the David Unaipon Award. Gayle won the award in 2006 with Me, Antman & Fleabag published by QUP in 2007. She has published 11 children’s books with Oxford University Press and has articles and poems in national and international publications such as Edinburgh Review, Southerly Review, Ora Nui, Phoenix International, Penguin, Currency Press and more.