'My Machine Makes Rainbows'
Updated: Jan 28
"Happiness Is Being Me"
- Sister Augustine Nolan,
her chapter title from
'My Machine Makes Rainbows'
This photo is of myself aged 10, then known as Julie Albers, with Julie Butner holding incense under my nose in an olfactory sensory guessing game. This pic was used in the chapter ‘Variety Is the Spice of Writing' from the book in which Beryl’s wonderful teachings (and those of a number of other progressive and radical thinking Australian and PNG teachers and educators) were published - 'My Machine Makes Rainbows'
what'll i do
i can't hide
it musta seen me
at least six months
- excerpt from a poem by me, aged 10
"Variety is the Spice of Writing"
- Beryl Muspratt's chapter title from
'My Machine Makes Rainbows'
There are some teachers you never forget. I've had a couple of outstanding teachers in my life, one was the unforgettable Dr Ione Lewis, my University Lecturer, and Dean at Canberra University, a most warm, inspirational and highly intelligent woman.
The other was my dearest friend, mentor and primary school teacher, Beryl. Beryl Muspratt.
Where did she appear from in that small conservative town, Nambour? But things are not always as they appear. Under the veil of small-town conservatism there beat a radical heart, and that radical heart was Beryl's!
For me, there's been absolutely no other to match her. No one could hope to. No-one should even try. She stands alone in her glory.
Her influence has been far-ranging, many were touched by her insistent, thoughtful, sensitive yet strong and open nurturing of creative brilliance.
When I was ten years old, I was invited into a progressive classroom by a very special teacher. One of her students who became one of Australia’s (Labor Party) Prime Minister's remembers her as a very figural person in the development of his philosophies on life.
This was the Prime Minister that was first to finally publicly apologise to Australia’s Indigenous community in the famous, incredibly long overdue and very emotional for all, “Sorry” speech.
Beryl Muspratt had a very humble attitude about her very innovative and radical (for those days) methods as a phenomenal, inspiring and unforgettable teacher, who changed the inner landscape of an entire community and thus the view of the wider Australian and global community forever. Because this is how it works.
From little things big things grow.
Beryl took things in hand, and from the boring rows and lines expected by the education department, she re-arranged all her desks in clusters of circles around the room in what was then known as the wonderful open-air classroom style, with our lovingly hand-painted large murals hanging around the walls, and fresh air and sunshine pouring in.
And so began a year of creativity par excellence! Never to be forgotten!
I remember Beryl’s way of making every moment of every day a living breathing gem.
Beryl adored creative writing and we spent most of our time in the arts – this was heaven on earth. Drawing, painting and writing.
We wrote stories and poetry every day and devised fabulous art styles using crayons, acrylic paints and anything else we could get our hands on often from wandering in the gardens and fields outside. Her whole teaching style was warm and embracing, and each child felt personally very special and loved.
Having taught myself to read at the age of five, and reading epic novels at that age, and writing poetry, I’d been a difficult proposition for some earlier teachers but not for Beryl - she lovingly and warmly nurtured my appetite for creativity, challenging and inviting me to excel and enjoy every moment of my life. She and I both agreed there's no such thing as boredom! It just didn't ever exist as a thing, for either of us. Beryl also started and ran the local youth theatre - YPT - for many years. She changed my life and my world forever. Completely wonderful teacher, loved her with all my heart, still do - and we had the same birthday...there was such a strong connection there.
Write-up in the local Nambour Chronicle, 1970. My surname was then Albers
(my mother's 2nd marriage) I was aged 10.
One of my daily jobs in her class was to write a notable quote on the blackboard each day with a little drawing beside it, a chore I adored. Another child brought in fresh flowers from the fields, and each desk would have one blossom placed on it in a little glass jar filled with water.
After that, while sitting at my old wooden desk, Beryl taught us from the front of the classroom, I'd be simultaneously listening in with one ear and at the same time poring over the dictionary hidden under the desktop, committed to reading it from end to end.
This was fun to me...!
And this was a year beyond any child's wildest dreams of how a classroom and learning could be, in those changing times.
One bizarre mother became unforgettable to me, when she publicly complained that due to this being an exceptional experience that could never hope to be replicated for the children, this would inevitably lead to drugs and alcohol in their future, due to the ensuing deep disappointments of life...
I guess her rationale was that happiness leads to hard drugs....Not a reason I've ever heard of - before or after those days.
Over that year my creativity blossomed amazingly and flourished under Beryl's careful and loving tutelage, as did that of all the children in that very fortunate class.
Her energy was boundless, her enthusiasm contagious, and her love of life was endless.
Intelligence and education was never something to be ashamed of (as it seems to be these days) but qualities and experiences to be fostered, lived and loved into full flowering. Creativity was the seat of intelligence, in her thinking. The throne, actually.
In much later years I've had the great misfortune to experience the jealous machinations of deeply sick-minded teachers who've been strangely competitive and deeply destructive towards me, and tried all they could to thwart my path forwards. In order, perhaps to be the only one of note in the field?
In any case, I see straight through them, and I know better...much better...
Because in those earlier years of my life, and also at university, I experienced the opposite - that of being warmly nurtured and held in high regard as an intelligent person of potential and quality.
Back then, as a child, I was also a deeply and personally committed member of YPT, the Young Peoples Theatre and began practicing avante garde writing styles which interested me at the time (I was also taking my own art - drawings and paintings - through a Blue Period a la Picasso - that's the kind of child I was...). I was surprised to find this venture was successful to the degree that a group of young adult actors asked my permission to take one of my plays, which they then performed on stage to great acclaim!
To me, in those days, this was fairly unbelievable! What a high!
Other memories for me include winning the eisteddfod singing alone beside a piano accompaniment, in bare feet and an old dress, somehow magically beating the other girls whose mother's attended, and who'd carefully combed brushed and be-ribboned their hair, put them in expensive dresses and shiny black patent leather shoes (of which I was terribly jealous).
However my years of singing in the church choir as the top soprano stood me in good stead, and my bare feet (due, yes to poverty and also...choice) did not deter the judges...
These kind of seemingly magical things happened a few times..
A couple of plays I starred in also went down very well, and were moments of great joy in my young life.
I myself was always very much the radical from very early days and refused to wear a school uniform anyway. This was a hot topic being furiously debated around the traps in those days - that of school uniforms being compulsory, when those who were too poor to afford it couldn't disappear into that expected type of conformity.
I actually had very few clothes - with two little cotton short dresses to my name at the age of ten, and a couple of pairs of shorts and tops. My only shoes were a pair of beautiful lace-up sandals I truly loved, and I rationed how often I wore them - due to not wanting to wear them out.
Most days I walked many kilometres to school in bare feet, in tropical rain or shine, from our old wooden house in Magnolia St, and had a pretty deep tan due to my hours and hours out in the sunlight, walking and swimming.
When I wasn't outdoors, I was ensconced in my bedroom because if there's one thing I will hand to my mother, it's that like Virginia Woolf, she always ensured I had a space and desk or large old wooden table in my bedroom to write and draw and read to my hearts content. (But strangely, not for herself, upon reflection, I see that now).
And read, write and draw I did.
Always and ever onwards. Into the evenings and deep into the nights with my old radio beside me, playing the great songs of the times, frogs and geckos creaking outside my open windows, and a warm tropical breeze flowing in...
I wrote a little book called 'The Last Little Tree", about the end of days, and won a national prize. Our class was filmed standing on the green grassy school oval under shady trees by the TV News Team, singing a new version of the National Anthem that Beryl had written, but we pretty predictably didn't win that particular competition! She always openly laughed with us at the old anthem lyrics...
Beryl was my good luck charm in those days. Her utter fearlessness and supreme creative courage rubbed off on me and I excelled in all I did. Things went my way in those times. For a time.
Beryl's and our Young People's Theatre group (housed in the Gate House, a huge old wooden Queenslander house on stilts, sitting by the front gates of the primary school) was spawning brilliance from all and sundry, and our home-grown plays and sartorial revues were regularly performed to the great enjoyment of the local community, sitting on old plastic chairs in rows, or on the floor on big old soft couch cushions. We were flying high and it was the hippy era, with always some Beatles soundtrack playing softly somewhere in the background -
"Here Comes the Sun. Little Darling. Here Comes the Sun...."
Creativity was the key.
Always the key to the door of my greatest happiness.
The following year my Mother moved our little family of three - my brother Luc, her and myself - to the farmhouse in Maleny. I began a daily bus trek to Nambour High School, after finding the school up in the hills to not really meet my needs and skills.
The long and tiresome trip down the Blackall Range every day was too much for anyone, and Mum and Beryl met up and made a plan for me to board with Beryl's family at the High School Farm House for a few days a week whilst I went to High School.
Again, a dream come true for me!
High School was all a bit of disappointment for me after those heady days with Beryl. And not all of us privileged students from her class were held in high esteem in that first year of high school - some tried their very best to bring us back down to earth as hard as they could.
One notable event always remains memorable for me. This was the day I had an argument in the classroom in front of all the other kids, with my English teacher - a young woman who obviously couldn't spell, and told me very loudly and publicly that my writing of the word 'etcetera' was incorrectly spelled.
Her take on it was that it was spelled with an X. As in - Excetera. She was absolutely adamant about this and would not back down.
But I knew it was not spelt in that way.
She sent me to the Headmaster's Office, hoping to get me suspended for my impudence and ignorance. After he looked at the case, she was called straight in to his office, and he then sent me back to the classroom without further ado.
I returned to the classroom, relieved and triumphant, to a long, loud and slow clap from all my buddies - all the boys and girls - and the teacher stood there red-faced and subdued. She hated me from that day forwards due to this public humiliation of her - which she had herself created...
Unfortunately for her, I was well-known to be the best speller in primary school due to my reading addiction (and a strong and practiced debater thanks to Beryl) ...These things didn't help my reputation though, amongst certain teachers there, who saw with a jaundiced eye and bile on their livers.
But this was all soon resolved for me, when my mother was forced to relocate us to Sydney after our farmhouse in Maleny was suddenly sold, and I went to a wonderful all-girls school in Cremorne - actually a fantastic and unforgettable experience.
Meanwhile, back at the School Farm...
Beryl's family welcomed me into their home and hearts with wide-open warm arms, and her golden-haired daughter Meredith and I became great friends and sisters in that time...going horse-riding every afternoon, doubling bareback for a year or so over the green paddocks and rocky lanes - such wonderful childhood memories.
Remember that time we were riding Jingles bareback together going across the creek (Petrie Creek in Nambour) and she sat down in the middle of the creek, and we both just slid off into the water?.. chuckle... such a mischievous horse.
I sometimes felt a little suspicious about things.
I mean, to begin with we had the same birthday. Both Scorpio's through and through. And the name - Julia, Julian, Julie - was found all throughout Beryl's family....And why did I look more like Beryl than my own mother? And then, why did her daughter have the same colouring as my mother?
But in the end, there was nothing sinister about any of it, it was just one of those things.
And this is how God and the universe reminds us of deep and ancient connections with those seemingly only met in this lifetime...Obviously a powerful past life connection and spiritual soul mate / teacher and dear beloved for ever and on.
Besides, when I stayed with her I felt I was amongst seven-foot tall giants.
When the entire family of three very tall sons, one daughter, and the two parents...and then me...all sprawled long legs akimbo in the living room watching the hilarious Norman Gunston Show or The Monty Python Show, guffawing and spilling their drinks, with their massive Great Danes lolling underfoot, I felt like a sapling in a forest of giant trees. Because they literally were.
This was the proof I needed that I wasn't really related to them. Their height. But you could swear I was. But yet not. Strange.
Some other lifetime.
Then there was their bookshelves. I've been privileged to raid a few outstanding bookshelves in my time and read them from top to bottom. An education to die for.
One was the wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of George Johnston and Charmian Clift's old family home in Raglan St, Mosman. But this was the first one. That of the Muspratt's.
I gorged on Voltaire and other great thinkers of his era. The family nicknamed me after the ingenuous Candide for a while. I was already inhaling Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky and other Russian saga's by those greats, but here lived philosophy. And humour.
I guess I was what you'd call a bit of a prodigy, and Beryl nurtured these qualities in her own way. Beryl was surrounded by prodigies. She made sure of that.
In later years and throughout the rest of her life, our contact and deep connection continued. For a short time in my teens I moved back into their family home, the School Farm in Nambour, and always, over the years, letters and postcards flowed between us across the states.
Beryl made the long trek up the Blue Mountains with Sandy, her eldest son, to visit me when I was a sole parent, bringing up my two little toddler children. Our loving friendship never really ended.
I always had a standing invitation to spend Christmas with her family and friends, but couldn’t afford the trip, sadly.
The truest feminist, but never a man-hater, she was an enduring legend in her time and onwards. She lived and breathed equal opportunity.
And fully embodied it.
Beryl. Yes. That's our Beryl.
Another photo from the book I've mentioned, related to my post below and here we all are outside, dreaming up some creative writing underneath the clouds..
One bird sits on the tree.
It cries "Oh...oh...".
That's the bird of the daybreak.
- Christine Maigu, PNG, aged13.
(Poem from another chapter of
'My Machine Makes Rainbows)
When the Child was a Child · Wings of Desire