I loved Brisbane, and met quite a few tremendous individuals. The picture above was taken at Brisbane’s University of the Third Age centre in the City. It’s one of the biggest in the country, and possibly one of the few U3A’s which owns its premises. The demand for classes are huge, and include debates about the Middle East, poetry appreciation and creative writing.
Ignore the person in the photo who wearing their last clean cardigan, and look at these brilliant folk who run the centre, coordinate the classes, advocate for active ageing, give older people great purpose, and open minds. I met Gail, Rosemarie, Thea and Greg on Thursday afternoon and also dropped into some of the classes being run. I think the whole concept is joyful, and generous. People share skills, volunteer their time, and it’s all low cost to ensure access.
Thea also took me to visit Keperra Sanctuary Retirement Village on Friday, her friendly home in Brisbane. Here, 350 residents live independently and almost all participate in or facilitate in classes. There are groups for art, poetry, philosophy and family history. I ate yet more cake and talked to a few of the individuals who enjoy life in this village. Hearing them talk about later life was illuminating for me. We are all by turns social and private, but that feeling isolated can happen quite starkly as you age.
From both of these visits, I wondered about opportunities for professional writers. U3A was set up in France and the UK adapted the model in the 1980s. There are now hundreds of local groups. On the one hand, U3A has a wonderfully responsive audience of seniors, eager to try their hand at all kinds of things. This is the place where you could run a slam poetry event or create a collaborative digital graphic novel for elders, and find a keen audience. That said, this is a volunteer model, so for writers trying to build a career and earn some dosh, it’s not quite the right setting. In the retirement village, a mix of internal and external funding would probably need to be secured. As ever, interesting to ponder…
Tiny Owl Workshop is a small press in Brisbane, run by Sue Wright. Championed by Queensland Writers Centre and the great Margaret Atwood, the press produces books as well as projects that add contemporary writing to places i’s not usually found. From stories on napkins, to flash fiction on pillows, Tiny Owl works with authors from school age to seniors.
Sue set up her publishing house in her early fifties seeking a creative venture while still working full time. Age hasn’t hindered her success, although it has made her more aware of her need to succeed. Many people assume she has working in publishing for many years, applying her wealth of experience to her new project. In fact, she refers to herself as a ‘publisher-in-training,’ is not afraid of rejection and is constantly adapting her approach. When we met for coffee (I’m addicted!), we talked about how certain phrasing in a short story can reflect the generation of the writer, whether a picture of an older author would deter readers and how older editors might attract older writers.
While I wouldn’t want to define Tiny Owl by the fact it is run by someone over fifty, however its very existence does something positive for age diversity in the publishing industry. Also, the projects they run are lovely. Look!
Life and adventures continue to open up, even when you’re ninety. Along with the quote above, here’s what The Australian has to say about ageing creatively, passionately, and with great purpose. This article has been in my mind throughout my week in Brisbane, where I met all kinds of people, and visited all kinds of projects.
I joined ACT’s (Ageing Creatively Through Dance) two-hour contemporary dance class for seniors and was utterly inspired by the lithe and graceful bodies that shone and spun around me. I may quit writing and become a dancer.
By Brisbane River, I chatted about clowning in aged care facilities, and training programmes to encourage nurses to don red noses and roll on the floor, led by the formidable Clark Crystal of The Lamingtons.
With Neal Price, who runs the Creative Ageing Centre, I had an amazing cup of coffee (do Australians ever serve it badly?!) and an amazing conversation. Neal makes stories with and from communities, including those in aged care facilities. He talked beautifully about how chronic illness and dementia don’t diminish the person. How artists and care staff have a role in ensuring older people are treated as individuals. Because, regardless of how it seems, the person is still present.
I am in the swing of things now, lining up people and cafes and offices and events and ideas and negotiating my way through. I’m dashing from place to place I say that, but this morning in Brisbane the heavens have opened and it feels like a good moment to pause and share some thoughts.
My first weekend in Queensland was spent swimming in the sea at Fingal Head, and trekking through a rainforest, in the heat of the day. Gorgeous to see so many new landscapes and hear all the birds. I think it’s the Butcher Bird that has the squeaking whistling song, and Rainbow Loirkeets with a high-pitched tweet. There are plenty of Brush-turkeys and White Ibis wandering about too.
Brisbane has a more relaxed atmosphere than Sydney, and the city centre seems more compact. I started my week with the State Library of Queensland, if:book Australia (think-tank to foster engagement by Australian writers, readers and publishers with digital futures), black&write! (an indigenous writing and editing project), and Queensland Writers Centre. We shared thoughts on the kinds of literary projects that might work well with seniors.
I tested my idea of making some kind of co-produced literary project in a care setting, and then demolishing it – perhaps burning it all, or ripping it to shreds. The creation and destruction – or corruption – of a piece of writing can be exciting. Plus it’s directly about the fleeting nature of life, and shows that not all arts projects need a solid, physical, easy-to-evaluate outcome. We had a super conversation about the different tools and methods for writing, and how they might be used to entice people into telling stories. From the clunky keys of a manual typewriter to writing in invisible ink, projects that open up ways to write might open up ways into writing. This could be the beginning of something…