The day my world changed

A short piece written as the basis for a story in a 10×9 event timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 events in the US. The event was cancelled due to lack of interest, unfortunately, so I share this here.

The Day My World Changed

Brian Matthews, 7/9/21

I remember the scene well, 50 years ago. Walking into my parent’s lounge room on a visit, Dad in his favourite reclining chair, reaching for a scrap of paper, asking if I’d ever thought about working in disability. The piece of paper handed over, a name and a phone number leading to a cascade of events.

Dad told the tale. Having a few beers in a pub across town, complaining to a well dressed fellow next to him about his concerns for his university drop-out son, no prospects, no skills, a good work ethic (instilled by him and Mum) but only labouring jobs in his future, and he was soon to marry. His sounding board listened patiently and then said “Well, I work in the administration of a new Centre built for people with disabilities and I know they are looking for nursing staff”, proceeded to write the details on a piece of paper then, of course, they talked of other things, probably football I should think.

I remember, after leaving, thinking about this option and wondering what it meant, discussing it with my fiancée who was as clueless as me, not knowing then how this would affect her as well. The phone call was made within a few days, an interview and psychological testing to follow and in early March 1972 (the 10th or the 14th, I can’t remember) I walked into a unit for people with multiple disabilities and events rolled on.

In short, I took to disability work like a duck to water and my, by then, wife soon followed me. Though we parted 25 years later, both she and I had long careers in the disability field. My career was lengthy and diverse, starting as a student ‘Mental Deficiency Nurse’, completing my nursing certificate, becoming fascinated by the newly developing intensive training methods, undertaking and completing an Honours Degree in Psychology at Flinders University where I was appalled to find so little disability and mental health content, working in Queensland developing disability services in regional areas, working in Autism in South Australia and developing services when the condition was poorly understood, then back to intellectual disability, returning to work in the Centre where I started my career but this time in a senior training role, lecturing and completing a PhD in Psychology at Flinders University, developing University level courses in Disability, Developmental Education and Mental Health, and ultimately heading up the Disability and Community Inclusion Unit before my retirement in early 2013.

While I could tell many tales about a lengthy career including setting up and running a cutting-edge disability service with my second wife before our retirement, it all came back to that day that changed my life. That conversation in a pub between my Dad and a stranger, those scribbled details on a scrap of paper that disappeared so long ago……

Poetry reading Happy FM 31-8-21

The Poems read in this ‘Words to Share’ segment

The Narrow Path

We all walk the narrow wire,

Do we live or do we die?

No answers appear

Until one fateful day.

It is the natural course

That we all know

But when the curtain closes

Regrets litter the ground.

What could have been said?

What could have been done?

Questions left unasked

Never to be answered.

Rejoice we must

In what the person gave

The love they shared

Their acts of kindness.

Put aside perceived faults

Things that might have been neglected

We all have one life

A journey not a race to achieve.

Listen to the tales of others

Of words and deeds unheard

Learn about the life

Parts to you formerly unknown.

Brian Mathews, 27/7/21


We all do this

Make excuses for this

More excuses for that

Reasons why things weren’t done.

Knowing that, if important enough,

A thing would be done

But justifying our actions

Explaining away our oversights.

Life demands are always there

And this maintains our interest

Our need to do and be

Particularly for those we love.

That there must be priorities

We all understand

As with the guilt we feel

When important things are left undone.

But guilt needs to be

A trigger for action

Not a club wielded

In endless self flagellation.

If tasks are not completed

This helps us to decide

What is really important

And what is just a maybe.

This too speaks to others

Actions do talk louder than words

We show our feelings through our doings

Words are powerful but not enough.

Brian Matthews, 24/8/21


Blindsided once can be devastating

But twice in such a short time

Can leave a pool of despair.

We look for reasons

That don’t exist

As the story unfolds.

Lashing out at others

A common response

Leading to pain for all.

Using our mutual strengths

We can stand on the rocky road

And even carve a path ahead.

Supporting each other critical

Avoiding blame and detraction

The pettiness that lives in us all.

Embracing warmth and love

Demonstrating genuine concern

Creating a way to be in this new reality.

Brian Matthews, 23/8/21

The Presence

The touch, the presence

Social stroking so important

Words are important

But rarely enough.

We long to feel

The aura of another

Not always the physical

The vibrations satisfy.

The comfort of a shared activity

Words that may seem trite

The Earth not shaking

The comfort in each other.

Brian Matthews 13/8/21

We shared a bedroom

We shared a bedroom

Just him and me

A world in which we talked and played

And fought and plotted.

Down by the bridge over the railway

Sliding its slopes on rusty corrugated iron

Probably the odd asbestos sheet

Tadpoled in pools where poorly drained.

The old coal tower a dangerous magnet

Never talked of to parents

Climbing the ladders

Exploring abandoned, silted bins

So many adventures and memories

Into my adult years and now

Saying goodbye to him a slow process

In my heart he will always have residence.

Brian Matthews, 12/8/21

New Neighbours

A block of land bought

A simple step at first

Soon with trouble fraught.

As Covid soon hits

Building planning starts

But schedules are the pits.

Promises, promises they hear

Timelines gently extending

How did everything become so dear?

Time heals all, so they say

Inching forth until complete

And finally there comes the day.

All is finally in its place

Though massaging still needed

Just watch this space.

So welcome you both we will

To our friendly community

New neighbours, Disa and Bill.

Friends for many years past

Living just around the corner

In Normanville at last.

Brian Matthews, 11/8/21

We Shared a bedroom – part of my grief journey

We shared a bedroom
Just him and me
A world in which we talked and played
And fought and plotted.

Down by the bridge over the railway
Sliding its slopes on rusty corrugated iron
Probably the odd asbestos sheet
Tadpoled in pools where poorly drained.

The old coal tower a dangerous magnet
Never talked of to parents
Climbing the ladders
Exploring abandoned, silted bins

So many adventures and memories
Into my adult years and now
Saying goodbye to him a slow process
In my heart he will always have residence.

Brian Matthews, 12/8/21

Part of a longer sequence of my Vietnam tales from 5 years ago

Friday, 12th of August, 2016
There are many cave tours that can be undertaken from Dong Hoi, where we have been staying for the last few days. We reviewed these and decided on the tamest at Phong Nha. Many of the tours that are available require walking and climbing for many hours and, talking to the younger tourists we met, we decided to give these a miss. We were told that the ones at Phong Nha were were very impressive and involved a boat trip through caves, followed by a stroll at your own pace back to the entrance to the caves to then be picked up by the boat you had hired to make the initial trip.

While the boats take 14 passengers and the usual drill is to congregate at the ticket office until there are enough people, we decided to take one on our own. We have had enough of being packed into small spaces with other tourists and at 360,000 dhong (about $28 Australian) it seemed a small price to pay to choose where we sat and to go at our own pace. This provoked much hilarity from locals who exclaimed and pointed as our boat passed returning boats packed with other tourists. Many of the tourists, interestingly, were Vietnamese and it clearly made sense for them to minimise the cost, but there was the usual mix of young European backpackers, and people from a mix of other countries. Didn’t identify any other Aussies there today, which is not unusual; I can count on one hand the Aussies we have met on our travels here.

The boat trip to the caves took about 20 minutes and there was impressive, mountainous scenery surrounding the river/lake that took us there. Vietnam seems universally lush and beautiful without the obvious poverty of many other Asian countries. I think it was lucky that the Americans did not win the war as I am sure rampant capitalism would have created the underclass so prevalent in other free and democratic countries in this part of the world; I know, I’m an old bolshie but the evidence here seems to fit so well with my bias.

Once we came to the cave entrance we moved into something out of a dream. Impressive designs within the cave created patterns and shapes that were exciting and wondrous to behold. Lighting throughout the whole cave system highlights the stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over the eons as well as interesting quartz and other features that attract the attention of viewers of this rich visual stimulant. Of course, Babara and I were clicking away with our cameras unfettered by other viewers as we had planned. On reviewing my hundreds of photos I found almost none of the ones taken on the boat were useful – back to the manual (which I accidentally incinerated on our last trip to Bali, but that’s another story!). Barbara hasn’t reviewed hers yet and I am hopeful that she had more luck.

When you reach the point where it is too low for boats to continue you are taken back to a beach area about half way along the watery tunnel. To my surprise, this is where the fun really began. For almost an hour we wandered through easily navigable caverns that contained even richer visual excitement than what we had previously experienced. To say the cave system is huge is an understatement. There was no sense of confinement with a series of caverns, many of which were larger than a movie theatre. The roof towered above us and artful lighting highlighted the hues of the crystals in the rocks while huge, often squat, stalagmites towered above us. In places the walls looked as if they contained huge jelly fish with tendrils cascading down. In other places there were series of crystalline features that, with the lighting, created a range of colourful exhibitions of nature’s power to impress.

While the experience was originally a very pleasant one with cool air acting as a balm to the heat and humidity of the day, as we wandered it became apparent that this would not offset the sweat being generated and we became duly very damp. By the time we had reached the entrance of the cave where we were to be picked up, I was as wet as a hippopotamus in addition to being a comparable size. My camera battery gave up the ghost and Barbara’s followed suit a few minutes later. I have found, though, that ejecting the battery and reinserting it gives a little more life and so I continued to take a few shots until the end of our trip. A couple of ice creams at the stalls stationed at the pickup point were a welcome treat!

Back in the boat for our cruise to the start of the adventure, Barbara noticed that her bag had been rifled. There was a very young boy who was ‘helping’ his mother who had a look through her things and, fortunately, only helped himself to some delicious peanutty treats that we had bought from a stall prior to out trip. We had given him some on the way to the caves and, I guess, the temptation was just too much for him. A lesson for us as Babara’s little bag contained her iPhone and iPad mini, though I had the wallet, and the consequences could have been much worse. I don’t think his Mum knew what he had done, though, as he had been sitting on the boat while she waited for us closer to the exit point from the caves. We were a bit miffed at first, but laughed it off and shared the rest of the treats with him on the way home and gave his Mum a good tip (1/3 of the cost of the trip) as she had to paddle us around the caves by hand (the first part of the trip was powered – husband sat at the back doing the important work – but clearly the petrol fumes would have been dangerous in the caves as well as damaging the formations created by nature).

Once we returned to the starting point we decided to have a beer and rehydrate and, of course, the lady selling us the beer pressed us into buying a few t-shirts, and a range of treats for later on. It seems to us that the sellers in Vietnam are not as intense as in other Asian countries. One lady at the next stall complained loudly that we had bought nothing for her and demonstrated how mean we were by displaying her baby boy with a bandage on his head and bemoaning his fate, but this was trivial compared to the badgering we have received in Thailand and, particularly, Bali. It is interesting, though, that many of the other travellers we have talked to have complained loudly about the harassment at markets and tourist places but we have not experienced this in the places that we have visited and stayed so far. People have loudly encouraged us to buy their goods and sometimes we have, as my mounting pile of t-shirts attests (I just love the ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ one but just haven’t found one with the Vietnam flag in my size yet!). Mind you, none of the other tourists who have complained to us have ever been to Bali.

The trip back to our hotel in a modern airconditioned car driven by a responsible and careful young man who spoke no English but played pleasant music softly on his radio, was as pleasant as the drive to the caves. We opted out of a minibus option as we have previously experienced how 22 seater minibuses are often equipped with fold down seats between each row of seats leading to a capacity of about 30 and little room to move. It did lead to some interesting (and intimate) involvement with other passengers but we have decided to avoid these experiences in future wherever possible. We passed through lush mountainous countryside in valleys that were full of trees, pawpaw plantations, banana trees, rice paddies, the occasional buffalo wandering on the road and roadside stalls selling produce that seemed targetted more at locals than the tourist trade. The roads we travelled on were high quality and the volume of traffic more akin to those in Australia than my expectation of an Asian country. I marvelled, as I had often before, about how similar the kilometre markers were to small grave stones, an observation I had initially found to be a little ominous.

So, back in our hotel for the heat of the afternoon and a stint at reviewing photos taken, munching on treats purchased on our trip, and some time spent writing about our experiences (this time on my Pages App on my iPad so that I could use my wireless keyboard – I’m sure I’ll get Repetitive Strain Injury in my right thumb if I keep trying to document our travels on my iPhone)

Our Vietnam adventure continues…..

Readings and quote from poetry reading on Happy FM 27th July 2021

(I didn’t get to all of these on the day

Road Train Dust. Written by Glen Parsons, 26th May 2021

The road is long ,

the road is tough,

the old bloody Utes body,

Looking pretty rough

twisting and turning

The Utes tray

With Old fence droppers lay in the back

Covered up by and old hessian sack

as it hit the corrugation,

I end up with rattling bones,

Singing Willies song

on that bloody road

The roadtrain in my mirror,

The road full of dust

As I pull over

to be covered in a trail of dust

Cattle crying out

It’s the market we go

From that roadtrain Dust

On that dusty road

Sibling Diversity

Four siblings considered

Same gender

Similar but oh so different.

Another four, as well

All the same gender

Similar but again so different.

The first group older women,

The second group men in their prime.

How does this inform us?

Genetic difference in both

Sisters and brothers share traits

Experience varies more.

No answers here, of course

Nature versus nurture never resolved

Questions always remain.

“Oh, I know the type”

Some people will say it

Many more think this.

But we never really know “the type”

Know our assumptions we do,

Conclusions reached without knowledge.

Commonalities are widespread

Similarities in our face,

Underneath all different.

Blithely many proceed

With their assumptions and bias

Not the individual considering.

No one of this is totally free

We all nurture prejudice in our core,

Awareness of this the biggest step.

Listening to others the path ahead,

How do they feel about what they say?

What have I learned about them?

Conclusions reached in haste

Always have flaws

Rarely hit the mark.

But even time does not suffice

Curiosity needs to remain

What more can I understand?

Brian Matthews, 11/7/21


From little ones we get so much

Their squeals, their joy,

That dreadful cough.

Noses seem to drip

A constant stream

Delaying yet another trip.

But do we isolate and avoid

These tiny germ breeders

No, the smiles and laughs are deployed.

Some can spurn this temptation

As with slobbering dogs

‘Nothing will invade my nation!’

But I truly fail to see

How such behaviour

Could apply to me.

The magnetic pull of a little one

Leads my best plans

To come undone.

Their joy in living in the now

Destroys my resolve

Changing this I can’t see how.

Reminding self to protect

A hopeless gesture

Which I invariably reject.

In unusual times we do face

Distance and disinfection

Our own health embrace.

Where we draw a line to choose

The contact we will have

And that we’ll lose.

Brian Matthews, 7/7/21

Cold Weather

The cold air crisp

The heater going

Dealing with the colder weather

Not much resilience I’m showing.

In my youth coldness seemed

A brief interruption

No real impediment

To that which I dreamed.

Now it sinks into my frame

Sidelining my motivation

Delaying that I wish to do

Seeking only the flame.

Vary we all do

In ways that we react

To hot and cold both

How we see the weather through.

But age adds another layer

As we move through life

Doing this and that

Less likely the robust swagger.

Brian Matthews 7/7/21


The Year Book’s out,

I’m with a friend.

This person, and that,

This memory and not that.

How it tugs at you,

The memories you have,

Or not at all,

It seems so strange.

Some things will stick,

A face and name,

And others it seems,

You’ve not met at all.

Thus it is with memory,

As with much of life,

We’ve not truly experienced it,

Without sharing something.

But memories which are shared,

Are so often somewhat different.

Objective reality seems a fantasy,

As does objective truth.

Brian Matthews 11/3/19

To My Once Wife

My calendar reminds me

That many years ago

My Once Wife drew first breath

And first faced the day.

Almost 50 years hence

We were wed

13 at the small event

Surely an omen

Of things yet to come

But four boys came forth

And almost 25 long years

Mixed with blessings and tears

Followed by times harsh

That distanced us both

But after some years

Reconnection did grow

Through issues shared

Family crises for one

Family events another

Until Now Wife can say

On a recent Christmas day

Let‘s have a photo

Of Brian and his two Wives

And all laugh

And photo shared.

It doesn’t always this way go

And some find it strange

But I am very happy

I can now share with her

On each special day

Brian Matthews, 1/8/2020

For Mum

My tears will be spent

But not the hole in the heart rent

Remember you we will

When the sun rises and birds sing

Your spirit lives on

Though your body failed

In every smile you shared

You will live on…

One of a kind

Such a presence

So full of life

That smile and laugh

Never to be seen again.

Memories flood my mind

Of childhood wrangles

And family occasions

Weddings of his daughters.

Living so far away

But always present for me

The long, long phone calls

And photos of his darlings.

Such tall tales he told

And most were true

The things he said

And what he did.

Such a quick ending

Gone in a flash

Like his father before him

A male family tradition.

He will be missed

He will be mourned

But he left his mark

Shared his love…

Brian Matthews, 18/7/21

The Narrow Path

We all walk the narrow wire,

Do we live or do we die?

No answers appear

Until one fateful day.

It is the natural course

That we all know

But when the curtain closes

Regrets litter the ground.

What could have been said?

What could have been done?

Questions left unasked

Never to be answered.

Rejoice we must

In what the person gave

The love they shared

Their acts of kindness.

Put aside perceived faults

Things that might have been neglected

We all have one life

A journey not a race to achieve.

Listen to the tales of others

Of words and deeds unheard

Learn about the life

Parts to you formerly unknown.

Brian Matthews, 27/7/21

A quote

“The more you live, the more you learn, and trust me, you never know who you might become.”

— Cause to Run (An Avery Black Mystery—Book 2) by Blake Pierce

Difficult Time 2

So, below is my draft eulogy for my younger brother Ian

Ian’s Eulogy

Ian Barry Matthews

28/10/1953 – 17/7/2021

I am devastated that me and South Australian Members of the family are unlikely to be able to attend my beloved brother’s celebration of life but wanted to say a few things to mark his passing.

Ian was present in my life from my earliest memories until just a few hours before his death. He was the little brother I played and fought with, the one with the imaginative games, the little pest who wanted to play with me and my mates. We built shangeyes (sling shots) and cross bows together, playing for hours, roaming our neighbourhood as kids did in those days. Sliding down slopes on bits of corrugated iron, tadpoling, playing marbles and NEVER snitching on each other. Ian had a gold filling in a front tooth for many years from a slingshot injury I inadvertently gave him (he told Mum and Dad he ran into a wall) and I still sport a scar between my thumb and forefinger from a carving knife incurred in a scuffle over washing and drying the dishes (I told Mum and Dad I was washing up and accidentally sliced it).

Ian always knew how to rile me, was a natural sportsman and even though almost 2 years younger so often beat me at games like table tennis which I thought I was pretty good at. He was a small kid and one of his favourite tricks was ducking below the table tennis table when his turn to serve, which annoyed me, then he would suddenly pop up and deliver a killing serve. There was much chasing around the table after these incidents and blows were frequently thrown. I clearly remember Mum running down the passage toward me broom raised while I hit a laughing Ian with me saying ‘I’m sorry Mum, I can’t help it’

I did realise, very young, that while Ian liked to rile me, it was not a good idea to rile him. He was so unflappable most of the time that it was too easy to forget this. A tomahawk narrowly missing my head, at one time, reminded me of this. You really didn’t want to get Ian mad. When we were at primary school and were about 10 and 8, the bully of our working class school, a huge (to us kids) Greek boy who nobody challenged, one day decided to pick on Ian, one of the smallest kids. Ian lost it and started swinging his fists at him. The much bigger boy just laughed holding Ian at a distance while his arms flailed. But the big boy dropped his guard and Ian knocked him out with one punch. Ian was never threatened after that and neither was I because if the little brother could do that what could the older brother do? Interestingly, Ian remembered neither of these incidents as an adult and I had the strong impression that he thought I was ‘making shit up’.

Ian was a great hockey player and he passed the love of this sport on to his family. I asked him how he got into it and he told me that when he started high school he went to try out for the baseball team (my sport) but got the times wrong or it was cancelled and so he tried out for hockey and never looked back. I heard many tales about his exploits from mutual friends and Ian. One day in a high school match, Ian (Matty as his friends called him) was disaffected with the umpiring and stood in the middle of the field, dropped his own shorts, and shouted at the umpire ‘Pull your pants up and give your mouth a go!’ He was sent off but he was unrepentant- he had a strong sense of fairness. When a little older and playing district hockey, top level, his coach benched him because he’d missed a practice. This was a summer competition which had fewer rule constraints than the then winter main competition and Ian marched over to the opposition where he was welcomed. He scored the winning goals. I don’t know if his coach benched him again.

Ian, as most of you will know, was very intelligent but the constraints of formal education were not for him and he was fortunate that one of the senior teachers at Woodville High School, Mr Phillips, was also the Hockey coach and this saved his bacon on many occasions. It didn’t protect me, though. In 4th year high school (year 11) I was sitting in class and our Chemistry teacher came in for his lesson. He settled in, looked up, saw me and said ‘Matthews – out, I’ve had enough of Matthewses for the day’. He was Ian’s class teacher and had a double lesson with Ian just before mine. I didn’t really mind as I just continued reading a novel as I would have done during the lesson anyway – my noncompliance just wasn’t as visible as Ian’s.

We went our separate ways after our childhood, though Ian was always in my life. He ended up working at Moomba for SANTOS for several decades and more and that was where he acquired the nickname ‘Jock’. He worked in the laboratory at Moomba when he first started, somebody one day called him ‘the lab jock’ and it stuck. As Ian and I look similar, though he retained all of his hair, I’ve had the experience over many years of men approaching me with ‘Gidday Jock’ and then regaling me with difficult to believe tales about what he said or did. Though he worked there for years he was never happy with their poor health and safety practices protected by a government that valued the revenue too much and fellow workers who accepted increases in money as trade offs for poor practices. This came to a head when Ian’s. ‘other half’ the man who slept in the same room and did the same job when Ian was on leave, died in an industrial accident. Ian ramped up his words, made a pain of himself, SANTOS claimed he had mental difficulties, though their own psychiatrist thought not. Eventually Ian got the largest payoff in known history and retired from there.

Ian met Bernie and his girls on a bus trip to Qld to visit me and family when I worked in Maryborough for three years. He didn’t mention this, at first, but his visits became more frequent and eventually all was revealed. I still remember Yasmin and Aleasha clambering into bed with me and my first wife Margie on and early visit. Not sure which one it was but somebody had bloody cold feet and I remember thinking ‘These kids are really friendly’ and I started to understand how Ian bonded so deeply with them.

There was that period that followed when Ian and Bernie and the girls bought and lived in a house at Ottoway near where our parents lived. Ian had been employed out of Adelaide and that’s where he was flown back to so this worked and the girls had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Nana and Papa, both now passed.

Once Bernie and Ian split up, Ian moved to Qld to be near his girls, act as a support person to both of Bernie’s subsequent husbands (I’ll keep these tales to myself) and to enjoy the warmer weather. He once told me he showered in Qld to get clean but in SA it was to get warm. I suppose such a long time at Moomba had increased his affinity for warmer climes.

Ian had a funny attitude to money. Another tale he didn’t remember from his childhood was one where he was in the practice of borrowing money from me. We had little money then and I carefully saved my meagre pocket money for things I wanted. Ian spent his as soon as he got it and was always taking loans from me. One day he said to me when we calculated what he owed me ‘Brian, you know I’m never going to be able to pay you back, don’t you?’ I replied ‘Yes’ and he said ‘how about we call it quits’, I agreed and he immediately said ‘ That’s great, can you lend me two bob’. I laughed and laughed and ‘loaned’ him the two shillings. He paid me back in spades several times as an adult and I know he was incredibly generous with his money to others, on one occasion when he lived in Currimundi paying for expensive surgery for an elderly neighbour’s dog because he knew the neighbour couldn’t afford this. I’m sure there are many tales like this out there and he didn’t brag about his largesse, I had to drag those details out of him.

I could go on and on and then you’d truly be reminded of my little brother. His daughters and his family in Adelaide loved him dearly and all are devastated by his loss. Yasmin, Aleasha and family, you’ve lost my brother but you still have me and the rest of my family and we are truly grateful for the joy you all gave to him

A funny last tale for you all

When Ian was at Moomba and he’d come home to Currimundi, he would enjoy the beach and nearby lagoons and would often sit for hours contemplating his lovely environment. He started to notice that he got some strange looks from people and realised that a guy in his age group doing nothing was suspicious. So, he bought himself a fishing rod with weights, no hooks, and a bucket (Ian did not like fishing and the suffering of the captured creatures) but he would sit for hours, line dangling, taking in the world, with people occasionally commiserating with him over his lack of success

I laughed and laughed when he told me this tale

RIP beloved brother

This was a song he once mentioned to me that he wanted at his funeral