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Writers in Libraries - Jillian Durance

25 APRIL 2020

A month later, a nearby Moyarra, Jillian was wondering how to commemorate Anzac Day 'in iso' as everyone had begun to call it. A new tradition called 'At the Gate' was beginning to catch on. Afterwards, she decided to finish a letter she had begun writing to her grandfather who died in March 1990.

Dear Grandpa,

It's just gone Anzac Day, 2020.

This year it was different. No marches, no ceremonies where hundreds of people gather. How much we have taken for granted. But somewhere out there some bright spark had the idea that Anzac Day was still on. You just had to stand at your front gate in the dawn and hold a candle. The idea took off everywhere. Something in our hearts just surged up and said 'yes'.

The day before, Glenise and I assembled all our poppies we had collected over the years and attached one to every letter box. (Perry from the RSL gave us some too.) People must have wondered how they got there. We saw no-one in our travels on the Inlet Road. The road has been quiet for weeks now.

Just before six, I stumbled out of bed, threw on my Goretex, grabbed the candle, lit it, put on my boots and walked down to the letterbox, guarding the flame with my palm cupped around it like a shield. I put it inside the 'can'. It went out. I raced back to the house for matches... it was not yet dawn.

I knew other people would have a service playing on their phone, but I wasn't sure how to do that. Wasn't sure at all of what to do, but as the moments went by, those familiar words came to me;

They shall grow not old as they who are left grow old.

I saw candles flickering far off at a neighbour's house.

Age shall not weary them,

I was facing east and on the dark hill before me I knew the house behind the trees was once the home of Bill Irving MM, who fought with you on the Western Front in the Great War.

nor the years condemn

I thought of all the stories you told me when I was young, thought ofthe places you talked about: Villiers Bretonneux, Pozières, Ypres and Mont St. Quentin, all a hundred years ago and far away, but at this moment, all here, all real.

At the going down of the sun...

As the first glimmer of light smudged the eastern sky, a bugle sounded, the cold air reverberated with the notes of the Last Post. It was Tim playing, up at Hairs Road. That ancient, familiar call. As though our commemoration had always been like this.

And in the morning...

A brief silence.

We will remember them

Then the magpies broke into their reveille. And you were remembered, you were all remembered.

Your grand-daughter,

all these years later,



25 MAY 2065

Forty-five years later a sixty-five year old grandmother living in South Gippsland, is concerned for her 16 year old grand-daughter living in the city. They are both living in lockdown due to a pandemic that is again affecting the whole world. She hopes her own experiences all those years ago in 2020 will assist her.

Dear my beautiful granddaughter Emalia,

I hope all is doing well at home and with school work. I also hope that you are staying safe in these uncertain times as it is crucial. Just want you to know that I have been here before, that the start of this pandemic is not the first during my lifetime so I can be some help in reassurance that everything is going to be alright. My first pandemic was coronavirus or COVID-19 and it first started in 2019 but well and truly affected everyone's lives in 2020.

This pandemic isn't that different to COVID but we still are going to have some similar struggles and similar restrictions. One good thing this time round is that we are not so worried about the effects of climate change. We have made great strides in our use of alternative fuels.

Everyone I talked to about the virus in 2020, as well as my own experience, told me as long as you follow restrictions then your community will quickly decrease the whereabouts of the virus. Restrictions included during COVID were wearing a mask, staying 1.5 from other people and only going out if necessary.

Your mother has been updating me on how you have been doing so far and I would like to tell you that you are doing a wonderful job with what you have. During these times, finding a coping mechanism is important. Mine during COVID years was reliving my past memories through music and games, getting my work done for school, gardening, going for walks on my large property and working with my animals. I know you don't have these types of spaces as you live in the cityas I used to live on a farm but continue to do what you love and you will be fine.

Also don't worry, your Pa and I are doing alright by ourselves. We have the memories of you, your cousins, aunts, uncles and parents to get us through isolation.

Love from Ma


25 JUNE 2020

Back in 2020 another grandmother is writing to reassure her ten year old grandson that the COVID-19 'BUG' is not going to kill her as he fears.

My darling Harry,

Your mum tells me that you are worried about me and Pops. Just wanted to say – and I am typing this, as I KNOW you cannot understand my writing – that we will be okay. You will be okay.

Although we are JUST in our 80's, we old folk are pretty tough. Remember how I told you once – way back last year when you were nine – that I grew up in London during the Second World War? It was during the Blitz when there were lots of bombing raids. We would be playing out in the street – there was nowhere else to play – and when the siren went off we just went into the underground shelter and hoped that we would not get bombed out this time.

It probably wasn't that funny, but you know we got bombed out three times altogether, we lost just about everything, but my Da would just laugh and look up and say 'You will have to try harder Mr. Hitler'. Missed me last time and missed me again!' Mr. Hitler really had it in for him!

We would somehow find another place to live and though we had nothing, we had each other and we could still go to the library. You could just go there and read. It was the loveliest thing we could do because it was free and we were very poor. How I loved reading back then. Still do, as you know. A book can take you into so many other worlds, can't it?

But even if you had money back then, you couldn't just get things. There was rationing you know and not like this year. Yes, we were in lockdown but we could still get food, there was nothing we couldn't get and when we couldn't go to the library I just changed to eboots. I could still read. The library was a godsend.

I am sending you another book to enjoy. It's called 'Dogman'. Try it, and don't pay too much attention to 'You tube'. It's making you too worried. Pops and I have never been better and don't plan to die any time soon.

Don't be afraid, dear Harry, just say to yourself, "WE KNOW HOT TO DEAL WITH THIS BUG". We survived the bombs and we will survive the bug. Pops and I will see you again when it is safe. Tell me what you think of that book, and we have every intention of catching up in the holidays, soon.

Much love, (hugs, but no sloppy kisses)



25 JULY 2020, a month later

A Strzelecki farmer sends his son in the city a birthday card for his 40th birthday. It says:


On your 40th birthday.

Yes, Happy Birthday! You will miss out on that big party that we were all planning for the day. Keep it for next year when we are out of lockdown and we are all vaccinated. (We wish)

I know you will think of something good to do with the family...a party on Zoom? Dress ups in the backyard? Indoor footy with balloons? July was never a good month for parties anyway. Remember the flood that washed out the footy game?

Then everyone getting bogged in the driveway when they came back to ours for the sausage rolls and cake? Then we got the tractor bogged getting them out? That was some tenth birthday and we remember it just like we will remember your 40th.

Just wanted to say too, that your mum and I are so proud of you and Lucy, for the way you have both knuckled down there in Melbourne, just got on with working from home with the two kids at your feet. Hard to imagine how you cope with your own work, the home schooling as well as the kinder year online. But you do and you never complain.

Wish we could help but we are Stage 3, and can't mix with you Stage 4 lockdowns. We like to think we brought you up to be resilient, what country kid doesn't know how to handle a yard full of dairy cows bellowing to their calves? But really, you've done it all yourselves! You have coped much better than we have with our freedoms up here in the country.

Just wanted to let you know, love you Son,



25 AUGUST 2020, a month later

Yet another month later, on 23 August, Mrs. Betty Wilson of Bena turns 100. She was born just after the end of the 'Spanish' influenza pandemic. Betty's family organises a party for her on Zoom. A great granddaughter dresses up as Her Majesty the Queen and reads the Queen's letter of congratulations. The front fence is festooned with balloons and a sign that reads: Betty is 100 today. A little girl called Isobel drives past and decides to send Betty a card that she makes herself: 'Dear Betty, I hope you are having a good 100th Birthday.'

Jillian asks Betty about her life. Like Isobel, she too must acknowledge this great achievement.

Dear Betty,

Thanks so much for talking to me and answering all those questions about your life. I could not get over the fact that until 1939, when you were 19, you lived without electricity. The countryside around Bena must have been very dark during our long winter nights. You said that ou always kept a candle ready to light beside your bed in case anything scared you in the night. You told me about having to milk by hand four cows before school and again after school, no complaints, no regrets, it's just what you had to do in those days.

I loved the way you reassured me that as you get older there is less to fear. Yes, the pandemic is a frightening thing, you said, but these days we have the knowledge and the health system to deal with it all, so we shouldn't live in fear of it: just keep busy every day, doing what has to be done, helping others.

You reminded me that there have been other epidemics that South Gippslanders have had to deal with. In the 20's and 30's there were outbreaks of scarlet fever and polio. People had to isolate themselves inside their homes. Children of affected families had to quarantine and not go to school. Some people lived with the effects of polio for the rest of their lives. With polio, a vaccine was developed in the 1950's, so that we never had to worry about it again. You were positive the same would happen with COVID-19.

So it seems to me that we can cope with this by having faith in science and medicine, having something to do every day and keeping in touch with others. Isobel reached out to someone she didn't know and sent her a birthday greeting.

Thank you Betty for 'shining a light on the past', present and future – all at the same time.

Kindest regards,




Back in the last century, a woman from Kongwak, is reading her own story of life in the early days of South Gippsland, the early days of 'European' settlement, that is. 'The Land of the Lyrebird' has just been published. Mrs. Euphemia Williams has just lived through a world war and a pandemic. While she was writing her story three years earlier, her sons were fighting in the first AIF in France. One of them was killed, another returned. Jillian imagines what she might be able to say to us in 2020, if she could:

My dear people,

It has been a long dark year, a year of grief, of loss, of dashed hopes, despair, but I see the beginnings of new shoots of grass in the ground, new buds on the trees, lambs frisking in the paddocks. Spring is coming, if not already here.

We seem to be well over the pandemic now, that dreaded disease that afflicted so much of the world, so much of our country, just when we were reeling from the scourage of that endless war.

I hope you can one day read my story in 'The Land of the Lyrebird' that has just been published. I was reluctant to write at first because I was not sure whether I had a story to tell, but looking back, I realise that the past holds lessons for those who are ready to listen and hear them.

During the influenza pandemic, we have had to keep ourselves, just as we had once done in those early years of pioneering in the Great Forest of South Gippsland.

Most of all I remember the loneliness of the days I spent in the tiny log cabin my husband had built for me and the babies – in a clearing surrounded by tall trees. I remember the solitude and the fear of those long dark nights when he was late returning from market or a day spent clearing elsewhere on the selection.

Fear, because I never knew what was out there, a wild beast, a desperate man wanting to get in for food, to do me and the little ones harm. My imagination went wild with the fear. I startled at every sound: a spar cracking then thudding down in the forest, a koala bear or possum screeching to the stars, a cry of a dingo closing in on its prey.

But then my husband would return and laugh at my fears. He taught me to load the gun – just-in-case – he said, and then in the morning the daylight revealed such beauty in that great bush, the flowers and birds, that I forgot what had so terrified me at night. And the sunsets in this country with its beautiful light, its closeness to the sea, I just gloried in those sunsets and felt at peace with my lot. Still, just glory in those sunsets...

I am thinking of you all in these troubled times. We have seen much, experienced so much that has overwhelmed us all at times, but we have been here before and we came through.

Yours most sincerely,

Mrs Euphemia Williams,




25 OCTOBER 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be never ending. The relative freedom and ease of living we feel here in the South Gippsland hills seems to be denied to our loved ones in the city. The children have not been able to go to school for months.

Two friends, both grandmothers support one another with their regular text messages.

Text messages: October 2020 between H and J, two friends.

J. Lots to deal with last week. A wee struggle but getting there. Just happy I have 3 returning to school this week. Have a beautiful book to lend you. Where the Crawdads Sing.

H. Sounds good Book

J. Much better today. Thanks for your concern. It's always when you think you are trundling along quite well that everything gets to you. My poor wonderful children. I just want to be with them, in their company a few hours...that's all.

H. I feel for you in this lockdown. I really hope Dan eases up a bit soon. The WHO have said it's a last resort. It's sensible but too tough in yr circumstances. You brought yr children up to be strong and sensible, so have faith and hang in there till you see them. Lots of hugs xx

J. Thanks my friend. I like to think I am tough! But there r days Rainbow

H. Thankfully you're human Heart


25 NOVEMBER 2020

We in South Gippsland have been out of lockdown for a while, but we have lost track of our lives, and the pandemic seems to surge then die down again. Our folk in Melbourne are only just slowly getting out and about once more.

But what has happened here will not be forgotten. Libby has happy memories still of the kindness of her neighbours and the feast pumpkin scones they 'shared' at her front gate. They grew the pumpkin and put it in her letter box. Libby cut it up and cooked it and baked the scones. She laid them out on a tablecloth set with her best plates and silverware. A feast to be remembered from the time of COVID-19:

Dear Libby,

We hope you enjoy this pumpkin

Have a great day...

From the Morris family.

And we came through

We have heard it said

'Been here before'

When stricken down

With drought and war –


What doesn't kill us now

Will surely make us strong

And little things from you and me

Sustain our way along.


And as with flood, so too with fire,

Pandemics spike our fears

News reports and loneliness

Will sometimes bring on tears


A note placed in the letter box

A cake left at the door

A message sent, a thought replied,

A voice! and spirits soar –


Oh how we hunger for those hugs

And 'normal' ways of doing things,

But candles burning in the dawn

Can shine a light and hearts will sing,


Those eyes that smile above the mask,

A child's kind words, and elder's story, those

Sunsets streaked with colour

Will touch us just as surely –


Will always make us strong –

Hold on, remembering:

'Been here before', they say

'Came through and will again.'


These letters produced here are from both real and imagined people. Emalia's letter is written by Katrina Brandon of Moyarra. The rest have been 'collected' or written by Jillian Durance, her neighbour at Moyarra. Thanks to all those who shared their stories. Keep on coming through.

Jill Durance 1
Jill Durance 2
Jill Durance 3