From Tasmania to Florida and Back
“The flaws make people special and the gun shots kill them.”
When I was child, my Mum
used to say to my brother,
who was a moody teenager,
angry at himself,
no one seems
to understand him.
He liked to shoot the plastic bottles
filled up with sand
with dad’s rifle
he set them up in one long line
at the back of our farm.
His angry shots echoing around
scared me and my twin sister.
My mum used to gather us
in her arms, “He doesn’t know what
to do with himself, I go to talk to him.”
We saw her walking towards the clearing
her floral dress flapping in the wind.
Her calm words and raised hand
In defeat made him to lower his gun.
“Before you open a fire,
have a good look
at yourself in a mirror my beautiful one,”
We heard her words through the open window
as we clang to the frame holding our hands,
we just wanted our brother to like us again.
“Weaknesses and flaws are just human,
embrace them and accept people
as they are…”
She was to far now to hear the rest
but we saw them both in a tight embrace
dad’s rifle thrown away
and we both sighed in relief.
Our Mum and our brother were killed in the Port Arthur massacre
Me and My Sister Turned Six That Week.
Our Mum was sitting in a café
with our elder brother
who was leaving for Florida
for student’s exchange
and to improve his mood,
our uncle lived there
and promised to look after him.
Twenty- two years passed
from that time,
the framed photo of our Mum
smiling next to our brother frowning,
both shot in an angry spree
by some teenager who was also angry
is covered in dust.
Every time I pass it I whisper towards it:
“Mum, you had no time to teach
that mad teenager who shot at you
that flaws make people special,
I wish you had, I so much wish you had.”
I remember dad sitting on our veranda
after the funeral, his rifle on his lap.
He found it where our brother left it
the week before
next to plastic bottles
with holes in them and spilled sand.
He broke the rifle all apart to make sure
no one will ever use it again.
We watched TV in total silence
that night as our prime minister
wearing a bullet proof vest
addressed a gun rally in Sale.
The next day we celebrated with champagne when the 1996 National Firearms Agreement was passed with a strict gun control in every Australian territory and stat
We have been so proud our brother and our Mum
haven’t died in vain.
“There will be no more massacres in Australia,”
our dad chinked his glass with ours
and he was right, there was none.
Twenty- two years passed and I was walking with my twin sister out of the Hobart University.
She was in her last year of the post graduate teaching degree and I was doing my honours in humanities.
Our Hobart was laid back peaceful capital city
the ocean view houses littering all of its bays
we sat on one of the benches sharing ‘fish and chips’
we bought from the food van on the way
when our fellow student and common friend
ran to us across the street.
“Our former prime minister is talking on the square
right now, you should hear it, there should be no
alteration or weakening of Australia’s gun laws, he said.”
My sister licked her fingers angrily chucking the rest
of her chips in the bin: “Of course there will be no
alternation, Tasmanians will no allow it, our gun
law is seen globally as a benchmark in gun control.”
Our friend was pacing nervously in front of us:
“I know it is hard for you and all the people who lost
loved ones in the massacre but farmers and sport shooters
would welcome the access to semi-automatics.”
“Our father is the farmer like your father is and he doesn’t
see any purpose in owning a gun!” I shouted at him:
“Any gun!” He nodded his head sadly and left.
We looked at each other, my sister and I.
Suddenly Hobart seemed dark place to be in right now.
The guns came back to divide us all one more time.
That weekend we travelled back to our farm
And Found Our Father Bent Over the Injured Horse in His Yard.
“Dad, did you hear about our new Liberal government
trying to relax the gun laws?” My sister ran to him
He stood up suddenly very fragile and embraced us both.
“Dad, we have to do something,” I blurt out holding onto
his sweaty flannel shirt.
“It is nonsense, I told them when some officials stopped by,
you start tinkering with the gun laws and you have blood
on your hands again.”
He cleaned his hands on his shorts and we walked back
to the house. Our mum and brother photo in the frame
had new flowers set in a vase next to them.
“Opening up category C guns all those pump-action shot guns
and self loading rifles to be spread to all employees of rural
settlements? Not in my day!”
Dad sat heavily on his favourite chair and took his head into his hands.
My sister picked up a book our Mum used to read us
from her travels in Japan. The tiny book in Japanese rice paper
was stuck just behind the frame photo and the flowers.
I sat next to our Dad patting his arm while my sister was reading
from a chapter she opened by a chance.
“The route winds through cities,
along sandy beaches and round dramatic headlands.
In the farming country in the west,
the landscape is gorgeous and mellow.
Persimmon trees are heavy with fruit,
rice paddies stacked with sheaves
and garden plots spill over with chrysanthemums.
Villagers stop to chat and press sweet mandarin oranges
Into your hands.
It is a beguiling place,
where people get up with the sun
and shape their actions to the season,
it is place of peace and tranquillity…”
“Do you know that Japanese have one of the strictest
gun laws in the world and zero- gun violence?”
I suddenly stopped my sister on her track.
Dad suddenly looked up at my sister: “I forgot to tell you,
your Mum’s uncle in Florida asked if you are coming,
you know for teachers’ exchange as you planned,
he is happy for you to live in his house
he said he is lonely there…”
“Dad are you serious?” My sister jumped up from her seat:
“Now with all that school shootings going on?”
She closed the book and put it carefully back behind the frame:
“Apparently teachers have to be trained shooters out there,
do you see me as the one shooting my own students any time soon?”
There was silence in the room and none of us
knew what to say.
It was my sister again who broke up the heavy silence:
“I am going to teach in Japan, dad,” she quietly said.
“You failed Japanese classes as I remember,” I laughed.
Dad stood up and cough: “They have different customs
and language yes, how will you cope with that?”
My sister looked at us both in surprise: “We speak the same language
with Japanese Dad, no guns and zero violence,
I can see myself fitting in very well.”
“Mum would approve, it was her favourite country after all,”
Dad smiled at us and suddenly the room bathed in the warm
I picked my mum’s and my brother’s framed photo
and talked to them
in a quiet voice:
“When I was child, I was lucky,
I had someone to say to me,
” Don’t change. Be who You are.’
Because society is really strong
in their opinions.
You have been right mum,
‘The flaws make people special
and the gun shots truly kill them.’”