Monthly Archives: April 2020

Y – Yachting Holiday – Hawkesbury River, Australia…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my series: Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

Today, we’re jumping back into our time machine and re-setting the date for the 13th December, 1982. We’ve just arrived at Mangrove Creek, where we’ll be picking up the yacht and sailing down onto the Hawkesbury River. Of course, you’ll be meeting my Mum and Dad, my ten year old brother and my 13 year old self. By the way, you might notice that my Dad bears an uncanny likeness to British actor, John Cleese. I always used to wonder why people used to say to him:”Nudge, nudge wink wink, say no more”. However, the world’s full of so many mysteries for a kid, and this was just one of many which were never sufficiently explained.

My apologies for the lack of photos. My 13 year old self wasn’t much chop with the camera, and the camera wasn’t much chop either. I’m pretty sure I was still using my Kodak Instamatic, which had the cartridge of film you put in the back which you dropped off at your local chemist for processing. My parents and brother have also requested not too subtly, that I don’t post their photos on Facebook or the blog, and I mostly honour that request.

Anyway, on the 13th – 18th December, 1982 our family spent five days onboard a yacht slowly sailing from Mangrove Creek along the Hawkesbury River into Pittwater.  Mangrove Creek is a tributary of the Hawkesbury River which flows into Broken Bay not far from where we now live at Umina Beach on the NSW Central Coast.  We also stopped off at a picnic spot called The Basin where they have a shark net set up for swimming. My Dad flew over the Hawkesbury River once when he was young and saw loads of sharks in the water. So, beyond The Basin, swimming was out.

My Dad’s had an almost life long interest in sailing, and has since become a fully-fledged sailor. That is, even if he hasn’t completed the Holy Grail…the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

However, back in 1983, he hadn’t quite gained his stripes. So when the bloke hiring out the yacht asked Dad if he could sail, he could give an honest “yes”. However, I only found out a few months ago, that Dad didn’t actually know how to stop the boat. Of course, this was only a minor detail, and thankfully, everything went swimmingly well. My Dad in his typical try his hand at anything fashion, pulled it off and we were right.

By the way, “she’ll be right, mate” is something of an Aussie creed. It’s more or less  the reverse of catastrophizing where you just take everything in your stride. Of course, the little Aussie battler who’s even had it harder than most, will always triumph in the end. If they don’t, they’ll probably just find their way down to the pub.

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One of the things I clearly remember from the trip, is that the yacht came with a dingy out the back with a pair of oars for rowing out to shore. While Dad took us out for a bit of exploring, clearly the idea was to go out by yourself. However, Dad had this thing about needing to pass your rowing licence first. Of course, my younger brother who was more sporty and better coordinated, received his licence straight away, and was able to scoot off without me. However, it took me a few goes, which I was naturally unhappy about. Indeed, I was a ball of angst…sad, angry, jealous, disappointed…every intense emotion you can think of under the sun. Of course, being 13 and the eldest didn’t help either. Well, eventually, I also managed to get my rowing licence and loved exploring the little bays and beaches along the Hawkesbury River as well.

 

Another indelible memory, was when we sailed across the heads into Pittwater battling against strong winds and a larger swell. Indeed, I still remember the slap of the salty wind in my face, and my hair taking flight. As the yacht keeled right over with the gunnels in the water, I was helping Dad with the ropes and loving every minute. The exhilaration of speed and flying into the salty, ocean wind was incredible. However, my mother and brother were both below deck and couldn’t stand it. After my difficulties getting my rowing licence, it felt particularly good to be outdoing my brother at this point, even if he was younger than me. This was my moment of triumph, but I also truly loved sailing.

Above: we went out sailing around much the same area on the 19th December, 2010 with my parents and our kids almost 27 years to the day after our family sailing holiday and now, even that’s 10 years ago.

Although we’re now mostly a sailing family, we’ve only ever had that one family holiday sleeping onboard the yacht. Indeed, we still haven’t christened Dad’s current yacht, which is quite a shame. It would be rather magical to fall sleep on nature’s water bed, don’t you think?

Have you ever been out on a yachting or boat holiday where you’ve actually slept onboard? Or, perhaps you’re more of a day sailor? Or, you love your land legs. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

X- An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Today, this this brings us to X, and not without a rather pregnant pause. Indeed, you could say that I’ve never been anywhere starting with X. Moreover, although I’ve had multiple x-rays, I could hardly say that I’ve been to xylophone, could I?

Even with a great theme, every year there’s always a few rubbish letters which no amount of creativity, imagination or roaming through the thesaurus can resolve. X is a frequent flyer. Or, perhaps I should say: “frequent failure”. However, if we were looking on the bright side, we could simply re-frame these difficult letters as “challenging”. After all, even I have to admit the finding an X has been “an education” almost every year. Anyway, that’s how I conjured up the idea of this year’s X being… (drum roll!!) An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn.

Here goes…

Back when I was a 21 year old university student, I caught the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth sitting up the entire way with a week off in Adelaide to break up the trip. Although I initially stayed with my uncle in Perth, I soon moved into the Youth Hostel. As an unabashed extrovert, I was like a pig in mud mixing with backpackers from right around the world, which was so exciting for someone who’d only ever been to Hong Kong. I loved it. It was a constant party and talkfest with all these young, mostly single people all thrown together and blowing along with the wind.

Map from Perth, Western Australia to The Pinnacles Desert, Pinnacles Dr, Cervantes WA 6511

Map Showing the Trip from Perth to the Pinnacles.

Anyway, an American, two Japanese and an Australian (yours truly) decided to pitch in and hire a car to check out the Pinnacles, a series of eroded limestone pillars, which resemble a haunted graveyard. The Pinnacles are located in the Nambung National Park, near Cervantes 192 kms North of Perth, making for a 2.25 hour drive via State Route 60.  Looking like somewhere straight out of Stephen King, the Pinnacles aren’t the sort of place you want to get lost, especially after dark. The bogey man, woman, or their ghost, could well be lurking around somewhere.

Rowena Driving Practice Youth Hostel Perth

Being a cautious bunch, the night before our big adventure, as you can see from the photograph, our American driver practised driving the Australian way in the courtyard at the hostel. For the uninitiated, that means driving on the left hand side of the road  while sitting on the right hand side of the car (Gee all that was confusing. I had to run that by Geoff to get it right.)

Pinnacles Western Australia

All went well at the Pinnacles. Conditions were absolutely perfect for photography and we got some striking, even haunting images. Indeed,  if we’d just turned around and driven back to Perth the way we came, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell. Just a handful of photos with smiling faces, these wacky limestone pillars and deep blue skies.

However, we looked at the map and noticed an alternative, much more scenic, coastal  route back to Perth via a tiny place called Grey, which barely seemed to justify its dot on the map.  Indeed, we should’ve known we were hardly heading for a huge metropolis when we spotted the “Bar” out the window. Taking rustic to the extreme, I jumped out and took a photo.

Bar Grey Western Australia

The Grey Hotel

Meanwhile, our travels along this exceptionally scenic road continued. By the way, I should point out that when we checked out the map, this road was marked “vehicular track. Local enquiry suggested.” However, we were young. Had no idea what that meant, and brushed it off. Whenever we hit a bump in the road, our fearless American leader calmly reversed back up and literally floored it right through the sand.  Indeed, I’m sure we all gave him a huge cheer, instead of questioning whether our humble Toyota Camry truly had 4WD capabilities and whether it was capable of pulling off this trip. After all, this was a hire car and family sedan. It wasn’t your classic Aussie paddock-basher, which could be abandoned by the side of the road when it failed to do the deed.

Rowena & Backpackers bogged WA

However, it’s so much easier to be sensible  when you’re 50 years old and enjoying the comfort of your lounge chair. It’s also easier in hindsight when you know that humble Toyota Camry along with the American, Australian and two Japanese onboard  are about to drive straight into a massive sand dune, where no amount of reversing was going to save the day. We were bogged.

Rowena bogged Western Australia

Not only that. It was almost sunset and all we had in terms of food and water, was half a bottle of diet coke and an apple. In other words, no emergency rations.

We were in serious trouble.

While we weren’t exactly lost, we were well and truly off the grid in a very remote and isolate spot with a very slim chance of anyone finding us quickly along our road less travelled. Indeed, this area was so isolated, not even the coronavirus could find it.

Anyway, the American and one of the Japanese guys did the hero bloke thing, and walked off in search of help while I stayed behind with the other Japanese guy at the car. I started wondering how long we were going to be stranded here, and that my parents back in Sydney all the way across the other side of the country,  had no idea where I was and how much trouble we were in. Indeed, I could go missing and never, ever be found all because we couldn’t read a map properly and opted for the scenic route.

Grey Western Australia

Spotted nearby. I wonder if this tourist ever made it home?

If the guys couldn’t find help, our only hope lay  back at the Youth hostel. I’d arranged to go out for dinner with a friend at 7.00 pm, and was hoping  she might raise the alarm when we didn’t get back. After all, this was 1990 and none of us had mobile phones. Besides, they wouldn’t have worked there anyway. Too remote.

Sunset Grey Western Australia

Sunset At Grey, Western Australia -taken while we were bogged and waiting for help to return.

Meanwhile the sun was setting. I photographed the sunset. As you can see, it was absolutely magnificent, an incredible golden glow over the ocean. However, I still remember the fear.  I also didn’t really know what to talk about with the Japanese guy, but he talked to me about work in Japan and he sang me a song which I think might have been from the company dormitory where he lived. I could well have recited Dorothea McKellar’s iconic Australian love poem: My Country, as I always love to educate people about Australia and share a bit of “us”.

However, all too soon, the sun had set. It was pitch black, and the others hadn’t returned. I think we had the lights on. After all, we were needing to be found. It was a very stressful time, particularly for me as the only Australian with any idea of just how dangerous being stranded in such an isolation place without adequate provisions could be.

Trust me. I wasn’t catastrophizing!!

Yet, then out of the darkness, salvation appeared. The guys had flagged down a local fisherman with a 4WD who towed us out…not without a bit of a smile either. Rotten tourists. We weren’t the first lot he’d towed out either.

Probably the worst part of this story, is that it along with the photos have been buried for almost 30 years. My kids have never seen them and boy did they have a laugh at my expense, especially our son who is about to head off and get his Learner’s Permit. My pathetic map reading skills and zero sense of direction are legendary around here, and this was just the icing on the cake. Trust Mum!

Indeed, while I can have a laugh at our ordeal, driving into a sand dune is even way too cringe-worthy for me, although I was but a humble passenger at the time.  Well, as the only Australian in the car, I could well have been the navigator and that in itself could well have been our undoing. I get lost even when I turn the map around the right way. Anyway, about five years later, I returned to Western Australia and all of this was well and truly swept under the carpet. Pinnacles? What Pinnacles? Moreover, I’ve never returned to the town of Grey either.

Do you have an Xtraordinary travel story? Please share in the comments down below and add any links.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – Finding Normal In A Crazy World

As a parent of school aged teenagers, the issue of when they should return to school is a serious consideration and I know many of my friends are also wondering what is best.
My friend Maria works as a teacher in Sweden and shares her experiences in this very interesting Coffee Share post, and the comments which follow and the banter back and forth are also very interesting. It reminds me just how much I love being part of an international blogging community where I can get own out my own head, beyond my own backyard and gain more of a global perspective.
Best wishes,
Rowena

Sagittarius Viking

smart

Welcome to another virtual coffee date. Yesterday I tried a new type of coffee, I already forgot the fancy name. . you whisk together equal parts of sugar, hot water, and instant coffee. You whisk it for a long time until it becomes very fluffy. I tasted it at work in our break room, and it was really good. Tasted sort of like a creamy espresso. My colleagues enjoyed it with milk, I thought it tasted better without milk. A very small amount of this very potent coffee gave me tons of energy that lasted all afternoon yesterday. I’m sure I could whisk some together if you’d like to try! How hard could it be? Would you like to try?

Speaking of work, this was the first week of only outdoor activities. It was fun, intense, and the kids really enjoyed themselves. The days consisted of a lot…

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Weekend Coffee Share – 27th April, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share.

How are you all holding up under the varying strains of the coronavirus? Although they’re calling it a pandemic, it’s not affecting all countries equally and there’s also such a variation in how it affects those who’ve become infected, that there’s far from a shared, universal experience.

I suspect I’ve now been in lock down now for about six weeks with Geoff and the kids being home for four. The kids have been on school holidays for the last two weeks, although I don’t really feel it’s quite fair to call what they’ve had “a holiday”. It’s really been more of a continuation of limbo, and at times lock down feels very much like being in jail. Australia’s a pretty mellow country most of the time, however, Police powers have ramped up and we are living in a Police state. Of course, it is for our own good, and some idiots need to be controlled by external forces. However. that doesn’t mean we need to like it.

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A sign of the times- local picnic table wrapped up in red tape to due social; distancing restrictions.

I’ve also been getting a bit annoyed with people in the media calling this the worst thing that’s happened. It’s not. There are still survivors from Jewish concentration camps alive. There are still others who went through the horrors of WWII. Our recent bush fires here in Australia, have affected us a lot more than the cononavirus has so far. I simply don’t see the need for them to turn this crisis into anything bigger than it already is. It’s already bad enough.

What we have really enjoyed and appreciated lately on TV, has been two music specials. There was One World Together At Home organized by Lady Gaga. However, we also had our own Australian version, Music from the Home Front which was held on the night of our ANZAC Day to honour those who have served our country in war as well as those in our hospitals who are the front line warriors in the battle against Covid 19. Fortunately, the Australian concert overcome the sound engineering difficulties which made it difficult to hear some of the performers in the world concert. I absolutely loved it, and much preferred the Australian concert. These were my people.

I have also been getting out for “My Walk”. By the way, you can put that up there in lights. Due to my health issues, Geoff is doing all the shopping and the odd bit of other running around. So, the only time I’m legally allowed to leave the house, is to go for my walk. If I didn’t know better, I’d be thinking this was some sort of conspiracy between my physio and the WHO. She’s been trying to get me to go for a daily walk for years. Of course, in the end I had to accept that this was fake news. As if the physio could conjure up the coronavirus and kill all these innocent people just so that Rowena  in distant Australia would finally go for her daily walk.

However, while there are some days where I can’t be bothered and doing exercise comes  with its usual expletives. However, I’ve also found there’s a fine, almost imperceivable line between being a proud Super Sloth on the couch, and doing a Bruce Banner metamorphosis into the Incredible Hulk. Indeed, cabin fever’s snuck up on me a few times, usually late at night or when I’m trying to sleep. OMG! It’s unbelievable. It’s like an insatiable itch you just can’t scratch. I had a couple of really difficult days last week, where I felt totally trapped, and there was a blast of unbridled angst  surging through me body and soul. It was quite horrible and for awhile there I felt like I was going to self-destruct, only I’ve been through this before and knew I just needed to ride it out. That like all storms, this too would pass.

 

That’s why I’m trying get out for my walk most days now, and I’ve even taken the camera with me a couple of times. Last week, I went for a walk around the Woy Woy Waterfront right on dusk. The sun was setting and I managed to get some beautiful photos of the orange sun setting behind the silhouette of the wharf. I also spotted some kind of white crane, which was quite resistant to letting me get close up for that knockout shot. It was also rather confronting seeing the local playground closed up due to the virus and there was one park bench in particular which brought it all home. It was wrapped up in so much red tape, it could have been a government department. The mannequins all lined up in the opportunity shop, also seemed rather eerie and goodness knows how long they’re going to be shut away behind the glass.

Umina Beach from Pearlie

A Paddle-boarder making the most of social isolation.

Later on in the week, I went for a walk at nearby Pearl Beach. I’ve been finding the repetitive routine of simply walking down the road to our beach a bit tiresome and I’ve needed a change of scenery. I went walking with my usual coffee and writing buddy Roland, who is in his 70’s and lives alone. Whil we were there, a kookaburra came right up behind us and sat on the park bench. I was pleased Roland pointed it out and the kookaburra didn’t seem at all camera shy, although it did seem to be looking for a feed.

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Kookaburra close up at Pearl Beach. 

I’ve also been continuing through the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. My theme this year is Places I’ve Been, which I chose to overcome the claustrophobia of being locked down at home. I’ve accomplished quite a lot, and it’s great to have collated this collection of my personal travel stories. It’s actually helped me to appreciate how much I love travel and exploring places both through the lens and my pen, and how that hasn’t changed although I haven’t been overseas for almost twenty years. It’s been such a long time, and something I fully intend to rectify once these travel bans are lifted. This jail bird will be fleeing the coup!!

The series has also re-engaged me with blogging, which is good. It’s been an excellent tonic during the madness of the covid 19 pandemic and it’s helping to keep me somewhat sane.

 

W – Whale Beach, Australia…A-Z Challenge.

For those of you who’ve ever been to Whale Beach, I can hear you calling loud and clear: “What are you talking about? That’s not Whale Beach!!”

However, today I decided to challenge your sense of the perspective of place. Instead of just viewing Whale Beach from it’s classic postcard perspective with its rocky headlands at each end and the sandy beach in between, we’re tracing snail trails across a rock pool on the Southern headland. I’ve always loved tracing and photographing their curly trails. They’re so creative, and seem to reflect my state of mind. There’s no such thing as a straight line from A to B.

ferry

Palm Beach Ferry

After that brief explanation, I’d like to welcome you back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 A-Z Challenge and as you already know, we’re heading off to Whale Beach.

Whale beach Map

A Map of Northern Sydney with Whale Beach top right.

It’s a bit of a complicated trip, and we’ll be catching  the ferry from Ettalong to Palm Beach, which will take us across Broken Bay with stunning views across to Lion Island. From Palm beach we’ll be getting a lift to Whale Beach, which is not the easiest place to reach via public transport. However, that’s also part of its quaint appeal. It has a very relaxed village feel, and doesn’t get the crowds during the Summer peak.  Indeed, many of the dwellings here are weekenders and while these blow-ins might live someone else, they’re largely considered locals, at least among themselves.

Whale Beach

Whale Beach looking North. CC BY-SA 4.0

I know “Whaley” very well. Indeed, it’s been my home. Our family used to have a house on Whale Beach Road, just across from the beach. Well, there was the slight matter of needing to climb up 200 stairs to get back to the house. That could be very challenging. Yet, there was a spot roughly halfway, where you could turn around, pause, and point out the view and distract your friends from your acute shortage of breath. It was often my salvation, not that I was that unfit even back then. Let’s just say there were a lot of stairs and they did go straight up!!

Whale Beach trike

Trike Heading Out To Sea, Whale Beach (looking South). 

My parents bought the place at Whale Beach, while I was still at uni. Unfortunately, I didn’t drive. So, unless I was with friends, I had to catch the dreaded 190 bus from Wynyard Station, which grunted along for at least 90 minutes from point to point, and that doesn’t factor in the steep walk from Surf Road straight over the top of the hill to reach Whale Beach Road. It might not be one of the world’s tallest peaks, it was a pretty decent climb.

Whale Beach Estate 1928

However, since my parents’ sold the house about twenty years ago, we won’t be revisiting the old house, and we’ll be heading straight down Surf Road to the beach. Indeed, I forgot to tell you we have a surfboard on the roof and we could even be driving a Kombi. Not a splitty, because that’s well beyond our price range, and I suspect we’re driivng something rustically unreliable. After all, that’s the less than romantic reality of being a true Kombi owner these days.

 

 

Whale Beach is a surf beach, especially at the Northern end where there’s a cool rip called “The Wedge”. I’m not even going to pretend that I know what that’s about. However, I have photographed quite a few surfers down there over the years. Watched them sitting on their boards bobbing up and down like corks waiting for the wave, while their faithful mutts sit on the beach waiting. At least, that’s how it used to be back in the day. Dogs off the leash are probably incarcerated now. Hey, even the humans are in trouble these days thanks to the coronavirus. A couple of footballers made headlines and were fined for flauting social distancing today. However, even I’m getting itchy feet and I have more incentive than most for staying put, and that doesn’t include sitting on Whale Beach and contemplating life, the universe and everything. Rather, these days have to revamp the walk and talk into some kind of walk and think. Is it possible? I’m not convinced. It’s certainly not easy to walk and write, although I could possibly argue that writing is work and the beach is my office, just as long as I stay away from Bondi!

Whale Beach Feet

Anyway, let’s rewind a little. As I said, my parents owned the house while I was at uni. So, of course, there were parties, usually with a ratio of way too many blokes to girls. There was love and heartbreak, not just for myself but also my friends. There were lonely stretches staying there for weeks at a time all by myself, but resulted in prolific writing and no doubt long hours talking on the phone. However, every night as regular as clockwork, a light switched on at the Southern end of the beach. The light fell right across the breakers and snaked around with the waves. It was absolutely magnificent and a memory which almost defined my soul and brought me such peace. Joy doesn’t need to cost the earth or be high tech.

Whale Beach also became a place of solace. Somewhere we could take friends who were going through tough times, and even combusting with self-inflicted angst. We’d walk along the beach or walk around to Palm Beach. It was a place of gentle, compassionate healing and casting all your cares off the cliffs and out to sea. For many of us, myself included, there was a Christian spiritual aspect to this, but I can’t speak for the rest. People from many walks of life came to the house, and had their own beliefs. It was not not a place of judgement, at least, from my perspective.

Rainbow Lorrikeets

A Pair of Rainbow Lorrikeets Having A Cup of Tea on the Balcony.

Before I head off, I just want to tell you about some extra special visitors to the house. There are the birds, especially the Rainbow Lorrikeets. They’re absolutely beautiful and ever so friendly with their sweet chatter.

Whale Beach is why we live at Umina Beach. It’s Whale Beach on a beer budget.

Have you ever been to Whale Beach? What did you love about it? Mind you, from my point of view, what is there not to love?

Best wishes,

Rowena

V- Places I’ve Played My Violin.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, which is rapidly drawing to a close. I had considered heading to Victoria, and was going to write about visiting the vineyards of Australia’s Hunter and Barossa valleys. However, as experienced in previous posts, I’ve been having a lot of trouble digging up my old photos and so I decided to bail. So, instead, I’m writing about where I’ve played my violin, although I’ll also throw in my daughter’s grand violin performance, which humbles mine completely. Indeed, I’ve become her humble shadow.

Violin & concert violinist music

My violin journey began as a child when I was learning Suzuki violin from Yvonne Gannoni, who I recently found out had studied at the Royal Academy of Music and had stellar talent. In the 1970’s, she was teaching Suzuki violin from her home in Pymble on Sydney’s North Shore and also at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains. What I remember most about her, however, is her bright blue eye shadow and colourful kaftans. At least, I think they were kaftans, and they sort of fit in with the era. She was a larger than life, flamboyant figure who held her annual concerts at nothing less than the Sydney Opera House, where groups of students would perform the Suzuki repertoire. It was in hindsight, absolutely fabulous.

It was my brother who was truly learning violin from Miss Gannoni, while I was learning the piano from my beloved Mrs Gaut. However, I had to wait for my brother’s lessons to finish and somewhere along the way, I decided to take up the violin. Unfortunately, my efforts at the violin were very short-lived as I couldn’t get either my head or my fingers around how to hold the bow. I think I stuck at it for a year and that was that. Unfortunately, in that very short time, I never made it to the Opera House.

family playing violin

The family playing violin from Suzuki Book 1 in 2012.

That could well have been the end of my love affair with the violin. However, when I was around 25 and working in the city, I was walking through Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building and heard a busker playing Meditation By Massinet. Ever reflective and tinged with melancholy, this piece of music was absolutely magnificent and seemed to be playing my soul song at the time. I even bought his CD, which was very unusual for me.

violin birthday cake

I was quite surprised when my mum ordered me a violin cake for my birthday in 2012. It was something of a premonition! Good on you Mum!

Fast-forwarding to 2012, our daughter begged us to learn the violin. I wasn’t altogether sold on this, because the general consensus was that the piano would be a better first instrument. Moreover, with my mother being a piano teacher, accompanist and former student of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and my grandmother being a concert pianist, the piano was a natural destination. However, the piano never really spoke to me in the same way it moved my moher and grandmother and my cousin is a cellist. So,  contrary to my upbringing, there were other instruments and you didn’t HAVE to learn the piano. You could diversify.

Amelia Violin

That’s how we found ourselves one afternoon in term one 2012 with my daughter kitted out with her eighth size violin. At least, I’m pretty sure it was an eighth. The teacher offered for me to sit in. I didn’t know this at the time and her teacher wasn’t Suzuki trained, however, part of Suzuki’s approach is for the mother to play and for the child to play alongside the mother and learn music in the same way they almost seem to absorb language. Anyway, when we came home, it soon became clear that my help was required and that year of Suzuki training I’d had under the Great Yvonne Gannoni was being summoned back from the very deepest depths of memory. We pulled Geoff’s grandfather’s violin out of storage and that was to be my instrument until the Ebay violin arrived from China and I later moved onto the Stentor I still play today.

As it turned out, our daughter’s relationship with he violin at age 6 was short-lived. After a very passionate start, we went way and when she came home, her violin was screeching like a dying cockatoo, which not only assaulted her ear drums, but also her pride. The end didn’t come quietly or through neglect, but rather stormy angst and heartfelt tears. I continued on with her lessons until the end of term and kept going.

At the end of the year, the music school held their annual concert at a rather impressive local music venue, Lizottes, which was owned by Australian rock legend Diesel and his brother and all sorts of famous local and international acts had performed there…along with little old me in our violin ensemble. As we hung out together in the “red room” downstairs, we had a taste of the big time and boy it felt good, even better once we hit the stage. It was exhilarating. I even won an award.

Perhaps, it was the thrill of this success, which gave this novice and not very proficient violinist the pluck to pose with her violin outside Byron Bay Lighthouse. Indeed, this was actually more the photographer in me than the “budding” musician. Aside from the Sydney Opera House, what better backdrop could you ask for? I was just hoping against all hope, that nobody asked me to play. Boy, that would’ve had been scuttling off for cover, which of course they did. OMG!!! What was I thinking?

Anyway, I still haven’t made it to the Sydney Opera House. As the years go by, and my hopes rapidly fade of ever pulling off that much needed 10,000 hours of practice before I’m beyond a Zimmer frame, I’m now needing to find a fresh sense of purpose for my violin. Indeed, I need to find a tribe, which is not so easy where we live, especially when I’m not getting a lot of practice in.  My lessons are currently on hold due to the coronavirus, and I’m reconsidering everything. I need to find a way forward, which is seriously heading off along the road less travelled. It would be so much easier if I played the guitar. However, I’m a violinist. It’s a different sound, which comes from a different place, and I don’t want to lose that precious part of me. Somehow, I need to hold on.

Rowena on stage

Performing at an in-house concert last year.

Have you ever learned the violin? Or, perhaps you have a favourite piece of violin music? Or, you play something else? Or, you might even hate the violin and it’s dreadful screechings and squarkings. You don’t need to tell me just how vile a violin can sound, particularly in the early days. I know!!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

U – Umina Beach, Australia…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’re off to Umina Beach, which isn’t very far away for me at all. It’s actually only 700 metres down the road.

Indeed, Umina Beach is home. Geoff and I moved up here almost 20 years ago to buy our first home. Despite what we thought would be a quick renovate and flip, we’re still here. In fact, we haven’t finished those renovations, and what we did manage to get done back at the beginning, needs to be re-done. After all, fixing up a fixer-upper is a lot like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. By the time you finally reach the finish, you need to  start painting at the beginning again.

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Zac at the beach a few weeks ago.

Geoff and I didn’t plan to leave Sydney, or even buy a place in Umina Beach. We’d started looking around real estate in Sydney, but came up to Umina Beach to visit our niece and this place was for sale two streets away. This massive decision was all very spontaneous, although you could also say it was meant to be. However, as we’ve found out, this decision was a lot more far-reaching than deciding where to camp for the night. Although Sydney’s only an hour down the road and Geoff commutes there for work, it’s not the same as actually living there.  It’s taken me quite a long time to call Umina Beach home, and I still consider myself a Sydney person. This region is considered part of Greater Sydney. However, when I was alone at home with the new baby and Geoff was commuting to Sydney and away most of the day, I really felt that distance. However, through getting involved in Church, playgroups and community action groups, that started to change. By the time the kids started school and I was also working part-time for a local IT company, I felt a lot more settled. Through living there, we’ve managed our mortgage on one income, without being enslaved to the mighty mortgage which is the norm in Sydney. It’s naturally a lot more relaxing around here with the beach at one end of the street and flat, inland water suitable for sailing and kayaking down another. Can’t complain about that!

 

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

So, after that rather lengthy introduction, you must be wondering if we’re ever going to make it to the beach. My apologies. I can take all of this a bit for granted what with living here all the time. However, before we hit the beach, I need to make a quick distinction between the name of the place and the names of the beaches around here. The place is called Umina Beach, but the beach itself is divided into Ocean Beach, which is just down from our place, and Umina Beach to the West. However, it’s all one expanse of golden sand and a fabulous place to go for a walk. There’s even a designated dog beach.

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Our son racing at Nippers, a junior form of life saving. 

In so many ways, the beach is our cultural hub and a true blue melting pot where lifesavers, swimmers, walkers, dogs, kids and seagulls all congregate, exercise and relax. We’ve taken the kids down to the beach from the time they were born, and held them into the frolicking waves, until they were old enough to hold their hands and eventually join Nippers, along with many of the other local kids on a Sunday morning. Now, our daughter goes down to the beach with her friends and Geoff and our son prefer sailing. I have done some swimming, but am better known as walker and dog walker, although there can also be a bit of talk with that as well.

The set of photos above were taken in November 2007 celebrating Geoff’s Birthday.

Our beach has had some rough times over the years. Rough storms have removed tonnes of sand, ripped out rows of native trees and extensive remediation works have been undertaken to halt the damage. The road around the beach front was even closed off for awhile there, as there were concerns it too could fall in the drink. I don’t think this situation has really stabilised but it might’ve improved.

Geoff & Rowena

Just off Umina Beach, there’s the Umina Precinct Park, which as a dream come true for the local action group I belonged to when the kids were small. Back then, even getting a local park with a fence seemed like an impossible pipe dream. However, council came onboard and the project snowballed into a regional park and tourist attraction. This was well beyond our wildest dreams, and I should remember this when a situation seems hopeless. Never give up!

Flamin Ron the World’s Hottest Chilli Pie on TV

However,  every town has to have its personality. It’s claim to fame. For Umina Beach, this comes in the form of pastry chef, Ron Bruns from the Bremen Patisserie and his infamous pie… the Flamin Ron, the world’s hottest chilli pie. While I know Ron quite well and love his almond croissants and bee sting cake, I’ve never even considered dipping my little finger into one of these pies, let alone tried to eat one. In case you’re wondering whether this pie is as ruthlessly hot as it claims, you actually need to sign a legal waiver beforehand. So, that’s warning enough for me. However, despite local horror stories, there are still mighty warriors willing to take on the Flamin Ron challenge blow the consequences. This includes Richard, who tells a wonderful  tale

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Woy Woy Air Strip extending down to Umina Beach with Lion Island right in front of the runway. 

While I was putting together this post, I did some historical research, hoping to find some historical detail of interest. After all, if you’ve been following me throughout this series, you’ll know how much I love jumping into my time machine, travelling back in time beyond the present day. It’s somewhat well-known around here that there used to be an air strip through town. I couldn’t have told you exactly where it was. However, that’s what Google’s for and the old newspapers.

This brings us to the Woy Woy Airstrip, which was built during WWII along with an aerodrome. The runway extended from Woy Woy down in a straight line along what’s now Trafalgar Avenue into Umina Beach, ending about a street away from our place. During WWII, the air strip was even used by US bombers. You can read more about it here  at All Things Woy. 

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Imagine this crashing into your roof. Luckily, no one was home when a Tiger Moth crashed into a Umina home in 1950. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

However, our street wasn’t always a street away from trouble. On the 4th November, 1950 long a few life times before we moved in, a Tiger Moth plane crash landed into a house at the end of the street. Of course, 70 years down the track, having a Tiger Moth crash land in your street sounds particularly exciting (especially after being in lock down for at least 6 weeks!!), although I should also point out that the pilot was injured. The plane crashed into the roof, and as the pilot wandered out in a dazed state, he fell 15ft  off the roof. Fortunately, residents Mr and Mrs Henson were away visiting their daughter in Sydney at the time. The plane crashed right on dinner time, and it’s almost certain they would have been killed. So, there’s something more I learned on my travels during the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Couple Ocean Beach best

Sunset at the beach

Well, it’s now time to leave Umina Beach behind and get a bit of shut eye before our adventures start up again in the morning. Indeed, I might need to stay home for awhile after all this travel is over. What I would give to sleep in my own bed again, instead of tramping along the road from hotel to hotel.

Oh, that’s right. I haven’t been anywhere at all. It’s just me, myself and I stuck inside these same four walls along with Geoff, two teenagers and three dogs.

Humph! We’re definitely in need of a holiday!!

How are you holding up in isolation? Where would you like to go? My list is just getting longer and longer. However, due to my health, my movements are particularly restricted. So, right now even being able to walk into a local shop to buy some chocolate has become an impossible dream. That said, I’m certainly not going without. Hoarding chocolate hasn’t become a crime.

Take care & stay safe!

Best wishes,

Rowena

T- Toowoomba, Queensland…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my travel series for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge where we’re taking a virtual tour of Places I’ve Been.

In case it hasn’t already come to your attention, this list of places seems extremely random and looks like something plucked out of a lucky dip. However, trying to allocate a place to every letter has been challenging, and I’ve also tried to give a broad smattering overview of where I’ve been within these constrains. However, I’ve still managed to leave out two entire countries…China and Hong Kong. That does seem a little unfair. However, they had some stiff competition. Well, perhaps I should’ve written about China, instead of Canberra. However, that would also have meant going looking for photos from 1989, and I wouldn’t know where to start.

Today, we’re leaving Sydney behind and travelling up North via the M1 Motorway and veering off at Hexham onto the New England Highway, which is generally known as “the inland route”. Toowoomba is is only 864 km up the road. So, we’ll be there in around 10 hours give or take. However, since you’re travelling with the likes of me, it could take a hell of a lot longer, and they could well be sending out a search party long before we arrive. I’m well-known for stops, which encompasses everything from: “Hey, look there’s a Kookaburra” to multiple toilet stops. I always end up regretting that cup of tea before we hit the road.

So, out of all the cities starting with T, why did I bring you to Toowoomba?

Great Grandparents Haebich mama and kids toowoomba

Toowoomba looking out towards Table Top Mountain in 1948. My mother is pictured front left with her mother, Ruth Haebich (Gordon). The older couple are her parents in-law, Clara and Ed Haebich, from Hahndorf, South Australia. Due to war time restrictions on travel, they’d been unable to get to Queensland for my grandparents and I think this was the first time they actually met my grandmother and the kids.

Well, I could’ve taken you to Terrigal, one of our local beaches. However, we went to Sydney yesterday, and I’m going local tomorrow. Besides, we really liked Toowoomba with it’s panoramic views, crisp mountain air and old-world, country charm. While it’s known as the “Garden City”, it could well be known as Queensland’s “Mountain City”. That said, at a mere 800 metres above sea level, that’s more like a hill by international standards. However, when you live in a country that’s almost as flat as a pancake, you’ve got to be thankful for whatever altitude you’ve got and it doesn’t take much for a mole hill to be reclassified.

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We timed our visit to Toowoomba well and caught some stunning Autumn leaves.

Although we’re approaching Toowoomba from the South, it’s also located 125 km west of Brisbane by road. The estimated urban population of Toowoomba as of June 2015 was 114,622. There’s a university and it also hosts the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers each September and there are more than 150 public parks and gardens in Toowoomba. Considered the capital of the Darling Downs, it’s also developed into a regional centre for business and government services.

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Although I’ve been through Toowoomba onboard the McCafferty’s bus to visit my late grandparents in Ipswich more than I’ve actually stopped off, I’ve actually been to Toowoomba a couple of times and really liked it, the views and the crisp mountain air. I had a friend who lived in Toowoomba who I actually met on one of these McCaffertys bus trips. Finding out we were both writers, we had a lot to talk about. Indeed, I think we talked all night along with the two we palled up with in the seat in front. Anyway, I ended up getting a bit of a tour and really liked the place.

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The Office Building, Concordia College, Towoomba.

I also have family connections to Toowoomba and the surrounding region. My Mum’s two younger sister were both born in Toowoomba while my grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, was Acting Principal of Concordia College in Toowoomba. It was a Lutheran co-ed boarding school , which does seem rather progressive for the times but it was strict. One of my grandfather’s many stories was about how he’d tell the students:  “girls you can be friends with boys, and boys you can be friends with girls, but if we see you pair up, you’ll soon find one of us alongside you.” We’ve always felt this was a very sensible, enlightened approach, especially for the 1940s.

6-Big house or school

A photo of the rear of school taken by my grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, back in 1948 before the world went colour.

Anyway, all of this brings me to a family day trip we had to Toowoomba back in 2010. Back then, our son was six years old and our daughter was four and let’s just say Geoff and I were also a bit younger. We were staying with friends just outside Ipswich and having fond memories of my first visit to Toowoomba and loving the mountains, I thought we’d head up for a day trip. As usual, our trip wasn’t planned and was rather spontaneous. However, I did want to see Concordia College. I’d seen the photos of my mum and her older brother standing in front of the school gate when they were roughly the same age my kids were at the time. There were rows of Bunya trees and it was just a very quintessentially Queensland scene and my mother was part of it.

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My grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, centre stage.

However, when we approached the school office, I never expected we’d be given a tour of the school grounds, and I actually saw my grandfather’s portrait hanging on the wall alongside the other past principles. I was pretty chuffed about that. However, I should also point out that I had Master 6 and Miss 4 in tow,  and while you’d expect a school to be somewhat understanding of young kids, we were there representing my mother’s family. You know the old-style hat and gloves brigade. My grandmother always used to sit perfectly still perfectly still with her hands carefully folded on her lap,  as though she she was sitting on a stage all the time. After all, especially back then, that’s what it was like for a minister’s family. They lived under the microscope 24/7, especially in smaller communities. You either had to be good, or you had to develop a very good veneer.

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Photos of previous headmasters on display in the boardroom. My grandfather’s photo is second from the left. Thank goodness the kids were give the freedom to draw on the white board. Could you just imagine the horror of them drawing on these beautiful and rather stately walls?!!!

However, my kids didn’t know much at all about that, or sitting still. Instead, the college grounds probably seemed like one big playground to them and somewhere to run around. Indeed, to really put you in the picture, when we’d had lunch in a park in town, our son found a dead bat and thought it was absolutely fascinating. Just beautiful!

Above: My mother and her brother at the college in 1948 and our kids in 2020.

However, our tour of the school went really well, and I must commend their Public Relations Officer for being understanding and empathetic with the kids. She was beautiful!!

Jonathon & Amelia Toowoomba

The kids stepped back in time at the Cobb & Co. Museum.

Another great place we went was the Cobb & Co. Museum. If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re rather fond of museums. Moreover, when the kids were small, we were particularly found of museums which knew how to educate and occupy the kids and make learning fun.

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I just had to sneak in this very cute photo of our son with a galah puppet at the Cobb & Co. Museum.

Geoff and I are also serious history buffs and what with my  local German cultural heritage, I was particularly interested to find out more about the early days of settlement. Back then, I didn’t really think too much about how my ancestors might’ve displaced the Aboriginal people or even been a part of frontier conflict. It’s amazing how you can store your knowledge in separate files, and it can take awhile for the information to jump across.

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Our son climbs aboard a kid-sized Cobb & Co Coach in the play area. The kids had so much fun here.

Lastly, I just want to mention a great place we went to on the way up to Toowoomba, the Spring Bluff Railway Station and the Spring Bluff Cafe.It’s really worth a visit and the cafe had incredible old world charm and real artistic flair.

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Just a few stairs up to the very quaint Spring Bluff Cafe, which is housed in the former Stationmaster’s house.

 

Well, I hope you enjoyed our brief trip to Toowoomba.

The A-Z Challenge is now starting to come to an end. I must admit it’s been a wonderful diversion during social isolation, and I’ve loved revisiting all these incredible places I’ve been. It’s also allowed me to collate a lot of personal and collective family memories and has been very productive from that point of view. I’m often so focused on trying to dig up stories from the past, that I can forget to jot down and organize our stories from the present, which probably meant a lot more to the living, that those of the dead.

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Thought you might be needing a hot chocolate for the road from the Spring Bluff Cafe  before we leave.

How are you going with the A-Z Challenge? I’m sorry that I haven’t visited very much. Geoff and I have both found ourselves much busier than usual in lock down and it’s been hard to juggle all the balls in the air.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

S- Sydney Harbour…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my travel series for the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, Places I’ve Been. Today, we sail into glorious  Sydney Harbour, undoubtedly one of the most stunningly beautiful places we’ve been so far, and for me, it’s home. Well, not exactly home, as I’ve never had the privilege of living right on the Harbour. However, it’s close enough.

Rowena Sydney Harbour Bridge

This photo was taken at Lavender Bay on the Northern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you can see the ferris wheel at Luna Park beneath the bridge. As you can see, I wasn’t too well when this photo was taken. 

Today,  our journey sets out from Circular Quay. On our left, there’s the grand spanning arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, colloquially known as “the Coathanger” and on the right, we’re chugging past the majestic white sails of the Sydney Opera House. All of this is jaw-droppingly beautiful. However, for daily commuters heading across the bridge on the train, the harbour is often little more than a fuzz while they’re reading the newspaper, tinkering on their phones or simply trying to keep their noses free from a stranger’s armpit.

Soon, we pass a small island, Fort Denison which is a former penal site and defensive facility occupying a small island located north-east of the Royal Botanic Gardens and approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) east of the Opera House. The island was formerly known in its indigenous name of Mat-te-wan-ye, and as Pinchgut Island. I’ve never been there. However, my mother took each of our kids there when they were younger for a special lunch.

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A yacht sailing on Sydney Harbour viewed from Mosman.

Oh dear. I’m not too sure where we should proceed and it’s impossible for me to point out places on the left and right of the harbour with such a vast expanse of water in between. Particularly, as you may recall, when I’m so spatially challenged and really don’t want to screw it up.

So, being ANZAC Day where Australia commemorates it’s service men and women who’ve served during all armed conflicts, I thought I’d stop pointed out the window and jump in my time machine instead. Take you back to the evening of the 31st May, 1942 when the Japanese Imperial Navy sent three midget submarines into Sydney Harbour from larger submarines which were lurking outside the heads. These midget submarines were built for stealth, barely squeezing in two crew members each.

Midget sub attack Sydney harbour

Japanese Midget Submarine in Sydney Harbour.

The first midget sub entered Sydney Harbour at 8pm, but got caught up in anti-submarine nets and attracted the attention of the HMAS Yarroma and Lolita. Once they realised they’d been caught, the Japanese crew activated an explosive, deliberately sinking the vessel and killing themselves.

The second managed to sneak past the nets and fired two torpedoes, which hit a Sydney ferry, killing nineteen Australian and two British naval officers. It then received fire from a number of Australian vessels and managed to escape, but never made it back to the mother sub.

The third and final midget sub entered Sydney Harbour at around 11pm. By this time, Sydney was ready. It had six depth charges (anti-submarine weapons) dropped on it, and was presumed sunk, until it made a comeback four hours later and tried to fire its torpedoes.  Since it was pretty banged up, the attack was a bust and the submarine was sunk by allied ships at around 3am 1.

Clearly, these attacks caused a bit of excitement.

Two years after the war, the story of a Japanese pilot appeared in the paper. He’d flown a Zero straight through Sydney Harbour undetected the night before the midget submarine attacks. Not a comforting thought, especially when you consider that the attack came around 6 months after surprise Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on the 7th December, 1941. These were very dangerous and precarious times and when you look at the bridge, the Opera House and the bright blue water on a sunny day, it’s very hard to imagine that the war ever touched our doorstep..

It reads:

ATTACK ON SYDNEY – Japanese Story Of 1942 Raid

AUCKLAND, Tuesday (A.A.P.-Reuters). – Susumu Ito, proprietor of a little fish-ing tackle shop at Iwakuni, Japan, claims that he flew over Sydney Harbour the night be-fore the Japanese midget sub-marine attack on May 30, 1942. Ito, then a Japanese naval lieu-tenant, aged 24, told his story in Japan yesterday.

This is what he said:

“I was pilot of a Zero float-plane carried by a Japanese ocean-going submarine of 3,300 tons.

“We arrived off Mayor Island, Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), in pitch dark one morning late in May, 1942. Our submarine carried midget submarines which were designed to be used to attack naval ships at Auckland and Sydney.

AUCKLAND SLEPT

“Our warplane was launched from the submarine and I quickly reached Auckland. While the city slept I cruised overhead un-molested and never climbing above 1,000 feet. I was never challenged or disturbed by intercepting fighters.

“I soon located Devonport Naval Base and gave it special attention. For the better part of an hour I looked for warships, but found no-thing that would warrant attack by one of our midget submarines.

“I flew back to the mother sub-marine and reported that there were no warships at Auckland.

“The submarine commander then decided to proceed to Sydney. We crossed the Tasman and surfaced off Sydney Heads on May 29.

FLIGHT OVER SYDNEY

“Unlike Auckland, I found the Sydney air rather crowded. There were Australian planes doing night flying exercises, but I was not molested.

“The Australian pilots did not appear to notice me, although the long streamlined single float of my Zero should have been conspicuous.

“I sighted what I considered to be suitable targets in Sydney Harbour and lost no time in returning to the submarine and making my report.

“Midget submarines were released. Later I left in the mother submarine for Rabaul,”

Ito said he spent about an hour over Auckland. His flight over Sydney was “very much briefer.” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 16 July 1947, page 1

So, that all created a bit of excitement.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House viewed from a ferry looking East.

Perhaps, we’d better we’d better exit our time machine and go back to looking out the window. It’s a perfect, sunny, Sydney day.

Have you ever been to Sydney? Did she behave herself? Or did you experience four seasons in one day and possibly even a bush fire thrown in? I love you Sydney, but like all of us, she isn’t perfect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

Forgotten Sydney – The Attack On Sydney Harbour

https://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/japanese-midget-submarine-attack-sydney-harbour

Being There For Each Other…An ANZAC Day Tribute.

These days, it seems that ANZAC Day – the 25th April – is the only day almost universally held sacred and respected throughout Australia. ANZAC Day commemorates when the Australian and New Zealand forces first set foot at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli on the 25th April, 1915. However, it’s come to represent all Australians who’ve served in armed conflicts, because as we’ve unfortunately come to find out, the Great War wasn’t “the war to end all wars”.

Kids at the cenotaph

As Scouts, one or both of our kids have participated in the local ANZAC Day march for almost the last 10 years. In particular, they’ve marched in memory of Geoff’s Great Uncle Private Ralph French who was killed in action near Mont St Quentin 4th September, 1918.

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Geoff’s Uncle, Private  Ralph French 

However, Geoff also had his Uncle Jim who served at Gallipoli and Beersheeba with the lighthorse  and his brother Daniel served in the Sinai campaign in addition to Uncle Angus who he never met and Uncle Len. His grandmother also had one of the those embroidered French postcards from her cousin Jack Burke. Not so many served on my side of the family. There was my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey and the two Gordon brothers, Roland and Frank. That was WWI. Geoff’s Uncle Ralph and Uncle Walter both  served in New Guinea during WWII along with my Great Uncle, Jack Gordon. More recently, Geoff’s brother Terry was on the last ship to Vietnam and as a medic, nursed the injured returning home and at least one cousin served in the Gulf War.

Poppies Geoff Amelia Jonathon

Geoff and the kids find Uncle Ralph at the Australian War Memorial

So, as you could imagine, ANZAC Day weighs heavily on our hearts and we’ve done our utmost best to ensure our kids know what it’s about. WWI and almost WWII are drifting beyond living memory. So, it’s no longer a scenario of “lest we forget”. We need to pass on the stories and sow the seeds. Ensure the younger generations know what happened, the sacrifices and the importance of maintaining the peace, though not always at any cost.

Robert Ralph French cenotaph

This year, our don was supposed to be commemorating ANZAC Day at the dawn service at Villers Bretonneaux on the battlefields of France. I went into overdrive researching what our family members went through over there, so he wouldn’t be standing there like a dingaling not knowing what had happened. However, thanks to the coronavirus, his excursion was obviously cancelled along with ANZAC Day marches throughout Australia. It is a solemn time, and it’s quite significant that we can’t do ANZAC Day in the usual way. Indeed, we couldn’t even watch the march on TV, although no doubt the Dawn Service was televised and hopefully we can watch that again later tonight. We didn’t get up to light candles and stand at the end of the driveway. I don’t know if many people did it around here, but it didn’t feel the same and I thought I’d rather do something on my blog.

Jack Quealy WWI

My Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey

Anyway, while we were watching the ANZAC Day coverage on TV today, I heard this incredible poem describing a soldier’s dependence on “mateship”. I don’t know why I’ve never heard this poem before, because it’s a poem every Australian should know right alongside Waltzing Matilda and the Man From Snowy River. Indeed, even more so, because what it refers to as the male bond of “mateship” could just as easily be represented by words such as:  “friendship”, “trust”, “Compassion” and “love”. Values which are just as important at home, as on the battle field, and we have much to learn from the brave and selfless men and women who have served our people. Moreover, we can add to them, our brave fire fighters and the front line warriors battling the coronavirus along with the teachers caring for their children in our schools. From our home to yours, we thank you.

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Geoff’s Great Uncle, Major James Griffin.

So, after all that “Blah, blah, blah” (as my daughter would say), here’s the poem, followed by an actual story which lived out these lines in the trenches of WWI France.

MATES 

Duncan Harold Butler 1906-1987

I’ve traveled down some dusty roads, both crooked tracks and straight,
and I have learnt life’s noblest creed summed up in one word, “Mate”.
I’m thinkin’ back across the years, a thing I do of late
and these words stick between me ears “You gotta have a mate.”

Someone who’ll take you as you are regardless of your state
and stand as firm as Ayers Rock because he is your mate.
Me mind goes back to ’43 to slavery and hate
when man’s one chance to stay alive depended on his mate.

With bamboo for a billy-can and bamboo for a plate,
A bamboo paradise for bugs was bed for me and mate.
You’d slip and slither through the mud and curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word – “Don’t drop your bundle, mate.”

And though it’s all so long ago this truth I have to state,
A man don’t know what lonely means ’til he has lost his mate.
If there’s a life that follers this, if there’s a Golden Gate,
The welcome that I wanna hear is just “Goodonya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why we keep these special dates,
Like ANZAC Day, I tell ’em “Why? We’re thinkin’ of our mates.”
And when I’ve left the driver’s seat and ‘anded in me plates
I’ll tell Ol’ Peter at the door “I’ve come to join me mates.”

…..

From your soldier boy

Embroidered French Card.

As I mentioned, I wanted to share a story which exemplified the incredible bonds of mateship outlined in this poem. I stumbled across this story during my WWI research.

Coincidentally, two newspaper men crossed each other’s paths in training camp at Kiama (South of Sydney) before they left for the front. They were George Washington Brownhill journalist and proprietor of the Forbes Advocate, and Sergeant Ray Colwell, a journalist with the Daily Telegraph. While in training in the UK, Brownhill sustained a football injury to his leg, which effectively put him out of action. However, fortunately, he saw just enough service to write a series of informative articles and letters home. Indeed, in his case, the pen was certainly mightier than the sword and I am most grateful for that. Unfortunately Sergeant Ray Colwell, was killed in action on the 7th June, 1917 at Messines. Although he wasn’t with him at the time, George Brownhill wrote a glowing letter outlining their friendship to Ray’s parents:

LATE SERGT. RAY COLWELL

The following letter has been received by Chaplain Colwell from Sergeant-Major Brownhill, who was Sergeant Ray Colwell’s great friend from the time he entered camp at Kiama until his death at the front: — What would it be possible for me to write in any way to lessen your sorrow?

However, it may be a comfort to you to hear from me, who was your dear son’s constant companion and friend for almost the whole of the time that he was in the uniform of his King and country.

Something in me claimed him as a chum the first time I saw him at Kiama, and it pleases me to think that he responded. I liked and admired him, and thought of him almost as a brother. He was one of the whitest, straightest, and sweetest natured men I have ever known, or expect ever to know, and possessed many intellectual qualities that made his friendship a privilege. I never heard him express a wrong sentiment, and believe that he never harboured one.’ He was kind and thoughtful to a degree in his dealings with his fellow-men and soldiers, and every member of the reinforcements of which he and I were members loved and admired him.

To me personally he was tender when he might have been harsh, thoughtful and patient when he might have been any thing else, and always a clean-thinking, clean-living, honest fellow, whose companionship I delighted in.

Ray left England for France a little earlier than I did, but I joined up with him at Bapaume, got apportioned to the same section and tent, and together, side by side, we marched into our battalion’s share in the great engagements at Bullecourt. There we were in the trenches for two days and the best part of three nights, during which time we were subjected to heavy enemy shelling, and the worst elements of snow and rain. We shared the same dug-out, helped one another in our work, kept together for protection against the cold, and exchanged confidences in the long watches of the night. When our platoon was relieved I was in a rather broken-down condition, and it was largely by Ray’s help that I got away from the danger zone.  The enemy seemed to guess our movements, and poured in a shower of shells as we crept away into the darkness. That was the time of all times when a man might have thought of himself first.

Ray, being strong and well, could have been one of the first out of the shell area, but his place was in the rear, helping his almost helpless friend, and cheering me on with words and actions of encouragement. He was a man all through the episode, and I will never forget how good he was to me, and how self-sacrificing.

Afterwards I was in hospital for a fortnight but then rejoined the battalion, and our comradeship was resumed in all its warmth, save that while he strong and buoyant, was out on parade each day, I remained on the sick list and in quarters. When the battalion was moved up to ‘the region of Messines I was sent back to hospital, and finally reached Le Havre; where a Medical Board declared me unfit for further active service, and I am now engaged in clerical work in our base depot office. It was thus that the ties of our mateship were severed, and thus that I was not with Ray at Messines.

Will it be any consolation to you to know that the end was instantaneous, and the agony of a lingering death was spared him? He died from wounds in the head, and he died as a soldier and a man, as brave, as kindly, and as good a fellow as ever wore the uniform’ of his country. And if he had had time for one last thought, it would have centred around the father and mother, his brothers and sisters, who were the all in all of his love and affection. An arm of aid to the weak, A friendly hand to the friendless; Kind words — So short to speak, But whose echo is endless. The world is wide— these things are so small — They may be nothing, but they are all.  Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 – 1954), Saturday 29 September 1917, page 7

Surely, there’s little doubt that everyone would love to have a friend like Ray!

Lest we forget!

Best wishes,

Rowena