Category Archives: art

Christmas 1921 with Ethel Turner and the Sunbeamers

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

After providing a brief sketch of the state of play during Christmas 1921 in my previous post, we’re now going to spend Christmas 1921 with famous English-Australian author, Ethel Turner, whose first novel: Seven Little Australians placed her up on the international literary stage. However, she also wrote 39 other novels, and of more relevance to us, she edited a string of children’s pages in various publications, and it’s here where we’ll be touching down.

Born on the 24th January, 1870, Ethel Turner was 51 years old in 1921, and a year younger than I am now. She was married to Judge Herbert Curlewis and they were living at their home in Avenel, Mosman, Sydney although they spent Christmas 1921 at Palm Beach. Daughter, Jean,  was twenty-three, and son Adrian was twenty and studying Law at Sydney University. By Christmas 1921, Ethel Turner had had 22 of her handwritten  novels published, and King Anne was her offering for the year. She was famous.

However, for Ethel Turner it wasn’t the empty fame of celebrity. Rather, there was a strong sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference, and do good. While I can be dangerous to interpret Three Little Maids as being purely biographical, there is also much truth and Dolly (who is said to be Ethel) made this statement about becoming an author: “One night…I felt I must do something. I felt I couldn’t just go on doing little things always,-staying at home and helping, and going to dances, and playing tennis. I used to think I should like to go as a missionary, – not to China, of course, only somewhere here where people were very poor and miserable. But that night I didn’t seem to want anything but to write books that people would love to read, and that might do them some good.[1]

This aspect of Ethel Turner is often lost….the visionary, the world-changer, the woman who had experienced financial hardship as a child and relocated across the world for a better life, worked hard and overcome. She’s simply viewed through the lens of Seven Little Australians as though she were a one book wonder. However, it appears that the massive difference she made to the lives of children through the series of children’s pages she edited has been forgotten, along with how she nurtured the artistic and literary abilities of younger generations through these pages. She was such an inspiration!

The trouble is that it’s very hard to condense an inspiration into a few lines or words to satisfy those who don’t want to immerse themselves more fully into the longer story. However, in this instance, can I caution you to sit down. Make yourself a cup of tea, and in the words of the great Molly Meldrum: “Do yourselves a favour!”

We’re going to pick up with Ethel Turner on the 20th November 1921.  Sunbeams had only been launched on the 9th October, 1921, and just over a month old, and still in the nest. Yet, that didn’t stop Ethel Turner from launching an ambitious plan to make a difference that Christmas:

“FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

ABOUT SUN FAIRIES

Dear Young People, — One of the many tastes we have in common, you and I, Is our love for conjuring tricks. Here is one I particularly want you to try. Take a child with the corners of its mouth right down and its eyes running over with tears (there are any amount of them in the hospitals and crowded back streets, alas). Go up close to it, and with a quick sleight-of-hand slip into its fingers a tiny doll as pretty as a fairy. In less than half a minute the eyes will dry and the mouth corners go up. This trick has never been known to fail. So now then, let us do it together. Your part is to buy a tiny celluloid doll or kewpie, dross it in something very fairylike — gay and pretty, or comical as an elf — put it in a, tiny box, and post or hand it in to “Sunbeams.” My part will be to find the children in the hospitals and back streets about Christmas time. I shall also examine the dolls carefully — we will call them Sun Fairies— and give three prizes of half-a-crown each to the three most attractive ones, and six “Sun” honor cards. You need send no coupon with this competition, as the doll will cost you anything from twopence to sixpence. Send December 1st.

Yours ever,

Ethel Turner[2]

Ethel Turner received an enthusiastic and touching response to her call for contributions. On the 11th December, 1921, she wrote:

“THE SUN FAIRIES

ROOMFUL OF WONDERFUL DOLLS DAME MARGARET DAVIDSON’S WINNERS

The response to the “Sun” fairies competition was splendid and many little “Sunbeams” will be cheered by the really wonderful little dolls sent in… It was a lovely spirit which prompted the competitors to send in the dolls — they were not concerned with winning prizes, but with doing something with their own hands which would give pleasure to children, to whom dainty dolls are a rare and precious luxury. Many of the children marked their entries: “Not sent in for a prize,” and pinned to almost every doll was a pretty little greeting to the recipient. They sat about all over the floor and the chairs and tables rather impatient in their boxes, just as trapped butterflies might be; they were eager to be gone upon their task of carrying sunshine. They were dressed in silk and spangles, in little frilly skirts of lace, in bridal gowns; in elf costumes; there were little mother fairies with tiny children around them, father fairies, fussy and important, fairies with opera cloaks on, and carrying bags; baby fairies, red riding hood fairies; one or two arrived with their beds and bedding, a few with suit-cases for the week-end and complete wardrobes. Wendy came, together with John and Michael, and Peter Pan. And wands! There were enough wands to have enchanted all Sydney and turned it to happy ways had they been held up. And no one, not any one, had forgotten the pretty little card with “From one Sunbeam to another” and other affectionate greetings. Dorothy Makin’s box of dolls, which won first prize, lacked only the bride groom to make the wedding party complete. But then it is so difficult to make a fairy-like creature of a man who should be dressed strictly in black. It was a rainbow wedding, and the bride chose ivory satin for her gown. She also had an overskirt of lace, and trimmed her whole frock with pearls. She wore the usual wreath and veil, and carried a bouquet of white blossoms and a fan. Her maids were frocked in rose, mauve, coral and eau-de-nil silk net, and wore quaint filets round their heads. Just by way of being different, they all carried fans instead of bouquets. Five little fairies, in five little boxes with five little Christmas cards, were sent by Betty Blake, who was second prize-winner. Betty dressed her fairies in white lace, showing beribboned petticoats. Glinting beads of gold and silver shone like spangles on the little dolls which will gladden the hearts of sick children on Christmas Day. Betty Grimm’s Sunbeamer was dressed in her party frock of rose-colored silk net, and she carried a lovely curling white feather fan. (But even fairies cannot live in party frocks all the time, so Betty sent along a box full of neatly made clothes for everyday wear, and did not forgot even a tiny tin of powder to powder her nose.[3]

Of course, this touching story of generosity and human kindness is not complete without hearing about the sun fairies final destinations:

THE SUN FAIRIES: How The Kiddies Loved Them”

I know that all of you who made a “Sun” Fairy will be delighted to hear how much joy they gave to the children who received them. Here are two letters which tell you all about them:–A.I.F. Wives and Children’s Holiday Association.

Furlough House, Narrabeen. Dear Sunbeams, — The dear little sun fairies arrived quite safely, and as fresh as when’ they left the designers’ hands. I am sure if the little donors could have seen the pleasure they afforded when received on Christmas Day they would be delighted to know they were indeed sun fairies in so much as they made radiance shine from each receiver’s face. With all good wishes to the Sunbeams from all the soldiers’ children at “Furlough House,” Yours sincerely, Ruby Fowle, Matron The second letter comes from Mrs Lyster Ormsby, who in the crowded streets of the city has for years sought to bring joy and sunlight into the lives of the little children there. Soup Kitchen for Little Children, 40 Burton-street, Darlinghurst. Dear Little Sunbeams,— I want to thank you for the dainty little ladies, fairies and babies the came to the Soup Kitchen during Christmas week. They came all neatly tucked away in a box, and was told they were to be given to some of the poor little’ girlies that I know as presents from “one Sunbeam to another. Well it happened that some of my little pals were hanging round when I unpacked your box and if you could have heard the “O-o-ohs” and “A-a-ahs” of admiration that came from them as I drew each dolly out of the box, you would have felt that you had sent a real sunbeam along. I gave your dollies away in many different quarters, and I feel sure you will be glad to know that each and every one received a warm and loving welcome from the new mistress. Among my little Soup Kitchen Girlies was one who has just left school and so felt too big for a doll. She always has a real live baby in mind-but still I could tell by the look in her face that she was just envying all the smaller girls; so I picked out a tiny kewpie doll that had been so prettily dressed in baby frills and I said: “I know you’re fourteen, Alice, and too big for dolls — (she thinks she is, you know) – but this is a Kewpie for luck and it goes on the rail of your bedstead. Would you like it?” She just loved it, and rushed off home to put it on her bed right away, “Good-bye, little Sunbeams, and a happy new year to you all from Inys Ormsby.[4]

And now we’ll back peddle just a little, and read Ethel Turner’s Christmas Day letter to her Sunbeamers:

A VERY MERRY XMAS FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

Christmas Day

Dear Young People,—

Do you know Anna? What Anna? Merry Christmas anna happy New Year. Yes, I know this is the seventh time you have been asked this same joke, but that is the best about Christmas Day, isn’t it, there is such a rosy, kindly light everywhere, that you are ready to smile seven times at anything and everything. I hope that you are, every one of you, as happy as larks to-day: the boy with the sixpenny humming top, as well as the one with the expensive aeroplane. Happiness, real lark-like happiness, isn’t a thing to be bought with money; it is a thing right inside you. There is really an amazing amount of it lying about free in a sunshiny land like this; believe me it is not shut up in those expensive toyshops, pleasant though those places are. Happiness is just a little light, bubbling thing that you make for yourself, just as the lark makes its song. Good-bye till next week. Do you know Anna?

The Sunbeamer[5]

I hope you have been each to absorb each of these letters word by word, and truly absorb an Ethel Turner who might appear idealistic, utopian and off with the very fairies she was passing on. However, aim low has never had much of a ring to it, has it?!! I personally found her sentiments so heart-warming and encouraging, and way too good to be lost for eternity in a bunch of newsprint.

So, I hope you and yours are managing to find some of that lark-like happiness this Christmas and carry it into the New Year as well.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin


[1] Ethel Turner, `Three Little Maids, pp 302-303.

[2] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 20 November 1921, page 2

[3] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 11 December 1921, page 2

[4] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 15 January 1922, page 2

[5] (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 25 December 1921, page 22

Revisiting Badde Manors Cafe, Glebe.

Tonight, a friend tagged me on a photo of Badde Manors Cafe in Sydney’s Glebe, saying she thought I used to hang out there. I was pretty impressed by her memory, because each of us used to go there in our past lives before our paths crossed with pre-schoolers and babies at playgroup. However, Badde Manors was that sort of place. It left an indelible impression.

The Famous Cherubs Perched Up On The Roof

Anyone who has frequented Badde Manors has their own story to tell. I first went there at the start of 1989 when my best friend from school and I moved into a two storey terrace house on Abercrombie Street, Chippendale. It was right on the pedestrian crossing on the rat run from Redfern Station into campus, and we could sit up on the balcony in varying stages of sobriety, and prospective and unrequited requited love and call out to friends passing by. It was like living at the very centre of the universe and being surrounded by friends, life and opportunity. Indeed, across the road was the Reasonably Good Cafe where I used to do poetry readings back in the day. It was all there right at our fingertips…as I said, back in the day.

It was our flatmate, Michael, who introduced us to Badde Manors. He was a fair bit older than us, and much more suave, sophisticated and urbane. My friend hailed from the Northern Beaches, and I hailed from the North Shore, which might have had prestige but was sadly lacking in street cred and that’s what mattered more. I was probably doing my usual thing and wearing stripes and Country Road. I wasn’t conservative on the inside, but as we all know, it’s the outside which matters.

Indoor mural

Anyway, I was probably awkward, and although I was going into second year and was no longer a “fresher” I still had much to discover in the world, and that included Badde Manors. Michael introduced us one Saturday morning as we went to the markets and Macro Wholefoods.

I can’t even remember what I used to order there. Some kind of chocolate cake no doubt. However, what comes to mind now, is returning to Badde Manors in October 2018 and absorbing the cafe through the lens as it was that day – a frozen time capsule. I haven’t been there since, but get the impression from the web site that it might have been renovated.

Even the bathroom door was one of a kind!

Anyway, as I said, a friend tagged me on a photo of Badde Manors Cafe tonight, prompting me to post this photographic tour down memory lane. I thought others might want to join me here.

I especially hope those of you who used to hang out at Badde Manors have enjoyed sharing this trip down memory lane with me. It would be great if you could leave a few stories – a great thing to do on a wet and windy Boxing Day night.

I look forward to hearing from you!’

Best wishes,

Rowena

These are all my own photos copyright Rowena Curtin 2018.

Floating With the Flannel Flowers.

Recently, photographs of the native flannel flower started appearing on friends’ Facebook feeds and as much as I’ve been a reclusive bear during Winter and enforced lockdown, the prospect of photographing flannel flowers lured me out of my cave. By the way, my trusty companion was also lured out. While fully vaccinated people in Greater Sydney have now gained considerable freedom, Geoff and I are still playing it safe due to my health and his work. However, you can’t catch covid from the trees…or these understated beauties, Flannel Flowers or Actinotus helianthi.

Closeup of the Flannel Flower

I don’t know why I find Flannel Flowers so captivating. They really do look rather ordinary, and to the best of my limited knowledge don’t seem to have any redeeming medicinal properties. While they’re more closely related to carrots, Flannel Flowers bear a striking resemblance to the garden variety daisy, and could easily pass under your radar. After all, when you compare them to the imposing Waratah with it’s grandiose red magnificence, or the masses of golden yellow flowers I’ve photographed recently illuminated by the glowing sun, they’re nothing much. Indeed, perhaps that’s why they’ve waited until all these beauties have done their thing before they make an appearance. At least, that’s how the timing has worked out here.

Yet, they’re still beautiful. Don’t ask me why. They just are.

Margaret Preston

Moreover, it’s not just me who fancies them, and finds them a source of inspiration. Artists, gardeners, photographers are somehow brought under its spell. Mesmerised. That includes artist Margaret Preston and much loved author/illustrator May Gibbs who created Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the Flannel Flower Babies.

May Gibbs’ Flannel Flower Babies.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be sharing MY walk with the flannel flowers, and what I viewed through the lens, NOT what appeared on someone else’s canvas or imagination.

We spotted this promising patch of would-be flannel flowers on our favourite water tower walk a few months ago. I intentionally don’t go there too often, because I don’t want it to lose it’s awe and wonder. So, I was trying to guesstimate when they’d be in flower, and thought it would be months rather than weeks. I haven’t seen any flannel flowers out on our other recent walks, but friends started posting photos, and then I noticed some driving home through the week. It was time to see if they were out yet. It was almost like going celebrity spotting. Were they going to be there? I was rather excited. This could just be me, but I blame lockdown. We haven’t had much to look forward to for some time, and I was hoping our little white wonders had hit the stage.

We were not disappointed. While they weren’t quite waving to us, they were definitely there. However, it was late afternoon, and what I didn’t know before, is they close their little faces at night.

That was yesterday, and Geoff and I returned today.

It was good, because it meant I’d been out for two walks in two days. While they weren’t overly long walks, it was exercise and I have to admit that’s dropped off during lockdown, even although exercise was well and truly allowed. I just seemed to take the advice to “stay home” too seriously along with my determination to get my lockdown research project up and running. Now, that the weather’s improving and we’re mostly enjoying balmy Spring weather along with the end of lockdown, I am starting to crawl out again.

I ended up photographing the flannel flowers from a variety of angles and even sat down on the ground, which isn’t such a comfortable position these days. However, fortunately, I had my trusty Geoff to help me get back up again. Although they’re generally portrayed from a face-on perspective, flannel flowers also look quite intriguing and even a bit wild viewed from behind.

Don’t they look magnificent reaching for the sky?!!

It is also interesting to see a broader overall perspective, even if it’s not the most spectacular photo I’ve ever taken. They grow amongst the scraggly bush and you’d probably describe the effect as “subtle”.

Flannel Flowers in the Scrub

However, every now and then, the flannel flowers have a bumper season. That’s what’s happened in the National Park at Port Macquarie this year, which had been ravaged by our devastating bushfires two years ago (It’s also where the koalas live). Anyway, you might enjoy checking these flannel flowers out. They’re almost growing like triffids there:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-17/flannel-flowers-burst-into-bloom-after-bushfires/100458610

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed floating among the flannel flowers. I’m now thinking of finding some more.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bright Eyes on Death and Despair – A Gum Tree.

Please forgive me for my recent negativity, pessimism and lack of gratitude. However, there are times where the glass is neither half-empty, nor half-full and no matter which way you look at it, it’s still bone dry. There’s not even a drop of water left to relieve a parched thirst, or even a longing imagination.

It is what it is, isn’t it?!!

That’s what we’ve come to say about those interminable patches of grinding difficulty.

Well, thankfully, my glass isn’t empty yet. Rather, I was even starting to think my glass was starting to refill, as I meandered through the wildflowers with my camera and feasted on such indisputable floral beauty through the lens. Moreover, although I was only a ten minute drive away from home, I could have been miles away from civilization. Off with the bunyips even!

Could be anywhere!

That was until a friend sent me a text while I was out there. I’m not one to be glued to my phone, but I do keep it on me in case of emergencies when I’m out, and I’m sure it pinged. I think I was sitting down on a log at the time reflecting on life, the universe and everything and decided to reply. Things have been pretty rough for her, and she’s spent the last couple of weeks in hospital with her back against the wall. It was the right thing. After all, there’s finding things hard, and then there’s scaling vertical cliffs by your fingernails. I’ve done that a few times with my lung issues, and wouldn’t wish that horror on my worst enemy. I wanted to be there. Yet, at the same time, I also have to pace myself. As you may recall, I’ve lost four close friends recently and my daughter’s unwell. With my own capacity so overwrought, I’ve largely had to withdraw and regroup.

However, whether you say it was God, destiny or being technically inept, somehow we ended up on a Facetime call together. In case you don’ t know what that is, it’s a mobile phone call with visual. I thought she’d called me. She thought I’d called her. Neither of us meant to, and yet this accidental call was freakishly phenomenal.

It all began when she asked me how I was. Well, I have a bit of a dry sense of humour, and joked: “at least I’m doing better than this tree!” I turned my phone around to show her the charcoaled cavity that was once a gum tree. There wasn’t much left of it. It was as dead as a doornail, the embodiment of hopeless despair. I was in fine form by comparison, and I actually started to perk up. Moreover, although I’m not be the world’s best photographer, I have an eye, and appreciated the way the hole blazed through the empty trunk, created a window frame out onto the bush.

The healthy top of the tree

I don’t know why I looked up. There was no reason to. Yet, I did. Much to my surprise, it turned out this dead lump of charcoal was actually still a living tree. There were healthy branches and a thriving crown of leaves up above. I couldn’t believe it, and have no idea how it’s even possible, although gum trees are famed for their resilience. They grow right on the edge of rocky cliffs with only a smattering of sandy soil to sustain them, and they somehow recover from horrific bushfire damage like this one and defy all logic. Mind you, gum trees are also known to fall over at the drop of a hat, and aren’t called “widow-makers” for nothing.

Anyway, all of that had a profound impact. Restored my faith in miracles. Reminded me to keep seeing things sunny side up and holding onto my faith in better days, which it’s starting to slip. Believe that God actually can and does answer prayer. He hears me. I am not forsaken.

However, that wasn’t my only discovery for the day.

I ended up taking my friend on my walk through the wildflowers and stuck my phone inside a lush bush of glowing yellow flowers which simply made my heart sing. She absolutely loved it…not only the capacity to enjoy the flowers, but she also loved my commentary. It was very simple and even child-like as I bumbled around the flowers chatting away like a much younger, female, Australian David Attenborough. It was all completely spontaneous, which was its beauty.

As it turned out, I’d stumbled across a way of taking somebody out of their world and transplanting them somewhere else.

That was, perhaps, the greatest miracle of all, and I fully intend to expand on it!

Do you have any survival stories you’d like to share? Please leave a link in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Searching Through the Old Family Photographs…

Why does it take the death of a loved one for us to open up, organize and enjoy the very best of our old family photographs? How could they end up in compete disarray, scattered all over the place, shoved in an old shoe box or ignored? Why don’t we look at them more often? Appreciate them?

I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I wouldn’t need to come back here so often. I’d already know.

Then, somebody dies, and all hell breaks loose.

Where is that !@#$ shot from 1947?

Not in any of the easy-to-find places.

On New Year’s Day, my very much loved Great Aunt passed away, and I was back at it again.

Unprepared.

Pages from my great grandparents’ photo album where my grandmother is the little girl.

To make matters worse, I’ve lost the scanner cable, and I have a huge pile of snaps aka precious memories, to copy because, of course, it’s all about the slide show these days, and the old static album’s been thrown back into the ark. Moreover, due to covid clusters in Sydney, the Queensland border has closed yet again to NSW. So, we’re not allowed to go to the funeral, and will be watching it online. This makes the photos even more precious. They’re the only concrete thing we have.

So, I’m currently sitting here with a pile of photos ready to be scanned, and I just know I’ll never be able to put them back where they came from. Of course, this would drive your garden-variety perfectionist round the bend. However, being somewhat more laissez-faire, I’m not that fussed. I’ll just find a few empty pages at the back of a random album, and when I’m preparing for my son’s 21st, I’ll find my grandmother and her three siblings standing in front of Mt Tibrogargon in amongst his baby photos.

My grandmother (second from the right) with her three siblings in front of the rather imposing Mt Tibrogargon (one of Queensland’s Glasshouse Mountains) around 1940.

Of course, you’d never do anything like that, would you?!! No! Not ever! All your photos are neatly arranged in chronological order, and possibly even scrapbooked.

However, what I lack in organization, I made up for in presentation and generosity. No one outside these four walls saw the chaos. They just clicked on an email and saw a wonderful, eclectic series of family photos of my aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousins and beautiful memories, and felt the love.

It’s the love and shared memories, which keep drawing me back to these precious photos, and why they’ll always be special. The people may no longer be with us, but the photos continue to keep them close.

Have you shared any special family photos or stories on your blog? I’d love to see them and hear your stories.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Piano Deconstructed.

As the saying goes “you can’t even give a piano away anymore”, especially when it’s over a hundred years old, out of tune, verging on decrepit, but with just enough life left to hope someone else might take it on. For the last five to ten years, we’ve been trying to give our piano away. Although we’ve had a few nibbles over the years, there have been no takers, and it just kept sitting here covered in picture frames, and an accumulation of household detritus and dust.

“Some people are aware of another sort of thinking which… leads to those simple ideas that are obvious only after they have been thought of… the term ‘lateral thinking’ has been coined to describe this other sort of thinking; ‘vertical thinking’ is used to denote the conventional logical process.”

Edward de Bono

However, as we found out, it’s all about the packaging. Or, perhaps I should say, how you package it. While no one wanted the entire piano, we finally managed to get our friend Neil interested in the parts. Indeed, he ended up towing most of the piano away in pieces over a few trips, and we were particularly excited to be able to keep the strings in tact, even if Geoff did have to saw through more than 10 centimetres of solid wood to pull it off. Neil’s already mounted the felts in his loungeroom where they’ve become an curious discussion point, and there are plans for a seat out of the wood. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how the birds and possums are going to respond to the ghostly sounds the keyless strings will be playing out in the bush until he works out what to do with it.

Yours truly photographed with the hammers extracted out of our piano. Neil’s cleverly mounted this on a wall. It’s intriguing.

Meanwhile, I have to tell you how much we enjoyed deconstructing this humble 100 year old piano. I know that sounds absolutely terrible, especially when I’m from a family of accomplished pianists. Indeed, it felt very much like a chainsaw massacre, especially after we found out much of it had been glued together, and the only way to get it apart, was to saw it to pieces.

However, ironically pulling it apart emphasized the beauty of its parts, which had become lost in the whole, especially once some of the keys weren’t working, and the cost of restoration was never going to pay off.

Indeed, it was quite incredible to appreciate just how much work, skill and attention to detail had gone into constructing the piano, and I guess we felt a bit sad that it had ended up being a useless lump of furniture and a burden. Indeed, it went further than that. The piano had actually become a significant roadblock, stopping us from renovating our loungeroom and getting it to a state where we’d be comfortable inviting friends over and dare I say it (drum roll) ENTERTAINING!!

So, I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this situation with the piano has become a great analogy for explaining how to deal with a large persistent problem. Somehow, we need to find a way of carving it up into smaller components which will be much easier to deal with so we can clear the decks.

I also think our handling of the piano problem also shows how persistence can backfire. Sometimes, we need to stop persisting and give up. Stop putting up with a burden, problem, difficult person or situation and decide that “enough is enough”. It is going, going, gone!

Do you have any special memories of the piano? Or, perhaps you have a few horror stories instead. It’s a shame that the piano no longer holds it’s place at the heart of the family home with people gathered round to sing and play together; and also how it’s demise can also be attributed to the clutter Nazi’s who on’t let another gather dust. It is OUT!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Walking Through the Waltzing Waratahs- Australia.

The magnificent Waratah, floral emblem of NSW and Australian cultural icon, is rather elusive in the wild and difficult to grow at home, even if it does claim to “thrive on neglect”. Indeed, up until this week, neither Geoff nor myself had seen a Waratah growing in the wild, and we’ve covered quite a lot of territory in our time.  Moreover, although we tried to grow a couple of Waratahs when we first moved in, they didn’t last long.  Instead of thriving on neglect, ours must’ve been of a more pampered variety demanding something better than our crappy sandy soil and drought conditions.

PATONGA ROAD.

TO THE EDTTOR OF THE HERALD.

Sir,-“Ranger” (“Herald,” 3rd instant), referring to a proposed road from Ocean Beach to Patonga Beach, Broken Bay, ventilates a matter of the greatest import to nature lovers. The original plan contemplated a road via the cliff edge between Pearl Beach and Patonga Beach, affording views of surpassing beauty over a couple of miles and already partly constructed. The shire engineer now proposes to substitute a road from Ocean Beach a route scenically much inferior to that first proposed because, forsooth, a gravel pit will be passed en route. On this ridge is an area of, perhaps 15 acres, the flora of which is predominantly waratahs, native pears and native roses. This area was fairly secluded till about two years ago when the shire authorities cleared through it a line a chain wide to run electric light poles to Patonga, arid now vandals in motor vehicles and afoot invade the patch with impunity, till hardly a waratah is left by Eight Hour Day each year. The irony of the matter lies in the fact that branching off the road, as originally planned, is a by-road already used for the haulage of electric light poles, by which the gravel could be carted to the original road. The N.R.M.A. is, I believe, interested in the proposed scenic road, and I would suggest that they, and the naturalists societies, should view the two routes, after which they would, I feel sure, exert their influence in favour of the original plan.

I am etc.,

ANOTHER’ RANGER. . Patonga Beach, July 7. 1936. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Thursday 9 July 1936, page 4

Map of Warrah Trig Rd, Patonga NSW 2256

So, on Wednesday, the intrepid explorer headed out driving through the Brisbane Waters National Park from Umina Beach through to Patonga. I had no real idea of where to find them, only that they were just off the road and I headed for Warrah Trig, which looks out over the magnificent Hawkesbury River, North of Sydney. However, before I reached the turn off, I spotted a bunch of Waratahs growing right beside the road. Indeed, you couldn’t miss them. They were truly spectacular and miraculously, most had managed to survive the secateurs of the thoughtlessly selfish and greedy.

 

As it turns out,  while 2020 has wrought devastating bush fires across the Australian landscape and Covid has forced us into lock down, isolation and cancelled travel plans beyond state borders, especially overseas, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Our local wildflowers are actually experiencing a very good year and the Waratahs are the best they’ve been, at least since we moved up here almost 20 years ago. Indeed, you could even say that 2020 is the Year of the Waratah. 

Reaching For the Sky

Meanwhile, as a good Australian, I thought I knew all about the Waratah,. Indeed, as I and later we, walked along the bush track to get a closer look, I admired it’s solitary brilliance. That while there were brillant splashes of golden yellow and pink throughout the bush, the brilliant crimson Waratah with it’s stately solitary presence was majestic. Royal. Grand. Roll out the red carpet and take a bow. 

However, even the Waratah is much more complex than I’d imagined. What appears as a solitary flower, is actually an inflorescence composed of many small flowers densely packed into a compact head or spike. Moreover, what appeared to be elongated crimson petals at the base of the flower, are actually “bracts”.

Now that I know more about the actual structure of the plant, part of me, would like to dissect a flower to inspect all its elements from more of a botanical perspective, even if it means destroying the beauty of the whole in my quest for understanding (of course, I’d have to buy my specimen and would never ever consider picking one from the bush). Moreover, while we’re being scientific, Waratah (Telopea) is an Australian-endemic genus of five species of large shrubs or small trees, native to the southeastern parts of Australia (New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania). The most well-known species in this genus is Telopea speciosissima, which has bright red flowers and is the NSW state emblem. The Waratah is a member of the plant family Proteaceae, a family of flowering plants distributed in the Southern Hemisphere. The name waratah comes from the Eora Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the Sydney area, and means beautiful. Meanwhile, its botanical name, Telopea, is derived from the Greek ‘telopos’ meaning ‘seen from a distance,’ a reference to the fact that the flowers stand out like a beacon in the bush.

Above: Stained-glass window Sydney Town Hall.

Naturally, such a beautiful and outstanding flower has attracted artists and creatives alike. It’s long been incorporated as a decorative feature in Australian architecture and throughout art, literature and even on clothing. While its inherent beauty speaks for itself, the Waratah also shouts “Australia”. Distinguishes us as a nation, a landscape and a people. Moreover, going back in time, the Waratah naturally appeared in the Dreamtime Stories of the indigenous Aboriginal people.    This one talks about how the Waratah, which was originally white, turned red: https://dreamtime.net.au/waratah/

Margaret Preston: “Wildflowers etc” Woodcut.

Lastly, we come to actually trying to grow the Waratah yourself. As I said, we actually tried this back when we were idealistic newly weds and were actually connected to our garden and had hopes for its future along with our own. Although the conventional wisdom is that Waratahs thrive on neglect, our usual modus operandi didn’t work in this instance and they didn’t survive long. So, when it comes to advising you on growing Waratahs yourself, I had to turn to the experts from Gardening Australia. Indeed, they’ve very kindly put a video together and the sheer number of flowers on these cultivated plants is very impressive and such a sight to behold. Indeed, I didn’t think it was possible to have so many blooms on one tree. They’re stunning and this brief clip is well worth checking out: https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/waratahs/9429106

Meanwhile, no foray out into the bush is complete without some form of incident. After going for an exhilarating fossick on Wednesday, I managed to lure Geoff out there yesterday during his lunch break. “Oh! You don’t even have to go off the road to see them,” I say. Well, this was very true. However, of course, we wanted to check out the surrounding wildflowers, which are also particularly good this year. The brightly coloured wildflowers were backdropped by blackened, charcoaled tree trunks survivors of a bush fire or back burning. It was hard to believe how many of these seemingly dead gum trees were actually still alive and had a healthy crown of gum leaves crowning out the top. many of which has somehow survived against the odds and are sporting an abundant crown of hardy leaves at the top.

Anyway, we kept walking along photographing the flowers and admiring glimpses of the ocean and distant Palm Beach through the trees. I spotted a large bulbous rock up ahead and suggested we scale it and check out the view. That was nothing special, but I thought the rock would make for a good photo and in my usual photographic zeal where I swing from the chandeliers before checking the prevailing conditions, instead of sitting down on what I thought looked like a set of rock stairs, it turned out to be a slope and as Geoff put it, I went “rock surfing”. I’m quite accustomed to falls. Indeed, I’d tripped earlier in the week and have a nasty bruise on my left arm. However, as my leg seems to twist in different directions, I sensed a whole different kind of horror and was half waiting for the snap…a broken leg. OMG! Such a simple manoeuvre as walking down a bit of rock in the bush, and there I am yet again calling out to Geoff. Once again, he’s watching his crazy wife fall, break and snap right in front of him and he’s powerless to intervene until its over.

Fortunately, I didn’t break my leg (or my neck for that matter). I managed to hobble back to the car after a brief wait and it is weight bearing. However, it does hurt and its not happy. It’s had some ice, voltaren and neurofen and is bandaged up. Hopefully a bit of rest will do the trick and it will be right as rain again. I especially don’t want to have a significant injury over something so simple when I could’ve been skiing, mountain climbing…being an adventurer.

After focusing on the Waratahs in this post, I’ll be back to share the myriad of other wildflowers from our walks and hopefully I’ll be back out there soon!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Salvaging the Masterpiece – Friday Fictioners.

Nancy was an artist and a dreamer. After visiting Monet’s garden, she was determined to transform her slimy, mosquito-infested pond into a masterpiece. Harry Hemsworth, reputedly a cousin of the legendary Thor, was doing the work, and naturally Nancy had to supervise.

Finally, the first lily had opened, and her art class was coming in the morning. The cake was just out of the oven, when her grandson burst through the backdoor clutching her precious lily: “Nanna, I brought you a flower.”

Nancy was dying inside, but tried to smile. Hopefully, Harry could sticky tape it back on.

98 words.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 19th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, I guess I’d better ask all of you how you’re going first up and what’s happening around Covid 19 in your neck of the woods? You might need something stronger than a tea or coffee to get through that conversation. So, I’d better off you some chocolate. What do you prefer? We’ve acquired quite a stash in lock down. I’ve been doing the shopping online and snapping up chocolate on sale. It’s much tastier than toilet paper.

Quite frankly, I don’t know whether I’m Arthur or Martha at the moment. While I’m “creative” and not necessarily a great one for routine, I usually have the bare bones in place. Those activities which form a scaffolding and framework for the week and some sense of direction when you wake up in the morning. Indeed, you might actually wake up in the morning even the most chaotic and disorganized people and the freeist of free spirits have their anchor points. Indeed, I’m sure I had more structure when I was backpacking through Europe wandering like a cloud without a watch and no itinerary whatsoever, than living like this in Covid 19 lock down. What am I supposed to be doing? Where am I going?

Well, most of the time, the response to the latter is nowhere. Although I have been out for a few walks. This is what you term “exercise”, which sort of takes the buzz out of it to be honest, even if it does involve walking along our gorgeous beaches.

Oh, and before one of you remembers that I went down to Sydney to see my parents last weekend, I’ll stop being melodramatic, and express some gratitude for how well Australia’s getting through the coronacrisis and what a difference this has made to people like myself who are at high risk, and also to people with chronic or life-threatening conditions who depend on hospital beds. We’ve seen horrific scenes around the world but somehow we’ve been spared. It’s hard to understand, and I hope we have a handle on it now that restrictions are being lifted. It would be an absolute miracle.

Personally, I have to admit that the stress of having the coronavirus hanging round, particularly after having a few major asthma attacks during the Australian bush fire crisis and being locked away for a few months n the air-conditioned loungeroom, it’s a lot to deal with. The fact I’ve survived and got through without a scratch,  seems to minimize the battle and it’s like it never happened. My house didn’t burn down. I didn’t lose the lot. Nobody died. No trips to hospital. However, what our family has been through wasn’t nothing, and we’re not the only ones fighting these invisible battles beneath the radar either. It’s very hard, because it takes so much energy and thought to speak out that your emotions become quite intense and if the person you open up to doesn’t at least acknowledge your experience, you just give up. You don’t try again. Rather, you become silent, even though you might still be talking and the words are still coming out and your face, all except for your eyes, are smiling. In so many ways this is dangerous territory, because you’re rapidly disconnecting not only with those around you, but also to much of your self. That’s something those of us who know somebody who is going through a bit, especially an invisible battle, need to keep in mind.

Anyway,  restrictions are easing throughout Australia. Last Wednesday, our son returned to school for one day. That was quite interesting. When I asked him how it went, he mentioned the absolute silence. With so few students there, it was so quiet. He said that he could even hear the local trains going past, where usually he could only ever hear the horn. Our daughter hasn’t gone back to school yet. However, it looks like they’ll both be back to normal school hours next week. To be honest, that really freaks me out, and yet it’s perhaps a return to normal that we need, although I’m still concerned about them bringing home the virus and you just can’t presume that the kids will be okay themselves if they catch it. Meanwhile, having them home has felt like an extended holiday and it’s been great not having to drive them around. My son and I have been doing some cooking together and our daughter’s painted the back of her bedroom door cow pat, which looks really cool.

While some people have been Spring cleaning as their lock down activity, I’ve been writing but we’ve also been working on the house and yard and getting some renovations done. As you may recall, we bought a camper caravan for me to escape to if I need to quarantine from the family. It’s still parked out of the house, while Geoff sorted out the backyard, repair the garage roof and trimmed the bougainvillea before we could even start on restoring the camper. Then he won a few pallets of floorboards last weekend at an auction and  now I’m slowly moving the china out of the cabinet and relocating it wround the house. I don’t know if you’ve quite been on the hunt for real estate like this trying to squeeze your treasures into every nook and cranny. My friend works in a giftware shop and she does this all the time, and has a few casualties along the way. So, far so good. The piano is also going to be dismantled and put out for council cleanup. It’s really crappy, but I’m hoping I might be able to salvage some of the bits to stick them up somewhere around the house. I also want to make a sculpture of my grandmother the concert pianist where the pedals could become her feet. I’m not sure about how I’d build the rest of her, but I have some brass cuckoo clocks up in the roof, which I also thought about incorporating into a sculpture. By the way, what with storing up all these components, you might actually get the idea that I can actually sculpt, when I’ve never made a sculpture before in my life. That said, i did buy some wire and glue to make these papermache figures. Anyway, needless to say our house is bursting at the seams from all my inspirational ideas.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting back into blogging again. I did my first Friday Fictioneers post for quite while and I also wrote  couple of poems which were inspired by Henri-Frederic’s: Journal Intime. I haven’t posted these as that limits what I can do with them. However, I did write a three part series reflecting back on our precious dog, Bilbo, who we lost three years ago. This wan’t soemthing I’d planned and to be perfectly honest, I woudl’ve opted for something more uplifting and funny at this point in time. However, there is humour in these posts as I reflect on Bilbo’s antics and I share about how we worked through our grief in perhaps some unconventional ways, which might help someone else get through their situation and perhaps feel less alone. I also want to leave these memories and reflections for our kids. They don’t pay much attention to Mum’s scribblings at the moment and I often feel I’m writing to myself when I really am often writing for them. That’s just the way it is and at least i have you friends out there who appreciate and encourage me in the present.

Anyway, here’s a link to the first of these stories which talks about Bilbo’s diet: The Dog We’ll Never Forget

My apologies for scooting off. Time has just flown away and I need to get to bed before sunrise this morning.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share.

Best wishes and please stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

R – Rotorua, New Zealand…A-Z Challenge 2020.

Welcome to Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island and our latest stopover as we rapidly make our way through the A-Z of Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Rotorua is located on New Zealand’s North Island 228 km by road South East of Auckland and is roughly at the centre of the map down below.

map_of_north-island

At what felt like the crack of dawn on the 12th September, 2001 Geoff and I flew from Sydney to Auckland on our honeymoon. We’d got married on the 9th and had spent a few days at Sydney’s Whale Beach, and naturally couldn’t wait to get away.

However, when you have a closer look at the date, indeed if I write it in the American date format, I’m sure it will all come back to you…9/12/2001. That’s right. We flew to New Zealand on the morning of September 12 after watching two planes fly into New York’s World Trade Center. Indeed, it was probably still 9/11 in New York when we flew out thanks to the time difference.

At this point, I’m not sure if we knew about the third plane, but while we were in my parents’ kitchen, we watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center and the collapse of the twin towers. Yet, although we were on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia, we felt like we were right there. We could feel it in our pulse. There was no distance. It was absolutely horrific. I don’t remember much about the third plane at the time. However, I do remember US airspace closing down and our little Air New Zealand plane taking off, seemingly above and beyond all the troubles of the world. There have been times when I’ve cursed Australia’s tyranny of distance. However, (then like now as the coronavirus sweeps around the world), it was an incredibly relief, and a case of thank goodness for that!!!

Rowena Geoff Papa Bert 2001

My grandfather Myself and Geoff at Kingsford Smith International Airport, Sydney 2001.

By the way, while all of that was going on over in America, back in Australia, the 9/11 attacks coincided with the demise of Australia’s much loved Ansett Airline, which left my 88 year old grandfather stranded in Sydney. He’d come down from Queensland for our wedding, and getting him home wasn’t a small consideration either. Fortunately, Qantas came to the party, and while having my grandfather stranded was nothing compared to what was happening in America and at a global level, clearly it wasn’t an easy time to get him home.

Meanwhile with American airspace shut down and the demise of Ansett, I now marvel at how we got to New Zealand at all. However, I clearly remember thinking that we were flying into one of the safest places on Earth, and that a bit more distance from the rest of the world could only be a good thing. I certainly wasn’t worried about going to New Zealand at all.

However, although we were geographically isolated from events in America, there was no escape. The world was on tenterhooks. When we went out for dinner on our first night in Auckland, all the restaurants had TVs set up showing continuous coverage. Everyone was glued to it. Indeed, when we went back to our hotel, we were watching Ground Zero on TV much of the night, and at least for the next few nights. As I said, it felt like we were hovering on the brink, and I suspect many would agree, that life has never really quite gone back to how it was before 9/11.

From memory, we stayed in Auckland for three nights and then drove South-East to Rotorua. I’ve always wanted to experience the geothermal activity down there. Indeed,  as I saw all that mud gurgling and splatting away, I was reminded of a song we sang back at primary school: The Hippopotamus Song (Mud! Mud gloroius mud)

Rotorua Mud

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a geothermal field extending from White Island off the Bay of Plenty Coast to Mt Ruapehu far to the south. Rotorua’s array of geothermal features includes volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles and colourful sinter terraces. You probably need a geological dictionary to make sense of all of that, but it was spectacular. I also found a strange parallel between at desolate scenes of Rotorua and the dust and destruction at ground Zero.

DSC_9475

However, in addition to Rotorua’s incredible geothermal activity, Rotorua also allowed us to experience Maori history and culture at the  Whakarewarewa Village ,  which is the legacy and home of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people. I particularly appreciated this opportunity to immerse myself in Maori history and culture, because for me getting out of your own backyard and walking in someone else’s shoes is what travel’s all about. I don’t go away to experience a duplicate of home, even if that can be personally challenging and confronting. With Australia and New Zealand being neighbours, the Maori people and to some extent their culture, were familiar to me back in Australia. However, it was quite another thing to be on their home turf and to have the full-immersion experience and I’d really like to head back there with the kids. After all, experiencing cultural diversity should make us more open-minded and appreciative of all kinds of difference.

When I was going through my photos, I also spotted a rather architecturally striking building, which turned out to be Bath House which was opened in 1908.

The Fleet at Auckland. The Rotorua Excursion. (Per United Press Association).

ROTORUA, August 13.

The visiting American naval officer spent a pleasant day at Rotorua. The principal thermal wonders in the immediate vicinity were visited. An elaborate Maori welcome, with well executed songs and dances was given in the Sanatorium grounds. The Maoris gave many valuable presents to the guests. The new bath house was then formally opened by the Premier. In the afternoon the visitors proceeded in strength to Whakarewarewa when the native Meeting house was opened by the leading chiefs with ancient formalities. Maggie, Bella, and other guides conducted the visitors around the pools, fumaroles, boiling springs and other thermal wonders. The Wairoa geyser was soaped and responded magnificently. Maori entertainments were given in the evening. WANGANUI HERALD, VOLUME XXXXIII, ISSUE 12541, 14 AUGUST 1908.

Rotorua Bath House

Bath House Roturua,  opened 1908. 

As a whole, Rotorua is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been. You can now see so much online, that you get the feeling that you might not need to be there in person. However, Rotorua contradicts all of that and nothing compares to being there in person. We highly recommend you visit and allow at least a couple of days.

Have you ever been to Rotorua or New Zealand? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

https://www.rotoruanz.com/visit/explore/geothermal

https://whakarewarewa.com/