Category Archives: Australia

Retracing the Footsteps of Our Cycling Champion.

On Thursday, I caught the train to Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West to retrace the footsteps (or should I say wheels tracks) of world cycling champion Cecil Walker, who was my grandfather-in-law’s first cousin. Although I’ve read countless newspaper articles about his career, I also wanted to walk the streets where he walked and cycled to get a sense of the man in his own environment when he was still a fish in his own pond before he leaped into the  big pond of American cycling at the Newark Velodrome.

While reading about his wins was exciting, I’m much more interested in finding out about his early, formative years and what it took to reach the top. How did he do it? Was it just hard work or was he superhuman in some way? I was curious, and this is the sort of insight which could be very helpful to our kids. After all, it’s one thing for a random stranger to be your hero. It’s quite another when someone inspirational shares at least some of your DNA. I thought it could be a mighty encouragement.

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Herbert William Brooker, Geoff’s Grandfather with his bike in Tasmania. He seems to look quite a lot like like his cousin, Cecil Walker. 

This is the Cecil Walker I particularly wanted to share with my teenage kids, so they understand that success doesn’t arrive on a silver platter. That it takes hours and hours of grueling hard work, talent, strategy, a solid dose of rat cunning and the X factor to boot whatever that might be. That’s not to overwhelm and discourage them, but its easy for kids to look at adults and not realize what it took to get there. They might not become world champion cyclists but hopefully they won’t end up face down in the mud unable to face another defeat either (Me too!!).

William Joseph Cecil Walker was born in 1898 in Marrickville to parents Catherine O’Maley and Joseph Elezer Walker. His father had a grocery store on the corner of Victoria and Sydenham Roads, Marrickville. Cecil was working in his father’s store and went from making deliveries on his bike to joining the the Marrickville Cycling Club. After a shaky start, success followed success and while he was expected to compete in the 1920 Paris Olympics, he turned professional and left for USA in 1920.

Cecil Walker Maddison Square Gardens

In an interview in 1939, he reflected:

“WHILE I was as keen as a new razor to get a break in the bike racing game in America, I must confess that the main reason for my deciding on a trip to the land of skyscrapers was to escape becoming a “hand” in my dad’s grocery store at Marrickville, Sydney. It was a big gamble. With such mighty Aussies as Alf Goullet, Reg McNamara, Alf Grenda and Frank Corry already holding high places in America, and a brilliant collection of home and European anklers on hand to meet the demands of the cycling fans there, the market of peddling wares seemed very much glutted. However, I figured that if I was eventually to go back to go back to weighing up sugar and butter I would have the satisfaction of knowing that at least I made a valiant attempt to escape such a fate.1.”

Marrickville Station

By the time the train pulled into Marrickville Station, it was early afternoon. As you may be aware, I love going on random walking tours with my camera where I aim for a general direction and follow the lens where it leads. Today, I was aiming to find the location of the grocery store, even though it’s been knocked down. However, I wanted to walk around the block and when I checked out the map, I noticed there was a park across the road. I also wanted to walk along the Cook’s River. Lastly, I’d left a message for a school friend hoping we could shift our friendship out of Facebook and back into the real world. So, even though my trip was rather unstructured, surely something would pan out!!

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More wisdom on the walls of Marrickville than from the mouths of our politicians.

However, as I exited Marrickville Station, the street didn’t look right. I’ve driven through Marrickville before and I’d expected a busy road with loads of multicultural eateries. This wasn’t it. I figured that if I went left I’d end up at the river and if I went right, I’d find the grocery store. However, I didn’t factor in my inimitable capacity for getting lost. Well, not exactly being lost, but not being where I intended to be either. Indeed, I’d got right off the grid.

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These gorgeous pooches from Australia Street Stained Glass eventually posed for the camera.

So, as much as walking around on foot is the best way to explore a place, I was mighty grateful when my friend responded and rescued me from my misguided wanderings in her 4WD. Then, as we’re heading for a cafe, I finally see a familiar site. It’s spot where the grocery store once stood. I recognized it from Google Earth. 

Above: The Henson, Marrickville.

After we stopped off at a cafe for a late lunch, we picked up my friend’s dog and headed off to Beaman Park, which runs alongside the Cook’s River and is actually in the adjacent suburb of Earlwood.

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By this stage, I had no idea where I was. You know how it is when you’re sitting in the passenger seat nodding your head. However, my friend was doing a superb job of taking care of Paddington Bear and showing me around pointing out how these seemingly disparate bits of Marrickville fitted together.

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That was how I found myself deposited at Sydenham Station to make my way home. By this stage it was dark and a large, all but full moon was rising above the tracks and into the night sky.

It had been a wonderful day, even if it went to prove one of my favourite quotes:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

John Lennon & Allen Saunders 

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

  1. Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), Saturday 21 January 1939, page 8

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

While Your Were Dancing…

Yesterday, our daughter had a dance audition. It was about a half hour’s drive, and faced with the choice of hanging around for a few hours or driving home, I packed my camera, Dicken’s Little Curiosity Shop and my journal, and decided to stay. I watched her disappear into the studio with a number pinned front and back. The wait began.

The audition was held near a wetland area with well-maintained walking trails and it was clearly a perfect opportunity for me to fit in “my walk”. However, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that my walk was cut short. Instead, I recruited one of the other dance mums and we went to the cafe where I had a scrumptious passionfruit cheesecake and a cappuccino… quite the antithesis of a brisk walk.

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However, with another hour to go, I set out again armed with my trusty DSLR and followed my eye.

It’s Autumn here now and while most days are still warm and beautifully sunny, there’s that chill to the air. I must admit that for many of us, it’s a much welcome chill. Not unsurprisingly, the Summer heat can be just a little too intense, and the sun too bright. Personally, in that Goldilocks kind of way, Spring and Autumn are just right.

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A single leaf dangling in the blue sky…a striking beauty in old age.

 

In Australia, many, if not all of our native trees, don’t lose their leaves in Autumn and if it weren’t for the immigrants, there wouldn’t be any flashes of Autumn colour at all. Older, more established areas tend to have more deciduous trees than newer areas, which tend to go for Australian natives. Where we live near the beach, you have to look pretty hard to find any Autumn colour.

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However, as I was strolling around near the cafe, I spotted a plane tree with a single golden leaf, which looked rather striking and photo-worthy, particularly in the absence of much competition.

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I also found this fallen down leaf which had so much character and a lifetime of stories stored inside its veins.

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However, I didn’t just enjoy watching the leaves. Rather, I also loved walking through them and hearing that magnificent crunch underfoot. I remember seeing my children running through piles of Autumn leaves at my parents’ place when they were little and I still feel that magic. I always will.

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Just outside the audition venue, there was an amazing patch of native grass. It was late afternoon heading towards sunset when the light is at its magic best and the grasses just glowed. They were ever so simple, and yet absolutely magnificent.

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So, in the end, I didn’t even open my book or my journal and this serendipitous afternoon perfectly illustrated one of my favourite quotes, which I mentioned in my previous post, which was for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon

It can be very easy to groan and complain about driving your kids around and being “nothing but a taxi service”. However, it doesn’t have to be a drudge. I find driving along with my teenaged kids is the best time to touch base with them and actually communicate. It can also be quite illuminating when they’re chatting with their friend in the back seat quite forgetting that you’re there at all. You seem to become the butler, not the parent.

You can also make the most of waiting and even enjoy it. After all, waiting doesn’t have to be a waste of time. It can even become an inspiration. All these beautiful elements of nature were all just metres away from where my daughter was dancing. I didn’t even need to go and look. Indeed, you could even say they were waiting for me! How lucky was I!

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Never a dull moment!

After all, we truly live in a beautiful world!

Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

Have you been out into nature lately? Where have you been?

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

L: Life…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back my series of Motivational Quotes for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, which is geared towards writers and creatives working on their “big thing” Today, we’re up to the letter L and I could resist this favourite quote:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon*

A few years ago, I came across this fabulous quote when our local Baker extraordinaire, Flaming Ron from the Bremen Patisserie wrote it down for me on a bit of paper while I was probably buying an almond croissant. Although Ron Bruns is famous for producing the world’s hottest meat pie, the Flaming Ron, he is also an unsung philosopher. By the way, just to put you in the picture, Ron and his Bremen Patisserie are located just North of Sydney, Australia and just down from the beach. However, Ron is the real deal and now calls Australia home.

What I love about this quote, is how it emphasizes the unpredictability of life. That we can have the best laid plans of mice and men, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get sideswiped, scuttled or choose to go somewhere else.  Moreover, it also touches on the economic realities faced by most creatives. You’d like to be writing full time and making a viable living, but you find yourself needing some kind of “proper job” to pay the bills “while you’re busy making other plans”.

Anyway, it’s the end of a busy weekend and I’m feeling rather pooped and brain dread so I’m going to head off.

Best wishes,

Rowena

* The lyrics of “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” contain the famous Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.” However, the expression of this sentiment can be traced back to a 1957 Reader’s Digest article, which attributes it to Allen Saunders.

Help – Motivational Quotes A_Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers. This series is particularly geared towards writers actively engaged in working on a book, especially their first book. Although I have quite a few manuscripts hovering in limbo, I’m currently fully immersed in writing a compilation of biographical short fiction, which I think will be a good launching pad for the rest. Due to the massive amount of research and writing involved, I wasn’t going to participate in the A-Z Challenge this year. However, motivational quotes seemed like a theme I could dash off and I also thought I might be needing them myself. I wasn’t wrong.

Sop, today we’re looking at reaching out for HELP. Rather than focusing on a quote today, I’m turning to what must be the ultimate song on the subject: : Help – The Beatles.

That’s because what I wanted to say, is that it’s okay to acknowledge that cry for help within…the scream… and put your hand up. Ask for help whether that’s for psychological, emotional or practical stuff, or about writing and publishing matters.

The bottom line is, that whatever you’re struggling with, you don’t have to go it alone.

You have back-up. At the very least, you have the World Wide Web and it never sleeps.

Writing a top-notch book is like wrestling with cats with your foot flat to the floor trying to get somewhere. While so many people talk about writing a book, doing it is something else entirely and I haven’t got there yet. However, from what I’ve experienced so far, I know I should be treating it like a marathon, and yet it’s more like a very intense rollercoaster ride where all your neurones lit up at once, followed by inevitable burn out and loads of other emotions in between, especially self-doubt, which really should be appearing in the largest font size I can find in triple bold with flashing lights.

That’s also why I’m trying to pace myself better, preparing for the long haul instead of a burning sprint.

However, that’s not who I am, but I have to sleep and I still need to be Mum, wife and a functioning human being.

Where we live (in Australia), we have R U OK?Day. It’s our national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.

Naturally, this is simplifying things and it’s a difficult question to ask. Moreover, the next question can be even harder and every bit like sticking your heart in a mincer. However, feeling a bit of discomfort is nothing compared to potentially saving a life or taking the edge off that horrible, angsty state of being. Indeed, just like knowing how to perform basic first aid, it’s something we all need to know. How to be there for a friend or even a complete stranger experiencing anything from the blues to extreme psychological distress.

The irony about the whole help thing, is that helping someone else has actually been shown to help you feel better. So, while you’re seeking help, it is good for you to also help someone else. You don’t need to do much, especially if you’re struggling yourself. However, something as small as a smile might help you both.

Before I head off, I’d really like to recommend one of my all-time favourite books: Daniel Gottlieb’s Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life.

When his grandson was born, Daniel Gottlieb began to write a series of heartfelt letters that he hoped Sam would read later in life. He planned to cover all the important topics – dealing with your parents, handling bullies, falling in love, coping with death – and what motivated him was the fear that he might not live long enough to see Sam reach adulthood. Daniel Gottlieb is a quadriplegic – the result of a near-fatal automobile accident that occurred two decades ago – and he knows enough not to take anything for granted. Then, when Sam was only 14 months old, he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disability, a form of autism and suddenly everything changed. Now the grandfather and grandson were bound by something more: a disability – and Daniel Gottlieb’s special understanding of what that means became invaluable- Book Depository

In an interview he was asked about how he stays positive, he replied:

Oh my goodness, I don’t stay positive. When I have pain, I suffer. When I experienced loss, I cry. As I age and my body begins to fatigue, I feel great sadness. But what I feel every day is gratitude. And this makes all the difference between a life of well-being and one of suffering. I feel gratitude that I am able to bear witness to nature, to see the beauty and smell the life. I’m grateful that I am able to breathe without difficulty, grateful that I love so many people so deeply. Grateful for my girlfriend, children and Sam. I could go on and on and on!”

Daniel Gottlieb

Anyway, that’s enough from me. What do you have to say about help? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Beach Escape…

This afternoon, I finally managed to get down to the beach for a good solid walk, making the most of the glorious Autumn sunshine before Winter sets in, sending the sun packing off to the Northern Hemisphere. Of course,  many of you are actively trying to speed that process up. However, we Aussies are a resilient bunch. Although Daylight Savings Time officially ended this morning, we’re not letting Summer go without a fight. By the way, temperatures reached a high of 27 degrees today. Happy Days! It was actually perfect weather.

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I really needed to get to the beach today. As you might’ve read, I’m fully immersed in researching and writing my collection of biographical short-fiction. These stories are based on the numerous stories I’ve collected researching our family histories, and there’s quite a cast of characters with a vast range of tales to tell. Each story feels like a book in itself as I research the person, location and historical framework and in effect pour all these ingredients into some kind of crucible and then try to pluck out the essence. That’s what I use to write these stories. I’m not simply writing their life stories. At times, this process has almost a mystical feel, like I’m pulling a rabbit out of a hat. That’s despite the stories being meticulously researched. So, my eyes and mind are literally buzzing from loads of alt-tabbing between various sources, which is like having flashing lights flickering in my face. It can’t be good. However, now that I’ve finally found my genre and have two stories down and two on the way, there’s no holding back.

Yet, while 100% immersion and a mono focus sounds great from a writing perspective, I still need to eat, sleep, shower and make sure my kids are taken care of and get where they’re meant to be on time and on the right day. These things are falling by the wayside at the moment, and they’ll soon be directed to the microwave and the freezer and told to “insert here”.

Well, it hasn’t got to that point yet. However, this is why I consciously need to pull myself away. I can’t attach a snorkel and keep writing underwater. I need to take breaks and undertake a variety of activities, while still keeping my eye fixed on the prize.

So, it was really great to finally get back to the beach this afternoon. It was bucketing down much of last week. Then, on the other days, it was either too sunny or I’d miss the boat or I’d simply forget to go. I know that doesn’t sound very motivated, but I’m only human. I can’t juggle ten balls in the air and expect to catch them all…especially when I’ve so focused on the one! Still, I keep asking myself How hard can it be to go for a simple walk, especially when it takes in such breathtakingly beautiful scenery? What kind of idiot am I? Well, my only rationale is that even when you live in Paradise, you still need to deal with the every day.

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We don’t usually get so much seaweed on our beach. I think the heavy rain last week is probably to blame. 

 

Just for your enjoyment, I lugged my massive Nikon DSLR with zoom lens along the beach and thought you’d particularly like to see some Surf Lifesaving touches. The red inflatable boat is known here as a “rubber ducky” and is used for beach rescues. Not sure if you’re familiar with the red and yellow surf lifesaving flags. These flags mark safe swimming area, which is also patrolled by the lifesavers or lifeguards. The flags are also a key feature of our Summer beaches and you might arrange to meet friends “in-between the flags”. Or, if you’re terribly short-sighted like myself, you leave your glasses and towel under a flag, ensuring you get back there before they shut up shop for the day.

While we’re touching on our local surf-lifesaving culture, we have a junior program called Nippers, where young kids gradually learn the ropes. Like all these activities, there’s a huge dropout rate as the physical demands and competitive aspects take their toll. It also takes a lot of commitment, and that also has a sense of heavy competition. Our lives are full to overflowing most of the time.

Both of our kids did Nippers for a few years, before taking up Sea Scouts and shifting their focus over to still water and in our daughter’s case, onto dance. As I am finding myself, it’s hard to maintain a diverse range of interests when you’re trying to conquer the world. Or, at least a particular field.

So, I’ll leave you with a few pics of the kids doing Nippers from years ago and you can imagine yourself down at the beach bright and early on a Sunday morning with the rest of us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Beach Invaders…Ocean Beach, Australia.

The beach was literally littered with seaweed on my walk today. This was so exceptional, that I had to give this photo a post all of its own.

I’ve seen underwater forests of kelp down off the Victorian coast around the famous surf spot, Bell’s Beach. The carp you see on the beach down there is huge and rather luscious lying there in the sun casting magnificent shadows on the sand. These were still beautiful but their eye-catching appeal was seeing hundreds of seaweed clumps scattered on a usually bare beach.

Back soon for the rest of the walk.

Best wishes,

Rowena